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Exclusive: Kevin O’Hare introduces the new season

Posted on March 13, 2013

kevin ohare photo by teri pengilley


kevin-ohare-photo-by-teri-pengilleyThe Royal Ballet’s 2013-14 season was announced today. Kevin O’Hare (pictured), the company’s artistic director, introduces the season in conversation with Zoë Anderson. For more from this interview, see the April issue of Dancing Times.


New full-length productions


Don Quixote

September 30 to November 6, 2013

Carlos Acosta will create and dance in this new production, his first full-length ballet for the company. Designs will be by Tim Hatley, with lighting by Hugh Vanstone. The Minkus music will be orchestrated by Martin Yates.

Kevin O’Hare: It’s been out of the rep a long time. We never had our own production. We did  [Mikhail] Baryshnikov’s, which Anthony Dowell sort of staged, and then [Rudolf] Nureyev’s. So I thought it would be fun to have our own production. It has great roles for dancers to get their teeth into, to enjoy and show off their fantastic talents.

Having Carlos – who hasn’t danced it here, but has danced it in many places, and understands it very well – I thought he would be the perfect person to stage a new production.

It’s not going to be hugely modernised, but I think he’ll be bringing it into this century, having those sensibilities. Carlos can speak for himself, but I do feel he loves – what he loves about The Royal Ballet and people like Kenneth MacMillan is the naturalistic way of telling a story I think he wants to bring that to Don Q, to make it as real as possible, for it not to be a cartoon. We’ve got a great designer on board for it, Tim Hatley. They’re working really well together.

We’ve already started work on it, because it’s quite hard doing it at the very beginning of the season. Carlos is loving being in the studio, and the dancers have really enjoyed working with him. I think he’s going to enjoy working with the men, especially, pushing them hard. They all admire him – he’s a thoroughly nice guy! With all of those things, I think it would have been a missed opportunity not to.

The Winter’s Tale

April 10 to May 8, 2014

New three act ballet by Christopher Wheeldon, with music by Joby Talbot and designs by Bob Crowley. A co-production with the National Ballet of Canada.


KO: The title of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was so out there, we all knew what we were going to get. The Winter’s Tale is a much more unusual title. Even people who know Shakespeare quite well don’t necessarily know it. But Chris has thought about it for a long time. He saw a very good production at the National Theatre years ago, which gave him the inkling that this could make a really good ballet.

Not that he’d always wanted to use the same team, but I felt it worked well with Alice, and this would be something they could work on together. So of course we’ve got Joby writing the score as we speak, and Bob will start the designs. I think it’s another piece that will hopefully fit the company like a glove – again, the drama, the acting, the dancing all together.

Chris will do bits, I think, at the beginning of the season, but really he’ll be here from January right through to April 10, the premiere.

ZA: The Winter’s Tale is a complicated story, even as a play: it has time jumps, statues, disguises, a lot going on. In terms of the different demands of ballet narrative, without words – how closely are you discussing that with Christopher Wheeldon?

KO: He’s got a scenario together, and sent it to someone – I don’t want to say who it is, but somebody major in the theatre, who knows their Shakespeare. That’s gone back and forth, everyone’s seen it, has asked questions about how this or that will work. It’s very detailed. Having done that once with Alice, he’s refining the process.

When you’re doing a full-length ballet, I think it’s important, generally, to have the score written. It works better – there are exceptions, as we all know! But generally, I think, the collaborative process really helps it. The way Joby and Chris work is amazing, they really bounce off each other and together create the story. So I’m all for that.

An operatic collaboration


Les Vepres Siciliennes

October 17 to November 11

Co-production of Verdi’s opera with The Royal Opera

Ballet scene choreographed by Johan Kobborg

KO: That’s a co-production with The Royal Opera, and also a co-production with the Royal Danish Opera and Ballet. There’s a ballet scene, which isn’t performed very often. That will have four of our principal dancers in it, and four Royal Danish Ballet principals. The ballet will be choreographed by Johan Kobborg. There will also be graduate students from the Royal Ballet School, as a corps de ballet within the opera. It’s a major, major collaboration, which is really exciting and good. Johan is perfect for this.

It’s a lot of work to do, in the season, but we felt it was a nice moment to work with the opera again. We worked with them on Dido and Aeneas and Acis and Galatea,  Wayne McGregor. It’s lovely for the two companies of the Opera House to get together. We’re very keen on it working. It’s going to be a big operation. The idea is that, in 2016, the Royal Danish Opera and Ballet will perform it, so our principals will go over there. It will be nice, again, to have that exchange.

Zoë Anderson: Many operas, particularly in the 19th century repertory, have ballets in them. Would you like The Royal Ballet to be more involved in these stagings?

KO: I’d like to, I’d really like to. It comes down to time. Something like this, where it’s a real ballet moment. If there’s a really good dance section within an opera, it would be good to use our dancers, and make use of our talent.


The mixed programmes


ZA: How do you balance the company’s heritage repertory, choosing what to revive?

KO: It’s tough. There are 11 programmes this year, 12 if you include Hansel and Gretel in the Linbury. That’s because – learning lessons! When we did Alice, and we had 12 programmes, it was so hard to get it on. And to take care – you don’t want to throw anything on. So there are 11 programmes this year, and immediately that cuts things down. I put in Jewels over Christmas, which is like the Triple Bill [of The Firebird, In the Night and Raymonda Act III] this year. I like the idea of having an alternative, grown-up treat for people, alongside The Nutcracker.

I’m left with four mixed programmes. I wanted MacMillan, I wanted Ashton – it’s tough, balancing that. Certainly, if there wasn’t more Ashton – I’m not sending signals that I’m not interested in that [works he hasn’t programmed]! It’s why people come to see the company, it’s also why people join the company. It’s because of that range of repertoire, from Petipa right through to Liam Scarlett. It’s like this treasure chest.

It’s a mixture, of balancing. There isn’t a new work of Liam’s in this season. Partly because he’s very busy elsewhere, and there will be something straight into the next season – it will be next year, but not part of this season! We’re balancing that, and Chris [Wheeldon] and Wayne [McGregor] is doing a new piece.

This particular season, because it has two big full-length new productions, that’s unusual. I think next season, the mixed programmes will be delving into other things that haven’t been seen for a while.

Triple Bill: Chroma (Wayne McGregor), new work by David Dawson, The Rite of Spring (Kenneth MacMillan)

November 9 to 23, 2013

[In his production of The Rite of Spring, MacMillan created the role of the Chosen Maiden for Monica Mason. In later revivals, it has sometimes been cast with a man in this leading role – at the last revival, it was danced by Edward Watson and Steven McRae.]

KO: This year, the Chosen Maidens are all female. Last time we did it with male dancers, this time we’re going to do it with female. Partly because I think it’s a great role for a woman, and an unusual role. In a way, it’s less unusual for a guy to have a role like that. Particularly in that programme, I think it works better. I sort of know the casting of David’s work, and Chroma – the guys will be quite busy. Both Ed and Steven were great in it, but it’s fantastic for a ballerina to get her teeth into it, so I wanted to give that opportunity back. And of course it’s the anniversary [of the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring],  so that’s why it’s coming back into the rep. It’s a great work.

I’m very thrilled to ask David Dawson to create a work for us. It’s fantastic that we have Wayne, Liam and Chris, but I think we have to have outside influences as well. It’s been great having Alexei Ratmansky [who created 24 Preludes for the 2012-13 season] in the building, it’s a different energy. I think the dancers have found him quite different from the other three that they’re now really used to working with.

And the same with David. He’s somebody who has had huge success out of the country, a product of The Royal Ballet School. He was in Birmingham for a while, then English National Ballet, then he disappeared into Europe!  I know ENB have done two of his works, but nothing’s been created for us. I felt it was important to have him here, working with the company. I hear he’s quite – what’s the word? – demanding makes it sound negative! He really pushes the dancers, I think. He likes to get the most out of them in his style, and it’s a very distinct style. Sarah [Lamb] has worked with him before, in Boston, and I think maybe Federico [Bonelli] has worked with him, but I don’t think anybody else has. So that’s going to be very interesting.

I think his work will be quite a contrast with Chroma, with these two huge pieces. I think David’s is going to be beautiful but very linear and very ethereal, from what I’ve heard, with a new score by an English composer, Greg Haines.

ZA: You’ve got several new scores coming in, then?

KO: Yes, which I love! Barry Wordsworth has been championing that. I think it’s really important that we do our best to encourage people to use new music, new composers, bringing them in. It’s a great way of exposing them to a new audience. I’m really keen on that. Barry’s been talking to some very young composers recently, maybe they will come through in the next few years.


David is very, very organised – I don’t think we’ve ever been so organised! His premiere will be November 19, and he was here, last year, on the 19th, and said, “It’s a year until my premiere.” He’s sent me the casting, he’s got the design team. It’s going to be very interesting for the company to have the opportunity. That’s what I want to bring to them, to be able to say, yes, we’ve got this huge existing repertoire, but you’ll also be working with people who are at the top of their game now.

Triple Bill: Rhapsody (Frederick Ashton), new work by Wayne McGregor, Gloria (Kenneth MacMillan)

February 7 to 15, 2014

KO: Choreographers in the building create that slight tension. It really adds an extra level! I remember when Kenneth was around. You all want to be in his ballets, you all want to be chosen. They add that, and they all see different things in different artists, which is wonderful.

I think we already have the sort of relationship where we’ll talk about what the company needs at that particular point. So, for instance, it’s not just ‘Wayne wants to do this so he’s going to just do it’.  Because he knows the company more, he and I would think about what might be needed within the company. For instance, when we revived Infra this year, the second cast were babies, really. It was lovely for them to have that opportunity, to work with Wayne, getting that together.

Wayne’s still fiddling around with his ideas on this one, so we’ll see! I’ve been trying to tell the choreographers what their ballets are going with. In the contemporary dance world, it’s much less of a pick and mix. They’re often single choreographer companies. It’s sometimes unusual for a choreographer to suddenly come in and find themselves sandwiched between Balanchine and Ashton! I think it’s nice that we’ve talked about what the programme is, so they know, and they think about it.

Wayne was saying, ‘It’s got Rhapsody and Gloria, I want something very fine in the middle, something that will be simple, musically very pure, set design very pure.’ He’s really thinking about how he fits in with what the programme is.

Triple Bill: Serenade (George Balanchine), Sweet Violets (Liam Scarlett), DGV (Christopher Wheeldon)

May 14 to 26, 2014

KO: I felt Sweet Violets really captured the essence of the [Walter Sickert] paintings, and of that era. But people panicked, because  ‘Who’s that? What’s happening?’ Of course I  know the dancers, but if you’re a new person coming in, or even someone who comes quite often, it can be harder to follow. So we’ve talked about it. Liam’s going to have a look at it and try to make it clearer for people. I think it should be seen again, and was worth having a tweak with.

I think that’s very important. Because there aren’t so many one-act narrative ballets – I think that’s sometimes harder. It’s a lot of story for a fairly short amount of time. I think Liam can step away from it, stand back and really look at it. I was very happy to try and facilitate that.

ZA: You’re also bringing back DGV

KO: There are two reasons. One, I think it’s a great company work. It shows the company off well, it’s a big piece, four sets of principals – all of that. I think it’s super. Also, we’re planning on going to the Bolshoi, we’ve been invited to go. I want to do a triple bill there, as well as a full-length, and I thought it would look pretty fab on that stage! I wanted a work of Chris’ to be there. This is a Royal Ballet work, and it would be great to show it at the Bolshoi, and it would work in that Triple Bill. So that’s why.

Triple Bill: The Dream (Frederick Ashton), new work by Alastair Marriott, The Concert (Jerome Robbins)

May 31 to June 13, 2014

ZA: I know that’s at the end of the season, so you may not be able to say much about the new Marriott…

KO: That was where I was a little bit more prescriptive. We’ve got The Dream, The Concert’s coming back, which hasn’t been done for a long time. I wanted Alastair’s to be a biggish work, and it will be abstract. I wanted a nice dancey work for the company, and he was keen to do that.

The evening-length revivals


Romeo and Juliet (Kenneth MacMillan)

October 19 to December 7, 2013


The Nutcracker (produced by Peter Wright)

December 4, 2013 to January 16, 2014


Jewels (George Balanchine)

December 17, 2013 to January 7, 2014


Giselle (produced by Peter Wright)

January 18 to February 10, 2014


The Sleeping Beauty (produced by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton, after de Valois)

February 22 to April 9, 2014

This revival will include debut performances in leading roles.

KO: Talking of the different styles, it’s important for the dancers to be able to cope with doing those different styles at the same time. Famously, when we first did Chroma, The Sleeping Beauty was on at the same time, and all five ballerinas who were dancing Aurora were also in Chroma! You couldn’t get two more different styles. But I genuinely believe it can help, going back to other roles. Always, when you go back to a role, it feels comfortable, you can play with it more. But also, what you learn in that, you can take on.

I’m looking forward to seeing people who have made their debuts in Onegin this year, what they’ll now do in Swan Lake or whatever. It really does have a knock on effect. You need that breadth of rep. I think it’s really important for dancers to do that, but of course everybody wants to do everything. So that’s trouble! I don’t blame them.



The Linbury Studio Theatre

The programme for dance events in the Linbury Studio Theatre, the smaller performance space at the Royal Opera House, has also been announced.

ZA: How much say do you have in the dance programme at the Linbury? It includes works like Liam Scarlett’s Hansel and Gretel

KO: Well, that’s majorly me! Funnily enough, when I was going for the job [of director], I was keen to say that I wanted to use the Linbury as much as we could. We can only be so ambitious because there’s only so much we can do. We have one of the biggest programmes out there. We do 12 programmes a year, generally, and then all the other stuff that we do elsewhere, on tour. I did feel that it’s a great space for people to cut their teeth in, or to try something different.

A series of events, including Deborah Bull leaving, opened up a question of ROH2 [the Royal Opera House’s alternative programming strand] and what it does, what it was brought in to do. It was felt it had nearly done its job of opening up the opera house to many different people. The sort of work that we’d started to do was going on in the Linbury. So it made sense for the two companies to take charge of the artistic programme there.

It’s a mixture. Some of the things in the Linbury were half in-house, half not, but they’re with Royal Ballet blessing. It might be “The Royal Ballet presents…” maybe National Dance Company of Wales, or Phoenix Dance Theatre. When it comes to Hansel and Gretel [returning in January 2014], that will be The Royal Ballet. So it’s a nice mixture.

As this carries on, there are choreographers that I’ve seen, maybe they have a little company, I might bring them into the Linbury – with the idea that maybe they could work with The Royal Ballet at some point. So there’s a nice journey, going from the Linbury to the main stage, to The Royal Ballet, or vice versa. And we have our affiliate choreographers. Everywhere we can, we’re infiltrating the area!

Picture: Kevin O’Hare. Photograph: Teri Pengilley

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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