Bussell injury poses problem as Royal Ballet goes west

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The Independent Online
Darcey Bussell is likely to pull out of her starring roles with the Royal Ballet this autumn as the company struggles to lure its audience across London.

The probable withdrawal through injury of the star ballerina is embarrassing for the company as it has plastered posters of her across the capital saying: "Follow Me To Hammersmith."

Bussell, due to dance Juliet later this month, has suffered a stress injury to her foot and is being examined by a specialist. A Royal Ballet spokesman said she had not yet officially pulled out, "but she will only dance if she considers she is at the peak of her fitness. We are awaiting the specialist's report".

Her injury is the last thing the company would have wanted at the moment. It has been conscious that its core audience may be unwilling to watch it perform at the Labatt's Apollo in Hammersmith while the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is being redeveloped.

This fear is proving correct. Figures from Royal Opera House sources show that well under 30 per cent of seats have been sold for the new ballet season which starts later this month - only half of the usual advance at Covent Garden. One insider said that ballet audiences did not associate Hammersmith with the glamour and grandeur of Covent Garden.

The withdrawal of Bussell would be a further headache for the beleaguered Covent Garden management.

Mary Allen, the former Arts Council secretary general, who started in her role as chief executive of the Royal Opera House this week, will be told that sales of seats for the Royal Opera at its temporary homes of the Barbican Centre, Royal Albert Hall and the Shaftesbury Theatre are also below what advance sales would have been at Covent Garden.

The management is already facing a tough autumn, even without the prospect of low audiences. An inquiry into the ROH instigated by the Government will report shortly; and next month Mary Allen will be called to give evidence to the Culture Select Committee at the House of Commons, which is holding a separate inquiry into the Royal Opera House.