Annette Buvoli 2023
- Alexander Campbell
- Amelia Townsend
- Annette Buvoli
- Carlos Acosta
- Christopher Powney
- Iain Webb
- Isabella Gasparini
- Laura Morera
- Liam Boswell
- Madison Bailey
- Margaret Barbieri
- Nadia Mullova-Barley
- Ryoichi Hirano
- Sarah Lamb
Soloist, The Royal Ballet
Interviewed by David Bain
American International Church, Tue 24th January, 2023
David began by asking Annette to speak about her experience dancing the roles of the Fairy Godmother and the Winter Fairy in Cinderella this season. It was very interesting because, even though it is a classic ballet, only about 10 members of the Company had danced it before, so it was very much like performing a brand-new production. However, it was only given the same amount of rehearsal time as a production like Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty which the Company knows very well, so it was very difficult to learn. In addition, as the Company does not perform much Ashton which is a completely different style of dancing, the movement and musicality felt very foreign. You know the parts you are dancing but it is difficult to visualise where they sit within the ballet, which made the experience very obscure in the beginning.
Initially, Annette was told that she was dancing the Winter Fairy and only covering the Fairy Godmother. She had already learnt the Fairy Godmother role during lockdown with Laura Morera who thought that Annette would really suit the role, but she found the solos for both roles much more challenging than she expected so she had mixed feelings of joy and trepidation. Rehearsals quickly progressed to the partnering work with the cavaliers which again proved daunting because it was a completely different style of partnering. The whole thing was very stressful until about two weeks before opening night when it became hugely exciting as they began to see the new costumes and set. Having only a vague idea of what the production would look like, seeing it come together was both nerve-wracking and thrilling.
Currently Annette has danced two performances of each role, but she still does not feel that she can perform them without having to think about what she is doing so it is still exciting and she is looking forward to dancing the roles a few more times. She still has two more Fairy Godmothers and about 6-8 more “Winters” to dance.
Annette described the Winter Fairy as “the very cold stepsister of the Lilac Fairy”. Having just finished performing the role of the Lilac Fairy, she feels that the temperature of the Winter Fairy role is very different right from her entrance on stage, which is very severe, to the technical approach to every step. If you approach something with love and care your movements are much softer. With the Winter Fairy solo everything is sharp and precise, so you try to cut down on the extra noise and you focus on what Annette calls the “snowflake positions”. Bearing that in mind, rehearsing the Winter Fairy during the day and then reverting to becoming the Lilac Fairy at night proved great fun, because even though they are both classical roles, you can approach them in quite different ways. She had assumed that the Winter Fairy role would be easier than the Lilac Fairy because it has nothing like the stressful fouettés at the end of the Lilac Fairy solo. However, as she began to rehearse it, she realised that it was, indeed, quite difficult.
She was coached by Laura Morera who transitions seamlessly from dancer to coach. She has a knowledge of the Ashton way of moving as well as impeccable musicality, so she has helped them all find their ‘inner Ashton’ considering that they do not do a huge amount of his work in the repertoire.
Other coaches were Samira Saidi who has previously performed the Snow Queen with Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet and had many characterisations to share with them, and Wendy Ellis-Somes. Wendy, who owns the ballet, had quite a lot of involvement but had to be “everywhere all at once”. She attended the initial rehearsals to ensure that the steps and versions being taught were correct and also attended every full call which happened very early on in the process so that everyone could begin knitting the ballet together. It was a huge amount of work and Annette does not know how they managed to do it.
Annette can be seen being coached in the Fairy Godmother role by Laura Morera during a recent Royal Ballet Insights event. She found the experience very stressful because it was her first Insight evening ever and her first proper rehearsal, having had only one rehearsal before that with Itziar Mendizabal. She suddenly realised that she didn’t know the music very well which made her very nervous. That said, the Fairy Godmother is her favourite role so far. She finds it “warm and magical”. Since she was a little girl, Cinderella has been her favourite Disney film and she thought that if she should ever have a daughter, she could tell her that she was once the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. The warmth, magical element and storytelling are so evident in the choreography that you don’t have to add a huge amount, and you can be yourself dancing the role and just let the music and the movement take you and guide you. Also, Francesca Hayward (as Cinderella) is phenomenal and “magic on stage” and Annette has enjoyed every minute of being there with her. She has done some bigger roles this season and felt the pressure and stress that comes along with that, so it was refreshing not to feel this way dancing the Fairy Godmother.
Next David and Annette discussed Woolf Works. This was the first time she was in Act 1 of Woolf Works. She was a Wave in the previous performances. She loves it and though the two ballets are very different, Woolf Works, Act 1 gives her a “Month in the Country feeling” because there is so much intimacy between the characters and even though for many people there is not an apparent storyline, there were special personal and quiet moments during rehearsal whilst watching some of the artists go through the emotion, especially Natalia Osipova which was beautiful to share and though the role was not particularly long, it gave her one of her favourite experiences on stage. It felt very natural, and the music made it hard not to get emotional.
Annette played Rezia, the wife of a shell-shocked World War 1 officer. She was told a great deal about the role by the dramaturg Uzma Hameed who helped Wayne McGregor with the process of coming up with the Woolf Works storyline and selecting which books and elements of Virginia Woolf they wanted to portray. Uzma went through the whole ballet with the Company as if it were a book, provided a full background of each character and showed how things intertwined. This detailed knowledge gave the dancers a lot more to play with on stage and gave depth to each movement.
Playing Rezia, Annette felt she could be herself even though Rezia has her own story, being married to a man with shell shock. In addition, there were specific details about her; for example, she was a hat maker, so Annette didn’t feel that she had to walk on stage and portray exactly that. She just wanted to feel the emotions in her own way using her own experiences. She hasn’t known someone who experienced shell shock, but she has had a loved one who went through an incredibly difficult time, so this is what she used to channel the necessary emotions from that element of her own life and personality into the character. It was very refreshing to do that because she could walk on stage and be herself in all her vulnerability in that moment, but with the shield of a character in front of her providing her with protection. She found it “a beautiful place to be” as it was honest and a new experience that she had never felt on stage before.
Dancing in Waves was great fun though for the audience watching it can be frustrating if they are trying to follow a particular dancer. as the movement is so fast you quickly lose the person you are trying to watch. For Annette, this is the amazing thing about the ballet because she would be watching one character but someone else would catch her attention. Then, suddenly, it was over, and she realised that she had looked at everyone and no-one which she feels is what happens when you look at the ocean because your thoughts are passing, and you are simply happy to be there while your mind wanders somewhere else. It is this fluidity that is beautifully recreated with the movements of Waves. However, Annette knows that if her mother had been watching she would have been very upset not to be able to keep following her. Her mother was unable to be here for the performances, but her father was there, and he absolutely loved the show. He called it a “cinematic experience”.
Annette’s parents are scientists, researchers in molecular biology and they have a very different background, but they are huge supporters of the Arts and they come to see a fair amount of the productions, bearing in mind how expensive it is to travel over from the US. During a five-day visit, her father saw Sleeping Beauty, Woolf Works, the Insight evening as well as an opera.
Woolf Works was Annette’s first featured role in a McGregor ballet. She had previously been a raven in Raven Girl. The Company had a few rehearsals with Wayne, and it was the first time in a while that Annette felt so nervous about a rehearsal because Wayne’s energy is overwhelming (in a positive way) and it was inspiring though very different from working with the regular ballet staff. He is very clear in describing what he wants. It may appear that his movements are without thought and haphazard, but he curates every single second, needing you to understand his intention both mentally and physically. With the roles they were playing, if the dancers matched their emotions to the music, it became too dramatic, so Wayne was trying to ‘soften’ them and get them to feel things internally rather than expressing them as much as they wanted to physically. It was a very interesting exchange.
Moving on to Sleeping Beauty in which Annette has played the roles of the Fairy of the Crystal Fountain and the Lilac Fairy, she said that it was nice not to be a court lady for a change. The Lilac Fairy role is technically difficult, and it is the most nervous she has been on stage. It is hugely rewarding when it goes well and very upsetting when it goes wrong. There was one performance where things went horribly wrong, and it was very difficult for her to come back from that. It was the first time she had experienced something like this, and she had a great mental battle waiting for the next performance so that she could prove to the audience and herself that she really could do it well. In the process she learned a lot about herself. The fact is that you don’t always have good days but, in the corps, you are not exposed, and your mistakes mostly go unnoticed. As a soloist, you are very exposed, and everyone sees your mistakes which is embarrassing and upsetting. Nevertheless, these less successful shows do not define you as a dancer and you must remember who you are and not hold on to the negative situations. You must consider why you are here and why you love what you do so that you do not carry the memory of technical faults to the next performance. It is disappointing when things go wrong after you have put in so much effort practising in the rehearsal studio, and you worry about how you made the mistake; was it a lack of focus or something else? But really it is none of those things and simply that we are human. The progression from the ballet corps to soloist has a very steep learning curve and you do feel that you are suddenly under a microscope and constantly learning. No longer can you go on stage and simply have fun performing your role automatically without the need to think about it.
The Lilac Fairy solo is challenging but the role is so much more than just the solo and Monica Mason really helped her realise that. She is a big fan of Monica and working with her gave her some of the most interesting hours she has spent in a rehearsal studio. It is important to understand that the Lilac Fairy is not just a passenger in the ballet but, in fact, carries the story to the very end. She is responsible for making everyone feel that she is guiding them, and though there is magic in that, it is very daunting to step on stage and realise that it is only you and another main character so you have to be really good.
Annette loved dancing the Fairy of the Crystal Fountain because there were no fouettés and she could relax into the role plus she really loved the costume.
David asked Annette if she would like to play Carabosse but Annette feels she is not ready for this yet being a slower learner. For a very long time, she didn’t do much in the Company, then suddenly she was given a number of roles for which she felt ready. She was not afraid to do them, just excited. With Carabosse, she admires the character artists who do these roles because it takes a huge amount of artistry, and she does not yet feel mature enough to manage that. Someday, however, she would love to take on the role. This is something that Monica Mason could also coach her in which she would find great.
The next ballet discussed was The Nutcracker which Annette missed completely because she had a very bad cycling accident on her way to work. It was traumatic and she ended up on crutches, not knowing whether she would be out for 6 weeks or 6 months. Fortunately, it was only 6 weeks, and the upside was that she had Christmas off, so she was able to fly home for the first time in 10 years. The Royal Opera House Healthcare team including her trainer, Adam, were her “guardian angels” and helped her get back to fitness and strength.
Before the accident, Annette played the Empress Elizabeth in Mayerling. The casting had been announced at the end of the previous season, so she had the whole the summer to think about the role. She had a specific idea of the character but when she first danced the pas de deux in rehearsal with Steven McCrae, her coach, Leanne Benjamin, simply said: “No! That was nice but it was all wrong. Let’s do it again, differently.” without explaining what she was doing wrong. She simply had to do it again completely differently without much more than 30 seconds to think about how. It was also the first time that she had danced with Steven. She had never been in that position before. She felt that it was amazing that she managed to just try something else. In these situations, you need years of experience to be mature enough not to crumble. It was continually like this, having to rethink how to play the character and think about what every gesture meant. For Annette, this was a completely new and different method of rehearsing. So, although the role is not demanding, there are vast intricacies.
David then read a quote from an interview with Steven McRae about working with Annette:
“Asked to describe the relationship between Rudolf and his mother, Steven said that to him he behaves like a little boy who, even though he is much older in years, hasn’t grown out of his childish mentality. The pas de deux is beautiful, not just the emotion, but there is a bit of cat and mouse as she is scared of him, knowing he’s not quite right, but she is still his mother as well as the Empress so there are royal protocols to be observed.”
David asked Annette if that was what was wrong with her imagining of the role, but Annette said that she thought that the character, as a mother, would be much warmer and understanding despite what the choreography indicated. In fact, she was very cold and there was “too much ice on top of the love”. Also being royal brought about a repression of emotions and Annette is highly emotional. So much so that she had to fight her natural instincts. That was what Leanne saw and “she sees everything” so that you cannot get away with anything.
David continued quoting from Steven’s interview:
“Annette has an incredible elegance and beauty about her. His wife, Liz, came to watch Swan Lake last season and, after briefly praising Steven, spoke constantly about Annette’s Big Swan and her natural beauty on stage. When Kristin wasn’t ready to come back for the role, Kevin suggested Annette which Steven immediately agreed to. This was her first principal role, but he emphasised it was her performance too so not to try to fit in with everybody else. And, at once, she embraced the idea. When you look into her eyes, she destroys you.”
So, Annette has a fan in Steven and, as far as she is concerned, the feeling is mutual. She did not know Steven before dancing with him, but she had always respected him immensely. He has a great work ethic, determination, and level of commitment. He trusted her completely and gave her the confidence to trust herself and him, so every rehearsal was a pleasure. She never left feeling deflated even after that rehearsal when Leanne had simply said “No!” to her. Steven took her aside and talked to her about what was expected of the role and how to approach it. For her, Steven is one of the most amazing artists she has ever come across, and being on stage with him is priceless because they have a great understanding so that there is no need for words. David promised to share Annette’s words about him with Steven.
Annette spent a long time in the corps de ballet until finally, last season, she was promoted to First Artist and then this season to Soloist. She felt more than ready to dance the Big Swan role in Swan Lake because she had covered it since her second season and was ready to perform it, even getting as far as the stage call before her debut, but then COVID struck. After COVID she finally got to perform the Big Swan and she felt great doing it. She was also just back from injury. The role is beautiful because you have so much space to move on stage, yet you are surrounded by the corps de ballet, which is a position Annette was more than familiar with.
Pre-COVID she had danced the Enigma Variations but, at the beginning of the season she danced the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, for which she was coached by Monica Mason. It was an amazing experience but it also “broke” her. Whilst dancing this she suffered a grade three stress reaction in her shin, which happens just before a stress fracture. This is something that frequently happens when dancing the Queen of the Wilis for the first time because it is such a huge role with a good deal of jumping and you also have to put in a lot of practice. Despite that, it was hugely rewarding, and Annette looks forward to trying it again at some point.
After this highlight, the season turned out to be very frustrating because Annette felt that she was due to be promoted but after having a scan she was signed off for three months as she couldn’t stand on her right leg. Because of this she missed performing the Rose Fairy and other opportunities. The Healthcare Team brought her back from this injury and then she performed the Big Swan role, followed by Nacha in Like Water for Chocolate. For Annette, promotion, in itself, was less important. It was a means to getting the roles that she loved, and she wanted to do what was necessary to secure them.
Two years ago, Annette talked on Zoom with her partner Harry Churches about what they were doing during lockdown. One of the things was Illustrating which, along with painting, is a true passion for Annette outside of ballet and she set up a small business called “Buvoli Paints”. People are trying to encourage her to paint in her spare moments, but it takes a lot of energy, and she cannot do it when she is tired as it takes a long time to complete an illustration. But she is working at it very slowly and would love to explore and develop this talent once she retires from ballet. Some of her work has been on sale in the Royal Opera House shop.
Annette is from Boulder, Colorado and came relatively late to ballet, studying from the age of 10 at Boulder Ballet, at the time a small studio but which has grown and is quite a professional establishment now. Before that she was doing jazz, running and football. Within a year she was convinced that this was the life she wanted and told her mother that she would not be going to university but would be taking up dancing instead. Annette has a very clear memory of the moment, sitting in the back seat of her parents’ car. She had just learnt about Margot Fonteyn. Coming from a family of scientists with parents working in molecular biology and a mathematician brother who is a professor at Louisiana State University, this was a very different route. Annette has always been different from the rest of her family and, ironically, the worst mark she got at school was in Biology which her parents thought hilarious. She has always enjoyed English, Literature, History and the Arts. Her parents never questioned this and her father, who hated jazz but loved classical music was happy for her to go down the route of ballet. He always played classical music in the house, so Annette was surrounded by it from a young age, and this probably had an influence on her.
A ballet teacher called Rob Kuykendall came to Boulder Ballet and saw that some of the pupils had potential and passion. He became Annette’s coach and worked with her on variations for ballet competitions. The cultural scene in Boulder was not extensive and the nearest ballet company was Colorado Ballet, an hour’s drive away. In any case, Annette had set her sights on bigger things which excited Rob, so he worked her hard, beginning with school from 7:30 a.m. till 3:00 p.m., an hour and a half ballet practice in her lunch break then back to school; homework after school and then more ballet in the evening until 10:00 p.m. Throughout this time, her parents were very supportive, but it was going to take a huge effort to get from Boulder into a bigger ballet school and then to a ballet company. Added to that, she and her parents had no idea what strategy to use, having no experience in the ballet world. She didn’t even know that the Royal Ballet School existed.
At 13, she obtained a place at the Kirov Academy of Ballet summer school in Washington DC. It is closed now but used to be a Vaganova ballet method training centre. After the summer programme, she was asked to come for a whole year. Initially, her parents said no, but Annette insisted, claiming that if they didn’t send her, she would cry every day. They saw how much she wanted to do this, capitulated and sent her to Washington DC for a year.
Whilst there, one of her friends, who is now with the Boston Ballet, suggested they go to London to the Royal Ballet summer school. Annette’s ambition was to go to the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, but she was too young. Instead, she was accepted by the Bolshoi Ballet. So, before arriving in London, she was all set and determined to study ballet in Russia. The Vaganova ballet method was the only one she knew, and she loved the discipline of it. However, going to England for two weeks was fine and her mother was happy with that because she would be close to Italy where her family is from. After the summer school, she would spend the rest of the holiday with her grandmother in Italy before going to Russia.
Annette enjoyed the Royal Ballet School and had a lot of fun there. She was asked to audition and was offered a position at the school by Gailene Stock, who was the Director of the Ballet School at the time. However, she did not want to accept it because she had her heart set on studying in Russia. Her parents, on the other hand were thrilled, having seen the School, and knowing that she would be closer to family. Annette also eventually came round to their way of thinking and accepted the position.
The Royal Ballet School was very different from the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D.C. The Kirov was situated in a dubious neighbourhood in a big building that the dancers were not allowed to exit so they had no freedom. There was a garden in the back but if they wanted to go into town, they had to be driven to a station. Conversely, The Royal Ballet school accommodation was in Baron’s Court, and they commuted to Covent Garden for classes which started at 09:00 a.m. They left at 7:00 a.m. and had to be back by 10:00 p.m. They were given their Oyster Card and were virtually on their own. It was a lot of responsibility and, on top of that, there was the training. Annette was just 15, but she found it all very exciting. She also had to do schooling online to get her American High School Diploma.
They were all working too hard for it to be called fun. Sometimes Annette wishes she could go back and tell her younger self to relax and that everything would turn out O.K. But, at the time, she felt very responsible, having left home and she wanted to prove to her parents that she could be good at ballet and still do her schoolwork so they had all made the right decision.
They were taught by various teachers. Her first left halfway through the year and was not immediately replaced so Gailene Stock took over for a while which Annette found a blessing as she was one of the best teachers she ever had. In addition, there was Anita Young, then Olga Evreinoff and Zenaida Yanowsky who came across from the Company to help.
One constant teacher was Meelis Pakri who was the boys’ tutor but trained them in pas de deux. He was trained in the Vaganova style and had danced in the Colorado Ballet so there was a connection with home and her previous training which meant that he had a huge influence on Annette. In fact, he guided all of them well during a difficult period when they were all trying to find their professionalism. He is quite a fierce teacher. He came and taught the Company a while ago and Gina Storm-Jensen came over to Annette at the end of the session and said: “I haven’t seen you look that stressed in class since we were in first year.” Annette replied: “It’s Mr. Pakri, I don’t know what to do!”
Annette was a year younger than her year group and won the Ballet Association Award at the end of her first year when Gailene Stock unexpectedly promoted her with Hannah Beach, asking them if they would like to skip 2nd year and go straight to the 3rd year. At this stage she felt comfortable and ready for 2nd year and the competitions that followed, but the jump to 3rd year would mean that her timeline was brought forward by a year, and she only had about three months to prepare for competitions which was very stressful. At the end of the first year, unbeknown to anyone, she fractured a rib and should have gone to hospital, but her parents had come to see the end of year show and Annette refused even though she was in extreme pain. This meant that she could not practise over the summer holidays because of the risk of puncturing a lung. As a result, she began 3rd year feeling unprepared and very stressed. It was a very strong year with many of the students later becoming Principals and Soloists in various companies around the world. For example, Esteban Hernandez, Principal with the San Francisco Ballet, Nikisha Fogo, previously with the Vienna Ballet and now a Principal with the San Francisco Ballet, Danielle Muir, Soloist with the Berlin Ballet, Mariko Sasaki, Soloist with the Royal Ballet, Luca Acri, First Soloist with the Royal Ballet, Matthew Ball, Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé, Principals with the Royal Ballet. So, a stunning line-up and, at this stage, Annette was two years younger than all of them.
When the auditions began, Annette was only 17 and too young for most of the companies who had a minimum age requirement of 18 years. This meant that she had fewer opportunities, but she had planned a weekend where she would audition for the Dutch National Ballet and the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich. She was sure that she was not going to receive a Royal Ballet contract because contracts had already been given to Anna Rose O’Sullivan, Luca Acri, Marcelino Sambé, Matthew Ball and David Donnelly. In any case, Annette was excited to audition for the Dutch National Ballet because she liked the company and its repertoire. She got the job which made her “probably the happiest I’ve ever been” because it meant all the hard work had paid off. She continued to Munich and also got that job, but she had already told Dutch National that she would take their job immediately. On return to London, she not only received a contract with the English National Ballet but also with the Royal Ballet, offered by Jay Jolley. Annette turned down the Royal Ballet contract! Rather than being overjoyed, she was quite upset because she had set her heart on working with the Dutch National, had accepted the offer and could already see herself in Amsterdam. Jay Jolley suggested to Annette that she talk to Gailene Stock. Gailene made her aware of the value of the offer from the Royal Ballet which Annette now realises was good advice. At the time the offer took her by complete surprise, and it was only about a week later that the excitement of her situation hit her and she realised how unbelievable it was.
For the end of year performance, she had a ballet, Destiny, created on her. She was supposed to dance it with Matthew Ball, but he had just had knee surgery and she ended up with David Donnelly. Though they are the best of friends now (David is like her brother), at that time they did not get on. Annette doesn’t remember much about the performance because the end of the graduation year is so exciting: you have a job; your fellow students have jobs and the hard work of last 10 years has paid off. The defilé at the end was one the best experiences of her life and February to July was just “a very happy blur”.
David reminded Annette that previously she had told the Association audience that it was unfortunate that the kiss in Destiny was with David Donnelly and not with Matthew Ball. Annette remembers and thinks that the fact that they were both Americans had something to do with them not liking each other. They simply found each other annoying. Also, she and Matthew had created the pas de deux together and it was very special to them so having someone whom you did not really like step in was disappointing. However, she and David both look back on that period with fondness. They were both so young and Annette remembers a picture of them with David wearing a false moustache and Annette hugging him from behind: “We look like we’re 12!”
The end of the year was unfortunately very sad because Gailene Stock fell ill. Annette feels indebted and grateful to her, and it was heart-breaking. It did not feel like the Royal Ballet School without her, and it made it easier for her to leave. She actually has not been back to the School since, and she is not sure that she wants to knowing that Gailene is no longer in the office. Gailene was Annette’s “Fairy Godmother”. She pushed her, believed in her, and made everything possible for her. Annette calls her a “spectacular woman”.
David now asked Annette what the highlights in her early days at the Royal Ballet were. Annette replied that initially things were difficult as she was very nervous in the first season. She wanted so badly to do well but was constantly nervous and disappointed in herself. Everyone else seemed to be so fantastic and she was surrounded by amazing principal dancers. Having reached the top in the ballet school she now felt that she was starting at the bottom again. But she gradually got used to the change; she made friends and things began to calm down. She began to enjoy it more during her second season. Three years in and it started to be fun, she was less stressed and enjoyed being on stage. She saw the new starters looking nervous and she smugly remembered that that had been her a couple of years ago. As time passes, it became more and more enjoyable.
One highlight was during Manon in which she played one of the harlots. As they come off the gangplank the mood is meant to be heart-breaking. The role involves a great deal of make-up (including bruises) and ugly wigs with hair chopped off making the harlots look hideous. One night Annette decided to take it a step further and blacked out some of her teeth plus she developed a strong characterisation which made so many people laugh, that it was the best time she ever had on stage. She still has people reminding her of how great she was as that harlot. Those were really fun moments, and she misses them. When you are doing your 23rd Nutcracker and you are a Snowflake each time, you are all in it together, smiling and getting through it. You are part of a team. There are no words to describe that kind of teamwork.
For example, in Bayadère, everyone is so nervous, but you are all going through it together. You see someone wobble and you are willing them to hold on. There is a strong sense of camaraderie, especially amongst the women who do more shows than anyone in the Opera House. Annette defies us to find anyone who works harder than a corps dancer and once you belong to “that pack” you feel untouchable. She will forever respect them and is proud to have been one of them for such a long time and a large part of her heart is still with them.
Annette’s first solo role was in the Enigma Variations a ballet that was not known to her. She went to Chris Saunders to complain that others had been given opportunities, but she had nothing, and he said to her: “You know this is a solo, right?”, to which Annette replied: “No, I didn’t! Thank you so much! I’ll see you at rehearsal!” During the first performance, she walked on stage with Thomas Whitehead and “felt the auditorium hug me”. Everyone was looking at her and she was excited to show them what she had been working on. She was comfortable to feel that connection and it was the first time that she knew that she wanted to do more on her own. She was still unsure and thought that she might freeze and forget everything, but her memories of that night are very warm.
An audience member asked Annette how she relaxes after a performance and she explained that she is a night owl, so she doesn’t mind the late finishes. She is too nervous to eat before the show so afterwards she will eat leftovers very late with her partner, Harry Churches who, like her, enjoys cooking. Sometimes they just watch television. After a bad show when she is upset, crying and needing to talk, it is good to be with someone who understands, and it helps her leave the bad feelings behind much more quickly. According to Annette, a good spaghetti bolognaise will solve many problems.
Asked about her drawings she explained that she has lots of ideas and she sketches every weekend. Completing a work takes several hours because she is a perfectionist so she can only really work on her art during the holidays. She wishes she had time to do more. During lockdown when she did have the time, she felt that she got the same level of satisfaction from her drawing that she does from ballet so it is definitely something she will pursue when she is dancing less to keep her creative and inspired. Her choice of animals to draw is influenced by the animals you find in the forests of Colorado: cute raccoons, mice, and squirrels. As a child she was inspired by Beatrix Potter and her dressed up animals and also classic Disney films.
Finally, Annette described what happened during the recent Cinderella performance when Leticia Dias, who was dancing the Autumn Fairy sustained an injury during the show. As she was dancing the Fairy Godmother who does not appear in the second act, she volunteered to take over the Autumn Fairy role, but quickly asked herself why she had done that. Isabella Gasparini was called but there were problems with trains so that she could only arrive in time for the third act but not the second. All of this took place within the space of three minutes and then the backstage team went to work, bringing her a tutu, taking off her Fairy Godmother wig and putting on a new one. Following this there was a quick practice with the Cavalier who was a completely new partner for her but the whole experience was fun and stress free. Isabella arrived in time to take over for the third act, so it was an amazing team effort where everyone is happy to help so that the show goes on.
David ended by reminding Annette that when she was injured after Onegin, one of the Healthcare Team comforted her by saying that she would soon be back dancing in the Corps. David feels that she should have said then that she would not return to the Corps but dancing the role of Tatiana. Alas, it was not to be but for Annette this would be a future dream come true.
Looking forward to the next stage of Annette’s career, she has given up cycling and her aim is to remain injury-free so that everything remains possible for her.
Report written by Herma John and edited by Annette Buvoli and David Bain.
© The Ballet Association 2023