Energetiks Talks with Laurretta Summerscales
Fiery and headstrong, Laurretta Summerscales is a dancer who knows what she wants from her career. She rose quickly through the ranks of the English National Ballet, joining the school on a scholarship in 2007, then the Company in 2009, before being promoted to First Soloist in 2013. Last year, at the tender age of 25, she became a Principal, and she is now embarking on an exciting new chapter of her career with the Bayerisches Staatsballett (Bavarian State Ballet) in Munich. She is talented, hard working and dedicated, but most importantly grounded and humble in her determination to succeed.
Laurretta began dancing at the age of 2, at her mother's school, now Summerscales Performing Arts, in the UK. Studying every genre of dance, Laurretta completed exams in the ISTD and RAD syllabi, and competed both locally and nationally. She also did musicals under her mother's tutelage, crediting her experiences as helping her immensely with "the pressure of delivering technical steps and performing on stage." It is understandable that growing up in a performing family - her sister Gemma is both a talented singer and dancer and now teaches at their mother's school - Laurretta had a "dream to perform on stage no matter what." In fact, she says that "there was never any discussion of any other career. To begin with though," she notes, "I really wanted to do films and be like Cyd Charisse, Anne Miller and Grace Kelly." She soon discovered that the golden age of the movie musical was long gone - those amazing movies simply weren't being made any more - and she focused her attention on ballet instead. She remembers poring over YouTube videos of dancers and technique late at night, and practicing développés over and over until she was told to go to bed - "I was never very good at bedtime," she admits.
Hard work paid off for Laurretta and her promotion to Principal last year was "a dream come true". Looking back at the little girl she used to be, she felt "over the moon" that she reached her goal, the fact that she didn't start vocational training until the age of 16 making her achievement even more special (many ballet dancers start their full time training at 10 or 11 years old). She admits that after having that aim for so long, she was unsure of what to focus on next, having spent her entire dance life working towards achieving principal status. Not one to rest on her laurels, she believes that the standard of her dancing would fall were she not to set herself constant challenges.
One might think that the pressure of being a Principal dancer with one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world would affect Laurretta's outlook somewhat, but she remains level-headed. "Pressure is what you make of it," she says, "I am what I am, I will try just as hard as I ever tried, I will do my best but that is all I can give." Becoming a Principal does not, as she observes, provide her with "an extra tank of energy or extra dance ability that I didn't have before". Instead, the best advice she has received and taken on herself is that "this is such a short career, don’t be worried, just enjoy every moment on stage because it is very special and it won’t last."
Laurretta is careful, too, that she isn't seen as a one trick pony. She believes that others look at her body and movement style and put her in a category of a strong, powerful dancer, suited to the more physical roles rather than the emotional ones. She is determined to show her softer side too - and with opportunity she knows she can prove people wrong. Her example? Dancing as both the powerful Myrtha and the sensitive, pure Giselle in the same season this year at the London Coliseum - which she described as "amazing, to get to dance totally opposite roles".
Her favourite role to dance though, is Juliet (in Romeo and Juliet). For her, not only is the music phenomenal, but she connects with the role as a "real person going through a journey", and certainly the Nureyev production (the version danced by the ENB) is passionate, violent, and full of emotion for her to channel. And although Juliet is her favourite so far, there are many roles Laurretta wants to perform, and the newest development in her career - a sabbatical to the Bavarian State Ballet in Germany - is already offering her these opportunities.
"That is exactly why I am here" she says, "I want to do Don Quixote, La Bayadère, Onegin, Spartacus, and many more." The move might also have something to do with her husband - Cuban dancer Yonah Acosta who also danced with the English National Ballet - taking on a Principal contract with the company too. The newlyweds (they were married in August in the UK) have both already danced their debut roles with Bavarian State - Yonah as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and Laurretta as Myrtha in Giselle. Alice in Wonderland, Anna Karenina, Don Quixote and Spartacus are some of the ballets the two will be performing this year, and Laurretta has also debuted the role of Nikiya in La Bayadère, with Yonah as the Golden Idol. The two rarely dance as partners, Laurretta admitting that she is "a little too tall for him" when en pointe, but she says there are "certain pas de deux that are really good for us", like Diana and Actaeon, and Le Corsaire. They are however, dancing in the same productions at Bavarian State Ballet already, and relishing this new chapter in their careers.
So what is Laurretta's advice for any aspiring ballerinas out there? Well first, she says, "you have to ask the question do you really love it? Because it isn't a walk in the park; there are so many amazing dancers out there". If you've already answered that question and you know that ballet is what you want to do, then her advice is to "listen to all the positive people around you, practice, analyse, and finally, never lose your personality." That is what makes dance exciting, she says, "Don't become a robot!". A robot Laurretta is not, and that has most likely been the key to her success - her personality shines through both in every performance and every time she talks about the sparkling career she has made for herself. We can't wait to see what she does next.
Follow Laurretta on Instagram: @laurretta.s
For more information on the Bavarian State Ballet or to book tickets for upcoming performances click here.
Article & Interview by Emily Newton-Smith