The Royal Ballet announces 2013/14 season
Today saw the launch of Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare’s second season at The Royal Ballet, and he was characteristically understated but also quietly confident that as his first season is going very well – the company is selling almost all of the tickets it offers – and is excited about the new season. Has there ever been an Artistic Director that was not ? Surely it’s in the job description. So what is the new season looking like ?
The most glaring omission is that there is no new work from Liam Scarlett – nothing. Scarlett was given the brand new title of Artist in Residence not long ago and he has said that his diary is already booked for the next five years. One wonders why there is nothing in it for The Royal Ballet in terms of new work, for an entire season, and this, despite showing the confidence to schedule his latest new work (Hansel and Gretel) for the new season even though it has not yet premiered in this one. I hope this doesn’t happen again because Scarlett is our most promising classical choreographer who, along with Christopher Wheeldon, does not shy away from choreographing for the pointe shoe.
The new season is not one that jumps off the page either, which is a disappointment given that there have been so many years of underwhelming programming from the previous Artistic Director, Monica Mason. What is brave, at least, is that the company is leveraging its current strong box office position to focus on new work, particularly full-length work – six world premieres – and that drive to move forwards as well as protecting the heritage of the company is very much welcomed. To be fair, perhaps it has to be this way, for now. Until the company has a viable repertoire of new works – and I don’t just mean the abstract one act ballets; I mean full length narrative classical ballets – the old war horses will seem top-heavy in the schedule, and O’Hare is doing something about that. First Artist Ludovic Ondiviela is to be given some R&D time early next season and it will be interesting to see what he does with that. Last year’s Nutcracker live cinema relay actually beat the new Bond film Skyfall, on that one day, and O’Hare is justifiably proud of that. He had wanted to bring back Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations for this season, but the owners of the work were not available to come into the company to set the ballet and so it will have to wait for another season. It was ever thus.
Guest Principal Carlos Acosta is, as you can see, already in the studio working on his new production of Don Quixote. Acosta has danced the lead role in just about every country on the planet and knows the story backwards. He has also coached dancers for galas where excerpts of Don Quixote have been performed to great acclaim. This is intended as a very Royal Ballet production, which fills a space that has been vacant for some considerable while, as the company has never had their own production of this ballet. O’Hare wouldn’t be drawn on whether this new role for Acosta might become permanent, rather he wanted to emphasise how keen he is to hold on to dancers of Acosta’s calibre as they reach the end of their dancing days. He also mentioned the talents of Johan Kobborg, a fine Principal dancer trained in Denmark, who could also be looking for a career transition. The new season will open with this new production, and Acosta has teamed up with Tim Hatley to design the sets and costumes and Hugh Vanstone on the lights. No casting has been announced but you can see from this photograph some of the dancers that Acosta is working with.
Artistic Associate Christopher Wheeldon will premiere his second full length work for The Royal Ballet (and a co-production with The National Ballet of Canada, which O’Hare said has worked so very well with Alice) based on William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It’s an unusual choice of subject matter and a challenging play but Wheeldon has teamed up again with the Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland smash-hit team of Joby Talbot and Bob Crowley.
One of the highlights O’Hare was keen to talk about today was the invitation extended to former Royal Ballet School student and Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer, David Dawson, who will create a new work to electronic music by Greg Haines as part of the first triple bill of the season(Wayne McGregor’s Chroma and Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of Spring complete the bill).
Principal dancer Johan Kobborg will choreograph all of the ballet sections for a “lavish” and “very expensive” (Director of Opera Kasper Holten’s words; Holten justified the expense because not every opera is as expensive to produce as this one will be) new production of Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes in October, which will feature four Royal Ballet Principals and as this is a co-production with The Royal Danish Ballet, four dancers from The Royal Danish Ballet, along with 32 dancers from the Royal Ballet Upper School.
Wayne McGregor’s new work for February 2014 will be set to Bach’s The Art of Fugue with designs by Tauba Auerbach, and Ashton’s Rhapsody opens the bill, closing with Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria.
As I’ve said, Liam Scarlett, Artist in residence for The Royal Ballet, has no new work in this season but Sweet Violets returns in a triple bill alongside Wheeldon’s DGV : Dance a Grande Vitesse and George Balanchine’s Serenade.
The final triple bill also closes the season and will see a new work by Alastair Marriott, following his success in the Titian collaboration last summer. Ashton’s The Dream and Jerome Robbins’ The Concert (not seen in Covent Garden for 10 years) complete the programme.
Full length works mingle with the triple bills and MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet, Peter Wright’s Giselle and Monica Mason and Christopher Newton’s The Sleeping Beauty each make an appearance. For Christmas, O’Hare wanted to repeat last year’s successful programming of The Nutcracker paired with “something for the adults” and this time it’s Balanchine’s Jewels. There is an exchange with American Ballet Theatre and while Steven McRae visits that company to dance Le Corsaire in June, ABT’s Cory Stearns will dancing alongside Lauren Cuthbertson in The Nutcracker in December.
Once the London season has closed, the company tour to Moscow, making a temporary home in The Bolshoi Theatre.
The Royal Opera House live cinema relays have become so popular (but aren’t yet making a profit) that this season will see an unprescedented five ballets presented in association with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The ballets are : Don Quixote (Wednesday 16th October), The Nutcracker (Thursday 12th December), Giselle (Monday 27th January 2014), The Sleeping Beauty (Wednesday 19th March 2014) and The Winter’s Tale (Monday 28th April 2014).
The Linbury Studio Theatre has now become a place where The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera can present work, by themselves and others, and O’Hare explained that he sees it, this season and in the future, as a place where they can begin working with those whom they would like to develop relationships. Ballet Black will present a new season, National Dance Company Wales open the season and Liam Scarlett’s Hansel and Gretel will be revived. Draft Works, the experimental choreographic workshops for dancers wishing to develop in that area, continues in the Linbury. New York City Ballet Principal dancer Wendy Whelan will curate a unique programme choreographed by four North American based choreographers, as she continues her work away from NYCB.
Watch Kevin O’Hare talking about his highlights for the 2013/14 season
A Winter’s Tale
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Titian : Metamorphosis (a very enlightening read indeed)