On 29 January 2020, we were privileged to welcome our President and former Royal Ballet Director, Dame Monica Mason. Amazingly, it was eight years since Monica last came to speak to us and she provided a fascinating account of the multitude of activities that she has been involved with since retiring as Director.
These included the Dance Professionals Fund, Acting for Others, and DANSOX, as well as her involvement with the Royal Academy of Dance. Monica reminisced about working with Dame Ninette de Valois on Checkmate, one of her first big opportunities aged 19 and about Robert Helpmann. More recently she has been involved in judging a number of competitions, including the Genée, and worked at the Royal Ballet School mounting Les Sylphides.
Monica also spoke warmly about the crucial role our Founder Patron David Drew had played in the Company throughout most of her career. As always, Monica gave us a very entertaining evening and we look forward to hearing more the next time she is our guest.
On 5 February 2020, we were delighted to welcome Ballet Mistress Helen Crawford as our guest. Helen retired from dancing at the end of last season, her last performance at the Opera House being the Tsarevna in Firebird.Helen gave us a fascinating evening, speaking about her transition from dancer to Assistant Ballet Mistress, the birth of her son, back briefly to dancing before becoming Ballet Mistress at the start of this season.
She gave us an interesting insight into how productions are shared between the ballet staff and how she prepares for rehearsals, speaking particularly about the changes to the staging of Manonand her current work with Dances at a Gathering.Helen then spoke about her training and career, displaying some of the Lilac Fairy’s mime, remembering with gratitude her teacher in Ipswich who had encouraged her to apply for Summer Schools and then White Lodge, and her performances as Lise with Ivan Putrov.
Sadly, maybe because of the weather, attendance was lower than usual and members missed one of our most fascinating evenings. We would encourage you to look at the report on the meeting when it is posted.
On 19 February 2020, it was a pleasure to welcome First Soloist Melissa Hamilton. A regular guest at meetings, Melissa last spoke to us nearly six years ago before she took her 18-month sabbatical as a Principal with Semperoper Ballet, Dresden, where she made her debuts as Nikiya, Aurora and Odette / Odile. As well as speaking about her experiences in Dresden, Melissa talked about the variety of guest appearances she has made, particularly her partnership with Roberto Bolle.
During the recent mid-season break, she had danced in Tokyo with other Royal Ballet dancers in performances arranged by Hikaru Kobayashi. These had included the opportunity to dance Bejart’s La Luna, a wonderful experience that she had never expected to occur. She had travelled to Lausanne to learn the work from Bejart’s Company.
Melissa spoke about highlights in her career, including dancing the MacMillan repertoire and working with Wayne McGregor. Soon after she returned from Dresden, this had included working with Viviana Durante on Judas Tree, a very emotional experience. A few days after our meeting, Melissa was returning to Northern Ireland with staff from the Royal Ballet School to work with Irish students. As always, Melissa gave us a very entertaining account of some aspects of her career.