JOSHUA Barwick knew he was a natural ballet dancer when he reached up to the top shelf in the supermarket - and did an arabesque.

He started doing ballet aged 14, when his dance teacher - Deana Morgan at Shipley's DM Academy - spotted his potential.

"I went there wanting to be in West End shows, I was learning jazz and tap and Deana said ballet would help. I wasn't keen - I didn't want to wear tights," laughs Josh, of Horsforth. ""But she gave me a lesson, and that was it."

Aged 16, Josh landed a place at Northern Ballet's Academy. "I did The Christmas Carol while still at school, then I knocked on (artistic director) David Nixon's door, nervously, to give him my CV. He said, 'Why would I need your CV?' He'd seen me dance - and he offered me a place in the company."

Josh was with Northern Ballet for four years and later went to New English Ballet Theatre, with two six-month contracts at the Royal Opera House.Now he's with Rambert, Britain's national dance company, which is at the Alhambra next week with its most popular work, Ghost Dances, telling stories of love, compassion - and death. Created as a response to political oppression in South America, it uses imagery from the Day of the Dead and bewitching music.

"It's very moving and very intense, it's one of my favourites. A lot of dance schools study it," says Josh. "We did some shows at Sadler's Wells and the audience was applauding before we'd even started. I'm one of the ghosts, which is an honour. The body paint takes a while to get on and off. I'm in all three dances, so there are full-on changes in each interval."

The programme also comprises A Linha Curva, Rambert's colourful, percussion-fuelled party-piece with samba drummers and a light show, and a Nina Simone-inspired routine. "Each piece requires different dance styles," says Josh. "Ghost Dances is intense, there's a lot of partnering, which I love. Rambert is contemporary but we bring ballet in too. I worked hard for a classical technique, I'm not letting it go. The great thing is we're all on the same level, there's no rank-pulling. We hang out a lot."

Josh says Rambert helps makes dance accessible: "I love the classics, but if you're going to see Swan Lake it can be a lot to sit through. Rambert is a more varied style, it opens up dance to wider audiences.

He adds: "TV shows have really opened up dance, especially for boys. I'm a mentor with Rambert's youth company, Quicksilver. I was the only boy for most of my training so I'm excited to work with the next generation of male dancers. It's good to be passing something on."

* Rambert is at the Alhambra, Wednesday to Friday. Call (01274) 432000.