Pointe of return

At 57, Lynn Seymour can still hold her own with the boys in `Swan Lake'. By Louise Levene

Lynn Seymour isn't looking forward to this. You can't really blame her. Interviewers do have a tendency to overlook her illustrious career as the foremost dance-actress of her generation - muse of MacMillan, partner of Nureyev etc - choosing instead to mine her past life for sensational copy on the "Liz Taylor of dance", rubbing salt in the wounds that must surely attend the divorces, dramas and comebacks that this 57-year-old star has endured.

A very pretty 57-year-old, by the way. Tricked out in a scarlet sloppy Joe and black velvet hat, she doesn't exactly look young for her age, but there is an air of youth about her. Notwithstanding her edgy reserve, today is a relatively relaxed day - one of the three days each week when she isn't dancing the nymphomaniac Queen Mother in the West End run of Matthew Bourne's hilarious yet heart-breaking re-think of Swan Lake.

Seymour first saw the show during its premiere run at Sadler's Wells last year - "I went twice, because I loved it so much". So she was already a fan when the original Queen Mother, ex-Royal ballerina Fiona Chadwick, pulled out of the West End run (to concentrate upon her new job at the White Lodge Ballet School), and Bourne offered Seymour the part instead. Her guest season has given a huge fillip to her own career and a boost to the box-office. Her starry presence has also changed the way people view the production. Turning the spotlight on to Siegfried and swapping the tutu'd chorus of swans for a skein of powerful male ones has a huge dramatic impact, but its shift of emphasis has led to the show being seen as a "boy's own" ballet. Seymour's high-profile guest-spot reminds everyone that this is far from being the case.

"There's a lot of this `all-male ballet' stuff, yet there's a whole bunch of fabulous females creating marvellous roles and dancing their feet off." Seymour is now one of them, and dancing four nights a week has left her in excellent shape. Today's Royal Ballet dancers may be lucky to get one or two goes at a role each season, but Seymour began her career in the barnstorming Royal Ballet touring troupe, so Swan Lake's long run poses no problems for her: "It feels like home. It's the way I started out. I used to do three Odettes a week. Of course it's taxing, but you pare it down to all it needs. You take away all the excess."

She learnt to maximise her resources by watching some of British ballet's greatest stars: "Svetlana [Beriosova] and Margot [Fonteyn] helped me in Swan Lake, Fred [Ashton] coached me in Sleeping Beauty, Robert Helpmann helped me a lot with Giselle. I was really lucky. And Rudolf... Rudolf [Nureyev] was very generous. He was so interested. We were luxuriating in trying things out and we'd work extra hours to get something right. At present, I think of Fonteyn daily, because I used to watch her in class, how she looked after herself. I've got a role-model there."

Seymour herself provides a role-model for today's Royal Ballet principals, coaching them in Kenneth MacMillan's harrowing dance-dramas like Anastasia and The Invitation. It can be frustrating as well as stimulating: "They would all benefit from more time. Rehearsals are so short; they have so few performances. I feel terribly sorry for them. We were very fortunate when we were creating - we were led to think the roles would be ours." She does as much as she can to convey to her young pupils something of the passion that marked her own performances: "There was a run in Anastasia that nobody was doing properly. So I made them scream as they ran. It seemed to help."

One thing she can't provide for them is the perfect partner. Seymour's heyday was famous for dancers who pair-bonded as closely as doves: Fonteyn and Nureyev, Sibley and Dowell, Maximova and Vasiliev. Today's ballet dancers are more promiscuous, taking partners as they can find them. Seymour regrets this: "It's so divine when you find the right person. If your chemistry is right, there's nothing like it." In the event, she danced with Nureyev, Baryshnikov, David Wall and Christopher Gable, but never really went steady with anyone. "Christopher would have been the one, but he left dancing for acting. I adored working with Rudolf, but I couldn't have him."

Seymour was recently re-united with her first Royal Ballet partner, Donald MacLeary, in a forthcoming "Dance for the Camera" film for BBC2. "It's about two people who were innocent lovers in childhood, meeting up again 30 years later. But it's not a sentimental romance at all; it's troubled waters."

Because she had prepared so thoroughly for this film, she was already back in shape when the call came for Swan Lake. It had been three years since her last performance: did she still suffer from stage fright? "Oh, sure. But with this at least I knew I had time to redeem myself if I made a horrible mess." As if. While she may not have created the role, she has already made it her own, bringing out the pain and pathos in the character of Siegfried's emotionally crippled mother. "At first, I had thought to play her much more nastily; but, after a chat with Matthew, I decided it would be too obvious to just show her horrid side. She's more complicated than that."

With only minutes of the interview to go, she finally warms up and speculates hungrily on Bourne's next project, Cinderella. Will he ask her to be in it? "I hope he won't hesitate now that he knows I'm gung-ho for the company." Her mouth waters at the thought of getting her teeth into the part of the wicked stepmother Baroness Hardup: "The performance isn't the whole thing - it's getting there that's interesting. I remember one of the times I gave up ballet, it was such a great relief. I didn't miss performing; what I missed was being in a creative atmosphere"

Lynn Seymour dances in `Swan Lake' tonight, Wed, Fri and dates into January. Piccadilly Theatre, London W1 (booking: 0171-369 1734)

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living