Leanne Benjamin

 

 

Leanne Benjamin, OBE AM

Former Principal Dancer 
with The Royal Ballet
of London for 20 years,
The Royal Ballet Companies
Vice-Chair, recipient of 

De Valois Award for  
Outstanding Achievement in Dance  

 

 

Ballet Intensives NYC is proud to introduce our new Faculty Member, Leanne Benjamin, former Principal Dancer of The Royal Ballet. Prior to that, Leanne danced as a Principal with Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, and Deutsche Opera Ballet. 

 

Benjamin retired at the end of the 2012/13 Season, after 20 years as a Principal with The Royal Ballet and 26 years of an impressive and rewarding career as an international Principal Dancer. 

 

Leanne in Balanchine’s Emeralds as part of Jewels in 2007 (left) and in 2011, in Kenneth MacMillan's Requiem (right), both performances with The Royal Ballet. MacMillan set this one-act ballet to Fauré's Requiem for Stuttgart Ballet in 1976. Many of the choreographic images in Requiem were based on drawings and paintings by William Blake, including illustrations for Dante's Inferno, Milton's Paradise Lost and the Old Testament Book of Job. Photos © Johan Persson/ROH and Tristam Kenton/ROH


"It’s [about] keeping the integrity of the choreography and making it your own and making it look exciting"

 

Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin in McGregor’s Qualia, performing at Vail International Dance Festival’s Evening of Dance gala in 2008. Photo © Rex Keep/VIDF

 

Qualia, meaning a raw and sensory experience, marked Wayne McGregor's debut on The Royal Opera House stage, featuring a sensorial pas de deux originally created for Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin. Leanne counts Qualia among the most important works of her career.

 

"McGregor seems to put his dancers in touch with a future the rest of us haven’t really glimpsed." 

– Judith Mackrell, The Guardian



Leanne considers Edward Watson one of her most important ballet partners: “Ed and I have an extraordinary relationship. There’s such candour and trust between us. I was never one of those ballerinas fortunate enough to have the same partner throughout my career. Having the chance to be partnered with Ed has been a wonderful gift. I trusted him – I knew he won't let me down – but most of all, we had fun together. He helped me reinvent my career after my son was born.” Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin in McGregor’s Qualia, performing in Vail in 2008. Photos © Kyle Froman (left) and Rex Keep/VIDF (right)

 


Born in Rockhampton, Australia, Leanne started dancing at the age of three. At 16 she moved to London to train at The Royal Ballet School. Soon after, while still at school, she won two top awards at the world's most prestigious ballet competitions: the Adeline Genée Gold Medal as well as Prix de Lausanne, where she was recently welcomed back as a judge. For the Genée Leanne was judged by Dame Margot Fonteyn, who at the time remarked, "She didn't just win it, she walked away with it."

 

At the age of 18 Leanne performed the title role of Giselle at Covent Garden in The Royal Ballet School's annual performance.

 

 

Leanne Benjamin and Carlos Acosta in Machina. He is a hunter, burly and questing. She, a vulnerable, chaste nymph. Machina is a bold collaboration between choreographers Wayne McGregor and Kim Brandstrup, and composer Nico Muhly who produced a beautiful neo-Baroque score. It is one of three works created in 2012 for The Royal Ballet’s mixed program Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, a collaboration with the National Gallery in celebration of the London 2012 Festival. The work was created in response to the Titian paintings Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon, and Diana and Callisto, which were in turn inspired by scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Photos © Dave Morgan (left) and Johan Persson/ROH (right)

 

 

"I like to say that you must have equals on stage, or you can't fulfill the potential of the situation. Like with Carlos, we are doing our thing out there, every day it's different, you're reacting to each other like playing tennis," Leanne explains.

 


Leanne joined Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in 1983 and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1987. The following year she joined London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) as a Principal and in 1990, the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin. It was there that she met and worked with Sir Kenneth MacMillan who quickly became her mentor and invited her to join The Royal Ballet. Leanne joined the company in 1992 as a First Soloist and was promoted to Principal within the year. 


 

Sir Kenneth MacMillan, legendary British choreographer who was also Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet in London between 1970 and 1977, and its principal choreographer from 1977 until his death (left). Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson in MacMillan’s Different Drummer, during its 2008 revival at The Royal Ballet (right). Photos © MacMillan Estate and ROH


  

They call him a maker of dances and her, the last MacMillan girl

 

"MacMillan was, above all, a maker of dances, a discoverer of movement which could trace the darkest aspects of human experience, or penetrate the heart of the situation," wrote Clement Crisp in a profound, lyrical tribute to the choreographer. What makes a MacMillan girl, we ask, a MacMillan dancer? "He chose me for something he saw in me... for my personality. Kenneth didn’t choose his dancers for particular details of their physicality or technique. Those qualities were important, of course, but what he saw in you above all was your individuality and your qualities as an artist,” Leanne says.

 

Leanne Benjamin in a dramatic lift (left) and partnered by Carlos Acosta (right) in Kenneth MacMillan's Requiem at The Royal Opera House in 2012. Photos © Bill Cooper / ROH

 


Leanne's wide repertory included most of the Classical and Neo-Classical repertoire. Acclaimed for her performances in the MacMillan repertory, Leanne has also worked with Frederick Ashton and Ninette De Valois. She is one of the last dancers to have first hand experience of working with the founders of The Royal Ballet.

Did you ever have any doubts about being a dancer?

No. I always knew. I loved working. I knew I had something special I was driven to fulfill. 

  

Leanne Benjamin in the title role of Michel Fokine’s 1910 ballet The Firebird, in its 2006 production by The Royal Ballet. Photo © Dee Conway



“Leanne Benjamin was superlative, never allowing the drama of the long, exhausting opening pas de deux to relax for an instant,” noted Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times. “Now in her mid-40s, Ms. Benjamin is a completely compelling artist dancing with the technique to be expected of someone half her age.”



"The Firebird is one of the most physically demanding roles in the ballet repertoire. That's partly because you have to create the illusion of being in flight," Leanne shared in an interview in 2009. "The Firebird has to simultaneously use her arms and her legs in motion throughout most of the piece. I never thought I'd play her – I thought I'd be too small. It was created for Tamara Karsavina, and danced by Margot Fonteyn and then Monica Mason who was a wonderful Firebird because she had that athleticism. I remember seeing Marguerite Porter dancing the Firebird when I was a student. Her forte was not her jumps – neither was Margot's – but the beauty of the movement, arms and eyes portrayed the character perfectly."


 

Leanne Benjamin as Manon, ballet’s femme fatale, with Steven McRae as her des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon at the Royal Ballet in 2011. Photos © Johan Persson/ROH

 

"Benjamin has always shone particularly brightly as MacMillan's flawed, mercenary, mercurial heroine-cum-anti-heroine Manon Lescaut."
– The Telegraph

Benjamin in Act III of Manon. “Her broken doll of Act III,” wrote The Telegraph, was “pitch-perfect, almost too painful to watch.” Photos © Bill Cooper/ROH and Johan Persson/ROH

 

Leanne as Mary with Carlos Acosta, Edward Watson and Bennet Gartside in The Judas Tree, MacMillan's final work for The Royal Ballet. "The Judas Tree is a ballet about betrayal and guilt, individual and communal. MacMillan based it on the iconic biblical story of betrayal, the Judas kiss that resulted in Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. He was also thinking of more recent instances of betrayal, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989." Find out more about history and meaning of The Judas Tree.

 

  

One of the important qualities of Benjamin's career is how many ballets and new roles she has originated for world-famous choreographers including Wayne McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Kim Brandstrup, and Twyla Tharp.  

 

 

Leanne Benjamin, Valeri Hristov, and Steven McRae in 24 Preludes by Alexei Ratmansky (left). "Christopher Wheeldon's Electric Counterpoint (right) asked its dancers not only to dance, but also to perform on film and talk about their lives. Benjamin (shown here with Eric Underwood) was an obvious choice for the cast when the work premiered in May 2010," stated The Guardian. Photos © Bill Cooper/ROH and Johan Persson/ROH

 

In both 2004 and 2009, Leanne was recognised as Best Female Dancer in the National Dance Awards, as determined by the prestigious Critic’s Circle

 

Leanne Benjamin and Nehemiah Kish in Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia at The Royal Ballet in 2012. Leanne also went on tour with Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company performing at New York City Center in 2008, an experience that was important to her as an artist. Photos © Bill Cooper/ROH



Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson as Titus and Berenice in Kim Brandstrup's Invitus Invitam (left). And another painterly image of Leanne in Christopher Wheeldon’s Electric Counterpoint (right), from a 2010 performance at The Royal Ballet. Photos © Johan Persson/ROH



Berenice (above left) is another important role Leanne originated. Created in October 2010, to a haunting score by Couperin orchestrated by Thomas Ades, Invitus Invitam is based on a Racine play. Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup took as his text a part of a single line in Suetonius’ History of the Roman Emperors – ‘demisit invitus invitam’ (roughly translated as ‘against his will, against her will’) – concerning Emperor Titus banishing his mistress, Berenice of Clicia. (Berenice ruled the Roman province of Judaea during the second half of the 1st century. The Jewish queen's reputation with the Romans suffered from their bias to the Eastern princesses, like Cleopatra.) Titus and Berenice met only three times, which choreographer represented through a triptych of intense pas de deux for Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin.

 

"... a must-see artist acclaimed around the world, with her own vibrant dramatic directness and an uninhibited physical appeal"

– Ismene Brown

 

Leanne Benjamin (left, solo and right, partnered by Steven McRae) in Kim Brandstrup’s rendering of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. This exciting 2006 project was commissioned by the Austrian Bregenz Festival and presented a collaboration between Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup and acclaimed British film and theatre director Phillyda Lloyd (Mamma Mia! / The Iron Lady). Photos © Karl Forster

 

The Fall of the House of Usher. Bregenz Festival, 2006. Photos © Karl Forster

   

In 2013, the year she retired, Leanne received the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance


"Leanne has been such a huge part of The Royal Ballet for the last 21 years. […] The memory of her unique and very special talent will remain with us through the many roles she created during her long career," said Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet. 

 

 

Benjamin at The National Dance Awards 2013, receiving de Valois Award presented by Sir Peter Wright, her former Artistic Director at The Sadler’s Wells. Photo by Dave Morgan (left). A stunning Royal Opera House poster features Leanne in full flight over the suggestive landscape of her native Australia (right). The photograph also served as a cover of Valerie Lawson's 2019 book Dancing Under The Southern Skies: A History of Ballet in Australia. Photo © Jason Bell/ROH


 

"Leanne Benjamin retired in the role of her choosing, Kenneth MacMillan’s Mary Vetsera, a crazed, sexed-up nymphet with a death-wish," summed it up a London writer Judith Flanders. "Benjamin’s Mary," she added, "ran through the ballet like quicksilver, darting [and] restless." At 49, Leanne shined in her portrayal of a 17-year-old girl, dancing the role with brio and interesting complexity. She was partnered by Carlos Acosta as Rudolph, the mentally unstable Austro-Hungarian heir. The Guardian’s Luke Jennings raved about “faux-innocent, dirty-sex stare that Leanne Benjamin's Vetsera projected from beneath her schoolgirl fringe.” 


 

In this 1992 photograph we see Benjamin as Mary Vetsera, crown prince Rudolph’s teenage mistress in MacMillan’s majestically dark Mayerling. It is the same role that on June 15, 2013 marked Leanne’s swan song with the Royal Ballet after 20 years there as a Principal Dancer. Photo © Bill Cooper/ROH

 

Mayerling curtain call. Leanne retired in 2013 at the age of 49, becoming The Royal Ballet's longest-serving Principal Ballerina. Photos © Andrej Uspenski/ROH

 


In 2005, in recognition of her services to dance, Leanne received the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

 

In 2014 Leanne was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts by Central Queensland University. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the same year for significant service to the performing arts, particularly ballet, as a dancer and role model.


In 2016 Leanne was appointed a Governor of The Royal Ballet Companies and became the organization's Vice-Chair in 2020.


Benjamin is the Patron of the Tait Memorial Trust  where an annual award is given in her name to support young Australian and New Zealand Dancers to train in the UK. 

  

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success? 

Something I read has stuck with me: with hard work and talent you can be a king, with hard work and no talent you can be a prince, but with talent without hard work, you will be nothing.

 

 

Rehearsal is a fascinating process. Watch Leanne Benjamin coach The Royal Ballet Principals Sarah Lamb and Steven McRye in the ROH Ashton studio. So much ballet wisdom to take in! 

 


Today Leanne works with a number of international ballet companies as a coach to their Soloists and Principals. She also enjoys working with promising pre-professional ballet students.

 

"I always say to young dancers, the corrections you get today are the corrections you will get for the rest of your life"

 

Yasemin Kayabay, Turkey, 13 y.o. Ballet Intensives NYC Scholarship recipient:

 

"I feel so fortunate to have a chance to work with a precious Master Teacher like Leanne Benjamin. She's so precise, we're always working on details... I've learned a lot from her about controlling my muscles more. It was a great motivation for me to work with her during the COVID-19 quarantine; I didn't want to miss any of her lessons even when my family went on vacation so I got organized to take class away from home!"

 

 

Coaching Mayara Magri, First Soloist of The Royal Ballet for her role in the upcoming Coppélia, World Ballet Day 2019. Rehearsal photos © Gavin Smart/ROH

 

 

 Madeline Glinski, 17 y.o. pre-professional student of Ballet Intensives NYC:

 

"Leanne is one of those teachers I just "clicked" with. She has a particular way of explaining things, offering a fresh perspective on how to approach a certain step or your problem area. She explains things so thoroughly, in a way I haven’t heard it explained before. And it makes one think, 'Oh, so that's how I'm supposed to approach it!'

 

When I first started working with Leanne, I was trying to find ways to work with the hyperextension in my legs. After just one lesson Leanne got me thinking about my hyperextension differently from how I used to. From then on, my entire approach to the technique class has changed. Now, I find myself taking class with more intent in each movement. And she pays so much attention to detail when she is teaching! She can tell right away when I'm slightly not as pulled up in my legs — even now, on Zoom through a webcam, which is amazing, considering we are an ocean apart. She still picks up on things as if she were in the room with me."

 

Leanne in Queensland, Australia at the age of 12 (left). Coaching 17 y.o. Madeline Glinski in London, February 2020 (right)

 


When asked what would she say to her 12 y.o. self from where she is today, Leanne replies, "I would say, go for it! Work hard. If you are interested in ballet, make sure you are with a suitable teacher – someone who’s got a good eye, and keep your feet on the ground."