Dear Ballet Association
David has offered to pass this ‘thank you message’ on to you during this disconcerting time. Sincerely hope that all of you are well and safe ...
It is a difficult period for ballet and the theatre in general so fingers crossed things improve rapidly.
Anyway, rather than get bogged down in the doom and gloom of the current situation this is just a note of gratitude to all of you for your past support during my career and your generous donation towards a new motorcycle helmet.
You are all so vital to the Royal Ballet and the Ballet world and I’d like to take this opportunity now to apologise for not being more grateful for everything you’ve done for me and thank you for everything you continue to do for present day dancers... your love of ballet and your genuine interest in the dancers is a blessing.
On the subject of motorcycle helmets. There came a mysterious envelope through the post several months ago which contained a substantial cheque... To be honest it brought a tear to my eye. Your generosity was truly touching particularly as my leaving the company was not planned.
Truly can’t thank you enough and as you can see from the pictures you have helped purchase a thing of beauty. It’s given me a lot of joy riding around the beautiful roads here in Portugal and will always remind me of you.
Please take care of yourselves as the ballet needs you more than ever now.
A big thank you once again.
Lots of love.
President, The Ballet Association
Dear Ballet Association
It would be a vast understatement to say “Long time no see”! I’m afraid it has been far too long since we last met, but due to personal reasons, it has become increasingly difficult for me to travel to London and I am so sorry that I’ve not been able to catch up with you all at the annual dinners, however I sincerely hope that you will all manage to have some sort of “get together” soon!
I guess I can’t help but mention the “L” word – LOCKDOWN! and what it has meant for both me and BRB.
Personally I find it extraordinary that after having spent over 4 months at home in Birmingham in lockdown, how quickly the time has passed and also how, although having a list of household chores to do, I have managed to find an excuse to avoid ticking off most of them! Thank goodness we had a good deal of fine weather during the first couple of months and, as some of you may have seen online, my garden has been my sanctuary. Unfortunately, I have had to cut back a bit on my horticultural efforts as I am suffering from an old “war wound”. (shoulder injury) I have had it for many years and have tried to pinpoint the cause and I can only think it was either years of Swan Lake “wing flapping”, or being dragged along by my arm in the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet! Don’t worry Romeos, I had so many gorgeous partners that I have no idea which one of you to blame!!!
Joking aside, throughout this time I have been part of numerous Zoom meetings along with Carlos and the rest of the Senior Management Team and like all dance companies, we have gone through the different stages of “disbelief” that everything had to be halted in the studio and in the theatres, both at home and on tour, trying to “plan for the unknown” with guidelines changing daily and finally, starting to piece together a “plan for return”and seeing the dancers safely back in the studio, working hard and being creative again, which is basically what we have all been missing!
POOR CARLOS! – What a time to become Director! I have to say, although having only just got to know the dancers, he has been a constant source of positivity and has worked tirelessly to try to put together possible programmes that we can perform, hopefully sooner rather than later.
We all know the passion Carlos has exhibited throughout his long dance career, but it is evident that this same passion is now ready to be shared with and for the benefit of his new family at BRB.
But, although they seem distant memories, let’s take a look back at the brilliant achievements of the company prior to lockdown.
To open our 2019-2020 season, we had a very successful Ballet Now creation, “A Brief Nostalgia”, from the young Australian Dancer/Choreographer, Jack Lister. Our dancers loved working with him and the result was a challenging and visually dramatic piece, which was very well received. In that same programme we had the opportunity to invite Ballet Black to perform their highly acclaimed “The Suit” – I myself had not seen it before and found that with each performance, I became more and more engrossed, discovering different layers in the choreography. It was also great for both companies to share classes and this resulted in a great feeling of camaraderie. “Nine Sinatra Songs” completed this triple bill and hopefully some of you saw it and enjoyed it when we brought it to Sadlers Wells in October.
David Bintley’s and Galina Samsova’s production of “Giselle” was our full length offering. It was great to have David back in the studio, breathing life and reality into the characters. Some wonderful debuts as Giselle – Momoko Hirata, Delia Mathews, Celine Gittens and Miki Mizutani, alongside the new Albrechts of Tyrone Singleton, Brandon Lawrence and Mathias Dingman. Cesar Morales has of course danced the role many times and gave very moving performances with Momoko.
Our Nutcracker was alive and well both in Birmingham (Sir Peter Wright’s much cherished production) and at the Royal Albert Hall (David Bintley’s adaptation which he produced for this vast but extremely atmospheric arena). Both productions are ones that we are extremely proud of.
There was no way of us knowing what was “waiting in the wings” for 2020!
I’m pleased to say that we were able to perform 5 weeks of Sir Peter’s “Swan Lake”, plus 2 performances of “Swan Lake Dreams” (in Southampton with recorded music and Birmingham, accompanied by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Paul Murphy) a massive project undertaken by our Learning Engagement And Participation department. This not only gave BRB the chance to engage with 100’s of young dancers from 3 regions (Southampton, Birmingham and Plymouth) but also gave our young dancers the chance to take on the roles of Odette/Odile and Siegfried, namely Alys Shee with Alexander Yap and Yijing Zhang and Brandon Lawrence, who stepped in for an indisposed Edivaldo Souza DaSilva. It is such a shame that the young ballet students in Plymouth were not able to perform their show after so much hard work, but I can assure you that we are trying very hard to make up for this big disappointment!
So, that brings us to mid – March, a final week in Sunderland and back to Birmingham for a couple of weeks rehearsing the likes of Don Q and other planned rep prior to the final Swan Lake week in Plymouth……. As they say, the rest is history!
Carlos “arrived” at the end of January and that’s where my stint as “Acting Director” finished. I have to say, I enjoyed that period and look forward to supporting Carlos and BRB in the future, in fact I’ve already got my head down looking at Nutcracker casting!!!
Let me sign off by saying “Keep well and we will be back to perform for you as soon as we can”!
With my love and all good wishes to you all
President, The Ballet Association
As I sit here writing this on day 141 of my own personal #rohshutdown - an Instagram diary of the day to day goings on in the lockdown life of The Avis, I begin to wonder what have I been doing with myself, what on earth have I achieved and most importantly, what will I be when I come out the other side of all this??
I have a wonderful career of creating chaos and disorder with the characters I inhabit and they seem to have all coped with much worse than this in their characterful lives but in reality…….. have they? I hope I will be able to use these extraordinary times and unprecedented experiences to the full as I incorporate them into my dear family of characters I perform and with any luck those that are still waiting in the wings or have escaped me up till now.
I can’t quite believe my one and only performance out of a scheduled eight of Rothbart in this revival of Swan Lake, was to be my last outing on that beautiful stage, we all call home. An abrupt and sad finale to my 26th season with The Royal Ballet (even though not consecutive years) and my 31st year as a professional ‘person of the stage’! I feel cheated that I wasn’t able to develop my character further in performances this time round, with all the time, energy and preparation that goes into rebuilding a character like that after a break, means you try to pitch it as best as you can at the beginning of your run of shows and the great advantage and luck of being in the Royal Ballet is that you get cast with more than one set of principals which means you get a chance to learn from the previous show and decipher what’s good or bad and then you learn from your mistakes. Oh, how I wish I get the chance to relive that ‘Rothbart Rage’ on stage again.
So, lockdown……. love it or leave it?
Well, I’ve tried really hard to embrace the chance to spend time at home in Suffolk, with my partner and the dogs (miniature schnauzers) and try and use this time wisely……… unfortunately all my wisely things are now drawing to a close and I find myself wondering what am I going to do next.
I have been proactive though and fully decorated from top to bottom our home, a converted 17th Century threshing barn - never before has a barn had so much Farrow & Ball thrown at it! We’ve also gone for the loud lockdown choice of bright colours, bringing a cheery start to every day and invigorating the beautiful wood of the beams that frame each colour. I’m really quite proud of myself especially as I’ve never dare pick up a paint brush before and since I have now finished 15 rooms (one room painted three times as the colour just didn’t work!) I now feel I’ve got the hang of it!
We also have a new addition to our family as we’ve taken delivery of a beautiful puppy. Peggy is now 17 weeks old and has been with us for 3 weeks and is learning very fast the dos and don’ts of The Avis life and has brought so much joy to our lives already.
Living in the Suffolk countryside during all of this has definitely been an advantage, the chance to walk the dogs along the footpaths, the fresh air, the big open spaces, the ability to socially distance without feeling nervous or restricted has been extremely beneficial and even though at times I’ve been known to moan about my Greater Anglia daily commute, I have felt blessed to live here and it has given me the opportunity to open my eyes and realise how lucky I am. I’m also proud to say I’ve been volunteering during lockdown, collecting prescriptions and doing elderly neighbours shopping, all of which has helped me engage with the local community and meet people from the village (socially distanced of course!) people that I otherwise would never have met or spoken to, so that’s been really nice and made me feel slightly useful.
In amongst all this, I also celebrated a big day….. my 50th Birthday was very early on in lockdown, something I really wasn’t looking forward to, to be honest, but I must confess it was all rather jolly and although it was under the severe end of lockdown, the deliveries came thick and fast and my heart was full with love and well wishes from people near and far! I was also treated to a surprise video, secretly put together by my partner and a friend and it included all sorts of people from throughout my life. I have to admit, there were plenty of tears but tears of real happiness!
Now, I know you’re all waiting to hear how my Zoom ballet classes are going and fitness regime….. well, I’m a disappointment to you all, there have been no zoom classes clinging onto a kitchen surface or sit ups in my sitting room. I have been very good with keeping track of my fitness and with daily dog walks, cycle rides around the country lanes and plenty of gardening (oh and of course, the decorating) I’ve been very active and motivated so please don’t be disheartened, I know exactly what is required of an Avis Principal Character Artist body so please do not worry, as trust me, normal service will be resumed, hopefully very soon.
I crave for the opportunity to be back on that incredible stage and do the thing that makes ‘me tick’ but with the continued change from day to day with government guidelines and health experts on how we are expected to live our lives, I guess I’ll just have to make do with these bizarre and strange goings-on and make the most of the lessons I’m learning along the way.
I plan to carry on my daily #rohshutdown diary until the stage is full again with my friends and colleagues performing, all living the dream and thriving on the energy and excitement of our audiences again!
I miss the thrill of getting made up and ready for a show, the excitement of the 5 minute call, the banter in the dressing room, the laughs in the coffee queue, the noise of those velvety red tabs opening, the hushed silence as the orchestra are about to start playing those extraordinary scores but above all I miss seeing all those happy, expectant faces out front as the curtain rises and the better still those emotionally, fulfilled expressions during the curtain calls and red runners.
As her Majesty The Queen and the great Dame Vera Lynn both said, “We’ll Meet Again………” that’s a promise!!
Stay safe and look after yourselves.
Character Confusion, The Royal Ballet
Dear Ballet Association Members,
It’s really good to have the opportunity to say hello to you all in these very peculiar times. I hope that all of you are managing to adapt to the difficult conditions that have become the norm over the past few months. The worldwide ballet community has reacted in wonderfully positive ways to a situation that poses enormous challenges for directors, dancers and staff of companies big and small, and freelancers, everywhere – not to mention their audiences! Closer to home, all three elements of our Royal Ballet organization have responded magnificently, as I’m sure you’re all aware, and illustrate once again that firm foundations, inspirational leadership and extraordinary levels of artistic talent keep us at the forefront of the art form.
David asked if I would say a little to you about the Frederick Ashton Foundation which will celebrate its first ten years in 2021. Before I retired from the Company, I felt it was essential to establish a body whose aims were concerned exclusively with perpetuating the choreographic legacy of our Founder Choreographer. It would not have been possible without the support of our most wonderfully generous Founding Sponsor, The Tomlinson Family Trust, to whom the Foundation remains deeply indepted. Tony Hall, then Chief Executive of ROH, also recognized the importance of the Foundation and, crucially, allocated space to it within the Royal Ballet’s offices. The Foundation’s Board of Trustees include directors of The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet past and present and rights holders of some of his ballets - its Executive Director is Christopher Nourse.
Since its inception the Foundation has worked both independently of and together with the Royal Ballet organization undertaking different strands of work and a variety of projects. These include acquiring the choreographic rights to three of his ballets, Les Rendezvous, Les Patineursand Daphnis and Chloe, overseeing them contractually and artistically where ever they are performed in the world; Ashton seminars and discussions of his work have been given; an online Ashton archive has been established providing a resource for research and education and also a series of biennial Ashton Lectures, the first of which was given by Nick Hytner. An ongoing series of masterclasses at the Royal Ballet School has rediscovered and revisited some of Ashton’s work with original cast members passing on their knowledge to artists of today. All this work is recorded through Benesh Notation and film. It is hoped that his work will be underpinned by a new generation of stagers who are being mentored and given practical opportunities through the Foundation to learn the repertoire enabling them to pass it on to future generations of dancers. In 2019, a visit to Ashton’s birthplace in Guayaquil, Ecuador by Trustee and Ashton stager Lynn Wallis and former RB First Soloist Isabel McMeekan, now a trainee Ashton repetiteur, enabled the young ballet company there to perform a selection of his choreography, the first time his work had ever been seen there.
Looking forward, we are making plans for the remainder of 2020 and onwards to 2021, our 10th anniversary year. Much has been achieved but there remains much to be done to ensure that Ashton’s genius lives on for dancers and audiences of the future.
My very best wishes to you all,
Frederick Ashton Foundation