[中][Eng]「一個舞團,不能只是一座博物館」A dance company should not be just a museum

訪英國皇家芭蕾舞團團長莫尼卡.梅森夫人

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.梅森小傳

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

http://www.roh.org.uk/about/the-royal-ballet/monica-mason

歐建平(以下簡稱歐):多謝你在如此緊張的日程中,在眾多媒體爭相採訪的情況下,專門為我安排了這次獨家專訪。剛排練完吧?

梅森 (以下簡稱梅):不,是剛和全團的舞者們談話完⋯⋯

歐:談什麼?是談你對他們這兩天在京演出的看法嗎?

梅:不是。我們即將完成 07年秋到08年夏這個年度的演出季,我是和他們逐個談心,傾聽他們每個人的感受,了解他們還有什麼期待⋯⋯

歐:太好了,你做了這麼細緻的工作,真是太好了!那麼,他們的感受如何呢?

柏:他們各有各的感受!他們中間,有些人跳了多次主角了,有些人則是在這次中國之行,頭一回跳主角,因此,挺害怕的⋯⋯

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 !

梅:沒錯!但緊張還是難免的!

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)!

梅:謝謝你!謝謝親愛的中國觀眾!

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!

梅:好的!我是在上星期五(倫敦時間6月14日)的午夜,獲得這項殊榮的,十六個小時後,我便坐上飛機,向北京飛來!

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?

手:(笑聲)不是,因為6月14日那天,是女王的生日。

歐:這是因為女王出生在當天的零時嗎?

梅:不是。這是因為,14日是她通過官方宣布的生日,而人們的生日不都是應該從當天的零時算起嗎?因此,皇室是在零時的新聞中宣布這項殊榮的。

歐:他們歷來都是在這個時辰,宣布這項殊榮嗎?

梅:都是。

歐:明白了,謝謝!好了,讓我們來說說貴圈的訪華演出⋯⋯在闊別九年之後,你們重訪北京,你的感覺如何?

梅:北京和九年前,當然非常不同了!此外,我們在北京的演出場地,也處在非常不同的位置之上!99 年那次演出,是在北京展覽館劇場,旁邊就是動物園,而這次演出,則來到了整個北京的中心!我還記得,我們上次在劇場,可以聽到動物的聲音!(笑聲)上次,我們演出了大型芭蕾舞劇《羅密歐與朱麗葉》,我記得,我們的北京觀眾很有激情,特別是在那台《精品晚會》上!我還記得,你們的國家主席也來看了我們的演出!

歐:對,是《精品晚會》的第二場,而我當時曾應中國對外演出公司之邀,在正式演出的第一個時間段裡,先對所有的精品段子,作了三十分鐘的介紹 ,觀眾中包括了許多外國朋友,他們都表現出了極大的專注和熱情。應該說,在聽了我的講解後,他們的歡呼更加熱烈了,因為他們知道了,自己眼前所看到的,的確是世界一流的芭蕾,因為你們舞團的演出實在是太精彩了!說實話,連我的嗓子也喊啞了,我的手掌也鼓疼了!

梅:謝謝你們!我覺得,這回的這台《精品晚會》對於北京觀眾來說,也會是非常有意思的!

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 ?

梅:你說得很對!不過,最主要的原因還是,這些大師的節目都是我非要不可的!

歐:明白了!我們的國家大劇院為了貴團的這次演出,組織了大量的宣傳活動,其中僅是我個人單獨主講的新聞界群訪和廣播電台專題節目,就有四次之多,同時還有許多平面媒體上刊登的各種文章。我在貴團新聞部主任伊麗莎白.貝爾多次發給我的資料中,不斷發現了新的素材、新的激動,比如說, 你們這次是全團人馬,尤其是八對男女主演,傾巢出動的,我們對此非常高興,北京的觀眾,通過我們的介紹,也都非常高興!請告訴我們,率領如此龐大陣容來華的原因何在?是因為這次來京,要演出三台節目嗎?

梅:我們從來都帶上所有人的!從來都是如此,除非有人受了重傷,或者有人確實一個節目也沒上,而這一次,我們只留下了幾位懷了孕的女演員⋯⋯

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⋯⋯

梅:的確如此。主要就是這些了。

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:我覺得,基本上沒有太大的變化,而我也不能帶來什麼劇烈的變化,因為舞團的工作規律沒有發生什麼變化,比如,經典劇目自身都會有些苛刻的要求;你會把老演員與首次擔當主角的新演員們糅合到一起;你會考慮在倫敦的上一個演出季中,都有誰上場了,這次該輪誰上場了?哪些舞伴在一起跳更合適?比如說,在跳《曼儂》時,誰跳曼儂更合適?誰跳哥哥萊斯科更合適?誰跳大學生德格裡厄更合適?如此,你總是得考慮,怎樣才能形成一個大家庭,一種和諧的關係⋯⋯

歐:一種統一性!

梅:對,一種非凡的統一性!

歐:你是說,在辦團的方針上,你是一如既往的 ?

梅:是的,我不會對舞團的結構,做出重大的改變⋯⋯

歐:特別是這個團,一直發展得很不錯⋯⋯

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。

歐:為什麼多跳了這麼多場呢 ?

梅:因為新歌劇院的技術設備,使得換景的速度可以如此之快——你可以上午演一台大型歌劇,晚上演一台大型芭蕾舞劇!而在從前 ,有時候,你得有一個晚上不演出,因為有太多的布景、太多的技術難度,可現在,你可以上午走台,下午走台到三點鐘,然後,晚上就可以正式演出了!可以夜夜長明燈,沒有一天晚上是黑燈瞎火的!

歐:皇家歌劇院是一週七天,每晚都有演出嗎?

梅:通常是一週六天,週一到週六演出,週日休息!但現在的情況是,每年有四次,芭蕾在週日有下午場,這有利於人們從鄉村進城看演出,他們喜歡週六或者週日進倫敦來看演出⋯⋯

歐:然後再回去⋯⋯

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?

梅:哦,我這次曾邀請過卡洛斯,但他已有了其他的演出合同⋯⋯

歐:哦, 我們太愛他了,為了他在《海盜》雙人舞中的那個橫空出世、亂世英雄般的大跳,我們把嗓子都吶啞了!(雙方笑聲)

性:他在《曼儂》中跳的大學生,也棒極了!

歐:《曼儂》中的大學生?你覺得他的膚色合適嗎?當然啦,在今天這樣一個多元文化的世界裡,安排他跳這個白人大學生的角色,從民族平等的角度上看,無疑是一種正確的選擇!但你不覺得,使用了非白人演員之後,巴黎這個故事的發生地仿佛發生了變化嗎?

柏:但是,在倫敦,你看不見這種區別!

歐:你是說,你們對膚色的差異,已經習以為常了嗎?

梅:完全如此!大家很清楚,他是在演戲,他是在「演」大學生德格裡厄,同樣,演羅密歐、《天鵝湖》、《睡美人》,都是一樣的,沒有什麼區別的!

歐:或許,在原來的劇情中,平添了這樣一層種族的不同,可以使得整個演出更加富於戲劇性?

梅:或許是這樣吧?我們的演員陣容中,還有兩個棕色皮膚的小伙子!

歐:但他們跳的不是主角、尤其不是芭蕾舞劇中原本是白人的主要角色!

梅:的確不是!但在《色飽和度》中,跳主要角色的,還有一個來自美國的黑人小伙子!

歐:那種無情節的、抽象的芭蕾,倒是沒有什麼關係的,但在有情節的芭蕾舞劇中,會讓人聯想到劇情之外的地域背景。

梅:那又有什麼關係呢?記得四、五年前,有一次在日本,我們跳《天鵝湖》,女演員突然受了重傷,結果我們就請了另外一位古巴女孩子 ,和卡洛斯一道跳主角,結果也很好!

歐:他們兩位都是古巴人,都是棕色皮膚,反倒很相配嘛!

梅:不,女的膚色淺些,沒那麼黑,但在英國,這一切,都無關緊要!

歐:我是去年在看英國北方芭蕾舞劇院的《茶花女》時才意識到,演員的種族、膚色與角色的種族、膚色之間的不同,會導致故事發生地點的錯位這樣一種有趣現象的!兩位女主演中,一位來自日本,一位來自菲律賓,她們的表演都很出色,但總讓我感到故事發生的地點,不是東京,就是馬尼拉,但就不是巴黎!可你對此已經習以為常了,對吧?

梅:沒錯,一點也不在意這些!

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!

梅:的確如此!你覺得,北京觀眾能習慣看一部不穿天鵝裙的芭蕾舞劇嗎?因為,《曼儂》可是一部非常不同的芭蕾舞劇啊!

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⋯⋯

梅:太棒了!正因為如此,趙(汝蘅)夫人決定邀請我們這個舞團,帶上《曼儂》這樣一部真正能促使觀眾思考的芭蕾舞劇,是非常勇敢的!觀眾會思考,我這是在看著一部什麼樣的舞劇呀?我能理解這部舞劇嗎?我對它都有些什麼樣的感覺呀?

歐:沒錯!你知道她去年幹了些什麼嗎?她請來了翩娜.包殊,還給中央芭蕾舞團排演了威廉.福賽斯的《多少懸在半空中》!這些都是我們過去想都不敢想的事情!

梅:太棒了!

歐:的確如此!你知道嗎?她正在做著越來越多的偉大事情!

梅:她是如此地聰明!

歐:非常聰明!當然啦,觀眾永遠需要那些一目了然的、激動人心的、高難技術的東西!即便是舞評家,也不例外!

梅:是的,沒錯!

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?

梅:我們會跳《唐.吉訶德》,因為人們熟悉它,因為人們了解它,也因為它能給人們某種「啊哈」的感受——「很熟悉、很舒服」的認同,因此,他們這次能看到費德裡科.博奈利、塔瑪拉.羅霍、約翰.科博格,我想,能讓他們看到自己熟悉的東西,是非常重要的,但也得要他們看到巴蘭欽編的《柴科夫斯基雙人舞》。中國觀眾看過這個節目沒有?

歐:看過看過,那是在2004年,我們的中央芭蕾舞團和全世界一道,在紀念巴蘭欽百年華誕的晚會上!不過,他們請的演員不太對路,請的是阿根廷的明星胡裡奧.波卡,我覺得,像他那種燃燒激情的演員,跳《羅密歐與朱麗葉》會更好!

梅:明白了。不過,皇家芭蕾舞團很少跳那種炫耀高難技術的舞段!

歐:所以,你們常常特邀幾位客席明星來跳,對嗎?西爾維.吉揚,伊格爾.澤倫斯基,卡洛斯.阿科斯塔⋯⋯

梅:我們的塔瑪拉.羅霍,也可以跳一些出類拔萃的炫技式的舞蹈!

歐:你是說,炫技,不是典型的英皇舞風嗎 ?

梅:對,我是這個意思!

歐:我明白了!在世界範圍裡,到目前為止,還很有幾個戴有皇家桂冠的芭蕾舞團。與他們相比,你覺得,你的皇家芭蕾舞團有哪些特點 ?

梅:伯明翰皇家芭蕾舞團?我們是一家子!我記得,歷史上的最早的應該是丹麥和瑞典的兩個皇家芭蕾舞團。你問我們的「皇家」特點嗎?它只意味著英國的皇室,英國的國王與王后,是他們在1956 年,給了我們這個「皇家」的稱號!

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!

梅:最重要的原因是,我們清楚地意識到,一個舞蹈團,不能只是一座博物館。我們必須不僅擁有古老的劇目、現在的劇目,而且還得擁有為將來打造的劇目!韋恩是非常有創造力的,他還經常和其他的年輕編導們,談論創造力的問題。他思考如何用新的方法去做事情,如何用新的方法去點燃舞台,如何用新的方法去裝飾舞台。應該說,他的所作所為,的確是當下最具藝術性的探險活動!

歐:說得太好了!下一個問題,關於芭蕾演員如何學習表演的問題。因為走遍了世界各地,我發現,哪裡都找不到一本關於芭蕾演員如何表演,如何更有表現力的教材!

梅:你只能通過「做」來學習表演,只能通過大量的實踐來學習表演,你只能通過進入這些芭蕾舞團來學習表演!你必須從很小的年齡開始學習並且理解如何創造一個角色,如何將這個角色貫穿到全劇的始終⋯⋯

歐:這可是你的活兒呀?你是否曾教演員,如何表演卡拉包絲這個《睡美人》中的惡仙女?

梅:是的!

歐:明白了!關於這些寶貴的經驗,你是否寫過什麼 ?

梅:沒有,我只是說。

歐:你是把這個工作交給排練教師去做,還是自己來做?

梅:不不不,卡拉包絲,我自己來教!

歐:那麼,其他的角色呢?

梅:我負責許多的排練,我會盡力去扣表演⋯⋯而且,這次演出的《睡美人》,我就是製作人, 因此,我會按照我的想法,去要求演員。即使《睡美人》中的奧羅拉公主是一個古典的角色,舞者也得讓人確信無疑地認為,她是二八妙齡,她是一位公主,這是她的生日,她非常高與,她對嫁給四位王子之一的事情感覺如何⋯⋯這裡的難度可不小,同時,我們還有一個重要的任務,這也是我經常告誡皇家芭蕾舞團演員的:一定要把觀眾的想象力捲進來!觀眾要看的是芭蕾,而不是體操!它不僅僅是身體的,而且還是想象的、藝術的、富於創造性想象的!

歐:因此,我們必須教他們這些東西!

梅:對!但很困難!

歐:還有一個問題,在上演一部芭蕾舞劇之前,你是否會要求你的演員,去閱讀文學原著?

梅:當然了,有時候,他們還必須閱讀西班牙文的原著、俄羅斯文的原著,雖然有難度,但對於他們理解原著的精神,找到原著的感覺,這是至關重要的!

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!

梅:(笑聲)我想起那次對話了⋯⋯

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 ?

梅:有誰能知道啊?(神秘的眼神和笑聲)

歐:最後一個問題,你們已在我們新建的國家大劇院裡,工作一個星期

了!你對它有什麼感覺?

梅:簡直是太棒了!我們的皇家歌劇院能與你們的國家大劇院結成長期的合作伙伴關係,而我們的皇家芭蕾舞團又能在整個皇家歌劇院中,率先來到這裡,並且一口氣演出九場,真是非常的榮幸!我們希望能夠很快再來,並且非常感謝國家大劇院裡幫助過我們的所有工作人員!謝謝你這麼有意思的採訪!

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?

Mason: Yes.

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.