Former Principal Character Artist, The Royal Ballet
interviewed by David Bain
Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, London, 17 June 2016.
DAVID BAIN INTRODUCED GENESIA ROSATO, pointing out that it was eleven years since she had last spoken to the Association.
Genesia's grandmother was a powerful force in her life and thought that Genesia was shy. So it was that she took her to a hall where there was a dance teacher and one other girl, then she took her to another hall where there were hundreds of girls. She went every Saturday for two years and hated it. Then she started to get the hang of it. By ten she was doing everything, tap, song and dance; she hated tap! Joan Watts from Worthing came to teach her in the school twice a week which is when she fell in love with ballet. Joan Watts suggested she went to the Royal Ballet School at age 15. Genesia still lived at home, educated at St Maur’s convent in Weybridge. She was at Baron's Court for three years because she kept getting injured. Julia Farron taught the first year; it was great. The second year was not so good, but Julia taught the third year which was again good. But when it came to assessments Genesia again became shy and shrank into the background so there was never anything written about her. Both Peter Wright and Kenneth MacMillan had been watching her. She asked if the school could get her a place in La Scala; she didn't fancy going to Germany.
But then Mary Skeaping set a dramatic ballet for the school and the Director Kenneth MacMillan asked why he hadn't seen Genesia before. “You did!”. So she got into the Company and very luckily was soon put into Mayerling! The Taming of the Shrew was her first show, with coaching by Marcia Haydée and Ricky Cragun. Kenneth MacMillan started on Mayerling the following February and the first two pas de deux he created were for her [Princess] Louise with Anthony Dowell [Rudolf] who soon got injured and was replaced by David Wall. She has gone on to do five female roles in Mayerling. She was adopted by Anthony Dowell, who called her the (in reference to her Italian family) the “ice cream girl”. In those days you started at the bottom and worked your way up. People were a bit funny with her and didn't speak to her much [because of the roles in Mayerling]. But Anthony, Derek Rencher, Christopher Newton and Iris Wall [assistant to the director] all helped and adopted her. They took her to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre all the time. It was great fun. Derek and Gerd Larsen helped her with stage craft. During the time he created Anastasia, Kenneth MacMillan was constantly putting up little notes on the board, at one time he thought “Your ear is only is only particular to you”, so he put up any article in which they were convinced by this phrase. He was constantly praying that Anastasia was a true story.
After Princess Louise in Mayerling, Genesia danced Marie Larisch, Mitzi Caspar, which she didn't enjoy (it was a killer), the Empress, then Gerd's role of Helene Vetsera, Mary’s mother. She learnt the role of Larisch from Merle Park, which is one of her most favourite roles ever. Larisch had such love for this man [Rudolf], she procured other women for him. In the end she was banished to America. It was great to help the younger dancers last time in Mayerling. The role of Mitzi requires a virtuoso dancer. Genesia doesn't think she is a virtuoso, “I'm not fast moving”. She especially enjoyed dancing the ballet with Johan Kobborg. He was so intense, they had to change some things as it looked too passionate. Johan had lots of traumas with the other girls, he said “Let's do the Empress pas de deux around the world”. The Empress role was cut early on; a solo was lost as the ballet was so long and even now it touches on 10.30 when it finishes. Early on, when Mayerling was created, time wasn't such a drama but now the show must finish by 10.30.
Kenneth MacMillan was different to Sir Fred [Ashton] in the studio. He was scary, encouraging and always wore dark glasses. He worked on counts and his assistant Monica Parker was like a calculator, she knew all the counts. Genesia is terrible at counting, she listens to the music and knows what to do. MacMillan would say try something, try something and then, if it worked, he was happy.
Glenn Tetley was one of the first to set a modern ballet on the Royal Ballet. He auditioned the whole Company. It was quite fair as everyone could show what they could do. But he could be mean. At the time, everyone said Genesia was too weak, so she had to do a school class before Company class to make her stronger, but she shocked them when Glenn chose her.
Gerd Larsen would find her in the wings during Swan Lake and would make her do her part in the wings during the show. Gerd said that Genesia would be in the Company as long as she was. Gerd and Genesia had lots of fights. You were not allowed to leave class early. At that time Gerd took them all; there was the occasional guest teacher later on. Genesia wore leg warmers on a cold day and Gerd would say “Take those off” and I'd say “no”. “I was so temperamental”. “Why can't you do it Rosato”, Gerd never used her first name. Once she made Gary Avis cry, but she loved boys. Gerd had been beautiful when younger. At the early morning barre “Come on boy, get up, why can't you do it. Why can't you. The girls can.” In the theatre, there was a small area for barre for the Principals. The rest had barre on a bad day in the pit lobby on a carpet and on a good day they were in the Crush Bar, still on carpet with pointe shoes. Genesia cried all the time.
Norman Morrice was her next Director. It was a time of big changes as they lost a lot of Principals. There were four new young female Principals, Ravenna Tucker, Bryony Brind, Fiona Chadwick and Karen Paisey. It wasn't the most successful time. It was a different approach, but not her favourite period in the Company, though she danced a lot.
Over the years, she thinks that only she has danced five roles in Mayerling and in Manon the corp de ballet, Courtesans, the Madame, and in Romeo and Juliet, harlots, Lady Capulet, and the Nurse. There's not many who've done all those roles. “What an extraordinary time I've had”. But each year her official biography of roles got shorter!
Peter Wright said he would forgive her for leaving before doing Bertha [Giselle] but wouldn't forget. She has danced Moyna or Zulma, Bathilde, Bertha and Queen of the Wilis.
She was never taught acting but is a natural born drama queen. Kenneth and Anthony realised she was that way inclined. Kenneth was always fascinated to see what everyone was doing around the stage. Being shy, the nicest thing is to be someone else. She was in heaven when playing someone else. Sitting here now, at the meeting, is nerve racking! Feeding off of each other is the real Royal Ballet style – the roles change as you adapt to your partner. Genesia thinks of a photo of her and Irek [Mukhamedov] in The Invitation, “it was so intense, but they lived it”.
She danced A Month in the Country with Zoltán Solymosi. “He was so tall, like a Greek God”. Bruce Sansom was beautiful but she had to tell him not to stand behind her because “they won't see you”.
Working with Alina Cojocaru the first time she did Juliet was another great memory. Alina was so real, so raw, a little face and when “she ran to me”, saying “Mummy, Mummy, I just cried my eyes out”. The same with Leanne Benjamin, “you just live it”, “You're not working alone, you have to bounce ideas of each other”.
Alessandra Ferri danced Mary Vetsera to Genesia's Larisch in Mayerling.“You need a connection with your partner, you need a chemistry”. She was trying to explain it to Leanne Benjamin at lunch recently because Leanne is coaching the ballet next season.
The younger dancers find Larisch hard. You can't fake it, it's got to be real. She explained to a younger dancer, “you're very funny, entertaining, be yourself”; in the card scene “you're going to have a wonderful life, make it real”. This is what makes the Royal Ballet. Each character has got to be a real person. She grew up with powerful people – Stephen Jefferies, David Wall. David Wall was so intense and scary before he did Rudolf.
Anthony Dowell was the next Director. He was still dancing and he was wonderful. He was very specific about what he wanted. He was a perfectionist about his own dancing and everyone else’s. He respected the dancers. He would stand in the prompt corner in an orange dressing gown thinking he was hidden. Genesia told him she'd buy him a black one. He had a great sense of humour. (Kenneth also had a sense of humour but didn't always let it out). She danced the Maid in A Month in the Country with Anthony, but sadly the first time he was injured. Later Genesia helped Tracy Brown dance it. Anthony didn't want the notator to teach Sylvie Guillem as he thought there would be friction, so Genesia did it. “Sylvie was one of the most beautiful, she has a French air.”
Genesia danced many Lilac Fairies with Anthony. He knew that she knew it exactly as he wanted it. Of Anthony's production: His Rats were much scarier than now! It was visually very clever.
When Frederick Ashton was still around she danced Natalia in A Month in the Country while on tour in Washington. “Music has always fuelled me”. Philip Gammon [pianist] was so dramatic, how could you not be passionate. “How could you not be dramatic to that music”. Genesia worked with Frederick Ashton on Lykanion [Daphnis and Chlöe], Rhapsody, La Valse, Cinderella (Summer Fairy) and Gypsy Girl [The Two Pigeons]. Summer Fairy is her all-time favourite role. Michael Somes once stood up and shouted bravo to her after the solo.
Dancers try and bend now (Ashton style) but it isn't with the body. Watch Lesley Collier, it was different. Genesia feels we are in danger of losing it.
Ross Stretton was only in charge for a short time. He wanted a specific look. He brought in too many of his own ballets and didn't do enough of the existing repertoire. But he had a very good eye for dancers. He picked Rupert Pennefather out of nowhere. She remembers one tour when Rupert and Marianela (Nunez) danced together, he was so beautiful.
Monica Mason was an extraordinary lady. Powerful, they had huge rows, tears, which fostered the greatest respect for Monica. She coached Genesia through all her injuries, one lasting 15 months. Others came in injured, left, then came back with new injuries before she had even left. When Genesia resigned, Monica was straight on the phone to know why she was leaving. She didn't understand. She wanted to know why there wasn't going to be a last show, but that isn't Genesia's way. Genesia commented, “perhaps I should have left when Monica left”.
She danced Madge [La Sylphide] thanks to Johan Kobborg. It was difficult but she had the most fantastic coach in Sorella Englund. Sorella coached, instructed and helped her with the role. They had never had Principal Character coaching before. Gerd once coached her for Madame in Manon, she did a quick run through without music, and then from the prompt corner, Gerd was saying “you're supposed to be drunk”, “what are you doing”! Sorella was a most generous human being. It is a complex role, especially at the end, but Genesia feels that she never got to grips with the end. It wasn't clear in her head and so never quite worked. She swung between liking and hating James. Madge was really bad. It was the most dramatic ending she ever did. It was heaven to work with Johan Kobborg as director. He was nurturing, encouraging and with you. And he was secretly coveting the role! It's not fair when a man does a woman's role. Sorella had managed to steal a man's role! The sooner Kobborg directs a bigger company the better. He is so talented, so giving, there are not many like him.
She has great respect for Ashley Page. She danced a lot with him. They were quite fiery. She danced Illuminations which was Ashton but really not very Ashton as all. It was a very passionate role. He had choreographed it in America.
Christopher Wheeldon is great for the Company, he does fun things. She is looking forward to seeing his musical next year [An American in Paris]. Alice In Wonderland was a great hit in Japan last time.
Big dresses are a problem. When she and Christopher Saunders started teaching stage craft at the School they tried to get costumes. Big dresses and long trains are different, it's “how you swing your derrière”. Long dresses are difficult to get up stairs. Once following Aurora up the stairs she thought “oh no”. If you tread on your dress you go like this [demonstrates going down on the floor]. Chris Saunders dragged her off stage. There's no way you can go backwards! As Lady Capulet, the last time you go off, she storms over to Lord Capulet. In Spain she didn't fall with a crash or a bang, but she found herself prostrate on the floor [again demonstrates lying on the floor]. Neither Chris nor anyone else helped her. Then back in the wings everyone was in tears. Many years ago on the 25th anniversary of La Fille mal gardée Kenneth MacMillan, then Director, was in the audience, he didn't usually go to see Ashton works. Genesia was the last friend out to walk down the stairs, she went down one step, then slid all the way down to the bottom. She didn't dare move but could feel the bannister shaking from everyone laughing. She sat there rigid. Deborah MacMillan said thank you afterwards, “Kenneth nearly fell of his chair laughing”.
Genesia is a bit of a chatterbox on stage. When Derek Rencher played King he painted eyes on his eye lids and went to sleep, He was very good at make up. And in that production he was sat on his own. Corps member Patricia Roivas, would also fall asleep, or faint, in Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. There was a big crash once as she fainted and out of the corner of her eye, Genesia could see her being dragged off stage. Once Genesia was in a big red dress on a throne and Irek dragged her into the middle of the stage, but she brought the throne and two local extras with her. Big dresses cause disasters. In Onegin she wears a beautiful chiffon dress as the Mother and sits in a wicker chair. Once when she stood up she took the chair with her, now they smooth off the chair each time it is used.
Berta in Ondine is great fun. Genesia likes anything a bit naughty. It is something to get your teeth into. Last time it was revived, everyone else went off so she ended up doing all six shows but with Edward [Watson] it was fine.
The Beautiful Tsarevna in Firebird is a beautiful role. Genesia isn't good at throwing the apples, but it's the lights really, the balls disappears in them. Monica told her that the apple has to leave her hand! It is scary so you get quite hot. She danced the Gypsy Girl in The Two Pigeons, when she first did it20 years ago, with Julian Hosking. Gypsy is a hard, tough, fun role. She never forgets a role when learnt properly. She just has to hear the music which somehow jogs her memory. She could have danced Gypsy this time, if she could still dance!
The steps are pretty much the same in different productions like Beauty. Lilac Fairy is the same steps, although maybe the counting is slightly different. It is much harder learning something like La Sylphide when you have never seen it before.
Genesia's favourite tours were always to America. It was fun, and some were as long as nine weeks, but she is a bit of a home bird. In Japan there were a lot of one night stand shows, once for a transit by train, plane and coach there was a terrible storm. “We'll never make it”. They arrived with half an hour to spare. You could either warm up or put on a costume and she had to dance Lilac Fairy. Russia was really hard. The first time they took a second box for food. Dancers took tins of potatoes. They would swap food from their boxes with each other. There seemed only to be hard boiled eggs from a lady there. One particularly awful night they served up a whole tongue. They were forbidden from opening their boxes in the hall, but that night Monica did eat sardines instead. It was not always glamorous, but it was always fun. East Berlin, Dresden while still in the Eastern Block and Russia in the depths of communism. Australia, USA and Canada were always fun. Europe was more tricky, dancers always want to eat after a performance at 2am, a problem in Palermo.
Genesia has been with the Royal Ballet for 40 years, she will be 59 in September. She has a wonderful partner and they want to be free and live their lives before it is too late. And the Company has changed. Perhaps now is the right time to leave. If she stayed she feels that she would never leave. Berthe (Giselle), Mayerling, Anastasia next season, Carabosse… there would always be something to do. But the Company has changed, all her Juliet's have left, Monica has gone. She would love to coach but has not been asked. She would love to hand things down, Russia does this brilliantly. If people don't hand it down, it will be lost. Gerd would be very cross!
Genesia would love to have gone to America to dance, maybe when Alessandra Ferri went. But she has had a wonderful, fulfilled time and is not pining to go. Later she thought it would be nice, but she has no regrets.
Asked about other choreographers, Genesia said that Liam Scarlett's choreography is very dark. Kenneth's was dark but in a different way. The younger dancers love doing Liam’s ballets. Genesia is sure she would have loved to do them too. She would love to have worked with Cranko, and would love to have danced Tatiana in Onegin. Once Christopher Carr who doesn't pass compliments said of the last pas de deux “you would have been very good in this”.
David thanked Genesia for sharing her experiences. Members have enjoyed following her career and will miss her greatly. Genesia thanked the Ballet Association for being an amazingly supportive group.
Report written by Chris Scott, corrected by Genesia Rosato and David Bain ©The Ballet Association 2016