fri 21/11/2014

Curiouser and curiouser: snubbed Scottish Ballet chief bites back | Dance reviews, news & interviews

Curiouser and curiouser: snubbed Scottish Ballet chief bites back

Ashley Page: 'Leaving Scottish Ballet in 2012 with great sadness and regret'
Ashley Page: 'Leaving Scottish Ballet in 2012 with great sadness and regret' Catherine Ashmore/Scottish Ballet

Scottish Ballet’s artistic director Ashley Page yesterday angrily made clear that when he leaves the company in 2012 it will be against his wishes. Last Thursday the company issued an emotionless brief statement that Page had “felt he was unable to accept” an extension to his contract, which ends after 10 years' work in 2012.

Yesterday, however, Page’s agent issued a statement that he had on the contrary been eager to take a further three-to-five-year contract, but that he had felt "great disappointment" at the offer of only a single year as an interim measure while the company’s management sought other creative ideas for Scotland’s flagship ballet company, and felt it "would serve no good purpose to accept this short-term offer".

Scottish_AliceScottish Ballet, a chamber-sized classically based company with 36 dancers eking out a £4.7 million grant, has had a rollercoaster existence in its 40-year history. It has lurched uncomfortably in the past 25 years from classical ballet to contemporary ballet to a mixture of the two under former Royal Ballet choreographer Ashley Page that has brought the Scots consistent attention from ballet-goers south of the border, but never financial stability. Like other arts organisations, Scottish Ballet faces a sizeable cut in provision of around 10 per cent next year.

Page’s rewrites of classics have been his most debated productions, challenging audiences with surrealist, psychodrama takes on The Nutcracker and Cinderella (this Christmas’s attraction), while his sophisticated taste for mixed bills linking top-notch Neo-Classical pieces by Balanchine and Ashton to abstract contemporary dancemakers such as Trisha Brown and William Forsythe has possibly reflected too “London” an approach for some nationalist Scots, especially with tighter purse-strings now.

Yet it’s that sharp artistic furrow that won Page’s Scottish Ballet prestigious invitations to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival, offers not made to previous regimes. Under him, like or loathe his productions, Scottish Ballet has punched well above its weight, carrying out a wider ambition than any company in the UK, with everything from contemporary reinventions of Christmas classics in Edinburgh to touring bills for oil towns with tiny theatres.

The company has also only just moved into a fine new purpose-built base in Glasgow’s Tramway, a further sign of the success of the Page era.

Page is clearly furious at his management’s recasting of the affair as implying his dissatisfaction, and it remains to be seen how this affects his preparations of a big new ballet based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, with a commissioned score by Robert Moran, next spring.

WHeeldon_AliceTwo intriguing coincidences spring to the eye. First, shortly before Page’s Alice, another significant new Alice (ROH publicity still, right) will be unveiled down south by Christopher Wheeldon at the Royal Ballet in London, an unhelpful clash that is typical of the counterproductive way the British ballet companies operate. (This Christmas there are also three dance Cinderellas, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Scottish and Sadler’s Wells.)

The second coincidence is that the end of Page’s contract exactly chimes with that of the retiring Royal Ballet artistic director, Dame Monica Mason, finally leaving after 10 years in the job, a period of staidness in London.

Page’s track record at Scottish Ballet would commend him to Covent Garden, having had a tough row to hoe, but one that he has dealt with robustly rather than taking safer box-office options. However, as an active choreographer whose work was often given a rough ride by critics for its attention-seeking devices, he might find himself severely hemmed in by the Royal Opera House’s institutional conservatism.

With other names in the Covent Garden shortlist likely to include the choreographers Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor and in-house managers Christopher Saunders and Deborah Bull, the weight of Page’s hands-on experience of directorship and reputation for forwardness could be favoured by the search committee. But a key straw in the wind in WC2 may be the critical receptions next spring of the two rival Alice premieres.

  • Page’s Alice premieres at Glasgow Theatre Royal 12-16 April 2011; then Edinburgh Festival Theatre 20-23 April; Inverness Eden Court 27-30 April; Cardiff Wales Millennium Centre 4-7 May; Aberdeen His Majesty’s 11-14 May
  • Wheeldon’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland premieres at the Royal Opera House on 2 March, with four further performances till 15 March
The second coincidence is that the end of Page’s contract exactly chimes with that of the retiring Royal Ballet artistic director, Dame Monica Mason.

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