“We are very lucky with our patrons at London Children’s Ballet”, explained trustee Laura Jane Ogilvy with a knowing smile, just before introducing much-loved Royal Ballet principal, Lauren Cuthbertson to the stage. In the intimate setting of the Linbury Studio Theatre, Lauren was joined by fellow principal, Nehemiah Kish, for an exclusive Masterclass called “The progression of the pas de deux”. Captivating all with her wit and warmth, Lauren delighted with her tales of working with Sergei Polunin, Federico Bonelli and choreographer Wayne McGregor among others, as well as demonstrating some stunning examples of pas de deux from the Royal Ballet’s wide repertoire.
The Masterclass progressed from the first partnering steps learnt in school aged 14 to the recently-minted Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which choreographer Christopher Wheeldon actually created on her. That’s just so special and speaks volumes about how respected a ballerina Cuthbertson is. By contrast, in an example of an exercise perfected in the early years of training the audience learnt of the perils of the shoulder sit (no man wants a face full of tutu …) and the necessary skills and balance required to master even the basic dynamics that should unfold effortlessly between partners.
It was obvious from the comments flying around at the drinks reception that Lauren charms her audience with words as well as she does with steps. “I notice there are a couple of empty seats but I hear it’s a really good episode of Downton Abbey tonight.” she said disarmingly on a situation likely brought about by the move from the much smaller Clore studio not long before the Masterclass was to be given. Another quip, this time after performing a dazzling moment from The Nutcracker: “book now for Christmas!”, and so on. Moreover, she and Nehemiah were more than happy to talk to the wealth of admirers post-Masterclass, really picking up on how LCB itself strives to connect ballet with a wider audience.
The Masterclass is one of many special experiences LCB offers its young dancers and supporters. For those unaware London Children’s Ballet is unique and rather amazing: each year they present a brand-new, full-length ballet featuring 50-60 children varying in age from 9 to 16. There is no standing troupe as such and 600+ young dancers audition each autumn, the best/the lucky ones becoming involved in the ballet’s creation from January to April and the performances at the Peacock Theatre in London’s West End. This year’s talented bunch of 50 performed Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic A Little Princess to sell-out audiences. It is easy to understand why LCB is held in such high regard with the appointment of Lauren as patron and the involvement of other Royal Ballet dancers too: Soloist Samantha Raine (now Ballet Mistress) was responsible for the choreography of A Little Princess and 2013’s production of The Secret Garden will be the work of Erico Montes. And only that afternoon 24 LCB dancers enjoyed a workshop with Jonathan Watkins, First Artist and rising choreographic star, voluntarily working on his only free day of the week to help nurture young ballet talent.
Neither do you need to look far for LCB success stories, with Ella Vickerman, who danced the role of Sara in their most recent production, just being accepted into the Royal Ballet School. And many others similarly gain places in vocational schools during and after their time with LCB. Given the evening I was fortunate enough to witness, it is hardly surprising that the children are so inspired by the LCB experience. After all, where else can a young dancer go to have the opportunity to sit, listen entranced and gaze wide-eyed at one of their ballet idols passing on their wisdom to the next generation?