When an artistic director’s first big announcement is an old work by somebody else, performed in Scotland less than ten years ago, it can, at first, seem an odd choice. But dig a little deeper, and Christopher Hampson’s decision to tour Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling next spring is a minor stroke of genius.
Newly in post, and charged with not only ensuring Scotland’s national ballet company has an interesting repertoire to perform, but an audience who wants to see it, Hampson has to think of the long game. Scottish Ballet’s autumn programme and Christmas show were put in place by Hampson’s predecessor, Ashley Page, months ago. So it’s spring 2013 onwards that counts, in terms of how we view Hampson and his ability to run a company (his first ever).
Choreographed by Bourne in 1994, Highland Fling is a witty and accessible take on the romantic classic, La Sylphide, with the action shifted from a rural village to a Glasgow nightclub and its environs. Fun, dramatic and touching all in one, it’s a great work to please existing dance fans and get new ones on board.
All of which should ease the passage for what comes next. Hampson has some interesting choreographers lined up to work with the company, few of which are known in Scotland, but all of whom come from great dance stock (Ballet Frankfurt, Nederland Dans Theater, Royal Ballet).
He’s also acknowledging those who came before him, by re-introducing key works by Scottish Ballet’s founder, Peter Darrell, which is to be admired. But it is Hampson’s plans for Christmas 2013 that are perhaps most interesting.
Having worked with communities across Scotland, from children to senior citizens, via workshops in creative writing, dance and visual art, Hampson will create a brand new full-length version of Hansel & Gretel, inspired by what they produced.
It’s a canny move, because you build audiences along the way, but it also speaks volumes about the man himself, both professional and personally. Allowing others to have input gives people a sense of ownership, not just of the work, but of Scottish Ballet itself.
Hampson comes to Scotland after years on the freelance circuit, working with companies such as English National Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet and Atlanta Ballet in the US. So whilst his outlook and choice of choreographers is modern, there’s no doubting where his heart lies.
As Hampson himself says: “For me, the clue is in the title – it’s Scottish Ballet.”