How We Met: Darcey Bussell and Anthony Crickmay

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The Independent Culture
Darcey Bussell, 24, a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, was still a student when spotted by Kenneth MacMillan. On 18 June she opens at Covent Garden as Masha, a role he created for her, in a new production of Winter Dreams. She lives in London and is much in demand for fashion shoots.

Anthony Crickmay has been photographing dance and opera companies all over the world for more than 30 years; the V & A mounted an exhibition of his work, Dance Images, in 1991. He also works in fashion and advertising, and has taken many royal portraits. He lives in London.

DARCEY BUSSELL: We met in 1990, when I worked with him for the first time. It was nerve-racking, because I'd never done a fashion shoot before. I knew Cricks was a brilliant photographer who had worked with the Royal Ballet, so I felt confident that the idea of mixing balletic movements and fashion would work. He knows about ballet, he understands how dancers move. I was comfortable knowing he wouldn't exploit me or try something which might look stunning but would be completely wrong for a dancer.

Cricks is a perfectionist, and so I could trust him, which was good for my confidence. I was very nervous.

When I arrived at the studio, I had lots of treats - someone to do my nails and make-up - but even so, the session was incredibly hard work. In photography you have to hold a position for longer than you would if you were dancing, and the following day every bit of me was aching. All the clothes were lovely chiffony things which were wonderful to move about in. Cricks made sure that I relaxed between each shot. He and his assistant made me laugh, and so even though we had a lot to do, I didn't feel pressurised. There was no tension. If Cricks was anxious about how the pictures were going to turn out, he didn't let it show.

Because I have so little spare time, we can never try something just for the fun of it. It would be fun to spend a day with Cricks at his studio, without any deadlines, just to see what we can come up with. He can be very critical, but that's OK because he knows what he's talking about. We both understand that we're taking risks - trying for something which is almost impossible to capture in a photograph.

Of all the photographers I've worked with, Cricks has the chicest, most hi-tech studio. It has massive glass walls, and I'm able to keep checking how my body looks. We can try out things and see exactly what a particular position will look like. The thing about the way Cricks works is that he captures a movement which is the essence of ballet. I don't know how he does it. All he says is: 'Don't worry. Just do it and I'll catch it.'

Cricks's studio is one of very few in which I'm prepared to jump. It has a wonderful springy floor. It's brilliant. Some photographers have concrete or stone floors, and if they ask me to jump, I have to say no because it's much too dangerous. The other great attraction of Cricks's studio is that it's always warm. Dancers hate being cold. That's when their muscles start to seize up. I've been in some studios where photographers open the door, let in a blast of cold air and wonder why dancers complain.

Over the years, the two of us have developed a kind of shorthand for when we work together. Unfortunately I can't ever hide from Cricks the fact that I might be over-tired. He only has to look at me and he knows.

When I needed some portraits, he asked me to bring in two different outfits - something elaborate, and a plain white shirt. He definitely prefers the more glamorous shots. I think he had this vague suspicion that I don't really enjoy dressing up. 'Darcey,' he said, looking anxiously at my evening dress, 'you don't wear flat shoes with a mini-skirt, do you?' He was obviously very relieved when I reassured him that actually I love to dress up in glamorous evening shoes.

When we're working, he spends most of his time with the camera on the floor. He once told me that what he'd really love to wear on a shoot is some kind of grown-up Babygro. I know when a session is going well because his face seems to light up. Cricks isn't just a photographer, he's really a choreographer. Apart from the fact that I often see him riding his bicycle near to where my parents live, I know nothing about Cricks as a person. He goes to the ballet but he's never been to see me backstage or let me know if he's going to be in the audience. Cricks has such a brilliant eye, it would be nice to know what he really thought.

ANTHONY CRICKMAY: We met when I photographed her for Caroline Baker, who was fashion editor of the Sunday Times Magazine. Over the years I had often worked with dancers and models. Caroline was interested in finding a way to combine ballet with fashion. She brought in a collection of floaty chiffon dresses, which were perfect for Darcey as she was able to move quite freely in them, just as she would in a ballet costume.

She was 19, and like everyone else in the ballet world I'd heard Kenneth MacMillan talking about Darcey's extraordinary talent. Although she had never done fashion before, the minute she walked into the studio, I felt that - despite her nervous giggle - she was someone special. She was utterly professional, arrived on time and was mentally prepared for whatever I threw at her. My assistants fell madly in love with her.

For Darcey, doing a fashion spread was another job, and she put as much into it as she does into her dancing. Although we were all, to some extent, scrambling around in the dark - not certain what we would get out of the session - Darcey was sensational.

It was very different from the time I'd had to do fashion shots with dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet when they were in London. They fussed about the clothes, complaining that they were badly made. One of the male dancers put on a catsuit which was obviously designed for a woman. Not surprisingly, it didn't fit, and sequins flew off in all directions. Darcey would never behave like that.

Apart from the way she looks, Darcey is also blessed with a great deal of common sense. She doesn't seem to be easily fazed. Obviously the adrenalin must get to her before a big performance, but she appears to take it all in her stride. Working with her is like being in a sweet shop and having all the most wonderful sweets to choose from. I ask her to get a difficult ballet position and she does it without a word of complaint.

Dancers are surrounded by mirrors, in which they continually check their bodies to make sure that their line is perfect. A dancer's eyes are immediately drawn to the slightest imperfection, so a bad photograph can cause much pain. Seeing the tiniest movement which isn't absolutely correct can be devastating. Darcey will never see the beautiful creature we see in photographs of her. We gasp, but frequently all she can see is how hideous she thinks she looks.

Unlike me, dancers have a rigid structure to their life. That structure is dominated by classes. Everybody has to do them - even principal ballerinas like Darcey. They're all in there together, fighting their bodies. Darcey's schedule is a nightmare, so we've never had time to do a photo session just for the fun of it. There's so much we'd like to try together - if only . . . For her, work and training come first, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. It's a punishing regime.

Of course, I've seen Darcey dance, but I wouldn't dream of going backstage after a performance. It would feel terribly wrong - rather like people coming to see me in my dark room. Congratulations on either side would seem rather odd to both of us. It's what we do. Darcey dances - I take photographs.

I have no idea about Darcey's private life. Because we have such an intimate working relationship, I suppose it's strange that I know so little about Darcey as a person. In the studio, I usually provide salad, cheese and fruit for lunch, but I haven't the slightest idea whether she has to watch her weight or not. Most dancers have very ugly feet, but I can honestly say that I've never even noticed what Darcey's feet look like. I only know her as one of the most beautiful and talented dancers I've ever photographed. The young, nervous girl who arrived in my studio in 1990 has been utterly transformed into an assured young woman. -

(Photograph omitted)

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