James Berkery learned his craft in Cork, and is now making waves in London, writes Esther McCarthy

A perioid of training in Cork honed James Berkery’s love of dance, and built the foundations for a promising acting career.

After studying in Cork’ Stiofáin Naofa and working with Cork City Ballet, Berkery forged a career as a choreographer in London. Now, the acting roles are coming, too.

Following a supporting role in TV series, Will, a new take on the story of William Shakespeare, he will next be on our screens in Been So Long. He has a role — as a dancer — in the London-set musical. The indie film was recently picked up by Netflix.

The Nenagh man’s passion for performance was first encouraged when he moved to Cork, as a teenager, to study dance.

“I went to Cork, to CSN dance, which was run, at the time, by Alan Foley. Through Alan, I was able to do a Cork City Ballet show. I trained as a ballet dancer.

“I performed for two seasons with them and it was incredible to be exposed to the professional world of dance.

“Through the course, which was a full-time training course, run by Alan, we got to go to the Dance Open Festival, in Russia, which was amazing, with all of the top dancers.”

Based in London for the past six years, James says he loves the creative buzz of the city. “I’ve always been interested in drama, acting, musical theatre, so I auditioned for college in London.

“The years have gone really quickly. There’s so much opportunity and it’s a really exciting city for work. It’s a melting pot of creativity and talent.”

The Tipperary man has transitioned to acting and had a recurring role in Will — opposite Colm Meaney and Ewen Bremner — as Jeremy Nightstand, a theatre performer on the Shakespeare stage.

“I did a lot of dance work and I did a lot of commercials, but Will was the first TV credit. The series shines a light on his inspirations and influences. You see, from a personal and political point of view, what was going on at the time.

“It was really inspiring. They brought a totally new perspective to Elizabethan London. The theatre scenes are told as if theatre was rock’n’roll.

“I think they were confident that this was the way it should have been, that it was never meant to be purist or elitist, that it was meant for the people at the time.

“We shot it in Wales, on four stages. They spent £100m on the series; there was incredible attention to detail. They created the theatre inspired by the Globe.

“In the scenes where we create the plays, they’d be 300 extras watching. It was exhilarating,” Berkery says.

He will use his dance skills in the forthcoming British indie film, Been So Long, which was snapped up by Netflix after being introduced to buyers at this year’s Cannes Film Market. The urban musical will feature music ranging from Caribbean soca and soul jazz to acid house and even punk.

Meanwhile, the dance career continues to thrive. Berkery recently choreographed a music video for Sara Hartman’s latest single, ‘Dance With a Ghost’. “As a choreographer, I was given an interesting brief by director, Alexander Darby, which was to incorporate powder and water into the choreography to add to the narrative.

“After rehearsals finished, we filmed in three separate locations in London and Kent.”

He’s also been working on the choreography for a new take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and will choreograph the show’s premiere next summer.

“The show is a fresh take on the classic story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. We worked with a condensed cast of ten and the purpose of the workshop was to trial and develop ideas that could be used in the final show.”


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