The Observer’s Ruaridh Nicoll goes to find out what’s going on:
Dancers are stretching in the stalls of London’s Royal Opera House. On the other side of the auditorium, glacial director Monica Mason is sitting on her own. Upfront, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is attempting the all-but-impossible – placing a new, full-length ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, into the heart of our culture.
On stage are fantastical scenes: pigs being fed into mincers; Simon Russell Beale rustling about as a duchess; the white rabbit setting sail in a paper boat. All that is missing is the star, Alice. And then, out of costume but in the neatest of bobs, she taps me on the shoulder and leads me backstage.
Lauren Cuthbertson has hurt herself. “Something just went,” she says. It is 11 days before the gala opening. The weight of expectation on the 26-year-old, the sole English principal ballerina in the Royal Ballet’s line-up, is enormous. And what’s more, she has only recently recovered from glandular fever. “I was just starting to do barre when my name went up on the casting board for Alice and I thought, ‘I’m not even doing classes.’”