Monday, 4 May 2020

Gavin McCaig in Conversation with his Friends

Gary Sutherland / CC BY-SA (

Not far from Taynuilt lies the port of Oban from where McBrayne ferries depart for Mull on the way to Iona.  I had passed through the port countless times but never bothered to stop until two years ago when I attended a performance of Highland Fling at the Atlantic Leisure Centre. It was then that I discovered that there was a lot more to Oban than a waystation to or from the Hebrides. Some of the best fish and chips in the United Kingdom are to be had in the city's many chippies.  For anybody wondering why I call Oban a city, it is because it has two cathedrals including Sir Gilbert Scott's magnificent St Columba's by the seashore.  However, the most impressive landmark in the whole of Oban is the colonnade on Battery Hill known as McCaig's tower.

I had a question about the tower up my sleeve in case I ran out of things to say when I interviewed Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet for Stage Door on Sunday but I didn't need it for the conversation flowed like water. Gavin McCaig is a very interesting chap as well as a very congenial one. I had interviewed him for Terpsichore soon after he had joined the company in 2014.  He has come a long way since then and while he might not have reached the very top of the greasy pole he has certainly gained considerable elevation.

I began the interview by asking him whether the success for which he must have aimed when he was at ballet school had turned out to be all that it was cracked up to be.  Disarmingly he replied that he had not set his sites on any particular outcome when he was at ballet school. There is stiff competition to enter any company particularly one in the UK.  His ambition was simply to get a job in ballet.  He had begun to follow Northern Ballet when he was at the English Ballet School.  He remembered trips to Woking and other theatres within the vicinity of London. Joining Northern Ballet was everything he could have hoped for.

I mentioned some of the roles in which he had impressed.  John Brown in Cathy Marston's Victoria in which he had been shot and St John in Jane Eyre which is another Marston work.  I had followed the company to London to see it in Richmon in 2016 and pronounced it the best work form the company that I had seen in 20 years.  He seemed well suited to Marston's choreography, I suggested.  He said that he enjoyed working with Cathy Marston for whom he had a particular regard.  I agreed mentioning how much I had admired Snowblind when the San Francisco Ballet came to London and how much I was looking forward to seeing what she makes of Mrs Robinson.

However, he had excelled in other choreographers' works.  I mentioned his performance as Athos in The Three Musketeers in which he had particularly impressed me.  While accepting the compliment he drew my attention to a role that I had not mentioned. Early in his career, he had been one of Friar Lawrence's acolytes in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet.  The friar and his acolytes were on stage when the curtain lowered and it was an exceptionally moving experience as the orchestra played the last few barres of the score.  I mentioned that I was a fan of Maillot having also seen the Bolshoi's performance of his Taming of the Shrew.  I asked whether he had visited Leeds.  Gavin replied that he had and that he had spent 3 days there.

In his interview in 2014, Gavin had expressed an interest in choreography.   I mentioned a choreographic workshop to which he had contributed a ballet.  I had admired the work very much particularly the take on Mr Nigel Farage's "You're not laughing now" remark with the hollowly cackling cast,  Again, he acknowledged my compliment graciously.

At this point we had the first question from the audience,  Amelia Sierevogel asked about some of the memorable costumes he had worn.  He mentioned the one with lots of buttons and others where there had been what can best be described as little local difficulties.  Elaine Berrill and Janet McNulty also intervened and Amelia asked a follow up towards the end.   He was asked what advice he would give to a young man particularly in view of prejudice against male dancers.  He acknowledged it was there and the answer was to persist,  There was one time when he thought he might give up and he actually left the class for a while.   I am glad to say that he had another think and resumed his studies,  The question on motivation and overcoming inhibitions had arisen a few days earlier in a Q&A with his class in Portugal. Janet was aware that he had done a lot of running and asked how that was affecting his legs and feet.  He replied that a certain amount of tension in those muscles was good.

As it appeared that Kevin Poeung was in the same room as Gavin I asked whether it would be possible to say "hello" to him. Kevin appeared and greeted us,   I asked them how they were coping with the lockdown.  While they were appalled by the casualties they had made the best of it.  They had a chance to appreciate their home, carry out some DIY and enjoy some quality time which would not otherwise have been available with a busy schedule,

I asked about Gavin's plans for the future.  We discussed his award-winning film on the company's digital dance platform. He was learning business finance to qualify for a managerial role in the performing arts.  I asked about roles he hoped to perform.  He had mentioned Simon in David Nixon's Swan Lake on the company's website.   He explained that was because of Simon's personality, As he had mentioned that he would like to dance the big classical roles in his 2014 interview I asked whether he retained any ambitions in that regard.   He replied that he had already danced the lead in The Nutcracker in Montana a few months ago which he had enjoyed but he was not sure that he was ideally suited to the great Petipa roles.

We finished with an appeal for contributions to the Academy of Northern Ballet.  I have placed a donate button to the ACADEMY OF NORTHERN BALLET PARENTS ASSOCIATION on my Facebook page.   Alternatively, donors can call the Academy on 0113 220 8000 or email

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