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Monica Mason
an ‘adventurous traditionalist’
The Royal Ballet’s new artistic director gave her first interview to BBC Radio 4’s Front Row

BBC Radio 4, 19 December 2002




Monica Mason Press Release

Cruel Garden - Ross Stretton’s troubled year at the Royal Ballet

recent RB reviews




Mark Lawson: We move to the Royal Ballet in London where you are supposed to get dance rather than song. But there was a management song and dance earlier this year, when artistic director Ross Stretton, imported from Australia to modernise the institution, left suddenly amid suggestions that his handling of the dancers had been unpopular. Stretton’s replacement was announced today. She is Monica Mason and, after the controversial reign of an outsider, it is perhaps significant that she is a well-established insider who joined the Royal Ballet as a dancer in 1958 and has been acting director since this September. Also, following criticisms that Ross Stretton showed insufficient respect for the legacy of the English choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, it may be relevant that she was a protégé of MacMillan. John Wilson spoke to Monica Mason shortly after her appointment today and asked first for her reflections on Ross Stretton’s controversial departure.

Monica Mason: Ross came from outside of the Royal Ballet, which was a new experience for a lot of the dancers. Anthony Dowell had been in his position for over thirteen years, so most of the dancers in the company had only ever known one director. So they were bound to be nervous when it was announced it was to be somebody new, and




“I think that there were many positive things that Ross brought to his one-year tenureship”
Monica Mason


     
someone they knew very little about. So I think it was very much a learning process for everybody. I think that there were many positive things that Ross brought to his one-year tenureship.

John Wilson: And yet that is not going to be the story of that one-year tenure, is it? People will talk about the personal problems and the personnel problems, but also there were artistic and programming problems. When you took over, you immediately changed his plans. You immediately reinstated three Kenneth MacMillan ballets and also brought in a Rudolph Nureyev tribute as well. Does that suggest the direction in which you will be going? Or was it a reaction against the Ross Stretton resignation?

Monica Mason: No, not so much. It was really that I had certain feelings about this year as the tenth anniversary since Kenneth MacMillan had died, and also very much aware that it was also an anniversary for Rudolph Nureyev whom I had known very well and also danced with. I just think that Ross’s priorities were different from mine. Ross was the boss and I entirely respected his views at that time. I thought; “well, if that’s what he has decided we should do, I would throw myself one hundred per cent into that programme.

John Wilson: Even if you didn’t agree with it?

Monica Mason: Even if I felt the balance could perhaps have been slightly altered in some ways.

John Wilson: Ross Stretton was brought in amid raging arguments about how you modernise the ballet, how you innovate, and how, particularly, you bring in new audiences. The feeling was that he was somebody who




“I think the ticket prices are a huge issue here at the Opera House”
Monica Mason


     
could bring in those new audiences with forward-looking new modern ballets. Is that necessarily the way forward? Or will younger audiences, those who have not grown up with ballet, only respond to cheaper tickets, for instance?

Monica Mason: I think the ticket prices are a huge issue here at the Opera House. Tony Hall would absolutely love, almost more than anything, to be able to lower the seat prices. It is not that easily done. It really isn’t. It does depend to some extent on the repertoire and I think Ross’s feelings about bringing in some of the European choreographers was excellent. That was a huge feather in Ross’s cap; that he got those people in. Where people




“Where people perhaps became a little nervous was really the emphasis on quite so much European choreography at the risk of losing the identity of the Royal Ballet”
Monica Mason


     
perhaps became a little nervous was really the emphasis on quite so much European choreography at the risk of losing the identity of the Royal Ballet.

John Wilson: Are you still thinking then about the direction in which you will take the ballet? Or do you have a hard and fast plan for the next three or four years?

Monica Mason: As somebody said about Ninette de Valois, indeed she said it of herself, that she was an ‘adventurous traditionalist’ and I think that’s pretty good. I think that is really where we are.

Mark Lawson: But is it a good place to be? Judith Mackrell is dance critic of the Guardian. I asked her whether she thought that Monica Mason was likely to look too much to the past for artistic inspiration in leading the Royal Ballet forward.

Judith Mackrell: I wouldn’t say she was backward looking, but I would say her long history with the company, her position in the company as someone who was bringing dancers back to health, who was coaching dancers in the studio, that doesn’t necessarily give her that broad a perspective on the international dance scene, on the modern




“I see it as more of a stewardship period, rather than the ‘creative surge’ period that people had hoped for from Ross Stretton”
Judith Mackrell


     
dance scene. She has been a ‘stay at home coach’ rather than an impresario figure, who has been scouting the world for new talent. I think it would be unrealistic to expect a whole raft of surprising and wonderful new ballets to enter the repertory. I don’t expect there to be a vision of the 21st century Royal Ballet emerging from this. I see it as more of a stewardship period, rather than the ‘creative surge’ period that people had hoped for from Ross Stretton.


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