Ballet piano achievements

Montage of pianists Yen Lee and Martina Cuevas

Congratulations to graduate Yen Lee who has secured the position of Company Pianist at Birmingham Royal Ballet, and to BMus student Martina Cuevas, who is enjoying success at Elmhurst Ballet School.

Yen graduated with a MMus in 2020 and Advanced Postgraduate Diploma in 2021. During her time as a student, Yen completed the RBC Ballet Piano Placement Scheme in collaboration with Elmhurst as part of the MMus Reflective Practitioner module. After graduation, Yen worked full-time as a pianist at Elmhurst before her recent post with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Yen said: “It’s such an honour to be working with professional dancers, musicians and company members. Like most piano students, I was trained to be a classical pianist and had no idea about how to play ballet music. The RBC Ballet Piano Scheme is a great opportunity if you are interested in being a ballet pianist. I learned a lot from the mentoring sessions and observations, and the other pianists were friendly and always shared their ideas or music with me.”

Yen added: “Every year Elmhurst has lots of public performances, which is a good opportunity to practise playing with dancers. Without the time at Elmhurst, I wouldn’t have had the chance to join Birmingham Royal Ballet today.

“Now I’m working with the company, I can learn lots of classical ballet repertoire and to expand my ballet knowledge. I’m very much looking forward to the ‘La Fille mal Gardée’ and ‘Cinderella’ next season.”

The RBC Ballet Piano Placement Scheme has been running since 2019. It is open, via successful audition, to all RBC piano students and provides valuable mentoring at Elmhurst and unique experience of the specialist role of ballet pianist.

Senior Tutor in Piano and Ballet Piano Scheme Co-ordinator Katharine Lam said: “Yen is a wonderful advocate of our Ballet Piano Scheme. She took to learning the specific skills, repertoire, and role of a ballet pianist with such enthusiasm and proficiency.

“Gaining this role within world-renowned company Birmingham Royal Ballet is testament to her high-level expertise and fantastic ability at the piano to rehearse with and support the professional dancers. Many congratulations, Yen!”

Martina Cuevas is also enjoying success at Elmhurst. Following a successful audition for the RBC Ballet Piano Scheme, and completing her placement there, Martina began working as a freelance ballet pianist at Elmhurst in June 2022 and for the Manchester Young Dancers Programme in November 2023. She also works as a piano teacher at Elmhurst.

Martina said: “Teaching and playing for classes at Elmhurst has been a wonderful experience and a huge contribution to my development as a musician."

Director of Postgraduate Studies Dr Luan Shaw said: “Our Ballet Piano Placement Scheme is designed to introduce pianists to the often, little-known role of the ballet pianist, and to help our students gain some of the skills necessary to work within a profession that is currently very much in demand.

“We are pleased to be working in collaboration with Elmhurst and are proud of all participants of the scheme who have progressed to professional work as pianists for dance at Elmhurst, within Birmingham Royal Ballet and beyond.”

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