When Leanne Cope takes the stage in Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows, her expressive, fluid movement hints at a lost relationship. In a company overflowing with foreign talent, she is practically an old-school dance actress. Her striking eyes and unshowy extensions bring to mind past Royal Ballet stars like Lynn Seymour, Kenneth MacMillan’s famous muse. The next night, however, the petite 29-year-old is likely to be back in the corps, one of a multitude of swans or shades. Meet the part-time muse: inspiration to one of the most promising classical choreographers, but, on paper, still a first artist with The Royal Ballet.

Her rank hasn’t stopped Scarlett from casting Cope in nearly every work he has created on the company. “Leanne is the type of dancer who makes choreographers do what they do,” he explains. “What draws me to her is the one thing I can never explain. She has a presence like no other on stage. Her face and eyes are just captivating.”

Cope has been in the company for nine years, and her chance to shine was long in coming. Cope’s mother, who regretted never pursuing ballet, sent her to a ballet school near their home in Bath, England. Her teacher spotted Cope’s potential and had her audition for White Lodge, The Royal Ballet’s Lower School, at age 11. But even as she completed the White Lodge curriculum, Cope felt doubtful about a career in ballet: “I had a real desire for musical theater,” she says, “and I wasn’t sure I was right physically. I don’t have the most fantastically proportioned body, the most arched feet, the most flexibility.”

In the end, she says, she found her heart lay with ballet. After completing the Upper School program, she was hired by The Royal in 2003. The company promoted her from artist to first artist in 2005. Yet other than a noted debut as Clara in The Nutcracker, The Royal seemed oblivious to her soloist potential. Featured roles remained few and far between.

Cope didn’t dwell on casting. Chosen for the Draft Works program, a small annual showcase for budding choreographers within The Royal Ballet, she started working with Scarlett. For Cope, Scarlett’s choreography was a revelation. “I realized from the first rehearsal: This guy is special. It was the most natural ballet had ever felt to me.”

Scarlett graduated to the Royal Opera House’s main stage in 2010 and brought Cope along for the ride. In Asphodel Meadows, she was Tamara Rojo’s alternate. Earlier this year, Scarlett created the opening pas de deux of his Sweet Violets on Cope and gave her a principal role in the second cast. Her emotionally charged performances earned critical plaudits.

Many dancers in her situation would find the daily corps work a grind, but Cope relishes it. “I don’t think I’ll ever be frustrated in the corps de ballet, simply because I never thought I’d be here,” she explains. “We are the substance; we’re there every night.”
She also credits part of the balance she has found to her fiancé, Paul Kay, a Royal Ballet soloist she met while they were both RBS students. The couple celebrated their 12-year anniversary last summer.

Confidence still doesn’t come easy, and Cope finds the more classical repertoire can still be a challenge because of what she deems her physical limitations. To gain strength, she has taken up weight lifting with the trainer recently hired by the company. In the studio, Scarlett constantly pushes her to do more, explaining: “There are many roles waiting to be created for her, in my eyes; she will always be the first considered for any part. Her only weakness is that she needs to believe in herself more.” Cope isn’t quite there yet, joking that she is “more amusing than a muse.” But she trusts Scarlett, whom she calls her fairy godfather: “He really brings out something in me that I didn’t know I had.”



At a Glance
Leanne Cope

Age: 29
Training: The Royal Ballet School (White Lodge and Upper School)
Favorite role: Principal part in Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows
Dream role: “If I’m being extremely selfish, I’d love for Liam to create a three-act ballet on me!”





















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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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