Once a hoofer always . . .

Precious Little Sleep

Lichfield Garrick

****

WAYNE Sleep was an early prototype for Billy Elliot. Born into a one parent family with a mum who was a waitress in Plymouth   in 1948 he then moved to that hotbed of ballet . . . Hartlepool. Starting his dancing lessons there with Muriel Carr in 1955.

Now, aged 62, Wayne Sleep, his real name by the way, has a career, which stretches from ballet to song and dance, musical theatre, straight acting and even opera.

He opens his show with a display of his considerable prowess as a tap dancer before introducing Australian ballet dancer David Kierce and Japanese ballerina Keiko Amemori who are his dancers through the show.

The evening is a mix of video and live action as Sleep recounts his own life as well as recreating roles, such as a delightful dance as Chaplin with  Kierce as the baddie and Amemori  as the damsel in distress.

There was also a very clever piece using exactly the same music, drums and bass, with first Kierce  producing a contemporary jazz dance then Amemori  danced it as ballet and then Sleep danced the same music as a hoofer, song and dance tap.

Just to show it worked all three then danced their own part as jazz, ballet  and tap at the same time.

AIR OF MISCHIEF

Sleep has always had an air of mischief and produced an amusing piece with himself and Amemori in a pas de deux with their thoughts out loud ranging from everything from garlic breath to weight.

The ballet duo of Amemori and Kierce had several solo spots including a classy piece to As Times Goes by which had been choreographed by David Nixon.

At 62 though Wayne, or at least his legs with their replacement hip, are getting a bit long in the tooth and although he can still move infinitely  better then most bus pass holders it needed to huge video screen at the rear of the stage to remind ourselves what he was like in his pomp when Wayne Sleep in a ballet  was one of the hottest tickets in town.

That being said Sleep was back at the Royal Ballet last year 12 weeks after his hip replacement dancing one of the Ugly Sisters in Ashton's Cinderella in the role Ashton had himself danced.

Sleep, still a student in 1967, was selected by Ashton to play Napoleon to his Ugly Sister because of his size in what was his debut with the company.

His size got him his first role but t was always his drawback; 5ft 2in does not a romantic prince, or a fabled hero make except in Lilliput.

Even so his stunning technique and athleticism still meant he was a principal at the Royal Ballet, the smallest male dancer they have ever had in their ballet school.

He was so good that despite his stature making him unsuitable for so many roles the likes of Sir Frederick Ashton, Dame Ninette de Valoi  - who founded the Birmingham Royal Ballet incidentally – Kenneth MacMillan, Nureyev and John Neumeier invented or expanded roles for him.

STANDING JUMP

As a mark of Sleep's superb technical abilities the great Vaslav Nijinsky was famed for his entrechat dix which involves crossing and uncrossing legs five times mid air in a single vertical jump.

In 1973 Sleep managed an entrechat douze – six crossings and uncrossings, 12 movements in all. It is in the Guinness Book of Records and still stands.

He also appeared as a guest principal in other ballet companies. His size was always a burden though and although he makes fun about at it he does accept that his limitations of roles in ballet opened up roles on TV, in the West End, he created Mr Mistoffelees in Cats for example and in film.

The amiable Mr Sleep guided us through his career and although these sort of an evening with shows tend to be Me! Me! Me! Wayne is self deprecating enough make it interesting rather than jarring.

Sleep is still working, still dancing, running workshops for youngsters  and still raising funds for his foundation which is there to help struggling, aspiring talented youngsters.

He comes over as a lovely man and even if much was on video, a phenomenal dancer.

Roger Clarke

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