Ballet News Reviews | Darcey Bussell : A Life in Pictures

Darcey Bussell : A Life in Pictures

Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell needs no introduction.  Known throughout the ballet world and far beyond its structured borders, Bussell defines what it is to combine very rare talent with exxceptionally good manners : in other words, a prima ballerina and a really lovely lady to boot.

Putting together this photographic memoir, partly so that her two young daughters can remember their Mum as a dancer, and partly to reflect Bussell’s own respect for everyone involved in her career, especially to reflect the passion of it, Bussell has chosen to pick out moments from her long, 20 year career – backstage, in the studio and on stage – and embellishes the visual image on the page with her personal recollections and anecdotes – some funny, some poignant; all insightful.


Darcey Bussell in her dressing room

Apollo, April 2003, The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, London. Darcey says, “After about 10 years I was able to apply my stage make-up in 30 minutes. It was all about accentuating the eyes and the lips for the audience to see our expressions more clearly. False eyelashes were a must.” Photograph : Bryan Adams

There’s the time when her pointe shoes literally melted and turned to mush on stage in extreme heat, just as she was approaching the famous 32 fouettes in Swan Lake; coaching by Margot Fonteyn; Mario Testino’s poster shoot (again, for Swan Lake) for which they only had 20 minutes because of Bussell’s schedule, instead of the usual 4 hours, and yet it became one of the most popular. Bussell describes the terror and timing of the Sugar Plum Fairy (from The Nutcracker), and hiding the pain in Symphony in C.  Christopher Wheeldon uncharacteristically losing his cool during one stage rehearsal, and never coming eye to eye (which is unusual in ballet and something that Acosta usually insists on) with Carlos Acosta in Song of the Earth.

There have been other, smaller, picture books about Darcey Bussell (Clive Burton’s Darcey Bussell A Celebration in 2007, and there are some photographs included in Life in Dance which Bussell wrote with Judith Mackrell) but Darcey Bussell : A Life in Pictures is a proper grown-up coffee table book.  No loose shiny cover here, but inch thick surrounds displaying the most striking photographs, starting with Bussell’s all time favourite professional photographer and the one she always wanted to impress : Anthony Crickmay.

Darcey Bussell putting on her pointe shoes

Apollo, April 2003, The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, London. Darcey says, “Protecting my feet for the performance ahead. I individually bandaged each toe so that I didn’t get too many blisters. I have always felt this must be similar to strapping a boxer’s hands.” Photograph : Bryan Adams

There are seven chapters spanning Bussell’s early years, created works and finishing her career on a high, and a chronology of debuts in major roles with The Royal Ballet is also included along with all the photo credits and a Foreword by Sir Anthony Dowell, who tells the story back in 1987 when he and Sir Peter Wright (then Artistic Director of Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet (SWRB) which later became Birmingham Royal Ballet, discussed the graduating Bussell and decided that the smaller company, SWRB, would suit her best, giving her more performance opportunities and thereby fast-tracking her through the ranks, which is exactly what happened.

Bussell stayed with SWRB for a year, before being spotted by Kenneth MacMillan who wanted someone strong and athletic for his new ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas. She transferred to The Royal Ballet as a soloist and following one of the performances of Pagodas, while only in her second year with the company, was promoted to Principal by Dowell. She was 20. Still on stage at the time, Bussell recalls only saying “are you sure?” During her long career Bussell only ever had two directors – Dowell and Monica Mason – and remained with The Royal Ballet although she received other offers and guested abroad with New York City Ballet, where her athletic, flexible strength was a perfect fit.

Early in her career Bussell made a conscious decision to work with professional photographers who asked to photograph her dancing, either in the studio or on stage or a photo shoot. Subsequently, Bussell has been photographed by, among others, Lord Snowdon, Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz and Bryan Adams and the results of some of these fabulous and often unexpected encounters are to be found within these pages.

Through Bussell’s descriptions it is possible to see some of the wise choices she made through her career, including very early on at school when she chose not to go on tour and instead stayed behind for the school performance of Swan Lake because she felt it was far more important to show that she could tackle such an important Principal role. It led to her contract with SWRB.

Darcey Bussell dancing in the school studio

Autumn Leaves, 1984, The Royal Ballet Upper School, London. Darcey says, “I remember this as being the first time I was really noticed whilst in my last year at White Lodge, aged 15. A fellow pupil, Michael Rolnick, created a lovely, slow and lyrical piece that belied his age, for the school’s choreographic evening. Despite being White Lodgers, we were asked to perform it at The Royal Ballet Upper School, which is unheard of. I was amazed that some of the eighteen year old students complimented me on the quality of my dancing.” Photograph : Darcey Bussell Collection

Photographs from Song of the Earth feature in the book – another ballet by MacMillan that Bussell first performed in 1990 and felt such a connection with that she chose it as her final performance some 17 years later, and there are more photographs of the curtain call of Bussell’s last performance, where it seemed she was pierced by a thousand tiny shards of glass and literally undone – as we all were.

Bussell gives credit to her amazing partners, especially Gary Avis and Jonathan Cope.  She also had great international partners, who afforded her a glimpse into theatres far from these shores – including Igor Zelensky & Roberto Bolle. Huge credit is given to her coach – Donald Macleary : he coached her every single day of her ballet career.

There are two versions of this wonderful book, and as it’s such an iconic piece of history I recommend that you hurry and buy the Limited Edition, which is signed by Darcey Bussell and boxed.

This is the un-signed version of the book :

Darcey Bussell: A Life in Pictures (Hardcover)

List Price: £30.00
New From: £920.67 GBP In Stock
Used from: £0.98 GBP In Stock

There is a special Limited Edition version, boxed, signed by Darcey Bussell, and my recommendation :

Darcey Bussell (Hardcover)

List Price: Price Not Listed
New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

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One Response to Ballet News Reviews | Darcey Bussell : A Life in Pictures

  1. Claire September 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Oh I love her, crazy when I have never met her! She was what I dreamed I could be when I was about 4!!! I never made it though! I think I have to have this book after your lovely tempting post xxx thanks