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

 

 

 

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