Dame Monica Mason has been associated with the Royal Ballet for over fifty years, first as a dancer under the direct influence of Frederick Ashton and Kenneth Mac Millan, later as a ‘repetiteur’ and finally as the Director of the company. Now retired, her final project was an ambitious collaboration with the National Gallery, inspired by three Titian masterpieces based on the myth of Diana and Acteon from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. In the story, Acteon the hunter surprises Diana and her Nymphs as they are bathing in the forest. To punish him, the goddess transforms him into a stag and he is subsequently killed by his own hounds. Three new ballets received their World Premiere on July 14th 2012 and involved seven choreographers closely associated with the company, three artists and three composers. In bringing together all these talents, Dame Monica was also honouring the legacy of Diaghilev who had always insisted on the fusion of dance, music and painting and on the equal importance of each.
Watch the trailer for Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 below:
Machina, choreographed by Wayne McGregor and Kim Brandstrup with designs by Conrad Shawcross, starts with what appears to be a guiding star. It is in fact a bright light at the end of a gigantic robotic arm. The programme notes explained that it represented Diana in her femininity and vulnerability, yet capable of implacable retaliation. But to this observer it felt more like Acteon’s glaring and hungry eye following the dancers’ every move. It was eerie and unsettling and as such a supreme representation of voyeurism – either way a most intelligent and original concept. Set to atmospheric music by Nico Muhly, the choreography enhanced the individual qualities of the dancers: Carlos Acosta’s physicality, Tamara Rojo’s dramatic sense, Leanne Benjamin’s musicality, and Edward Watson’s feline exoticism. The focal point of Trespass was a large mirror designed by Mark Wallinger that reflected the dancers’ movements. This resulted in the audience feeling like intruders in some private ritual. Beatriz Stix-Brunnell, Melissa Hamilton and Sarah Lamb, Nehemiah Kish and Steven McRae responded with elegance and an instinctive sense of line to the music of Mark-Anthony Turnage; but the choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and Alastair Marriott with extreme extensions and arched backs had a feeling of déjà-vu.
The last work, Diana and Actaeon, by Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett and Jonathan Watkins was the only narrative ballet of the evening, with clearly determined characters. The Trinidadian artist Chris Ofili transposed the action in a forest of bright tropical colours while Jonathan Dove’s score conveyed feelings of heat and sensuality. Marianela Nunez was a regal and revengeful Diana, but her dazzling dancing could not hide a choreography that was much too long and lacking in emotional depth and psychological dimension. The costumes, too colourful and brash, did not enhance the work and Diana in red and gold appeared to be a Firebird who had flown to the wrong forest. A most unflattering wig looked from a distance like some old-fashioned bathing cap. But the overall evening was a success because of the almost palpable feeling of creative energy and passion stemming from this rich artistic collaboration, and the audience shouted its appreciation. Bravo to Dame Monica who leaves the Royal Opera stage on a high arabesque.
‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ ran until 20 July 2012 at the Royal Opera House.
The exhibition ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’, ran at the National Gallery from 11 July – 23 September 2012.