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MS community dance workshop with The Royal Ballet

The Cellist - ballet and MS at the Royal Opera House

Sam Banks

Last month some of our community saw a very special performance of new ballet The Cellist at The Royal Opera House.

Choreographer Cathy Marston’s ballet The Cellist tells the story of Jacqueline du Pré, a world-class cellist who lived with MS. We caught up with Ed, our Director of Digital and Services, Bea who lives with relapsing MS and David who lives with primary progressive MS to hear what they thought.


Showing MS through ballet

Ed: I spent the morning watching the group from our community residency – including Bea and David – develop a dance to tell the story of their MS. This was an incredible experience, and an amazing demonstration of the passion and creativity within our community.

After, we were lucky enough to be invited to watch one of the final rehearsals of The Cellist. Though the term ‘rehearsal’ really didn’t do it justice. It was essentially a private fully-costumed performance, in the main auditorium of the Royal Opera House, complete with orchestra.

"I had no idea that a dance, with no words at all, could tell a story in such a powerful way" - Ed

Bea: It was a privilege to be one of the first people to watch The Cellist. It was so overwhelming! Cathy Marston created the ballet with so much feeling, as she understands how MS can affect a person because her mum lives with the condition.

From the very beginning I felt like I was a part of it. Every moment was beautifully portrayed. From Jacqueline falling in love with the cello – who was played beautifully by a male ballet dancer – to when she met her husband!


"Cathy took me away from reality and into Jacqueline’s life" - Bea

David: I thought it was very clever how Cathy Marston depicted how Jacqueline’s story unfolded, through from a child to adulthood.

You have to accept there’s a certain amount of artistic license. Cathy and the dancers wouldn’t have been able to depict every single symptom of MS. This would’ve been all but impossible as ballet involves very fine moments which we know MS often doesn’t allow!

But I think it captured enough of the poignancy of MS symptoms, in a really unique way, staying true to Jacqueline’s story.

Reflecting on Jacqueline du Pré's legacy through dance

Ed: I don’t know much about ballet, so didn’t know what to expect and I found myself completely unprepared! The performance was absolutely, mind-blowingly beautiful, but also desperately sad. This is a story of incredible talent and passion for music, but also of loss.

Jacqueline’s MS ultimately left her unable to perform. Most of our group were in tears by the end, and I found myself utterly overwhelmed as the curtains closed.

Bea: Cathy took me away from reality and into Jacqueline’s life, showing me how she felt with the music. She was so happy and then suddenly she didn’t know what was happening, and she felt the pain.

The ballet built on how her MS meant she couldn’t play the cello. It showed how she became so broken that she didn’t want to see anyone, not even her mum, dad, sister, or husband.


"Having MS doesn’t stop you having ambitions and dreams" - David

David: For the type of person that finds their heart strings are often tugged upon, they might find The Cellist a tough watch. But, while dark at times, I find it inspired a sense of hope.

We are not defined by our MS

Ed: I had no idea that a dance, with no words at all, could tell a story in such a powerful way and make such an impact.

David: The Cellist certainly made me reflect on my own personal circumstances. Watching Jacqueline’s story play out on stage strengthened my belief that we are not defined by our long-term health conditions. Having MS doesn’t stop you having ambitions and dreams, it just means you may have to go about life in a slightly different way. MS doesn’t delete who we are.

Bea: I’d heard of Jacqueline before I joined the project as I like classical music, but I didn’t know all about her life and that she lived with MS. She’s now my hero!

I loved it so much and I’m telling everyone I meet to go and see it! I’m even booked to watch it again at the cinema.

Watch The Cellist and our community performance

You can watch The Cellist in cinemas until August 10 2020, all the showings are on the Royal Opera House website.

David, Bea and the rest of the MS community group will perform their ballet at a ‘Live at Lunch’ event in the Royal Opera House’s Paul Hamlyn Hall on Friday 27 March.