Spotlight Saturday: Darcey Bussell

Today's Spotlight Saturday focuses on retired English prima ballerina Darcey Bussell.

Curtain call after a performance of 'Themes and Variations'

Bussell was born Marnie Mercedes Darcey Pemberton Crittle on 27 April 1969, to John and Andrea Crittle. Her parents split when she was three, and she was adopted by her stepfather, Philip Bussell. She began her dance training at the Charlotte School, a specialist school teaching dance and musical theatre in London.

Royal Ballet School performance of Macmillan's 'Concerto', aged 17

At the age of 13, she was accepted into the Royal Ballet Lower School in White Lodge, and at 16 she moved on to the Royal Ballet Upper School in Baron's Court. During her time at the Royal Ballet School, she appeared in a number of productions at the Royal Opera House. Following her graduation in 1987, she joined the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet.

In 'Apollo'

In 1988 choreographer Kenneth Macmillan, who had noticed Bussell while she was still at school, decided he wanted her to create the lead in his new ballet The Prince of the Pagodas. For this reason, she moved to the Royal Ballet. At the ballet's opening night in 1989, Bussell was promoted to principal dancer at just 20 years old.

As Princess Rose in 'The Prince of the Pagodas'

Bussell danced more than 80 different roles over her career, 17 of which were created for her. Some of her most famous roles include Macha in Winter Dreams and Princess Rose in The Prince of the Pagodas, both created by Kenneth Macmillan; Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty; Odette/Odile in Swan Lake; Nikiya and Gamzatti in La Bayadere; the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker; Manon in L'historie de Manon; and Giselle in Giselle.

In 'Manon'

Bussell made several guest appearances with ballets around the world, including the New York City Ballet (starting in June 1993 in the pas de deux from Agon), Teatro alla Scala, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and Australian Ballet. She danced in the premiere of Sir Anthony Dowell's The Sleeping Beauty for President Clinton, and in the premiere of Sir Frederick Ashton's Sylvia at the Royal Opera House in 2004.

In 'Sylvia'

In 2006, she announced her retirement as a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, though she stayed on as a guest principal artist; her retirement from the stage came on 8 June 2007, marked by a performance of Macmillan's Song of the Earth.

With Carlos Acosta and Gary Avis, final curtain call for 'Song of the Earth', 8 June 2007

In 2012, Bussell briefly rejoined the Royal Ballet for the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony, where she led a troupe of 200 ballerinas and 4 male dancers in a piece called 'the Spirit of the Flame', after which the Olympic torch was doused. Bussell has been involved in a number of projects outside of the immediate dance world, including the designing of a new dance exercise style known as DDMIX in 2016, with choreographer Nathan Clarke; a number of modelling projects including spreads by Vogue and Vanity Fair; producing a series of ballet-themed children's books called Magic Ballerina, of which there are now 24, as well as several other books including The Young Dancer (with the Royal Ballet School), The Illustrated Book of Ballet (with Barbara Newman; introduction only), and her autobiographical book Darcey Bussell (2012).

'Spirit of the Flame', Olympics closing ceremony, 2012

She has also been involved in numerous television programmes, mainly documentaries, including: Britain's Ballerina (2004), Darcey Dances Hollywood (2011), Darcey's Ballet Heroines (2013), Darcey Bussell: Looking for Audrey (2014), Darcey's Ballet Heroes (2015), and Darcey Bussell: Looking for Margot (2016). She has been a presenter for several shows, most notably Strictly Come Dancing, but also for the BBC Young Dancer competition and the Royal Ballet's segment of World Ballet Day. She played Olga Khokhlova in Yo Picasso (1994), and appeared as herself in an episode of The Vicar of Dibley in 1998.

There is a full-length portrait of her by Allen Jones RA in the National Portrait Gallery in London, which was unveiled in May 1994. In 2006, Chelsea Flower Show attendant David Austin launched a new crimson rose named 'Darcey Bussell'. Bussell serves as 'godmother' to the MS Azura, a cruise liner of the P&O Cruise fleet, helping to launch the ship in 2012. She has been president of the Royal Academy of Dance since 2012, and is a patron of the International Dance Teachers Association, Re:Bourne, London's Children's Ballet, Cecchetti UK, Cecchetti Australia, Dance Proms, New English Ballet Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, and the Du Boisson Foundation. She is an ambassador for the New Zealand School of Dance giving programme, is on the board of the Margot Fonteyn Foundation, was Campaign President of the Birmingham Royal Ballet's fundraising campaign from 2012 to 2015, is a patron of the medical charities Sight for All and the Henry Spink Foundation, and is the ambassador of the medical charity Borne.

With Carlos Acosta in 'Apollo'

Bussell has received an OBE in 1995, and a CBE in 2006. She has also received a gold medal from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a Carl Alan Award for contributions to dance, was voted Dancer of the Year by Dance and Dancers magazine in 1990, the Variety Club of Great Britain's Sir James Garreras Award for the most promising newcomer of 1990, the London Evening Standard Ballet Award for 1990, the Cosmopolitan Achievement Award in the Performing Arts Category (jointly) in 1991, and has received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford.

Final curtain call, 'Song of the Earth', 8 June 2007

Here she is dancing the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty:

And here in Sylvia:

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Natalia Makarova.

- Selene

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