Interview with Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers Lachlan Monaghan and Yaoqian Shang

David Bintley rehearses Aladdin with Yaoqian Shang and Lachlan Monaghan (2)

Lachlan Monaghan and Yaoqian Shang are dancers with Birmingham Royal Ballet. Together they will be performing the lead roles of Aladdin and the Princess Badr al-Budur in Aladdin, which comes to The Lowry Wed 20 – Sat 23 September 2017. After dancing with the ballet company for six and five years respectively, they are starting to break into principal roles and discover what it means to be at the top of their profession. Here, they talk about Aladdin, coping with long hours of rehearsal and what makes the perfect partnership.

To start, tell us a little about yourselves:
YS: My name is Yaoqian Shang, I am Chinese and I’m a Soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet. I started dancing properly at Beijing Dance Academy when I was 9 years old and went to the Royal Ballet School when I was 16.


LM: I’m Lachlan Monaghan, I’m Australian and I’m a First Artist with Birmingham Royal Ballet. I started tap and jazz when I was about 11 because of my sister, and ballet when I was about 13. I went to the McDonald College in Sydney and then to the Royal Ballet School when I was 17.


Will audiences be familiar with the story of Aladdin, or is it quite different from the famous Disney film?
L: It is quite different. In the ballet our Director David Bintley goes back to the original story from the Arabian Nights rather than the Disney version. We don’t have a monkey or a talking parrot but we do have flying carpets and genies!

Lachlan Monaghan and Yaoqian Shang rehease Aladdin; photo Ty Singleton (3)

You’re less than two weeks away from your first performances at The Lowry in Salford. How are rehearsals going?
L: It’s quite nerve-wracking to think that we will perform our first show in less than two weeks. The first things you attempt to conquer in rehearsal are the pas de deux. As an audience member you might think the pas de deux or the solos are the hardest part, and they do have the most difficult steps, but actually it’s all the transitions, interactions with the other characters and the props that are the difficult things to get a handle on. They take time to learn, and it’s not really until we get to full cast rehearsals that we see it come together.


Alongside Aladdin and the Princess, do you have other roles you need to learn?
Y: I’m also performing as one of the Princess’ attendants (one of her girlfriends), sapphires and rubies (the jewels that Aladdin finds in the cave). It’s not too bad because all my other roles are quite short so it’s not like I’m on the go all of the time.


L: I’m finding it difficult with the Djinn, Aladdin and also one of his two friends. There are a lot of scenes where all of those characters are on stage at the same time. For example, there are times where Aladdin and the Djinn are in the same scene, both fighting the Mahgrib, and the moves are one count after each other. It’s certainly testing my brain, but it’s really fun.

Lachlan Monaghan and Yaoqian Shang rehearse Aladdin; photo Ty Singleton

There must be fine balance between relaxing after a long day of rehearsals, and thinking over the work you’ve done that day. How do you manage that?
Y: I prefer to just switch off. I like to think about the work before I do it rather than later. There can be a lot of corrections, and if you keep thinking about them you just pile extra pressure on yourself, and I really don’t like that. The next day, before I have rehearsals, I’ll go through corrections then and see what I have to work on.


L: Immediately after rehearsal, I like to reflect a little bit on the positive things. There’s always going to be something that’s gone wrong – I don’t think you ever walk away going ‘well, that was perfect’ – but that’s the beauty of performing a character role because every day can be different. The way we play Aladdin and the Princess in our first show will be different from the way we play it in our second show. That’s what’s exciting – the growth, and the change, and responding to each other. I like to switch off as well; watch TV, listen to music, do all those normal things. It’s good to chill out and remind yourself that, as brilliant as ballet is, there’s a big world out there.


What do you think makes a good partnership, both in rehearsal and on stage?
Y: It’s definitely important to have fun. We’ve had a lot of laughs.


L: There are some quite challenging lifts in Aladdin where, holding her weight, I’ll have to go down on my knee and drop to the floor. There have been some quite heavy crash landings to laugh about. I think it’s really important to have a good sense of humour and to have fun.


Y: It’s true. Also, Lachlan is so clever. I always say that; he just knows exactly where you are. We’ve never really danced together before Aladdin but we’ve worked really well from the start. With partnering you need to find your co-ordination together, and things feel different from one partner to another, but for us there’s been nothing difficult that we’ve had to fix.


L: Yaoqian is brilliant; she’s just such a natural dancer. There’ve been so many rehearsals where we hadn’t even tried bits before, and decided to just do a section with the music. We’d do it and it would work, so we’d just keep going. We enjoy dancing together so much that each section just falls into place. That’s what audiences seem to remember – the rapport of a partnership, and the way you look at each other.

Finally, if you weren’t a ballet dancer, what would you be doing?
Y: I’d quite like to learn some interior design because I’ve always liked drawing but I’ve never had time to work on it properly. It’s my dream to build my own house.


L: I’m very interested in photography. I think being a dancer teaches us so many skills, and being a dancer turned photographer is rare. I also play piano and my dream is to one day choreograph my own ballet, and also write the score. That’s my ultimate goal.


Lachlan Monaghan and Yaoqian Shang will be performing in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Aladdin Wed 20 – Sat 23 September at The Lowry. For more information, visit the website here or call box office on 0843 208 6000.