Interview

'I love the unknown!' Dance sensation Salomé Pressac's boldest move yet

The striking dancer rose up with Rambert but is going freelance despite the chaos caused by Covid in order to take on new challenges

An inspiring rise to the top … Salomé Pressac.
An inspiring rise to the top … Salomé Pressac. Photograph: Salima Kamara
An inspiring rise to the top … Salomé Pressac. Photograph: Salima Kamara

Last modified on Thu 17 Dec 2020 04.51 EST

Considering the traditionally strict policies on appearance that are part-and-parcel of performing with a leading dance company, Rambert’s tattooed and acrylic-nailed Salomé Pressac is no stranger to taking an unorthodox approach. But deciding to leave the security of her Rambert contract behind to go freelance at such an uncertain time for the industry is her boldest move yet.

“I’m on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini, so I love being in the unknown,” she says in an attempt to explain.

At 21, Pressac has achieved a level of success that might have been hard to predict when she was a four-year-old running off stage in the wrong direction during her local dance school’s production of Tarzan. After graduating from the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, she was one of 13 dancers to be selected from 800 auditionees for Rambert2 (the youth division of the prestigious company), and by 20 she had moved up into the main Rambert company, performing works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Ohad Naharin. She is a dancer whose physicality is a masterful blend of elegance and dynamism, and hers is an inspiring tale of making it to the top in the brutal world of contemporary dance.

Elegance and dynamism … Salomé Pressac.
Elegance and dynamism … Salomé Pressac. Photograph: Nicolas Guttridge and Benoit Swan Pouffer

Almost always the only black dancer in the studio during her years of classical training, she remembers asking herself: “Am I actually supposed to be here?” If nowadays she still needed any reassurance of her value in the industry it came this October, when she was asked to take part in a BBC report on ballet’s lack of racial diversity alongside dance megastars Misty Copeland and Michaela DePrince. “It gave me that confidence,” she reflects, smiling.

Pressac grew up in Woolwich Arsenal, south-east London, and is adamant that had it not been for dance, she would have ended up “doing something dodgy”. “I limited myself a lot because I just thought: ‘I’m from the working class, I’m never going to be able to do these things.’” So why is she choosing to step away from a position she dreamed of, just a year after making it?

“Corona: it’s really made me realise what I want to actually do.”

Pressac was signed by AMCK (a talent agency) two years ago, but due to the constraints of being tied to a company had never been able to attend a casting or take a job through them, until Rambert suspended much of its day-to-day operations this year. She discusses her frustration at having had to turn down opportunities pre-Covid, including working in film and with big fashion brands, all the while feeling slightly “boxed-in” by her schedule. These tempting commercial prospects finally came within reach this year – spot Pressac in sportswear brand Ellesse’s latest campaign.

She is under no illusions when it comes to the erratic nature of working commercially, but her rationale is simple. “If I’m not happy, then I’m going to realise it in the way I work. I feel like it is the time to do this when I’m younger, now that I’ve got energy.” Star signs aside, her mindset displays a maturity that may seem at odds with the fact that her youth is at the crux of this decision. She is not naive; she harbours an acute awareness that her psyche is reflected in her dancing, and that in order to evolve as an artist she must satisfy these yearnings for new challenges. “I see everyone around me and they’re so passionate and I feel like I’ve kind of lost that. It might be a case of having to leave and find that again.”

Pressac in rehearsals.
Fearless … Pressac in rehearsals. Photograph: Nicolas Guttridge and Benoit Swan Pouffer

Lockdown has had an injurious effect on the British dance industry. As someone who was part of the last cohort to graduate from the country’s dance conservatoires before the pandemic, I have watched my peers attempt to navigate an almost jobless scene while the government’s notorious “Fatima” retraining poster rubbed salt into their wounded morale. The recent reopening of studios such as Base and TripSpace are signs of recovery, but it is nevertheless understandable that a bleak outlook lingers among many young dancers. Pressac’s fearlessness is therefore a breath of fresh air. She’s “ready”.

Pressac is by no means ruling out seeking the structure of company life again in the future, but for this hungry dancer, 2020 has been a year of re-evaluation. Despite being visibly emotional at the thought of how much she will miss Rambert, she has once again asked herself where she is “supposed” to be, disregarded the naysayers and taken a brave step away from the branch of the industry in which she has grown up.

“I love not knowing what’s next.”