Book: The Ballet Companion


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GM Artists > Dancer Profiles > Vanessa Palmer


I went to a local dancing school at the age of three where I skipped and hopped and jumped to the music until my teacher decided I should try ballet. I was five by then. I think I was about six when I became fed up with it and gave up for a year. I can't remember why I wanted to start again.

When I was ten my teacher suggested I audition for the Royal Ballet School. I didn't want to because I didn't want to leave home. By eleven though it had become a serious hobby and I had to make a choice between my academic studies and making ballet a career. We have an exam in England called the eleven plus and if you pass you can attend a grammer school (a more selective and concentrated schooling). I decided if I passed I would give up the ballet. Well I did pass, but so many did that year and as my surname is Palmer, I was put into the Grammer stream, a comprehensive school. I had nothing to lose. I hated the school, it wasn't a nice place, so I auditioned never believing I'd get in.

I went to White Lodge (The Royal Ballet Lower School in Richmond Park) at twelve. Joining the second year and completed the next four years. At sixteen I was accepted into the Royal Ballet Upper School and I trained there for three years until I was taken into the Royal Ballet Company --a dream come true!

The question of who my most influential teachers and coaches were is a good one. At White Lodge three teachers left a lasting impression: Pauline Wadsworth who taught me second year, Patricia Linton, fourth and fifth year, and Nancy Kilgour, fifth year. At the Upper School we had many guest teachers my first year though we were taught by Katya Zvelebeliva. During my graduate year those that left impressions were Galina Samsova and Truman Finney. Recently though, we've been fortunate enough to have Chirstene Thesmar and my absolute favorite most inspirational teacher, David Howard.

The things I love to dance or I should say roles I love to dance are the ones that have a character. I love becoming someone else, really having to think and research a person and the situation they're in and to have to explore emotions and put a personal touch to it

I would love the chance to dance the mistress in Manon, the fairy godmother in Cinderella, Mitsi Casper in Mayerling, Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, Natalia in a Month in the Country.

My daily routine is adaptable because it changes constantly depending on the repertoire. Class is at 10:30am. I usually arrive an hour before to warm up and chat with the girls. If I do body conditioning I arrive at 8:30 am because I like to do it before class. It makes the day extremely long!! Most days rehearsals are from 12:00 - 6:30. When there are performances we finish at 4:30.

As far as "my maintenance" is concerned, I do Body Conditioning once a week and quite a few of those exercises each day before class. I don't take any vitamins. I make sure the food I put into my body gives me enough nutrients. I don't believe in diet food only that it makes an issue out of eating and actually makes you eat more and gain weight. As a little girl I was tiny and ate three meals a day. Obviously dancing as much as I do now three meals is not as easy to fit in or digest but I always eat breakfast, always nibble at lunch and always have a banana or a bagel before a show and a small healthy something afterwards - I've never been in such good shape. So it works!

My Gaynor Mindens have been the discovery of the century as far as I'm concerned. No more worrying about what shoes to wear for a performance. No more preparing ten pairs in advance. No more trying to find ones with the nice shape or trying to find ones that are comfortable. My shoes now are so comfortable, always feel lovely and my feet are rarely sore. I wear pointe shoes for class everyday. The longest surviving pair of Gaynors is 4 1/2 weeks. That's inclusive of class, rehearsals, and shows. The shortest life span was two weeks and that was only because the ballet we were performing had a floor cloth over the stage, which eats your shoes, plus, there were quite a few pirouettes required and by the time I'd practiced them for 1/2 hour before the show, the ends wore out!!!

My legs have definitely changed shape though. They've really elongated. It's because you can't sit in your shoes- to stand up in them and be on balance you have to be really on top of your legs, very pulled up and quite correct with your posture. Pirouettes are a lot easier too. Actually correcting yourself is a lot easier because of being able to feel your equilibrium.

I think it took me a couple of months to adjust to Gaynor Mindens seeing as I'd been wearing Freeds since I was ten years old and I'm twenty-eight now! It was weird to get used to comfort! It felt like I was a lot higher as well.

I think I'd answer 'Yes' AND 'No' to the question "Is there still an English ballet style or is the whole ballet world so international that individual nations no longer have distinct styles." Yes, meaning that if there was an English, French, American and Russian or even Spanish dancer in a line you could distinguish each one, as they each have a very individual deportment and flavor. No, meaning that technique and modern choreography have become so advanced in its demands on pushing the body to its limits that maybe distinct styles have been lessened.

I think that also dancers are younger. Styles that belonged to ballerinas like Lesley Collier, Antoinette Sibley, Merle Park, Lynn Seymour are no more because they were so individual and something matured over years of experience. We had two incredible choreographers, Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and lots of new productions which encouraged a very distinctive English style. We still have these productions which means we still retain this style and dance these ballets in a very individual way, but things do change. They have to. As people bring new things and ways of dancing to those established pieces.

I don't have an all time favorite ballet to watch. I love Romeo, A Month in the Country, Manon, Requiem, Rhapsody lots of them--too many to name. There's one I loathe with a passion though -- Sleeping Beauty!

A favorite ballet to dance is a difficult one. I love Swan Lake and La Bayadere because you feel like you've really achieved something at the end of a show.

So many people ask what survival skills you need in such a tough career. I think my answer is to have a very good sense of humour. To have friends who have nothing to do with dance. Willpower. To have days when you really let your hair down. To really become a normal person for a couple of weeks during a holiday. To listen to your body and pamper yourself once a week. Retail therapy for those days when nothing else will do!

Photo: C. MacMillian