"Hero pigeons" Bianca and Mole are two of the Royal Ballet's most unique performers. Jennifer Lu looks at the combination of training, timing and temperament the company needs to manage shows with live animals.

'While most ballet casts are 100 percent human, it's not unheard of for live animals to appear onstage, providing everything from stage dressing to supporting roles. Michael Messerer's production of Don Quixote features a horse and a donkey; American Ballet Theatre's "Giselle" calls for two Russian wolfhounds; and Sir Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee requires a white Shetland pony. Another Ashton masterpiece, The Two Pigeons, is well known for its animal actors. But though ballet is a highly disciplined, carefully choreographed art form, some performers are naturally more prone to flights of fancy—because they're birds.
On opening night of The Royal Ballet's run of The Two Pigeons earlier this year, one of the pigeons made a beeline for the orchestra pit. The female pigeon, whose name is Mole, was supposed to land on soloist Reece Clarke's hand after his adagio solo and stay there until he left the stage. Clarke, in the lead role of the Young Man, said he wasn't sure if his grip was too tight, if the bird became nervous, or if the ropes he wore around his hands and waist during the scene scared the bird off. "I just had a brief moment of panic, and then it was almost like a nice moment," says Clarke. "Like I was setting the pigeon free. And I just had to pretend like that was supposed to happen."' ... Keep reading on Pointe Magazine