At the start of the 2023/24 academic year, The Royal Ballet School welcomed four new full-time ballet teachers to its Artistic staff. James Butcher and Larissa Bamber joined White Lodge’s teaching faculty, which educates students aged 11 to 16. Meanwhile, Stuart Cassidy and Sarah Kundi joined Upper School’s faculty, which trains students aged 16 to 19.
All four of the new teachers are highly respected performers and educators. And three — Butcher, Bamber, and Cassidy — are alumni of the School.
Here’s an introduction to the new teachers and their performance and educational backgrounds. Cassidy, Kundi, Butcher, and Bamber also share their advice for young dancers.
Meet Stuart Cassidy
Cassidy has a long history with The Royal Ballet and The Royal Ballet School. His first ballet teacher was Irene Kinsey, who used to be a Royal Ballet dancer. She suggested he audition for the School’s Junior Associate Programme. Gaining a place on this programme, Cassidy trained with the Junior Associates for a year before joining White Lodge.
Performing with The Royal Ballet and K-Ballet
After leaving Upper School, Cassidy joined The Royal Ballet in 1987. The company promoted him to Principal Dancer within four years. He made his Principal debut as Romeo in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Cassidy says MacMillan choosing him for the role remains one of his career highlights.
As a member of the corps de ballet with The Royal Ballet, Cassidy went on to perform notable roles like Siegfried in Swan Lake and the Prince in The Nutcracker.
In 1999, Cassidy left The Royal Ballet and helped found K-Ballet in Japan. He was K-Ballet’s Assistant Director and a Principal Dancer with the company until 2020. He is still an Honorary Principal of K-Ballet.
In 2003, Cassidy achieved a Professional Dancers’ Teacher Diploma (PDTD) with distinction from the Royal Academy of Dance. In 2005, he became a qualified Pilates instructor.
Passionate about teaching
After retiring from performing, Cassidy dedicated his career to teaching. He has taught students and professionals at leading dance companies like English National Ballet School, New Zealand School of Dance, and Royal New Zealand Ballet Company.
Cassidy is passionate about continuing to learn and grow as a teacher. He says: “I am trying to expand my knowledge and learn from all the other teachers and students because everyone has a fresh perspective on things.”
Cassidy plans to bring his experience as a former Royal Ballet School student to his teaching role. Having progressed through the School and company at every level, he has unique insights into what it takes to become a dancer: “I’ve been there, I’ve done it.” This experience will allow Cassidy to impart valuable knowledge to students.
Cassidy’s advice for young dancers is “to be yourself” and “be adaptable.” He says: “You don’t want to copy anyone else; you want to be genuine and be yourself, so then your personality and interpretation can come through.” He adds: “Be a sponge; take on and absorb everything.”
Meet Sarah Kundi
Kundi has joined The Royal Ballet School’s Artistic staff after a flourishing, 19-year career as a performer.
Winning awards for performance
After training with Central School of Ballet, Kundi began her professional career with Northern Ballet in 2004. Four years later, she joined Ballet Black, a London-based ballet company that celebrates dancers of Black and Asian descent.
Kundi performed with Ballet Black for five years. During this time she received a nomination for a Critic’s Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Female Performance in the Classical sector. She received this nomination for her performance in William Tuckett’s Depouillement.
In 2014, Kundi joined English National Ballet, where she was a First Artist. She received the Corps de Ballet Award on behalf of the company in 2017.
Pursuing her love of teaching
In 2022, Kundi completed her Teacher Training Diploma with The Royal Ballet School. She has sat on many audition and assessment panels. She has also had a hand in various workshops and projects as part of her role with English National Ballet’s Engagement Team.
On top of this, Kundi is the Advisor and Facilitator of English National Ballet’s Pipeline Project, Ballet Futures. This artistic training programme supports children who come from underrepresented backgrounds.
Now, Kundi has joined The Royal Ballet School to pursue her love of teaching and supporting young dancers. She looks forward to empowering her group of students to achieve their best. Kundi will ensure her students’ needs and learning are a “top priority,” noting that the School’s teaching ethos is to sustain excellence through support and encouragement.
Kundi’s advice for today’s young dancers is to stay resilient, be patient, and put in hard work. She adds that students shouldn’t compare themselves to others, as “everyone’s on their own journey.”
Meet James Butcher
A former Royal Ballet School student, Butcher has returned to the School to teach boys in Years 8 and 11 at White Lodge.
Performing with The Royal Ballet and on the West End
Initially training with Central School of Ballet, Butcher received a scholarship to join The Royal Ballet School Upper School in Covent Garden. He went on to dance with The Royal Ballet, performing in several classical ballets. He was also an original cast member of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Butcher has starred in acclaimed West End shows, playing roles in Billy Elliot, The Phantom of the Opera, and An American in Paris. He is an Associate of the Royal Academy of Dance (ARAD) and a Fellow and committee member of the Imperial Classical Ballet faculty for the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).
A passion for education
Butcher followed his successful performance career with a move to teaching. Most recently, he worked as a third-year ballet tutor at Central School of Ballet. He has also been a ballet teacher at Sylvia Young Theatre School and Italia Conti Academy. In addition, he’s worked as a ballet teacher and rehearsal director for London Children’s Ballet.
Butcher has pursued additional education to enhance his understanding of dance and teaching. He is a qualified personal trainer, he has completed a master’s degree in Dance Pedagogy, and he holds a Fellowship in Higher Education (FHEA).
He hopes his passion for education will inspire students to see new possibilities for their futures. “Just because you’ve gone to a ballet school doesn’t mean you can’t become an engineer if that is what you want to do,” Butcher says. “What The Royal Ballet School will teach you is grit, determination, and autonomous learning.”
Celebrating small wins and trusting the process
Butcher looks forward to The Royal Ballet School’s end-of-year Summer Performances at Opera Holland Park and the Royal Opera House. But he’s just as excited for the “small wins.” For instance, helping a student understand a new ballet concept for the first time and seeing their confidence in the studio blossom. “I hope I will have a few of those small wins to celebrate with the students.”
Butcher advises students starting their dance journeys to “trust the process.” He says: “You can’t run before you can walk, so trust yourself and the process, as not everything happens overnight.”
Meet Larissa Bamber
Bamber has taught dancers and judged scholarships and awards throughout the UK and internationally. An alumna of the School, she trained at White Lodge and Upper School before joining The Royal Ballet at 18 years old.
Bamber danced with the company for 13 years and performed repertoire ranging from Principal roles to corps de ballet. Her favourite role was in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations.
Mentoring and coaching dancers of all ages
After retiring from her performing career, Bamber trained as a teacher and gained the Royal Academy of Dance’s PDTD with distinction. She has mentored and coached dancers of all ages at several vocational ballet schools in the UK, including training the graduate year at English National Ballet School for 13 years.
In addition, Bamber has choreographed and co-produced productions for English National Ballet School and Central School of Ballet Associates. She has also co-ordinated summer programmes and short courses and served as the Artistic Advisor of English National Ballet School Juniors.
In 2021, London Studio Centre invited her to become the Artistic Director and Principal Teacher of Images Ballet Company. In this role, she taught students in their final year of training for a degree programme. She also commissioned choreographers to create pieces for the company.
Returning to White Lodge as a teacher
Now, Bamber has joined The Royal Ballet School’s White Lodge teaching staff. She brings years of experience as a teacher and professional Royal Ballet dancer. She feels “delighted” to return to the School and reflects on when she first joined White Lodge as a “nervous little 11-year-old.”
“Little did I know then of the path my career would take; it feels like a full circle to be back,” she notes. “For me, teaching was just a natural progression from being a dancer.”
Bamber loves being part of her students’ journey. She finds it “hugely rewarding” to see dancers she’s taught graduate and find employment.
The best advice Bamber has ever received during her training came from her first ballet teacher: “She said, ‘you’ve got to love it.’ A dancing career is hard; it has to be you who loves it, not your parents.” Bamber also advises young dancers to “be adaptable” and not fear change: “It’s taken me a lifetime to realise that change is good.”
About The Royal Ballet School
Dame Ninette de Valois founded The Royal Ballet School in 1926. For almost a century, the School has nurtured generations of talented dancers and choreographers. Amongst the School’s alumni are Marianela Nuñez, Matthew Ball, Kenneth MacMillan, and Anya Linden.
As a celebrated centre for classical ballet training, The Royal Ballet School offers several first-rate dance training programmes. These programmes include full-time vocational training, part-time pre-vocational training through the Associate Programme, and recreational training through the Affiliate Training and Assessment Programme.
The School has also extended its training to people everywhere through its on-demand dance training courses. These digital classes allow dancers to train with Royal Ballet School artistic staff anytime and anywhere. The on-demand courses include Primary Steps on Demand, which allows children all over the world to access a ballet education.
Learn more about The Royal Ballet School’s dancer training programmes.