Dance Futures: Freya Thomas Creates for The Royal Ballet

Yesterday we dropped by the Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House to catch the first dress rehearsal of “Umbra” by young choreographer Freya Thomas. Freya’s work is part of Dance Futures, a new project from ROH Education which will see over 120 young people take to the Covent Garden main stage this Sunday to present a mixed bill that also includes a new dance work by Wayne McGregor (to be performed by young East Londoners) and an abridged version of Fokine’s classic The Firebird.

Umbra, a 10-minute piece to a piano solo by North American composer Nico Muhly, will feature Royal Ballet dancers Nathalie Harrison and Ryochi Hirano. Freya’s inspiration for the work comes from observing “how shadows bend across objects, how different creatures are within the shadows”. She tells us that Umbra does not necessarily infer a relationship between the two dancers “It’s just different situations happening in that space using shadows as the main stimulus”. To help establish a “moody and dark atmosphere”, Freya had the help of McGregor’s long-time collaborator, lighting designer Lucy Carter “I told her my general ideas and she told me how to adapt for an audience perspective. There will be a strong silhouette image at the start so you can’t see Nathalie’s facial features; she just looks like a shadow and then different cross fades to bring in Ryo.”

Freya’s own choreographic ideas draw heavily from her background in hip hop and break dancing, both dance styles with an emphasis on ground moves. But the 18-year old also admires dance companies like NDT, Random Dance and the work of Hofesh Schechter. For this piece, she has steered away from a natural inclination towards floor-work, adapting instead to the individuality of this particular duo: “It’s hard to choreograph something in your head; you need the bodies in front of you. I came here and taught Nathalie and Ryo a couple of phrases I had created at college and it looked completely different on their bodies. They have given me options and input too, so I have adapted to work with what they can do; to recreate the shapes I had in my head.”

Ahead of Sunday, here’s a sneak peek at Freya working with Nathalie and Ryo:

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge & see as slideshow)

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All photos by The Ballet Bag ©

Dance Futures – 10 July 2011 at the Royal Opera House. To book tickets visit the ROH website.

See also: ROH’s video blog of Freya and dancers in rehearsal

We started The Ballet Bag in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible; that it is quite the opposite: relevant, fresh and topical. With the aim to Give Ballet a New Spin we try to show it under a different light. When writing our capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, we cross it over with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music – ie. other things we love!).


  • July 10, 2011


    Thanks Dave, it was indeed great fun, Freya is lovely, plus Nathalie and Ryo looked stunning!

  • July 9, 2011


    great set of photos! Must have been fun taking those.

  • Great blog from @theballetbag about young choreographer Freya Thomas rehearsing #RoyalBallet dancers #dancefutures

  • Photo time! RT @theballetbag New: young choreographer Freya Thomas in rehearsal w/ RoyalBallet dancers