Next week English National Ballet bring their production of Coppelia to New Theatre. David Bellan talks to Laurretta Summerscales who stars as heroine Swanilda on Friday evening

Unlike the other full-length 19th-century ballets, Coppelia is an out-and-out comedy, a light-hearted confection with lovely music by Delibes, which just brings a smile to your face.

Laurretta is the youngest of the Swanildas we shall see in Oxford, and she is much admired both for her technique and for her acting. She started to dance almost as soon as she could walk. “My mother was a dance teacher, and she had me dancing from the age of three,” she said. “I studied with her and other teachers until it was clear I really wanted to be a professional dancer, and then I got into the English National Ballet School. It was lovely there — everyone was seriously training to be a dancer, everyone was working so hard, trying to improve as much as they could.”

It quickly became clear this was a student with a lot of talent. Usually those lucky enough to get into the company leave the school at 18, but when she was only 17, Wayne Eagling, at that time the director of the company, summoned her to his office.

“He told me he wanted me to join the company immediately. He said I should think about it, as there were exams I would not get to do, but he would like me to have a contract. I didn’t really think about it at all, of course, and I joined the company straight away.”

Unlike many dancers, Lauretta would stay in the wings watching as much of every performance as she could, and spent as lot of time watching the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, a character that fascinated her. “People noticed, and I was asked if I would like to learn the role, which was amazing because I was only 18 and still in the corps de ballet. Then, with only a three days’ notice I was told that another dancer was ill, and I would be doing the part for real. It was so hard — there’s this long, long solo at the beginning of the act which is very demanding, but I was in good shape and I did it. It was fantastic. I see the Queen of the Wilis as someone who was once human and fell in love and was terribly hurt. Now she’s a spirit who dances men to their deaths, but it’s not because she’s evil, but she’s just been made so hard, so full of revenge.

“The next day was my 19th birthday, and the girls in the company bought me an enormous apple strudel!”

The reviews were great and Summerscales was quickly promoted. She is still only 23, but has already danced the lead in Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.

“I think the biggest highlight of my career so far was dancing the role of Odette-Odile in Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall. “That was phenomenal and I’ll never forget it! Because it’s in the round everything looks so similar, and at one point I got lost on stage, but I just kept on running till I found the Prince! I love the atmosphere there and the way the audience is close and all around you.

“I could really feel their support, and at the end I just wanted to give them a big hug!”

Laurretta is an intelligent girl, and, although things are going so well, she is still keen to learn from the top dancers in the company.

“I’ve always looked up to the principals, and I like watching them work, particularly in rehearsals. You see the person, how they work, what they strive for, and I take something from every person to help me be the being that I want to be.”

Last year Laurretta won the gold medal at a huge international ballet competition in Beijing, which certainly underlines the fact that this is a young star really going places. However, after major serious roles, she is now turning her hand to comedy, as the charming heroine in Coppelia. Swanilda is really put out when her boyfriend Franz falls for a pretty girl in an upstairs window. When she finds out that this is a doll, she climbs up and pretends she is the doll to coming to life.

“It’s a delightful piece, though you can’t help feeling sorry for Dr Coppelius, who is fooled into thinking he has achieved his life’s dream.

“I think Coppelia is really good fun, and the costumes and the music and the dance really come together and give the audience something uplifting when they come to get away from ordinary life.

“There’s a lot of technique, but there’s an awful lot of acting, and there are different ways of playing Swanilda... is she going to be moody, or how are you going to play it?

“It’s a really good time for acting, and I love the music and the choreography and the humour. It certainly makes me laugh.”

English National Ballet — Coppelia
New Theatre, Oxford 
October 28–November 1 
For tickets, call 0844 871 3020