Lauren Cuthbertson stars in ‘Sylvia’

The Royal Ballet’s principal dancer talks to T&C about the colourful new production

Lauren Cuthbertson as Sylvia and Nehemiah Kish as Orion © ROH 2017. Photograph: Alice Pennefather

From this month the Royal Ballet performs Frederick Ashton’s timeless choreography to Léo Delibes’s stunning 1876 score in Christopher Newton’s new production of Sylvia. A homage to Greek mythology, it tells the story of a simple shepherd, Aminta, who tries to win the heart of the fiercely independent nymph, Sylvia, follower of Diana, goddess of the hunt, but it is only with the threat of a rival and the help of Eros, god of love, that the real chase begins.

Now, 65 years after Ashton’s choreography was first performed in 1952 by Dame Margot Fonteyn, the Royal Ballet’s principal dancer and former Town & Country cover star Lauren Cuthbertson talks about the challenges of taking on the title role, stepping into Fonteyn’s shoes and what she’s planning for the Christmas season.

Lauren Cuthbertson as Sylvia © ROH 2017. Photograph: Alice Pennefather

It has been a year since you graced T&C’s December cover; what have you been up to since then?

It has been quite an intense year. I feel I haven’t stopped pirouetting since the shoot! I’ve made precious debuts in the Kenneth Macmillan ballets Anastasia, Mayerling and The Judas Tree, and I have been travelling a lot, performing around the world as well as here at the stunning Royal Opera House. I’ve danced Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Diamonds in Jewels and many more. I’ve been to Australia twice, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Prague, Toronto and Barcelona, to name a few.

What can we expect from this production of Sylvia?

It’s a glorious production staged by Christopher Newton and audiences will recognise and love the music. The sets and costumes are vibrant and each act is totally different in feel. By the third act it’s a huge celebration of love and contains some very memorable pirouettes, lifts and famous jumping dives into the man’s arms.

Who was Frederick Ashton and what did he bring to the world of ballet?

Frederick Ashton is an iconic figure in ballet. He succeeded Dame Ninette de Valois (the founder of the Royal Ballet) as director but his legacy lives on, mainly through the wide variety of ballets he choreographed that are now performed all around the world. He brought beauty and musicality to everything he made and has inspired generations of dancers.

Frederick Ashton choreographed Sylvia for his friend Margot Fonteyn. What fresh elements will you bring to the role?

Having never seen Margot perform this role I can only imagine what she brought to it. I think the modern-day ballerina is pushing and stretching to the limits, so perhaps I will aim to be more athletic in the strong hunt scenes, while channelling the glamour of Margot and her era for Acts Two and Three, where you can’t help but have her in your imagination. Darcey Bussell was an extraordinary Sylvia and she has been coaching me on the role. It’s tough to prepare for and she never stops striving for me to be and feel better.

Lauren Cuthbertson as Sylvia and Reece Clarke as Aminta © ROH 2017. Photograph: Alice Pennefather

What are your plans for the Christmas season?

The Nutcracker, of course, which I’ll be performing in after Sylvia, just in time to get ready for Christmas, which I’ll be spending in London and New York. I’m very excited about it all.

If you could go back in time, which ballet performance would you like to see?

I would love to have been a dancer with the company in the 1950s. I used to pore over images and read so much about the incredible ‘American tour’ that put British ballet on the map. Apparently, they would ride by steam train with their trunks and hat boxes. Watching Margot Fonteyn perform the Rose Adage from Act One of The Sleeping Beauty on the opening night of this US tour is something I wish I could have seen. 

Lauren Cuthbertson as Sylvia and artists of the Royal Ballet © ROH 2017. Photograph: Alice Pennefather

Lauren Cuthbertson dances in ‘Sylvia’ on 29 November and 2 December and in ‘The Nutcracker’ on 18 and 22 December at the Royal Opera House.

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