Meet the real-life Billy Elliot who'll be flying high in Belfast
Rising English ballet star Liam Mower tells Matthew McCreary how he defied the taunts to follow his dream, like the famous movie character himself.
Maybe it's a case of art imitating life, or perhaps the other way round, but when Liam Mower takes to the stage at Belfast's Grand Opera House next week for Swan Lake, it will be almost like the completion of a circle that began with a certain hit film from 14 years ago.
In many ways, the 21-year-old Englishman's career arc as a dancer matches that of Billy Elliot, the working class northern lad who defied the expectations of his upbringing to become a ballet star. The 2000 film, starring Jamie Bell, captivated audiences on its release and proved a smash hit when it transferred to the West End stage a few years later, with a young Liam in the title role.
It was a part which was to be a crucial springboard for his career, even if the Hull native is slightly coy at the obvious comparisons. "I'm from up north, and I have three brothers that were all completely different, all quite sporty," he says. "I'm the only one that's artistic in any way. I went to the Royal Ballet School when I was 12, so there are funny echoes that are quite similar between me and Billy."
And like his alter ego, Liam admits to having endured more than a few raised eyebrows when his career choice became apparent.
"I did get teased, but not to too serious a point," he says. "It was just name-calling in the school yard.
"When I came home from doing Billy Elliot, though, people were different towards me; they realised how much of an experience I'd had and how great the show was. They just understood it a lot more and from then on the taunting stopped." There is a further resonance too with his forthcoming role in Tchaikovsky's iconic work, as he credits the fleeting, but poignant final scene of the film – in which a mature Billy takes to the stage in London in front of family and friends – with helping inspire his longing to be a ballet dancer.
"The first thing I saw was Adam Cooper leaping up at the end of the movie, and I thought it was just amazing," he recalls, adding: "It's always been a show I wanted to do since I first saw it, especially the role of the Prince, which I loved."
Ironically, the version of Swan Lake featured in that very scene was from the same production which will be hitting Belfast next week. It is the work of acclaimed English choreographer Matthew Bourne and features the intriguing premise of an almost exclusively male cast.
"There are some women in the show, but usually when you find a classical version, the swans are all women," explains Liam. "This is more of a contemporary take on the classical version."
He adds: "You find with Matt's work it's not only about dance. All of his shows are so narrative and take you through a journey and a story, which is just as important as the dance.
"You get different versions of the classical ballet, but this just brings something very different to it. It's a very powerful look on stage and lovely to watch, this big group of men dancing beautifully."
* Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, from Tuesday to Saturday, April 1-5. For details, visit www.goh.co.uk