Ross Stretton resigns
Posted 25 September 2002 - 05:11 AM
The official announcement is on the Royal Ballet's website at
Posted 25 September 2002 - 05:36 AM
Well, Mason certainly has the experience and the brains to run the company - if she wants it, I certainly hope they put her on the Short List for the top slot!
Posted 25 September 2002 - 06:18 AM
I'm glad that someone bred in the Royal Ballet's tradition is taking over the company, at least temporarily. I hope she'll be able to steer the company back in the right direction. On the other hand, she's a real MacMillan fan, from what I recall . . .
Posted 25 September 2002 - 07:10 AM
Even though I have enormous respect for the great heritage of this Company, my interest lies primarily in developing the future of ballet.
It's sad that this is thought of as mutually exclusive.
I hope people will post more details as they are available.
Posted 25 September 2002 - 12:40 PM
Shocking news, but not surprising considering all the grief he's gotten from every direction. Even here.
Posted 25 September 2002 - 01:23 PM
The transcript is many posts down, but the whole thread will be of interest to those reading this thread.
Posted 25 September 2002 - 02:10 PM
Posted 25 September 2002 - 02:18 PM
John Wilson: We start with the news that the revolving door at the Royal Opera House, having been still for a couple of years, has started spinning again. Ross Stretton, the Australian choreographer (sic), brought into lead and modernise the Royal Ballet has quit just weeks after reports that his directorial style was upsetting dancers. In a written statement, Stretton says he 'wants to develop the future of ballet', but doesn't explain why he couldn't do that in Covent Garden. On this programme recently we reported that the contentious casting decisions by Stretton had led to calls from dancers for a vote of no confidence in their artistic director. A short while ago I asked the Royal Opera House Chairman, Sir Colin Southgate, for his version of events.
Sir Colin Southgate: There's a lot of difference between a classical company and a non-classical company. I mean a lot of the ballet that we put on, which we're renowned for, as other ballet companies in the world are renowned for, are the classical productions that have been developed over the last thirty, forty, fifty years.
But he knew what sort of company you were, when he joined?
I suppose he did, but the answer to that is that he came here obviously with that knowledge but, you know, he thought he could move the thing beyond that at a faster pace, than he could. Therefore that's not really satisfactory...
Just as he knew what sort of ballet company you were, you knew what sort of ballet choreographer (sic) he was?
Absolutely true. We knew his background very well. We obviously investigated his background very well.
Has he resigned, or has he been sacked?
He hasn't been sacked? My understanding is that this isn't just about artistic issues?
Really? The ballet world is full of gossip.
It's not just gossip.
As far as I am concerned, he has resigned and he has gone with good grace and from both sides.
My understanding is that he had a volatile relationship, not only with the dancers, but with senior managers, sponsors and other people connected with the ballet.
No. I don't think he had ---- if you don't think artistic people don't have volatile relationships, you had better check around a bit more. Everybody has some fairly hot relationships. That's what the artistic world is all about. It was no worse or better than anyone else.
But it is true to say, isn't it, that several weeks ago the ballet dancers themselves were pressing for a vote of no confidence in him, and their union advised them against it. That is true isn't it?
Yea - the ballet world always are pressing for different things. At the end of the season, they had been on a six week tour, they had been absolutely exhausted, they'd worked very hard and they were interested in a different method of scheduling, which, in fact, we have implemented and it has nothing whatsoever to do with Ross Stretton's departure.
Was it a mistake to employ him?
Was it a mistake? The people we interviewed in detail, he was definitely, in the opinion of the interview panel, a man with a lot of the right qualities. The ballet world does not actually, you know, produce managers automatically. The artistic world doesn't do that. You have to be therefore conscious that some of these things don't work out as well as you would like them to work out.
You say it's with deep regret that you accept his resignation, but it must also be with deep regret that you employed him in the first place ?
(Laughter) Well, I'm sure you will read into it what you would like, but as far as I'm concerned, the employment of Ross Stretton was handled carefully. We did everything we needed to do to check it out. And, you know, it's just one of those things that hasn't worked out.
Just to get to the core of this issue? What is the main reason he has gone?
I've just given you that. He has resigned, because he doesn't actually enjoy the mixture of the classical work with his objectives for taking ballet forward.
So it's an artistic reason then?
Artistic reasons - from his point of view.
Sir Colin Southgate, Chairman of the Royal Opera House. I'm joined now by Ismene Brown, the dance critic for the Telegraph. This is a sudden departure, but not entirely unexpected is it?
Ismene Brown: Not unexpected at all. This is an expected resignation and I think that it's been expected for the last couple of months. Really, the rumours of increasing dissatisfaction among the dancers, the heavy criticism, really, of Ross Stretton's artistic approach have really combined for it to make it impossible for him to stay on. He was quite clearly the wrong man for the job and I think Sir Colin Southgate and the board would be right to sound very sheepish. Because, when he was appointed, he was appointed precisely because he knew almost nothing about the company and they thought this would be valuable - a fresh eye from the outside world.
What do you make of Sir Colin's point that his approach was wrong: that the Royal Ballet was almost too classical for him to handle?
I don't buy that, I'm afraid. The thing is that Stretton was actually appointed on the grounds of being a moderniser. What has really gone wrong is that he hasn't proved a moderniser. He has actually shrunk the opportunities for new work in the company and vastly increased the runs of classics. He has also further reduced the runs of programmes, the Royal Ballet has been doing. Even under his predecessor, Sir Anthony Dowell, who was thought of as conservative, the number of programmes was 14 to 15 a year. This year there are just 10 and as they get nearly £10 million a year in subsidy, that represents a million pounds spent for every first night that you see. Now I think that a lot of people would say that wasn't particularly good value for money. Another problem, I think, is that Stretton himself didn't realise that he could have been a great deal more ambitious than he was. It isn't as if the Royal Ballet is a stagnant classical company with no repertory. The point is that there is a large repertory that it could draw from, that it hasn't done, and it is very adventurous repertory that Anthony Dowell had been neglecting. There is every good reason for bringing in ballets from outside.
There has been recent calm at the Opera House, does this move signal new chaos?
I think it does in that it has shown, above all, that the board proved itself quite inadequate at appointing the right person for the job. One has to hope that they look at themselves very very carefully because Ross Stretton's failure is their failure. It comes down to their doorstep. They have got to choose the next man right and it is absolutely essential in a ballet company - the fame of a ballet company is difficult to maintain; it is a delicate and fragical thing and the next person has to be chosen because he or she has to understand what matters inside the company, what makes it unique in the world, not try to turn it into a sort of internationalised all-purpose company the way Stretton did.
Ismene Brown, thank you very much
Posted 26 September 2002 - 07:09 AM
Those interested in this issue will want to check today's Links threads, which have a lot of articles from the NYTimes, British, and Australian papers.
I'd also lilke to add a word about "press bashing." I think this is partly a misunderstanding about the way the press operates, and I think it's unfair. First off, there's no "the press." There's no gang of people who have a meeting and say, "Right. Let's get that Aussie outsider and tell him who's boss." That's nonsense. "The press" is a collection of individuals who often make a point of never talking to each other so that there is no influence. The worst thing that can happen to a writer is that you have what you think is a brilliant, original thought, and hear someone else say the same thing at intermission. If you print it, he'll think you stole it from him, and vice versa.
Second, most people, even the most avid balletgoers, don't have access to the same kind of background information that writers do, and/or often aren't interested in it -- why should they care about the repertory record that X had two companies ago in the 1980s? It doesn't matter unless or until there's a crisis in one's home company.
But think of it in the political context. Mr. Fish, the man nominated to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency, say, is on record as saying there are already too many trees, and that laws protecting the environment are death to big business. He's a lumber company executive. You are an environmentalist -- or you're completely neutral on the issue, but you do have a vague idea that the purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect the environment. You read his statements, look at his background, and you say, "Hey! Wait a minute here! This is a bad appointment!!!" And he takes office and begins doing exactly what he said he would do -- cut down lots of trees, and propose the repeal of the Clean Water Act. When that falls through, he simply stops enforcing water safety regulations.
You report on all of this, action by action. Are you Fish bashing? Are you not giving him a fair chance? Did you make up your mind beforehand and are just writing things so that you look smart? No. You've done your homework and are reporting on what is happening.
If environmentalism doesn't work for you, try this one. You're a liberal and the head of Health and Human Services says, "The poor are poor through their own fault. Get a job." Or you're a conservative who is concerned about the country's defenses and is alarmed by the new Secretary of Defense who says he's going to bring the army into the future and then begins to cancel contract after contract for new weapons and closes bases.
Point being, there's a difference between researching something, understanding the whole picture (or trying to) and seeing where each piece of the puzzle fits into that picture and then writing about it, and feeling cross one morning and deciding to go out and "bash" somebody. The purpose of the press, if it has one, is to sound the alarm while there are still trees. I admire the British critics for speaking their minds -- something everyone who has yet responded on the thread "What should a hometown critic do?" has advocated, by the way
[And these are overstated analogies, of course. I don't mean to suggest that Mr. Stretton's situation was as stark as my analogies.]
Posted 26 September 2002 - 10:22 AM
Monica Mason's roots in the Royal Ballet could scarcely be deeper. When Lincoln Kirstein spoke of ballet's "apostolic succession", he could almost have had her in mind. Last year I watched her teach the role of the Firebird to Mara Galeazzi. Mason had learnt the role from Fonteyn, who had in turn learnt it from Karsavina, the first Firebird. It was the most vivid demonstration imaginable of ballet tradition being handed across the generations.
She takes over the Royal Ballet's direction during the commemorative year for Kenneth MacMillan. She was The Chosen One in his Rite of Spring. Later he asked her to be his special assistant. Her knowledge of his ballets is consummate and she remains one of his strongest advocates.
She cannot have been altogether happy with the Royal Ballet's plans to commemorate Kenneth MacMillan, and, in particular, with Ross Stretton's declared view was that MacMillan's one-act works were not really suitable for the Royal Opera House's main stage. It is highly likely that she is investigating her options for an enhanced tribute which would include some of the one-act pieces.
If the Royal Ballet's search committee acts as slowly and as deliberately as I think it will, It will probably fall to Monica Mason to make the decisions about the repertory for the year 2003-2004.
Posted 26 September 2002 - 10:50 AM
I'd be surprised if the new director were not given a hand in choosing repertory. He/she can be brought in as a consultant the season before for things like this, and I think that's the way it's generally done. It's nice to think that we can count on the powers that be at Covent Garden to make a slow, reasoned choice
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