Supporter's Tale: Following the birth of a ballet
Helen Webb, who this Season supported our New Works Ballet Syndicate, on demanding set designs, intricate costumes and creating new characters.
25 July 2013 at 4.22pm | Comment on this article
At the age of four I watched Robert Helpmann and Frederick Ashton cavorting as the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella and began a love affair with dance. While my career took me far away from that first experience of The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, I followed the Company over the subsequent years and was fortunate to witness the premieres of many of the great modern ballets. This year marked the first time, however, that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the birth of a new ballet.
Last autumn, in the run up to the British premiere of Viscera, I was invited to a rehearsal by choreographer Liam Scarlett. This was followed by an illuminating chat between Liam and Kevin O’Hare about the influences on his work to date and his inspiration. A new Scarlett ballet had been announced for spring 2013 but aside from the identity of the choreographer, nothing more was known about it. Liam’s enthusiastic and thoughtful approach however, convinced me that it would be a fascinating experience to support this new ballet, which in time was revealed to be Hansel and Gretel.
A finance syndicate was being formed around new ballets by the Royal’s stellar triumvirate of choreographers: Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett. We each chose to be associated with one of the three, but as members of the syndicate we were witness to the development of all the ballets.
We attended stage rehearsals of each ballet, and gained an insight into just how complex the creation of a new production is, and how much thought and hard work goes into every aspect. These included the demands of the Aeternum set-design, the intricacies of the fabulous wings for Raven Girl and the incredible involvement of Hansel and Gretel‘s composer Dan Jones in the development of the piece. We talked to the set designers, looked at models and invaded the Costume Department, peering into dyeing tubs while the designers told us about the particular requirements of each ballet.
Jon Bausor, who designed Hansel and Gretel, had rummaged in vintage shops for 1950s clothes to get just the right look, and the sequins for Vicky Mortimer’s raven masks in Raven Girl were being painstakingly removed from their original material and transferred individually to the headgear.
As one of the supporters of Liam’s ballet I had the privilege of attending a studio rehearsal at which Liam was creating the roles of the Sandman on Steven McRae and the Witch on Brian Maloney. The intensity and concentration of dancers and choreographer was compelling, broken occasionally by raucous laughter as a particularly impossible movement resulted in a tangled heap of bodies. Dan Jones was there seeing how Liam was using his music, and the two of them conferred often as to the perfect fit of music, steps and story.
Watch Liam working with the dancers in rehearsal:
After such involvement in the gestation of the ballets it was immensely rewarding to see each creation take final shape on stage. In each case all the elements which we saw being considered, made and rehearsed came together to bring the choreographers’ respective visions to life. The whole process was a thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening experience.
Hansel and Gretel returns to the Linbury Studio Theatre in January 2014. Wayne McGregor is creating a new work for February 2014, and Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale will have its premiere in April 2014.