Cupcakes & conversation with Natasha Oughtred, First Soloist, Birmingham Royal Ballet
Please note – Natasha has been promoted to Principal since this interivew was published.
Natasha will be dancing in The Two Pigeons at the Birmingham Hippodrome on June 18th at 2pm and 19th at 7.30pm and later in Galanteries, The Dance House and The Dream.
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
It’s less about motivation and more about necessity at 5.45am when I drop my fiancé, Simon off at the station and say goodbye to him when he goes back to London for the week. It’s hard getting up but I enjoy the time I have after that before I go to work. It’s a chance to get myself straight for the week with paper work etc so I can be focussed on work. But other than on my early Monday starts, my driving force is work. I love what I do and the day I don’t want to get up and dance is the day I retire.
Who would you most like to dance with?
I’m lucky to have danced with what I think is the ultimate combination, all be it in a supporting role. When I was 19 and in The Royal Ballet I was given the role of ‘Vera’ in ‘A Month in the Country’. This involved a pas de deux with Jonathan Cope where I had to pretend to be infatuated with him – not much problem with that and several acting and dancing scenes with Sylvie Guillem. She taught me so much even in the few rehearsals we had together. Her care and attention to every detail was phenomenal, she even suggested I dye my hair from brunette to blond because she didn’t like my wig. I didn’t go that far but it certainly taught me that to be a great artist you must pay attention to every detail. Jonathan Cope and Sylvie Guillem are truly masters in their art and it was an experience I shall never forget.
How do you prepare your shoes?
Until last season I would spend almost 45 mins on a pair of shoes- darning the tips to form a platform, sewing elastics on the backs… I seemed to be forever sewing. Then my workload increased when I became a First Soloist and now I have taken to just sewing the ribbons on, shaving the sole with a Stanley knife and off I go. Now the shoes are ready in 5 mins – it’s great!
What is your daily routine at the moment?
I get up just before 8; drive into work to arrive at 9. I go aqua jogging most mornings – it’s great for stamina building and waking you up. We are very lucky to have a pool in our Jerwood Centre at Birmingham Royal Ballet. After I’ve showered there is just time for a 30 min session of Pilates before class at 10 30. Class lasts 1hour 15 mins and then I have rehearsals until 1 30. At the moment I am busy learning ‘The Dream’ and ‘Two Pigeons’, both of which I love. We then have an hour break when I eat my lunch that I brought in with me whilst frantically sorting out wedding plans for this summer! Rehearsals go on until 6 30 and then I go and stretch and ice bath if I need to. I drive home and then I have a quick supper so I can get outside and do some gardening before its dark. It’s the perfect way to unwind. I speak to Simon on the phone and then I head off and then I try to get to sleep by 12ish.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
Meryl Streep, Roger Federer, Paddy Ashdown, Keira Knightly, Prince Harry and Sylvie Guillem.
What would surprise people about you?
I muse about one day having a tea shop – I am a connoisseur of afternoon teas. This will be no ordinary tea shop though, but you will have to wait to find out why!
Who inspired you to dance?
I was given a video when I was 5 or 6 of Anthony Dowell and Natalia Makarova dancing Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House. I watched it so many times that it’s a wonder I didn’t wear it out. Back then I particularly enjoyed watching the Neapolitan dance. I remember raiding my Mum’s dressing table for ribbons to tie round my arms – just like the costume on the video and banging a toy tambourine round the house. The video of Swan Lake was not only responsible for inspiring me, but it also gave me grand ideas. I amused my mother greatly when she was running me through my first ever ballet solo;
“Now what must you do at the end of your dance when the music has finished?” she asked
“Pick up my flowers!” I replied earnestly.
How would someone else describe you?
It’s hard to not make this sound like a lonely hearts column. I think I’m healthily eccentric. But they say that gets worse with age!
What is your best piece of advice?
It is so important to be happy where you are working and who you are working with because without this it is very hard to develop as an artist.
Which role has tested you the most and how?
I think Swan Lake has been the biggest test to date. It was my first full length ballet as the lead and not only is there many technical challenges but there is also such an aura surrounding the role Odette/Odile. I had seen so many fantastic performances of it during my time at The Royal Ballet that it was a little daunting setting about creating my Odette/Odile. Needless to say the video of Makarova came out again! I loved the process in the end as there is so much room as an artist to develop these roles.
What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?
I think it has to be my last performance with The Royal Ballet on tour in Philadelphia. It is tradition when you leave the company to dress up and perform a role that you wouldn’t usually play, within reason of course! I decided to dress myself as a candle barer in Act III Swan Lake. Normally the part is played by student boys from the school. It would have been easy if it hadn’t have been for my shoes which were five sizes too big for me. I had to adopt a shuffle around the stage whilst pretending to serve drinks. Then there is a moment during the Neapolitan dance when you have to catch a tambourine. I was so nervous about the thought of dropping it and also I was trying desperately not to smile because my mustache would fall off!
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create?
I would just like to design a tutu that is comfortable to wear. So often I get on stage and put on my costume and find that it stops me from moving freely. I think the Russians have got the right idea. The few costumes I have seen of theirs have Lycra bodices. It may not sound so exciting for the designer and may seem a little bit dated, but dancing is hard enough without a corseted bodice!
What are you most proud of?
That I am pursuing my dream.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
I’m not sure any actress would be prepared to take on the job, but I love to give it a go myself. I used to love acting at school and it would be fun to work with words again.