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Sarah Wildor.

Sarah Wildor is temporarily abandoning the plum roles at Britain's Royal Ballet for Cinderella at London's Adventures in Motion Pictures.

After Britain's Royal Ballet completes its tour at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center this month and returns to London, the company will make two major adjustments. It must shift operations from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to the Labatt Apollo in Hammersmith so its home theater can be renovated [see Presstime News, page 30]; and it will have to do without the artistry of Sarah Wildor. The twenty-five-year-old ballerina begins a six-month leave of absence to perform Matthew Bourne's Cinderella with his London troupe, Adventures in Motion Pictures [Dance Magazine, May, page 52].

For a growing number of admirers, the absence of Wildor (pronounced "willdor") may cause the greater jolt. Hailed by critics as "Divine Sarah" and "sweet Wildor," she began to attract attention while a student at the Royal Ballet School; she made her first impression as a junior when she appeared as Clara in Peter Wright's version of The Nutcracker with the Royal. Later, in 1987, she was one of two very young peasant girls who teased and danced with the Prince's drunken tutor in Act I of Anthony Dowell's Swan Lake, his first production as artistic director of the Royal. Before graduating in 1990, Wildor gave a noteworthy performance of the Betrayed Girl in Ninette de Valois's The Rake's Progress. Dowell immediately took her into the company and soon began giving her opportunities to dance principal roles.

Although her performing presence had always been noticed, the big role that made people sit up and pay attention did not come until October 1993, in Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. Wildor made her debut in the role of Juliet with Michael Nunn as her Romeo. The audience was ready for a new star to follow, and Wildor fit the bill. Juliet allowed her to unleash the range of emotions and artistry that she had within her. She brought grace and intelligence to Shakespeare's heroine, offering moments of originality and sensitively developing the character from an impetuous and passionate girlhood to her tragic womanhood. Physically she made an ideal Juliet: the delicacy of her facial features enhanced her vulnerability; long, expressive limbs revealed her feelings. She showed strong, assured pointework and an amazing ability to throw herself convincingly into the role.

Another--possibly even more exposed--debut as a Shakespeare heroine came a year later when Wildor had to learn Titania in Ashton's The Dream in front of an audience of ballet teachers and connoisseurs. Antoinette Sibley, who created the role, was to give a practical coaching session on the Ashton heritage at the Royal Academy of Dancing's annual meeting. Asked at the last moment to replace Viviana Durante, who was unable to attend, Wildor found herself onstage in practice tutu, partnered by Bruce Sansom, who joined Royal Ballet in 1982. The original plan had been to polish the pas de deux between Titania and Oberon. Wildor, however, had learned the steps quickly only the day before and had virtually no time to rehearse with Sansom; so all interpretation and correction had to be done under all the eager eyes of the assembly. As was expected, she rose magnificently to the occasion under Sibley's clear, articulate guidance, due in no mean measure to her own concentration and enthusiasm. She fairly blossomed in front of all the spectators. Eventually Wildor was given the opportunity to dance Titania in the full ballet and triumphed in it.

Giselle gave Wildor watchers an opportunity to study her technique in detail. She is very musical, as her phrasing shows, and she takes time with each movement, never rushing nor holding poses simply for effect. Her dancing in Act I was spontaneous--the joy of living and loving. Each dance demonstrated another facet of her feelings--exuberant long, leaping jetes that skimmed the floor, ballonnes that were the outward evidence of inward excitement, the tilting of her head when her arms went up to Fifth showing her supreme happiness, and natural expressions on her face that told you she too was enjoying her dancing. Her spontaneity in the first act was harnessed once she became a wili. Her movements were ethereally serene, showing that her Giselle had found an inner peace and that her forgiveness of Albrecht was complete.

The ballets of MacMillan have most frequently displayed Wildor's surprising ability to translate character, often stark, troubled character, into dance--and sometimes on very short notice. In November 1995, after Darcey Bussell was injured, Wildor was abruptly asked to replace her in Manon. ("I learned the role in one week and two days," she recalls. "It didn't give me much time to be nervous--it was just work, work, work.") Here again was a role that fit her like a glove and one in which she was, once more, to impress us with the clarity of her character interpretation--from the sweet and not-really-so-innocent convent-bound young girl (her sparkling eyes told you that she'd already discovered something about her sexual attractiveness by the time she stepped down from the coach) to the seductive voluptuousness of a richly kept woman, to Manon's final degradation.

The intricacies of the choreography didn't appear to faze her--Wildor is not one to go for high extensions, choosing rather the neatness and fluidity of her assured footwork to make an impression. She looked at ease in the challenging sequence that takes place in Madame's whorehouse in Act II, where Manon is passed from man to man in high lifts and swooping drops, her feet never touching the floor. She freely showed the joyful exuberance of first love in the bedroom scene with Des Grieux and, as he left to post his letter at the end of their passionate and forceful duet, she made the audience laugh as, with girlish glee, she leapt onto the bed from a great distance, thrilled at being in love.

Her debut in Anastasia was marked by a depth of understanding and conviction that belied the fact that this was her first performance. It was not only her mastery of the complexities of MacMillan's choreography but her complete absorption in the central character, Anna Anderson, that proved so impressive--not just when she was in the spotlight. While others were dancing she wandered around, childishly tugging at her dress or rubbing her nose and yet, being on the brink of womanhood, ready to flirt with the boys. The role of the young Anastasia was tailor-made for the critics' "sweet Wildor."

But what about Act III? Would she be able to pull out all the physical and emotional stops when Anna recalled her tragic childhood as the Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II? Wearing a mud-colored, shapeless shift, her luxuriant hair cropped, and her once-elegant carriage now bent with despair, she gave a chilling and convincing portrayal of anguish. She vividly enacted the horrors of seeing, in flashbacks, the execution of the imperial family, her own baby snatched from her bosom, and her husband taken out and shot--all with an intensity that reached every seat in the auditorium. The critics must now describe her as the "prodigious Wildor."

Intrigued to find out for myself what these multiple Wildors would be like offstage, I set out for the Royal Ballet's rehearsal studios at Baron's Court. I am taken up to the library to await our interview. Within minutes, the door opens slowly and a petite face like that of some anxious schoolgirl summoned to the principal's office peeks in.

The task of trying to uncover Wildor's real-life character seems daunting at first. She appears to be a Jane Austen heroine--charming, modest, polite, shyly speaking only when spoken to. Her cherubic face is pure Botticelli, with pale, porcelain features and startling lilac-gray eyes that are topped by unusually dark brows. Her long, luxurious, blond corn-silk hair, loose in Act I last night, is today swept up into a bun from which wispy tendrils are straying. Dressed in a black sweat suit, she looks fragile and waiflike, yet with an air of seriousness about her. She answers my first questions in a soft voice, politely and succinctly. It's a tough beginning. Then something makes her laugh, her face lights up with a beautiful smile, and the interview takes wing.

She exclaims about Titania in The Dream: "It's so musical. Ashton makes everything so lyrical, and he gives time to use one's arms and body." Her Oberon at her debut had again been Sansom. "I was a bit afraid of dancing with Bruce at first," she confesses. "I'd put him up on a pedestal, as he was far more experienced than I. But I soon took him off it, as he teased me continuously in the rehearsals and made jokes.

"I find the character of Titania very interesting. She's very strong-willed, wanting her own way with Oberon. But by the pas de deux she realizes that she needs to relent a bit. Until then, she's been too uptight and an unhappy queen. As the duet develops, it gradually shows their underlying love for each other.

"Anastasia? Yes, she's a far cry from double attitude turns and slow developpes," she says, her eyes bright. "But it's just wonderful working with Lynn [Seymour]. She starts off by telling us what to do, then suddenly she's on the floor with us, demonstrating in such incredible ways. I'm sure she could easily dance the complete role today . . . [Anastasia] is such a fascinating character. You have to ask yourself how, if she wasn't really the Russian princess, could she acquire so much knowledge about the royal family and the court, knowledge that allowed her to pass herself off as the daughter of the tsar? At the beginning of the ballet, she is a happy young girl, but by the end she has lost her way, is emaciated, and her madness--if it can be called that--is steadily developing."

How has Wildor acquired this ability to alter herself so greatly when onstage? "I really don't know where it comes from," she answers modestly. "I just feel it. I like challenges, and even with modern choreography, which I really enjoy, I can create a mood, even where there's no character." She proved this in April when the Royal revived Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove, with Tetsuya Kumakawa in the Baryshnikov role and Wildor dancing Marianna Tcherkassky's.

She is now outgoing, eager to chat about her boyfriend, the former Royal principal Adam Cooper, who had a huge hit in Bourne's contemporary, male-oriented Swan Lake for Adventures in Motion Pictures [Dance Magazine, January, page 66]. She often reveals a sly sense of humor. But I sense a mystery about her. She appears too wholesome to be Manon, too intelligent for Titania, too placid for Giselle, too sane for Anna Anderson.

"When we go on tour," she continues, "I like sightseeing and go to palaces and museums whenever possible. I'm not one to sit in the sun and relax. And"--I wait anxiously for new revelations--"I'm a bit inclined to the morbid. I like dungeons and prisons. They fascinate me, as do crime books and programs on crime on TV. I don't like violence, but I like analyzing someone's character--the more bizarre the better." And she smiles angelically.
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Title Annotation:Royal Ballet Company dancer
Author:Willis, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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