All the fun of the fouetté, by Fiona Fraser
Nancy Osbaldeston is truly a 21st century ballerina; as at home with Strictly Gershwin’s jazzy routines as the strenuous pointe work and bravura pirouettes of the Don Quixote pas de deux; one of the dances that won her the title of English National Ballet Emerging Dancer 2013. No tortured swan, ‘Nancypoop‘ as she styles herself on Twitter, is a fresh-faced, humorous and self-deprecating Brit, with unlimited appetite for a performance challenge and her iron-strong feet firmly on the ground.
It’s been two weeks since your award-winning performances at the South Bank. How do you remember the evening?
I felt a lot less nervous than I was after I was nominated last year; having had a dry run helped me a lot. Ken Saruhashi and I had really good coaching for the pas de deux. I had lots of support which was great, and I even got flowers from someone I don’t know!
Why did you choose John Neumeier’s Bach Suite No: 2 as your solo?
I am not a purely classical dancer. It is fun and quirky and you can play with it. I want to play with dance, explore and enjoy it. Sometimes I find ballet so set.
What are you working on at the moment?
We are rehearsing Harald Lander’s Etudes, which is about the daily ballet class. The Company is divided into black tutus, and white tutus. I am a white tutu, I get to do jétés en tournant as part of a ménage, which is fun. There is a group of us all doing three groups of 8 fouettés together which is a bit of a challenge. There are two other tricky bits we call 3 piggies, where we jump together – it is really confusing! In another bit there are relevés with lots of hopping on point and pirouettes – it is quite tricky. The best bit is the finale when the drums come in. We are all in lines doing grand allegro.
What are you most looking forward to in the forthcoming season?
Petite Mort is lovely to dance. I do the 2nd pas de deux with Francisco Bosch. It is a contemporary barefoot piece by Jiři Kylián with music by Bach. I think the music and movement are great together and it is very free. It uses classical technique, but the energy really flows and allows you to move.
Do you have a special role you feel you own?
Any big bit I get! The Finger Fairy in Sleeping Beauty – I danced it when I was at English National Ballet School. I also did Mats Ek’s version of this solo as well, which is something completely different.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
Dancing the lead bandit in Roland Petit’s Carmen. I really wanted to do it and one day all the girls in the cast had the day off so I got the chance to dance the role. I loved it. I had to smoke on stage and wear a massive wig and a basque. She shakes her bum a lot and is really passionate! The music was great and I felt really authentic and French. I had three costumes and lots of fouettés!
You didn’t take it too seriously then?
Ballet is entertainment. It can be silly too.
Do you have a favourite choreographer?
I’d like to try Wayne McGregor’s Chroma.
If you weren’t a classical ballet dancer what would you be?
I love all sorts of dancing and performing. I was offered a place at Laine Theatre Arts. I can do tap, acting and singing. I loved Strictly Gershwin. There is a little piece in it called “Strike up the Band”, all it involves is tapping – I loved it because I wasn’t on pointe and didn’t have to worry about technique. I just want to stay on the stage for as long as possible! but if I couldn’t perform I would be a costume or fashion designer as I love clothes.
How did your love affair with dancing begin?
At nursery school we did ballet every Friday. People noticed that I skipped in time to the music. When I was about 11 I started going to Northern Ballet Theatre Associates in Leeds. As a child I danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet in Nutcracker which made me realise that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I did festivals and I auditioned for The Royal Ballet. I didn’t get in but I did Royal Ballet Associates instead. At 16 I went to English National Ballet School and from there I came to the Company.
Do you have a role model?
I watched a documentary on Dame Margot Fonteyn. I can see why she was such a big name. In the old days they were more dramatic.
Has the company changed since Tamara Rojo took over as Artistic Director?
It feels faster paced. We are all hungrier for improving ourselves, learning more. She helps with technique and makes you push yourself. She told me “Nancy I need you to work on turn-out and pirouettes”. So I thought “Right-ho, turn-out and pirouettes!”
What advice can you offer young dancers?
Listen to everything; your corrections and everyone else’s. When I was younger I always loved it, but now I know what ballet should be I’m a bit less happy. The higher the bar is set the more you put pressure on yourself to achieve and the unhappier you are in yourself. Never get too big for your boots!
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Tags: ballet, dance, Emerging Dancer, english ballet, Laurretta Summerscales, Nancy Osbaldeston, performance, Southbank Centre, Tamara Rojo