When did you start dancing?
I was probably about 7 years old.
Why did you start dancing?
Apparently I was energetic as a child – I have no idea where that's gone now! My sister who's 4 years older than I am, dragged me along. I kinda fell for it a little… but I fell for the girls more! I was the only boy there.
Which dancer inspired you most as a child?
I never really knew any ballet dancers as I wasn't specialising in it at the time. But Michael Jackson was my favourite dancer at the time, and I was mesmerised by Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers. I remember in the early 80's when Michael Jackson's ‘Thriller' was having its TV début. It was around midnight because of the content. My dad let me stay up and watch it, whilst he recorded it to VHS for me. I have a huge collection of tapes somewhere of all of his stuff. I blame my dad for giving me the ability to learn movements and steps off the screen. I think it's how I became a fast learner. Remember, tape used to stretch in those days so I wanted to do it in as little time as possible.
What's your favourite role?
This question always crops up and it's such a killer to answer. My favourite purely because of the rehearsal process, performances and cast, has to be Escamillo from Mats Ek's Carmen. What a stonking entrance!!! Nothing compares to it.
A role that also sticks with me is Walter Sickert from Liam Scarlett's ‘Sweet Violets'. I never had a role that gave off so much emotion for me on stage. Roles may give you issues or torment off stage because of rehearsal problems, but this gave me something on stage I've never experienced before. One particular moment was the scene where Walter is to paint a prostitute and his friend Robert Wood. I stand looking at the three of us in the mirror, the prostitute and Robert begin a pas de deux around me, the ghost of Emily Dimmock comes from behind the mirror where she relives her murder all over again. She lets out a silent scream when I have my back to her which still freaks me out to this day.
What role have you never played but would like to?
The Crown Prince Rudolph in Kenneth Macmillan's Mayerling. I'd promise to retire after that if it helps, Kevin?? Cheers!
[2 months later on 25 April his dream came true, and he played Rudolph to rapturous applause. Joyce Di Donato wrote on Twitter: #Mayerling at the @RoyalOperaHouse last night was one of the most sublime, yet shattering evenings I've ever spent in the theater.]
What's your favourite ballet to watch?
At the moment it's probably Infra by Wayne McGregor.
Who is your favourite choreographer?
I do love Liam Scarlett's work, but call me biased as I've been in most of them. I would love to have done more Kylian work. Only one I've done was Sinfonietta, many many years ago!
Who is your favourite director?
Who is your favourite actor?
Sir Anthony Hopkins is a stella actor. I just soak up anything he does. I'd love to know what process he goes through to perfect his art. Another favourite is Morgan Freeman.
Who is your favourite singer?
I don't really have one to be honest. I just love having a real mix on my iPod. My colleagues in the changing room do have a laugh at the eclectic mix of tunes that come out. Some may not agree its an eclectic mix, rather more a pile of sh*t.
What is your favourite film?
Ok, this in no way my favourite film, but I do love ‘You Got Mail' with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. It's only because the wife and I met online in 1998 through AOL which is the ISP in the film. It reminds me of the times I used to rush home, turn on the computer, go through the slow process of 56k dial-up and wait for those three infamous words “You got mail”. Except in the UK they changed it to the grammatically correct “You have email”.
Which is your favourite city?
I love the whole island of Madeira where my wife's family are from. It gives me a place to go to unwind and lead a slower paced life. Albeit for only two weeks a year!
What do you like most about yourself?
What do you dislike about yourself?
My bald patch, but it's coming so I gotta accept it.
What was your proudest moment?
Not really my proudest moment – if it was, my wife would divorce me tomorrow – but I can't believe I have a little over 2000 followers on Twitter. Seriously, what are they getting from me? I talk utter nonsense. To be honest, I think about 40% of followers actually listen to what is said, but still. That's 800 people who may actively be thinking “I wonder what Benn's thinking today” *click* “yeah thought so, a loada crap”. No disrespect to my followers. All aimed at me!
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My beautiful wife.
What is your greatest fear?
I try not to fear much to be honest. But I guess it's losing someone you love in terrible circumstances. I'd hate to become a vigilante!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My career. My parents reassured me of this one when I got my contract with the Royal Ballet back in 1995. I do feel blessed. But being a First Soloist is even greater.
What is your most treasured possession?
My grandfather's Garrard watch which was given to him in 1961 for 20 years service at ICI. I used to remember him wearing it every day I knew him. My father passed it to me and asked me to wear it on my wedding day. Been with me ever since.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My wife's shoes. Sh*t, did I just say that? She's gonna kill me!
If you hadn't been a dancer what would you have liked to do?
As a child I wanted to be an ice cream man. But honestly, I really wanted to be in the film industry. Not as an actor, but behind the scenes. I'd love to try acting now, although I think I have a face for radio to be honest.
What quality do you most value in a friend?
What quality do you most value in a colleague?
Good hygiene. And Honesty.
What do you most dislike?
My bank balance.
What gift would you most like to have?
Good health for all my family.
What's your idea of perfect happiness?
A curry night with the guys from work. This is where I get served the divorce papers now 🙂
How would you like to die?
Peacefully, with my wife by me.
What is your motto?
Certainly not YOLO (You only live once) which seems to be the craze at the moment. Well no sh*t Sherlock. When did these people ever think they were getting a 2nd attempt?
Bennet Gartside — a biography
Bennet Gartside was born in Lancaster. He joined the Royal Ballet School in 1988, and performed The Lover in The Two Pigeons at the School's 1995 performance. That year he joined The Royal Ballet that year and five years later was promoted to First Artist, then Soloist in 2002 and First Soloist in 2007.
Having spent his career with the company, Gartside has danced most of the Royal Ballet repertory:
Frederick Ashton – Pigling Bland and Peter Rabbit in Tales of Beatrix Potter, Bottom in The Dream, La Fille mal Gardée, Scènes de ballet, Bryaxis in Daphnis and Chloë, Jaeger and William Meath Baker in Enigma Variations, side Neapolitan couple in Ondine, Orion in Sylvia.
Kenneth MacMillan – Pas de quatre in Gloria, Friar Laurence, Tybalt, Mercutio, Escalus and Lead Mandalin in Romeo and Juliet, the Foreman in The Judas Tree.
He has danced featured roles in George Balanchine's Symphony in C, The Prodigal Son, Ballet Imperial and Theme and Variations, Gremin in John Cranko's Onegin, Stephen Baynes' Beyond Bach, Nacho Duato's Por Vos Muero, Hilarion, side pas de six and Wilfred in Peter Wright's production of Giselle, Escamillo in Mats Ek's Carmen, the Bridegroom's Friend in Bronislava Nijinksa's Les Noces, Rag Mazurka Boy in Les Biches, the Act I Pas de trois and Benno in Anthony Dowell's Swan Lake, Bintley's Tombeaux, the Red Knight in Ninette De Valois's Checkmate, Mark Morris's Gong, the French Suitor in Natalia Makarova's The Sleeping Beauty, Matjash Mrozewski's Castle Nowhere, the French Prince, Cavalier, Wolf and Florestan in the Monica Mason and Christopher Newton production of The Sleeping Beauty, Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote, on the Dance Bites tour in Ashley Page's When We Stop Talking.
His created roles include Twyla Tharp's first work for the company, Mr Worldly Wise (1996) Cheever in William Tuckett's The Crucible (1999/2000), Vanessa Fenton's Ad infinitum (1999/2000) Cathy Marston's Traces (2000/2001) and On Public Display (Linbury 2004), Alastair Marriott's Tanglewood (2005) Ernst Meisner's Continued (First Drafts 2006), Liam Scarlett's Of Mozart (2008), Consolations and Liebestraum (2009) and Asphedel Meadows (2010).
Photo: Liam Scarlett's Asphodel Meadows with Bennet Gartside and Tamara Rojo – © Elliott Franks
On Twitter you can follow Bennet Gartside @Bennet76 and photographer Elliott Franks @elliottfranks
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.