“It’s bizarre because it was never really a goal for me.”
This time 40 years ago, director of The Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare, was a student at the company’s school. “At that point all the big names were still alive,” he says. “The woman who founded the company, Ninette de Valois, and Kenneth MacMillan (leading choreographer of his generation), who created the Royal Ballet and made it what it is today.”
“Director” is a title the retired ballet dancer never envisioned for himself. Of course, since being appointed in 2012, he has grown to love the role, driving the artistic direction of the company and recreating what he says are “classics for the future”.
The upcoming performances at Queensland Performing Arts Centre mark the first time The Royal Ballet will perform its two original works,The Winter’s Tale and Woolf Works, outside of London’s Covent Garden. The performances are exclusive to Brisbane as a part of QPAC's 2017 International Series. “These two ballets represent The Royal Ballet of today, instead of just doing the traditional works that we know and love and are heritage to us,” says O’Hare.
Woolf Works takes the life of Virginia Woolf and mixes it with her three novels, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, and The Waves. Instead of telling the story from the beginning, it takes different aspects of both her life and her novels and shares snapshots of the memories using dance. “People might think this ballet is more contemporary but it’s very poignant and the design creates a fanatic, theatrical experience,” says O’Hare. “The second act has time travel, gender shifting, and a sci-fi look to it.”
The Winter’s Tale is a Shakespeare adaption telling the story of love and loss; the destruction of a marriage and the abandonment of a child that ends in forgiveness and reconciliation. “It’s a difficult play to perform when speaking it. In a way it’s made much more accessible as a dance piece than a Shakespeare play,” O’Hare says. “The choreography showcases the ability of the dancers, using classic ballet to tell the story in a clever way.”
Both performances pay tribute to the past while creating new stories and choreographies that have proven successful in London. O’Hare says that’s why The Winter’s Tale and Woolf Works are important to bring to an Australian audience, as opposed to another version of Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. “They are original works created by the company in 2013 and 2014.”
O’Hare says the ballet has an ability to draw its audience into a different place, while showcasing the incredible physicality, technique and performance of the dancers. “What’s interesting is a lot of people who go to the ballet for the first time say they get immersed totally and lost in the ballet world,” he says, “because unlike music or a play, it’s so different from anything in normal life.”
Dance is having a moment in England, and O’Hare expects the same of Brisbane. “There’s a real and growing audience in the last 10 years. It’s exciting to see the growth and hunger in a city, to experience different ways of watching one art form,” he says. “We are lucky to have some of the greatest dancers in the world. And we’re here to perform in Brisbane.”
It’s been 15 years since The Royal Ballet has performed in Australia, bringing along Australian principal dancers Steven McRae and Alexander Campbell and the rest of the dance team. “When we go on tour we don’t leave anybody at home. Everybody is here who performs at Covent Garden,” says O’Hare.
The Royal Ballet will perform Woolf Works and The Winter’s Tale at QPAC between June 29 and July 9 as part of the 2017 International series. Locals and travellers also have the opportunity to engage and participate in an array of events including masterclasses with The Winter’s Tale choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.