Deloitte Ignite, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 7th September
The latest Deloitte Ignite festival at the Royal Opera House included mythically-themed dance, art, music, poetry and film throughout the building. In the Clore Studio, Kristen McNally rehearsed dancers from BalletBoyz The Talent in her latest work inspired by the myth of Prometheus. With audience members walking in and out and children crying throughout, it was amazing that McNally was able to concentrate on her choreography.
One group number, referred to as ‘the pendulum’ and designed to demonstrate the passing of time, involved dancers walking repeatedly across the stage with gradually increasing pace and complexity of movement. Another duet focused on the creation of mankind, including an exploration of what it means to be human. Opening and closing with McNally trademark quirkiness, dancers removed and put on pairs of glasses while staring intensely at each other. The central part of the duet featured more fluid contemporary dance, with the dancers’ close proximity giving a powerful and sexually charged feeling.
In the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Ballet Director Kevin O’Hare led a discussion with Principal Character Artist Gary Avis about villainous roles in ballet. “Who better to talk about villains than Gary?” joked O’Hare.
Avis was extremely articulate and gave some interesting insights: “Ballets often have a triangle of lead characters. It’s fun to be the evil part of that triangle, causing all the problems for the main couple!
“In the Royal Ballet version of Swan Lake, I dance Von Rothbart. It takes an hour and a half to get all the make-up and hair done, so I have plenty of time to prepare and get into character. But Rothbart isn’t onstage much so it’s important to get the character across in short bursts. You need to create a feeling of darkness that is always there in the background. I’ve also done the English National Ballet version in the round, which has less dancing but lots of running around the stage. I did get to come out of the floor in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall, which was one of the best entrances ever!
“The costumes and choreography are different in the two productions so you approach the role completely differently. But I have little mannerisms that I always like to include, such as when Von Rothbart is getting bored of all the folk dancing in Act III. He just wants to get on with bringing Odile and the Prince together. I’ve been told off for stealing focus sometimes, but I just say that I’m doing my job and maybe the principals need to raise their game!”
Avis described the importance of thinking about characters’ backgrounds and trying to understand their history to deepen the performance. However, sometimes the choreography gives the greatest clue to a particular role.
|Gary Avis in The Firebird|
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
“For Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, there is lots of research you can do, but the choreography tells you everything you need to know. You couldn’t get a richer movement palate. MacMillan has created some really deep, dirty and nasty character parts that are great to dance. I perform both Monsieur GM and the Gaoler and try to respond to individually to the dancers playing Manon. For example, in Act III, Zenaida Yanowsky fights back a lot more than Marianela Nuñez. It’s interesting trying to get the right balance and partnership.”
For Avis, the key to a character is in the way they walk: “I used to spend hours looking at people on the tube and copying them! In Act II of Manon, Monsieur GM has to walk in with confidence, with the beautiful Manon on his arms. When I rehearsed it for the the first time, Monica Mason kept stopping and telling me that it looked wrong. I panicked that it would never work – but after trying lots of different ways, I got it right.”
Deloitte Ignite was another brilliant and very welcome glimpse of life behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House.