The Royal Ballet principal dancer brings grace and dedication to every performance, whether she is debuting an original piece or reinterpreting a classic.
Lauren Cuthbertson’s dressing-room is every little girl’s dream. Tutus in turquoise and cream, pink and black lie in a drift of froth on the bed, sequins sparkling among the layers of tulle. There are photographs of ballet dancers of the past and present pinned around the make-up mirror and, best of all, a great heaped pile of worn ballet shoes on the floor, their toes scuffed, ribbons twirled into knots. There must be more than a hundred pairs, testament to the Royal Ballet principal dancer’s hours and hours of pirouettes, fouettés, pas de chats and arabesques in front of enraptured audiences.
But Cuthbertson herself, incongruous among the pastel in a leopard-print swimsuit and Björn Borg black tracksuit bottoms, is much more excited about a lime-green pair of this-season Prada heels she’s bought for a party tonight. Cuthbertson’s passion for fashion has done more than simply ensure her footwear is up to the mark: her friendship with Erdem Moralioglu, the Turkish-Canadian designer whose shows are a high point of London Fashion Week, led him to design the elegant, beribboned costumes for a new ballet, Corybantic Games, at the Royal Opera House earlier this year. ‘I go to his shows,’ she says, ‘and there’s such a theatrical essence to them. There’s a real link between ballet and fashion. I recognise how relentless his world is. I know how Erdem is before a show, and he knows how I am before a debut.’
Cuthbertson has certainly had her fair share of debuts, recently creating the roles of Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Hermione in The Winter’s Tale. And there’s more to come… ‘I’m so excited for this season, I’m raring to go,’ she says. ‘I feel like I could pounce.’ Indeed, in her animal-print top, her small, sinuous form crouched in a chair, knees to chest and blue eyes glowing, she looks like a wild cat about to spring.
Margot Fonteyn once said that if only we knew the torture a dancer suffers to achieve that effortless grace, only those who enjoy watching bullfights would want to go to the ballet. Cuthbertson has had more than her fair share of anguish, once suffering multiple ligament tears in her foot in a freak accident on stage with Carlos Acosta, and screaming out loud with the pain. She has endured
other injuries and a bout of glandular fever so severe it kept her out of action for over a year. ‘For you,’ she says, ‘it may feel like coming back into a girl’s dream. But this world is for tough women. It’s for really tough women. I have so much respect and a huge bond with anyone else who’s also a professional ballet dancer, because we all know what it takes to get there. And that’s constant, relentless grit.’
Her life is indeed a strange mix of poetry and grinding hard work. When she travels, as she did this summer to Japan, Denmark and across the Atlantic, she carries her tutus and pointe shoes in her hand luggage, and 10 kilograms of weights strapped to her body to strengthen her knees and ankles.
Cuthbertson has been dancing since before she was four, when, as a hyperactive child, she was sent by her mother to ballet school near their home in Devon. ‘I was captivated by how I felt. I fell in love with it. I literally never had a moment’s doubt about what I was going to do.’ Aged 11, she left Devon, where her father ran a butcher’s shop (he used to lock her in the meat freezer if she was naughty) and her mother worked as a seamstress, and came to the Royal Ballet School in London. ‘It was amazing to be surrounded by people who loved what you loved.’
The depth of her devotion for what she does is demonstrated by the array of perfume bottles on her dressing-table. She works with Anastasia Brozler in the perfumer’s studio in Mayfair to create a fragrance not only for many of the characters she embodies, but also sometimes for each different scene. She spritzes onto my wrist the scent she wears to dance Juliet in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, and immediately I catch the light scent of a Veronese garden on a spring evening. ‘Juliet goes on such a journey through the story,’ she explains. ‘The perfume I use for her wedding night is different – more mature and knowing. The emotion she feels is not childish; it’s true love, it’s big.’
This, says Cuthbertson, is her moment. ‘As a woman of 34, I feel like I’m almost beginning again. I’m not trying to be anything or anyone but myself. And all there is right now is the raw essence of me, and the role.’ Her next task is to decide what to wear to the Harper’s Bazaar Women of the Year Awards. ‘I guess it has to be Erdem, doesn’t it? Or a tutu… so long as it goes with neon-green shoes.’
‘This world is for really tough women. I have so much respect
for anyone else who is also a professional ballet dancer’
Lauren Cuthbertson wearsdress, from a selection, Erdem. Pointe shoes, her own