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About the Change

Who is the next
    Darcey Bussell?

By Jeffery Taylor (©)
Former dancer, Dance Critic and an Arts feature writer for the Sunday Express. Pub 26 06 2007

© Dougie Morrison

School websites...
Central School of Ballet

Elmhurst School for Dance

English National Ballet School

Royal Ballet School

Jeffery Taylor on Darcey Bussell...

June 2007
September 2002

Jeffery Taylor reviews

Web version held on by kind permission of Jeffery Taylor and the Sunday Express

Express Website

The legendary Margot Fonteyn propelled the Royal Ballet’s first significant turning point when she conquered New York in 1949. Glory abroad and establishment at home followed. This week in Puebla, Mexico, the company is facing another, some say even more profound, metamorphosis.

For the first time in its 76 year history the Royal Ballet is no longer led by a British ballerina. And the question on everybody’s lips is: who is the next Darcey Bussell? The simple answer is: there isn’t one.

London born Bussell’s retirement after 18 years as Principal Dancer and the Face of British Ballet represents a serious identity crisis for many UK dancer lovers. There are 8 listed resident female Principal Dancers in the Royal Ballet, all of them are world class dancers, but none of them British. Nor are there any obvious native born candidates in the company’s middle ranks.

Skipping a generation appears to provide a solution. We asked four of the country’s leading vocational classical ballet schools, Central School of Ballet, Elmhurst School for Dance, English National Ballet School and the Royal Ballet Schools to nominate a candidate for the dual role of leading dancer and roving ambassador. “No pressure, than,” quipped the Royal Ballet Schools director, Gailene Stock as she introduced her nominee, Claire Calvert, 19. Claire started dancing aged 3 in her home town, Bath and joined the RB Junior School at 11. “I didn’t fit in at first,” she remembers “I wasn’t a typical girl all in pink, I was a bit of a tomboy.” Claire joins the Royal Ballet next month, which is precisely, says Stock, when the trouble may start.


Claire Calvert, Royal Ballet School
© Dougie Morrison

“Schools are producing lots of talent, but professional career management sometimes goes wrong,” explains the Australian born former dancer, recruited a decade ago to destroy the ivory tower mentality stifling training at the RB Schools. “You have a beautiful young dancer like Claire, but she may not be given the plum roles to get to the top. Company artistic directors may be taken by a flashy Spaniard and overlook Claire. It’s up to us to make English dancers more up front which I’ve tried to achieve over the past ten years.”

It is clear to many in the UK dance world that the generation we skipped in our search for the next Darcey Bussell was lost to political correctness and the Health and Safety Act fatally dumbing down classical ballet training. “It’s inescapable,” agrees Carole Gable of the Central School of Ballet. “You cannot touch a student and if a child wants to go to the loo, 2 people have to go with them. It’s all tied in financially. To get the money to keep the school open we have to abide by the rules.”


Laurel Dalley-Smith, Central School of Ballet
© Dougie Morrison

Laurel Dalley-Smith, 18, is Central’s candidate for stardom. “When I was 10,” she recalls, “I saw Darcey on television one Christmas at my aunty’s house, and I also got her biography. She was a real person and I loved what I saw. She inspired me.”

Money is the root of Mary Goodhew’s problems since she opened Elmhurst School for Dance’s new Birmingham premises 3 years ago. “Dancing is best developed when young,” she explains, “and we lose most of the best because not enough government funding is available for all the beautiful young talent we find.” Luckily for us she did find Laura-Jane Gibson, 19, joining Birmingham Royal Ballet in August. “If I didn’t have a scholarship,” agrees the young hopeful from Ayreshire, Scotland, “none of this would have been possible. There are not enough British principal dancers in our companies,” she claims. Then she adds rather aggressively, “but I can change all that.”


Laura-Jane Gibson, Elmhurst School
© Jamie Jones

But there is another solution the classical dance world as a whole is reluctant to face. The US Glazer family, Russian Roman Abramovich and last week, former Thai Premiere, Thaksin Shinawara, are pouring millions of pounds into one UK cultural flagship, football. Why not dance as well? “If there is a constant lack of government support,”

Nancy Osbaldeston
English National Ballet School

© Dougie Morrison

agrees Goodhew, “I am sure foreign investment for the arts would be welcome.”

But is a Face of British Ballet really necessary in today’s society in which globalisation and a shaky national identity results in a rather down beat image for the industry? Jane Hackett, director of English National Ballet School, thinks it is. “That very down beat image makes it important that dance has a voice - and a champion,” she points out. Hackett sees other social pressures. “Once our society accepted their rights of Empire with confidence, but no longer and we are sometimes reluctant to admit we no longer set the standards. I see many young people at 16 who don’t have the same hunger to succeed and be the best that many foreigners have.” Next year Hackett will instigate a new pre sixteen training programme to nurture young British talent. Her choice for Bussell’s replacement is the extremely confident, if quietly spoken Nancy Osbaldeston, 18, from Manchester. “I want to set the standards in British Ballet and I’m proud to be English.”

With or without the next Darcey Bussell, not only the Royal Ballet in Mexico but our whole dance industry faces a crisis of identity, both financially and artistically. There is a lot of growing up to be done, and not just by our four young contenders.

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