Posted on April 1, 2014
Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, speaks exclusively to Dancing Times about his plans for the 2014–15 season.
“I wanted to show the contrasts of the repertoire,” O’Hare says of his new season. “It shows the range of The Royal Ballet and the work that it does – the work of its choreographers, but also the work of its dancers. With that repertoire, you can show the range of the dancers.”
The new season opens with works by two of The Royal Ballet’s defining choreographers: Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon will be followed by an all-Frederick Ashton mixed bill. Last year, O’Hare told Dancing Times that he was keen to bring Ashton’s Symphonic Variations back. Now it returns at the heart of this mixed bill, with Scènes de ballet, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan and A Month in the Country.
“For me, they’re some of the greatest ballets there are,” O’Hare says now. “As soon as I got the job, I was desperate to bring Symphonic Variations in, but this has been the earliest we could do it. You’re always trying to match up the availability of people to stage the works.”
“For me, Scènes de ballet is the same, it’s just such a beautiful piece. Then A Month in the Country shows the other side of Ashton, the drama. It tells its story so succinctly, it’s a lesson to anybody in putting a narrative together. They’re ballets I love, and they’re all great ballets. I love putting his work together in one programme. I do split it up sometimes, because you have to get more things on, but it’s so amazing to see that range of work.”
These heritage ballets are also “an opportunity to bring in people who have been involved in these works. Anthony Dowell will be here for A Month in the Country, Wendy Ellis for Symphonic Variations. I’ve just talked to Lynn Seymour, so she’ll be coming in for Isadora. As well as our own staff – we’ve just done Rhapsody, and having Lesley Collier coaching ballerinas is the perfect way to put that piece on. It’s lovely to have those people around, and it always adds an extra excitement.”
Later in the season, the company will also dance Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée and MacMillan’s Song of the Earth. O’Hare says: “It’s the masterworks, isn’t it? You don’t want those ballets to be out of the repertoire for too long. At other times – we’re already looking at the next season, as we have to do – you look at something that hasn’t been seen for a long time, like Las Hermanas last season. It’s always a balance.”
The heritage works are followed by the first new work of the season, created by Liam Scarlett, the company’s artist in residence. “It’s to Bernstein, a piece called The Age of Anxiety – that will be the ballet’s title. Bernstein was inspired by a poem by W H Auden, Jerome Robbins actually did a piece to it. It’s exciting to have some Bernstein. He’s a great composer, and not used that much, though he’s someone you associate with dance – when you think of him, you think of movement.”
The Age of Anxiety will be part of a triple bill with Kim Brandstrup’s Ceremony of Innocence, created for the Benjamin Britten centenary, and Christopher Wheeldon’s Aeternum. Scarlett’s new work will be “probably more theme than narrative,” O’Hare says. “There are similarities, because Ceremony of Innocence has a sense of looking back – you were in Death in Venice territory, I felt. This [Scarlett’s ballet] is also about lost illusions and the past.”
The company will revive Ceremony of Innocence before the 2014–15 season starts, for summer performances at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. “We’ve been invited, they’ve been asking us to come for a long time. I have quite a connection with Denmark because of my training, I studied there for a while. The man who runs the dance section of Tivoli was in my class in Denmark! He invites companies all the time, but you do have to choose your repertoire to match the facilities. I thought Ceremony of Innocence would be good, with Kim being Danish, plus divertissements and Robbins’ In the Night.
“The Queen of Denmark is a great balletomane. She has a prize that she awards, and likes to do that when there’s a visiting company. She was very keen, she loves the company here. Actually, we helped her, when she designed a Nutcracker for Tivoli. The best makers are in England, so they made all the costumes. She came and worked in the workrooms here, and saw many shows. She’s a fan of the company, which is lovely. It will be a nice experience.”
Aeternum, the third ballet on the Ceremony of Innocence/The Age of Anxiety programme, was created for the 2012–13 season. How does O’Hare choose how quickly new works should come back? “You see where it will fit in the programme and what pieces will go in it. In that programme, Liam’s cast will be small, I think. So Aeternum – even though there’s a lot with the central figure, Marianela [Nuñez]’s role, and pas de deux, there is a cast in there as well. It’s a bigger piece.
“I talked to Barry Wordsworth about the music, too. Interestingly enough, the Ashton triple bill is quite piano-heavy. Sometimes you try to avoid that, but talking with Barry, we felt they all complemented each other. So there are a lot of elements when thinking about what is coming back.”
For the Christmas season, O’Hare is presenting two recent productions: Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote and Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “I’m very pleased Don Quixote is coming back. It was a great success with audiences, the dancers enjoyed doing it. It’s a different piece for The Royal Ballet to do. It’s important to bring those works back quite soon, so it becomes part of what we do. And again, it offers great challenges for the company.”
2015 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “We’d never had Alice at Christmas,” O’Hare says. “It’s a fantastic piece for the company, and shows them off very well. It will be a fun thing for families to come to. Alongside that, in the Linbury [link to Linbury season announcement web story], we’ve got ZooNation coming in to do The Mad Hatters T Party. I love the idea that we’re going a bit Lewis Carroll crazy! It’s not that things are themed between the main stage and the Linbury, but sometimes there is a link. Maybe people who have seen ours will think, ‘What’s that?’, and will try it – people who have never been to the Linbury, or never seen ZooNation. And vice versa.”
John Cranko’s Onegin and Anthony Dowell’s production of Swan Lake will be back early in 2015. “There will definitely be debuts in both those big ballets,” O’Hare says. “It’s lovely to bring back Onegin. It’s only one season since it was last done, but sometimes it’s nice to bring those ballets back a little sooner, so that people who made their debuts last time can really develop in those roles.”
The second new work of the season will be created by contemporary choreographer Hofesh Shechter. “I’m a big fan of his work,” O’Hare explains. “I’m very interested in the whole concept of what he does. I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting for him to work with our dancers?
“The lines [between ballet and contemporary dance] are now very blurred. In a way, whether you say a choreographer is classical or not classical is irrelevant, it’s the dancers he’s working on. This will be Hofesh Shechter working on a classical company. We’re still at the beginning of talking about it, but I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do.
“We’re so lucky to have Liam [Scarlett] and Wayne [McGregor] and Christopher [Wheeldon], but each year I’ve been trying to bring somebody from outside as well, because I think that’s important. So we had Alexei [Ratmansky] and David [Dawson] and now Hofesh.”
Shechter usually creates his own music, whether electronically or with musicians. Will he do that with The Royal Ballet? “We’re discussing that,” O’Hare says. “I did say to him – and he’s excited by this – that we do have this amazing orchestra. I think that appeals to him. So he will be deciding what he wants to do with that, but he’s definitely excited by the idea of live music with an orchestra. He’s come to see a lot of works, and I think he loves the big Requiems, The Rite of Spring, the big company works, so I think it will be really fun for him to work with a lot of the company.”
The new Shechter ballet will be paired with George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and MacMillan’s Song of the Earth. “Yes, classical and classic. When you put something like Hofesh on, you don’t want to put something too ornate around it. So I think they’re very classic, very pure. I love both those works. Four Ts hasn’t been seen here for a long while. I love it, and it’s a big work for the company, it gives good opportunities. I’m really pleased to be bringing back Song of the Earth. It’s a beautiful piece, and has wonderful roles to offer people.” There will be more debuts in the revival of Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, which returns in April 2015.
On May 11, Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, his first full-length ballet, has its world premiere. “He’s working on a response to the life and writings of Virginia Woolf. We’ve talked about it at length. I’m not sure, but I think it will probably be in two acts rather than three. For Wayne, I think it’s a great moment, for him to have the place to himself. You’ll come in and have the full McGregor experience.”
The work will also have a high-profile guest star: Alessandra Ferri, who launched her career at The Royal Ballet, before leaving in the mid-1980s, will return for Woolf Works. “Wayne is creating a role for her. As Alex [Ferri] said, it’s funny the way life works out! It’s very nice that she’ll be back with the company. Wayne is working with the composer Max Richter, who composed Infra. I think that collaboration worked very well.”
The season ends with a triple bill of Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun and In the Night, with another chance to see Song of the Earth. “What’s been amazing about this last season, and the season before, is that the mixed bills are so full. It’s hard to get a ticket – it’s 97 point whatever per cent full every night. So I think it’s very important that we show those programmes as much as possible, or works from that programme. I thought it was a nice idea to bring one of the works back into another programme.
“I love Afternoon of a Faun, and we’ll be doing In the Night in Copenhagen, so it makes sense. You have to look at programming and scheduling, making sure we’ve got enough time to do everything we want to do.”
Photograph: Teri Pengilley, courtesy of the Royal Opera House.