Ten Minutes with First Artist, Annette Buvoli on the Royal Ballet After Lockdown
For part two of this mini-series looking at how different members of the Royal Ballet Company were affected by the Coronavirus lockdown; introducing ballet dancer and illustrator/painter Annette Buvoli. Born in America, Buvoli graduated into the Company in 2013 after many years of training, firstly at the Boulder Ballet School in Colorado before venturing overseas to join the prestigious Royal Ballet School where she was able to experience what life would feel like after graduating as she danced with the company whilst still a student in ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. In 2019, she was promoted to First Artist and will be dancing in the upcoming Nutcracker shows at the start of the season. Tickets can be purchased here.
The lockdown saw a lot of people take up new hobbies to try and pass the time or fall in love with some hobbies they may have put on hold due to their busy work schedule. This was the case for Buvoli as the increased amount of free time (maybe too much) allowed her to focus more on her art. Launching her second Instagram page @buvolipaints in July 2020 during the midst of the pandemic, Buvoli decided that after painting, drawing, sketching, and illustrating for as long as she can remember – it was finally time to share her creations with the world. We put on some pointe shoes asked Buvoli a few questions on life as a ballet dancer both during and post-lockdown, her inspirations for new paintings/illustrations, and how she feels starting the new 21/22 season.
How did you cope with the news of lockdown and the uncertainty of when you would be going back to the opera house?
The Royal Opera House’s motto has always been “The show must go on!” In my nine years working for the Royal Ballet, that statement had always held true, regardless of how many dancers may have been injured or ill, whether there was a snowstorm shutting down most of the city, or even if the most important football match of the year landed on the same day as a performance the Royal Ballet never cancelled a single show. So in March 2020 when I heard that the Royal Opera House was closing its doors indefinitely I was in shock and a little in denial. We had just opened one of our most iconic ballets, Swan Lake and I was looking forward to dancing the 25 show run that we had prepared so hard for. It seemed almost impossible that from one day to the next everything had so suddenly and completely changed and finished. After this huge initial shock, I went into a state of ‘mental hibernation’ where I just stopped thinking and obsessing over all the things that I would be doing and dancing if Covid had not happened.
What did your average lockdown day look like?
It took me a while to get used to the “new normal” as I am sure it did for everyone. However, dancers are creatures of habit and so quickly I started morphing my old routines into new ones that after a few weeks seemed almost natural. My day always started with a ballet class in my kitchen holding on to a chair and trying to angle myself so as not to hit the other furniture and plants. This would be followed by a yoga or pilates class, stretching, and some gym work. After having lunch in the garden (thank god for the gorgeous sun we had!) I would sit down to study some online classes which I had decided to try, and later on to paint until early evening. Then to get out of the house I would head up to Hampstead Heath for a walk or run around the park for some fresh air and to maintain some form of stamina while not being able to perform.
Have you always been painting/illustrating alongside being a ballet dancer?
I haven’t always been painting/illustrating seriously but art has always been a huge part of my life. My mother gifted me an easel and paints when I was a little girl and from then on it was rare not to find my room in some state of artistic chaos. However, as I got older ballet and my school studies took up all my spare time so my painting took a back seat. I really discovered it properly again during the lockdown after having put myself through an intense 8 week online International Law class which I found extraordinarily difficult. When the class finished I felt like I was in desperate need of some artistic expression so I ordered myself a large canvas and paints and never looked back! I am finding it hard to balance with ballet now that things are gearing up again but I am determined to continue!
Where does your inspiration come from when creating a new illustration?
My inspiration comes from my surroundings. I notice little everyday things like someone wearing a funny hat, or a street musician, or maybe two ladies having tea and I suddenly think how I could transform them into the mystical world of illustration. I must say that I get most of my ideas when I am surrounded by nature. As most of my illustrations are of the little animals and insects that you might find in a forest it is easiest for my imagination to run wild when I am in their natural habitat. Growing up in Colorado I remember always imagining squirrels and mice living a life very similar to mine but with houses in the trees and mushrooms… Beatrix Potter’s work has always been close to my heart and her imagination is hugely inspiring to me.
Obviously, before lockdown you would be dancing, rehearsing, and training almost every day, how did you find new ways of doing this during the lockdown?
Lockdown really flipped my world upside down. I know that it did for everyone but for a dancer/performer there is no possible way to work from home. Our daily ritual of challenging our minds and bodies to learn intricate choreographies was gone and with that, we lost the joy of connecting with live audiences and sharing our passion for art. It was the loss of this that was the most difficult. I was really missing feeling like I was contributing to something greater than myself. I suppose that rather than trying to recreate what we had I started drawing and painting… It felt like an artistic outlet that I could still connect with people even if I couldn’t see them and talk to them. It did not completely fulfill the void that I felt from not performing but it certainly made me feel like I was sharing part of my soul again.
How does it feel to now be back for a full season of live shows?
I know that anything and everything is possible in regard to the future. I know that COVID is still very much an active situation which we will deal with for many years to come, yet there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Royal Ballet has a beautiful season planned full of many exciting performances and I simply cannot wait to start up again! It will be a learning curve for all of us to readjust back to our busy schedules, but I think that the time away from the theatre, though difficult, has made us all value our lives outside more and has also given us both a hunger and drive to be back doing what we do best. No matter what happens I believe that the 2021/2022 season will be full of excitement!
Photos by Alice Williamson (@designedbyalice) and Andre Uspenski (@dancersdiary). To browse and purchase any of Buvoli’s paintings see her Instagram below, or visit her website here.