Tim’s boyhood dance dream comes true: The British-born director of Danish Dance Theatre talks to Ian Soutar about his work as the company make a first visit to Sheffield

Danish Dance Theatre'CaDance
Danish Dance Theatre'CaDance

“I must have been five years old when I saw someone on television at Christmas in what I think must have been some sort of ballet,” recalls Tim Rushton.

“I really can’t remember what it was but I do remember it being very colourful and I do remember going to my grandma and asking if I could do that.

“And then my mum said there was a dance class in the village and I was happy with that – I didn’t know anything else!”

Several decades later, Tim knows a lot more about the world of dance.

Today, at the age of 47, he is the artistic director of the Danish Dance Theatre, a post he has held for the past decade.

And as the company celebrates its 30th anniversary, he is particularly pleased that his dancers are about to make their British debut with a birthday tour organised by the Dance Touring Partnership that will bring them to Sheffield Lyceum next week.

A British tour brings him right back to where it all started, with those classes in a village hall on the outskirts of Birmingham.

“I don’t suppose it was ballet at all,” he laughs. “It was more like creative movement.

“But I loved it. I thought it was fantastic and I knew it was what I wanted to do. Nobody had ever talked to me that way before.”

And, knocking the idea that this is another of those Billy Elliot stories of triumph over dancing adversity, he adds: “My parents were very supportive. They just wanted me to do what I had to do.”

At 16 he joined the Royal Ballet School with its reputation for training many of the biggest names in British dance (fellow pupils included Deborah Bull and Jonathan Cope). In Tim’s case his career took him into Europe, first to Germany and then to Sweden and then on to the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen and ultimately to his post at the head of the Danish Dance Theatre.

“I’ve lived away from England for knocking on 30 years now,” he says. “Coming back, I feel like a tourist in my own country. I’ve been away from England for more than half my life.”

Having said all that, though, Tim admits that this first visit by the company to Britain is extremely important to him.

“I think it’s important because I’ve had a career outside of England and nobody knows that,” he says.

“I’m really excited about how people are going to look at my work, if they will like it or don’t like it.”

The tour will introduce Tim’s unique choreography, which combines the classical lines of the ballet training of his youth with the power of modern dance.

The first piece, Enigma, layers powerful, beautiful and sensual duets as the dancers strive to understand each other.

CaDance is an exciting, testosterone-fuelled competition between five male dancers.

Finally, in the award-winning Kridt, a man on the verge of death remembers his life, loves and losses, as told by the men and women he has known.

“I think my excitement has a lot to do with the UK becoming a real dance Mecca,” he says. “Looking back on me growing up in the Midlands in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I wish I was growing up there now – there’s so much more choice.”

Something else he hopes might have changed in the past 30 years is the sense of exclusivity that once accompanied any sort of dance beyond TV variety shows.

“What I don’t like about dance and ballet is the elitism there always was around it,” he insists. “In my own company we tour everywhere there is dance and we come out with high quality work and our best audiences are often far away from the elitist crowd – I even hate the world elitist.

“What I always say is you shouldn’t put dance under the one big umbrella – just give it a chance!”

Danish Dance Theatre appear won Tuesday and Wednesday in a Sheffield Theatres event in partnership with Danceworks UK and Dance Touring Partnership.