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My last day was upon me far too quickly. It was a busy one. I had the Red photographer arriving at 11.30, in time to catch the Royal Ballet rehearsing DGV on stage, with the aim of capturing some atmospheric shots. I’m not a model by any stretch of the imagination and foolishly thought the whole procedure would only take half an hour, an hour tops, but we were over one hour in before leaving the stage to set up the next lot of shots to accompany the internship feature. I had scheduled my meeting with the Development Department into a lunchtime slot, which meant abandoning the photographer for an hour whilst I pursued my much-awaited introduction.
Spending an hour on the terrace in the Covent Garden sun was no hardship and certainly meeting the Heads of Business Development, Trusts and Foundations and Individual Philanthropy was insightful and quite inspiring. It is very easy to forget that the institituion that is the Royal Opera House remains a charity at large. Whilst it does benefit from an Arts Council grant, it is still extremely important to generate further income from alternative sources in order to maintain the standard expected and support the general workings of the house, even more so in light of cuts expected over the next few years to counteract the decrease in funds allocated. Walking away with a good feeling about the meeting and a hundred ideas swimming around in my head, led me back to finishing the photoshoot.
All too soon, it was upon me. Saying goodbye and receiving a very thoughtful card and limited print of Alice in Wonderland, signed by Lauren Cuthbertson wrapped up my month.
What have I learned? An awful lot about how an organisation as large as the Royal Opera House functions day to day. It really is multi-faceted with many different elements that have to merge in order to make it the success that it is. I have met some wonderful, committed people who are passionate about what they do, even when remonstrating the bad points and that if nothing else appeals to me.
The best part of my day was spent making with the glossy magazines to register interest in the Royal Ballet’s performance of 'Jewels' later in the year. Where possible, other angles are sought for publicising a production, in this instance the ‘Watches and Jewellery’ supplements.
Later in the day, I attended the dress rehearsal/photo call of Clemency, which seeing it run through in full was fantastic. As a novice operagoer, it was just the ticket. A gentle introduction to an easy-to-follow production and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Staying late meant that I could take my seat in the Clore studio for the Insight Evening of George Balanchine’s Ballo Del Regina and Wayne McGregor’s Live Fire Exercise. Merrill Ashley from the Balanchine Trust along with McGregor introduced these two new works to the repertory. Joining them were three Royal Ballet dancers to demonstrate the pieces and undergo corrections from Merrill. While more than used to corrections in the search for perfection, I did feel for the girls undergoing fairly specific modifications to their positioning, in front of an audience. It reinforces however, how much is expected of the dancers who quite often are learning two or three ballets in quick succession if not at the same time as each other and are still expected to be of world-class standard.
Turned out to be a busy day for me. First off the bat was the Big Dance Announcement in the Clore Studio where members of the Press were assembled, to be informed of the challenge next year. Wayne McGregor, Artistic Director of Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, and Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet will set the vision and choreographic framework for 2012, and will work directly on the creation of a new dance piece for 2,000 dancers in Trafalgar Square to be premiered on Saturday 14 July 2012. Alongside members of his dance company, Wayne McGregor|Random Dance and in partnership with dance groups, emerging and professional dancers and choreographers from a range of dance backgrounds across London, this will be a large scale collaborative and creative choreographic project.
Big Dance, London’s Legacy Trust UK programme, delivered by the Mayor of London and Arts Council England, will be taking place from 7-15 July 2012, as part of London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad. Big Dance, founded in 2006 by the Mayor of London in partnership with Arts Council England, is the world’s biggest and most influential dance initiative. More than a major biennial dance festival, Big Dance is a vibrant, high profile campaign to get everyone taking part – wherever they are, whatever their age, experience or ability. Over 2 million people have taken part in Big Dance since it began, with events taking place in unusual locations including shopping centres, parks, bridges, sports centres, beaches, bandstands, bunkers, swimming pools, schools, in streets and public squares and travelling events on the Big Dance Bus as well as in performance spaces all over London.
I met with Marina Jones from the Development department, which was high on my to-see-before-I-leave list. Since starting the internship and in conversation with others, the development side of the Opera House has been highlighted as an avenue that could be of real interest and suitability for me. Marina focussed primarily on her role with developing the educational component and emphasized some impressive aspects of what has been achieved to date. I was especially interested to meet a few of her colleagues as the department employs approximately 30 people who all have different roles to play and I was keen to pursue my tentative appointment booked in for Friday with the Heads of Trusts and Foundations, Business Development and Individual Philanthropy.
First things first, newspapers. All of the weekend papers were completely stuffed full of pictures from the Royal Wedding, which made it exceptionally hard to flick through for opera and ballet features and announcements, without being distracted by the beautiful Kate.
I then had a few administrative tasks to complete such as confirming meetings for myself for the rest of the week, sending press packs to other members of the press, arranging a date and time for the Red photographer to come. All of which seemed to take the best part of the morning. So in the afternoon, I trotted down a floor to the office of ROH2 were I was greeted by Alison Duthie, the Head of Arts Programming and Kate Herbert, who gave me an insightful talk-through about how ROH2 commissions work and the decision process they go through choosing new productions.
ROH2 approaches its 10th anniversary in 2012 and has over its first decade successfully developed its role as an incubator of creative talent and new ideas and a focus for new audiences for opera and dance. The ladies talked me through some of the productions featuring in 2011/12 and as it is also the Olympics season, how they have taken the opportunity to re-focus the ROH2 programme and introduce some new strands of work, while developing and building on the success of some of the existing projects also includes the Olympics. We also discussed the offerings on this season such as “Voices Across The World” which will use the space throughout the Opera House such as the Linbury Studio Theatre, the Clore Studio and the Paul Hamlyn Hall to present traditional and contemporary vocal music from a variety of global cultures. It is a fascinating element of the opera house as it has well and truly developed its own identity whilst continuing to be an integral part of the establishment.
Back onto targeting local newspapers this morning to discover the only hurdle that needs to be overcome is offering them a local angle. It’s not enough for it to be simply close proximity to London, these papers require a story in a story, therefore if there is nobody involved in the production who is a ‘home boy or gal’, it is pretty hard to push. After this quick but fairly harsh introduction to local journalism, I began to wonder why after reading one of the ‘interest’ stories in the local rag, an offer of something exciting, interesting and possibly gaining a complimentary ticket or two wasn’t enough to secure a feature. All was not lost however when I managed to arrange an interview for Edward Watson for the front page of the entertainment section of a local Kent paper, as Ed hails from Bromley.
First thing this morning, I attended a company management meeting, where all attendees can discuss the ballet schedule, dancers injured, dancers leaving and new arrivals, as well as the general house-keeping issues up for discussion in most managerial-level meetings.
I was then tasked with calling around the usual press suspects who attend production press nights to quantify attendance for the Draftworks production in the Linbury theatre. One of the Royal Opera House's intimate venues, the Linbury Studio Theatre offers a space for experimental and independent dance and music companies. With a seating capacity of just over 400, the studio is well suited to its programme of educational projects, lunchtime concerts and more risqué works. Draftworks is a diverse evening of new and experimental dance created by members of The Royal Ballet, who fit their choreographic work around the busy schedule of the Company. The brief is completely open making this an ideal platform for both short ideas and longer choreographic essays.
I’m scheduled to be with Ballet Press for the whole week, so I started off by looking over the weekend papers for press cuttings relating to the Royal Ballet.
Ballet press was introduced to another intern who will be with the team for three days a week over the next 6 months. I again found myself wondering if my career would have taken a different turn 14 years ago if there had been the opportunity to undergo an internship or indeed known of an opportunity. Certainly I would have struggled obtaining an internship in the Opera House at that time as it was closed, undergoing renovation! But investment in the arts from the Arts Council England, has offered greater support for activities carried out over a set period and which engage people in England in arts activities, and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work, which has also meant apprenticeships and internships are viable entry points for young people starting out.
The latter part of my afternoon was spent watching Kenneth MacMillan’s photographer daughter, Charlotte in action capturing some Romeo and Juliet publicity shots of Tamara Rojo, who looked effortlessly beautiful dressed as Juliet.
I visited the Company Management offices to discuss the possibility of observing the Ballet Boyz. Luckily for me, this was granted so after lunch, I went into one of the opera rehearsal rooms to introduce myself. William (Billy) Trevitt and Michael Nunn, first met as students at the Royal Ballet School 25 years ago and it has been 10 years since they founded their own company originally know as George Piper Dances, but quickly dubbed the Ballet Boyz. Starting out by commissioning work for themselves and selected collaborators, the company expanded last year and they embarked on a 10 anniversary tour.
Looking over the Ballet Boyz website, you can see that they are keen to remain involved with introducing dancers from all backgrounds to the public domain. They regularly hold ‘Young Dancers workshops’, which are open to anyone, aged 14-18 with at least one year’s experience and run taster sessions for anyone, and aged 10-100!
I was back in London early doors and having ensconced the two-year old in the nursery, made my way over to Fenchurch Station, the starting point of my journey to see the ROH Production Workshop and the Education programme facilitators in Thurrock.
The High House Production Park, in its Grade II listed High House farm buildings, accommodates the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop and the Thurrock education team who all relocated to the area at the end of 2010.
The education and community engagement programmes aim to give thousands of people nationwide the opportunity to experience the arts first hand, whether that be as performers, creators or as part of the backstage team.
ROH Education also delivers customised programmes within schools, colleges and higher education institutions to inspire young people, to develop their potential and support them to build skills for the future.
There are also opportunities, spear-headed by Emma Troubridge to allow for young adults to be taken on an apprenticeship scheme or apply for a 5-6 week work placement, which offers invaluable working experience, to act as a platform from which to develop further.
A hectic day ahead, started with the weekly Press Office round-up and top of the agenda were plans for the press conference later in the day. After spending the morning sending and answering emails, I attended the lunchtime preview, whereby Elaine Padmore gave a run down of The Royal Opera's forthcoming repertory, Deborah Bull informed us of the ROH2 programme and Monica Mason introduced her final Season as Director of The Royal Ballet.
Starting off the day in Ballet Press again, I began by offering up my services to pack the press release booklets to handout during the Press Cultivation evening, due to take place the following evening. At the beginning of each season, there is an evening dedicated to informing the Press of the upcoming programmes for Opera, Ballet and ROH2.
First thing Monday morning everyone peruses the weekend papers for interviews and reviews of opera and ballet company members. Keeping account of what is being written about Opera House personnel is a key element of the Press Team’s job.
Later, I spent an hour or so of researching information to be included in the tour Red Book. Each time the Royal Ballet goes on tour a little travel guide, akin to The Lonely Planet is given to each Company member to ensure they have the necessary information and details required for their trip to a given country.
I spent another morning dissecting the papers and online reviews for the press thoughts on the previous night’s performance of Cinderella.
By lunchtime, Covent Garden was buzzing with people, whom I had to circumvent in order to grab a Panini (masquerading as lunch) and dash back to one of the ballet rooms for the studio rehearsal of Manon.
My morning began again with a quick meeting with Rosie and Kitty in Ballet Press. Items up for discussion were the upcoming productions of Manon and the progress made so far on publicising the merger of The Royal Ballet with the O2 for their production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
My afternoon was spent in the very pleasurable company of Johanna Adams Farley, the Senior Ballet Stage Manager, for the stage rehearsal of Cinderella. With over 30 years experience as the stage manager at the Royal Ballet, Johanna fulfilled her own (and my childhood) dream of working with Rudolf Nureyev as both dancer and conductor.
Stage rehearsal time is extremely valuable to the company, and each run through has to be conducted as if it were a real-time performance. If I wasn’t running behind Johanna shadowing her every move, I was watching from the wings, over the shoulder of Lynn in the prompt corner. Although not without a few hiccups, I was very impressed with how calmly Johanna handled her team and any occurrence, making a mental note to adopt her strategy…it is all about the tone of voice you use!
The dancers work incredibly hard at not only mastering their own roles, but quite often mastering a second and sometimes third role as an understudy.
Started in Ballet Press carrying out some general house-keeping with filing new cuttings and writing up the efforts made over the last month to promote the dancers and upcoming productions. Great attempts are made to ensure the opera house is full for each performance, which is a difficult task, as you would expect for the weekday evenings. With the opening night of the third run of Cinderella imminent, the focus was on inviting reviewers who had not yet seen the production.
The afternoon was spent with the ‘Stage Management’ team which consisted of the lovely Lynn (Deputy Stage Manager) running around with purpose to ensure the props and furniture were present in the studio, in time for the Company studio rehearsal of Cinderella.
My job was to simply sit and observe three hours of formidable athleticism, dancers delivering with unparalleled grace, amidst sweat from ninety bodies and the odd knock and bump from another dancer, or worse, the floor!
I felt that it was incredibly indulgent to be spending only my second afternoon watching from such a privileged position, the last but one rehearsal before the first performance, whilst the creases where still being ironed out.
My first day at the Royal Opera House. It came with all the trimmings of being the ‘new’ person. Anticipation, excitement, the decision on whether to take the tube one more stop to Covent Garden or to walk from Leicester Square (I decided on taking it to Covent Garden, just to be sure…)
I was shown to the training room, whereby I was given a run down of what my first day would consist of and the opportunity to ask any questions. I watched two short DVD’s, which are shown to all new members of staff; ‘An Introduction to the Royal Opera House’ and ‘No Two Days Are the Same’, a fitting title for what was to become the synopsis of my first week.
I was then shown to the Bow Street entrance where I joined a public tour of the Opera House. Visitors participating in the public tour are often lucky enough to witness part of a rehearsal on stage or view a ballet class taking place in one of the studios, as well as a stroll through the costume department for a peek at the magnificent intricate detail of a tutu or two.
In the afternoon I was introduced to the Press and Communications team, courtesy of Rosie Neave, the Royal Ballet’s Head of Ballet Press. Interestingly every press cutting featuring a member of the Royal Ballet is filed under the production or dancer’s name; interviews, listings and reviews, good or bad.