Is this Britain’s oldest professional ballerina? Pippa Moore on why age is no barre

Scenes from the many leading roles Pippa Moore has played during her years at Northern Ballet
Scenes from the many leading roles Pippa Moore has played during her years at Northern Ballet
  • At 41 Pippa Moore is one of the world’s oldest professional ballerinas, but while the body is still willing she tells Sarah Freeman why she will keep performing.
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Next birthday Pippa Moore will be 42. That’s a full five years younger than Kylie and Jennifer Aniston and she’s already got 15 years on Madonna, but in the world of ballet it makes her, well, ancient.

When we speak she’s waiting to sign her next year-long contract with Northern Ballet and while she is fully aware that the end of her career is somewhere on the horizon she’s in no particular rush to be known as Pippa Moore the former dancer.

Scenes from the many leading roles Pippa Moore has played during her years at Northern Ballet

Scenes from the many leading roles Pippa Moore has played during her years at Northern Ballet

“It is a very young company. There is probably about 10 years between me and the next dancer, so of course I am aware of my age, but that’s it. A lot of people as they get older tend to fall a bit out of love with the touring part of the job or they have a family. That’s not to say that having children and being a dancer are mutually exclusive but it does change your priorities. I don’t have kids and I still get excited by touring so the dancing lifestyle has always suited me.”

Originally from Liverpool, Pippa trained at the Royal Ballet College before joining Northern Ballet in Leeds in 1996. Starting in the corps de ballet, she rose through the ranks to become one of the company’s premier dancers and her longevity she says is part hard work, part luck.

While she has had two career-threatening injuries, each time the worst case scenario didn’t happen and Pippa was able to return to the barre.

“The first time was quite near the start of my career when I broke my arm in a number of places during rehearsals. There were fears that they might have to put a metal plate it it, which would have left me with a wooden spoon arm. I was devastated. That would have been it, but fortunately they managed to fix me.”

Scenes from the many leading roles Pippa Moore has played during her years at Northern Ballet

Scenes from the many leading roles Pippa Moore has played during her years at Northern Ballet

Her most recent injury was just a few years ago. During one performance she felt a pain in her hip, but assumed it was just a strain and continued to dance until the end of the week-long run. In fact she had torn a ligament, which required keyhole surgery.

“I won’t go into details, but the X-ray was pretty grim. I think a lot of people thought, ‘Well, l you’re almost 40 you’ve had a good run’, but for me it wasn’t over. I didn’t want hobble out of here through the access door, so while some people might have considered it a sign to give up I was determined that I would go out on a high. I didn’t know whether it was going to be possible, but what can I say, this body just keeps on giving.”

While Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon would have no doubt had a quiet word if he had thought the injury had affected her performance, Moore also told herself that she would only return if she was still at the top of her game.

“I didn’t want to catch that look in someone’s eye, you know the one which says ‘oh isn’t it a shame, she used to be good’. I’ve always had speed in my footwork and an inner bounce, which I put down to all the trampolining I did as a kid and it’s still there. You just have to keep your faith and know your capabilities. The only real difference between me now and me 10 years ago is that I get in here earlier. I’m probably here about an hour before everyone else, but if I can warm up properly I am good for the rest of the day.”

On her profile on the Northern Ballet website she also puts her good health down to her diet – she has she says never been ill since she became vegan more than 15 years ago.

“I feel the need to point that out only because as soon as you tell people you’re vegan they immediately think you must be some poor frail creature who barely has the strength to lift their own little finger.”

Frail is not a word you’d used to describe Moore. Despite being just 5ft 1ins tall – short by ballerina standards – she has a reputation for bringing real power to the stage and has a CV stacked with memorable roles from Lucy in Dracula to Madame Butterfly and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a part that was created with her in mind. She has also forged some memorable partnerships with the likes of Ashley Dixon, Tobias Batley and Kenneth Tindall.

“I’m not sure what I look for in a partner, but they all make me laugh so maybe I look for a sense of humour. The real key though is an ability to communicate. A partnership is just that. You can’t have one person whose sole intention is to make themselves look good. It shouldn’t be a power struggle.”

Moore is currently in rehearsals for two new productions. In Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre she plays Mrs Fairfax, Mr Rochester’s housekeeper. It’s a brand new production, but it’s Swan Lake which has arguably been the biggest challenge. While it’s a piece Moore knows well, for the first time in her career she has also been working alongside ballet mistress Yoko Ichino on coaching the younger dancers.

“I can tell them what it will be like 20 minutes before the curtain goes up and I can talk to them about how to deal with those nerves and anticipation. There are things that I can discuss that only another dancer would know and I’ve found it much more rewarding than I thought I would, so maybe there is a future for me as a ballet coach.”

The biggest change Moore has witnessed during her time with Northern Ballet has been within the company itself. Five years ago it moved from its old premises in the north of Leeds into a brand new building in the heart of the city and today its profile has never been higher.

“West Park was a bit grotty, but it did have a special atmosphere and because it was smaller there was probably more of a sense of a little community. However, the new building has really put Northern Ballet on the map. I feel very proud of what this company has achieved and there is much more interest in us than ever before.”

The other change has been in the demographic of both the dancers and Northern Ballet’s audience. Moore was nine-years-old when she went to her first lessons. That’s relatively late by the standards of most professional dancers, but that wasn’t the only difference between her and the other Royal Ballet College students.

“I was the only girl from the North. Back then ballet was a very closed world. I’d fallen in love with dance almost straight away. My teacher was a living breathing stereotype. She had a corgi, a wooden stick which she would bang on the floor and French pleat, but I loved her.

“I got a place at The Hammond School in Chester, but at the time there was no funding for under-16s. That meant it was only really open to girls from wealthy families, so my mum went on a mission to get Knowsley Council to pay for a place. When they did I knew there was a lot riding it. This wasn’t just for laughs and giggles. I had a purpose.”

After Swan Lake and Jane Eyre comes Beauty and the Beast and Romeo and Juliet. After that, well, who knows? If the coaching doesn’t work out, Moore says she will probably end up working in an animal sanctuary, but these are all decisions for another day.

“A couple of years ago I was worried about the future. I knew I was getting to the end of my career and I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope in the outside world. But now I am totally relaxed. Some dancers have a list of roles they want to tick off, but I never have. The only thing I ever wanted to do was to fulfil my potential. I know that sounds a bit corny, but it’s true. In my younger days I was a terrible perfectionist and hated watching footage of me dance because I would only see the things I didn’t like. I’ve relaxed a little, after 23 years I’m still dancing and I can look back and say, ‘ Well I didn’t do too bad’.

Not bad at all.

• Swan Lake, Northern Ballet, Leeds Grand Theatre to March 12; Sheffield Lyceum Theatre, March 15 to 19. Jane Eyre, Doncaster Cast, May 19 to 21.