top of page

The Royal Ballet 21/22 Season - part I

A temporada 21/22 do Royal Ballet (para português clique no menu de opções)

With the end of our season fast approaching, I look back and realise just how busy we have been here at the Royal Opera House and how much has been accomplished amidst a pandemic, war, and everything in between. It feels like we got a bit of normality back, if you can call this life ‘normal’. Having paused for nearly a year and a half, the scale of work that we do in a full season has been a shock to my system.

I have always tried to keep a sense of balance in work and life but always end up tipping one way or the other, and this past year has weighed heavily on the work and studies side. But I also realise that my perception of things has changed. An open theatre and a full audience… we don’t take such things for granted anymore. I know that we can't rely on time or optimal circumstances, and as long as I keep checking in with myself, things flow as naturally as they can, and I feel light and optimistic.

Photo by Andrej Uspenski

August began as usual, with few classes and rehearsals to ease us back into shape after a long summer. With a bit of extra time in my hands, I dove into an exciting new project. When researching for my Creative Writing course, I came across a literary magazine called The Pomegranate which speaks of all things artistic, from short stories to flash fiction, poems and drawings. It immediately resonated with me. I thought of submitting one of my writings, but before I could do it, the editor herself contacted me about a collaborative project that would combine some of my most favourite things: literature, music, and dance.

Assigned to portray the creative genius of a prominent figure in English literature, I began by choosing one piece of music. This would be my very first creation, and I had no experience in choreography least of all filming. I relied on the eye and expertise of a friend from work, the one and only Matthew Ball, who came to my rescue. The final product turned out to be quite special, exceeding my expectations.

‘Reverie was inspired by Virginia Woolf, her artistic life and struggles. I was going through a hard time, coming to terms with the loss of a dear friend (also an artist), and I believe that influenced me in choosing to represent how work plays a fundamental role in an artist’s life, how every artist faces doubts and fears but always gains an insight when overcoming them and a greater understanding of him/herself.’

The Pomegranate Project - Issue 2

Choreographies are very often inspired on works of literature. At the start of the season, we premiered a three-part ballet based on 'The Divine Comedy' by poet Dante Alighieri. Wayne McGregor’s The Dante Project captured Dante’s journey through the various circles of the afterlife. I wasn’t involved much in the creation, especially of part I - 'Inferno' - which had been done years ago, where I danced in a foursome of very feisty ladies. There was a lot of catching up to do, and I struggled at first to unleash my inner feistiness, but in the end, we all had fun.

What I found most stressful though was the costume spraying. Tiny booths were set backstage where three dancers went in at a time to get sprayed with chalk. We wore goggles and protective gear to shield us from the chemicals, but the smell was still intoxicating. This spray had to be reapplied two or three times to create the desired effect on stage. With music composed by Thomas Adès and designs by artist Tacita Dean, Dante was a big success.

The Dante Project © ROH

While in full preparation for Dante, we opened the season with Romeo and Juliet. This version, by Sir Kenneth Macmillan, is a classic of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire and always comes back. Because it feels so familiar to the dancers, it doesn’t take long for it to be reset. A few rehearsals and we are ready to go! But that doesn’t mean one mustn't stay alert during the sword fights. Besides, every interaction onstage is important to make the village a lively place, so it requires 100% of energy and commitment from everyone.

I have always been cast as one of Juliet’s friends, but this time I would make my debut as a ‘harlot’. During R&J’s return to the stage in January, the company had a covid outbreak. I had to stay professional and try my best not to panic, but harlots are not particularly covid-friendly. One by one, dancers, make-up artists, wardrobe and crew members started to get ill and have to isolate. Out of all casts, there was only one Mercutio left in the end to save the show! The thought of catching covid right before our mid-season break, when I was meant to be flying home to Brazil, was quite stressful.

Photo Andrej Uspenski

Besides what is happening on the main stage, the dancers are often busy working on several parallel events which are smaller in scale, yet just as important and demanding of time and hard work. The Royal Opera House comprises of many performing venues such as the Clore Studio, where we film 'World Ballet Day', and the Linbury Theatre, which receives guest performers and where Royal Ballet dancers usually showcase their own choreographies in Draft Works. Both 'World Ballet Day' and 'Draft Works 2021' gave me the opportunity to revisit Short Stories with Sibelius, choreographed by Ben Ella last summer.

It was at the Linbury Theatre that we celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the Ashton Foundation, with “Insights into Frederick Ashton: the influence of a ballet legend”. It was streamed on the Royal Opera House YouTube Channel, which is always extra pressure. I performed the ‘Fairy of Joy’ variation from The Sleeping Beauty (1968), coached by Dame Monica Mason. I always treasure our moments in the studio, when I feel in awe of her knowledge and respect for this art form. But one thing left me intrigued this time. Whilst coaching me on the solo, Monica advised me not to smile so much with my teeth, which I find nearly impossible!

‘Smile with your eyes!’ she said.

But I’m the fairy of JOY, how can I not smile??- I thought.

The last event I attended at the Linbury Theatre showcased a wonderful collaboration between Matt Ball (my camera man), photographer Rhys Frampton and composer Guy Chambers. Drowning Light is a retelling of the Myth of Icarus, and Matt’s first short film. I was in awe of his creativity and the result of combining the expertise of three artists who learned from each other and expanded the boundaries of their own fields. What a wonderful way to develop and transpose one’s own artistic skills.

Matthew Ball - by Rhys Frampton

In November, Sir Peter Wright's Giselle returned, one of my favourite classics of all times and the first production I ever performed with The Royal Ballet . The excitement and utter disbelief - it feels like yesterday - I felt when I stepped onto the stage is something I will never forget. Every time I hear the prologue music, I feel nostalgic and so grateful.

'Giselle' would be the ultimate role, a dream come true! She gets to be so many things… she is earthy and ethereal, vulnerable and strong, and dies for love being able to forgive. I had debuts as 'lead pas de six' and 'Zulme', both of which I enjoyed very much, but still await the day when Albrecht comes knocking on my door...

Christmas time called for our beloved production of The Nutcracker. After a disrupted Christmas season last year, our theatre managed to keep its doors open for a little longer to families and tourists from around the world. Tickets were pretty much sold out as soon as they were released online. Our audiences look forward to seeing the Christmas tree rising to the sky and Clara being taken away on a sleigh to the Kingdom of Sweets, except… there would be more disruptions this year, and not only caused by covid-19.

Unfortunately, the magic of the 'transformation scene' didn’t happen in its entirety for two or three consecutive performances due to a technical fault, where the ‘ramp’ that moves the set up and down got totally stuck. The technicians were working hard on it but it just wasn't possible to rectify it, and so we went ahead with the shows anyway, improvising our way through with very short notice.

We also had some performances cancelled, and it started to feel like this covid thing was never going to end! On a positive note though, I finally got to be 'Clara' with Luca Acri as Nut prince in the streaming performance to cinemas worldwide. It made my Christmas a very special one, and I hope it brought joy and a bit of magic to other families too!

Here, the transformation scene with Christopher Saunders as 'Drosselmeyer'.

Corona virus might have spoiled our run of The Nutcracker, but it wouldn’t stop me from going home to Brazil! Our mid-season break usually comes in January, it is a week very much anticipated by dancers in desperate need of a little time off to reset and recharge. This time we knew we were going to need it badly, not just to recover from months of nonstop dancing, as this was our first attempt at getting back to our normal schedules, but also to prepare us for what lied ahead…

In my opinion, Swan Lake is one of the most challenging ballets ever created! It is hard for the principals, of course, for its technical feats and dramaticism, but it is especially hard for the female corps de ballet dancing every single performance. I have done various productions of Swan Lake, starting with the staging of Act II whilst still at Canada’s National Ballet School. When I came to England, I did David Nixon's version with Northern Ballet, Derek Deane's Swan Lake in-the-round at the Royal Albert Hall with English National Ballet, and now two different productions with The Royal Ballet. None felt any easier than the other, and I admit having said in the past that I HATED it.

NB's Swan Lake

ENB's in-the-round (photo Amber Hunt)

No one tells you how hard it is to be standing in line of the corp de ballet for what feels like an eternity, or how much your muscles will cramp and your eyes water with the sweat that is streaming down your face. Nobody warns you about the quick changes, and that you’ll get home exhausted and be sleep deprived for weeks…

The Royal Ballet in 2014

But there is a reason why it is one of the most popular ballets of all time and why we put our bodies and minds through it day after day. Despite all the exhaustion, I can honestly say that I have found a new appreciation for it (although I recognise this might have something to do with the fact that I don’t do the long stands anymore). Finally I can enjoy Tchaikovsky's beautiful music, and John MacFarlaine's mesmerising sets and costumes. I feel a part of the story, and I owe all this to the late choreographer and dear friend Liam, who gave me opportunities I never thought I'd have and an incredible sense of freedom, whose sensibility and passion I will carry with me forever.

Liam Scarlett (1986-2021)

So much has changed since March 2019, when the first lockdown cut short our performances of his Swan Lake. Picking up from where we left off three years ago would prove to be a challenge in more ways than we could have ever imagined.

Swan Lake 2018 © ROH


bottom of page