ENB Principal Laurretta Summerscales talks to Ballet Position about her favourite roles and the current phase in the company’s history.
Juliet is one of Lauretta Summerscales’ favourite roles. Juliet, that is, in the Rudolf Nureyev production of the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet. Nureyev’s 1977 ballet on Prokofiev’s complete score is the version danced by Laurretta’s home company, English National Ballet, for whose predecessor, London Festival Ballet, Nureyev created the work.
“Oh, I love Juliet!” she exclaims, and her face, already animated throughout our lengthy conversation, lights up further. “This is the only version of Romeo and Juliet I absolutely love.”
Nureyev himself described his Juliet as “passionate, willing and more mature than [Romeo] is.”
Lauretta: “You can see the transition as she turns into a woman – she realises what she wants and then she’s put into a situation where she has to choose between two sides, but she loves them both, doesn’t understand it. She’s, like, caught in a trap.
“I see her as a very strong character, so that’s why I can act her quite easily because she’s strong, even though she’s not toughened, harsh; but she knows what she wants and she’s very strong against everybody.”
Judged by many to be the balletic version of Romeo and Juliet closest to Shakespeare’s original, Nureyev’s ballet doesn’t stint on the bawdiness and violence that characterised Renaissance Verona. And he introduces some changes that intensify the dramatic effect.
“This is the only version (…) where she actually sees Tybalt dead. In all the other versions that I have seen you never have the chance to show the audience your emotions, what you go through!
“You have seen Tybalt dead and you have love for him and you have love for [Romeo] different types of love… this complete torture of two sides… and also you have a go at him saying, “how dare you do this?” and at the same time you love him.”
Throughout, though, and this seems to be the clincher for Lauretta Summerscales, “she’s quite calculating, thinking about things, thinking about “should I, shouldn’t I?” she’s scared, but you can see that she hasn’t lost control.”
As she gestures to signify her enthusiasm for this role, the tell-tale sparkle of diamonds flashes from the ring finger of her left hand. She is engaged to fellow Principal Yonah Acosta, with the wedding booked for the very first day of their summer holiday, post Romeo and Juliet.
The natural question, then, is, would she like to establish a regular stage partnership with her life partner?
“It would be great to do Swanilda and Franz [in Coppelia] because there’s a bit of feistiness, and we’re like that naturally, so I would love something like that because I would just have so much fun with him on stage.”
‘Feisty’ is definitely one word you would associate with Laurretta. It’s also a word that applies very much to ENB’s Director since 2012, Tamara Rojo. Does that create problems?
“I find we’re both quite feisty. I think it’s more because I’m pushy and I think I annoy her sometimes, which is understandable.
“It’s difficult, because as a dancer you don’t want to be seen that you’re laid back or that you’re super confident and you expect everything. I always want to show that I am always wanting more, I don’t want anybody to see me as big-headed (…)
“So, I never want her to think badly of me, so sometimes I’m like, ‘Im here, just to let you know.’ I’ll bet she’s gonna say, ‘go away, leave me alone.’ I don’t know that for sure, but that’s the impression.”
Big-headed is definitely not the impression Laurretta Summerscales gives. On the contrary, with her open smile and willingness to engage, she comes across as disarmingly unpretentious. Strong-willed, though; and intent on widening the range of her roles.
Brought into the company after only two years in the English National Ballet School, her progress up the ranks has been fairly swift, and promotion to Principal came, aged 25, in January 2016.
A strong dancer with a powerful jump, and appearing taller on stage than she is in real life (at 5ft 4 or 1.62 m she’s well within a female dancer’s average), she has tended to be typecast as, say, Medora in Le Corsaire, Odille rather than Odette, Myrtha rather than Giselle.
And yet, she gave a good account of Giselle in her debut in the role last Winter.
“I want to be able to be versatile and feel I can bring a bit of this, a bit of that, I’m not in a box. I don’t like to be in a box, I have this thing, ‘no! no box!’” (Laughs)
Versatility has to be the name of the game under Tamara Rojo’s ambitious plans for English National Ballet. The company’s repertoire now includes work by contemporary choreographers such as Akram Khan, Russel Maliphant, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and China’s Yabin Wang, in whose complex reading of the Medea myth, M-Dao, Laurretta starred.
Another coup for Rojo was the acquisition of MacMillan’s seminal work, Song of the Earth, choreographed on Mahler’s haunting Das Lied von der Erde, where Laurretta would be eager to dance the central role of The Woman – though she has no idea yet whether that’ll come to pass.
There is actually a lot ENB dancers don’t know about Rojo’s overall plan for the company.
“I understand she wants to push the company up there, to be different, to grab people’s attention, but what her plans are for the future, like what ballets and stuff, no. We may have an idea, rumours, there’s always rumours, but you never know because things do change like this” – she clicks her fingers – “so until you see it in black and white… but that won’t be shown to you until literally a month before.”
Laurretta is understandably reluctant to be drawn on internal company politics; but pushed about the Director’s accessibility to ideas or even suggestion from below, she will say this:
“When she’s a dancer, in dancer mode, you can talk very freely, but when she’s a director it’s a very different dynamic.”
She is much happier talking about her ambitions for the future, the roles she’s got her eye on beside that of The Woman in Song of the Earth:
“Definitely La Bayadère, I’d love to do both Nikiya and Gamzatti, but I absolutely love Gamzatti, especially the last solo – it’s really difficult in the red dress, it’s beautiful!
“Don Q, for sure – I feel like I can really just explode on stage. Elite Syncopations I’ve always liked because of Darcey Bussell.
“And the last one that I’d like to do is Sleeping Beauty. The Act II solo – I like the challenge, it’s such a long solo, it needs so much control…”
More immediately, Laurretta Summerscales is reprising the role of Juliet during ENB’s forthcoming stint at London’s Royal Festival Hall; and then, of course, there is the small matter of her own love story to attend to come the first day of the summer holiday and her wedding to Yonah Acosta.
by Teresa Guerreiro
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ENB dance Romeo and Juliet at the RFH, 1 – 5 August 2017. Laurretta Summerscales dances Juliet with Paris Opera’s Josua Hoffalt as Romeo on 4 August at 19:30