The exhibition ‘Monica Mason: A Life With The Royal Ballet‘ opened in February, but only last week did I see it properly – at a private view, which also happily involved some speeches and a party with a lot of old friends and colleagues of Monica Mason. A privilege to be there and nice to have free run of the house and the time to stand and stare at some scrummy pictures, costumes and memorabilia. There is an excellent Trail Guide (trail guide pdf) to the Exhibition, curated by the ROH Collections department (can’t talk them up enough), and the press release given below gives the background also, so I wanted to record briefly the event and my own feelings in wandering around.
While I suppose many of us have come to sum up Monica Mason by what she has done as Director of the company these last 10 years, it was Tony Hall’s speech that really punched home her deeper significance: she is now 70 and for only 15 years of her life has she not been part of The Royal Ballet. It’s been a lifetime of love and commitment and I don’t think any other director in the world can have such a history of unbroken loyalty and tireless devotion to a single company.
Charting that lifetime I think is best seen in the pictures up at Amphitheatre level and the intensity of her gaze, even from the earliest days, marked her out as someone very special – as Kenneth MacMillan noted, she was a dancer of “tremendous power, rare in English dancers who tend to be more elegant and refined…” I never saw Mason dance in her prime – only as Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty, but what scary and chilly performances they were and we soon learnt to book for nights when she was on, totally regardless of the rest of the casting. Most of the pictures up in the Amphitheatre are black and white and they really bring out both her own power and the power of expressive movement – the inclusion of a few recent colour pictures really shows that photographic progress is not always flattering to the theatre. Not so paintings, and June Mendoza’s full-height rendition of Mason at the end of her mainstream dancing career in the early 1980’s shows a gypsy of a woman with flowing curly locks, powerful and proud.
Elsewhere you can see costumes and newspaper cuttings lovingly collected by her mother, all of which jolt the mind about her achievements in the company when it was breaking new ground, but it’s those black and white images that speak out. What’s more they can be seen for free anytime you are at the Royal Opera House. So do make a date with yourself, turn up early, see them, and be reminded of one of the true greats of the company doing her powerful thing on stage.
More details below and also on the ROH site.
Copy of the original press release…
Monica Mason: A Life With The Royal Ballet – Exhibition
Monica Mason: A Life With The Royal Ballet
27 February-28 July 2012
Monica Mason has had a unique career with The Royal Ballet, having worked with every previous Director of the Company. As her final Season as Director of The Royal Ballet begins to draw to a close, the Royal Opera House Collections Spring/Summer 2012 exhibition examines and celebrates her 54 years with the Company. From her early days as a member of the corps de ballet in 1958 through to her decade as Director, this exhibition is a comprehensive overview of her exceptional achievements within the Company. The different stages of her career are illustrated by costumes, photographs and press cuttings from Royal Opera House Collections, as well as material lent by Mason herself.
The exhibition features twenty costumes showcasing Monica Mason’s extraordinary range as a dancer. The earliest costume is for one of the six princesses or fiancées in Le Lac des cygnes, which Mason first wore on 4 December 1958, 5 months after joining The Royal Ballet aged 16 as its youngest member. They also include her costume for The Chosen Maiden in Kenneth MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring, 1962. MacMillan plucked Mason from the corps de ballet for this role, the first of many that he was to create for her. The costumes for her created roles in MacMillan’s Manon, Elite Syncopations and Isadora are also on display in the exhibition.
Other costumes reflect the range of repertory Mason danced including classical roles in The Sleeping Beauty and Raymonda Act III, Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering, Cinderella and Enigma Variations, and twentieth century classics such as Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Biches, Jerome Robbin’s Dances at a Gathering, Hans van Manen’s Adagio Hammerklavier and MacMillan’s Song of the Earth.
The costumes are supplemented by a rich display of over 80 images of Monica Mason which span the whole of her career with The Royal Ballet from 1958 until the present. The photographs illustrate the many roles she danced as well as highlighting her work behind the scenes. They include stunning images by photographers Frederika Davis, Roy Round, Donald Southern, Leslie E Spatt, Rob Moore and Johan Persson.
Mason has lent material for the exhibition including a full length portrait of her as a dancer in practice clothes by June Mendoza, a set of scrapbooks of press cuttings lovingly complied by her mother Sue Fabian and photo albums showing Mason and her Royal Ballet colleagues on overseas tours.
- There is a unique tour of the exhibition that takes place most days at 11am.
Book in person at the Box Office or by telephone on 44 (0)20 7304 4000.
About Royal Opera House Collections:
Material in the Royal Opera House Collections records the history of the three theatres that have stood on the Covent Garden site since 1732, and the performances they have housed. The majority of material in the Collections is generated through the work of the Royal Opera House and its different departments. Additionally, ROH Collections commissions and generates material through specific project work, and houses Special Collections that have been donated or purchased. Each Season, between September and August, there are two main exhibitions at the Royal Opera House, which can be seen throughout the building. For further details visit www.rohcollections.org.uk