In the early hours of Thursday I read that my previous teacher and director Monica Mason was going to hang her ballet clothes on the hook (for a moment, because as a ballet-beast she cannot be without it.).
This week Monica Mason, Dame Monica since 2008, makes her official farewell to Royal Ballet – the company she joined as a dancer in 1958, and since 2002, she was appointed to the top job its director as a stopgap when Ross Strettonleft suddenly after a brief and disastrous tenure.
Born in Johannesburg in 1941 the pupil of Inglestone, the very interesting Nesta Brooking and Royal Ballet School, had joined the Royal Ballet, as the youngest member, in 1958, appointed soloist in 1961, becoming a principal in 1967.
She created the role of the Chosen Virgin in MacMillan’s Rite of Spring (1962). Other creations of importance were in Manon (1974), the good fun to dance Elite Syncopations (1974), Rituals (1975) and Isadora (1981), and Van Dantzig’s Ropes of Time (1970)
Mason had a very good eye to get works in good condition, always in full control of the choreography, knowing how important it is to get the spirit of the original choreographer. Whatever happened, whoever was to be the dancer, he or she should get to be the person whom the choreographer would have chosen himself. Everything should have to be as the wishes of the choreographer, who even not there had to be in charge, and be represented by the choreologist, who had the main responsibility to bring out the sole of the choreographer into the soul of the dancers and the piece of art.
Though Ballet is a matter of technique it could and should never be only technique. We never were allowed to become machines at work. For her it was clear we aren’t in a technical business. It’s not about whizz-bang, it’s all about artistry, maturity, style, emotion. She imprinted on her dancers that we were working in an extrovert world, having to satisfy not ourselves but the public, something what I am missing a lot today when I see certain performers.
As a person she was very intriguing and as a dancer she also brought with the classicism some eroticism in dynamic tension. I loved to see her at work. She could get the right tension, not bringing up her voice loud out, kind and full of graces, she always was concerned about us as a mother of her many children. Once on the teaching floor or in the directors seat, she stopped thinking of herself and took care that everybody could be part of the whole picture.
Mason believes that a major responsibility of her directorial role is pastoral care, and under her sympathetic but rigorous guidance, good dancers with team spirit have generally prospered. As the generation of Jonathan Cope, Darcey Bussell and Sylvie Guillem has passed on, she has replenished the stock with younger, top-notch talents including Lauren Cuthbertson, Marianela Nuñez, Steven McRae and Edward Watson. Standards have also remained high in the lower ranks, where the likes of Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Dawid Trzensimiech currently show promise of great things to come.
That she was in love with the MacMillan repertoire, some found that she brought it too much in the forefront.
She is delighted that her tenure is ending with a season that includes choral ballets such as MacMillan’s Gloria and Nijinska’s Les Noces, and that the revisiting of these masterpieces is balanced by the hugely ambitious Metamorphosis project with which she bows out.
Tomorrow she shall go on the stage for the last time. I shall not be there, but I shall miss and regret it very much. But in my heart I shall be with her and all the many dancers she fostered, wishing her lots of blessings and good luck.
For those who have the opportunity I would advice to go to visit the Monica Mason exhibition at the Royal Opera House. Now in her 70s, she told the BBC that the biggest change when you stopped dancing was, “you stop thinking about yourself”.BBC clip of Monica Mason introducing the exhibition herself.)
Mason will spend her first summer of official retirement mastering the computer, but she will return to the company next season as a part-time coach.
- Monica Mason Exhibition (iamdollywilliams.wordpress.com)
The Royal Opera House is a stunning building itself and within it hosts some of the most breathtaking performances and dancers in the country. The Director, Dame Monica Mason, is retiring at the end of the season and they are celebrating are life as a Dancer and a Director.
- A foxy farewell to Monica Mason (guardian.co.uk)
Lean, linear and unashamedly sexy, with a gaze like a ‘young Joan Crawford’ … Watch the Royal Ballet’s outgoing director, who joined as a dancer in 1958, in action
- Monica Mason: ‘It’s not about whizz-bang. It’s about artistry, maturity, style, emotion’(telegraph.co.uk)
Back in the Seventies, when she was a full-time dancer with the Royal Ballet, Monica Mason had the intimidating honour of driving the company’s redoubtable founder Dame Ninette de Valois back from Covent Garden to her home in Barnes, in south-west London.
“There was no small talk,” Mason recalls. “Everything was about the theatre, the school, the company. I wish I’d kept a record of everything she said, because there were so many gems. But I do remember that once we were halfway down the Mall when I dared tell her how much I admired the way she had managed such a huge job on her own. ‘But I didn’t do it on my own,’ she insisted. ‘I had wonderful people to help me.’ And today I still think that remains the key to running a ballet company: you need a team you can trust, people you can bounce ideas off. You are as dependent on expert advice as you are on your own judgment.”
- Metamorphosis: Titian 2012/Royal Ballet, Covent Garden – review (standard.co.uk)
The very best of when ballet blends with art in this “Diaghilevean multi-genre collaboration” between the Royal Ballet and the National Gallery – one of the highlights of the London 2012 Festival.
From the first piece, Machina, onwards this was the Royal Ballet at its best. Although crowd-pleasers Carlos Acosta, Edward Watson, Leanne Benjamin and Tamara Rojo were all very nearly upstaged by sculptor Conrad Shawcross’s imposing giant robotm Acosta was a study in masculinity, while Watson’s precise, sinewy movements beautifully evoked mechanical grace.
- Les Noces is the masterpiece in this Royal Ballet triple bill (theweek.co.uk)
The Royal Ballet revival provides “a superlative performance in which its every virtue – dance as architecture built from the folk tradition’s simplicities” is respected. This Royal Ballet ensemble is superb, “united in dynamics and devotedly expressive in shaping Nijinska’s masterpiece”. Unerring vocalists, percussion and pianists honoured the “ferociously difficult” Stravinsky score.
- Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, review(telegraph.co.uk)
Monica Mason’s refusal to leave Covent Garden with a whimper has yielded one of the most visually arresting dance programmes of recent years. For, rather than mark her retirement – after 10 fruitful years as director of the Royal Ballet, and 54 years with the company in all — with a gala, she looked instead to the National Gallery, which is showing three Ovid-inspired mythological masterpieces by Titian, along with responses to them by a trio of leading contemporary artists.
So, with Diaghilev-worthy ambition, Mason commissioned three works, inspired by those Titians (above all, Diana and Actaeon and The Death of Actaeon). Designs would be by those three current artists, steps by no fewer than seven leading choreographers, three of whom contributing to the bill’s closing piece.
- Birthday Offering/A Month in the Country/Les Noces, Royal Ballet triple bill – Seven magazine review (telegraph.co.uk)
Outgoing Royal Ballet director Monica Mason used her final mixed bill to celebrate her predecessor Frederick Ashton’s genius: classicist (1956’s Birthday Offering); storyteller (1976’s A Month in the Country) and a director of taste (the Royal Ballet’s 1966 resurrection of Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces).
Emma McGuire, a revelation as the jilted Effie in La Sylphide, showed off her Bournonville-burnished feet and waspish charm as Vera, the heroine’s vengeful ward.
- Metamorphosis Titian 2012 – review (guardian.co.uk)
The second half of Monica Mason’s tenure as director of the Royal Ballet has been invigorated by a rare concentration of balletmaking, with no less than seven choreographers creating work in-house. Now as she leaves the post, her gift to these choreographers – Monica’s boys – has been the chance to participate in one of the most extravagantly interesting collaborative projects ever seen at Covent Garden.A triptych of new ballets, inspired by the story of Diana and Actaeon (as written by Ovid and painted by Titian) comes with music by three major composers, and designs by three major artists.
The choreography is transposed by McGregor from actual human movement, and it’s this mesmerising and oddly mythical encounter between machine and man that’s the most interesting image of the work.
Metamorphosis is a rich, sometimes indigestible mix of an evening. But as a creative adventure it feels like the real deal. No wonder that Mason, at her curtain call, came skipping on stage in artless delight: some kind of history had been made, some benchmark set for the future.
- Chris Ofili paints backdrop for ballet chief’s final bow (guardian.co.uk)
When Chris Ofili sees the curtain rise at the Royal Opera House, he still feels a tug of fear and excitement. “Did I really paint something that big?” he thinks to himself.
- Metamorphosis Titian at the Royal Opera House (intermezzo.typepad.com) (A must see site. A pity the Feedburner does not seem to work for me, and my mailbox is already too full with messages, to subscribe to this beautiful blog)
Stimulated by a timely request from the National Gallery, all three are inspired by three Titian paintings recently ‘saved for the nation’. Their subject is the myth of Diana and the hunter Actaeon. He caught the goddess bathing naked; she punished him by turning him into a stag, to be eaten by his hounds. Not conventional ballet material perhaps, but neither is the approach.
It wasn’t hard even for a dance nitwit like myself to tell which bits had sprung from McGregor’s imagination and which from Brandstrup’s very different style. Carlos Acosta, Ed Watson, Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin were as accomplished as you’d expect. But the machine, which gradually emerged from the darkened background flailing a spotlight on its long arm, tended to dominate. Nico Muhly’s score, two sections of medieval pastiche bookending a pulsing minimalist core, was tidy but uninspired, suggesting like most of his recent work a couple of decent ideas spun out way beyond their natural lifespan.
- Les Noces is the masterpiece in this Royal Ballet triple bill (theweek.co.uk)
A Month in the Country is “a masterly haiku”, says Sarah Crompton in The Daily Telegraph. It “compresses all the emotion of a long, wordy play, into 40 minutes of glorious dance”. Dancer Emma Maguire “dazzles” as the young ward, “understanding both the light sharpness of the steps and the emotions they conveyed”.The evening’s light relief comes with Ashton’s Birthday Offering, says Judith Mackrell in The Guardian. It’s a piece of dazzlingly tricky classical invention. Created in 1956, its “inspiring choreography”, even today, pushes dancers to the edge of their musical and technical limits.
Dance theatre just doesn’t come any better than Les Noces, says Graham Watts for London Dance. It is certainly “a wonderful flourish” to Dame Monica Mason’s closing signature as director.