After the Olympics, Darcey Bussell stays in the spotlight
Darcey Bussell stood on a miniscule platform at the highest point of the Olympic Stadium.
Her feet, encased in yellow satin pointe shoes, hung over the platformâs ledge. Wearing a harness, and listening for her cue over the din of the stadium noise,
Bussell was the focus of thousands of eyes in the stadium as the Olympics closing ceremony came to an end.
Feeling âa bit like the sacrificeâ as the cauldron was dimmed and fireworks began to explode, she was ready for the quick release harness to send her flying.
Once on the floor below, Bussell was the spirit of the Olympic flame as danced with four male principals from the Royal Ballet, and an ensemble of 230 women, all dressed in flame-coloured costumes of orange, yellow, red and black.
When the dance was done, one of her four partners, Nehemiah Kish, looked at Bussell and said âI donât think anythingâs going to beat thisâ.
Bussell knows all about the lure of the spotlights and the roar of the crowd, but even she can confidently say: âI never did a show like that beforeâ.
As a former prima ballerina at the Royal Ballet, Bussell, 43, left nothing much to chance. Training for five days a week for six months, she took ballet classes in Sydney then London and told the choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, that she would appear in his dance work on one condition:
âI only wanted to do this with people Iâve worked with beforeâ, naming three of her former dance partners, Jonathan Cope, Edward Watson, and Gary Avis.
Stadium security meant there was no lingering afterwards. A quick change in her dressing room, next to Russell Brandâs, then on to the coaches with the other performers. Another gig done.
But whatâs next for Bussell, whose career on the traditional stage ended in 2007 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden?
After five years living in Sydney with her husband and their two daughters, she has moved to London to become a judge on the BBCâs Strictly Come Dancing and will also perform one solo in the show this year.
It wonât be a ballet â the most difficult dance technique to master and to dance well after 40.
Once a ballet career is over itâs really over, and all one is left with are the memories and photos â a symbol of time standing still.
Next month she will launch her new book, a photographic record of her career from student days to final curtain call, with extended captions recalling each photographer, moment in her life or photo shoot.
One of the first was Lord Snowdenâs photograph of a 16-year-old Bussell at the Royal Ballet School. Six years later, Snowden photographed her again, this time in the nude, though draped in sheer fabric.
For the millennium issue of Vogue, the celebrity photographer, Mario Testino, placed Bussell in a nightclub setting surrounded by a cluster of models and with her arm clutched by the choreographer, Michael Clark.
Testino instructed: âTurn around and look at Michael. Heâs furious that youâre going off with another guyâ.
For Bussell, a 1991 session with Annie Leibovitz was the most memorable both for its location â a New York rooftop â and then for the drama in Leibovitzâs studio with âa lot of entourage, a lot of shouting. She thrived on thatâŠI remember being quite terrified.â
Unlike Sylvie Guillem, who maintains strict control over who takes her photograph and which images may be published, Bussell thinks âyouâve got to give the photographer his creative due. If you start controlling it yourself itâs not as creativeâ.
She did, however, exert a smidgeon of control over the singer and part time photographer, Bryan Adams, who photographed Bussell in a pose based on an art deco sculpture.
âHe said âthe leg isnât meant to be that highââ, Bussell recalls. âI said âit has to be 90 degreesâ, a perfect arabesqueâ.
A photo shoot is so much simpler when the photographer is a former dancer, such as Johan Persson and Bill Cooper â whose images dominate Bussellâs book â or a veteran dance photographer such as Anthony Crickmay, who was âso knowledgeable it was a bit scary. He wanted the best from you but he was the dance critic too. He would say âno you wonât like that. Your foot wasnât pointed and you had a broken wristâ.
âHe was not going to let you leave unless you were happy as well. He gave you the confidence that the picture was going to be perfect in the endâ.
In her own search for perfection, Bussell chose to quit dancing while she was still at her peak. But dance is not as easy to leave as it is to fall for as a child.
Long before the circus act of the Olympics Bussell had returned to dance classes in Sydney – just to keep moving.
So will she return to classes in London?
âI donât know. My body feels quite worn out by preparing for the Olympics. Iâll see how I goâ.
My guess is sheâll be back in the studio sooner rather than later.
Darcey Bussell: A Life in Pictures, will be published by Hardie Grant on September 1.
This article was first published in The Australian Financial Review, 25 August