Cupcakes & Conversation with Leanne Cope, First Artist, The Royal Ballet
Leanne has recently been promoted to First Artist.
The Royal Ballet’s Autumn season opens with Mayerling at the Royal Opera House from 8th October.
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I find Monday morning is the easiest day to get motivated as it is starting afresh. You can approach your work with a new eye – having had a day off you see things differently.
What are you looking forward to dancing next season ?
We don’t know the casting in advance for next season yet, but a role I very much enjoyed dancing was Princess Louise in Mayerling so it would be lovely to come back to that if I am lucky enough to be cast. There are so many wonderful ballets coming up next season like Concerto and Elite Syncopations, it would be a privilege to be involved. I also always enjoy getting involved with draft works.
Who would you most like to dance with ?
There are so many wonderful male dancers in our Company but my ultimate choice would be Jonathan Cope. He was and still is an amazing partner and actor. I was lucky enough to have watched him dance in A Month In The Country in Cuba on tour this summer – it was a very special show. (Jonathan Cope has retired from dancing.)
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
First of all I decide which shoe will be the Left and Right, then I shellac the blocks and leave them for a week or so to harden. Sewing ribbons and elastics comes next, and finally breaking them in and bashing them on a concrete slab so that I don’t sound too much like an elephant.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Once I arrive at work I go straight to the dressing room to get changed for class and have a gossip with the girls. Then throughout the day we have class and rehearsals which usually finish at 5.30. The shows generally start at 7.30 until 10.30. I leave the Opera House at 11.00pm and make my way home for a cup of tea and bed.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
Jamie Oliver, Judy Garland, Prince Charles, Coco Chanel, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dawn French.
What would surprise people about you ?
I’ve zip lined over 1000 ft off the Great Wall of China over a lake.
Who inspired you to dance ?
John Travolta. As a child I used to watch Grease back to back and sing and dance along so my parents sent me to dance classes. But as I grew up and become more interested in ballet I would say my inspiration was Sarah Wildor.
How would someone else describe you ?
Happy go lucky (according to my Dad).
What is your best piece of advice ?
Life is too short – make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
I was fortunate enough to be chosen to learn Juliet’s potion scene (from Romeo & Juliet) for a masterclass that was filmed for the ROH website. I only found out the night before so I did not have much time to prepare. It was only an hour long and taken by Lesley Collier – a privilege in itself. I tried to absorb everything she said. To take on such an iconic role and perform under the pressure of knowing the cameras will catch every blink of your eye was incredibly testing but so far a real highlight of my career.
What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
Many funny things have happened to me over the years but I guess if you are not here they don’t seem so funny, but even when things go wrong I try to find the funny side.
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
Something very feminine, maybe an empire line with the skirt made of chiffon so it moves with you, probably navy blue and some beading detail on the bodice.
What are you most proud of ?
Who would play you in the film of your life ?
I absolutely love musicals so I think it would have to be a Disney film so I would be a cartoon.
What is your favourite quote ?
“The more I practice the luckier I get.”
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I love to sing but whether it is skilful or not you will have to ask my nearest and dearest.
Leanne trained for five years at White Lodge, the Royal Ballet Lower School based in Richmond Park, Surrey, and I asked her some questions about her time there :
“I had the most wonderful time at White Lodge though it did take me a very long time to decide whether to take my place. I was very lucky to have experienced two great directors of the school – Dame Merle Park and Gailene Stock. Over the years I made many of my closest friends and still work with many of them now. We had a very well rounded education in academics and dance as we were introduced to many different types of dance including tap and contemporary. The most special thing about White Lodge was the fact that you are surrounded by people that have the same passions as you and that brings the best out of everyone.”
What did you enjoy about performing at the Open Days outside on the lawn ?
Performing is what it is all about so when we did get the chance to perform it was a really big deal especially if it was on the lawn as we knew people were expecting us to be perfect. It was also a chance for our parents to watch us which made the events even more special.
How did you feel studying in such an historic building ?
White Lodge is such a beautiful building and full of character. The dorms I lived in over the years have been in the old chapel, the billiard room, and the stables but now the building has had a makeover and they have built new dorms. Knowing that most of the ballerinas of the Royal Ballet had studied in the same studios was an inspiration. There is also a collection of all of the past school photographs & we used to hunt through and spot our favourite dancers while standing in line for the canteen.
What was your first pointe class like ?
I remember it very clearly, I was so excited as I had not been on pointe before I went to White Lodge. The heating had broken in the studio so we were allowed to keep our tracksuits on. I got hot very quickly and suddenly felt really ill so I had to go to the nurse and missed the first official pointe class. But when I did eventually do my first pointe class I felt like a proper ballerina.
What did you like about being based in Richmond Park ?
Richmond Park is beautiful and I often walk and cycle in there before stopping in Pembroke Lodge for tea and cake. We didn’t explore the Park too much but we did do cross country around Pen Ponds.
Did you get the opportunity to visit Richmond and the surrounding area ?
We used to go to Sheen on Saturdays to buy our tuck – usually a pick
and mix from Woolworths. Though when we were in year eleven we were allowed to go to Richmond we felt extremely grown up; Roehampton Asda was also very popular with White Lodge pupils.
What did you dance at the Richmond Fair on The Green ?
Over the years I danced a variety of dances from Appalachian clog dancing to Spanish. In my first year I danced a Greek dance as the heavens opened !
Who inspired you at White Lodge ?
I was much inspired by the girls in the years above me as you could see them making progress and see hopefully the progress you would make over the years. Though when they took us to the Opera House to watch the Royal Ballet the dancers that inspired me were Sarah Wildor and Belinda Hatley.
What do you remember about your audition to White Lodge ?
I remember driving up to Richmond Gate not having been to the Park before and my Dad saying shall we go right or left ? I chose right which was the long way round ! Once I arrived I was given the number 19 which was and still is my lucky number. Other than that, I remember running around the garden in the sunshine with all the other girls who I would grow up with for the next five years. Oh and of course there was some ballet.
Any advice for aspiring ballet dancers ?
Ballet is a way of life so you have to be very passionate about it if you want to do it as a career but if you are doing it as a hobby just have fun – dancing can make you and the people watching you very happy.