Distorted Memories by charlotte macmillan

A revival of KM's 3 act ballet Anastasia opened at The Royal Ballet this week. Twelve years since its last outing, it still proves to be an extraordinary work.

Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson

Structurally, it challenges the audience's expectation of story telling through classical steps and typical MacMillan expressionism. The third Act was conceived first in Berlin, 1967 ending his first season as Director of the Deutsche Oper. He was fascinated by the true story of Anna Anderson, a woman who believed she was the last remaining member of the murdered Russian royal family and who had been discovered trying to commit suicide in Berlin. Incarcerated, she recollected stories of the Royal family and key points about their private lives which challenged those that denied her authenticity.  KM ever the romanticist liked to believe her story, the fact that she insisted that visitors to her hospital room bowed and curtsied, yet would half conceal her face to most.

 He chose Martinu’s sixth symphony itself an act of recall, written years after the composer had a serious head injury. It became an exercise in musical memory.  Juxtaposed with Tchaikovsky in Acts 1 and 2 the whole Ballet becomes a remarkable comment on retrospection, fantasy, psychosis and historical fact.

 

Performances continue until 12th November 2016

Marianela Nunez as Mathilde Kschessinska

Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson

"Sex and Violence...." by charlotte macmillan

After the director Nicholas Hytner had tentatively asked Kenneth MacMillan to create the movement for a new production of Carousel, MacMillan asked him what he thought the undertone of the musical was about.  "Sex and Violence" said Hytner..."Well that's what I do" replied MacMillan.

This theme was one of many which ran through the very fabric of his work, and none sets the precedence quite as strongly as his 1960 ballet The Invitation.

Good friends with the playwright John Osborne, MacMillan told him that seeing his play "Look back in Anger" in 1956 had made him realise that "everything in my world was merely window-dressing". Suddenly the world of narrative ballet had opened up, way beyond previous traditional subject matter;  now it was a language in which to reflect the world he inhabited. 

SPOILER ALERT...

He drew on characters that he knew and that is why his ballet The Invitation was such a shocking ballet to watch. It's naturalistic portrayal of innocence, youth and sexual betrayal and the final scene of rape and abandonment makes it a difficult ballet to watch. 

Nicholas Georgiadis' design for the frontcloth of The Invitation. Painted by the team at ROH Thurrock.

The anecdote of Dame Ninette de Valois asking MacMillan to re-choreograph the climactic and violent scene of The Invitation, is indeed a true one. When seeing the final rehearsals of the ballet, de Valois (or 'Madam' as she was known to the ballet company) asked MacMillan if he would consider the violent rape of the teenage girl to happen off stage, with the horror of the act to be somehow reflected in the acting of the other characters. MacMillan refused, and de Valois respected that decision. The ballet was received with raptuous applause and gave Lynn Seymour her first opportunity to show the audience her extraordinary acting skills.

Revived now in 2016, Gary Harris, Jonathan Howells and Jonathan Cope have restaged this ballet. Most of the scenery and costumes have had to be remade to account for the larger size of the Royal Opera House stage.  

Paint swatched for The Invitation at ROH Thurrock.

I photographed Olivia Cowley as The Wife and David Donnelly as The Boy, both in the second cast of the Invitation (performing 31 May 2016). I can already see the intensity of this work come through in preliminary rehearsals and there's a buzz in the air about its return. You can reserve your ticket at the ROH Box Office here.. 

 

Olivia Cowley and David Donnelly as The Wife and The Boy in The Invitation.

 

 

 

 

Black Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday...go on then, Saturday too by charlotte macmillan

Ahead of the madness that is Black Friday , I'm getting a bit 'previous' and offering a whopping 40% discount on all my prints at The Print Space. And because I always think it takes time to decide on what artwork one wants on the wall, this offer is available until this Saturday (28th November).

The great thing about The Print Space is that you can preview your print with a variety of mounts and frames which are then delivered to you.

Click on the links below to get ordering for Christmas !

Romeo Tuesdays by charlotte macmillan

For the last two days, I've been in the Royal Opera House again, photographing Romeo and Juliet for my forthcoming book.  The run of performances has been a long one but as ever, the energy of the company is high and as exciting as it was in the first performance. The fact that it is coming to a close is a sad one for all of us. Time and time again I hear how much the ballet company loves to perform Romeo and Juliet not least because of the wonderful responses from the audiences but because of it's demand on every single member of the company.

I'm not sure on the statistics, but I'd be surprised if it hasn't been performed every single year since it's creation in 1965 and that's just with the Royal Ballet. It is now a 'regular' with many European ballet companies and there are 3 different designed productions.

I was 26 months old when I first saw Romeo and Juliet. My mother recalls that I sat, fixed to my chair in the auditorium all throughout the performance and I wouldn't remove my duffle coat, nor put my hood down. From the moment I saw it, I loved it. I have since seen close to a hundred shows in my 42 years. I have seen it performed in a tent (when the Royal Ballet toured in one), in a defunct zoo (China), America, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia. And yet it never gets old or boring. It is perhaps for me a timeless ballet. Of course owes it's existence to Shakespeare's genius but also because it regenerates with every new cast that performs it. The choreography is such that it requires subjective interpretation; I have seen Juliets which have been innocents caught in a crossfire of hatred and Juliets who have manipulated their fate into 'getting their man', Tybalts who have been irrational drunks, or overprotective cousins, Lady Capulets who were borderline certifiable or emotionally irrational and Romeos who were haplessly romantic or reformed 'players'. But each performance brings something new, exciting and intriguing.

Which is why I loved it today when Steven McRae suggested, jokingly, that the Royal Ballet do a 'Romeo Tuesdays'; every tuesday they perform it, with different casts. and judging on recent audience attendance it would be a popular one !

Here is Steven and Iana Salenko rehearsing today for Monday's performance.


Christmas Orders ! by charlotte macmillan

For a while now, I've been considering doing small print runs of some of my photos but haven't found a good printing system yet to cater for international orders and who can take the stress out of framing. But my sister-in-law got me acquainted with the Print Space's excellent service The Hub.  It's a system that takes control of pretty much everything from ordering through to printing, framing and delivering.

So for a limited run on a limited time, I'm selling three of my dance photographs;

 Alina Cojocaru as Juliet

Alina Cojocaru as Juliet

Alina Cojocaru as Giselle

 Edward Watson

Edward Watson

Edward Watson

 Tamara Rojo as Juliet

Tamara Rojo as Juliet

Tamara Rojo as Juliet

(see images below) which come in a choice of three sizes, all printed on Giclée German Etching paper.

I am also offering three portraits of Helen Mirren which at A4 size and printed on German Etching are the perfect size to be hung as a triptych.

 Helen Mirren 3

Helen Mirren 3

 

And finally, a selection of my Soho Phoneboxes, which for now, will be printed as small prints for a very limited run as they are due to be exhibited as large scale images next year.

 Phonebox

Phonebox

So click on this links below to have a look and put your orders ..

 

Dancers

Helen Mirren photographs

Soho Phoneboxes

Preparation for a performance by charlotte macmillan

I've always been fascinated by the preparation a dancer goes through before a performance. Some take hours, others not so long but all consider and inhabit what will be their role for that evening, well before the makeup and costumes are put on.

When I was a child, it was always considered intrusive to visit a dancer in their dressing room before a performance, but when my father was Director of the Royal Ballet in the 1970s it was part of his job to give a quick "toi toi toi" to the company. Sometimes I would accompany him. This, to me was one of the most exciting moments of the evening (as well as always having an ice cream in a cup during at the crush bar at interval). Not only would I get an eyeful of many beautiful naked bodies, but I'd get a look into a world of pan stick, rosin and sewing. Some evenings as my father wound his way around the labyrinthian dressing rooms, I would hang out with some of the Corps de Ballet girls as they got ready for their performances. Of course this was heaven for me as I was fussed over and allowed to try on pointe shoes and tutus (please bear in mind I was 5 years old) and there was always someone on hand to do a quick 'up-do' with my hair. 

In those days the Royal Opera House was a rickety old building; hard to believe now that it was too small to accommodate the Ballet company and the Opera company. The Dressing rooms were cramped and were often damp and musty smelling, sometimes a mouse or two would be seen running from room to room. Of course nowadays, since the expansion of the Opera House, it's a much cleaner, roomier space for performers.

On Saturday 17 October, I photographed Lauren Cuthbertson prepare for her last performance as Juliet for this season of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Ballet.  She had already done class in makeup and was busy darning her ballet shoes when I arrived. We chatted, laughed (a lot) while I snapped away and it was hard to imagine that in just 30 minutes, she was about to transform into a 14 year old Italian girl, doomed to die because of her forbidden love. To get her in the mood for her role Lauren has had bespoke scents made for her, each tailored to inspire emotion and intent of her character for each scene in the ballet. Working with the company Creative Perfumers, there was an array of perfumes; "Nursery, Ballroom, Balcony, Chapel, Wedding Night, Tomb"...it had never occurred to me that using the power of smell could enhance a dancer's performance.

And within a 5 minute 'alone' time, Lauren got into the mood with a spray of her perfume and some mental preparation. The perfumes were wonderful.

That night's performance was dedicated to David Drew; stalwart member of The Royal Ballet who sadly passed away on Friday. This photo is of the moment Kevin O'Hare made the announcement from the stage and the company listened from behind the curtain.

Romeo and Juliet and the difficulty of dance photography. by charlotte macmillan

For some jobs and commissions I shoot from the front of house in the Theatre, but my preferred environment to shoot dancers is in a photographic studio. I like to take time with a dancer, see how they move, work out the best angle for them. Which is why I take my hat off to all production photographers of dance. Boy, is it hard work. 

Ballet dancers are beautiful. By default they make the most incredible shapes and the naked human eye sees a series of movements which are punctuated by precise technical 'full stops'. The pirouette, the jeté, the arabesque, all those incredible moves are designed to make a shape that lingers. So when one shoots a moving dancer, it is crucial to try to time the shot to get these specific shapes and not a series of dodgy feet and arms in mid flow.

Sometimes when you look at old dance magazines and books, the ballet photography is shockingly bad. But that's completely understandable. Cameras were basic, lighting was poor and really there hadn't been a demand for dance photography until the 1940s when magazines such as The Dancing Times' circulation expanded. But in the 1960s photographers such as Roy Round, Anthony Crickmay and Zoe Dominic began to take extraordinary shots and the demand for the perfect performance image increased. In the 1990s dancers such as Sylvie Guillem began to vet the photographs of herself.  She controlled her image by asking photographers to sign agreements that allowed her to have final say over the image. And right she was. It is almost impossible to find a bad photograph of Ms Guillem anywhere.

So now I am taking dance production shots again. And like I said, I like to control the image by shooting in my environment, with the luxury of having the dancer dance again and again until I get the right shot. Today I had one hour to get a few good shots of Sarah Lamb and Steven McCrae. As I clicked away, to the beat of the music, I despaired of all the 'off' shots I was taking. Frame after frame I felt that I was missing the climax of the step, just missing the perfect pose.

In the edit, I can see I didn't do so badly. I got a load of good shots but I think I sweated buckets trying to get them. I applaud great photographers such as Bill Cooper and Johan Persson, who know what they're doing. I suppose it helps that they had previous careers as dancers but that's not to discount the immense photographic talent that they have too..

I am glad with this shot; it captures the moment just after Juliet meets Romeo at the ball. I'm pleased with it because although it's a dance photograph, Steven's pose is not the focus of the shot more Sarah's look of love.

 Steven McCrae and Sarah Lamb in Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Ballet.

Steven McCrae and Sarah Lamb in Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Ballet.

Golden Oldies by charlotte macmillan

Time for a clearout.  I've been going through old photos and sorting them into 'good' and 'bad' folders..but however much I do this, I always end up lingering on the odd photo and questioning the decision I make. After all, there was always a good reason to hit that shutter button in the first place.

So when I was redoing my website, I was surprised to find that I had made some odd decisions on final edits. There were some original RAW files that had been relegated to the 'discard' or 'bad' folder, but a few years down the line I look at them again and think that they are actually very good. Perhaps one's taste develops as you mature, or that you now have the confidence to follow an idea you had way back when you thought you were being too 'gauche'.

I came across this studio shoot of Daniel Proietto I did about 6 years ago. At the time I was shooting a lot for the choreographer Russell Maliphant and Daniel had been dancing in his Afterlight series at Sadler's Wells Theatre. He wore this incredible sheer all-in-one which had diamantes all over it. It was designed by the amazing Stevie Stewart and I asked him to come to my studio and wear it.

I used a final image for my old site but this image, I love even more...

Daniel Proietto