Fumi Kaneko – A Deeply Affecting Juliet

Fumi Kaneko as Juliet in MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet © ROH 2021. Photo: Bill Cooper

Newly-minted Royal Ballet principal dancer Fumi Kaneko talks to Ballet Position in the aftermath of her stunning debut as Juliet

Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is a narrative masterpiece, distilling in its structure and choreography all the passion and ultimate tragedy of Shakespeare’s doomed young lovers.

Add to that Prokofiev’s magnificent, eloquent score, and it’s easy to see why Romeo and Juliet is one of the best loved works in The Royal Ballet’s repertoire. Having seen it countless times, I didn’t expect to be surprised, much less blown away, when I took my seat at the Royal Opera House for a matinée towards the end of October.

The lovers were to be danced by William Bracewell, a stylish and very affecting Romeo, and in only her second performance as Juliet the Japanese dancer Fumi Kaneko, with whose work as a technically accomplished dancer in both classical and contemporary repertoire I was familiar.

Fumi Kaneko as Juliet, William Bracewell as Romeo © ROH 2021 Photo: Bill Cooper

Yet, by the end of the performance I was an emotional wreck, such was the intensity Kaneko brought to the role. Hers was an interpretation that blended careful characterisation with an instinctive freshness and small telling gestures that were hers alone. In the final scene, where Juliet is faced with Romeo’s dead body, Kaneko was the epitome of utter, profound desolation, a Juliet overwhelmed by the magnitude of a loss she couldn’t quite comprehend.

It reduced me to tears.

So, when I met Fumi Kaneko at the Royal Ballet’s Covent Garden home, I naturally wanted to hear more about her Juliet.

“When I was cast I was surprised, because I’ve turned 30 now and I didn’t think Kevin [O’Hare, the company’s director] would cast me.”

At this point it’s only fair to note that with her delicate features and inspired acting, she looked very much the 14-year-old Juliet.

“Then I saw my name on casting and I was like, wow, this is my dream role and it’s going to be a dream come true.”

FUMI KANEKO – CREATING JULIET

Fumi Kaneko’s preparation for the role was intensive.

“I think watching so many amazing ballerinas before helped me a lot to create my own Juliet. I started to read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which [repetiteur] Lesley Collier gave me in rehearsal, but it’s quite difficult to read… I also had an audiobook, so you can hear what they’re saying, as well.

“I also watched the original [Zeffirelli] movie from 1968; it’s not ballet, but I loved watching it.”

And then she was paired with William Bracewell, an experienced Romeo and an attentive and inspirational partner.

“The thing is, he IS Romeo!” She laughs, and goes on, “he IS Romeo, and that helped me act naturally.”

Fumi Kaneko as Juliet, William Bracewell as Romeo © ROH 2021 Photo: Bill Cooper

So, who was Fumi Kaneko’s Juliet?

“I think because she’s really young she always follows what her parents say; and suddenly she fell in love with this person and she couldn’t see anything else and that gave her all the strength to do what she wanted to do.

“I think she didn’t know what she had in herself – she grew so much in this ballet and I wanted to show that. I want to think that’s her life, but also my life, I’m not just doing this ballet, but I wanted to live that life, to live that moment on stage.”

Perhaps what made Fumi Kaneko’s Juliet so unique, so affecting, was the fact that in the same way as her character discovered in herself things she hadn’t known before falling in love with Romeo, so Fumi Kaneko discovered in herself things she didn’t know were there before she danced Juliet.

“After Romeo and Juliet I felt I didn’t know this side of ballet. I had a more technical side of ballet, but I lived Juliet’s life and had this feeling I never had before, so I want to experience something like that again.”

FUMI KANEKO – A LONG WAY FROM HOME

Born in Osaka, Japan, Fumi Kaneko started ballet class at the age of three.

“My mother took me, because when she was young she wanted to do ballet, but her mother only allowed her to do Japanese dance. So, when she was young she wanted to become a mother and she wanted to take her kids to ballet.”

Young Fumi soon fell in love with ballet, so much so that she was prepared to attend ballet class from 5 to 11 every evening at the end of her long school day, year after year.  After graduation,

‘I just wanted to dance all day. My teacher had a small company [Jinushi Kaoro] and I joined and I was able to dance from morning to night and that was my dream come true.’

When she joined the Royal Ballet in 2011 her CV already included gold at the Varna International Competition and silver at its Moscow and USA equivalents. The transition was not easy, though.

“It was hard to adjust to a new life without speaking English. In the beginning my Mum came with me and she helped me find a new home… go to supermarket to find something to eat…” She laughs. However,

“I loved this company straight away. Everyone was so helpful, and getting to know each other’s cultures as well, that’s how I learned English slowly.”

Her English is totally fluent now, if charmingly accented.  Her manner is gentle and unfailingly polite, and hides what you suspect is the iron will that saw her through those young years of hard, relentless training.

It also helped her through two devastating bouts of injury, that kept her off stage for the best part of one year each time.  Despite that, her career progression in The Royal Ballet has been steady, and she reached the highest rank of principal this season.

Fumi Kaneko’s has brought her strong technique and attractive stage presence to many of The Royal Ballet’s best loved roles, including Princess Aurora in the company’s signature ballet, The Sleeping Beauty.

FUMI KANEKO – THE FUTURE

Early next year Fumi Kaneko will debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake; and as a principal she’ll have access to some of the plum roles on which she’s longing to make her own mark: Giselle, Tatiana in Onegin and, above all, Manon.

“Manon is my dream role, maybe because it was the first ballet I was involved with after joining the company, and I was watching particularly the final pas de deux between Manon and Des Grieux, and I was crying, and I loved it, and I want to experience that.”

As one of a large number of Japanese dancers plying their trade abroad, she is well known and admired in her own country, where she tries to perform every summer.

She laughs modestly when I ask whether she’s a star in Japan, but says:

“When I became a principal I had so many messages from Japanese fans, and that was incredible, because I didn’t know I had so much support there.”

We’re only just beginning to discover the hidden depths of this wonderful dancer. I for one, can’t wait to see a lot more of Fumi Kaneko!

by Teresa Guerreiro

Fumi Kaneko dances the Sugar Plum Fairy with Nicol Edmonds as her Prince in The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House

on Wednesday 22 December, matinee at 12:30pm,
and Wednesday 29 December at 7:30pm

 

Zenaida Yanowsky: Beyond the Rainbow

Zenaida Yanoswky's farewell performance ROH 7 June 2017

As she eases into her post-ballet life, Zenaida Yanowsky talks to Ballet Position about the Royal Ballet and the future

She graced the stage at Covent Garden with poise, versatility and uncommon intelligence, her smallest gesture capable of conveying a wealth of inner emotion.

And then on 7th June 2017, aged 42, Zenaida Yanowsky danced Ashton’s Marguerite one last time and said goodbye to the Royal Ballet; though not entirely to performance – not yet.

“I thought to stop abruptly would maybe have emotional consequences, and I thought I didn’t want to have that separation anxiety.”

Marguerite and Armand, Zenaida Yanowsky, Federico Bonelli (c) ROH 2013 Tristram Kenton

Almost a year after her semi-retirement, Zenaida Yanowsky remains every inch a ballerina. Tall, trim and willowy, it’s hard to believe she no longer does class every day, but “I do keep my body… yeah… in check.”

And she’s still dancing, though sporadically.

“I felt very strongly if maybe instead of just stopping in a harsh way I would trickle it down, so that I’d be able to choose things that would allow me to still enjoy my work without the physicality and the pressures [of] maybe a big organisation like the Opera House with such high level and talent .”

She ’s the subject of the BBC documentary The Dying Swan,* which follows her recovery from a knee operation and progress towards a gala performance of Dying Swan – not her choice of work, but she acknowledges the symbolism.

And later this month she will be on stage at the Barbican dancing one of her favourite roles in choreographer Will Tuckett and librettist Alasdair Middleton’s Elizabeth.**

Zenaida Yanowsky as Elizabeth (c) ROH 2016 Andrej Uspenseki

A dance-drama drawn from diaries, poetry, plays and other writings from the Elizabethan period, Elizabeth blends dance, music and the spoken word, to give an impressionistic account of Elizabeth I’s reign, her life and loves. It had a short run at the ROH’s Linbury studio in 2013.

It was created on Zenaida, and she loves it.

“I love story-telling and I thought that was a brilliant way of story-telling. (…) Nobody ever really told the story of Elizabeth through her love letters and poems, and how beautiful, how extraordinary!

“I love the team, and yes, it was created for me, I was very frustrated that work was never pushed forward, because I always felt it was such a jewel of a work.”

Carlos Acosta was Zenaida’s original partner in Elizabeth, taking on all the roles of the Queen’s favourites. Acosta is now retired and back in Cuba running his own company. So, who’s going to replace him?

“My brother!” and she dissolves into gales of laughter.

Talk of her older brother Yury, formerly a Principal Dancer with Boston Ballet, takes us down memory lane to the days when the siblings – “we’re kind of are like twins, we’re only one year apart” – growing up in the Canary Islands and being coached by their parents, dancers Anatol Yanowsky and Carmen Robles, started their careers together.

“We would do competitions and we always teamed up together. My parents, who were our teachers, felt that we would be stronger contenders as a team than separately. (…)

“And then he decided to go to Boston Ballet, I decided to go to Paris Opera and start my career there. So, even if we both thought we were going to have a career together, in the same company, I think I was very stubborn about where I wanted to start, and Paris Opera was always my dream and I felt I suited their physicality, I was tall,” (she’s 1,75 m tall) “that was my handicap…

“So, through the 80s we hardly connected, and so now I really wanted to reconnect at the end.”

Paris may have been Zenaida Yanowsky’s dream, but it proved a disappointment, and by 1994 she was on the move, aiming for Amsterdam and Dutch National Ballet. She came via London, where fate intervened.

Zenaida Yanowksy – Looking Into the Rainbow

She auditioned for the Royal Ballet.

“I came, I did an audition, but felt there is no way they’re ever going to… because I’m so tall… and.. blah, blah. But you know, after a few days [Artistic Director] Anthony [Dowell] said, ‘I’ve got a job for you if you want to stay.’   What???”

Her face takes on an expression of sheer incredulity, and again she laughs heartily. She goes on:

“When I was offered the job, of course I said, ‘yeah! yeah, yeah, I’ll take it, fine!’ and I remember [they said] ‘when do you want to start you’ve got to go home, get your stuff…’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘tomorrow, I’ll start tomorrow, is that OK?’ ‘Yeah, OK.’ ‘Then I’ll start tomorrow.’  I think I was terrified to lose that opportunity, that they would think twice…”

She laughs again, but then laughter gives way to a sense of wonder, as she recalls sitting in on a rehearsal.

“It was Sarah Wildor, and Stuart Cassidy, Johnny Cope, I mean, everybody, Viviana [Durante]… and I remember sitting there thinking, wow, I have fallen on my feet. This is what I want. I had never seen such theatricality in dance…

“For me at the time it felt like I was looking into a rainbow and I wanted to be in that rainbow.”

And she did become part of that rainbow for a wonderful 23 years, where she progressed from First Artist to Principal and brought unforgettable colour and definition to many of the main characters in the Royal’s repertoire.

Like Natalia Petrovna, in Ashton’s A Month in the Country.

A Month in the Country, Zenaida Yanowsky, Rupert Pennefather (c) ROH 2012 Tristram Kenton

She also brought to the stage a wicked sense of humour, which spiced up characters like a memorable Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty and a scarily funny Queen of Hearts created on her by Christopher Wheeldon in his ballet  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Zenaida Yanowsky – The Path to Swan Lake

Despite all that, the one feather missing from a her cap as her career progressed was Swan Lake.
And that she finally got to do in 2007, soon after returning from her second maternity leave – she has two children with her husband, the baritone Simon Keenlyside.

“It was very hard. I felt strongly for various reasons that I needed to come back as soon as possible, within reason (…) And I remember, it was wonderful because Lesley Collier was coaching me at the time, and she had had two kids herself, so she knew what coming back was.

“And she wasn’t bullying me, but at the same time I could see in her eyes that she felt I wasn’t going to make it (laughs) because I did say to her, ‘listen Lesley, if I don’t make it, I don’t make it – it’s fine, so people get sick and they get replaced in two seconds, it’s not a problem (…)’

“It was pretty much three days before [the performance] that I got the strength I needed for it. And then it happened and I was pleased for many reasons, mainly for the achievement, but also because I felt that, despite all the hard work and sense of achievement, I felt at heart that I had given a good performance.”

Swan Lake, Zenaida Yanowsky, Nehemiah Kish (c) ROH 2011 Bill Cooper

Zenaida Yanowsky: Beyond the Rainbow

So, what of the future? The family, of course, is a priority; wanting to spend quality time with her children was a key factor in her decision to retire from the Royal; and we sense that cycling to school with her children every morning is a particular pleasure. Beyond that?

“Right now I want to have a break, I want to enjoy a little bit of time off, obviously I’m still dancing a little bit, [but] I want to find who I am as a person also, what makes me tick outside dance (…) because you know, as a dancer and as an artist despite my security on stage, where I know I’ve always had a sense of ownership, outside the stage I’m extremely insecure, (…) and so I have to find something that I feel maybe confident about.”

We’re quite sure that won’t be as a car dealer (her son’s suggestion), or a hairdresser (her daughter’s)… but we have no doubt that after a career littered with distinctions and awards, which left the critics reaching for superlatives and etched indelible memories in the minds of her public, Zenaida Yanowsky will soon find a new fitting role beyond the rainbow.

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by Teresa Guerreiro

*The Dying Swan is on BBC Four on Monday, 7th May, at 19:30 and on iPlayer afterwards

**Elizabeth is at the Barbican Theatre, 16th – 19th May at 19:45

William Bracewell: First Year Report Card

William Bracewell, photo Dani Bower

Approaching the end of his first Royal Ballet season, William Bracewell helps Ballet Position write his First Year Report Card

Modesty is a profoundly endearing quality, and Royal Ballet soloist William Bracewell possesses it in spades.

A beautiful dancer, technically assured, supremely elegant with a fine classical line, he is widely predicted ‘to go far’; but as he approaches the end of his first year at Covent Garden, he still has the slightly dazed look of someone who can’t quite believe his luck.

Like a kid in a toy shop.

“On a professional level, the level of commitment that goes on every single day just blows me away, and it’s massively inspiring.”

William spoke to Ballet Position in a small meeting room somewhere in the vast warren that is the Royal Opera House, where he admits to still losing his way sometimes.

“I had a general expectation of what I might find in the building, but in all honesty what goes on has totally surpassed what I’d hoped for (…) I have felt so welcome! The other day I had somebody say, ‘I can’t believe you’ve been here for just a season; it feels like you’ve been here for so long!'” 

Looking much younger than his 27-years, William smiles easily, his clear brown eyes widening as he describes his enjoyment of his new life, his speech punctuated by pauses where he takes a deep breath and searches for the precise words to convey his meaning.

William Bracewell: The Road to London

William Bracewell joined the Royal Ballet as a soloist at the beginning of the 2017/18 season, after seven years with Birmingham Royal Ballet. His work at BRB had attracted critical attention, with one dance writer describing his portrayal of the young Louis XIV in David Bintley’s Sun King as,

‘…stepping high on his arched feet like Rudolf Nureyev, and turning slowly in classical arabesque as if to summon up that paragon of British classicism Anthony Dowell.’

Praise doesn’t come much fuller than that; and is backed up by distinctions such as Young British Dancer of the Year in 2007, Youth America Grand Prix in 2010, and Outstanding Male Performer (Classical) in the 2015 Critics Circle National Dance Awards.

William Bracewell as Dancing Gentleman in Manon (c) ROH 2018 photo Bill Cooper

He found a huge difference in the demands posed by the Royal Ballet when compared with what he was used to at BRB, particularly in the scheduling of the repertoire.

“In Birmingham you’d have a rehearsal period and then tour a production of a full-length [ballet] and a triple bill for maybe six weeks, or four weeks. So, you had the low times where you could rehearse and really push your body, and then you’d have the more stamina [demanding periods] when you’d be on tour performing.

“Here you’ll do an opening night for a triple bill, the next day you might be rehearsing a full- length ballet, the coming triple bill and creating a new work at the same time. There’s a lot of overlap, so I think mentally that was kind of different to get my head around.”

He’s had to get his head around a lot of work, as he has been in almost every production in the Royal Ballet’s current season ranging from that staple of the Christmas repertoire, The Nutcracker, to Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale, where he took on one of the principal roles, that of Polixenes, King of Bohemia.

William Bracewell as Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale (c) ROH 2018, photo Tristram Kenton

William relishes the variety. He loves acting roles – “it’s when I felt most free on stage, when I’ve been able to completely live someone else’s life” – but loves, too, the specific technical demands of different choreographers.

“It was amazing to do Hofesh [Shechter]’s Untouchables – that was incredible! And then working with Wayne [McGregor] for the first time was amazing! I absolutely loved it and Chris [Wheeldon] as well, at the same time, that was fantastic!”

He created roles in McGregor’s and Wheeldon’s new works this season, respectively Yugen and Corybantic Games.

William Bracewell with Matthew Ball in Corybantic Games (c) ROH 2018 photo Andrej Uspenski

When we spoke, William was preparing to dance in another Wayne McGregor work: his 2016 Obsidian Tear, part of the current season’s final Triple Bill. But whereas Christopher Wheeldon’s choreographic language is firmly rooted in the classical ballet vocabulary, McGregor’s is quite something else, with its hyper-extensions and jerky, contemporary inflections.

Did he find it easy to adapt to the specific demands of Wayne McGregor’s works?

“What I loved about working with Wayne was the amount of freedom he gave you. You train all the time to get things really perfect in a very classical sense and then for someone to just give you a phrase and say, ‘make of that what you will’ … it’s really liberating, to just completely launch yourself in something.”

Another reason for William Bracewell’s pleasure in his current job is that he gets to share the stage with people whom he’s idolised ever since he entered the Royal Ballet School as a shy 10-year-old from Swansea.

Dancers like Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli in The Nutcracker, “who I’ve looked up to since I was tiny.”

Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli in The Nutcracker (c) ROH 2013 photo Tristram Kenton

“I think Federico is one of the most stunning dancers I’ve ever ever seen! and Laura, who I’ve known since I was at school is just such a beautiful dancer, and such a wonderful woman…. being on stage with people that you’ve looked up to has brought a new life to productions that I’ve worked on before.”

William Bracewell: Beyond the Stage

Another reason why William Bracewell loves his London life is being able to explore all that the capital has to offer, even if he’s had to forego some of perks of smaller Birmingham.

“I had a house in Birmingham with a garden, which I suppose is possible here, but it’s difficult… but there’s just so much going on, so many more pieces of live theatre, and art. You know, you finish work at 6.30 and it’s not too late to go to the theatre or go to a gallery before it shuts.

“I love art, I love music and all different types of theatre!”

William Bracewell is a long way from his Swansea home, where we suspect he may be a bit of a local celebrity but is too modest to admit it, saying only he “supposes” his Mum’s friends know about his success…

And so we come to the point where we fill in the First Year Report Card. On a range of 1 – 5, he hits a 5* on Attendance, Proficiency, Work-Rate, Artistry and sheer Likability.

As for future prospects, why, Glowing, of course!

by Teresa Guerreiro

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William Bracewell is dancing in the Royal Ballet’s Obsidian Tear Triple Bill in rep until 11th May 2018.

He’ll dance the Principal Role of Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake on 19th, 31st May and 15th, 21st June.  Swan Lake is in rep 17th May – 21st June 2018

"That's so Scottish Ballet..."

Christopher Hampson, Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer  of Scottish Ballet, shares his ambitious plans for Scotland’s premier ballet company.                               

A mere glance at Scottish Ballet’s website reveals the huge amount of civic pride invested in the company.

“Scottish Ballet is Scotland’s National Dance Company,” it reads at a time when nationhood is very much at the forefront of the country’s preoccupations.

The names on the Board read like a Who’s Who of Scotland’s industry and public life.  Glasgow-based Scottish Ballet clearly has a key place in Scotland’s identity.

Leading such a company is a challenge; but one which 42-year-old choreographer and former dancer Christopher Hampson is “excited” to have taken on.

Over martinis (“vodka, with a twist”) during one of his lightning visits to London, he talks about his vision for the company he took over three years ago.

“I want to make sure we’re present in people’s cultural make-up. (…) That sometimes means that you do re-look at things. At Scottish Ballet we have to ask how do we do a production today and for the people of today.”

That, he says, involves doing the classics “with a twist” – and that’s one of the reasons why he’s commissioned a new Swan Lake from choreographer David Dawson.

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David Dawson’s Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet Dancer Sophie Martin photo David Eustace

 

“My commissioning of David Dawson to do the work is really key, because although he is a very contemporary choreographer, his passion is ballet and he absolutely adores it to the point of obsession.  And in a way that obsession becomes abstraction and so you end up with so much more – it’s like a very concentrated classicism that you get with him, that he pushes, pulls, extends… that excites me.”

With the interests of his 36-dancers foremost on his mind, he goes on:

“What I’ve always seen with David is, when he works with a company, the dancers change after they’ve worked with him, their technique evolves and they get a richer vocabulary.”

Scottish Ballet’s Swan Lake “for the people of today” premiéres in the coming Spring; before that, though, Hampson is absolutely focussed on the company’s Christmas show: the UK premiére of his very own Cinderella, created for New Zealand Ballet in 2007.  That brings new challenges for his dancers.

“I expect my dancers to be able to be great character actors, to be great dancers classical and contemporary.

“I always leave room in any production for an artist to extend the character.  I mean, the Sisters [in this production] are principal dancers, Sophie Martin and Eve Mutso – they’re normally up there doing lead roles, so flip that around and they’re bringing their artistry to these Sisters.”

It is a work that can be seen on many levels – “it’s essentially about a girl grieving” – but within that he’s woven magic and fun, mapping a journey from darkness to light; and so, he says, it’s the ideal Christmas show for the whole family.

“It should be for children, it should be for adults, it should be for grandparents and aunties, and godparents, gay uncles… 

Scottish Ballet Cinderella dancers Bethany Kingsley-Garner, Christopher Harrison photo Andy Ross
Scottish Ballet Cinderella dancers Bethany Kingsley-Garner, Christopher Harrison photo Andy Ross

“If you’re taking your family out, you’re spending upwards of £150 on going to the theatre, you’re owed something, you’re owed an entertaining evening, you’re owed excellent values, professionalism, a great technique and fun, enjoyment.

A WIDE REPERTOIRE

The classics, though, are only a small part of Scottish Ballet’s extensive repertoire. 

“I think we’re one of the most prolific companies creating new work in Britain today. I think we punch way above our weight in terms of contemporary ballet and dance.  I think we lead in terms of versatility of dancers.

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Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling Dancer Remi Andreoni photo Graham Wylie

“In the last couple of years we’ve done Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling – we’re the only company in the whole world that he gave one of his ballets to! -, we’ve done Helen Pickett, we’ve done new stuff, we’ve done [company founder] Peter Darrell’s The Nutcracker, which is classical, but with new designs by Les Brotherston.

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Scottish Ballet in Peter Darrell’s The Nutcracker photo Andy Ross

“We’ve done Twyla Tharp, David Dawson… on and on it goes, and that’s not just one or two people, that’s my entire company have to do that.  You have to be really good to do it.

“My first year we did Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos.  I like to think that we’re attracting the world – they’re coming to Scotland, it’s fantastic.”

A couple of international big name choreographers will be added to Scottish Ballet’s repertoire next season … but so far we’re sworn to secrecy.  Watch this space!

And Scotland is coming to the world, with international touring, most recently to China, Hong Kong and the USA, an increasingly important part of the company’s remit.

As a prolific and internationally acclaimed choreographer, though, surely the temptation to cram his company’s repertoire full of his own works must be irresistible?

“Oh, not for me, not at all!  When I got the job in 2012 it was such a relief  to take a step back, to know where my voice could work in a repertoire and to have the confidence to know where it can’t and others’ can. 

“One part of the job that I never knew existed, this joy, is commissioning other people, because I know how that feels: I can see the joy, the trepidation, the excitement in their faces – it’s great I’ve been able to facilitate that.

MENTORING NEW CHOREOGRAPHERS

He loves, too, to mentor budding choreographers from within the ranks of his own dancers.  One such is coryphee Sophie Laplane.  Hampson speaks of her with evident pride:

“Sophie was somebody who I could see kept ploughing this field but getting deeper and deeper, and that excited me.

“She obviously had an idea, she was going around it, but every time she went around it she produced something quite unique and new.”

So he gave her a few chances in galas, a performance in the foyer of the Edinburgh Festival, and finally her breakthrough: her own short piece – Maze – on the big stage.

Sophie’s career as a choreographer is now well on track.

REACHING OUT BEYOND THE BALLET STAGE

Hampson is on record as saying he wants to make his company relevant beyond the realm of ballet.  To that end, he’s brought the Education Department directly into the Artistic Director’s, ie his own, domain.

And he’s got a number of outreach projects under way.  One such, about which he talks with open emotion, is called The Close.

“This is working with young people that have been taken out of mainstream education (…).

“First, we just meet them (…)

“Then we bring them into the centre of a city and just take them to a theatre, not going in, (…) just getting them comfortable there.

Finally, they go into the theatre and watch a performance – most recently Krzysztof Pastor’s gritty, modern-day Romeo and Juliet.

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Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet Dancers Erik Cavallari and Sophie Martin photo Andy Ross

“Afterwards, me and a couple of the dancers, including Sophie Martin who played Juliet, went to the Q & A session, and this guy said, ‘I got a question for you’ and pointed at me, he said ‘why do you do any of this?’

“I said to myself, that’s the smartest question I’ve been asked in a very long time.”

Hampson talked about how vital it was, “how healing, and how important, how we can affect people, how we can look at things we can’t look at in life, how it’s a mirror on our lives, it can make us laugh, it can make us cry…”

And he likes to think that in 20 years’ time that young man will still remember the first time he went to a theatre.

Other projects include Scottish Ballet’s Creatives, giving people from within the company at all levels the opportunity to develop skills outside of dance, what he describes, with an impeccable French accent, as “la troisiéme scène,” what can be seen beyond the stage.

There’s also the Digital Season, which is about “engaging with people at the top of their field in many different sectors, photography, film, plastic arts, poetry – anything!” and bringing them in to use the company as their inspiration.

In 2019 it’ll be 50 years since the visionary Peter Darrell founded Scottish Ballet; celebrations there will certainly be, but for now they’re a closely guarded secret.

Christopher Hampson will not be drawn, but he’ll say this about Scottish Ballet at 50:

“I want us to be a diverse, strong, unique company, I want us to be recognisable.

My ambition for my time at Scottish Ballet will be, if people hear about a repertoire or hear about an initiative, they’ll say:

‘That’s so Scottish Ballet, that…’”

And with that he drained his glass and breezed off.

 

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