We first met Isabella McGuire Mayes in July, when she had been short-listed in the Great Britons competition run by British Airways. Thanks to your generosity in voting, Izzy won the competition. Izzy’s transport costs to and from the school will now be fully met, and becoming a Great Briton has rewarded Izzy in other ways, as she talks about in this interview.
On the eve of Izzy’s return to Russia to continue her training at the legendary Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg, I caught up with her to talk about Darcey Bussell, making films and training just the same as an Olympic athlete.
What made you audition for the Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg ?
I knew that the school had a reputation going back nearly three hundred years. I was inspired by its history and the fact that Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker were all created there.
But when you know a place has produced generations of really wonderful dancers like (Anna) Pavlova, (Rudolf) Nureyev and (Mikhail) Baryshnikov – so many. Well it is inspiring. You get a buzz wondering if some of it will rub off on you.
You know the training works and that you have every chance and that it’s up to you. I was first taken to see the school when I was only 13 by a Vaganova teacher who had been giving me lessons in England since I was 8. I loved the atmosphere in St Petersburg from the very beginning.
I was offered an audition just as I was about to go into the Upper School of The Royal Ballet School. It seemed such an honour to be offered the chance to go there. I still feel like that.
What have you enjoyed so far about your Russian training ?
I have always loved them and admired the way they do things and always wanted to take in every word of wisdom they give. I love just being near them and getting the benefit of their experience.
Which professional dancer/s do you most admire and why ?
(Uliana) Lopatkina who I saw in London this Summer, but I have also seen her on stage at the Mariinsky (Theatre – home of the Mariinsky, formerly Kirov, ballet company). I admire her because of her amazing artistic performances and abilities. (Diana) Vishneva because she is now superb and I know she had to work really, really hard to get to where she is now – one of the best ballerinas in the world. Sylvie Guillem because she is very distinctive and independent – and because my physique is quite similar to hers I look up to her. Darcey Bussell because I’ve watched her since I was a child and she’s a great British role model.
How do you fill your time when you are not dancing ?
I make films and love watching films, swimming and seeing friends.
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that you find comes more naturally to you ?
No, they are all hard work. Some things are easier than others like pirouettes – but generally speaking it’s all very difficult. You’ve got to work hard all the time to get things right.
Have you had the opportunity to dance on stage with the Company yet ?
No not with the Company but the school does various shows at the Mariinsky Theatre during the year and they are open to the public which is very exciting. They are with the Mariinsky orchestra and the same costumes and scenery as the Company which is fantastic. The next one is The Nutcracker for a few days – everyone looks forward to that.
What is a typical day for your when you are training ?
My ballet class is at 9.20 until 11am. Russian language class follows. Then lunch. Then maybe pointe class, solos, character, & then possibly a rehearsal.
What difference will it make to you now that you have won the Great Britons competition ?
The biggest difference is that you can concentrate on your work without worrying so much. The total cost of my training in Russia is about the same as an Olympic athlete in training – so support from others becomes crucial after a while. Winning Great Britons with its bursary for my transport to and from school – was just fantastic. Winning Great Britons also attracted other sponsors and my training in school is now supported by The Slater Foundation who supported Tim Henman at the start of his career. A gentleman from the Worshipful Company of Scriveners in the City of London has also been in touch because he loves St Petersburg and the ballet and he is going to keep me in pointe shoes during my training. The support from people, and all the encouraging comments I got during the Great Britons competition, is wonderful and gives you extra energy for what you are doing.
What is your dream role once you have graduated ?
My all time favourite role I would love to dance one day would be Odette/Odile Swan Lake. I also absolutely adore La Bayadère. Nikiya (the Temple Dancer).
In the first of her regular diary entries for us, Izzy writes :
Tomorrow, Saturday September 5th I go back to St Petersburg. I have got a new rug for my room in the hostel in Rossi Street and I am feeling pretty excited about getting down to work again in Russia and meeting friends.
There’s going to be a Highlife Magazine photographer at Terminal 5 Heathrow – from the British Airways Great Britons competition – because I am now one of their winners. It’s going to be pretty early and so looking reasonable is going to take an extra effort!
It will be a very tough year ahead. Let you know how it goes.