The Royal Ballet’s director, Kevin O’Hare, says about lockdown,
I needed [the dancers] as much as they probably needed me. I think we have managed to keep the company spirit. Of course, we have missed each other, but I don’t think it’s naive to say that through it all, the Zoom classes, the Pilates, the daily updates, we’ve constantly made sure we’re all in it together. It was that feeling that you were fighting for survival. I really did feel it all could easily have evaporated.
He sees the positive aspects too.
[It has] been a lovely moment of release and it’s given them time to reflect on why they do what they do, why they want to be a dancer. I think coming back to it and seeing what it means to be physical, but also to tell stories and engage with the public, has really shone through.
O’Hare is thrilled that his dancers are finally getting back onto the Covent Garden stage.
We have to perform, for the sanity of the dancers, but also for the engagement with the audience, which is so important.
Whether it’s something that you are seeing for the first time, or as an established audience are feeling the joy and comfort of seeing, culture is something that can take people away from the horrors of what’s going on at the moment. It really is about wellness. It does free the mind in a way that nothing else can.
However, it’s one thing doing pliés in the kitchen, another doing a variation on stage.
[The dancers] had done so much to keep in shape, but as you really start pushing in class, you realise there are some things you haven’t been doing so much. That has taken more time. Now they are getting into rehearsal mode, and beginning to feel ready.
They have been so good. We think it has probably helped their stamina — like altitude training.
He told Sarah Crompton in today’s The Sunday Times, that he was “really keen on it feeling like it was the whole company” on stage for the gala and that “everybody I could possibly get up on that stage was going to be there”.
The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage is on 9 October and will be live-streamed at £16 per household and then available for a month.
I am really hoping streaming will give us a new model. It’s a game-changer.
And there will also be a small audience: health workers, critics and the entire Royal Ballet Upper School:
So they can whoop and cheer and have that inspiration of being there. They are in bubbles of 30, so they can all sit together.
The gala will see Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov dancing the Don Quixote pas de deux, and they are tested twice a week so they can touch.
They are the only people they are in contact with the whole day. The rest of them do come together, but in a socially distanced way.
There will also be excerpts from Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, Marcelino Sambé and Anna Rose O’Sullivan in La Fille mal gardée, Edward Watson in Woolf Works, and double the usual number of dancers for a special celebratory performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations.
Then at Christmas comes a reimagined version of Peter Wright’s 1984 production of The Nutcracker.
We need a bit of festive magic, and it’s going to be fantastic. We’ll have to do a bit of reshaping and cutting, and work out things like how we do the snowflakes scene where people aren’t interacting with each other. The big thing will be a reimagining of the battle scene, because we will still have some children, but not all the ones we normally have. We are working through the choreography to make sure it stays within the safety guidelines, staying true to Peter Wright’s choreography but in ways that don’t put anyone at risk.
One thing we will have to consider in future is the changing of costumes – that’s going to take so much more time.
Also, the company won’t be able to do two shows a day in order to make sure that everything is done in safety, and the orchestra will be cut down to around 30 players.
Crompton reminds him of Dominic Cummings reported comment that “the fucking ballerinas can get to the back of the queue…” when talking about economic aid for the arts.
You can imagine somebody saying it when they don’t understand. The argument people forget is that the arts bring huge income in. It’s not just about ballerinas wanting to ‘live their soul’ or whatever. We are a huge part of the economy of this place, of London and across the country.
O’Hare is justly proud of his company and the place it holds.
I think we have to do what we can, without sounding grand, for the country, to say, ‘We are this national institution, and it is important we are out there engaging with the nation.’ This is an opportunity for people to see what dance can do for you, how it can feel to watch what we do. I feel it is our duty.
I want people to feel the exhilaration and the warmth not only towards the dancers, but towards all the people who made it happen as well. That mass of people has one goal: to give of their best. There is something so moving about that.
Isn’t it a worry that some of those covid tests might come back positive and casting has to be changed at the last minute, or even performances suspended?
I can always sleep. It’s my biggest talent. I don’t use the word stress very often.
Top photo: Elite Syncopations. Sarah Lamb and Ryoichi Hirano. © ROH, 2018. Photographed by Tristram Kenton
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.