Nigel Burgoine: Toledo's 'Billy Elliott'

  • Nigel-Burgoine-in-ballet-class

    Nigel Burgoine in ballet class.

  • Nigel Burgoine in ballet class.
    Nigel Burgoine in ballet class.

    When Nigel Burgoine watches Billy Elliot The Musical it’s like revisiting a part of his history.

    “I absolutely loved my dancing and nothing was going to stop me,” Burgoine said.

    When the musical dances across the Stranahan Theater stage Tuesday through Oct. 7 as part of the Broadway in Toledo series presented by the Theater League, Burgoine, artistic director for the Ballet Theatre of Toledo, will be watching.

    Burgoine, 58, was born in Chelsea, London, and was 4 years old when he discovered his love of dance. He was encouraged by London’s premier dancer at that time, Sir Anton Dolin, to attend the Royal Ballet School in London. He was accepted at age 11, and has spent more than four decades performing, choreographing, teaching, and directing.

    He’s seen both the film and the musical and has found parallels in his life. One poignant scene from the film brought back a vivid and humorous memory from his childhood.

    “I was sitting watching the movie with my wife [Anne Marie Getz]. She felt me grab her hand. At one point the parents put Billy Elliot on the bus to go live at school. You just saw him look down. I said to my wife, ‘He’s all right.’ They waved and he cried.”

    When young Burgoine boarded a similar bus for the three-hour ride to London, the scene was a bit different. “They’d wave. I’d cry, and they went off to the pub.”

    In the musical, Billy is strongly encouraged by his father to forget about dancing. Burgoine had tremendous familial support but faced bullying from his peers.

    “We lived in a small farming community. The person to pick on was the ballet dancer. It was one of those strange things, here I was on the soccer and cricket teams scoring all the goals and yet I was always made fun of; there were a lot of fist fights,” Burgoine recalls.

    No amount of harassing was going to keep him from pursuing his goals and living his dreams.

    There were 250 dancers auditioning with Burgoine for the Royal School; 25 made it. He enrolled in the school on a full scholarship from age 11 to 17. “To give some perspective, it’s now $40,000 a year to go there. At the end, you don’t even know if you’re going to get a job.”

    Burgoine started his professional dancing career immediately after graduation, with the London Festival Ballet, touring the world for 13 years. He’s performed in famous ballets including Swan Lake, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Petrouchka, and Don Quixote. He’s danced his way through many countries including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, Turkey, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Spain, and France.

    Nigel Burgoine, artistic director for the Ballet Theatre of Toledo.
    Nigel Burgoine, artistic director for the Ballet Theatre of Toledo.

    He was with the professional touring group in the mid-1980s during the miners’ strike, the time period in which Billy Elliot is set.

    “I remember being on tour with the London Festival Ballet and driving past the miners on strike, and they were picketing and shouting. It was so sad. You didn’t know what was going to happen.”

    He likens it to a civil war among families — fathers and sons pitted against each other.

    One would cross the picket line to earn a paycheck and the other would refuse. Ballet thrived in those towns even through that tumultuous time. “The shows were always sold out,” Burgoine said. “They wanted to get away from the misery. It was amazing.”

    In 1985 he moved to Texas, where he performed and instructed at the Dallas Ballet Academy. He also directed Dance Outreach, educational dance programs for the ballet. He spent three years in Spain choreographing and dancing.

    Burgoine moved to Norway to be the Ballet Master for the Norwegian National Ballet and then moved back to the United States in 1991 to work with the Cincinnati Ballet. He moved to London and in 1996 settled in Toledo as artistic director for the Toledo Ballet. He joined the Ballet Theatre in 2005.

    He has choreographed numerous ballets including Swan lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, Carmen, Peter Pan, Aladdin, Coppelia, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and The Nutcracker.

    Burgoine set his goals at a young age and always believed he would achieve them. A Royal Ballet School teacher once asked the students to write a letter to her 10 years in the future, telling what they would be doing. “I was an international dancer touring the world,” Burgoine said.

    That young boy’s love affair with ballet continues today. “It’s all been fabulous. Now it’s not always been that secure at times and, for every dancer, there’s a lot of hard work and the question: ‘Am I going to get a job?,’” he said. “It’s scary at times, but it’s so thrilling — the highs and the lows.”

    Contact Julie Njaim at: