Leanne Benjamin AM OBE, a retired Royal Ballet prima ballerina, was recently invited to speak to Everybody Ballet students at a special event in London. In person Leanne is a force to be reckoned with; confident, tenacious, and above all an inspiration. During the event she was interviewed by journalist Emilie McMeekan and over the hour touched upon her beyond extraordinary career that spanned from working with Sir Kenneth MacMillan to Liam Scarlett, and just about everyone in between.
Leanne, a native Australian, spent 29 years dancing in London with Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet), Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet), Deutsche Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet companies. Personally encouraged by the celebrated choreographer Kenneth MacMillan to join the Royal Ballet in 1992, she spoke passionately about her love for his deep, dramatic ballet roles. She openly admitted that tutu roles weren’t her favourite, though after watching a video snippet of herself in Don Quixote with the audience, she admitted she looked pretty good in them, which was beyond an understatement. She credited her career longevity to smart choices, knowing her body, and being picky about the repertoire she performed.
Some highlights of the evening included Leanne speaking about when she first joined the Royal Ballet she was only offered a soloist contract, which she personally found difficult as she was coming from another company having been contracted as a principal. She eventually joined the company, and was set to begin her career with the company performing Mayerling. Tragically Kenneth MacMillan passed away the night before her debut performance. Throughout her astonishing career she has danced with countless stars such as Irek Mukhamedov, Jonathan Cope and Edward Watson, and had ballets created on her by choreographers including Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor.
Even for those involved in completely different careers from dancing, during the evening Leanne was relatable in all of her anecdotes and the bits of wisdom she shared with the group could be taken to heart by anyone intent on reaching their goals. Leanne spoke about her time teaching ballet students and trying to impress upon them that how it’s okay to fall, because falling in the studio means they are taking risks and pushing boundaries.
Leanne is a woman who has accomplished exactly what she wanted by putting the work in she needed to and has achieved a celebrated career in the arts, alongside fulfillment in her personal life by having a family. She is one of those rare people who went after their goals with focus and did whatever it took for her to achieve them and has never looked back.
Everybody Ballet offers adult ballet classes across London, as well as special events. Check out their website for more information.
Leanne Benjamin’s official profile on the Royal Opera House website.
Featured image credit: © Jason Bell for the ROH