My Failed & Comical Attempt To Choreograph Dame Darcy Bussell

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I was recommended by a friend to photograph Darcey Bussell for a Parisian couture ballet shoemaker. Having photographed the beautiful Anne Schaufuss after she left the Royal Danish Ballet and became a model, I knew that dancers could create the most beautiful forms, which became essential in my work. Anne was the cousin of Peter Schaufuss who was the creative director of the Royal Danish Ballet and she became my muse for many years as she moved so gracefully in front of the camera for me, which was very inspiring, as models do not move in that fluid way. So I was delighted with the opportunity to photograph Darcey Bussell who is one of the great ballerinas in the English tradition. Darcey Bussell of course now has the title of Dame Darcey Bussell and has had great success recently a judge on Strictly Come Dancing and also as an author.

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On the day of the shoot Darcey arrived with her entourage and the Parisian clients, with multiple boxes of silk ribbons and ballets shoes. She walked into the Chelsea studio and I introduced myself and told her how much I admired and enjoyed her work, especially in Kenneth Macmillan’s, The Prince of The Pagodas, in which she played Princess Rose.

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We discussed the session and I asked her if she would perform some floating leaps. She said she would like to but she couldn’t because the floor was not sprung and could cause damage to her ankles and legs. So I said  could you gently glide up onto point and create some beautiful forms.  I explained that I would use a fine silk chiffon scarf and a wind machine to give the image a sense of movement since she could not leap around or elevate on the studio floor.

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Darcey followed my very clumsy instructions of various ballet forms which I attempted to physically articulate myself, much to the hilarity and amusement of all those present in the studio including Darcey herself, who at various points laughed so much we had to pause.  I should have been very embarrassed by all of this, but I was so excited by the quality of images we were capturing that I forgot that my comical attempts to perform various balletic poses must have looked preposterous.

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We shot through a long afternoon and the client and Darcey loved the pictures.  I still find these images beautiful and serene. I really appreciated how much she effortlessly performed for the camera.  Later my assistants, much to my annoyance would say “How is Rudi today (meaning Nureyev)” to which I would reply,  “You are all fired. Don’t be so Rudi”. Looking back its quite ridiculous that I would even attempt to tell such a talented Prima Ballerina how to move, but I was so engrossed in the moment that I was oblivious to this at the time.

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The next time I saw Darcey, thankfully my attempts at choreography were not mentioned. I photographed her just prior to her wedding in 1997 in her gown. The shoot was in a beautiful Tudor Mansion on the outskirts of London that somehow we managed to get permission to work in. All the extensive crew and myself had to wear padded shoes and gloves as it was a listed building. Darcey couldn’t swirl around or create any forms, so we just had to shoot an image that was beauty in repose. This was in complete contrast to the previous shoot that had been all about movement.

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Later I was asked by a magazine to photograph Darcey Bussell in a hat. David Shilling studio sent over a fabulous collection of his wonderful creations. I chose this red architectural chapeau that reminded me of a sharks fin and a rhino’s horn simultaneously and yet was so exquisitely feminine and delightful. This image puts me in mind of the classic elegance of Audrey Hepburn Givenchy’s muse. I know that Darcey Bussell and myself are both great admirers of the enigmatic Audrey Hepburn with Darcey presenting the documentary Looking for Audrey.

  • Clive Arrowsmith is shooting stunning images, staging exhibitions and is as passionate about photography as he was when he first pressed the shutter at The Paris Collections. He is available for global media opportunities related to his work and photography generally. Bespoke prints from Clive’s archive are also available by special request, for any enquiries  (email Eugenie here). Clive’s book Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty & Portraits is available here and Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here

 

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