Being brave, curious, and open – Leanne Benjamin gives a Creative Artist Talk at White Lodge
Last week Leanne Benjamin came to White Lodge to deliver a Creative Artist Talk. Two of our Year 11 students Margarita Pigorini and Denis Teixeira interviewed Leanne in front of a rapt audience of staff and students. It was inspiring to hear about her early life, ballet career and what she’s been up to since retiring from dance.
‘Being a great dancer is not just about technique, it’s about having a real passion for dance.’
Born in Rockhampton, Queensland, Leanne Benjamin first started dancing at three years old, in a local dance school. She began specialising in ballet during her early teenage years and subsequently joined The Royal Ballet School at 16. When she first moved to the UK, she experienced severe homesickness, however when her father told her on the phone she could always quit and return to Australia, she would reply ‘Absolutely not!’
Leanne competed in many competitions as a young dancer, which helped her learn about communicating with an audience. During her time at the School, she won the Adeline Genée gold medal and the Prix de Lausanne. When asked what advice she would have given to herself as a student, she said:
‘Be brave and be curious!’
Throughout her career, Leanne has been part of several different companies, including The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and English National Ballet. She spoke to our students about how the rehearsal and performance balance differed within each company. In her early experience, she felt there was a heavier emphasis on rehearsals and less time spent on performing, whereas within The Royal Ballet, she preferred the even balance between the two. Leanne talked about the challenges of doing eight weekly shows and how relentless it can feel.
‘The beauty of rehearsal is trying lots of different things, even if it isn’t right, you have to push boundaries.’
Leanne has worked with a range of choreographers in her life including Wayne McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon and Twyla Tharp. She was also one of the last dancers to work with Ninette de Valois, Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan. When reflecting on working with Kenneth MacMillan, Leanne said that she was fascinated by how he made dancers find a way of working from themselves.
‘It’s not always younger dancers learning from older, it’s also the older dancers learning from the younger, and you have to be open to that.’
When she retired 10 years ago, Leanne decided to try everything she had been too nervous to do as a dancer, such as skiing, skating and horse riding. During this time, she wanted to be able to learn and discover new things outside the dance world. Kevin O’Hare called her to ask if she would rehearse Mayerling, which she felt apprehensive to do as she had no interest in becoming a coach. However, when she saw the influence she could have rehearsing with dancers, she started to see how she could pass on her knowledge and experience and now thoroughly enjoys coaching. She regularly works with Royal Ballet Principals Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae, and more recently has been working with William Bracewell and Fumi Kaneko (also Royal Ballet Principals).
‘A bible of all the amazing people I’ve worked with.’
In 2021 Leanne published Built for Ballet, an autobiography covering her journey as a dancer well as her views on the changing world of ballet. She described her book as an opportunity to show that there is more than one way to become a professional dancer and what a fantastic career it can be.
Leanne was keen to ask students about their training at White Lodge and was interested in the ways in which it has changed since she was a young dancer. She also gave some advice on combating nerves before going on stage and on overcoming setbacks like injuries.
Thank you, Leanne for sharing your experience with us.