Bonne chance to Constance!
Earlier in June, Principal Dancer Constance (Coco) Devernay-Laurence left the company after 15 years with us. She marked the occasion in style by winning the National Dance Award for Outstanding Female Classical Performance for her role as Swanhilda in Coppélia, on her last day! We met with Coco to chat about her time with Scottish Ballet, and what the future holds…
Principal Constance Devernay Laurence in rehearsals for David Dawson's Swan Lake, Photo Credit Rimbaud Patron
What initially drew you to Scottish Ballet?
It was the first ballet job I was offered(!), and I loved the diversity of the repertoire at the company, and the fact that every dancer was unique. When I first joined the company, Ashley Page was Director, and he knew exactly how to use each dancer by showcasing their individuality, strength and talent on stage. I also loved the fact that everyone was always on stage, and we did so many shows.
How did you find Glasgow and Scotland when you first arrived? Has it changed?
When I arrived in Glasgow, I remember getting into a taxi at the airport and not understanding a word the driver was saying! My English was still developing, and the Scottish accent was new to me.
What were your first impressions of Scottish Ballet?
The company was a real family, and I was excited to start my journey with them. We went to China just after I joined – my first international tour. I was only 18 years old, but the more experienced company members looked after me. I loved every single moment!
Can you tell us about your first major production with the Company?
It was Sleeping Beauty by Ashley Page. To this date, it is one of my favourite ballets. I danced the role of the nanny and the maid. As the nanny, you do a little sequence at the front of the stage holding the hands of Aurora’s mum and dad, who are danced by Soloists or Principals. I remember being terrified of dancing next to them, but I had so much fun, and we got to tour around Scotland.
It was amazing to see the beauty of this country and get to perform at the same time. I felt so happy and proud, and knew I was in the right place.
How was your journey to becoming a Principal Dancer?
Challenging and beautiful at the same time. It is a dream come true. I believe I made real progress when I learned about my body, what my strengths and weaknesses were. By working on improving my weaknesses and highlighting what I was best at, I was able to get soloist roles and then achieve principal roles. I realised I performed better when I stopped comparing myself to others, and being myself instead, even if that meant showing vulnerability. This is when I got great opportunities from guest choreographers, like dancing the role of Odette/Odile in David Dawson’s Swan Lake. I believe audiences want to see the real person behind the lights and costume, and that is what I strive for every day. I was lucky to meet my now-husband Jamiel Devernay-Laurence, who was a Soloist at Scottish Ballet. We helped each other through the lows and celebrated the highs. Jamiel supports and understands me, and we are so lucky that we got to perform and tour together. Without him I don’t think I would be a Principal today.
Principals Constance Devernay-Laurence and Marge Hendrick rehearsing A Streetcar Named Desire
What are your fondest memories from productions over the years?
I have so many highlights that I can’t pick one specific one. I will always treasure performing David Dawson’s Swan Lake, Kenneth MacMillan’s Le Baiser de la Fée at the Royal Opera House, Christopher Hampson’s The Rite of Spring with Jamiel, dancing in A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans itself and dancing Mary Vetsera in The Scandal at Mayerling with Ryoichi Hirano, Principal from The Royal Ballet. But also learning to dance on camera, specifically creating the role of Swanhilda in Coppélia with Jess and Morgs and the many digital seasons and captures that Chris Hampson created for the company.
How have you kept up your fitness over the years?
I learned early on that a ballet class wasn’t enough to get the best out of my body and perform at the best of my abilities, so I turned to yoga and became a yoga instructor. I practise every day and it has made me a stronger dancer. I also studied for six years with the Open University and graduated last year with honours from a Bachelor of Science in sport, fitness, and coaching. This helped me learn new psychological and coaching skills. I also love teaching and coaching my international vocational dance students around the world, and working with adult participants, which in turn has helped me become a better artist.
How did it feel to win the National Dance Award this year?
Amazing! I was so honoured to be nominated amongst such talented ballerinas, especially Marianela Nunez, who I look up to and who inspires me and so many other ballet dancers. It was the perfect way to celebrate my 15 years with Scottish Ballet and this new start, and to meet many industry professionals who know my work but have never met me in person. It’s a real community.
What is next for you?
I am making the move to screen, about which I can’t say much at the moment, but hoping I will be able to share some news very soon. However, this winter I will be performing in Ballet Nights in London, alongside many international stars. I am looking forward to meeting new dancers, choreographers and directors, and dancing new works on stage and screen. But most importantly, spending time with my husband and family. I left home when I was 12 years old, and for the past 20 years, I have missed many birthdays, Christmases and celebrations. I am looking forward to being a part of it all now, while still performing.
What will you miss the most?
The people of Scotland! Scottish people are always friendly and ready to have a good time. I will miss them and the audience support the most. It has been a privilege to be able to dance for them and to represent Scotland while abroad. So my biggest thank you goes to the public, as they are what drives me to train harder every day and the reason why I continue to push myself to my maximum. But I won’t be too far away, so I am sure we will meet again! I will also miss my friends, my dance partners and… my bridesmaid and best friend Thomas Edwards.
Glasgow, UK. 28.09.16. Scottish Ballet presents the World Premiere of Sibilo, choreographed by company dancer and choreographer, Sophie Laplane, at the Theatre Royal Glasgow, as part of their Autumn Season 2016, in a programme which also includes Crystal Pite’s “Emergence”. Photograph © Jane Hobson.
Constance ‘Coco’ is a truly remarkable artist, whose performances I have had the privilege of witnessing for more than a decade. Her unparalleled dedication, boundless compassion, and extraordinary talent make her departure from Scottish Ballet an immense loss for all who have worked with her. Coco has become one of my closest friends, and I will forever remain her most enthusiastic supporter, while she continues to inspire on stage and off.
Thomas Edwards, Scottish Ballet Soloist
Coco has been and will always be my inspiration. Her work ethic, determination, professionalism and talent are admirable, and since I’ve known her she has always set a brilliant example and danced to a high standard on and off stage.
Melissa Parsons, Scottish Ballet Soloist
Jamie Reid and Constance Devernay In Scottish Ballets Production Of Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling, photo by Andy Ross
It’s been an absolute pleasure to share the stage with Constance – her infectious positive mentality, her athleticism and her breathtaking technique are some of her countless strengths. Personally, performing my first main role a few years ago in Highland Fling alongside her is a memory I look back on fondly.
Jamie Reid, Scottish Ballet Artist
I’ve been fortunate enough to share the stage with Constance many times, most recently in her phenomenal award-winning performance as Swanhilda in Coppélia. Coco is as close as you can get to a complete dancer; technique, strength, artistry, consistency… she has it all. But what makes her truly unique is her sense of humour, her willingness to help others, and her ability to make you feel at ease.
Bruno Micchiardi, Scottish Ballet Principal
Coco leaves Scottish Ballet with a wonderful legacy of memorable performances, including The Snow Queen, Swan Lake, The Secret Theatre, The Scandal At Mayerling and most recently Coppélia – plus so many more too, everyone will have their own favourite! Particularly over the last decade, she has shown the strongest of work ethics, producing fantastically dynamic and emotionally charged performances. She is an outstanding dancer, and we wish her all the best for her future adventures.
Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet CEO/Artistic Director