August 02, 2004
I have enjoyed the tour and am pleased with many elements within it. The programme worked together well, and presented a diverse view of British ballet and the dancers rose to the occasion leaving me feeling very grateful for their involvement. On top of that, they got on together as a group so well, and there was no way I could have predicted that when selecting who I wanted to work with. However, I was particularly pleased that the tour worked without any sponsorship whatsoever.
I had aimed to put together a programme that was diverse and classically based, encompassing a variety of styles within the technical language of classical ballet.
The dancers were phenomenal. After such a hard season, to pull out all the stops at the very end, speaks volumes for their professionalism. I am hugely proud of how good they looked and how worthy they were of representing the Royal Ballet. Everywhere we went we were referred to as the Royal Ballet, even though it was not an official Royal Ballet tour. But I don’t think anyone could have said ‘this isn’t good enough’ it was up to Company standard without question. And the dancers wouldn’t have looked so good on the stage if it hadn’t been for Johanna Adams, Simon Bennison and Peter Harrison working their own magic to make sure that the shows looked good and ran smoothly.
August 01, 2004
This is it – the end of tour. Last night, we had a big dinner. We found one restaurant that would takes us all, and the guests who had travelled with us. I think there were 25 of us, sitting down to pizza, pasta, beer and a good wind-down. I stayed up late with some of the dancers – but not as late as some who went swimming in the river this morning at 6.00 am. Not surprisingly on the bus to the airport, everyone slept. The tour was over, and we just let go.
July 31, 2004
A full moon
This morning, Johanna and I took time out to walk through this lovely Italian town with its fantastic wooden bridge, the Ponte degli Alpini over the (exquisitely clean) Brenta river and later had a quick lunch, before the dancers arrived. They took to the stage instantly – it’s rare that they have the chance to perform in the open air. We did a rehearsal - a very basic one - getting a sense of the stage’s size. But we did a very careful placing run-through of Symphonic and Larina Waltz, because of the greater space and the need to be sure that everything will look properly symmetrical.
Alina and Johan did Voices of Spring reasonably full out. On the first carry-across Alina drops petals all over the stage – it is all very Sir Fred and theatrical. Then half way through their rehearsal, a big gust of wind lifted all the petals, swirling them around Alina and Johan. It was a magic moment – Fred would have been delighted - and it was such a shame that a breeze didn’t enable a repeat during the actual performance. Watching the rehearsal from the auditorium the rest of the dancers were cheering the pair of them on – and then exploded into applause when the wind took over the event.
Then it was showtime, with the emphasis on the time. This was quite amusing because I’ve since seen some of the Ballet.co postings about the late start. We had always been told that the show started at 9.30. However, on our arrival we were told that the official start time was 9.20. I wanted the dancers to have the opportunity to see what the stage lighting was like before the audience came in, and the only way to do this was to let them have the stage until 9.00. So it was partially my fault that the curtain didn’t go up at 9.20. Additionally there was such a crowd of people coming to the performance that we ended up starting at 9.40. It was a full house and I know that the organisers were thrilled, because tonight was the first time this season they had filled the theatre. One of the ladies from ATER, the promoter, looked at me, smiled and said, “I only saw four empty seats.”
The performance went beautifully. Everyone was relieved after a long season to reach the last performance. I managed to watch most of the show from out front – with Puirt-a-Beul they really let rip, playing with it quite a bit and enjoying each others company. Working in a black box meant that there was no back-lighting, all lighting had to come from the sides, from the front and from high up at the back. This meant that it was difficult to produce a distinctly different atmosphere for each piece.
I was delighted to see that Symphonic looked absolutely stunning. Naturally I would have preferred it with the set, but the white costumes, with black trim for the men, actually worked beautifully in the black setting. The dancers were impeccable in it and every moment was spot-on - a stunning performance with every dancer alert to each other and to where they were on stage. It gelled beautifully tonight.
Larina Waltz had a great reception. That night there was a full moon and while the evening had been cloudy earlier, just as the music struck up for Larina Waltz, the clouds parted and the full moon beamed down on the stage. We didn’t get the breeze for the Voices petals, but we did end with a truly magical setting.
Interestingly enough, the Italian audience did not go wild for Qualia. I wondered if that was because they could not relate to it being part of what they perceive as the Royal Ballet’s heritage. In Sintra it was probably the best-received piece and there was a similar reaction in Dartford. Italian audiences see plenty of contemporary dance and I would have expected them to be quite open to Qualia – but I think they had got in their minds what they had expected to see. However, we closed with the Larina Waltz which wowed them, so everything balanced out.
July 30, 2004
Off to Bassano
We’re on our travels again, this time to Bassano del Grappa in Italy for the final part of our tour. This meant yet another early start after a very late night in Dartford. The Orchard was absolutely packed and I only managed to get a seat because one of my guests didn’t arrive. In the event, I stayed backstage for the first half, going out front for the whole of the second half, seeing Larina Waltz for the first time from the auditorium. This was made possible because a friend of Edward Watson had stepped in to help with the quick change out of Qualia for him and Lauren Cuthbertson.
The audience was very vocal, enthusiastic and appreciative, with a flower-throw at the end and repeated curtain calls. The dancers all seemed delighted and excited by the reception. Afterwards there was a front of house event hosted by Kenneth Leadbetter, the leader of Dartford Council leader, and the person who had invited us to the Orchard. There was a presentation to Ed Watson, who is something of a Dartford celebrity! It is where he was brought up and his father sat on the council for many years. There were presentations too to Ricardo Cervera, who had made his debut there in a solo role during a Dance Bites programme, as well as to Alina, due to Kenneth Leadbetter’s close artistic associations with Romania.
After the event Johanna and I did the get-out, got home very late and the taxi came to collect me at 6.45 to bring me to Heathrow.
We have a new lighting designer for Bassano. Peter Harrison is travelling with us, instead of Simon Bennison. We travelled on a wonderfully chaotic Alitalia flight to Milan, where we had a two-hour wait for a connection to Venice. The next worry was: would the costumes arrive in Venice when we did? Huge relief when I saw them on the carousel. The dancers, travelling light because this final leg was just a two-day trip, dumped their bags in the bus, which had come to collect us. Instead of coming straight to Bassano, they took a vaporetto across the lagoon to Venice for the day. On a tour like this, where they are giving their all during their holiday it’s great when they get the chance to go off and do something different. Being so close to Venice they didn’t want to miss out on a great opportunity.
There was no let-up for Johanna, Peter and me. We went straight to the theatre to drop off the costumes and lighting gear. Although we had seen a rough and ready plan, we actually hadn’t the faintest idea of what the theatre was like. In the event, I need not have worried. It turned out to be very impressive, with a stage twice the size of that in Dartford. It was basically a huge black box, with side and back walls rising to a height of 35 feet in front of open-air bleacher seating for 1100 people set in an old courtyard, which during the rest of the year is used as a car park.
The theatre was baking hot, especially in full sunlight. The floor surface – the lino dance floor we had used everywhere else – felt like it was melting because of the heat. The main issue for me is that the dancers don’t attempt to fill the stage up and exhaust themselves in the process. They’ll need to work from the centre outwards, and not feel they had to reach the wings all the time. However, it is going to be liberating for the dancers to work without space restrictions.
After that it was quick trip to the hotel. Peter could not start planning the lighting until it was after dark – from 9.00 p.m. on. Meanwhile a friend from London took us for a bite to eat and rushed us back to the theatre just as the sun was setting. There were some wonderful volunteers there who took all our dirty laundry from Dartford, which I had not had a chance to clean, and did a fantastic job, washing, ironing and bringing them back neatly folded (I only wish there could have been time after the performance! It was a real luxury)
Peter, Johanna and I stayed in the theatre working on the lighting until 2.00 a.m. Peter did a wonderful job, but we weren’t really going to be able to see how good until the performance. Not many of the crew spoke English, but we gradually broke the ice with most of them. This was a desperately tight turnaround. Because we were hard on the heels of another company, which had performed in the theatre on Thursday night, it would not have helped us to arrive any sooner than we did. There is a further implication: tomorrow the dancers will go onstage for the live performance, without having had a proper lighting rehearsal.
July 29, 2004
The morning after
Another night in Dartford tonight – and we’re off to Italy tomorrow. Here at the flat I’ve had to wash all the tights from last night’s performance. They’re hanging up drying now. It gets it done and it was much easier to bring them all home last night as otherwise I would have had to go to Dartford at 9:00am this morning to make sure that they were all dried for tonight’s show. Thankfully I've not needed to wash the woollens, the Symphony in C tunics or tutus. Sweaty as all of the costumes were, at least in this heat everything dries quickly.
July 28, 2004
All in a day's work
The first thing I did this morning was drive out to Heathrow and pick up the airline tickets from the DHL office. Then around the M25 to Dartford, and into the theatre to check that everything was fine there. Next, a hunt around Dartford to find some old-fashioned chairs for Puirt-a-beul. I went around some house clearance places and found some appropriate ones that we ended up using, and which worked pretty well. At midday we ran a sound check during which the dancers arrived. They warmed up on stage and did a run through, working much harder than I had expected, as I had thought they would just mark it through. Because the stage at The Orchard isn’t so deep, they all had to adapt things a little and get used to a different lighting state, with lights either closer or further away than in Sintra.
The marketing department at The Orchard have been excellent. Our show was an add-on to their season which meant they had very little time to sell it. They had to do a lot of work in a short time and I was really impressed with how well they just got on with everything. Audience numbers for tonight are finally looking OK and tomorrow is looking even better.
Once we got to performance time, Simon and Johanna were so professional – and it was an eye-opener for me the hours and the level at which they have to work to produce a show like this one with so little time in the theatre. They were so committed to us and the show. During the performance I was backstage to help out with a few things but went out to watch Symphonic. The dancers seemed more relaxed, more at ease and to really find themselves with the music, even more than in Sintra. From where I was it looked very good.
July 27, 2004
Setting up for Dartford
We’re into the Orchard in Dartford – and we’re getting used to the stage. There is a steam-cleaner for the costumes that can't be washed by hand and Johanna Adams has helped me out. This is a real team effort. The Orchard stage is not as deep as in Sintra and we always knew that lighting was going to be a bit of an issue; however, Simon is doing a tremendous job on that – making every piece look very professional. To do this we have had to lose some stage depth but that is the price for making the show look good and leaving us with the flexibility to change the colours at the back so professionally.
Technical setting up and rehearsal just takes time. The theatre had had another group the week before – so all the lights have been re-rigged and focused. The good news for the dancers is that the stage is slightly spring – so, even though the dance area is smaller, they were all very happy to know that the show wouldn't have such a heavy impact on them. A sprung floor can make a big difference to dancers.
The Orchard had a last minute problem finding ballet barres for The Dance House. They spent most of the day phoning around, eventually finding some at the Central School of Ballet.
July 26, 2004
The joys of management
Ed’s luggage turned up – for some reason it had been sent on a Lufthansa flight. I’m cleaning the costumes here at home, as everything has to look good for Dartford. Normally a company on tour has a wardrobe department, which looks after that. We don’t have that luxury, so I’m simply getting on with it.
Today I heard from Italy that they could not arrange electronic ticketing for us and that they were going to send the flight tickets by courier. I was afraid they would arrive at my flat while I was in Dartford meaning that I would not be there to sign for them. I had fun trying to get hold of DHL, but I finally managed to and asked them to hold the package at their Heathrow office for me to pick up.
July 25, 2004
Check in at Lisbon Airport was a bit tense. Johan and Alina hadn’t been back in London since leaving for America so they had three to four week’s luggage with them and we were in danger of being heavily overweight. However, because we checked in as a group, it all balanced out. The airline was good about it. The only trouble was that Ed Watson’s luggage disappeared in transit.
July 24, 2004
Everybody had the day off, and came in to the theatre in the early evening. Thankfully one of the theatre staff sorted out the laundry for me, which was a huge help, and meant that I didn't have to get in too early.
Martin Harvey went windsurfing and most of the others went to a beach which had dinosaur footprints visible in the rocks. I managed to do some sightseeing for three or four hours, before going in to the theatre to get things organised for the dancers. Everyone was happy to have had an easier day and all seemed a little more at ease.
While Friday's performance was super-smooth, the two side couples in Symphonic had worked without Johan and Alina for quite a while. Everyone seemed to be still ‘semi recognising’ each other on stage, as well as trying to be precise about the combined musicallity and stage placing. Tonight's performance of Symphonic was a case of ‘we have been doing this for months – we know what we’re doing’. The whole evening just gelled.
It was the biggest audience the venue had ever known; they were thrilled. The British Ambassador came, which was particular pleasingand I found myself even more proud the second night. The dancers were superb and simply did a fantastic performance. The programme is not easy – it demands a lot of them both artistically and physically. Their professionalism was remarkable; this was certainly not a pick-up group of dancers doing it for the fun of it. They are working at the highest level and the commitment from them is superb. After the show the dancers went partying, while I helped with the get-out and went out with Johanna and Simon and the theatre crew; it’s traditional to say thank you to them. Good fun – and very late for me. I hadn’t been up so late for a long time - I needed to let off steam too.
July 23, 2004
Johan and Alina arrived from South Africa mid-morning and went to the hotel to recover. Johanna, Simon, and I went to the theatre early. Because the dancers had worn some costumes at rehearsals, I needed to clean them up. That was easy and we had some very good help. Drying time was practically instantaneous because it was so warm and I was able to hang everything outside on a terrace.
In the afternoon we did a basic run-through. We stopped and started a bit, as in particular Johan and Alina needed to get used to the stage. We went through all the music checking the sound levels and made sure the lighting cues were absolutely right, and that the dancers were comfortable with the lighting states. We rehearsed curtain calls, seeing how the tabs were running, checking what space we needed to leave between numbers. Getting the chairs off after Puirt-a-Beul was easy, however replacing them with the ballet barres for The Dance House took time. We needed to add extra moments to organise the stage so that it looked as professional as possible once the curtain went up. After the run-through, the dancers put their feet up until the performance, which started at 9.30 pm.
The performance was quite extraordinary actually. I sat out front watching them, feeling tense and then incredibly proud of them. They gave their all. Afterwards we went to the Marina and had a loud and fun group dinner. It was good and relaxed and as the dancers didn’t have an early start, they could whoop it up a little bit and have a good time.
July 22, 2004
We arrived at the theatre for ten o’clock – an hour later than we planned, because Simon was so pleased with yesterday’s progress. Just as we were getting ahead of the game, there was a power blackout, which affected most of Sintra. Absolutely nothing could be done on stage and we lost two and a half hours. Instead, we did a run-through with the dancers in the studio, where there was emergency lighting. We are still without Johan and Alina who are flying in from South Africa tonight and will be here in the morning.
The run-through gave Simon and Johanna a chance to watch the dancers move, so that they could mark up their cues for the various light changes. As soon as we got the power back, Simon went back to the stage, which is excellent – deep and wide and easy for the dancers to adapt to. We did some placing with the dancers onstage. But there was no time to do a full stage rehearsal until tomorrow, when Johan and Alina will be with us.
July 21, 2004
And so to Lisbon
Terminal 1 at Heathrow was predictably chaotic, as it was holiday time. We used electronic ticketing to check in, but for some unexplained reason Edward and Martin were not assigned seats, which was pretty nerve-racking for me, but quite amusing for them. We all went to the gates and they had to bring their luggage with them. In the end they got on the flight and were bumped up to business class – so they were pretty happy.
Johanna Adams, our stage manager had now joined us; she had got back from New York the night before and during our flight she and I were able to catch up on some technical issues. Simon Bennison, our lighting designer, had flown overnight that night from New York but his flight came in just too late to make the connection to Lisbon. He missed it by just three minutes: which was deeply frustrating. We were talking by mobile phone with him just a few minutes walk from the gate, but they would not let him through and he had to wait four hours for the next flight.
Thankfully all our luggage turned up safely at the other end; which was quite a relief, in particular as we had two heavy hold-alls with the costumes – 31 in all. The only big costumes are the tutus; most of the rest are leotards and all-overs. We had a few hours at the hotel in Cascais, where people took some time to sit by the pool, stretch their legs and have a bite to eat. Then we set off for the theatre. It was surprisingly wonderful; a new facility, built two summers previously, with a big stage, all the technical facilities we could wish for and a very enthusiastic and competent stage crew. Lighting and sound were excellent.
While the stage itself was very hard, they had laid a lino – so the surface was very good for the dancers. The technical staff was ahead of the game and did not have to be walked through every detail. When Simon eventually arrived he found the going very easy. They all spoke English, understood their jobs and could rig and focus quickly.
Meanwhile I sorted out the costumes, and hung them in the right dressing rooms. Johanna sorted out the running times, and worked her way through the ‘book’. This is a compilation of all the music scores, alongside which she plots in all of the light cues and the tabs (curtains) to marry in with everything that Simon Bennison has designed. Everything is plotted, so that she can call the show from the prompter’s corner.
The dancers came in to the theatre but couldn't do anything on the stage so they stretched in the studio and checked the theatre and surrounds out. Today was mainly technical preparation.
July 20, 2004
Three days to go
It was scarcely surprising that the dancers were jet-lagged when they returned from New York. Three of them flew back on Sunday evening, with the rest following overnight. They hit the ground running, with all of them in the studio by lunchtime on Monday. This is not just impressive – it’s rather terrifying. They have made an enormous commitment – and I am astounded and thrilled.
They had already managed some rehearsals between performances in America. Wendy Ellis, there to stage Cinderella, spent several sessions fine-tuning Symphonic Variations. This week Wendy also generously gave us two days rehearsal time at the Royal Opera House, as did William Tuckett, who coached his Puirt-a-Beul. William had had very little rehearsal time with the dancers ahead of the American season. But on Monday and Tuesday he worked closely with the cast, giving them a huge amount of artistically useful information about Puirt a Beal, its rhythms and dynamics. Dancers will never learn such detail from watching a video. As a result there has been an enormous step up in the presentational quality.
Puirt’s language is really different. I would have struggled to get to grips with it without William’s input as choreographer. While the dancers had learnt the steps and knew the work’s shape, William’s contribution has transformed a performance that might have been muffled into something very distinct.
The staging of the other pieces has been primarily down to me. Where possible I have tried to have the experts in. David Bintley came from Birmingham to work with Lauren, Johannes and Ricardo on the second movement pas-de-trois from The Dance House. That was a very intense rehearsal. The ballet has a particular meaning for David, who created it in memory of Nick Millington his former friend and colleague at Sadler’s Wells. David worked not only on the specific technicalities of the work, but also on its look, feel, and line. Before his visit, we had been working from a video of a performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Afterwards we had a much clearer sense of the work’s intention.
Another visitor was Ashley Page from Scottish Ballet. He actually had to choreograph a new section for his Larina Waltz, which in the original production featured the Royal Opera House chorus, together with principal dancers from the Royal Ballet. One section features the chorus only, with chorus couples entering from the wings and singing on the stage. Then they moved to the side, clearing the stage for the dancers. This meant there was a section of the work, which was unchoreographed, but in a few hours Ashley created an entirely new section. Ashley also left the dancers with a sharper sense of the piece’s dynamics.
After today’s run-through (Tuesday) I am really thrilled with how it is looking. We gave particular emphasis to Symphonic Variations, Puirt-a-Beul, and Larina Waltz, the pieces in which the majority of dancers are involved. Larina Waltz is a real showstopper with all couples on the stage at the end of show. It’s a ‘You’re not getting anymore – but this is the way we want you to remember us’ type number. I think it delivers.
I think I’ve made some interesting casting choices. While I would not want to draw specific attention to them, I feel justified by putting certain people into roles and with how they have adapted to work for which they would not normally even get a chance to be considered – because there would be so many other alternatives
In America Deirdre Chapman acted as ballet mistress/director for rehearsals. She ensured that people turned up, that they were available, that the music was ready. She is incredible. Watch her in Tryst, in Puirt-a-Beul, and in Symphonic and you think: Wow! There’s a complete transformation across all three works. She absorbs style so easily. She looks at things, not offering a knee-jerk reaction, but then comes back with something that really makes sense, as if she has been thinking about it for a long time. It never feels flippant. I could single out all the dancers for various things – but Deirdre has been fantastic because she has actually acted as ballet mistress as well as worrying about her own work. She understands when someone needs to be there – and she steps in.
While the dancers were away, I have been working with the Royal Opera House sound department, sorting out the music, getting the right recordings in the format we needed. The Opera House’s wardrobe department has also been fantastic, getting all the costumes prepared and the fittings and alterations completed. I have two huge bags of costumes – 31 in all – to take on tour. This is an aspect I was particularly keen to get right. Working on an open stage with no set, I wanted to deliver the best possible production values. For the last piece, Larina Waltz, which lasts all of six minutes, the girls are in their Symphony in C tutus, with the men in Symphony in C tunics. I have gone as far as I can: everyone will be wearing appropriate costumes.
Johanna Adams, the Royal Ballet's stage manager, will be on tour with us. She is probably the most experienced stage manager I have ever known - always keeping well ahead of the game! She has been under enormous pressure in America: touring is always tough and pressured for stage managers and technical staff. I think this one has been no exception. She arrives back from New York tonight and we all meet up at Heathrow on Wednesday morning at eight o'clock, where our lighting designer, Simon Bennison, also from the Opera House, will join us. He and Johanna have worked closely on the technical schedule, and Simon has prepared lighting plots for each venue. We start lighting tomorrow afternoon in Sintra.
Friday is our first night in Sintra and we will be back in London by Sunday afternoon. Although I have yet to see the Sintra venue, I believe it has been upgraded considerably. In the past it was open-air and I believe it has now been covered and I understand that is well equipped and that the staff are very organised.
I know of a few die-hard fans who are travelling from Britain to see some of their favourite dancers performing in this programme and I have a few friends who are coming over for the weekend to catch us too. It would be good if we also catch some British tourists and expats out there as well.
July 11, 2004
Diary 1 - Background...
After eleven months of preparation, it is now just a brief fortnight away from the first performance of An Evening of British Ballet, on tour at Sintra in Portugal! I’m not quite sure how that leaves me feeling.
Before I left the Royal Ballet in 2000 I had begun discussing the possibility of putting together a tour of Royal Ballet dancers with this current tour’s administrator, Donald Scrimgeour, an agent and tour organiser based in Spain. However, with my administrative training plans already in place, and my airline tickets to San Francisco already booked, I knew it would be a few years before it would be possible to put something concrete together.
I always knew the sort of programme I wanted to create. The starting point was quality: quality dancers, quality repertoire. I also wanted to present what I considered to be an evening of works that were balletic but not necessarily purely classical. My love is for the language of classical technique, but that language has continually evolved, and at a breakneck speed across the last century.
I set myself some additionally difficult parameters when I realised that what I really wanted to present audiences and artists with was an evening that demonstrated the evolution of ballet by British choreographers. Having further limited myself to just 10 dancers, it was going to be fun trying to programme a full evening that provided enough diversity while not over using any individual dancer. The programme I’ve ended up with is as diverse as I could ever have hoped to plan – with enough bigger pieces, I think, to balance the evening.
Bruce Sansom in the studio
Complete Album © John Ross
Symphonic Variations is my own personal Holy Grail, so I was extremely keen to have that as the pivotal work of the evening. Once that was in place the casting possibilities became clearer and other works began to fall into place. Artistically my plans have come together well and in the end I have both the dancers and the repertoire I wanted.
Knowing all of the people who own the rights of the various works has enabled me to negotiate with them one on one. They have all been very helpful and supportive, so much so that working with them has been a fascinating – I would even say a joyful – experience. When I asked for their permission, I did - if I’m honest - call in a lot of favours. They were all incredibly generous; some of these works can command a fortune in royalties. The rights-owners recognised the uniqueness of the project I was proposing and the reality that, because it had no official support, the financial side was tight. When I first proposed a royalty fee some of them did look at me at first and say, “You are joking – aren’t you?” To which I replied, “No I’m not!” Then they said “Fine – if that’s the way everyone is playing it, then I’m happy to as well” I’ve been very impressed with their generosity, this time, and recognise that I almost certainly won’t be so fortunate in the future. But if this tour comes off well, hopefully next time I’ll be in a stronger position to secure financial support.
So back to the organisation of the tour itself. Working with Donald Scrimgeour I wanted to see if it was possible to put together a tour that would pay for itself, without the need to secure financial support. We established a budget and worked out how many performances were needed to break even. Donald has had previous experience of organising similar events and it was he who suggested that the programme might be successful in Italy. So we offered it to ATER, who were optimistic that they could arrange dates and venues. Our timeline was very tight: while Monica Mason was very happy that the ten dancers perform in the tour, she was also insistent that they have a proper holiday. The performances – together with a final rehearsal slot – had to be fitted into a two-week period. I contacted the British Council to inform them about my plans to present this programme in Europe. Recognising the level of quality I was aiming at their local European officers were informed about the project and they in turn were able to offer the venues support with flights and hotel expenses.
In March we offered ATER exclusivity to market the tour in Italy. But in early June they came back to us, saying that no venue was prepared to make a decision until after the European elections. That meant we had lost ten to twelve weeks that could have been spent marketing the tour in Spain; which would have been our alternative destination. That was really tough: it meant we only had three confirmed performances. While I could manage to pay the dancers a per-performance fee I had always intended to offer them a better financial return for their hard work by providing a minimum of 5 performances.
These last few months have been very pressured for all of the dancers. For the majority of them, the repertory for my tour is completely new which means a lot of work to get up and running. For instance only one dancer, Ricardo Cervera, had performed in William Tuckett’s Puirt-a-Beul before, and only one other had been in the Company when it was last performed, so for the rest it was a completely new language. That meant a lot of new language to absorb, while they also prepared for the American tour, the Diaghilev programme in the Linbury, and performed on the main stage. With so many groups vying for time and attention, it became very tough on the dancers. Dancers sign up to a tour like this months ahead of time and then when it comes to it, their plates are fuller than they ever imagined. Nonetheless they were all very cheerful about it, saying, “Fine – we’ll get on with it and get it on!” They learnt it all, despite the other pressures and at the moment they’re rehearsing now, without me, while they’re in America. A strange feeling for me after working with them as often as possible over the last few months!
We’re now engaged for five performances in all. We begin in Sintra, where Donald Scrimgeour has presented other groups from the Royal Ballet in the past. That’s our first port of call and we will be giving two performances there – on 23 and 24 July. Ticket sales, from what I’ve heard, are going pretty well.
Italy will present the tour in Bassano del Grappa, near Venice, on 31 July fortunately there were no complications with elections. The political scene in Italy is interesting; if whoever is currently in power feels vulnerable and fears losing their seats, they will not programme anything post election date (those who programme cultural events in municipal centres are also political appointees). If they lose office and are replaced, their replacement will almost certainly reject anything previously programmed.
Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in the studio rehearsing for the tour
Complete Album © John Ross
All this meant there was a ‘dead period’ after Portugal, which we hoped to fill up with dates. Then I was contacted by a ballet fan and friend who is one of the leading councillors in Dartford. He had noticed on the ballet.co.uk website that there was a gap in our tour and wondered if there was a possibility of presenting us at the Orchard Theatre. I jumped at the opportunity and I take my hat off to the staff of the theatre, who have moved heaven and earth to make this happen.
We will present two performances in Dartford, Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 July, and I’m rather thrilled about that. It means that all the hard work that the dancers have put in (not to mention mine!) will be viewed by some of the British press along with Monica Mason and some of their peers and colleagues. They will see a good evening of British rep, performed by fantastic dancers, without having to fly hundreds of miles first.
This is my second experience of presenting a tour. In 2000, my last year with The Royal Ballet, I took a group of dancers to the Exeter Festival with an evening of classical ballet and contemporary dance. But this present programme is one I’ve been itching to get my hands on. Already I’m looking forward to a similar programme next year and want to try and keep a momentum behind it for the future. Because I’m new to the scene venues are not completely sure what to expect but I’m confident that this programme will be well received and in the future venues will feel more confident about programming my tours. Time and this tour will tell!