by Margaret Chrystall
WHEN you scanned the new year previews in the national media for great UK shows to look out for in 2016, Scottish Ballet’s new Swan Lake – coming to Inverness in May – was among them.
It was a triumph for a small company that is getting used to punching above its weight, as artistic director and choreographer Christopher Hampson – appointed in 2012 – continues his mission to confirm Scottish Ballet as a brand that champions fresh talent and a close relationship with as wide a spectrum of its potential Scottish audiences as possible.
"I think the message above all has to be that we are about creativity – and not just creativity that is creating stuff and showing it – but bringing it to people, so they are inspired as well, whether that’s with us or in their own communities. That’s really important to me," said Hampson, who was announced as the company CEO last June.
On the brink of Scottish Ballet returning to Inverness this week with Hampson’s own revamped Cinderella, he was talking about the newly-announced Scottish Ballet 2016-2017 season.
In ambassador mode, he was about to set off for a quick visit to America with a taster of the new Scottish Ballet repertoire.
"We were over in 2011 and 2014, so I’m trying to keep it that we have a presence in America.
"I’m taking a few different options from our current repertoire," he said.
Last time, America fell for Scottish Ballet’s interpretation of one of the country’s own classic dramas – A Streetcar Named Desire.
But alongside the exciting news of what’s coming up this year, Hampson also talks about the departure of Streetcar’s muse and star, principal Eve Mutso who is moving on to explore choreography, teaching and guest artist appearances.
"I’m very sad to see Eve go," Hampson admits. "She is a true artist and has given so much to the company. I promoted her to principal dancer specifically because – choreographers work with her so readily – she gives so much in whatever she is doing.
"So I was really proud that under my tenure she became a principal dancer and was really able to fulfill her full potential.
"But the pressures of being in a full-time company – it gets harder the longer you do it – and I think she is looking for different challenges and a bit more freedom in terms of her artistry.
"She’ll always be welcome at Scottish Ballet. She’s moving on to do something different, but those ties will still be strong."
Eve’s last performance with the company will be at Eden Court in Cinderella on Saturday night when her husband and daughter will be there for the occasion.
One of the roles she rotates in the show is as Tall Stepsister, partnered by Hampson with Sophie Martin as Short Stepsister.
He created the ballet in 2007 for Royal New Zealand Ballet – it won best new production there – and he has enjoyed tweaking it for Scottish Ballet.
"I’ve been here for three and a half years now, so I know the Scottish Ballet dancers really well and I could just revisit some of the characterisations and have a bit more fun with it.
"Eve and Sophie Martin are well-known principals and – it’s quite a quirky bit of casting – I made them the Stepsisters."
In the pictures, they look like a comedy double act – and as if they are having fun.
"They’re having way too much fun!" laughs Hampson.
"And the audience is really enjoying seeing them in something so very different."
For the artistic director, there’s another revival of his own on its way – his Hansel & Gretel will be back this time next year.
But in between there will be a new work from Scottish Ballet dancer and emerging choreographer Sophie LaPlane, her second to be performed in the autumn in a double bill with Canadian Crystal Pite. Hampson has called Pite "one of today’s most innovative and exciting choreographers".
And her Emergence takes inspiration from the movement of insects, hive mentality and the mating and coronation of a bee queen.
Community projects involve Parkinson’s Scotland and another with hard-to-reach and vulnerable pupils working on their own versions of Hansel & Gretel and earlier production Highland Fling. The Scottish Ballet Elders Company, for older people who want to dance, will perform a a new piece in March at the GoDance Festival. Plus, there’s now a new strand called Scottish Ballet Creative which produced a music video for Scottish Album Of The Year winner Kathryn Joseph last year and is currently working with a former Turner prize winner and Scottish Ballet dancer Thomas Edwards.
Also, five Scottish artists have been invited to produce new work inspired by the new Swan Lake created by choreographer David Dawson.
Dawson has already started working with the company on the new Swan Lake.
Hampson says: "He’s been getting to know the dancers and we put up a rehearsal clip online for World Ballet Day and it went absolutely viral, a real endorsement of what we are aspiring to.
"I think it is going to be absolutely beautiful – and it’s so much easier to sell someone else’s work. You really can just stand back and marvel!" he laughs.
Hampson has enjoyed being part of the revolution that now connects ballet audiences to the dancersmuch more closely, through online video and social media – and brings dancers to the front of the stage after performances to talk about their work with audiences.
"I was part of the generation that saw that change happening," says Hampson.
He is a fan of dance company’s getting involved with the community outside too through outreach and education
"As a dancer, I used to always get involved with those sorts of extra-curricular activities.
"So I know what dance can do in a community. Being able to open the doors and get people involved – and to show that when people get involved with us, it changes us as much as it changes them – is lovely and particularly true of the education outreach we do."
He also believes both sides benefit from audiences meeting the dancers too.
"I think it’s vital that we demystify the art form.
"They are real people up there, it’s all blood sweat and tears – and they are athletes as well as artists.
"So the more people can see that, the more people can appreciate what the dancers put into the work that we do, the better."
Hampson credits the company itself, the board, audiences and the government for their support in moving Scottish Ballet forward.
"I always say creativity is the lifeblood of the company, if we stop doing that at Scottish Ballet then we are in intensive care in terms of the arts.
"I always think it’s a mark of health in an organisation, that they are leading not following – and we continue to, I think."
Scottish Ballet performed Cinderella at Eden Court until Saturday, January 30. For full details of the coming year’s events and projects, visit: www.scottishballet.co.uk To see the viral teaser clip of new production Swan Lake: https://youtu.be/2ZTevPpnnkI
To read an interview with Eve Mutso, whose last performance with Scottish Ballet will be at Eden Court on Saturday, go to: www.whatson-north.co.uk