In Conversation: Edward Watson and Rick Guest is an opportunity to see dancer and photographer talking about their collaboration which has led to an extraordinary portfolio of portraits.
Striking in their boldness yet sensitivity, Guest has caught precisely what Watson brings to the stage: the same boldness and sensitivity, together with exceptional honesty, as revealed in these photographs.
Dance Critic Sarah Crompton will lead the event which is on 11 January 2019 at 7pm in the Ondaatje Wing Theatre in the National Portrait Gallery.
Edward Watson is the longest serving Principal at The Royal Ballet and has had more roles created on him than any other dancer in The Royal Ballet today. Rick Guest is one of the most respected dance photographers of his generation and, with his collaborator Olivia Pomp, seeks to create a lasting legacy for this most ephemeral of art forms. Below he comments on some of the photos from the collection.
Edward Watson – Portrait of a Dancer, by Rick Guest
This is Edward in his devastating and defining portrayal of the doomed Prince Rudolph in Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling.
This is Edward in full flight as he becomes the monstrous and heart wrenching Leontes, in rehearsal for Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale.
Much of the work in this series was inspired by the Hans Holbein the Younger portraits held within the Tudor Room at The National Portrait Gallery. His exquisite use of background colour led me to this blue/green that I keep coming back to. It lends a sense of calm that allows a viewer to stand in front of the portraits for some time and to get lost in both their detail and emotion.
This is a portrait of Edward and The Royal Ballet's Resident Choreographer, the legendary Wayne McGregor. As described in our book, their careers and creations are inextricably linked as choreographer and muse. I wanted to show something of their relationship, the tenderness and trust in each other, as well as their mutual support. Edward had sprained his ankle the day before this was taken and was devastated, but in his usual unrelenting spirit still wanted to go ahead with the portrait. Wayne arriving in head to toe black, and Ed's cadaverous parlour with white stocking was a gift from the photographic gods.
This is taken from one of Wayne McGregor's pieces entitled Infra. Ed's extreme and unique physicality brings the piece to life. The costumes were designed by the British designer Gareth Pugh. One of the greatest of joys in this work is the coming together of these creative giants for this folio, it's the art of collaboration that sits at the core of any creative endeavour.
Most ballet dancers hate their feet, as all the effort, sacrifice, punishment and pain of their art is usually written large on their surface. As a measure of Edward's spirit and generosity as an artist, he eloquently offered up this vulnerability to me. This generosity of spirit is at the heart of portraiture, to allow your sitter an environment of trust so that if they choose to offer up a gift, you can be there to catch it.
As Edward dances, his incredible physicality comes to the fore. These frozen moments remind me of anatomical drawings, where you can clearly see every muscle group, tendon and sinew. What is fascinating, is that on stage this completely disappears, as his body is completely put in service to the character he portrays and the emotion intended by the choreographer.
This is another favourite of mine, where you can clearly see both where a lifetime of training, sacrifice and injury is etched into the very body of the artist, but also the ability to express himself through gesture with his amazingly expressive hands.
Here is another double portrait, this time of Edward with the astonishing choreographer Arthur Pita.
Arthur had created a dance version of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, specifically with Edward in the title role. Ed has the unnerving capability of keeping his entire body, including every joint in his toes, undulating in a particularly sinister way. As his character wakes up one morning changed into some sort of insect, Edward writhes constantly, semi naked and covered in a gloopy miasma of black treacle. It's a truly bravura performance that deservedly won him an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.
This is another portrait taken from Wayne McGregor's Infra. Ed's extreme and unique physicality is truly remarkable and never ceases to amaze me. as mentioned before, the costumes were designed by the fantastic British designer Gareth Pugh. One of the greatest of joys in this work is the coming together of these creative giants for this folio, it's this art of collaboration that sits at the core of any creative endeavour.
Here's another portrait with Edward and one of his closest collaborators, the incredible Christopher Wheeldon, Artistic Associate of both The Royal Ballet and Sadler's Wells. Having trained at The Royal Ballet School together, they have a wonderfully intimate and long standing relationship. This folio of prints, with its accompanying book, has its focus squarely set at Edward and his story, hence his dominant presence in all the portraits.
Here's another example of Edward's astonishing athleticism and physicality. To display an unbelievable calm and serenity at the very apex of extreme physical exertion, is at the very centre of his truly remarkable skill set. There is quite simply no other dancer like him.
This portrait is of Edward in rehearsal as Leontes, from Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale.
This portfolio of portraits has at its core an earlier project entitled “What Lies Beneath”, that hopefully spoke to the spirit of the dancer, the resolve and dedication of the artist as he sacrifices himself on the altar of his art form. Edward embodies this spirit, he is a true artist in the medium that Martha Graham rightly described as “The Language of the Soul”.
In Conversation: Edward Watson and Rick Guest
11 January 2019, 19:00
Ondaatje Wing Theatre
Tickets: £10 (£8 concessions and Gallery Supporters)
Book online, or visit the Gallery in person.
Edward Watson – Portrait of a Dancer, by Rick Guest
Strictly limited to 250 copies, on a first come first served basis. This ground-breaking large format boxed folio contains thirty exquisite loose prints of Edward, a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales, an incisive essay by Arts Critic Sarah Crompton, with many intimate backstage photographs.
Edward Watson, by Rick Guest © Rick Guest
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
I have always admired and envied the Male ballet dancer’s Physical ability and the ability to Express emotions with their bodies! As I age (in my late 70’s), I often wonder when Male ballet dancers are interviewed why they don’t settle the question of their sexuality right up front!! As a boy, I had the most wonderful friend who ended up dancing ballet!! When I look back at our friendship, I wonder why he kept his feelings for me spent up!! 20 years later, I saw him in New York and he confessed; but, by then I had moved on!!! I am totally impressed when the ballet dancer admits his sexuality because it makes conversations with him 100% better!! Although, I have not had the problem with Prima Donas,(women seem to be more secure in their sexuality), I have some wonderful lady friends in the ballet!! I won’t go to the ballet if the males have not been honest!! It’s better to know than to hear the men in the audience use the words “fag”, “poof”, “fairy”, etc. That’s why I adore Baryshnikov!! He screams “MAN’!!! I wish I knew if Edward Watson was gay. I could look at his pictures without prejudice!