As we get geared up for another season of Strictly Come Dancing on our screens, this year it is without its Prima Ballerina, Darcey Bussell. Having stepped down from the show she is replaced by a new judge and we will wait to see how the relationship works out.
As a Ballerina, Darcey has spent her whole life in the dance world so we wanted to take a closer look at her career and her achievements as a Prima Ballerina. Darcey Bussell had one of the longest careers of the modern era and has been the single most renowned lyrical prima ballerina of her generation. Born in London in 1969, she seriously considered becoming a professional swimmer before opting for ballet at the age of thirteen, when she entered the Royal Ballet Lower School.
Ballet Promise at A Young Age
It was during this period that she came to the attention of Kenneth MacMillan, who recognised her exceptional technical skills while she was still a student and cast her as the principal in his 1986 Royal Ballet School performance. She joined the Royal Ballet as a soloist in 1988, became first soloist in September ’89 and just three months later became Principal Ballerina at the age of twenty.
Lyrical Interpretation sets her apart
In her early years, it was the combination of Darcey Bussell’s extreme physicality and her lyrical interpretation that earned her public attention - she was voted Dancer of the year in 1990 by the readers of Dance & Dancers magazine. Her ability to perform strenuous roles with a soft elegance brought a different, more reflective focus, to ballets that had become more a test of fitness than an interpretive process. Her highly expressive footwork added an introspective element to roles that few contemporaries were able to deliver - in making it look easy, she found ways to deepen and intensify the characterisation of roles so that a greater personality came through the dance.
Whilst roles were created just for her, she brought this lyricism to classic ballet too. Her Odette/Odile in Swan Lake were highly regarded for their differentiation and her Giselle was considered to be one of the greats.
Remaining with the Royal Ballet for her entire career, she managed to perform as a guest principle for the Australian Ballet, the Hamburg Ballet, the Kirov and the New York City Ballet. When she retired in 2007, she had one of the longest unbroken dance careers as prima ballerina and was feted around the world. Retirement led to a bout of deep depression that she discussed publicly when she came out of full retirement to engage in a number of dance related activities which she credits with putting her back into full health.
A Long Career
Darcey Bussell was more than simply a superlative ballet dancer. She’s modelled for the world’s most famous photographers, appeared in adverts for Marks & Spencer, been on dozens of magazine covers and is now a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. She was awarded the OBE in 1995 and the CBE in 2006 and in the same year wrote the first in a series of children’s books called The Magic Ballerina.
Dividing her time between London and Australia, Bussell has become not just an ambassador for her art, but has also developed a dance-related profile, post-retirement, that is as demanding and nuanced as her ballet career ever was.