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Alexandra

Monica Mason appointed RB director

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Here's the press release, from the ROH site:

Monica Mason Appointed Director of The Royal Ballet

PRESS RELEASE

18 December 2002

ROYAL OPERA HOUSE ANNOUNCES APPOINTMENT OF

MONICA MASON AS DIRECTOR OF THE ROYAL BALLET

Sir Colin Southgate, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Royal Opera House, announced today the appointment of Monica Mason as the Director of The Royal Ballet with immediate effect. Since the departure of Ross Stretton, in September 2002, she has been Acting Director for the Company.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monica Mason came to England at the age of 14, training at the Nesta Brooking School of Ballet and the Royal Ballet School. She joined The Royal Ballet in 1958 when she was only 16, the youngest member of the Company at that time. After a brief period in the corps de ballet, she was selected by Kenneth MacMillan to create the demanding role of the Chosen Maiden in The Rite of Spring, which was premiered in 1962. One year later she was appointed Soloist. She became a Principal in 1968.

Her repertory included purely classical roles including Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, the title role in Giselle, the Prelude and Mazurka in Les Sylphides and the leading role in Raymonda Act III as well as dramatic parts such as the Hostess in Les Biches and the Black Queen in Checkmate. In 1974 and 1975 Kenneth MacMillan created four roles for her: Lescaut's Mistress in Manon, Calliope Rag in Elite Syncopations, Summer in The Four Seasons and the Midwife in Rituals.

A highly praised interpreter of the leading roles in MacMillan's Song of the Earth, Nijinska's Les Noces and Nureyev's `Kingdom of the Shades scene from La Bayadère, she was in the first performances by The Royal Ballet of Hans van Manen's Adagio Hammerklavier, Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and In the Night, Balanchine's Liebeslieder Walzer and Tudor's Dark Elegies. Other major roles have included the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Empress Elisabeth and Mitzi Caspar in MacMillan's Mayerling; the title role in The Firebird; Variation I in Frederick Ashton's Birthday Offering, the Fairy Godmother and Winter Fairy in Cinderella and Lady Elgar in Enigma Variations; and the Queen of Denmark in Helpmann's Hamlet. In 1980 she created a leading role in David Bintley's Adieu, and, in 1981, Nursey in Kenneth MacMillan's Isadora. After she stopped dancing ballerina roles, she continued to appear regularly in mime roles such as Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty and Lady Capulet in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet and she recently created the role of Mrs Grose in William Tuckett’s The Turn of the Screw.

In 1980 Monica Mason was appointed Répétiteur to Kenneth MacMillan followed in 1984 by her appointment as Principal Répétiteur to The Royal Ballet. In January 1991, after a four year period of assisting Anthony Dowell, she became Assistant Director.

In July 1996, under the auspices of Roehampton Institute London, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Surrey. She was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2002 New Year Honours List.

Commenting on the appointment, Sir Colin Southgate said, “The Board is delighted that Monica Mason has agreed to take up the reins as Director of The Royal Ballet. She has already impressed us with the swiftness with which she restored calm to the Company and the changes that she has introduced to the repertory this season. I personally look forward to her exciting plans for the future.”

Tony Hall, Executive Director of the Royal Opera House, added, “I am delighted with Monica Mason’s appointment as Director of The Royal Ballet. She has made an enormous contribution to the Company as a dancer, a coach and in particular through her work as custodian of the Kenneth MacMillan repertory. With such extensive knowledge and experience of the Company, she is perfectly placed to take The Royal Ballet through the next period of its history until the summer of 2007. I am thrilled to be working with Monica”

Monica Mason said, “I am deeply honoured to be appointed Director of this great Company. Over the last three months I have been overwhelmed by the support given to me by everybody at the Royal Opera House and the dance community at large. I am very excited at the prospect of leading the Company over the next four and a half years, during which we will celebrate the Company’s 75th Birthday.”

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The news was announced this afternoon.

There will be inevitable speculation about the appointment of an assistant. Whoever it is will be a strong favourite to succeed Monica Mason when her term finishes.

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Well, they didn't waste any time.

Why is it only until the summer of 2007? (Sorry if I missed something important along the way.)

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Filling out Stretton's three-year term and then a three-year term of her own? (That's a guess -- if anyone knows, please correct.)

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She'll be 65 at the start of the 2006/2007 season, which is compulsory retiring age in the company. (At least, it is now, but our government seems to be moving towards a 'work till you drop' culture, so who knows what it will be by that time?)

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What a lucky thing they didn't have a compulsory retirement age when de Valois was around. :)

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I hope people in London consider this wonderful news, because I do. I was trying to explain why I was happy after just reading the news to somebody who is not interested in ballet, "You know how we're always complaining that the people who get put in charge are the wrong ones, who are only interested in their own betterment and make self-centered moves and then tell everybody how great it is? Well, for the first time in a long time the right person with good judgement and the best intentions was given the reigns some place."

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I think it's great news! I think the RB's in good hands and given just the changes to the 2002-3 season I'm really positive about it's future.

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brendan's point is certainly a good one.

"There will be inevitable speculation about the appointment of an assistant. Whoever it is will be a strong favourite to succeed Monica Mason when her term finishes."
the obvious choices of sansom and/or bull will likely generate some debate...

it seems to me that it is inevitable that sansom will become RB AD at some point - and rightly so. the question is just 'when?' today's appointment makes for an appropriate timeline, for mason to hand over to one or other of these people, who, by then, will have acquired a reasonable amount of management experience.

still...who knows how the world will change in 4 years...

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Bruce Sansom is a wonderful, intelligent, resourceful guy who is getting himself the best possible training to become an AD somewhere. I would be very happy to hear he had been apponted assistant.

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Would either Deborah Bull or Bruce Sansom really want to spend 4 years as Assistant Director, with no guarantee of getting the top job at the end of it? I'd have thought they could both more usefully do something else. And does Monica Mason need an assistant anyway?

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I don't know the duties of the RB's Assistant Director, but at the RDB it's been, since at least 1930, the person who did the scheduling: which ballets are rehearsed in which studios by which producer, coordinating with the other departments in the theater (so that the opera doesn't sign up for the same studio). S/he also attends meetings with heads of other departments -- costume, production -- and unions. Some have also coached and directed. If I wanted to be the director, I'd take that job for four years with the expectation that if I did it well, I'd have a good shot at the top job. I don't think they can promise it now, can they? Perhaps hint -- but we won't know that.

Would Mason have gotten the AD job if she hadn't been the assistant? I think it could be a very good way for someone relatively young to get to know all the people s/he'll have to work with in the ROH, know how the place works, build contacts with artists, get to know the dancers, etc. I think often assistant directors don't make good directors because they would rather be off somewhere else doing their own thing (and making mistakes on their on the job training) so it may not work out, but if the board wants to insure succession and smooth running in the future, it may be a good idea.

I did a long interview with Bruce Sansom for DanceView (Autumn issue) in which he was very careful not to indicate that he was interested in any particular job, but clearly had a desire to serve that company in some capacity. There were many things he said that impressed me, especially a worry that the RB audience could become bifurcated unless new works and old works were integrated into the repertory (by which I think he means mixed triple bills, not a New Night and an Old Fogeys Night). I think his time in San Francisco introduced him to a lot of new choreographers, and gave him a model for how to encourage and present new choreography. And he certainly has an appreciation of Ashton and MacMillan.

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If Mason is willing to work closely with her Assistant Director, sharing the problems of running a company, I think that four years as AD would be excellent training for anyone who hopes to be a full-fledged director some day, whether at the RB or at any other company.

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I totally agree. I don't think there could be better training.

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i wonder whether 'they' always appoint an assistant (at RB)? it seems to me (being very vague about this, in my memory), that the concept of having an assistant AD (or even more so, an ASSOCIATE AD) is a relatively modern fashion...is that right, or not? historians please advise!

however, assuming for a moment that there might be one...jane simpson wrote

"Would either Deborah Bull or Bruce Sansom really want to spend 4 years as Assistant Director, with no guarantee of getting the top job at the end of it?"
are you joking?!?

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To continue the Anglican metaphor I proposed when we were discussing those possible to consecrate:

Now that we've just been given an archbishop, isn't it a bit early to begin searching for a bishop coadjutor?

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I don't know what the situation was in the Royal -- I hope someone can clarify. If anyone hung around with expectations it was Ashton, who was appointed Associate Director of the Royal in 1952.

I think there was always someone who scheduled the ballets; in Denmark s/he was called the regisseur. I'm assuming that all the old opera houses used similar administrative models. In Denmark, the appointment also meant extra money snd so would be given to someone who was a good "company man." The regisseur became the Assistant Balletmaster, and then Vice Balletmaster.

I can see Jane's point, would a (relatively) young person want to be an assistant without assurance of becoming AD when s/he could get a job now running a company. As several have noted, the future is so uncertain, in every way. The Royal may be a contemporary dance company or a tap troupe by 2007, for all we know. My comments were more from the House side of the question: realizing that often an Assistant is born to fulfill that role and will be at sea in the big job, I still think that if you want to insure institutional continuity, it's better to train someone from within rather than let them go out into the world and learn bad habits somewhere else. :)

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I was posting at the same time as Mel -- didn't mean to leapfrog you. It is interesting, isn't it, that the reaction to Mason has been almost universally:

One -- hooray. The dancers trust her.

Two -- who will be the assistant AD? That's who'll be the next director.

This indicates to me that she's seen as a caretaker figure rather than someone who would shake things up. (To stay within Mel's train of thought, that's what they thought about Pope John XXIII; it's not a sure shot.) Is it a case of old generals fighting the last war? They were criticized for bringing in an Outsider; they'll appoint an Insider. They were criticized because the last director was not only clueless but crude; they'll appoint someone who can calm things down and knows who she has to bow to.

This could mean that if Mason's honeymoon doesn't outlast her first season, which is often the case, the next call will be, "For God's sake, get someone from outside!" Who knows? :)

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alexandra: thanks for the info about ashton's position as assistant, going back as far as that.

after i wrote my post, i realised that, regardless of the historical situation (of whether assistants are always appointed), even asking the question is irrelevant now. after all, in the current situation, mentoring a potential director would almost be the object of the exercise. so surely there WILL be one.

alexandra wrote

"would a (relatively) young person want to be an assistant without assurance of becoming AD when s/he could get a job now running a company"
i think this sentiment underestimates the sense of prestige, belonging and loyalty which 'born and bred' RB dancers have for their own company.

since childhood, most have believed that joining this company was the only worthwhile outcome of their focused young lives. eventually leading it, is the ultimate - for the few who aspire that high. a 'higher' position in a lesser company...?: to a member of this 'family', there is no such thing.

there are 'other' things/ different things... (and with eventual maturity can come an understanding that 'other' things CAN be worthwhile, too) ...but there are not 'better' things than progressing within the fold.

i am not saying this applies to all. many develop other tastes, and want to head in other directions...in particular, those who come into the system later (for example, into the upper school from elsewhere, including overseas) are more likely to have diverse aspirations. but some, especially those who have been within the system all their formative years, 'belong' there, because they choose to, and have been raised to. and that culture of belonging is extremely strong - which is understandable when you have seen it at work. in that context, being ASSISTANT here, is far better than being AD anywhere else....

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