I've always been fascinated by the preparation a dancer goes through before a performance. Some take hours, others not so long but all consider and inhabit what will be their role for that evening, well before the makeup and costumes are put on.
When I was a child, it was always considered intrusive to visit a dancer in their dressing room before a performance, but when my father was Director of the Royal Ballet in the 1970s it was part of his job to give a quick "toi toi toi" to the company. Sometimes I would accompany him. This, to me was one of the most exciting moments of the evening (as well as always having an ice cream in a cup during at the crush bar at interval). Not only would I get an eyeful of many beautiful naked bodies, but I'd get a look into a world of pan stick, rosin and sewing. Some evenings as my father wound his way around the labyrinthian dressing rooms, I would hang out with some of the Corps de Ballet girls as they got ready for their performances. Of course this was heaven for me as I was fussed over and allowed to try on pointe shoes and tutus (please bear in mind I was 5 years old) and there was always someone on hand to do a quick 'up-do' with my hair.
In those days the Royal Opera House was a rickety old building; hard to believe now that it was too small to accommodate the Ballet company and the Opera company. The Dressing rooms were cramped and were often damp and musty smelling, sometimes a mouse or two would be seen running from room to room. Of course nowadays, since the expansion of the Opera House, it's a much cleaner, roomier space for performers.
On Saturday 17 October, I photographed Lauren Cuthbertson prepare for her last performance as Juliet for this season of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Ballet. She had already done class in makeup and was busy darning her ballet shoes when I arrived. We chatted, laughed (a lot) while I snapped away and it was hard to imagine that in just 30 minutes, she was about to transform into a 14 year old Italian girl, doomed to die because of her forbidden love. To get her in the mood for her role Lauren has had bespoke scents made for her, each tailored to inspire emotion and intent of her character for each scene in the ballet. Working with the company Creative Perfumers, there was an array of perfumes; "Nursery, Ballroom, Balcony, Chapel, Wedding Night, Tomb"...it had never occurred to me that using the power of smell could enhance a dancer's performance.
And within a 5 minute 'alone' time, Lauren got into the mood with a spray of her perfume and some mental preparation. The perfumes were wonderful.
That night's performance was dedicated to David Drew; stalwart member of The Royal Ballet who sadly passed away on Friday. This photo is of the moment Kevin O'Hare made the announcement from the stage and the company listened from behind the curtain.