Sarah Lamb © ROH, Andrej Uspenski

SARAH LAMB: Creating illusions

Sarah Lamb © ROH, Andrej Uspenski

Fresh from bold turns in a passionate drama (“Manon”) and a milestone classic (a new version of “Swan Lake”), the American Principal dancer discusses her career choices, her ambitions, and what she thinks is the style of the Royal Ballet. A friendly chat with one of the greatest ballerinas of our time.


MANON Ch. Kenneth MacMillan,
The Royal Ballet, Photo by Johan Persson

 A standing ovation greets Sarah Lamb’s performance as Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Partnered by Ryoichi Hirano, the Royal Ballet star has just danced Liam Scarlett’s new version of this milestone classic for the first time outside UK and sparks enthusiastic audience response. The show has been spectacular, the cheers and applause continue and get even more insistent as Lamb and Hirano take one more bow.

I meet up with her the following afternoon. The July air in Madrid is dry and hot, slightly windy. She is made up, her hair is styled and she is wearing a rather informal yet somewhat fashionable tea dress.

Lamb joined the Royal Ballet in 2004 and got promoted to Principal two years later. Born in Boston, she had trained at the Boston Ballet School with Honoured Artist of Russia Tatiana Legat, and one of the highlights of her student life had been being named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and being awarded a gold medal by President Bill Clinton.

As we take a seat in the empty canteen of the Teatro Real a very few minutes before the beginning of a new matinée of the Royal Ballet “Swan Lake”, we keep talking about her performance yesterday.

APOLLO Ch. George Balanchine, ROH/Photo Johan Persson

 While watching the show last night I was wondering if a Principal needs to be not just talented, but cold and detached as well in order to dance big roles such as Odette/Odile.

You have to have a certain degree of thick skin. As you probably know, we artists are our harshest critics: our life is a kind of hard one as we ask people to watch us but at the same time we don’t like to watch ourselves. We have to be confident enough to put ourselves forward all the times saying, “Watch me”, but we also have quite a lot of self-criticism, every single day, because artists are by definition never satisfied. I find this is a real sort of struggle – yin and yang, you know?

You joined the Royal Ballet as a First Soloist after having been a Principal at the Boston Ballet, taking a lower rank at a new company in Europe. A leap in the dark?

The Boston Ballet is a much smaller company and I was very young at that time, I didn’t have an international reputation – when invited to join the Royal Ballet, I couldn’t expect to come in as a Principal. Furthermore, I hadn’t been a Principal for many years in Boston. I had spent my whole life there, I didn’t want to close myself off to one world, even though the ballet world is small… I wanted to be exposed to more choreography, I wanted to have more performance opportunities, I wanted to have more touring opportunities too as when I was in Boston we never went on tour. And I was looking for that kind of coaching and growth to expand myself as an artist and not to be boxed into a smaller environment.

Sarah Lamb in ‘Swan Lake’ with Ryoichi Hirano © ROH, Bill Cooper

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