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    Lauren Cuthbertson 2019

    Lauren Cuthbertson

    Principal, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, Feb 11 2019

    David welcomed Lauren and asked if she would begin by telling us about last week’s work. Lauren said there’d been five shows in the Linbury of New Work New Music in which she and Marcelino Sambé had danced a pas de deux by Juliano Nunes. There was only a short time to get it together but by the final two shows they really found the piece and she looked forward to performing it again. It was a pas de deux about communication called Two Sides of about nearly always being two sides to every story. She had wanted to work with Juliano for some time. He’s a wonderful dancer and choreographer and a beautiful person. When she met him, Lauren was struck by his whole being and soul and felt he was a true living artist. He’s an ex-Flanders Ballet dancer who retired last year at the age of 28 to pursue his choreography though he does still dance. They had been looking for an opportunity to perform together but before that came the chance to make this piece, so they jumped on the bandwagon and were very excited to create this work.

    Lauren said she adores Two Pigeons, which to her seems a ballet which is slightly overlooked but whenever she dances it she falls in love with it more and more

    Lauren said she adores Two Pigeons, which to her seems a ballet which is slightly overlooked but whenever she dances it she falls in love with it more and more. It’s an amazing company piece, the gypsies are so entertaining and fun, and she loves dancing it with Vadim Muntagirov and Laura Morera and they create an energy on stage which can only be described as magical and in the moment. You can’t rehearse chemistry which is really something that comes alive on stage especially with artists as experienced as they are. The wonderful Christopher Carr puts so much passion into making it fresh while keeping to the original. Over the years he has come to trust them and allows them to set it free so although he is very exact about what he wants there is also an element of applying yourself on top of that. David said there are very different dancers performing the role so what in particular does Lauren put into it? Lauren said she tries to inject it with humour but draws on the tragedy which is very special to the ballet and draws the audiences in, allowing them to understand the playful, loving relationship between the two young lovers. That mixes with the real sadness that she feels when he goes off with the gypsy girl. Then there’s his regret on returning so it’s about finding the mixture of comedy and tragedy. David commented that maybe Lauren was just being her playful self in the first half! The pigeons (which are actually white doves – two with one in reserve just in case) normally behave though one did a dollop on her tights recently which anyone on Instagram will have seen! When they behave well it makes it very moving and although she’s busy dancing she can hear them getting excited. Vadim is amazing with the birds and when one was getting a little anxious, he was wonderful at calming it down. Recently one flew into the orchestra pit and sat on a double bass music stand!

    Towards the end of last year Lauren danced in St Petersburg. She received a phone call on a Wednesday night saying they needed a Sylvia for Saturday or Sunday though preferably Saturday as she had to be back at the Opera House for a rehearsal of Bayadere on the Monday.  She thought she’d fly out on Friday but actually went on the Thursday. That day she went to work, performed Nutcracker at a conference at the Drury Lane Theatre in the morning, had an important rehearsal of Bayadere with Natalia Makarova in the afternoon, dashed home with a half hour to get organised, without even being able to get costumes which were in storage, collect passport and went to the airport. There were some delays, so she arrived next morning at 5am, had a couple of hours sleep while trying to recall the choreography and went to meet Xander Parish at the theatre where she had an hour’s rehearsal with Xander and the Orion. They were interrupted so she could try on the helmet (an option of five) which is very important for Act I. After the rehearsal there was a costume fitting, after which she went to the ballet shop to buy tights. Next day was another rehearsal and then they did the evening performance. It’s such a physical role and by the end of Act I you are depleted.

    Normally you need three weeks to build up the stamina but Lauren only had three hours

    Normally you need three weeks to build up the stamina but Lauren only had three hours, so do you go full out in rehearsal and have nothing left for the performance or do you just pray and call on all your experience to get you through on that big, raked stage with all its history. It was Lauren’s first opportunity to dance on the Maryinsky stage since she was 18 in Tryst and she had never done Sylvia on a raked stage which was hard. She said afterwards to the director, Yuri Fateyev, that she was crazy to have said yes but would have been mad with herself if she’d said no. He said he was very grateful she was crazy!  That evening he invited her back to perform in Sleeping Beaut,y but she pretended not to hear as until it was definite, she didn’t want to get her hopes up. Previously she had only danced a few pas de deux with Xander - Sleeping Beauty and the Black Swan - so not much and they didn’t really know each other very well but there were a couple of special moments on stage which felt nice. About a month ago Lauren had confirmation that Sleeping Beauty was actually happening in March and she will perform it one night followed by two nights of Marguerite and Armandwith Xander.  She will go out on 23 February for 8-10 days to rehearse and learn their production which is 4½ hours long (more time for her to stretch in the wings during diverts) and hope to be able to take in more of the experience than last time. This performance of Sylvia was the first time a British couple had ever danced with the Maryinsky company and for Lauren it was hugely special, a complete whirlwind and beyond anything she had dreamed of. She’d never imagined her career would take her there, to perform with Xander who was an old school friend and someone she admires hugely as a person and a dancer. The Russian audience were really great but it was surreal since no-one had come from home to watch as it all happened so quickly, but next time Lauren already knows about 15 people who will be there to support her.

    Lauren has been doing a lot of guesting recently. She had been to Argentina at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires dancing with Iñaki Urlezaga whose big farewell show it was. He wanted to perform a ballet that he felt close to and as he’d spent much of his formative years at the Royal Ballet, he wanted to do some MacMillan rep.  Lauren was really happy to go and perform in a ballet that she loves so much and which is special for her as it was the first big role she ever performed.  It was sad that Inaki left the Royal after a dreadful accident when he fell from the back of the stage. Since then he’d been performing and choreographing with his own company but there were financial difficulties and the government pulled the funding from his company. He has been very busy and he’s someone with fingers in a lot of pies. Lauren had also been in Vienna and Berlin and then Naples for Nutcracker with Vadim, with the Shanghai Ballet. She first worked with them three years ago on Derek Deane’s big production of Swan Lake, a tutu version which she really likes and which is mesmerising as there are about 52 swans who somehow manage to move like one. She danced then with one of their dancers, ‘Tiger’ (not his real name!) but this time it was with Vadim. Having performed in Vienna and Berlin in opera houses, in Naples it was magical as they performed in the incredible theatre, and Lauren said her jaw dropped when she walked in as she couldn’t believe just how beautiful it was. There are moments like that when you travel and stop for a second to take in such staggeringly beautiful architecture and it makes it worth all the hard work. She really likes the pas de deux which is more a celebration of love and not just about the regal prince and princess, so it was a bit hard for Lauren to switch. The choreographer was Giuseppe Picone, the director of the company, who is ex-ENB. The company were great, so it was wonderful. There was a section at the beginning which Lauren had to learn at the last minute as it was one they couldn’t send by WhatsApp video. There’s a series of ronde de jambes travelling down the stage and Lauren, who really liked the step, apparently did nine extra! At the dress rehearsal they were all saying ‘stop, stop’ but she was having a great time! Giuseppe wasn’t upset when Lauren apologised, saying she loved it so much she just wanted to carry on. The challenge of guesting is the amount of preparation you have to do before you go and yet you mustn’t let it interfere with your work at the Opera House. It’s a constant balancing act.

    How do you plan ahead and fit it all in? Lauren said you can’t say yes every time because they have a long, beautiful schedule at the Opera House but you discuss what opportunities have come your way with Kevin O’Hare, who checks his big book, and you both decide what looks feasible within the season. Otherwise this season she has done Mayerling, La Bayadere, Sylvia, Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Two Pigeons, Symphony in C,and New Works.Aged 17, she had covered Mayerling but didn’t actually do it until three years ago because of illness or injury. In a way she feels thankful it didn’t work out initially as when it did come around she felt very confident to attack the role. It’s an incredible ballet to be part of but a strange one and, this time, seeing friends afterwards she felt quite embarrassed, thinking what she’d done on stage in front of them! But you do lose yourself in the piece which is a thrill. This time she danced with Thiago Soares who is such an amazing partner and so charismatic on stage and she loves doing Mayerling with him. They’ve also danced Swan Lake in Brazil and Judas Tree together.

    Everyone knows what an incredible dancer and performer Carlos Acosta was but Lauren was taken aback at how incredible he was in the studio

    Natalia Makarova, with whom Lauren worked on La Bayadere, is an incredible woman, so direct which people might take personally but she just gives so much in her criticism that you have to take her comments the right way and you come away feeling you need all night to absorb what she’s shown or told you. She was there early on in the rehearsal period and then Olga Evreinoff came. She and Matt Ball also worked a lot with Carlos who she’d not worked with before. Everyone knows what an incredible dancer and performer he was but Lauren was taken aback at how incredible he was in the studio. He came in with all the passion, enthusiasm, expertise and knowledge he’d displayed on stage and gave it all to them, so Lauren was so happy to have had those two weeks working with him. Kevin has done quite a lot of bringing people back to coach. Lauren also adored working with Viviana Durante and has made so much progress with her. They worked a lot on Sleeping Beautyand Nutcracker and now they will do Romeo and Juliet and she worked with her on Manon. She also worked with Darcey Bussell on Sylvia, so she’s drawing on the experience of all those amazing artists and it’s important that they keep coming back. Asked when there are a lot of coaches involved, do they all agree. Lauren said that while there can be differing views, most of the time they want the same thing but they go about it differently. It’s a challenge for the dancers to hear everything that they say but you yourself have to decide where you want to go with something.

    Chris Wheeldon had created roles on her - the last time Lauren came she had done Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and since then he had created The Winter’s Tale. Working with Chris is really special. She feels they have a mutual trust and understanding which doesn’t make it safe but a more confident, creative space and she really loves going into the studio not knowing where you will be at the end of the rehearsal. How much did Lauren know of The Winter’s Tale in advance? She said ‘nothing’, it was so hard to read, difficult to decide who was who and she couldn’t understand it at all. Watching the play helped a lot and then Nick Hytner brought a group of actors in and they had a live read through which, for her, was a huge turning point as she was then able to go back to the Shakespeare and understand what it was about. It helped enormously that they’d had that opportunity before Chris started creating the ballet, so she felt she was able to give her input. Hermione’s like the best woman in the world. She disappears for a long time but returns for the most beautiful bit of the ballet. Lauren has worked a lot with Ed Watson. He is an incredibly intense person and everything about his physicality and brain is so switched on. He’s a unique character and partner and she’s very happy to have created work with him, especially The Winter’s Tale as his Leontes was incredible and from Day 1 the character came alive. Federico Bonelli was in her cast and also the incredible Zenaida Yanowsky.

    When she was younger Lauren covered Tryst and was thrown on, she was second cast of DGV and at the school she also worked with Chris which was an amazing experience. During GCSEs or A levels she was meant to be doing a rehearsal on the Opera House stage. The minimum time bell went for an academic exam and as soon as it was rung, when she was only about three questions in, she bolted into the garden started stretching and warming up and going through the ballet. When the exam was finished the bus took them to the Opera House and she recalled seeing another girl doing the staging call of her part, so she rushed to get into costume and onto the stage. She was 16 at the time when she first worked with Chris while in her first year, dancing with the third-year students so it was fun.

    Lauren has worked with Wayne McGregor on quite a lot of new pieces - Chroma, Live Fire Exercise, Qualia, Acis and Galitea, Infra,and Multiverse.Asked how Wayne has changed, Lauren said when she saw Woolf Works which she loved, on opening night she was crying in the wave scene in Act III and it seemed as if all the years of work came together in that beautiful production. She thinks that’s not changing but evolving as an artist’s journey grows and develops. Qualia came first. It was totally new but Lauren was fresh from school, so everything was new for her at the time and it was just another new thing. It was great to do something like that and broaden your skills at a younger age.  Lauren also worked with David Dawson which she really enjoyed as he pushes you to your limits physically and that is great to explore. She’s worked with Liam Scarlett a little, also with Cathy Marston when Lauren was younger, which was wonderful, and she loves her narrative ballets. It’s been amazing to watch her develop and raise a family and travel and direct and create.  Of Cathy’s pieces she’s done several including Tracesand Between Shadowsin the Linbury and the Clore. Next season Cathy will make a piece for the main stage.

    Of Ashton’s work Lauren has recently done Marguerite and Armand, Two Pigeons, and next will be Month in the Country. Marguerite and Armand is one of her favourite pieces ever and it makes her cry. Alexander Agadzhanov is the coach. It was one of those amazing things that right from the first rehearsal everything seemed to fit. Grant Coyle is wonderful at teaching it. From the minute the pianist plays the first piece when Armand walks in and you turn you feel a wow factor with Ashton’s work. Month is an incredible ballet which she has never done and rehearsals haven’t yet begun.

    Lauren has created a lot of roles. What say do you have in terms of costumes? Lauren said not for the design but for the fitting you can tweak. Bob Crowley on Alice was amazing. He asked what she would wear in the summer and said to bring something in and he’d design around it. It always has to be comfortable and she thinks Wardrobe Department hate her because she’s always saying why can’t it be stretchy? She knows the wardrobe people really well and they are experts, spending so much time making and tailoring costumes to fit and then Lauren puts the costume on and can’t dance in it which is a shame for her and the wonderful people making the beautiful costumes. She has asked the supervisor if they can make something more comfortable in the first place so there’s not always a fight. Viviana advised putting on the tutu weeks before going on stage because there are so many extra elements to contend with once on stage and it does help. She’s usually lugging a couple of costumes around the Opera House at any one time! For a new ballet you don’t get much notice of costumes, so you replicate them during rehearsals. For Hermione she was given a pregnancy bump to wear at rehearsals with a long skirt. For Alice she always wore a practice skirt and it is worth it as it makes a lot of difference to the line and what you see. For Two Pigeons she always wore a practice skirt and for Marguerite she wore Zenaida’s old long costume to practice and it is something worth doing.

    Working with choreographers, who involves you the most in developing the ballet? Lauren puts herself in all of them. It depends how much you give them rather than the other way round. If you just stand and wait for something to come to you, that’s one way of working but if you arrive and try to go in the direction you feel the choreographer might be going in, or even going where they might not be going, it’s all about trying things out. She is actively involved, and emotionally and musically you are adding another layer and Lauren definitely feels very involved in all creations. Wayne makes material with different music in the background which is a creative thing of his and Lauren understands this as working alone at the bar she won’t always have a ballet score playing. Wayne adds his music afterwards, she’s not sure why but maybe it’s so that he doesn’t feel dictated to by the music. Lauren only counts when she really has to. With Stravinsky you have to count and you just learn it like learning steps which go into the muscle memory. Wayne is so mathematical it’s incredible. He opens up a book of counts and everything is worked out to the Nth degree in advance.

    Lauren is passionate about the London Children’s Ballet ,as it brings out the creative side of the children and they learn to work in a group and be creative together

    Working with young people. Lauren is patron of London Children’s Ballet and National Youth Ballet who do quite different things. The former is company based, working between October and May towards a big ballet. It’s about bringing children together to experience what it would be like in a company rather than just doing your bar and exercises once a week. Lauren is passionate about it as it brings out the creative side of the children and they learn to work in a group and be creative together. It’s an amazing thing they do, performing in the Peacock most years, and they’re about to celebrate their 25th anniversary. You don’t have to be excellent, just wonderful children wanting to do the same thing. The latter is more short term and mainly a summer course ending up in a performance.

    Does Lauren teach? She has done quite a bit of coaching but teaching is a skill and she would need to study to be a teacher. Coaching is more about having the eye and she loves working with young people and helping their confidence to push themselves and bringing out their personality. Lauren does no coaching at the Opera House, just with Children’s Ballet and others who are going in for competitions.

    Choreography. She was going to do a piece and then went to Russia.  She really felt quite passionate about it as she realised when she was younger the emphasis particularly for females was on being the muse and that was what she wanted. She did do a piece at White Lodge but it didn’t go down too well. She was 12 and instead of being beautiful it had people in balaclavas and black hats so wasn’t appreciated by the Royal Ballet School! She could make a piece and maybe some younger dancers would then see that you could be a ballerina as well as creating works and it might help them to do both. When you are younger if you’re not in the limelight you might not be considered as someone who can go the whole way. It is all beneficial.

    Is there any choreographer, role or partner Lauren would like to be involved with? There are a lot and this may sound vague but she believes if you try to force situations they often don’t happen, so she does the best she can with each opportunity and what unfolds from there is what will happen. If her choices happen it is an amazing gift but if not there are other things which she might never have thought of or done. Does Kevin suggest things she might do? Lauren said he is an amazing director. You can always go to him and he’ll be honest and she’s learned that while it might not always be what you want to hear, the honesty is actually what you need to hear. It is always a wonderful discussion with him. She has never said what she really wants to do – they might have a discussion about what the season holds but maybe she is slow on the uptake and should push for more! She would like to do something with John Neumeier. She was in Mats Ek’s Carmen.Will she do it again? Probably not as Mats has removed his ballets from being performed. Lauren said it was amazing and something she’ll always remember. She had an incredible time and her eyes were opened during that process. She learned the role from the woman who created it which is the biggest gift you can get, and Mats came to work with them. The character, M, interrupts every scene and then disappears but is usually behind a screen on stage so you continue to feel very involved. She had a wonderful time. She had four hours working with Mats and will never forget how he demonstrated things to her and how he held the whole company’s attention, listening to every word that he said. An incredible man. We are very lucky in this art form to have the chance to work with so many incredible people.

    Lauren once said she’d like to dance in Le Parc.Is that still so? She said she’d love to do it. It was to be in the rep and she even did an audition but it was cancelled with the change of director.

    Her favourite role? Lauren said when she retires, she might look back at a distance and realise a favourite. You invest everything into every role and it is hard to disengage and think which one does Lauren like. You are engrossed with the character, the different challenges, different people you work with, different music. Marguerite and Armand is one which is powerful but she wouldn’t say it was a favourite as there are so many and they are so different. Song of the Earth is another wonderful work.

    She did Between Shadows in the Clore when Gillie Revie couldn’t do it as it was said she had a bad neck though in fact she was pregnant! Lauren was 17, learned it at short notice, was just out of school and didn’t know whether she could act but just delved straight in. She was dancing with Martin Harvey as her lover and Ed Watson as her husband, and Elizabeth McGorian was also in it. It was the best thing being thrown in at the deep end with those wonderful artists and she just had to step up as there was nothing else to be done.

    Ambitions in the longer term – director of the Royal Ballet? Mmm – maybe but at the moment she is happy dancing at home and away.

    David thanked Lauren very much for coming. We’ve all followed her career since she was at school, love seeing her on stage and look forward to watching her for many more years to come.

    Report written by Liz Bouttell, corrected by Lauren Cuthbertson and David Bain© The Ballet Association 2019