By Pia Christine
Jane Bourne studied dance notation at the Benesh Institute of Choreology and now travels the world to teach John Cranko’s choreographies. She has just staged „Onegin“ with the HAMBURG BALLET.
What do you like most about “Onegin”? Do
you have a favourite scene?
I really don’t have a favourite scene. I was watching the ballet yesterday and I realised again I really like all of it. Especially of course, the pas de deux, which are so important in this ballet because they have a great clarity. The thing about “Onegin” is that it’s so beautiful to look at. The stage and the costumes are pleasing to the eye. And John Cranko’s choreography is so exquisite gorgeous, because it speaks to you. Cranko had the ability to tell a story through steps and every dancer uses the language in a different way. That’s the reason why the ballet is so special and why it looks different with every company, although it is danced around the world.
What is the most important aspect of the ballet,
which the dancers have to understand?
Of course, the dancers have to do the steps correctly, but the most important aspect of the ballet is to understand the character of the role, so that the audience can understand it as well. The dancers have to portray the characters to the audience. As I said, the choreography fits to the character and tells the story itself. The dancers of the HAMBURG BALLET know how to do that particularly well. They are used to dramatic ballets, because Neumeier’s ballets such as “Lady of the Camelias” are similar. In fact it is more difficult to portray the characters than to do the steps. It has to do a lot with timing, which means that the dancers have to communicate with the others on stage. They really have to be in the situation and have to react to what happens around them otherwise the story doesn’t make sense to the audience. For example, in the first scene the mother says to Olga that she should fetch Tatjana. So Olga looks at the mother, then at Tatjana and goes to her. The dancer has to do that very quickly and in the right order. I always say they need a script in their head, because glances and gestures are very important. If the dancers overdo it, it becomes melodramatic. There is a fine line between drama and melodrama. “Onegin” is a drama and that has to come across.
You stage ballets with companies from all over the
world. How would you describe the process? Are there typical phases?
There are three phases for learning the steps. I always start with the pas de deux, because they are the hardest. Then I teach the corps de ballet. After that we do the mise en scène. We put everything together, so that the ballet is complete.
After the dancers have learned the steps, they have to master them. That means they really have to know the choreography, but then they have to forget everything. They have to stop thinking about steps. Instead, they have to start to concentrate on the characters. So we do the fine print, the tweaking of the details which makes all the difference. I want them to feel comfortable on stage. But actually you cannot separate learning the steps from feeling the character. It always comes together with the choreography.
Do you have to check your notations sometimes? Or do
you know everything by heart?
I know everything by heart. Occasionally someone asks a question that I have never thought about. Then I have to think about it. I always have the score with me, but I never have to look at it. I have staged “Onegin” 30 times. Today it is a new generation of dancers. For example, I staged “Onegin” in Covent Garden for the 5th time, and it looks like a new production.
How is it to work with the HAMBURG BALLET?
I wish I could say that the dancers of the Hamburg Ballet are special, but they are not, because dancers are the same all over the world. They are a special kind of breed. In China I went into the studio to stage “Romeo and Juliet” and I noticed: they are just the same. I think the thing about dancers is that they strive for perfection. Chinese, Russian, African, European, American or Asian dancers - they are all the same. Here, of course, they are very good dancers. They know how to tell a story. Plus they work very hard, too hard.
Although I have done “Onegin” with so many companies, it never looks the same. For me because of the genius of Cranko the ballet is always new. I never get bored. It is amazing: people do the same steps, but they seem to be different. That makes it fabulous.