In a whirlwind 36 hours in mid-March, Royal Ballet principal dancer Lauren Cuthbertson performed Aurora in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty, then returned to England and went into coronavirus lockdown in a house outside London. She told Pointe how she is staying fit—mentally and physically—during quarantine, and shared insight into the role of Hermione in Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale, which the Royal Ballet will stream online in May 1 on its YouTube channel.
You were invited by the Mariinsky Ballet to perform Aurora with Xander Parish in March. One day you're dancing in St. Petersburg and the next day you came home to the shock of coronavirus.
We were heading onto the stage, and I had a feeling that it might be the last time I'd be on stage for a while. Then as I was on the train back to London, I got the message from my company saying, "no classes, no rehearsals, don't come to the theater." As an artist you're able to put your needs first, until you realize that the health and well-being of everyone around us must come first.
You had this peak life experience, and within 24 hours everything changed.
I couldn't take it in. I had a seven-to-ten-day period where I was still active, but I wasn't doing anything specific to ballet. I found that social media was a hard thing to be with, because I felt like everyone was doing so much, and I felt so isolated from the thing I love most. I had a chat with one of my closest mentors, Jacquelin Barrett, and I just cried. We had this big discussion about your training becoming something you do every day that makes you feel good and keeps your routine, and ultimately gives you the basis so that when you have a rehearsal to go to and an audience to perform to, you're in the best possible shape. It was really important that I took that break, because it allowed my body to catch up with my brain—or my brain to catch up with my body, I don't know which.
What is your new routine?
I keep the timeframe pretty similar. From 9:30 a.m. onwards I'm thinking about ballet and fitness. I do a solid chunk, and then I do something else before dinner. I dedicate those two parts of the day to me and myself. I'm very lucky that I have a space where I can do that. But if I do a pas de bourrée, I run out of room a little bit. And I've got a ceiling beam above me, which I have to avoid if I'm putting my arms up during turns. My pointe work might be stronger when I come back, because I can focus on that a lot. In England we are allowed to go out for one piece of exercise a day, so I either take myself on a very long walk or a run, and it's lovely to feel the wind in your hair and that movement quality. I do miss having a massage, I'm not gonna lie! There's only so much you can do with your foam roller.
How are you maintaining a sense of community?
We've got Zoom company classes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and there's fitness groups, a running group of people on different apps. I keep in touch with a handful of my really good friends.
What do you do to keep yourself entertained?
I'm cooking a lot, and I've got an interior design project that I'm working on, which is really fun. We've been so blessed with the weather in England, so a lot of time in the garden.
Cuthbertson, as a pregnant Hermione, and Edward Watson in Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale.
Johan Persson, Courtesy ROH.
The Royal Ballet is streaming Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale on Friday. You originated the role of Hermione—what was that like?
What was so unique about Winter's Tale was that we had actors from the National Theatre in the studio doing a read-through before we started with the creative process in the studio. It's a complex story, and when we had the actors come do it, it became so clear.
There are almost no sets, and even the costumes are streamlined. That puts all of the complexity into the movement. How did you create this rich character just with your body?
At the Royal Ballet School we got a talk about how if you knew the source of what you were trying to express, then you could express it through any movement. That's something that's stayed with me. If you're feeling angst, the step that you're doing needs to look like you're full of angst. You're not relying on facial expressions; it has to come through every fiber of your being.
Do Shakespeare's words go through your mind as you're dancing?
Definitely. But then more and more over time, the words take second place and the movement takes first. There's a crossover.
There are some really hardcore technical parts of the choreography. Those turns in arabesque!
Yes! When it works it feels like the most natural thing to do. And when it doesn't, and you feel like you're not keeping up with the tempo, it can be quite distressing. You're having to lean to the right and arch your back as you go around; you're not even completely upright with your arabesque in first.
What is Hermione saying with those six arabesque turns?
She is expressing her disbelief in her husband not trusting her, and she is going out of her mind. There is an incredible Hermione quote: "There's some ill planet reigns / I must be patient till the heavens look / With an aspect more favorable." I love that quote so much because it describes to me that moment in her life and what an incredible woman Hermione was, and how I have to step up to play her. But it also inspired me to be a better woman, or person.
Cuthbertson in The Nutcracker.
Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH
When we're finally able to get back out into the world, what will you do first?
I'll visit my family. I'll probably go to the dentist and the hairdresser! As much as dancers are missing performing, I think there are a lot of people who rely on the arts to transport them. I think it will be a wonderful way to reunite after this. I think it will be quite emotional.