Friday, 18 April 2008

The Royal Ballet Season 08/09

I don't see any clear strategy in what they are doing across the board. First we have a grand fanfare announcing that ballet will be shown in cinema's to reach more people. Then we are told by Tony Hall that he wants people to come in and be captivated by the House and what it does. Well no-one is going to get that experience in the cinema !

Monica Mason has, in my opinion, no way of looking forwards and so appoints McGregor. It's something that will turn me and others away from the House.

When you look at the opera season for next year, and the excitement generated by it, and then compare with the ballet season - well, there is no comparison.

I’m shocked by its sheer dullness. Where is the X-factor ? I couldn’t find any surprises at all - it draws heavily on recent previous seasons.

Five straight repeats from the 07/08 season - Jewels, La Bayadere, Serenade, The Nutcracker and Dances at a Gathering. The top price for Swan Lake has risen to £110 and for other three act ballet’s is £97. DGV, The Lesson, Theme and Variations, Swan Lake & Seven Deadly Sins have been performed in the 06/07 season.

Last year the Royal Ballet performed 131 times, for the 08/09 season it will rise minutely to 135 (against the 156 by the Royal Opera). But consider the number of repeats and it looks mind-numbingly dull for audiences and dancers alike.

In terms of the casting which has been announced, there are precious few debuts for the dancers. There is only one debut in Swan Lake (Ansanelli). I’m pleased to see McRae get a debut in Manon, in the more interesting role of Lescaut than Des Grieux. There are 6 other debuts in Manon. The Nutcracker brings with it only three debuts over a staggering 19 performances, most notably McRae with Choe for one matinee only which will surely lead to a bun-fight for tickets.

I don’t think this is a season to get anyone excited about going to the ballet and it looks more about raising money with the box office sure-fire winners of Nutcracker and Swan Lake, though it’s a risk putting the prices for the latter over the £100 mark. I thought last season was all about making money; for 08/09 I was expecting the unexpected. Year on year my attendance at the Royal Opera House is falling. If this is a general trend then at some point the box office takings will be hit and even Swan Lake won’t save them. By then the pressures on young choreographers will be so immense they’ll need insurance just to try to get something on the main stage.

The cry for a new full length classical ballet gets louder every year – but do the ROH have ear muffs on ? I raised the subject with a member of staff the other day and was told that there is no shortage of choreographers in the ranks. So where is the blockage ? It can’t be time, since they put on fewer programmes with longer runs under Mason. And the younger dancers choreograph on each other and put on shows in the smaller spaces without compromising their company obligations. Choreographing on the scale of the main stage, one of the largest in the world, takes a different kind of skill than those honed in the Linbury and the Clore – an example of this was Castle Nowhere, which looked utterly lost on the main stage & the costumes didn’t work, the puffy dresses being too long and overly fussy to show off the dancers.

Where is the person who can stage a ballet with new music, a new story, new choreography, staging, lighting – new everything in fact ? Johan Kobborg told me he had one ready to go with costumes and all – but why haven’t we seen it ? He’s hardly been rushed off his feet with performances. He's just been off his feet.

Jewels was the big talking point last season, and didn’t disappoint, but there is nothing on the new bill to fire up the senses or enthuse about. Surely enthusiasm as much as anything is what spreads the word and enthrals people, inspiring them to visit ? Take Chroma for example – not my taste at all but the crowds were buzzing and the work attracted people from many genres – largely through word of mouth as the run started and promptly sold out to fans of the White Stripes and those curious to know what all the fuss was about.

There’s more than just the choreography to consider – of late the costuming for new modern ballets has been unflattering to the dancers – take Chroma for example. At least we had a bit of colour in Wheeldon’s DGV, and a beautiful ballgown and tutu in his Electric Counterpoint, but these are rare bursts of sunshine in an otherwise grey landscape.

So that leaves what in terms of “new ballets” for the 08/09 season ? Well, it’s just L’Invitation Au Voyage (created by former Royal Ballet dancer Michael Corder and last seen in 1985), a new McGregor (which is part of his contract as resident choreographer), Carmen (Mats Elk and last seen in 2002), Isadora (Deborah MacMillan has devised a new one act version of Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet) and a new Marriott. The trouble is, to see L’Invitation Au Voyage you will also have to sit through (or at least pay for) last season’s Serenade and Theme and Variations from the season before. And it’s the same story with the other “new ballets” which are sandwiched with other very recent performances.

Totally uninspiring and it makes me wonder how the dancers can grind them out time after time.

We are overdue some changes at the ROH on the basis of this announcement.

Having sat through the season preview evening for members this week, I neither saw nor heard anything to dissaude me of that opinion. Mason states, when prompted, that she puts on ballets which she would want to see were she paying for the tickets. Evidently she hasn't paid for a ticket in a very long time. Herein lies the issue - swathes of members don't want to see that ballet's that Mason does, especially over and over again each season.

When asked a question Mason quickly steps back in time and recalls the past with great reverance. Well fine for her, but the audience wants more than that and for me, this was encapsulated perfectly by my guest, one of the 20-30 yr olds who Tony Hall is so very keen to attract to the house, when she said afterwards "well, it was interesting but it's not relevant to any part of my life".

Harking back to the past isn't going to cut it for a new audience - they want to see great works being created now, to be part of something relevant to them, not to be told how great Macmillan or Ashton were, however true it might be. It's just not relevant now.

Who is going to be revering the current ballets in 50 yrs from now ? Mason was quite defensive when asked about new choreographers and said that they can only do what they can do and that we should be asking the questions about where the next classical work is coming from as it's difficult for them to hear !

I say lose the emphasis on the choreographer altogether and make the dancers the focus of the work.

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