Dominique Larose: Northern Ballet’s first soloist on bringing The Great Gatsby to the stage

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Prima ballerinas: the living embodiment of poise, grace and an almost superhuman ability to perform feats of incredible athleticism night after night with ease. Not quite, says Dominique Larose, first soloist at Northern Ballet. Before a show, she explains, “I always practice the exact same steps every time – there are a few steps I have more difficulty with so I want to see whether or not I can do them on that day.” Human after all, then.

A member of the Northern Ballet since 2014, after graduating from its in-house professional programme, Larose is currently starring as Daisy Buchanan in the company’s most recent revival of The Great Gatsby at Sadler’s Wells. It’s a modern, joyful show that combines elements of classical ballet with more modern dance traditions and, of course, plenty of 1920s hedonism.

“A lot of people think, ‘Ballet isn’t my thing, I don’t understand what’s going on,’” explains Larose of the show’s unique appeal. “What is great about Gatsby is that, every time there’s a party on stage, you feel like you’re really at a party.”

Born in San Francisco and trained at the Akayo School of Ballet in Zürich before moving to the UK, where she is now based in Northern Ballet’s hometown of Leeds, Larose’s previous roles include the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and the titular role in Cinderella, as well as in contemporary ballets by choreographers including Amaury Lebrun and Kenneth Tindall.

Which all looks good on paper (and Instagram) but, as Larose tells me, the road to lead artist status was far from smooth. Between the pandemic lockdowns and a devastating ACL injury, Larose spent more than 500 days without performing in 2020 and 2021: a lifetime for a ballerina in her prime.

“Covid was tough but, for me personally, the years that followed were tougher because I had two big injuries,” she explains. “So where the company had maybe three months of not dancing, I ended up with almost two years off.

“I really don’t want that to happen again but it wasn’t all bad. It gave people a break and a chance to think about why they want to dance. To remember why you came into this profession. Why you work all day every day when you’re often in pain. When you’re in it, day in, day out, you can get very negative about your work. After Covid, I felt people came back in such a positive light because they remembered why they danced.”

Here Larose talks the realities of a touring ballet production, coping with pre-show nerves, and why cheese and wine in Covent Garden is her perfect night out in the capital.

What does an average day look like when you’re on tour?

On days where we don’t have two shows, we start at 12pm and can do up to three hours of rehearsals for other ballets or bits of the show that need work. We change venue every week so you need to respace, especially with the group numbers. On Tuesdays, we do a full run of the show without costumes, hair or makeup, again, to adjust to the space. One venue might have four sets of wings and the next venue will only have three so we have to change and adapt so there are no accidents in the show.

Thursdays and Saturdays are double show days and we’ll do one show with one cast and the other show with another cast: the difference between ballets and musicals is that we don’t use the same cast for every single show. For example, in London on Saturday matinee I do Daisy but on Saturday evening, I do Maid Five which is a completely different mindset. It keeps it interesting.

The Great Gatsby is a little different to what people might think of as a classical ballet. What makes this show special?

I think Gatsby is a great show because, as much classical technique as there is, we also do the dances that you are maybe more familiar with. When we have the Charleston party, we’ve ballet-ified it but we do physically do the Charleston like you would see on Strictly. The same with the Tango scene; it’s in pointe shoes, but the fundamental Tango steps are still the same. Something which has also surprised a lot of people is that the dancers sing. You never see that in a classical ballet.

dominique larose northern ballet great gatsby

Image: Johan Persson

You previously played Daisy in 2018. How does it feel to be returning to the role and are you doing anything differently this time?

When I first played Daisy it was a super exciting experience for me. It was my first time being [in the] first cast and she’s really the lead role. I was so excited but the process to prepare for it was really rushed. What was great about that was that I was doing Daisy exactly how I felt she would be. I didn’t overthink anything. I was just doing it.

This time, we had a lot more time to prepare and I have a new partner as well. Having a different partner often changes your take on it because you react differently to each other and you have a different interpretation. As well as reading the book, I watched the old Robert Redford and Mia Farrow movie and that really changed how I portrayed Daisy. There were these key moments and specific lines where what Daisy says jumped out at me. When I do those bits of the ballet, I really think about that.

How do you prepare before you go on stage?

I like to stay more relaxed. If you put too much stress on yourself you can’t actually do what you want to do because your body’s too tense. I like to put my wig on an hour before the show and then go on stage and decide which shoes I’m going to wear. Five minutes before call I put my costume on and then, once the show starts, I stand backstage and watch the scenes I’m not in so I stay in the story.

Do you still get nervous and how do you cope with that?

I get nervous but I don’t get as nervous as I used to 10 years ago. It’s a different type of nervous. Because I had this really big injury last year I appreciate the chance to be on stage more. If I’m too nervous, I cannot enjoy what I’m doing. I really have to say to myself: you have to just be in the moment. You can only do your best in this moment. That’s all you can do.

dominique larose great gatsby northern ballet

Image: Emily Nuttall

What are your other favourite ballets?

I love Swan Lake, it’s my favourite show to watch and to perform. During Covid, we watched three different versions in a row on YouTube. My partner kept saying, ‘Can we watch something else?’ But I just said no. I love all the really classic shows, like Don Quixote and The Nutcracker.

Are there any roles that are still on your bucket list?

So many. I was supposed to do Swan Lake but then Covid happened so that’s still a massive dream for me. Sleeping Beauty is also a dream. Gisele wasn’t when I was younger, but now that I’m a little bit older, I would quite like to do it because it has all the things which I’m actually not very good at. I never wanted to do it because I thought it wasn’t me but now I think that’s exactly why I should do it. I’d also really like to do Kathy from Wuthering Heights. It’s quite an extensive list!

How did you cope with training during Covid?

In a way it was good because it made me appreciate my home but dancing in my living room definitely made me appreciate the floor and space in the studio. And the music! Having the live pianist on Zoom was great but I was always slightly out of sync.

How do you unwind after a show?

I like to talk about the show. My partner works backstage and I’ll be like, ‘Did I do a good job? I could have done this better. Did you see me fall here?’ Then I like to go on my phone and forget about it. After a show you’re on such a high but talking about it makes you think about more than just the energy of the show. Then you go to bed, you wake up and you do it all again.

Where do you stay when you when you’re performing in London?

I don’t think I’ve stayed in the same place twice. This year we’re staying in Covent Garden, which I’m really excited about because I love Covent Garden. When we went to Sadler’s Wells for the first time after Covid they put us they put us in hotels because the digs were a little risky still. That was really nice: it’s a five minute walk from the theatre and you passed all these coffee shops and Waitrose on the way. I could get used to that.

Last time we stayed in Camden, which is another one of my favourite areas of London. I love the energy of London. If I have to ride the Tube to go to the theatre, I’m going to be okay with that. It’s fun.

How do you spend your free time when you’re in the capital?

By default, I always end up in Covent Garden at some point. I like Pick & Cheese in Seven Dials – it’s like Yo! Sushi but with cheese and wine. That place makes me really happy. Just behind the theatre in Covent Garden, there’s a typical Belgian or Dutch bar. We discovered that recently and I’m half-Belgian so we go to have a traditional beer. I also just like to walk around. I don’t care where we are, I just really like to be here

What advice would you give to any aspiring ballerinas?

I think if you want to do it you should but you need to remember that your strongest asset is yourself. The more drive you have, the more successful you will be. If you push really hard and set an example to others about how to push, then as a team, you all push harder.

Sometimes young dancers get scared to ask, ‘Oh, can you help me practice more?’ But the worst that can happen is people say no. That changed my life. I started asking, ‘Can you watch me do my solo?’ If they said no, then fine, I’ll do my solo by myself but it was learning to have the courage to ask and the drive to do it by myself anyway. I wish I had realised that sooner.

The Great Gatsby is at Sadler’s Wells from 17-20 May 2023. Book tickets here.

Read more: Hugh Bonneville on Paddington and putting his head above the parapet

The post Dominique Larose: Northern Ballet’s first soloist on bringing The Great Gatsby to the stage appeared first on Luxury London.

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