A giant leap for a young star

When San Francisco Ballet comes to London, its newest recruit will take flight
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The Independent Culture

The young ballerina Nutnaree Pipithsuksunt, 18, wants to be a big star. She is already San Francisco Ballet's latest recruit and youngest soloist (she bypassed the corps de ballet). She is to perform in the company's London season at Sadler's Wells, making her professional debut by dancing in two pieces - Helgi Tomasson's 7 for eight (2004) and George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments (1946).

This is San Francisco Ballet's third visit to London, and it will present 11 ballets in one week. Tomasson, its artistic director, has chosen three mixed-bill programmes, including four UK premieres, all of them San Francisco Ballet commissions.

Born in Bangkok, Pipithsuksunt trained at the Varaporn and Kanchana schools in Thailand before coming to London's Royal Ballet School in 2001, at the age of 15. During that first year in London, she won the Genée International Ballet Competition, beating the upper- school pupils and entrants from all over the world.

"I never wanted to be a ballerina, until my mother got me doing it because she said it was good exercise," says Pipithsuksunt. "It costs a lot of money in Thailand to do ballet - paying for the leotard, the shoes, the school," she says. There is also no national ballet company there, so families know that their children will have to leave to pursue a career. "But I'm not homesick at all because I have got used to being away," says the now-ambitious young dancer.

She left the Royal Ballet School in July and is in her fifth week with San Francisco Ballet. "I still feel really self-conscious, as if everybody is watching me in class." But she is getting used to the new regime: "Last week, I danced five hours a day, but some days there are no rehearsals at all."

Before being signed up by San Francisco Ballet, she was offered contracts with Birmingham Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and La Scala Ballet. "I don't know if that is lucky or not... I worked very hard. I didn't audition as such for any of them. I went to New York to do some classes with the American Ballet Theatre, but when San Francisco Ballet - who had seen my end-of-term performance - wanted to see me again, I had to miss a week of school in London."

What is her ultimate dream? "I want to be the principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet in two or three years' time. Then, when I have some experience, I want to guest all over the world with the Royal Ballet Company and the American Ballet Theatre. Some days I do get bored of all this dancing, especially when I am tired, but I want to make it to the top."

San Francisco Ballet will be at Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (020-7863 8000; www.sadlerswells.com), from 20-25 September