‘Ballet star returns after beating secret illness’, Sunday Times

October 26, 2010

From the Sunday Times, 24 October 2010. (Story by Richard Brooks)

Lauren Cuthbertson was suffering from a long period of illness in which she fought glandular fever and then myalgic encephalomyelitis.

She was hailed as the new Darcey Bussell, but Lauren Cuthbertson, a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, vanished from the stage for more than a year just as she should have been approaching her prime.

It can now be disclosed that Cuthbertson, 25, was suffering from a long period of illness in which she fought glandular fever and then myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

But she is now to make her comeback, dancing the title role in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a new ballet opening at The Royal Opera House in February.

She will star alongside Simon Russell Beale, who is best known as a stage actor but has also won praise for roles such as the home secretary in Spooks on BBC1 and George Smiley in a recent Radio 4 dramatisation of John Le Carré’s spy novels.

Russell Beale, who will play the duchess in Alice, may not have a reputation as a dancer but insiders say that, while tubby, he is also twinkle-toed.

Cuthbertson’s illnesses came after a stellar rise that began when she attended the Royal Ballet school at 10, later winning the coveted award of young British dancer of the year before she joined the ballet company itself at the age of 18.

Then illness struck. Over the past year, Cuthbertson has had to rest at her London home and with her parents in Devon.

Just before she was laid low, she spoke about the pressures of keeping fit. “Every time I go on pointe, it opens up my foot sprain,” she said. “It just never gets better. There’s not much blood supply there to let it heal.”

She also referred to the many hours of rehearsals, often without a break, and recalled how at the ballet school “in every class you are pushing your body”.

Cuthbertson had been lined up more than two years ago by Alice’s creator, Christopher Wheeldon, to play the lead. “Alice is such a British part, so I wanted a British dancer and Lauren seemed perfect,” he said.

Wheeldon said he chose Russell Beale after seeing him in a play at the National Theatre. “I thought he could move very gracefully,” he said.

The actor, who has already had a few rehearsals, is less sure of his dancing talents. He said: “Frankly, I’m terrified.”

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