I had the great pleasure of attending the Insight Day for the upcoming mixed bill entitled "Enduring Images". Before getting into detail, let me offer you a cast-iron guarantee that this mixed bill will not suffer from being languid!
Henry Roche, Head of Music Staff at the House, opened the day with 40 minutes on the music involved in the four pieces, including Schubert's Ninth.
We were then introduced to Kim McCarthy who rehearsed Cope and Stepanek in Nacho Duato's Remanso. Cope had performed the piece before in the past, and blew away the cobwebs with a stunning opening run-through, but Stepanek was a newcomer to the piece and it was interesting to see him in contrast to the ever-competent Cope. This section was the most fun, as Jonathan and Kim both have an active sense of humour.
After lunch, Noah Gelber acted as repetiteur for Natasha Oughtred, Ivan Putrov, Tamara Rojo and, I think, Hubert Essakow (but I may have got him wrong) in Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude". Noah was obviously keener on the serious side of rehearsing the piece than frittering away valuable time on audience interaction, but it was interesting nevertheless. I have to say that I was very impressed with Putrov - it seems that he has a quality about him - an easy, confident, simple style, that may see him eye Cope's mantle as the company's "ideal partner" in the future.
Kathryn Bennets, ballet mistress in Frankfurt, then ran Laura Morera and Sian Murphy through their paces in Forsythe's "In the middle, somewhat elevated". They had come straight from class and already looked tired - by the end of this 45-minute section they could barely stand up. Although these are not the frontline dancers, and they were obviously exhausted, I would say that Sian had a strong technique, a stage presence and a charisma in her dancing I found particularly noticeable, but Laura was good too! This is the "15th or 16th" time Bennets has set this piece on a company around the world. Bennets also took the opportunity at the end to publicly launch a small tirade about how rushed modern (she didn't pick on the RB specifically, but she was standing in the Linbury!) productions are and how this is impacting quality. She wasn't happy about it! She was also questioned over the controversial decision of Forsythe to protect his work after his death. She didn't fully agree wit this decision herself, but could understand it - for various reasons, ballet's degrade in a very short space of time if competant controls are not in place - repetiteurs such as herself. He did not want any chance of his work degrading, simple as that. She says he is very serious about this decision.
Finally (no afternoon break you know!), Kim McCarthy came back with Rojo, Brian Maloney and Stepanek, to work on Por Vos Muero, which seems, from this short glimpse, to be as beautiful and uplifting a romantic ballet as I've seen in a while. To start us off, Rojo read the original poem extracts upon which this ballet was created and, as Stepanek himself observed later, "you didn't have to understand Spanish to feel the emotion". Quite wonderful.
This piece is almost finished so there was a lot more polish and confidence in the performances - McCarthy said he had to be really nit-picking in order to have anything to say, though we could all see the improvements he was able to make even in that short time - credit for which he modestly passed off on to the dancer's quick learning skills. I noticed how the beautiful Tamara Rojo, dressed in black with a Spanish-style skirt, looked like Kitri, but of course the dancing is entirely different!
Through the whole day, a constant source of interest for me was in watching the modern and neo-classical work, compared to the usual classical work. The dancers all had various problems adapting to the different techniques needed such as pirouettes on a bent leg (!) and arabesques that must not be straight - a particular problem was noticeable in getting down low - getting one's bum near the floor is not often asked for at the RB! McCarthy observed that simply keeping one's feet in parallel, and not turned out, is not easy for classical ballet dancers and that Duato would "lose his mind" if he saw such a technical "error" in class!
Miscellaneous gossip: Rojo revealed at some point during the day that the RB is creating a new Sleeping Beauty for next year.
On a topic that has been discussed here a little recently, she also said that she advises her friends against coming to opening nights - it takes at least two performances to get much of it right.
The real unexpected star of the day for me was Kim McCarthy - an Aussie who trained and danced in Hamburg and has been in Madrid since 1996, working with the strict and demanding Nacho Duato. His ability to communicate eloquently with both us, the audience, and the dancers, plus his obvious intelligence and deep understanding of the importance of music to dance, should stand him in good stead in his new career behind the scenes. He is also very funny - one movement was described to the dancers as "like taking the shirt off his back" and another was described as like "throwing up"! Working with Duato for so long, and working here indeed with one of his pieces, you would think he would be regimental in his instructions. The truth, however, is that he has the belief and talent to change things around, enlarge a hand movement of Cope's "because he is such a large man it would look silly otherwise", change grips and generally do whatever is necessary to get a classical company to work with a piece that is foreign in every respect to them. He was hugely impressive as a repetiteur and, only 2 years after retirement, still an impressive dancer - in short bursts only, he pointed out!
I asked him at the end if has any plans to create his own work, whatever type that may be, and he said yes, although he was concerned about reaching the level of MacMillan, Duato, Forsythe, etc.
To finish off a too-long post on a personal note, it is a delight beyond words to watch dancers of the calibre of Rojo and Cope no more than 15 feet away, and watching them make mistakes and integrate improvements just adds to the awe and admiration I feel for them, and the choreographer, when I watch them get it right. It really is thrilling - whether ballet is a "high art form" or not, all I know is - little else in life makes me so happy.