6 July 2012 at 1.35pm | Comment on this article
Three years ago Monica Mason was mulling over what to do for her final performance as The Royal Ballet’s Artistic Director. "All I knew was that I didn’t want a gala and I didn’t want anything retrospective", she says. Then a meeting with Dr Minna Moore Ede from the National Gallery, who was proposing a creative collaboration between the two arts institutions, inspired a solution.
Minna, alongside The Royal Ballet’s Wayne McGregor, had selected three contemporary artists to create responses to three paintings by the great Renaissance painter Titian: Diana and Actaeon, Diana and Callisto and The Death of Actaeon, which were themselves based on poems from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. She wanted The Royal Ballet to create their own choreographic response that would be a central part of the exhibition celebrating the gallery’s recent purchase of Diana and Actaeon. Monica loved the idea and moved it a step further by creating a triple bill of new work for the Covent Garden main stage using the same three contemporary artists to create the designs and three composers to produce brand new scores. Finally she chose seven choreographers whose careers have flourished under her directorship. Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 was born.
"It’s going to be an extraordinary evening", enthuses Monica. "I’m thrilled there’s going to be four performances because there’s so much to take in. With all these wonderful artists working together, who knows what collaborations may come out of it in the future."
For ballet-loving Minna, who frequently watches performances at Covent Garden, the collaboration is a dream come true. "It’s an extraordinary group of artistic people at the Royal Opera House and it’s a wonderfully lively atmosphere", she says. "For this project I was absolutely inspired by Diaghilev, by his concept of total artwork. This interdisciplinary project has taken all the visual artists out of their comfort zones and that is such a good thing."
She’s been delighted by the diversity of the artistic responses and amazed by how much new work has been generated, not just for Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 but for the exhibition to be held at the National Gallery, which also includes a Choreographic Room featuring costumes, set models and video footage from Metamorphosis: Titian 2012. "It’s completely new for the National Gallery", she admits. "We do work with contemporary artists but this amount of new work is just ground-breaking for us. It’s risky but then it’s very important for organizations like the National Gallery and The Royal Ballet to take risks – it’s part of what makes us healthy arts institutions."
This is not the first time that Titian’s The Death of Actaeon and the Royal Opera House
have met. In 1972, as part of a public appeal to buy the painting for the nation, a pastiche
copy of the picture by Duncan Grant was projected onto the safety curtain where, by all
accounts, it received generous applause. Fortunately, the appeal succeeded.
One of the select few creatives working across all three ballets is Lighting Designer
Lucy Carter. She has no doubts about the biggest challenge in putting on three new works in one evening: "Time constraints," she says simply. "In a very short time I need to find a really efficient way to make sure we have maximum visual impact and that justice is done to the choreography. The resources at the Royal Opera House are incredible and the technical teams are great, so if anyone can pull this off, they can."
Lucy does have an invaluable Associate Lighting Director for this project in the shape of the Royal Opera House’s very own Simon Bennison, because she simply can’t be in three places at once for rehearsals. She’s relishing the Titian experience, though.
"Collaboration is the thing that rocks my boat," she says. "I’m looking forward to getting
to the end of the process – it’s going to be brilliant to see how all three pieces turn out."
Supervising the new scores is The Royal Ballet’s Music Director, Barry Wordsworth.
"It’s extraordinary," he says. "We have three scores of great music, all very evocative. It’s just
a shame I can’t conduct all of them, but it would have been impossible for one conductor
to spend enough time on each piece."
He too is having a wonderful experience working on the project. "I’m thoroughly
enjoying it. There’s nothing like creativity; the company’s had the courage to allow
everybody to fully express themselves and I think that’s incredibly inspiring."
Looking back brings a smile to his face. "When Monica first told me what she had in
mind I thought she was totally crazy." he laughs. "I’m still convinced she’s crazy, but
This article is taken from the production programme, available to buy on performance evenings at the Royal Opera House.