The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) marked the 60th anniversary of its highest honour – the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award (QEII Award) – by giving it to The Royal Ballet. A good time for DanceTabs to catch up with director Kevin O’Hare and some of his dancers at the awards reception…
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award (QEII Award) is pretty special, not to say exclusive – one award only is given each year for outstanding services to the art of ballet. The award is one of the most long-running as well – going for 60 years now – and, to celebrate, this years ceremony was at Claridge’s, just like the first one in 1954. Then the award went to Ninette de Valois and this year, for the first time, a company (not an individual) won the award – The Royal Ballet (RB). Wherever she is now, de Valois will surely be applauding the company that she founded.
This year’s ceremony was also a fund-raiser for another great and long-running RAD institution – The (Adeline) Genée International Ballet Competition – at 83, even older than the QEII Award. Hosted by Darcey Bussell (the RAD president) it was a very glittery occasion attended by the Royal Ballet’s director, Kevin O’Hare, and what seemed like most of the company principals, all looking beyond glamorous. In all the evening raised a magnificent £65,000 – more details in the press release at the end.
I was there for the reception and aside from enjoying some bubble-filled glasses, manged to grab a few words with Kevin O’Hare and some of his dancers about the current rude health of the company, how things have changed and a little about the future. I started with the obvious…
So what makes the Royal Ballet so award-winning and special?
Gary Avis: “I think the repertoire, the people, the ability to reach out across the globe and to touch everybody – that’s special.”
Genesia Rosato: “I think we have a wonderful depth of feel in our artists. We have everything – incredible ballerinas, incredible coaching staff, incredible dramatic dancers and they still hang on to us older ones! That’s what makes the difference.”
Sarah Lamb: “I think what distinguishes the Royal Ballet from other companies is the breadth of repertoire, the fidelity to historical works and to the choreographers who made the Royal Ballet so renowned – Ashton, MacMillan. I think that these traditions have been held incredibly well through the generations and the coaching ensures that we will continue this legacy into the future.”
Kevin O’Hare: “I always say that we are not just about those 2 people in the middle of the stage, portraying whatever characters. We are about everybody else making that story come true. And also the design and the lighting and the way we approach the music. And you see that in the new choreographers coming through – that’s very much their heritage as well.”
I think that about covers it for me too and I’m sure the basis on which RAD gave RB the award.
Touching on how things have changed
The Royal Ballet have inevitably changed since de Valois won in 1954 and I briefly touched on change seen in the last few decades with Genesia (joined RB in 1976) and Gary (joined in 1989)…
GA: “When I first joined you weren’t really able to talk to soloists and principals. Now there is much more of an ethos of everybody working together and it’s more of a team effort. That’s instilled in people at all levels now.”
GR: “Before the studios were built at the Opera House there was one teeny weeny cupboard in the canteen for principals only; the rest of us had to do barre in the pit lobby on the carpet, or in the crush bar, on a good day. That was it!” But despite the different levels it’s the togetherness that most sticks for Genesia: “It has changed – We inhabit a more glamorous theatre with fantastic facilities. I think the camaraderie is the same – people come and people go – but I think generally it’s a gorgeous bunch of people always. Really friendly – wonderful atmosphere.”
RB and New Work
When I think of RB under Kevin O’Hare, about to enter his third season as director, I think of his commitment to new work generally but particularly the commitment to new full-evening ballets, of which there is at least one new one each year. How long can he keep this up, I asked?
KO’H: (Laughing) “We might have a rest, for one year, maybe in 2017. We might go ‘phew’ for a minute and then start again! I’ve said it before but I have this idea… the Opera are doing something very special in 2020 and I’d love to say that all our full-lengths that year will have been created in the last 10 years – which would be fantastic. And I think to counterpoint that, probably all the mixed programmes would be heritage work – the Ashton, MacMillan work – sort of play around with it that way. If I’m still around!” (a reference to his contract no doubt needing to be extended).”
A wonderful goal, and great to look forward to the stream of new work continuing on. I did ask if we might see a new production of Swan Lake, but he was not to be drawn.
Public Funding and Selling Seats
Money has always been tight and I asked Kevin about the Arts Council cuts to the ROH budget for 2015 onwards and if they would have an impact on RB. A mix of thoughts emerged, from the happiness of being blessed with such a great place to work and its fantastic facilities, to the frustration of seeing their public subsidy always being chipped away at, despite running a tight ship. He also much praised the work of the Development (fund raising) Department who year on year seem to be doing more as the ROH public grant shrinks, and he also noted the initiatives to raise income in other ways – like the GQ Men of the Year Awards recently being hosted there. But it’s hard to go wrong putting bums on seats and that’s what RB seem to be very good at…
KO’H: “I was thrilled that this year, I don’t like to say it too many times because there is always the next year, but people really came to see everything – it wasn’t just the big classics, the whole year was 98% full. So people really want to see the new work and see what’s going on. Whether they like it or are challenged by it or whatever, they want to come and see it. That’s been great.”
Perhaps that’s the biggest accolade of them all for the current RB – be they dancing classical, heritage or cutting-edge new work they sell nearly every seat in the house – not many can boast such an impressive record.
I very much hope that other companies win QEII Awards in the years to come, but that RB were first seems a rightful thing at this time and RAD are to be hugely congratulated for shining a light on the very best of British ballet over all these years. We need more razzmatazz celebrations like this and which raise money for good causes too. Bravo to all concerned.
What follows are the two RAD Press Release associated with the QEII Award.
8 Spetember 2014
The Royal Ballet receives the Royal Academy of Dance’s highest award during fundraising gala
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) has marked the 60th anniversary of presenting its highest honour – the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award (QEII Award) – to The Royal Ballet with a spectacular gala fundraiser. The RAD’s initial projection is that the evening raised £65,000 towards the creation of a new bursary scheme to enable more young people to compete in its flagship event, the Genée International Ballet Competition.
The QEII Award – presented annually in recognition of by the RAD – was first conferred sixty years ago upon Royal Ballet founder Dame Ninette de Valois, in 1954. To celebrate this benchmark in ballet history, the award was presented on Thursday 4 September to The Royal Ballet’s Director, Kevin O’Hare, during a glamorous dinner at Claridge’s in Mayfair, London. Also in attendance were past Genée medallists as well as 19 current Principals of The Royal Ballet, Wayne Sleep OBE (RAD Vice President), Dame Monica Mason DBE (former Director of The Royal Ballet and past QEII recipient), Lady Gabriella Windsor and other celebrities and luminaries of the dance world.
The evening was hosted by RAD President, Darcey Bussell CBE, who said: ‘What is really extraordinary about this event is having Royal Ballet stars of the past and the present here in one room. It’s a real celebration of British ballet and a wonderful opportunity to raise funds for the next generation of dancers coming up through the ranks of the Royal Academy of Dance.’
The Genée has proved to be a launch pad for a professional career in dance. Since the year 2000, 14 Genée medallists have gone on to dance with The Royal Ballet alone – amongst them current Principal Dancers Lauren Cuthbertson (Silver Medallist, 2001) and Steven McRae (Gold Medallist, 2002). The auction proceeds will create means tested bursaries of up to £3,000 for future Genée International Ballet Competition candidates who cannot afford the costs involved in taking part, as well to develop the competition itself further. Details of the new scheme will be announced in time for the 2015 Genée.
The RAD’s CEO, Luke Rittner described the event as ‘a terrific evening, enjoyed by all and in a very good cause: the future of young dancers.’ Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph’s joint dance critic Mark Monahan¸ who delivered the QEII Coronation Award citation, described the former winners of the QEII Award as ‘people, as we all know, without whom British ballet would be unrecognisable today’.
12 May 2014
The Royal Academy of Dance is to present The Royal Ballet with the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award
Date: Thursday 4 September 2014
Venue: Claridge’s Hotel, 49 Brook St, London W1K 4HR
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) will award its highest honour – the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award (QEII Award) – to The Royal Ballet, 60 years after the award’s inauguration. The award – presented annually in recognition of outstanding services to the art of ballet by the RAD – was first conferred on The Royal Ballet founder Dame Ninette de Valois, in 1954. To celebrate this benchmark in ballet history, the award will be presented during a gala fundraising dinner for the RAD’s flagship event, the Genée International Ballet Competition (the Genée).
The QEII Award was created in honour of the 1953 coronation of the RAD’s patron, Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Ballet will become the first ever company to receive the award usually bestowed upon individuals. The gala dinner will be held at Claridge’s in Mayfair, on 4 September 2014, the exact venue where the first QEII Award was held at a lunch on 16 July 1954. It was presented to Dame Ninette de Valois by the then RAD President Dame Adeline Genée in recognition of her outstanding contribution to ballet including her founding of The Royal Ballet in 1931 – the same year in which the Genée was first convened.
The Genée has since proved to be a launch pad for a professional career in dance, and the Academy hopes to fundraise to provide the means for a broader pool of young talent to participate. Since the year 2000, 14 Genée medallists have gone on to dance with The Royal Ballet alone – amongst them current Principal Dancers Lauren Cuthbertson (Silver Medallist, 2001) and Steven McRae (Gold Medallist, 2002). As this presentation of the QEII Award celebrates the shared history between The Royal Ballet and RAD, the gala will aim to fundraise for the next generation of young ballet talent hoping to take part in the Genée in the future.
The gala event will be hosted by RAD President and former Royal Ballet Principal dancer Darcey Bussell CBE, and the QEII Award will be accepted by Kevin O’Hare on behalf of The Royal Ballet. Dancers from The Royal Ballet will dine with the guests and the evening will feature a charity auction, where dance lovers will be able to bid for glamorous and highly sought-after prizes. The proceeds will create means tested bursaries of up to £2,500 for future Genée candidates who cannot afford the costs involved in taking part in the competition, as well to develop the competition itself further.
Kevin O’Hare, Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet, says: ‘On behalf of everyone associated with The Royal Ballet, I would like to say what a great honour it is that the Company has been chosen as recipient of The Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award this year. 2014 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the presentation of the first award to our founder, Dame Ninette de Valois in 1953 and it is particularly appropriate that during the evening funds will be raised for the Genée International Ballet Competition, which does so much to discover and encourage the finest young dancers and potential stars of the future from around the world.’
Luke Rittner, CEO Royal Academy of Dance, says: ‘I am delighted that the Academy is bestowing its highest honour – The Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award – on The Royal Ballet Company. The Royal Academy of Dance and The Royal Ballet have a long tradition of mutual respect and close co-operation, and these bonds of friendship will be further strengthened on 4 September when we join together to celebrate this award and to secure the future of the Genée International Ballet Competition.’
Notes to Editors
Royal Academy of Dance
With over 14,000 members spread across 79 countries, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is one of the largest and most influential dance education and training organisations in the world. Established in the 1920s, to improve standards and re-invigorate dance training initially within the UK, the Academy helps and encourages its teachers to perfect their teaching skills and pass on this knowledge to their students. There are currently over 1,000 students in full-time or part-time teacher training programmes with the Academy and each year the examination syllabus is taught to thousands of young people worldwide, with around a quarter of a million pupils per year going on to take our exams.
For more information about the RAD, visit http://www.rad.org.uk
The Royal Ballet
Based at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, The Royal Ballet, led by Director Kevin O’Hare, is Britain’s largest ballet company. The Company has a wide-ranging repertory showcasing the great classical ballets, heritage works from Founder Choreographer Frederick Ashton and Principal Choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, works by Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor and Artistic Associate Christopher Wheeldon, as well as new works by the foremost choreographers of today. Access is a key issue for the Company and its work is seen not just at the Royal Opera House but via televised and cinematic performances, outdoor Big Screen performances, international touring and through the work of the Company’s Education Department.
For more information about The Royal Ballet, visit http://www.roh.org.uk/
The Genée International Ballet Competition
The Genée International Ballet Competition, named after RAD’s first president Dame Adeline Genée DBE, is the Academy’s flagship annual event. Also known simply as ‘the Genée’, it is one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world, attracting the finest young dancers from around the globe all of whom are students of the RAD syllabus. Candidates receive a unique opportunity to work with renowned choreographers and teachers for five days before performing at the semi-finals, and then at the final, where they compete for a range of medals. The competition has taken place almost every year since 1931, and is now a truly global event. The ChallenGenée Fund provides funding for the annual Genée International Ballet Competition. The Challengenée Fund is a Designated Fund of the Royal Academy of Dance.
For more information, visit http://www.rad.org.uk/genee2014
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award
The QEII award is the RAD’s most prestigious award, bestowed for the first time 60 years ago in 1954 to Dame Ninette De Valois, at a lunch attended by – amongst others – the presidents of the four Royal Academies (Arts, Music, Dramatic Art and Dance). Since then it has been awarded nearly every year to many personalities in recognition of outstanding services to the art of ballet.
For more information on the QEII Award and past recipients, visit: http://www.rad.org.uk/about/about-the-rad/awards-and-nominations