Kevin O'Hare's Royal Ballet: New Horizons

Kevin O'Hare, photo Joe Plimmer

In the dazzlingly redeveloped Royal Opera House, Royal Ballet Director Kevin O’Hare talks about exciting new prospects for his company

The run up to a new season is always a time of excited anticipation for performers and audiences alike. But as he gears up to the 2018/19 season, Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet, is particularly excited at the new prospects offered his company by the recently completed redevelopment of the Royal Opera House.

In particular, Kevin O’Hare told Ballet Position, the redesign of the 406-seater Linbury Theatre, coupled with the refurbishment of the smaller Clore Studio, opens a wealth of new possibilities to The Royal Ballet.

“I’m thrilled (…) to have this beautiful intimate space to perform and create new work and also with our choreographic programme to help young choreographers within the company and also [from] outside, to have a space to try things out.

The ROH’s redesigned Linbury Theatre (c) Hufton & Crow

“And now we’ve got three spaces, with the Clore Studio much improved and with better lighting, we’ve got the Linbury and also we’ve got the main stage, so I think there’s going to be a progression, there’s a way we can really nurture people especially choreographically.”

The first dance on the new Linbury stage, presented at the theatre’s unveiling, was indeed the work of a young choreographer nurtured by The Royal Ballet’s choreographic development programme, Charlotte Edmonds. It was performed by one of the company’s most charismatic young dancers, Joseph Sissens.

Nor is that all. The Royal Opera House’s new ‘open and accessible’ policy means that there will regularly be free performances in front of house spaces. That, O’Hare feels, will give his dancers more opportunities for creative development.

“We’re talking to all sorts of different people and say, ‘we’re going to put a dancer down there, would you like to do a duet, would you like to do something in the Hamlyn Hall, would you like to do a concert with singers’; so, it is much more a stage for them, they need to come up with ideas as well.”

The Royal Ballet – Something Old, Something New….

There is, however, a need to be realistic about how much more work can be required of an already very busy company. So, for the forthcoming winter period at the Linbury the Royal Ballet as such will perform in only one out of four programmes, New Work New Music in early February.

“To be honest, I think the Royal Ballet as such will only be able to perform one programme a year in the Linbury, because we have such a busy schedule; but then associates of the Royal Ballet will be doing things as well.”

As will other smaller national and foreign companies, such as the National Dance Company of Wales and the Dutch ensemble Introdans, both of which feature in the inaugural period.

Having the Linbury to try new work also gives the Royal Ballet the ability to pack its main programme with established works, without – O’Hare hopes! – being accused of not programming enough new work.

The 2018/19 season opens on 8th October with Mayerling, undoubtedly one of Kenneth MacMillan’s masterpieces and a key part of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.

The Royal Ballet, Edward Watson in Mayerling (c) ROH 2017 photo Alice Pennefather

Among other hardy perennials are Natalia Makarova’s production of La Bayadère, and that unavoidable staple of the Christmas season everywhere, The Nutcracker, in Sir Peter Wright’s unsurpassable production.

In fact, for the whole of 2018/19, the Royal Ballet will present only two new works on the main stage: Alastair Marriott’s The Unknown Soldier, marking the centenary of the end of World War I, and an as yet unnamed piece by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

“For the past five years we’ve done so much and we’ve really pushed the boat out, we’ve had five new full-length productions, which is a lot in five years, plus all the other new works, so it felt like it really is a moment to take a little bit stock, and also knowing that we wanted to make the most of this new opening at the Linbury. I think it’ll be more balanced in the years to come.”

The Royal Ballet: The Heritage

Kevin O’Hare is also keen to use the versatility of the Linbury to show work from an earlier phase in the life of The Royal Ballet, the better to illustrate the company’s history and development.

“We’ll use the Linbury to look at heritage work as well, some of the things that really were done for a small theatre. I’d love to look at something of De Valois that hasn’t been seen, and probably that is the space to do it in, because it was danced at either the Old Vic or Sadler’s Wells or on tour, not a massive opera house stage, so I’m going to look at that.”

It’s fair to say that The Royal Opera House’s redevelopment has been an all-consuming project for all involved since 2010, when the first steps were made, through the past three years when the actual building work went on full steam ahead to meet the unveiling date of September 2018. Kevin O’Hare found the project took him away from his dancers for longer than he would have liked.

“When I first took the job [in 2012], this was when we were talking to all the developers and architects, so for the first six months I had to be at those meetings, because I wouldn’t have wanted not to be a part of it, and for the company to make sure that we didn’t miss out and all those things, but I was going, ‘oh my goodness, I’m having to deal with this and I want to be there with the company.’

“I think it’s very important that I’m there all the time (…) I want the dancers to know I’m there, I’m interested in what they’re doing, I’m coming back afterwards, the next day, I’ll find them in the corridor and say ‘that was great, have you tried this?’

“The same with how it looks on stage, because things change all the time. (…) And if I’m going to make decisions on their careers, what they’re going to be dancing next, I think I need to be seen there all the time.”

The 2018/19 season promises to steer The Royal Ballet in new directions, with the energetic Kevin O’Hare at the helm.  Looking ahead to the year 2020, he says the emphasis will be on new work, gathering together ballets the company premièred in the preceding ten years alongside two new big productions.

All in all, quite a lot to look forward to!

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by Teresa Guerreiro