At our November meeting in 2020 it was a great pleasure to welcome our President Jonathan Cope who joined us from his home in Portugal.
Jonny started work as a repetiteur in 2005 when Monica Mason offered him the role. He said that it was a privilege working with principals, such as Lauren Cuthbertson, Ed Watson, Sergei Polunin and Federico Bonelli, seeing them find their own way with the productions, not influencing them but encouraging them to be individual as artists while following the choreography. He said that it was a pleasure - dancers are lovely people and the majority need a bit of encouragement. Another highlight was working in partnership with Lesley Collier who knew all the ballerina roles and passed on knowledge from Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan.
After speaking about his time as repetiteur, Jonny took us back to the start of his career and the wonderful teachers at the Royal Ballet School where his graduation performance was Gisellewith Leanne Benjamin, when he started working with Peter Wright for the first time. Jonny then spoke enthusiastically about the different choreographers who had been prominent in his career – Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, David Bintley, Ashley Page, Wayne Eagling and, latterly, Christopher Wheeldon. Then he spoke of partnerships with, his wife, Maria Almeida, Altynai Asylmuratova, Sylvie Guillem, Darcey Bussell and Tamara Rojo.
Yasmine then spoke about the routines at the various stages of lockdown, her lengthy tour of Italy in the Summer with her boyfriend, the gala performances and preparation for Nutcracker performances, which were sadly cancelled. Yasmine provided us with a fascinating evening, analysing in detail some of her roles.
At our first meeting in January 2021, we welcomed First Soloist Mayara Magri and Principal Matthew Ball as our guests. The meeting followed a similar pattern to that with Yasmine and we concentrated on performances since the start of the 2019-20 season, leaving only the last 15 minutes to cover earlier highlights in their careers, which had included, for Matt, performing in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, and for Mayara, Firebird, Kitri and Gamzatti.
From last season, they spoke about their respective roles in Manon, the exciting and unusual experience of performing a piece by Merce Cunningham, and roles in the Concerto, Enigma Variations, Raymonda programme. Whilst initially dismissing Sleeping Beauty as not a highlight of the year, Mayara spoke about the many roles she had performed in the ballet. She especially emphasised the pleasure of being coached by Dame Monica Mason, as Lilac Fairy, Lescaut’s Mistress and in Firebird. Other highlights during the season had included Swanilda for Mayara and The Cellist for Matt, as well as Dances at a Gathering. After speaking about life during 2020 through the various stages of lockdown, they spoke about their gala roles in Within the Golden Hour, Le Corsaire and, especially, Carousel.
This was another very enjoyable evening with members joining on 147 devices, so around 200 members attended as, in many cases, there was more than one on each device.
Our second meeting in January 2021 was with our 2020 Royal Ballet School award winners, second year Isabella Boyd and third years Julie Petanova and Alejandro Valera from the USA, Czech Republic and Spain respectively along with Upper School teacher Zhan Atymtayev. They joined us from Chicago, Prague, Madrid and London respectively.
Zhan spoke of his schooling in Khasakhstan, his dancing career in Moscow before moving to London to join English National Ballet, and the transition to teaching, first at White Lodge and then at the Royal Ballet Upper School. The students spoke about how they started dancing, their contrasting training in their home countries and how they came to join the Royal Ballet School. They then spoke about the highlights of their time in the School and the challenges of the last year, moving in and out of lockdown.
As usual, this meeting with our award winners and one of their teachers was fascinating. And, with members joining on nearly 100 devices, was the highest attendance we’ve ever had for such a meeting.