The Sitter's Tale: Darcey Bussell

New faces at the National Portrait Gallery: the leading ballet dancer discusses her good points
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The Independent Culture
The National Portrait Gallery wrote to me asking if I'd be interested in I having my portrait done by Allen Jones. Allen had asked if he could paint me, because of the physical aspect of his work and mine. I did some research into his work when I was asked and found that he's very good at bodies.

I'd never had my portrait done before, and sitting was quite exhausting. We [the Royal Ballet] rehearse until 6, then I would drive to his studio, which is just by the Barbican. When I arrived I would look exhausted, and he wasn't very happy.

To begin with, he just sketched my head, which relaxed me. I initially asked him if he was just going to do a head-and-shoulders portrait, but he was really interested in the idea of me being on point, and wanted to go for a full length. We worked on positions that were more balletic, but they looked too stiff. He was fascinated by my point shoes and the way they gave me the same shape as his girl-in-stiletto paintings. He said he thought he would put everyone on point from now on.

When he first sketched me, he exaggerated all my muscles. I don't think he normally works from life, so he liked seeing my muscles, but the final painting is more streamlined. He had the image of a body in his head, and I think here I look like an Olympic swimmer. He said he really liked the twist of my body, and I like the sense of me going somewhere. I went to his studio for seven sessions, but I couldn't stand on point in one place for the whole time I was there, so he took photographs.

I like the portrait because it's different. The colours are amazing, and have given my body strength. His colours attracted me to his work when I first saw it.

It's very very strange having the portrait hanging on public display, especially when friends come over and say, did I just see you in the NPG?

INTERVIEW BY CHARLOTTE MULLINS

Darcey Bussell is a principal in `Dance Bites': Darlington Civic Theatre (01325 486555) Mon & Tues; Cambridge Corn Exchange (01223 357851) Thurs- Sat. Allen Jones's 1994 portrait is at the National Portrait Gallery, WC2 (0171 306 0055).

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