Scottish Ballet’s new artistic director Christopher Hampson offers an old favourite for Christmas time, but he has big plans for the company’s future. By Mark Brown
Christopher Hampson’s office in Scottish Ballet’s headquarters, in the Tramway arts venue on the southside of Glasgow, is a work-in-progress. Most of the bookshelves are empty, a company computer sits on the floor, replaced by a beloved MacBook. Indeed, while the Ballet’s new artistic director and I talk about the company’s latest Christmas show (a revival of his predecessor, Ashley Page’s acclaimed staging of The Nutcracker) and about Hampson’s plans for Scottish Ballet, Page is in the studio along the corridor, brushing up the festive production with the dancers. There is a tangible sense of a company in transition.
Most of the few books Hampson (a Mancunian whose mother hails from Gourock) has had time to bring into the office are about Hansel And Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. An accomplished choreographer for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the English National Ballet (among others), he is working on a major new choreography based upon the Grimms’ tale for Christmas 2013.
There are, he believes, distinct similarities between Hansel And Gretel and The Nutcracker. For a start, both tales are German in their origin. Although the first ballet of The Nutcracker – which was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, with a famous score by Tchaikovsky – was based on a version of the tale by French author Alexandre Dumas, the original story, upon which Page bases his piece, was created by German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann.
“Like Hansel And Gretel, The Nutcracker is a slightly dark story, but it’s also magical”, says Hampson. “People like to be transported to another world at Christmas. This production of The Nutcracker is really dominated by a major dream sequence. There’s the snow scene, in which you see snowflakes running around. Then, the second act is populated by bizarre versions of the characters from the first act. It goes deeper and deeper into a fantastical world.”
That fantastical world is, first-and-foremost, a world of childhood imagination. “There’s this weird relationship between the girl, who’s called Marie in our production [as in Hoffmann’s original], and her nutcracker doll. It’s an odd thing for a little girl to idolise. It’s a light-and-dark, coming-of-age story.”
Although it is only three years since Scottish Ballet last staged Page’s Nutcracker, this production will, says Hampson, have “a different feel to it.” Some of the cast will be dancing the piece for the first time, and others will be dancing different roles to those they have played in the past.
Nonetheless, the fact that the work is an established part of the company’s repertoire does make the rehearsal process easier. “It’s always helpful for information to be passed down from one dancer to the next”, says the director. “Information about how a role was created, or what different elements went into building a character. Only the dancer and the choreographer really know these things.”
If Hampson is confident that the latest incarnation of The Nutcracker will be a success, he is equally certain of the direction he intends for Scottish Ballet in the coming years. Although he is a noted choreographer, he doesn’t feel that the move to the role of artistic director of Scottish Ballet demands that he create a major body of new work of his own.
“I’m looking to diversify my creativity”, he explains. “I want to be involved creatively with our education unit and with our outreach programmes, finding new ways to present work. That work need not necessarily be on the stage. It can be in other arenas, such as digital media. Those sorts of things interest me just as much as getting into the studio and creating a ballet.”
Although he is currently working on the choreography for Hansel And Gretel, Scottish Ballet audiences are, he says, unlikely to see the emergence of a substantial Hampson oeuvre over the coming years. “I am creating a major, large scale work for this time next year, but I don’t have many more ambitions [in terms of choreography] after that. There might be a couple of things, but nothing major.”
Which is not to say that there will not be new works entering the company’s repertoire. “Do I want to add new ballets? Many! But not my own. In fact, adding new work to the repertoire is the one thing I’ve given myself the remit to do. I want to really broaden the repertoire extensively.”
Excitingly for Scottish dance audiences beyond the four major houses frequented by Scottish Ballet (in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness), Hampson suggests that there will be a new strand in the company’s work which “really does lend itself to being out and about in a very different way.” Unsurprisingly at this early stage in his tenure, he is not at liberty to go into detail, but he promises that the shape of his future programming will become clear “within a year”.
A forward looking artistic director who believes that the distinctions between classical ballet and contemporary dance are dissolving before our eyes (“I just call it all dance”, he says), Hampson is poised to redraw the map for dance in Scotland.
The Nutcracker plays the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, December 8-29, then tours between January 8 and February 9. For full tour details visit: http://www.scottishballet.co.uk
This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 2, 2012
© Mark Brown