Mark-Anthony Turnage's new ballet score, Strapless, is premiered by the Royal Ballet in London on 12 February, part of a triple bill choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.
Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage's new ballet with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is unveiled at the Royal Ballet in London on 12 February. This follows their successful earlier collaboration on a Titian-inspired ballet Trespass at the Royal Ballet in 2012 and the new project again explores an art theme. The scenario of the new ballet, entitled Strapless, is based around John Singer Sargent's notorious painting of Virginie Amélie Gautreau, known as Madame X, which caused a scandal for both artist and model when it was exibited in Paris in 1884.
The Portait of Madame X originally showed a young woman wearing a gown with a missing jewelled shoulder strap, a provocative gesture suggesting a feminine freedom unacceptable to strict society of its time. The strapless shoulder can clearly be seen in Sargent's sketch for the painting in the Tate Britain collection, but the artist had to paint the strap back over the shoulder in his final version of the painting, now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The outrage damaged Sargent's career, causing him to leave New York for London, and Madame Gautreau - the American wife of a French banker - was cruelly ostracised by Parisian society.
In an interview on the Royal Opera House website Christopher Wheeldon describes how his eyes were always drawn to the Portrait of Madame X when visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York, encouraging him to explore the background story. Christopher Wheeldon describes how "something about the muscularity of her arms, the elegance of her neckline, the haughtiness of her face and the tilt of her head – it’s easy to understand how it must have been shocking... Amélie was the first supermodel, in a way, and I’m fascinated by the idea that she would have worked so hard to build her reputation in Paris as a celebrated beauty, and one painting brought her crashing down."
Mark-Anthony Turnage has been working closely with Christopher Wheeldon on creating the new score for Strapless. The composer came to ballet late in his career, with earlier danceworks including From All Sides for Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago in 2007, UNDANCE for Wayne McGregor in 2011 and Trespass for Wheeldon and Alastair Marriott in 2012. The new ballet score is his first with a strong narrative thread and seems a natural successor to his opera Anna Nicole which similarly explored the darker side of celebrity and a devastating fall from social favour. Turnage is pleased to return to work with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, having built a relationship with many of its players during the premiere run and revival of Anna Nicole.
The new one-act ballet features Natalia Osipova in the role of Madame X with Edward Watson, Federico Bonelli and Matthew Ball. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is conducted by Koen Kessels and stage designs are by Bob Crowley. As well as the ballet premiere, the triple bill programme includes Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain and Within the Golden Hour, with seven performances scheduled on 12/13/16/17/19 February and 10/11 March.
> Visit the Royal Ballet website
> Watch a video about the ballet
Image: John Singer Sargent's Study of Mme. Gautreau © Tate, London 2015
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