Thursday, 23 September 2021

Girl, nine, with arthritis lands role in ballet show

A NINE-YEAR-OLD girl who suffers from arthritis has won a place in a professional ballet show.

A NINE-YEAR-OLD girl who suffers from arthritis has won a place in a professional ballet show.

Olivia Rennie, from Woodcote, is one of three children from the Henley area who will perform with English Youth Ballet later this month.

Freya Leyland and Sam Edwards, who are both 13, will also appear in a production of Swan Lake at the New Theatre in Oxford.

The trio will be dancing in the chorus alongside professionals from the company’s Oxford Academy.

Olivia, a pupil at Hemdean House School in Caversham, was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis in both knees and ankles at the age of two.

She had to have weekly injections until January this year, when the disease was declared to be in remission.

The injections stopped her immune system from attacking the joints, which was causing her pain.

Olivia was only three when she told her parents Catherine and Simon that she wanted to learn ballet despite suffering stiffness in her legs.

She enrolled with Dance Connection, which holds classes at Woodcote village hall twice a week, and has been a pupil ever since.

The three youngsters were among 250 children who attended an audition at the theatre in June.

The children were divided into groups and asked to learn a dance routine before performing it in front of a panel of judges. Their parents were asked to stay to form an audience.

At the end, the successful candidates were announced in front of the whole group.

Mrs Rennie said: “Olivia was ecstatic because she genuinely didn’t think she had a chance.

“When she was told she’d got through, she was punching the air and, I have to admit, I was as well. We were all absolutely delighted for her.

“I used to have to physically help her out of bed in the mornings but now she can dance so she is quite a success story.

“We put her recovery down to the fact that she does so much dance — that has been like physiotherapy for her.

“She is a very determined girl who doesn’t like to be thwarted. If she wants to do something she will try very, very hard to do it.”

Freya, a pupil at Kendrick School in Reading, lives in Elmhurst Road, Goring, with her parents, Martin and Anna, and brothers, Danny, 19, and Charlie, seven.

She has been a pupil of Dance Connection since she was at nursery school and is working towards her Grade 5 in ballet and also studies tap, modern and jazz dance. As part of her audition she had to go up en pointe, in which the dancer supports their weight on the tip of their foot.

Freya said: “I felt really pleased to get through. I was a bit worried about going up en pointe because I hadn’t been doing it for very long, so I was very proud of myself.

“I’m feeling okay about the show itself, although I’m a little bit worried as I’ve never done that much ballet before. It’s going to be really useful just for the experience.”

Sam, a pupil at St Joseph’s College in Reading, lives in New Road, Lower Shiplake, with his parents, Jane and Mike, twin sister Amy and younger sister Grace, nine. He studies with the Julie Rose Academy of Dance in Shiplake and the Lodge School of Theatre Dance in Reading.

He also trains at weekends with the Royal Ballet School in London as part of its associate programme.

His mother said: “He has never done anything like this before but he is keen and it will be great experience for him to do a proper show.

“He declared that he wanted ballet lessons when he was four and has wanted to pursue a career in it ever since. We don’t know where it came from.

“He does get the odd snide remark from other boys but he has learned to be fairly thick-skinned about it. It’s what he has set his heart on doing. His sisters are very proud of him — the little one dances as well but Sam has the flexibility you really need as a dancer.

“We all support him and run our lives around his dancing classes.”

The youngsters are rehearsing for 12 hours a week in Oxford before their appearances on September 20 and 21.

The show, which features more than 120 dancers, will be directed by Janet Lewis MBE, the head of English Youth Ballet. For more information and tickets, visit www.newtheatre

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