You don't often get to compare bunions with a prima ballerina, so here I am in Tamara Rojo's office at the English National Ballet HQ behind the Albert Hall in London with my shoes off.
Humiliatingly, I think mine might be bigger - and it's only a fashion legacy. At least hers is an honourable dancing wound, although there's some debate about that. She's addicted to high heels, preferably from Prada - like many dancers, she finds flats painful.
Toe issues apart, she's a bit on the perfect side. Raven of hair with unlined skin the colour of swan's feathers, her colouring comes from her mother, who's so fair she can't go in the sun at all - something of a challenge in their native Madrid.
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Rojo moved to London when she was 18 to dance with the Royal Ballet. She must have been one of the few small girls in the world not attracted by the uniform. "I hated pink when I was younger - I still don't wear it if I can avoid it. My favourite outfit when I was little was a bright yellow T-shirt with a Goofy face."
Spain in the Eighties didn't have much of a ballet tradition. It took a year to convince her parents she was serious, and she was 14 before she slipped into her first proper tutu and danced for the first time in public. "My parents had to buy it and I remember thinking that it was really expensive for them. It was a good tutu, though. I used it a lot in my twenties."
Dancers' wardrobes are generally a game of two halves: the glamorous outfits they wear to first-night galas and their rehearsal sweats, the more battered the better. "Dancers in New York tend to be very groomed. It's all about the pearl earrings and red lipstick. In Europe we're more grungy. We want to be 'artistes' and cool so we pretend we don't care. But a lot of care goes into those old leggings."
Complicating the wardrobe scenario, Rojo was appointed artistic director of English National Ballet last year at the age of 38 and her game changed radically. Sensing that torn T-shirts and faded leggings wouldn't cut it, she rushed out and bought an office uniform. "Fitted dresses, jackets, the lot." That regime lasted about six weeks. "Not very me. Now she's back in leggings, boots and long shirts, until she changes into her sweats again at the end of the working day - she's still a sought-after prima ballerina. Last month it was Swan Lake in front of an audience of 5,000 in the Albert Hall for several nights. In a few weeks she's doing "Song of a Wayfarer" as part of the ENB's Tribute to Nureyev: her evenings are spent at the barre.
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Although the staff scuttling around the hospital-like corridors above the rehearsal studios where her office is are clearly protective of her and at pains to make her work schedule viable, she doesn't appear wracked with that neurotic fragility that some dancers exude. "At this point I've done the thinking behind the roles. That doesn't mean I'm going to repeat myself but I don't waste time over-analysing roles. I know the ones I love - women who don't feel they have to apologise."
None the less, hers is quite a schedule: Tube to work from home, studio by 8am, with her personal trainer until 9.30. Then a meeting with her assistant to go through the day's agenda. After that there's company class from 10.15 until noon, followed by rehearsals until 2.30pm. "That's it," she says, making it sound like a 20-minute relaxation session. "I'm in the office by mid or late afternoon." Tellingly she's never got around to decorating her flat in Bloomsbury. "It's white walls and a disaster," she says cheerfully. At least her boyfriend, Neil Austin, a successful lighting designer in the theatre, could help her out with some soothing tungsten.
Her stamina is formidable - maybe the giant tub of nuts on a bookcase in her office is a contributory factor. Shock horror - dancers eat. But carefully and, in her case, quite a lot of yogurt. They know how to wear clothes too - it's not just the highly self-critical streak; they learn to navigate scratchy, heavy costumes early on. "Sometimes you work with designers who haven't thought it through and it feels like you're dancing in a cage. If I have a big, cumbersome costume I like to rehearse with it for two weeks before opening night. But you can never prevent rips. Hems get stood on all the time, especially during pas de deux. You hear this tearing sound. Luckily the seamstresses are amazing. They stand in the wings and mend something in seconds."
Dancers, too, are make-up and hair pros, as they generally have to do their own, unless it's especially elaborate. Rojo often spends an hour backcombing to get that Fonteyn-esque bouffant. Tresemmé, she says, is the business. Her own hair is long and generally swept off her face. "I've thought about short hair, but I've seen too many wigs fall off on stage to want to wear them more than I have to."
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As artistic director she dreams up the season's repertoire - and then deploys her considerable charm to persuade world-class dancers to sign up. But that shouldn't be a problem - she's not easy to say no to. She's on a mission to collaborate with fashion designers. Vivienne Westwood designed clothes for a recent ENB poster campaign and there will be further collaborations. It's part of her strategy to cross-pollinate ballet with other art forms, and widen its appeal. "There are many seats at the Coliseum for £10, but people don't know that. It's cheaper than the cinema in London - and much cheaper than football."
Your work uniform: Black tutu, black tights. I get most of my dance gear from Chacott, a Japanese label.
Dancers like to keep it tight: Wrong, I need to wear flowy clothes for my body shape. I need clothes that elongate my body and define my waist.
Heels or flats? I can't do flats. At weekends I wear those wedge trainers from Isabel Marant.
Permanent diet? I eat, but carefully. You need to eat at least four hours before you perform - slow-burning carbs and 20 minutes after you perform you need a certain number of grams of protein and carbohydrate to repair the muscle fibres. I usually have a drinking yogurt.
Best eyeliner for balletic flicks? Rimmel.
Best for dealing with make-up? Boots No 7 Beautiful Skin Eye Make-Up Remover. It always does the trick, even with false eyelash glue.
Most treasured item: A long vintage black dress with a whole open back… I like a bit of drama when I go to a first-night party.
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