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Impressions from the Royal Opera House Season Launch Press Conference

by Petra Tschiene

April 2004

Although the ROH's new season press releases always offer very detailed information, I found it especially interesting to get the first impression directly from the source -- in this case, from Tony Hall, Antonio Pappano, Monica Mason and Deborah Bull.

Here are the most interesting points that were made that are not in the press release.

When Tony Hall announced the price cuts for the Ballet ticket price band and explained that a considerable part of the regular ballet audience was very loyal, often seeing several casts in the same production, I breathed a silent sigh of relief on behalf of the very same people. At last they got the message.

The Royal Ballet will have 121 performances in the 2004/05 season, which is about 20 fewer than the Royal Opera, in order to facilitate a change in the performance rhythm. Beginning with the 2005/06 season, the ballet will start their performance season three weeks earlier than usual, which will do away with the long stretch of opera only performances in September and October. In order to make this feasible, the ballet company will have to start their summer earlier next year.

In reply to a question, Tony Hall also mentioned that there would be a new deal with the BBC to get opera and ballet on TV again, and that the Piazza screenings would also return, although no further details could be given yet.

Monica Mason said that she was especially pleased that the company was in the good shape it is currently in because the Ashton tributes ahead would present the dancers with a challenging season. There would be six full-length ballets as well as six mixed bills with only one 19th century classic which was unique. In addition to the four full-length Ashton works, she had included nine of his one-act pieces. She admitted that she had not been able to include all of his works she would like to have shown but that it was not possible to have an Ashton only season after all.

We can look forward to two new commissions by Christopher Wheeldon and Christopher Bruce. The former Artistic Director of the Rambert Dance Company had been asked to work with the RB before but had felt unable to give his full attention to such a project while still in his former position at Rambert.

In a very diplomatic reply to a question, Monica Mason stated that she would eventually like to appoint a Musical Director for the RB, but that there would be no appointment for appointments' sake. The Orchestra did not like to be experimented on; they were used to being lead by very distinct conductors, and therefore somebody would have to be found that the musicians felt comfortable with.

Earlier during the press conference, Antonio Pappano had briefly but enthusiastically talked about his own experience of conducting for the company. He admitted to having been amazed by the level of energy that had passed back and forth between him and the dancers, which enhanced the performance for the audience.

Talking about the new RB joiners as of next season, Monica Mason stated that she did not believe in feuds lasting forever, in reference to Gary Avis's rejoining the company after a five-year absence he spent dancing with K-Ballet and more recently with English National Ballet. She also mentioned that Jane Burn's decision to leave earlier this season had caused a gap in the ranks of the First Soloists, which Sarah Lamb from Boston Ballet would fill. Lastly, she expressed excitement at the prospect of fully integrating Principal Roberta Marquez, who has already guested frequently with the RB.

A fair amount of the ballet-related part of the question-and-answer session revolved around the issue of whether there would be more Ashton revivals in the future as well as specific suggestions of earlier short works which would be deserving of audience attention. It transpired that the plans for educational events like master classes and insight programmes have not been finalised yet, but Monica Mason promised that there definitely would be opportunities to learn about Ashton's work and his significance as a choreographer.

Deborah Bull talked in great detail about the upcoming as well as the currently running season of ROH Too which will start its 3rd year this autumn. Since it would be impossible to do justice to all the exiting programmes here, I can only recommend for people to keep a close eye on the goings on in the Linbury Studio Theatre and the Clore Studio Upstairs.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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