The term “real life Billy Elliot” has become something of a cliché in dance terms. All too often, the phrase is wheeled out to describe any male ballet dancer with a working-class background.
For our BA (Hons) Dance lecturer Mark Pearce however, it is a little more than that.
Having performed in Matthew Bourne’s highly acclaimed adaptation of Swan Lake, Mark and his fellow cast of all-male swans featured in the final scene of the Billy Elliot film.
His role in the hit West End and touring production took Mark from the UK to Europe and Israel. At times, it really did seem a long way from his Hull roots.
Severely dyslexic and growing up in an environment where it seemed “nobody was interested in diagnosing dyslexia”, Mark admits his school days were spent mostly “messing around”. When he wasn’t messing around, he was playing rugby. He captained his school’s rugby team and played for three teams, club, city and county.
It may not come as surprise then, to learn that Mark’s talent and passion for ballet was discovered quite by chance, when dance lessons were unexpectedly offered to teenage boys at his school.
“I fell in love with ballet,” he says. “It is such a pure, controlled discipline, I love that side of it and the intensity of the training. I love the art of it. You need to make it look as though you’re light but you need to be as strong as possible.”
Mark went on to train in contemporary dance and ballet with the Northern School Of Contemporary Dance, and performed with the exclusive Laban dance company, Transitions, in Europe and Japan.
““Ballet is great because it’s so structured and it fully works the body,” he says. “It’s a funny thing, dance. It can play with your emotions. I never cried until I went to dance college. When I trained, you were pushed to the floor if you got something wrong. Of course, we don’t do that here but you do have to be in tune with your body to do it. You need to feel it.”
He returned to Hull for his family because “even when you’re staying in five-star hotels, when you’re touring all the time and living out of a suitcase, you just want to come home at the end of the day to spend time with your kids”.
Mark taught at St Mary’s College in Hull for more than two years and, as a freelance artist and dance teacher, in 2003 set up Y Dance with a colleague to provide workshops to Hull schools and work within Creative Partnerships.
He was appointed to teach dance at Hull School of Performance Arts in October 2012. Practical research projects are already under way. He is currently working with a colleague on a dance project in an “upside-down room” with the third-year degree students called Falling. And he has recently returned from a four-day research trip to New York with 22 students, where he learnt contemporary Graham And Cunningham (G&C) dance techniques first-hand at Martha Graham and Emma Cunningham’s New York studios.
“I try my best to keep the dance I teach as pure as possible,” he says. “The way I see it is, if I teach my students something that’s pure, they can take those techniques anywhere else.”
Whether you come from a classical dance background, or a tough Hull estate, Mark is living proof that, with talent, hard work and commitment, dance can take you anywhere.