A day with Dame Darcey Bussell

“It’s not everyday that a National treasure like Dame Darcey Bussell coaches your ballet!”
Jenna Lee, choreographer The Four Seasons
 
Jenna Lee
Jenna Lee
As 2020 is the year of NEBT’s 10th Anniversary, we are taking the opportunity to spotlight our Associate Choreographers, who have contributed to the Company’s reputation over the years. We begin with Jenna Lee, who has created two ballets for NEBT, Classical Symphony in 2012, and The Four Seasons in 2017.
 
Jenna trained classically and danced professionally as a soloist with English National Ballet before transitioning to a successful career as freelance choreographer and founder of event company JLee Productions.
 
Here, she talks to us about one of her career highlights with NEBT:
 
June 2017. “Darcey Bussell is coming in next week to coach your ballet”…
 
Nerves, excitement, wow, what an honour! Growing up at The Royal Ballet School, every young ballerina aspired to be like Darcey Bussell, and I was no exception. Long limbed, beautiful and strong, she was a great role model and during her career was the muse for many great choreographers, not to mention the most famous ballerina of her generation.
 
I had already had the pleasure of meeting Darcey in 2017 at the premiere of Little Lord Fauntleroy, a full-length narrative ballet, which I created for London Children’s Ballet. Meeting her and having her watch the production was a huge privilege and to have her coach my ballet was mind-blowing!
 
Lanterns Studio Theatre in London’s East End.
 
Darcey Bussell arrived to coach The Four Seasons and excitement filled the room.
 
I chose two contrasting movements for our coaching session, Spring movement 1 (a large ensemble piece for the full cast) and Summer movement 3 (a dynamic pas de deux).
 
 
Dame Darcey Bussell demonstrating port de bras. Photo Alexander Yip
Dame Darcey Bussell demonstrating port de bras. Photo Alexander Yip

In Spring the dancers move very independently from one another, with their movements reflecting the staccato, bird-like chirps in the music. Darcey focused on the dancers’ ports de bras, noting how essential the co-ordination of the arms is to help accomplish the more technical moves – dancers must use the arms to propel into the jump. She spoke about the details of the hands and wrists and how expressive they could be, showing the qualities of each of the seasons.

As she rehearsed my ballet, there was a real buzz in the air, everyone absorbing every word that she was saying, desperate to soak up every little detail she was offering. It was very inspiring to watch Darcey demonstrating steps and engaging with the dancers.
 

We had been working on the Summer pas de deux for a couple of weeks prior to Darcey coming in, building stamina and working on the dynamics of the piece. Even though this duet contains lots of tension between the dancers as they compete in this passionate duel, it still requires the effortless illusion that all pas de deux demands. Whilst dissecting some of the athletic lifts in this fiery duet, Darcey spoke about the trust you need in one another that gives you the freedom to dance together without fear, whilst being responsible for your own technique and strength.

 
Dame Darcey Bussell coaching the cast of The Four Seasons. Photo Alexander Yip.
Dame Darcey Bussell coaching the cast of The Four Seasons. Photo Alexander Yip

Darcey honed in on the strength and muscular connection needed in the female dancers’ arms and back as they are manipulated, dragged and sometimes even swung in this duet! The contact work starts with both dancers gripping one another’s forearms, as the male dancer manipulates and controls the direction that the female dancer goes in. She discussed keeping the sternum (breast bone) going forward whilst closing the ribs and pulling the scapulae (shoulder blades) down, to create that lovely wide ballerina back, something that Darcey demonstrates so well!

 
Darcey is an incredibly generous coach, happily sharing her vast array of knowledge with the dancers and myself. I noted the friendly atmosphere she created in the studio, making the dancers feel relaxed and getting the most out of them for those couple of hours we had working together.
 
Dame Darcey Bussell and Jenna Lee. Photo Alexander Yip
Dame Darcey Bussell and Jenna Lee. Photo Alexander Yip
NEBT has given jobs to hundreds of freelance dancers over the years, most of whom are on the cusp of their professional careers and welcome the guidance and support that the company gives them. Having their patron Darcey Bussell in to coach the company was an incredible opportunity and one that most ballet dancers dream of.
 
It was wonderful to see Darcey coaching The Four Seasons and an experience that I’ll never forget.
 
It’s not everyday that a National treasure like Dame Darcey Bussell coaches your ballet!