An interview with Dame Monica Mason, the Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet
（原文刊於2008年的第十冊第四及五期 Originally published in Chinese in dance journal/hk 10-4 & 10-5 in 2008. This is a translation of the Chinese article, not a transcript of the interview done in English)
訪問時間Interview time: 12:30 - 13:00, 21 / 06 / 2008
莫尼卡．梅森(Monica Mason)，世界知名的英國芭蕾表演家和舞團圍長，1941 年9月6日出生於南非約翰內斯堡，早年隨露絲．英格爾斯通、內斯塔．布魯金學舞，後進入英國皇家舞蹈學校深造，十六歲那年加盟皇家芭蕾舞團作群舞演員，五年和十年後，先後晉升為獨舞演員和主要演員。早在作群舞演員時期，她就被編導大師肯尼斯．麥克米倫(堅尼斯．麥美倫)的慧眼發現，不僅破格在其《春之祭》(1962)中創造並主當了「祭春少女」這個最重要的角色，而且還相繼在他的《曼儂》 (1974) 、《精美的切分音》(1974) 、《四季》(1975) 、《祭祀》(1975) 、《伊莎多拉》(1981) 等不同類型的代表作中參與了創作和表演。作為一位技術強悍、個性張揚、目光犀利、多才多藝的芭蕾表演藝術家，她還主演過《天鵝湖》、《睡美人》、《舞姬》、《灰姑娘》、《麥雅靈》、《羅密歐與朱麗葉》、《火鳥》、《謎語變奏曲》等皇家芭蕾舞團的其它大、中型的經典劇目，積累了豐厚的舞台表演經驗。1999年，她重返舞台，在威廉．塔基特為皇家芭蕾舞團度身打造的芭蕾舞劇《螺旋漿開轉》中，主演了格羅斯夫人。不過，在她主演的所有角色中，最成功的還是《睡美人》中的惡仙女卡拉包絲，其具有穿透力的眼神至今令人不寒而慄。 1984 年，她出任首席排練者，1991年出任助理團長，2002年出任團長。2008 年率團來華公演前，她榮獲英國皇室授予的「貴洲夫人」稱號。
Dame Monica Mason © Johan Persson/ROH 2011
歐：那很自然嘛！不過，我聽你的團長助理珍妮塔．勞倫斯小姐 (Miss Jeannetta Laurence) 說，《曼儂》第二組 ， 也就是第二天晚上，扮演大學生的男主演戴維‧馬卡特利，雖然是頭一回主演這個角色，但卻表現得非常精彩！可能第一次上戲，他格外地激情併發吧 ！
歐：好了，時間關係，讓我們開始進入正式採訪⋯⋯盡管是老朋友了，但首先，我還是要代表中國觀眾，向你問候一聲：「你好，莫尼卡．梅森夫人」 (Dame Monica Mason)！
歐：在新聞發布會上，托尼．霍爾總裁 (Mr. Tony Hall) 已率先向我們宣布了這個好消息，請向你的中國觀眾分享一下，你榮獲「帝國夫人」稱號這件事情吧！
歐：為什麼在午夜頒發這殊榮 ? 真有意思。是想把所有人從夢中喚醒嗎？
歐：應該如此！我算了一個帳，發現了一個非常有趣的比例：在整台的七個作品中，有五個都是為你們皇家芭蕾舞圍量身打造的——首先是你 06 年為舞圍委約創作的當代舞《色飽和度》，然後是皇家芭蕾舞團的編導大師弗雷裡克．阿希頓（費德烈．艾斯頓）的三個作品《泰伊絲雙人舞》和《向女王致敬》，還有他版本《天鵝湖》中的〈四人舞〉，最後是麥克米倫（麥美倫）《羅密歐與朱麗葉》中的〈陽台雙人舞〉，而只有兩個是從外面學來的——一個是法國古典芭蕾大師馬裡於斯．佩蒂帕（佩蒂巴）在莫斯科編導的《唐．吉訶德》中的〈大雙人舞〉，一個是俄羅斯新古典芭蕾大師喬治．巴蘭欽在紐約編導的《柴科（可）夫斯基雙人舞》。這個「以我為主」的比例，是你在挑選節目時，有意確定的嗎 ?
歐：太好了 ， 當媽媽的芭蕾女演員，也許能為芭蕾創造一些接班人⋯⋯（雙方笑聲）我記得，你在星期一下午的新聞發布會上曾經這樣說過，你們團演員的特點可以概括為年輕有為、才華橫溢，還有，非常具有國際性⋯⋯
歐：你自2002 年出任團長以來，在辦團方針上，都有哪些新變化 ?
梅：對！不過，我的確根據團裡的實際情況，做出了某些發展，比如說，我增加了舞團演員的人數，因為我們每年在倫敦的演出已經增加到了 135場，去年也是 135 場，我們希望能夠保持同樣的場次。但如果是 140 多場，就太多了。三年前，我們曾經跳過 144 場，那就太多了，演員們筋疲力盡，所以，我就向董事會提出請求，「我們最多只跳135 場，行嗎？」因為，在新歌劇院開張之前，我們有時每年是只跳 95 場的。
梅：再回去⋯⋯他們或許得走 200 或300 英里，來看芭蕾！這樣呢，如果我們週日演出了，週一就休息了！
歐：我記得，貴團 99 年來演出時，曾總邀請了法國的西爾維．吉揚、俄羅斯的伊格爾．澤倫斯基、古巴的卡洛斯．阿科斯塔這三位世界級的客席巨星，這次卻一位也沒請，請問，這是否意味著，在你的心目中，皇家芭蕾舞團正處於最佳狀態之中？
歐：那很好啊，非常國際化了！好了，讓我們接著來說《曼儂》吧，我分別看了第一組和第三組，坦白地說，他們的表演都很完美，不僅技術完美，而且都很入戲，但卻各有千秋——第一組是麗昂．本傑明和約翰．科博格(Leanne Benjamin & Johan Kobborg)，他們的年齡較大，生活體驗更多，麗昂已是一個五歲兒子的媽媽， 因此，他們在舉手投足之間，給你更多久久回味的東西，帶有更多戲劇表現的成分；而第三組的塔瑪拉．羅霍和費德裡科．博奈利 (Tamara Rojo & Federico Bonelli)，他們的年齡相對較小，更加清純，更加靚麗，因此，在拼受他們的表演時，我們更容易同劇中的人物掛上鈎，可以說，他們帶有更多本色表演的魅力！
歐：的確非常不同，但北京的觀眾，包括普通觀眾，是非常懂行的！第三場演出的中場休息時，我身邊的一位女觀眾，意外地接到了朋友從場外打來的電話，她的話或許可以回答你的這個問題：「我在國家大劇院看演出呢！是英國皇家芭蕾舞團演出的芭蕾舞劇《曼儂》！不不不，不是古典的，是非常現代的，沒穿那種《天鵝湖》的短裙！」你瞧，普通觀眾是非常很熟悉那種《天鵝湖》式的短裙的，甚至會推論出，不穿它的，就是現代的！不過，我們的確是從 1995 年開始，抓住了北京、上海等大城市興起的「芭蕾熱」，北京每年都有一百場上下的中外芭蕾演出這樣一個大好時機，大規模、連續性地，在劇場、音樂廳、廣播電視台、大中小學，做了十多年的普及工作，其中僅是我一個人，就做了二百多場的講演；全國的五個芭蕾舞團更是大搞普及推廣⋯⋯最終，才使我們的觀眾懂得如何通過簡單的量化標準，來欣賞三十二個「揮鞭轉」、二十個「二位旁腿轉」的精彩的！而直到這兩年，我們才開始告訴他們，在懂得了如何「外行看熱鬧」之後，怎樣「內行看門道」，比如說，怎樣用心傾聽小提琴和大提琴的對白，然後欣賞《白天鵝雙人舞》中，那優美動人的旋律流過舞者身心的那種感覺，理解公主對王子的相見恨晚、王子對公主的海誓山盟⋯⋯
歐：因此，我期待著，你們的這台《精品晚會》，能把我們帶回 99 年的那種歡喜若狂之中！你覺得，這次的陣容中，有誰能夠在技術的輝煌上，取代當年的卡洛斯．阿科斯塔？
歐：謝謝！下一個問題，可能也是近來媒體議論得比較多的一個問題：你怎麼會挑選了韋恩．麥葛萊格，這樣一個與古典芭蕾似乎風馬牛不相及的當代舞編導，來出任你們這個芭蕾舞團的駐團編導的呢？這可是一個最大膽的選擇呢！我知道，自肯尼斯．麥克米倫大師 1992 年過世之後，十六年來，你們一直沒能找到一位滿意的駐團編導！
歐：我能理解你的意思！讓我們回到83 年，皇家芭蕾舞團首次來京演出時，我記得中國舞蹈家協會，曾在長安街上的民族文化宮，為我們安排過一次小型的座談會。我當時曾問過你，你對中國觀眾的感覺如何？你說，還行！我說，我們給你們團的掌聲之熱烈，可是空前的，你們在我們的掌聲中，先後謝了四次幕呢！你說，你們在各國演出後的謝幕，通常是二十次呢！（雙方笑聲）我說，我知道，你們團的芭蕾表演巨匠瑪戈．芳婷和努裡耶夫早在 1960 年代，曾創造過謝幕六十四次的吉尼斯（健力士）記錄，可我們是中國人，講究的是含蓄的美，我們當時，還不習慣那種狂歡式的激情！
歐：那麼，到了 99年，你們第二次來演出時，我們的觀眾已經開放了許多，我有意數了的，在《精品晚會》結束時，你們真的是謝了八次幕呢！那麼，我的問題是，你估計，這次你們演出的《精品晚會》，我們觀眾的掌聲，能讓你們謝幕多少次呢 ?
歐：謝謝你在百忙之中 ， 安排了這次獨家專訪！讓我們保持聯繫，再見！
A bio of Monica Mason
Monica Mason, the world-renowned British ballerina and Artistic Director, was born on September 6, 1941 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied dance with Ruth Inglestone and Nesta Brooking in her early years, and later entered the Royal Ballet School in England. At the age of 16, she was taken into the corps of the Royal Ballet. After five years she was promoted to soloist, and after ten years to principal. While she was still only in the corps, she caught the eye of choreographer Kenneth Macmillan, and was unprecedentedly cast to create and perform the Chosen Maiden, the most important role in his Rite of Spring (1962). She later danced and created roles in many of his diverse masterpieces such as Manon (1974), Elite Syncopations (1974), The Four Seasons (1975), Rituals (1975), and Isadora (1981). As a ballerina with strong technique, straightforward personality, sharp vision, and multiple talents, she also danced leading roles in Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadère, Cinderella, Mayerling, Romeo and Juliet, Firebird, Enigma Variations and other large and medium-scale classics of The Royal Ballet repertoire, and accumulated a wealth of experience in stage performance. In 1999, she returned to the stage for the role of Mrs. Grose in William Tuckett’s ballet Turn of the Screw, created for The Royal Ballet. However, of all the roles she performed, the most successful one was the evil fairy Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, where her penetrating eyes still frighten people today. In 1984, she became the company’s Principal Répétiteur, in 1991 its Assistant Director and in 2002 was appointed Artistic Director. Right before bringing her company to perform in China in 2008, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Ou Jianping (hereinafter referred to as Ou): Thank you for arranging this exclusive interview for me when your schedule is so tight and so many media are fighting for an interview with you. Did you just finish rehearsal?
Monica Mason (hereinafter referred to as Mason): No, I just finished talking with all the company’s dancers ...
Ou: What were you talking about? Were you talking about their performance in Beijing these two days?
Mason: No. We are about to complete the performance season this year, from the autumn of 2007 to the summer of 2008. I talked to them one by one, listened to the feelings of each of them and found out what their expectations are...
Ou: Great, you have done such meticulous work. That is really great! So, how do they feel?
Mason: They have different feelings. Some of them have performed leading roles many times, while for others it was the first time on this trip to China, so they were quite terrified...
Ou: That's natural! However, I heard from your Associate Director Miss Jeanetta Laurence that in the second cast of Manon, i.e. on the second night, David Makhateli, the male principal who performed Des Grieux, delivered a great performance even though he was dancing the role for the first time. Possibly he was particularly passionate because it was his first time.
Mason: That's right! But being nervous is inevitable.
Ou: Well, we have not much time. Let’s start the official interview ... We are old friends, but still, first of all, I would like to greet you on behalf of the Chinese audience: "Nǐ hǎo, Dame Monica Mason!”
Mason: Thank you! Thank you dear Chinese audience!
Ou: At the press conference, Chief Executive Mr. Tony Hall has already announced this good news to us -- would you please tell your Chinese audience about the Order of the British Empire you have received?
Mason: Right! I received this honour at midnight last Friday (14 June London time), and sixteen hours later, I got on the plane and flew to Beijing.
Ou: Why was it awarded at midnight? It's really interesting. Did they want to wake everyone from their dreams?
Mason: (Laughter) No, it’s because 14 June is the Queen's birthday.
Ou: Is this because the Queen was born at midnight on that day?
Mason: No. This is because 14 June is her official birthday, and shouldn’t people’s birthdays start from the zero hour of the day? Therefore, the royal family announced this honour in the news at zero hour.
Ou: Have they always announced these honours at this hour?
Ou: I see, thank you! Okay, let's talk about your company’s visit to China ... After nine years, your company is visiting Beijing again. How do you feel about it?
Mason: Of course, Beijing is very different from nine years ago. Our performance venue in Beijing is in a very different location. The performance in 1999 was in the Beijing Exhibition Centre Theatre, next to the zoo, whereas this time we are in the centre of Beijing. I still remember that during the last visit we could hear the noise from the zoo animals in the theatre! (Laughter) We performed a grand ballet, Romeo and Juliet. I recall that our Beijing audience was very enthusiastic, especially at the mixed programme. I still remember that China’s President came to see our performance.
Ou: Yes, it was the second performance of the mixed programme. At that time, I was invited by the China Performing Arts Agency to present a 30-minute introduction of all the excerpts in the first section of the performance. The audience, including many foreign friends, all paid great attention and showed great enthusiasm. It should be said that their cheering became more enthusiastic after my explanation, because they knew that what they saw was indeed a world-class ballet, and the performance of your company was so brilliant! To be honest, I cheered myself hoarse and clapped my hands sore!
Mason: Thank you! I think the mixed programme this time will be very interesting to the Beijing audience!
Ou: It should be. I made a rough analysis and found a very interesting ratio: of the seven works in the programme, five were created for the Royal Ballet – a contemporary piece [by Wayne McGregor], Chroma, commissioned in 2006; three works by the master choreographer of the Royal Ballet, Frederick Ashton, Thaïs Pas de deux, Homage to the Queen, and the Pas de Quatre in his version of Swan Lake; and MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet Pas de deux. Only two excerpts were acquired from elsewhere -- French classical ballet master Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote Pas de deux that was created in Moscow, and the Russian neo-classical ballet master George Balanchine's Tchaïkovsky Pas de deux choreographed in New York. Was this ‘self-centred’ ratio an intentional guideline when you planned the programme?
Mason: You are right! However, the main reason was that I feel these are essential works by these masters.
Ou: I see! Our National Grand Theatre has organized a large number of publicity activities for this performance. I myself have solely hosted four group interviews for press and radio station special programmes, and there were also many articles published in the print media. From the information sent from Elizabeth Bell, Head of Corporate Communications of your company, I am continuously discovering new materials and exciting news. For example, we are incredibly pleased that your whole company came for this tour, especially all eight pairs of male and female principals. Beijing’s audience, who were informed by us about this, are also very happy. Please tell us what is the reason for bringing such a large group to China? Is it because this time you are going to perform three programmes?
Mason: We always bring everyone! This has always been the case, unless someone is seriously injured, or does not have a role in any of the pieces. This time, we only left a few pregnant dancers behind...
Ou: That’s great. Ballerina mothers, they might be able to create some successors for ballet ... (Laughter on both sides) I remember that you said this at a press conference on Monday afternoon: the characteristics of your dancers could be summarized as young, talented, and very international ⋯⋯
Mason: That's true. These are the main characteristics.
Ou: Since you became the Artistic Director of Royal Ballet in 2002, what changes have you made in the way the company operates?
Mason: I think basically there is not much change, and I can’t make any drastic changes, because there has not been much difference in the work routine of the company. For example, each of the classic works has its own strict requirements, and you would put experienced dancers to work with the younger ones, you would consider who has danced in the previous London season to decide who will take turns this time and which dancers are more suitable to be partnered with each other. Take Manon as an example, who is more suitable for Manon? Who is more appropriate to be her brother Lescaut? Who should be cast as Des Grieux? Like this, you always have to consider how to create a big family, a harmonious relationship ⋯⋯
Ou: A kind of unity!
Mason: Yes, an exceptional unity!
Ou: So you mean that the operational direction of the company is the same as always?
Mason: Yes, I will not make major changes to the structure of the dance company...
Ou: Especially since this company has been developing very well...
Mason: Right! However, I did make some improvements based on the actual situation in the company. For example, I increased the number of dancers, because our performances in London has increased to 135 shows per year, and last year it was also 135. We hope to maintain that number. But if there are more than 140 performances, it will be too many. Three years ago, we had 144 shows, and that was too much, and the dancers were exhausted. Therefore, I made a request to the board of directors, "We should have 135 shows at most. Is that alright?" Before the opera house re-opened after the renovation programme, sometimes we only had 95 performances a year.
Ou: Why do you have so many more performances now?
Mason: Because of the new technical equipment, the speed of scene changing can be so fast -- you can perform a large-scale opera in the morning and a grand ballet in the evening! In the past, sometimes we might have one night with no performance because there were too many sets and too many technical difficulties to cope with. But now, you can have a run-through in the morning and another one until three o'clock in the afternoon, and then at night there will be an actual performance. The lights can be on every night with not one-night dark.
Ou: Are there performances every night in the Royal Opera House, seven days a week?
Mason: It is usually six days a week, from Monday to Saturday, and a rest on Sunday. But now we have Sunday matinées four times a year, for out-of-towners to attend. They like to come to London on Saturday or Sunday to watch performances...
Ou: Then go back…
Mason: Go back home... maybe they have to travel 200 or 300 miles to see the ballet! In this case, if we perform on Sunday, we will rest on Monday.
Ou: I remember that when your company visited in 1999, you also invited three world-class guest superstars: Sylvie Guillem from France, Igor Zelensky from Russia, and Carlos Acosta from Cuba. This time you didn't invite any guests. Does this mean that, in your mind, the Royal Ballet is now in the best condition?
Mason: Well, I had invited Carlos this time, but he already had another performance contract…
Ou: Oh, we loved him so much for his heroic leaps in the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux. We cheered until our voices were hoarse! (Laughter on both sides)
Mason: He is also great as Des Grieux in Manon!
Ou: Des Grieux in Manon? Do you think his skin colour is appropriate? Of course, in today's multicultural world, casting him in the role of a white college student is undoubtedly a politically correct choice from an equality perspective. But don’t you think that by using a non-white dancer, it seems that Paris, where the story takes place, has changed?
Mason: But in London, you don't see this difference!
Ou: You mean that you have become accustomed to the difference in skin colour?
Mason: Exactly! Everyone knows clearly that he is performing. He performs Des Grieux. Similarly, he performs in Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, it’s all the same, no difference.
Ou: Perhaps, adding such a layer of ethnic differences to the original plot can make the whole show more dramatic?
Mason: Maybe? There are still two dancers of colour s in our cast.
Ou: But they are not performing leading roles, especially not roles which were originally white people in the ballet.
Mason: That is true. But in Chroma, there is a black guy from the United States who dances a leading role.
Ou: That kind of plotless, abstract ballet is a different story, but in a narrative ballet, it will make the audience think of a different geographical context.
Mason: What does it matter? I remember one time in Japan four or five years ago, when we performed Swan Lake, a dancer was seriously injured. As a result, we cast a Cuban girl to perform the leading role with Carlos, and the result was also very good.
Ou: Both are Cubans and brown skinned. That made them match well.
Mason: No, the ballerina had lighter skin, not so dark, but in the UK, all this really doesn’t matter!
Ou: I only realized last year, when I watched Northern Ballet’s La Traviata, that the difference between the race and skin colour of a dancer and those of a character would lead to an interesting impression that the story was transposed elsewhere. Of the two female leads in the performance, one was from Japan and the other from the Philippines. Their performances were excellent, but they always made me feel the story was taking place in either Tokyo or Manila, not Paris. Perhaps you’re used to it, right?
Mason: That's right, it doesn’t bother me at all.
Ou: That's great, very international indeed! Okay, let's talk about Manon. I watched the first and third casts. Frankly speaking, their performances were perfect, not only technically perfect, but they were also immersed in the story. Each cast has its own strengths. The first cast is Leanne Benjamin and Johan Kobborg, who are older and have more life experience. Leanne is already the mother of a five-year-old son, so their movements delivered more long-lasting impact with more dramatic elements. The third cast is the relatively younger Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli. They are fresher, purer, and more beautiful, and therefore, when we enjoyed their performance, it was easier for us to connect with their characters through the dance. It could be said that they had more charm, a more instinctive performance.
Mason: Do you think that the Beijing audience can accept watching a ballet without tutus? Manon is a very different ballet!
Ou: It is indeed very different, but the audience in Beijing, including the ordinary audience, is very well informed. During the intermission of the third performance, a female audience member next to me unexpectedly received a call from a friend outside the venue. Her words might answer your question: "I am watching a performance at the National Grand Theatre. It’s the ballet Manon performed by the Royal Ballet of England. No, no, not classical, it is very modern, they don’t wear those short skirts like in Swan Lake.” You see, the average audience are very familiar with that kind of Swan Lake style short skirt, and even able to infer that the work is modern without it. However, we have caught ‘ballet fever’ in Beijing, Shanghai and other big cities since 1995 and the opportunity of having about 100 local or western ballet performances every year in Beijing, to extensively and continuously work for more than 10 years on promoting ballet to the public in theatres, concert halls, radio and television stations, as well as primary and secondary schools. In this context, I alone have given more than 200 lectures, and the five big ballet companies in the country are also doing a lot of outreach… In the end, it’s helped our audience know how to use simple quantitative standards to appreciate the brilliance of thirty-two fouettés and twenty à la seconde turns. It wasn't until these last two years, after they had learned to "come along for the ride as an outsider", that we began to tell them how to "know the ropes as an insider". For example, how to listen carefully to the dialogue between violins and cellos, and then appreciate the sensation in the White Swan Pas de Deux when the beautiful and moving melody flows through the dancer's body and mind, and understand the Princess’s heartache for the belated encounter, and the Prince’s solemn pledge to the Princess...
Mason: Great! That is the reason why Madame Zhao (Ru Heng), who decided to invite our company to bring
Manon, a ballet that really encourages the audience to think, is very brave. The audience will think “what kind of dance am I watching?” “Can I understand this dance?” “How do I feel about it?”
Ou: Yes! Do you know what she did last year? She invited Pina Bausch, and also had the National Ballet of China perform William Forsyth's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. These are things that we did not dare to think about in the past!
Ou: Exactly! Do you know -- she is doing more and more great things.
Mason: She is so smart.
Ou: Very smart! Of course, the audience will always need those things that are clear, exciting, and technically challenging. Even dance critics are no exception.
Mason: Yes, that is true.
Ou: Therefore, I look forward to your mixed programme to bring back the ecstasy of 1999 to us. In the line-up this time, who do you think able to replace the technical brilliance of Carlos Acosta?
Mason: We will dance Don Quixote, because people are familiar with it, because people understand it, and because it can give people a kind of "aha" feeling – recognizing it as ‘very familiar, very comfortable’, so this time they will see Federico Bonelli, Tamara Rojo, Johan Kobborg. I think it is very important for them to see what they are familiar with, but they also need to see Balanchine’s Tchaïkovsky Pas de deux. Have Chinese audiences seen that work before?
Ou: Yes, they have seen it, in 2004, in a gala in which our National Ballet of China joined the world to celebrate the 100th birthday of Balanchine. However, the dancers they invited were not quite suitable. They invited the Argentine star, Julio Bocca. I think for a fiery dancer like him, it would be better to perform in Romeo and Juliet.
Mason: I see. However, the Royal Ballet rarely performs those works that show off virtuoso technique.
Ou: Therefore, you often invite a few guest stars to perform, right? Sylvie Guillem, Igor Zelensky, and Carlos Acosta…
Mason: Our own Tamara Rojo can also deliver an outstanding performance of technically dazzling dance.
Ou: Are you saying that technical virtuosity isn't a typical style for the Royal Ballet?
Mason: Yes, that’s what I mean!
Ou: I see! In the world, so far, there are still several ballet companies endorsed by royal families. Compared with them, what do you think are the characteristics of your Royal Ballet?
Mason: Well, there’s Birmingham Royal Ballet – that’s our sister company! According to my memory, the earliest in history should be the royal ballets of Denmark and Sweden. As for our characteristics of being ‘royal’, it only means that the British royal family, the king and queen of Britain, gave the company the title of ‘royal’ in 1956.
Ou: Thank you! The next question may also be a question that has been frequently discussed by the media recently: why did you choose Wayne McGregor, such a contemporary choreographer who doesn't seem to relate to classical ballet, to be the resident choreographer of your company? This is the most daring decision. I know that since the great Kenneth Macmillan died in 1992, for sixteen years your company has not been able to find a fitting resident choreographer to take his place.
Mason: The most important reason is that we undoubtedly realize that a dance company cannot be just a museum. We must have not only the old repertoire and the current repertoire, but also a new repertoire for the future. Wayne is very creative, and he often talks with other young choreographers about creativity. He thinks about how to work with new methods, how to ignite the stage with new methods, and how to create visuals for the stage with new methods. It should be said that what he does is indeed the biggest artistic adventure of the moment!
Ou: Well said! The next question is about how ballet dancers learn to perform. I have travelled all over the world, but I couldn’t find any teaching material on how ballet dancers should perform and how they can be more expressive.
Mason: You can only learn to perform by ‘doing’, you can only learn to perform by a lot of practice, you can only learn to perform by entering a ballet company! You have to learn from a very young age in order to understand how to create a character, how to carry this character throughout the whole show…
Ou: But isn’t this your job? Have you ever taught a dancer how to perform the evil fairy Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty?
Ou: I see. Have you written anything about these valuable experiences?
Mason: No, I just do it verbally.
Ou: Do you leave the job to the rehearsal teacher or do it yourself?
Mason: No, no, for Carabosse, I’d teach it myself!
Ou: So, what about other roles?
Mason: I am in charge of many rehearsals. I will do my best to refine the performance... Moreover, I am the producer of The Sleeping Beauty for this tour, and I required the dancers to follow my ideas. Even though Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty is a classical character, the dancer must convince the audience that she is a young girl, she is a princess, this is her birthday, she is very happy, how does she feel about marrying one of the four princes... It’s not easy. At the same time, we also have another important task, which I often remind the dancers of the Royal Ballet about: be sure to engage the audience’s imagination. The audience wants to watch ballet, not gymnastics! Ballet is not only physical, but also imaginative, artistic, and full of creative imagination.
Ou: Therefore, we must teach them these things.
Mason: Right! But it is difficult.
Ou: Another question. Do you ask your dancers to read the original literature before performing a ballet based on it?
Mason: Of course! Sometimes they must also read the original works in Spanish or Russian. Although this is difficult, it is most important for them to understand the spirit and find the feeling of the original work.
Ou: I can understand what you mean. Let's go back to 1983. When the Royal Ballet performed in Beijing for the first time, I remember that the Chinese Dancers Association once arranged a small symposium for us at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities on Chang'an Avenue. I asked you at that time how you felt about the Chinese audience. You replied it was ‘OK’. I explained that the passionate applause we gave to your company was unprecedented, and your dancers took four bows in return. You replied that there were usually 20 curtain calls after a performance in various countries! (Laughter on both sides) I said that I knew this, and that the great ballet performers of your company, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev, had broken the Guinness World Record with 64 curtain calls in the 1960s; however, we Chinese were more restrained, and we were not used to that kind of wild fanatical passion at that time.
Mason: (Laughter) I remember that conversation...
Ou: Then, in 1999, when you came to perform for the second time, our audience was more generous. I counted after the mixed programme and there were eight curtain calls. So, my question is, how many curtain calls do you think the applause from our audience will result in after the mixed programme this time?
Mason: Does anyone know? (Mysterious expression in her eyes and laughter)
Ou: The last question. You have been working in our newly built National Grand Theatre for a week. What do you think of it?
Mason: It's marvellous! It is an honour for our Royal Opera House to form a long-term partnership with your National Grand Theatre, and for the Royal Ballet to be the first company from the Royal Opera House to perform here. And it is nine performances in one go! We hope to come back soon. Thank you to all the staff who have helped us at the National Grand Theatre. And thank you for such an interesting interview!
Ou: Thank you for fittin
g this exclusive interview into your busy schedule. Let's keep in touch, goodbye!
編輯手記 Editor's Note
2008年英國皇家芭蕾舞團藝術總監莫尼卡．梅森夫人(Dame Monica Mason)率領整團來訪香港、北京及上海，期間與歐建平教授見面，文章記錄了裡頭談笑風生的對話，亦顯示出梅森夫人的親和力、魄力以 及藝術領袖的風範。本地不少大型藝術團體相繼邁入不惑之年，梅森夫人文中談及如何令具歷史的舞團常備活力並不斷創新相信可帶來參考。
In 2008, the Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason led the company to visit Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. This article is based on an interview done with her by Professor Ou Jianping during the tour. As well as recording the lively and humorous conversation between two old friends, it demonstrates the empathy, bold resolution, and clear focus of Dame Monica’s arts leadership. At a time when Hong Kong’s three largest dance companies are already in, or about to step into, their fifth decade, we might take some references from Dame Monica’s ideas about how to make a dance company with a long history continue to be vigorous and innovative.
客席編輯Guest Editor: 劉秀群Cathy Lau Sau Kwan ｜ 翻譯Translation：施德安 Cecil Sze