A dream come true

Ballerina Annette Buvoli has danced her way from Boulder to the Royal Ballet

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Annette Buvoli as Winifred Norbury in Enigma Variations, The Royal Ballet © 2019 ROH.
Tristram Kenton

A self-described tomboy growing up in Boulder, Annette Buvoli only started ballet classes to hang out with her friend. 

“My best friend wanted to do jazz class,” the 25-year-old explains in a recent phone interview from her home in London. “After a year, they required us to do ballet. To be honest, my parents didn’t like me doing jazz because it is quite suggestive and they thought I was a little too young to be shimmying on stage, so my dad was happy to find Boulder Ballet. I think I was 9 or 10 when I went for my first lesson. I was at the lowest level because I had never done ballet before.”

Today Buvoli dances with the Royal Ballet, the United Kingdom’s premiere ballet company. Based at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, the company performs a variety of works ranging from classics such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker to contemporary pieces. She’s currently in rehearsal for her role as Myrtha, the evil Queen of the Wilis, in the company’s upcoming production of Giselle

For Buvoli, now a First Artist with the company, performing alongside world famous dancers is a dream come true—and a long way from her first classes in Boulder. 

“Even though I was a late starter, it made sense pretty quickly for me,” she says. “A year into doing ballet, I started learning about Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev, and understanding that ballet was a career. I remember driving to ballet class with my mum and I said, ‘Mum, I’m not going to college, I’m going to be a ballet dancer!’ At that point I was still in elementary school, so very early on, this was serious for me.”

Buvoli studied at Boulder Ballet for four years and then took a summer course at the Kirov Academy in Washington D.C., where she “fell in love with the Russian training,” auditioned for the year-round program, and was accepted. 

She was just shy of 14.

Leaving Boulder and her family at such a young age was difficult, but she knew that if she wanted to continue her training seriously and fulfill her dreams of dancing in Europe, she would have to move away from home.

“I said to my poor mother, ‘If you don’t let me go, I’m going to cry every day!’ In reality, when you are 13 and leaving home, it is very hard,” Buvoli admits. “I left in August and only came back for the first time at Thanksgiving, and it was tough. The Russian training is notoriously hardcore. They are not very encouraging—they are after a while, but it is tough love, so it was not anything I was used to. I’d say the whole year was actually very difficult, but I still loved it enough to audition for the Bolshoi Academy in Russia. I sent an audition video because my teacher was pushing me to go there. I got accepted, which was exciting, but for my parents, really scary to think that I would be in Russia at 15. I was so determined to go that they thought they wouldn’t be able to say no.”

When a friend suggested attending a short summer program at the Royal Ballet School in London, Buvoli went along just for the fun of it. A teacher there suggested she audition for the school, and Buvoli agreed, thinking that her studies in Russia were waiting for her. 

“It was the most relaxed I’d ever been in an audition and they offered me a place. Suddenly everything was up in the air. We were debating what would be better for me, whether to go to Russia or to go to the Royal Ballet School.”

Annette decided to stay in London. Her parents were thrilled at the sudden change of plan. There would be no language problem and their teenage daughter would be based in London—a lot closer and relatively near their extended family in northern Italy. (Both Buvoli’s parents are Italian scientists, having moved to Boston then Boulder for work.)

Once again, Buvoli’s talent stood out, and even though she joined the school as one of the youngest pupils, she skipped a year and after graduation was invited to join the company. 

“It was a dream come true,” Buvoli says. “It was so out of my head at that point that it was even a remote possibility to be offered a contract, that it took a second to say, ‘Oh my god, okay!’”

Having joined the company in 2013, Buvoli was promoted to the rank of First Artist in 2019, not long before the pandemic took hold. 

“The pandemic was incredibly difficult,” she says. “I had just started to work my way out of the corps de ballet. Some people fly through the ranks, but I have definitely been a slow-burner. I had just started to find myself and was getting more opportunities, so mentally it was very difficult, but now everything is picking up again. I’ve got exciting roles coming up, so I’m thrilled.”

Like her role as Myrtha in Giselle

“I’ve never done a role this difficult before and this demanding, and I’m really excited to try,” she says. “It’s such a meaty role. Giselle has always been my favourite ballet and now to be able to say I get the opportunity to try it—I’m floating on a cloud, I can’t believe it.”

Buvoli did discover an unexpected outlet for her creativity when she was unable to dance during lockdown.  

“I needed to find something to prove to myself that I was more than just a dancer,” she says. “I took an international law course, which was eight weeks long, and it was so incredibly difficult because it was just sitting at the desk looking at the computer and trying to memorize facts. I have so much respect for lawyers everywhere, but it is just not for me! I couldn’t find the creativity in it.”

Instead, she turned her talents to painting. 

“I used to draw all the time when I was young, and my mom is very artistic. She always used to take me to museums and has a real love for art. It was fun to rediscover that love and make it my own. I started selling a few illustrations, which has been fun. It’s something that I hope to keep going slowly and quietly as I keep dancing, just to build up a little portfolio and hopefully someday when I’m done dancing I’ll be able to be a children’s illustrator.”

Buvoli tries to get back to Colorado to see her family twice a year. 

“Living in London is complicated,” she admits. “Coming from Boulder, it’s very hard. The mountains have my heart and I think I never realized how lucky I was to live there until I lived in the city. I find the city to be a little bit claustrophobic. I love what London has to offer culturally speaking, however, I do find it exhausting sometimes.”

She tries to escape the metropolis when she can, with her boyfriend Harry Churches, also a First Artist with the Royal Ballet. 

“We actually bought a car over lockdown so that we could explore the countryside and the coast as much as possible,” Buvoli says. “We are not typical ballet dancers in that respect, we really like the outdoors.”

But the green hills of the English countryside are no match for the stunning scenery in Colorado. “It’s still home,” she says. “I consider Boulder home, and London where I work. Boulder has my heart.”