After the dance
Deborah Bull in conversation with Alexandra Carter, IP-Art Festival, Jerwood Dance House, Ipswich, July 6
Although Deborah Bull, former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, gave up classical ballet roles over 10 years ago, she has lost none of the qualities one associates with a ballerina.
Poised and graceful, she sat, her perfect posture accentuated by the tall bar stool she was given to perch on, and talked to Alexandra Carter (visiting professor of dance at Suffolk Campus University) for almost an hour and a half.
Her subject was her life first as a dancer and then post retirement, something that comes all too soon to professional dancers. The pretext was her book, her fourth, published last October, The Everyday Dancer. Aimed at the general reader it offers a kind of double perspective on the life of a classical ballet dancer – the dancer’s career, from schooling, to working in a company, first as a corps dancer and then, if you’re lucky and talented enough, being promoted through the ranks and then to retirement, reflected in a day’s work: class, then rehearsals, then performing, then curtain down.
The book aims to dispel some of the myths surrounding the ballet world, not least the misconceptions fuelled by films such as Black Swan. In a rare moment of lack of composure, Miss Bull throws up her elegant hands in horror at the mention of that film. Yes, she admits, dancers, with the effort to stay “lean” do sometimes have struggles with diet (she had her own) but people are much more aware of the potential problems now. Bull herself gave lessons on good nutrition to dancers at the Royal Ballet. After all, dancers who don’t eat properly simply won’t be able to achieve the levels of fitness, stamina and strength they need to do what they have to do to keep performing.
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As a dancer, Deborah Bull took all the principal roles in the repertoire, including the leads in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Since 2001, her career has blossomed in many different directions. She writes, she has presented for radio and television, she has run the ROH2 (the smaller performance spaces at the Opera House), become the Royal Opera House’s creative director, served as a governor of the BBC and been a member of Arts Council England.
A fiercely intelligent advocate of public funding for the arts (she once debated the issue at the Oxford Union – and won triumphantly), Bull has now entered the realms of academia, becoming executive director of the Cultural Institute at King’s College London. There she will be leading its collaborative activities with cultural and creative industries in the UK and beyond.
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There is no doubt she will continue writing, but not novels, she insists - she wouldn’t be able to write the obligatory sex scenes. As for her campaigning for the arts, would she be tempted to go into politics? She has ruled it out at this stage, wary of the close scrutiny politicians are subjected to. But I would say, watch this space.