LAST EDITED ON 05-08-01 AT 06:58 PM (GMT)
A footnote to the Royal Ballet’s final performance of the season. Matvei, the footman in "A Month in the Country", was danced by Christopher Newton. Like Anthony Dowell he too is retiring from the Royal Ballet.
"Fig" Newton, as he is more familiarly known, is the Company's Artistic Co-ordinator. He has been responsible for much of the detail of the management of the Royal Ballet; he drew up dancers' rotas and juggled often-conflicting demands for studio space. More importantly, he has been charged with the preservation of some very important aspects of the Royal Ballet's heritage, notably Nijinska's Les Noces and Anthony Tudor's Shadowplay. Viewers to the BBC2 Masterclasses last December will have seen him work with Anthony Dowell rehearsing members of the company in Shadowplay.
He came to dance early. His mother was a teacher in Leicester. In 1949 he won a Leverhulme scholarship to the Royal Ballet School and joined the company in 1954. Five years later he was promoted to Soloist. He was one of a group of members of the Royal Ballet who toured Bermuda in 1964. Some fascinating pages from the programme (including pictures of a very young Monica Mason, Georgina Parkinson and Merle Park) can be found on the website of the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society at http://www.bmds.bm/archive/Show.asp?I=646. This is the page on "Fig" himself.
At a recent Ballet Association evening, he described how during a period of injury he occupied himself by developing an interest in choreology. He had, he said, a "mathematical" intelligence. In the event it adapted easily to the emerging discipline of dance notation. Asked how he came to be known as "Fig", he explained that "Fig Newtons" were an American biscuit, rather like Fig Rolls. Dancers were familiar with Fig Newtons from their tours to the United States - hence the name.
In retirement he hopes to reconstruct Ashton's Sylvia. At the Ashton conference in 1994 Anthony Russell-Roberts mentioned the difficulties in the way of a revival. “Apart from many excellent memories from people”, he said, “all we have as a faithful record is a video with the dancers looking like little white leaves in a snowstorm”. Fig Newton is undaunted. He feels that enough exists of record and memory to make a convincing restoration possible.
Anthony Dowell has spoken a number of times this year about the importance of remembering and of handing on tradition from generation to generation. Fig Newton was a key source of the Royal Ballet's collective memory. He will be greatly missed.