Ballet dancer talks following in footsteps of Strictly Come Dancing idol

Published
29/03/2016 by

When dancer Bethany Kingsley-Garner takes to the stage in Swan Lake she’ll be reminded of the last time she appeared in the ballet -as a child with her dance idol Darcey Bussell.

She was just an 11-year-old student at the Royal Ballet School when she got to share the stage with the famous ballerina.

Darcey has since retired as a ballerina and is a judge on BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing.

But now it’s Bethany’s chance to play the lead role of Odette in a new version of Swan Lake with Scottish Ballet, which has its world premiere at the Theatre Royal , Glasgow , on April 19 before touring theatres in Scotland and England.

Bethany grew up in Devon and has been dancing since she was three.

“I was very young, I was about three,” she said. “My older sister went to ballet class

and I was always pottering around at the back. That's how it started, really. I used to follow my sister to ballet lessons and always tried to copy her.

“I always had a natural movement with music. We had Classic FM playing all the time and I was improvising around the house. From a very young age, I was driven by something there.”

Bethany won a place at the Royal Ballet School aged 11.

She said: “They take in so few dancers across the world each year that to be accepted at 11 was a dream come true.”

Bethany then auditioned to appear in a production of Swan Lake alongside the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2000, which starred Darcey Bussell in the lead role of Odette.

She said: “I would have been 11 or 12. The Royal Ballet were doing Swan Lake and they have cygnets – baby swans – and we were lucky enough that they use dancers from the Royal Ballet School so we got to audition.

“And then they picked the ones who were going to be doing it.”

Bethany was delighted to win one of the roles. She added: “I was in the studio with Darcey at the age of 11 watching her perform and rehearse.

“It was incredible to have that ­eye-opener at that age. We even wore the same costumes – it was a mini version, a smaller version of the adult’s. I do look like a ballerina all ready to go.”

Darcey was Bethany’s dance idol and started her training at the Royal Ballet’s White Lodge school, just like Darcey had done before her.

“I’ve always been so proud that I’m from the UK and she was one of those dancers who’d done the same thing.

“She had gone to White Lodge too, so she was someone you wanted to follow in their footsteps. She was someone who inspired you.”

Getting to meet her when she won a role in the production was a dream come true.

She said: “I remember it vividly. I used to sit in the wings and I’d see her walking up the stairs and doing her warm up and her exercises. She was completely focused, like nothing would ever faze her.

“It was mainly in rehearsals we’d speak to her. I can relate to this when I do principal roles – you are very focused. She would maybe tell us if we were in the wrong place or ­something – she was very lovely.

“She’d tell us we had to make the picture around her on stage.

“In the rehearsal period, she was helping us out. You could never go wrong once she told you, that’s for sure.”

Three years ago, Bethany saw Darcey again. This time, Darcey was a judge at the Genée international Ballet Competition in Scotland. While the judges were deliberating, Bethany was one of the professionals who performed a duet for the audience. But she spotted Darcey watching her.

She said: “Darcey was in the wings watching me and I thought, ‘Wow, what a change of scenario. I’m performing and she’s watching me now. Little did she know I was once 11 years old watching her. That meant a lot to me.

“I like to see what she’s up to. She’s a great role model for British ballerinas.”

After eight years training at the Royal Ballet School, Bethany graduated with honours in 2007 and joined Scottish Ballet. She was promoted to a soloist in 2013.

Bethany is now 27 and, when she performs in Swan Lake it will be the first time she’s danced this ballet since she was 11 – although this version will be very different. “To be back on stage with that music playing is going to be fantastic,” she said.

“Back then, it was the first time I’d appeared in a proper ballet and it was on the Opera House stage. I loved it. I never would have thought I’d be playing Odette one day.”

She’s also delighted that she is performing in a new production choreographed by David Dawson.

It’s a contemporary interpretation of the story, focusing on the human side of the story and the themes of love and betrayal. There will be minimal sets and costumes to evoke a timeless feel.

Scottish Ballet’s Swan Lake will be performed in Glasgow and taken to Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh as well as Newcastle and Liverpool in April, May and June.

“We are so lucky that we have David Dawson creating our Swan Lake,” said Bethany. “This experience is so fantastic, to have the same music but to have the vision of something so different. The movement is a whole body experience you get so emotionally involved in it.

“It’s so driven by the music of Swan Lake and the story. I think it will inspire audiences. They will be so in awe and get drawn into the movement.

“I’m hoping they’ll come and watch the ballet and be transfixed and transported into another world. It’s not like I’m doing the same production with the same choreographer that I did when I was 11. We’re doing it in 2016 but it’s a timeless version.

“It does seem like a while ago that I did Swan Lake. I could probably do the version I did all that time ago as muscle memory kicks in. When the special music starts, I can still remember what I was doing back then.”