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CONNECTING WITH HIS CHARACTER ; Youngster is first from Northto play iconic Northern role in West End

July 7, 2013


A LOVE of dance is not the only thing Ali Rasul has in common with his alter-ego Billy Elliot.

Twelve-year-old Ali made history when he was selected to become the 33rd boy to play aspiring ballet dancer Billy in London's West End - and the first to actually come from the same region as the character.

Taking time out of rehearsals for Billy Elliot The Musical to speak to the Sunday Sun, Ali said taking on the role had been an honour.

"It's been really exciting," said the Year 9 pupil at High Tunstall College of Science in Hartlepool. "It's a great feeling you get when you hear the audience clapping and sometimes standing up at the end, there have been a few standing ovations.

"I think I have a lot in common with Billy because I love dancing. You can just get your emotions out and have fun when you dance."

Ali started dancing when he was five and went on to win awards nationally and internationally - including the Alesha Dixon Street Dance Stars.

"Billy Eliot is my first stage performance but I have done competitions for dancing. I love street dancing, hip hop and acro dancing," said Ali, who hopes his classmates will come to see him perform later in the year.

"For the show, Electricity is my favourite performance. It is near the end of the show and because it is the last number we do, you can really enjoy it."

Northern lad Ali may be the first from the region to take on the role for stage, but he follows in the footsteps of fellow northerner Jamie Bell, of Billingham, near Stockton, Teesside, who played Billy in the critically-acclaimed movie.

Five times Olivier award-winning Billy Elliot the Musical is based on the Oscar-nominated film and tells the story of one boy's dream to realise his ambitions against the odds.

Set in the North East of England against the background of the historic 1984-85 miners' strike, Billy pursues his passion for dance in secret to avoid disapproval of his struggling family.

Ali, who lists his other hobbies as football, free running and playing on his games console when he has time, said he had watched the film and was lost for words when he landed the part on stage earlier this year.

"I was amazed and excited to get the part," he said.

"I have three sisters and one brother and my older sister and younger sister like to dance.

"They have been to see the show but my brother couldn't make it. They said they were really amazed, I think my sisters would like to do it too. I am really enjoying it, the best thing is just being here.

"It was a bit scary when I was first on stage but I am more comfortable now.

"I was missing home at the start because I love Hartlepool and the North East but I am OK now.

"I get along with everybody, it's like a little family away from home," added Ali, who does not know how long his spell on the stage will be.

Four other youngsters will continue to alternate the role of Billy with Ali, and he is also joined on stage by three other young performers from the North who play the role of Debbie - 10-year-old Dayna Dixon, of Newcastle, 14-year-old Francesca Mango from Northumberland, and 10-year-old Millie Thornton, from Sunderland. Speaking about his hopes for the future, Ali added: "I do want to stay on the stage in the future and I would like to do other West End stuff and acting. "Now I am really enjoying being Billy." The musical, which features music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Northerner Lee Hall, is now in its ninth year at the Victoria Palace Theatre, where the show is currently booking to December 21 this year.

"It was a bit scary when I was " first on stage, but I am more comfortable now

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