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Royal Ballet Trilogy Insight evening
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Author:  Nino [ Tue Apr 30, 2002 2:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Royal Ballet Trilogy Insight evening

- The RB educational department put on a fascinating couple of hours worth of master classes on Monday (29 April) evening. Roughly an hour each was devoted the Christopher Wheeldon new ballet - still very much in the process of being created - and to Ashton's A Month in the Country. In between was a short talk by the RB's head of music staff on Dvorak's music to which is set Tudor's The Leaves are Fading.<P>- We began by seeing Christoper Wheeldon rehearse Martin Harvey and Belinda Hatley in two exerts from his new ballet. The work is as yet unnamed - and Wheeldon firmly resisted repeated attempts by the RB educational staff to prise out of him at least an idea as to what it will be called. We did however learn that it's set to a piece called "Tryst" (pronounced "Try-st" rather than "Tri-st", as Wheeldon was quick to point out) by James MacMillan, written about 10 years ago. Apparently MacMillan himself will conduct the RB Orchestra for the opening night. Wheeldon emphasised that it's a particularly complex piece, and is proving a challenge for the dancers to count it. Divided roughly in three, the first and third movements seemed to Wheeldon to evoke urban chaos. The middle movement, in contrast, was a more lyrical piece which Wheeldon said reminded him of the shifting light and misty appearance of the Scottish Highland landscape.<BR> <BR>- In answer to questions, Wheeldon said that he usually begins by identifying the music and a rough theme or concept to a new ballet. He will then get to know the music intimately and have a rough idea of how it might be used in dance phrases before then starting work with the dancers themselves. It's only at that stage that he begins to work on the moves themselves. "It's all about paring away the superfluous ... exploring the palette." The two small extracts we saw - still very much work in progress - involve mainly off-centre balance work and subversion of the classical vocabulary. I have to say I thought it looked very promising indeed, although some of the combinations, and one lift in particular (nicknamed "star wars") looked fiendishly difficult. Wheeldon came across as a notably sympathetic, enthusiastic and articulate creator, and it was clear that Harvey and Hatley were enthused by the process of creating the ballet. In fact, after about 40 minutes of hard work, the RB presenter had to remind Harvey that he was due on stage in 20 minutes time to dance Mercutio!<BR> <BR>- It appears to be a plotless ballet, and will involve a principal couple, 4 soloists and 16 corps. First cast will be Bussell and Cope, with Hatley and Harvey as the second cast. The designer, Jean-Marc Puissant, showed us a story board of how the stage will look - big washes of colour against a backdrop, with a deliberately skewed perspective of floor and one wing. But overall he said that he and Christopher continued to "pare the designs down" and the costumes would be minimalist.<BR> <BR>- After the short talk on Dvorak, we saw Sandra Conley take Muriel Valtat through Natalia Petrovna's opening variation in Act I A Month in the Country. It's a part that Valtat has danced before and had just refreshed with the help of the RB's choreologist, so Conley (who danced it in the late 1970s) was able to focus on mood and emotion in Valtat's interpretation. Conley and Valtat agreed that one of the hardest parts was having to sit still for a couple of minutes at the start of the scene (while Rakitin reads to Petrovna), and then get up and do what they thought was the hardest of all dances for Petrovna in this ballet, such is the speed and precision it demands. "The last thing a dancer wants to do at the beginning of any ballet is to sit still!" said Conley.<BR> <BR>- Both she and David Drew, who was also present, had some fascinating stories to tell of how Frederick Ashton worked in creating this and other ballets. Apparently Ashton very rarely allowed anyone apart from the dancers and Michael Soames into his rehearsals. David Drew was unusually allowed to sit quietly in a corner and watch A Month's creation, since he was to take over from Alexander Grant as Rakitin since the latter was due to retire very soon after A Month's premiere. Both Drew and Conley agreed that Micheal Soames was a stickler for absolute accuracy and faithfulness to Ashton's original vision when reviving his works - no chance for a dancer to "adapt" a movement they found difficult! The role of Petrovna was memorably created by Lyn Seymour, although interestingly Conley said that she thought the other outstanding interpreter of the role had been Marguerite Porter. Apparently Ashton had originally wanted the roles to be created on Nureyev and Svetlana Beriosova - but it wasn't to be. Drew recalled that it took Ashton years of mulling over music to accompany his idea of adapting Turgenev's play to dance until he finally settled upon a collection of various Chopin pieces. Drew also praised Julia Trevelyan Oman's meticulous designs, right down to the facsimile of a French period newspaper to be read by Rakitin as the ballet opens. When Drew challenged Oman over the authenticity of this, she pointed out that at the time the play takes place, russian newspapers had been banned (too subversive) and so a family like Natalia's would have undoubtedly read French newspapers instead. Drew also pointed out that if you look very closely (but you have to be at the front of the stalls to do so), you will see that the various busts decorating the room in which the action takes place are in fact recognisable likenesses of Ashton and of Roy Strong, Oman's husband and ex-director of the V & A. <p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited May 05, 2002).]

Author:  sylvia [ Tue Apr 30, 2002 4:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Royal Ballet Trilogy Insight evening

Thanks for posting this Nino. I was there too, though I couldn't have hoped to remember half of what you posted. Just wanted to add how happy I am that Belinda Hatley's healthy and injury-free again. I think it's been almost 9 months since I last saw her dance (in Awakenings pdd in the summer bill) and I'd actually forgotten how much I enjoy her dancing. She, Martin Harvey and Christopher Wheeldon were very articulate, very enthusiastic, lots of laughter. That "Star-Wars" lift - wow! I'm looking forward to seeing the whole ballet. It was a really fantastic evening, funny, informative - worth giving up my R&J ticket for (no worries, I'll see Rojo and Murru on the 17th!)

Author:  Michael LL [ Tue Apr 30, 2002 5:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Royal Ballet Trilogy Insight evening

I wish I had been there! Porter was indeed an exquisite and fragile Natalia Petrovna, and I suspect danced it more than anyone else in its first decade. It was the role she chose for her farewell. Conley was more exotic and very beautiful in the part.

Author:  sylvia [ Wed May 01, 2002 9:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Royal Ballet Trilogy Insight evening

Does anyone know any other recent Natalia Petrovnas? I haven't seen any beyond Guillem and Valtat (who looked really lovely btw.)

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