|Ed Watson signing a calendar after his talk|
Photo Jane Lambert
(c) 2015 Jane Elizabeth Lambert, all rights reserved
On Tuesday evening I listened to Edward Watson in conversation at Danceworks. He is a principal of the Royal Ballet and ipso facto an outstanding dancer but he across across as a very likeable young man. He showed a sense of humour. He answered questions directly and thoroughly. He rewarded his fans (of which I am one) by signing their autograph books and calendars, posing for photos or (as in my case) shaking hands.
Watson explained that he started dancing to keep his sister company. Their studio was what his interviewer called a "rinky dink school in Bromley". From there he progressed to the Royal Ballet Associates though not without setbacks for he failed his RAD Grade 1. However, that did not prevent his progressing to White Lodge. His talent was recognized and anyway the school wanted more boys.
White Lodge is a boarding school and he was not particularly happy there for his first two years. His teachers included Pauline Wadsworth, Linda Goss and the late Anatoly Grigoriev who taught him "the heavy stuff". Watson said that nothing came easy to him and that it took some time to "grow into his body". Ballet wasn't a vocation in the early years - just something that he liked to do. From White Lodge he progressed to the Upper School and from there to the Royal Ballet. On being asked what his parents thought about his training he replied that he did not believe that they gave any thought to it at all. He was one of 4 and his parents encouraged all their children to pursue whatever career they wanted.
Watson's first solo role was in Kenneth MacMillan's The Judas Tree just before the Royal Opera House closed for refurbishment. That was a strange time for the Royal Ballet as it performed at different venues throughout London. It was around that time that he was given his first principal role in My Brother My Sisters, another MacMillan ballet. It was also approximately when he started to work with Wayne McGregor who had been introduced to the Royal Ballet through Deborah Bull's Artists Development Initiative. Shortly afterwards Watson was promoted to soloist.
At this point the interviewer observed that "people don't realize how technical you have to be to Romeo, Manon etcetera." Watson replied that it was not that he was not classical it was just that he did not do classical. He could not, for example, imagine himself dancing in Swan Lake. The interviewer noted that some of the music to which Watson dances is difficult. Watson explained that he recognized sound adding "something settles to sound" and though it might sound weird it was an "atmospheric thing". He gave The Rite of Spring as an example where things look as they sound. Watson's big moment came when he was cast as Romeo. As it is a physically demanding role he hired Hugh Craig as a personal trainer to increase his strength and stamina.
In 2011 Watson danced in Arthur Pita's "The Metamorphosis" which is based on a work by Kafka. Pita spend a week reading Kafka in order to discover the characters.
Watson was asked about the choreographers he has worked or will be working with. He mentioned Wayne McGreogor, Wendy Whelan, Arlene Philips, Arthur Pita and Christopher Wheeldon. He has engagements at The Linbury and in New York City.
At that point questions were invited from the floor.
A gentleman asked Watson to describe his daily routine. He replied that a typical day might consist of class for 10:30 to 12:00, rehearsals from 12:00 to 17:30 and then perhaps a show. However, his routine did vary. Sometimes he would do pilates, for example.
I asked him how he felt when manipulating his face and body in all the shapes depicting jealousy in Act I of The Winters Tale. "Not easy at first" was the reply but he eventually got used to them.
Another gentleman said that he had been told by Watson's teacher that he was the most outstanding choreographer of his year. "Not true" was the reply. Everybody had to study choreography at the Royal Ballet School but he had no ambitions in choreography.
He was asked how he prepared for a role. He replied that he did a lot of work when he was asked to dance Mayerling. He travelled to Vienna and visited the graves. He read voraciously and watched every performance he could.
He had been described as a "dance actor". He disavowed the description. "Straight acting is difficult" he said. "I'm a dancer and not an actor." Someone suggested he might train for the stage. He agreed that was a possibility.
Someone asked whether there was a role he still wanted to dance. "Not really" he replied. He had danced just about every role he had wanted to perform.
Another asked about personal setbacks. He mentioned injuring himself in The Song of the Earth and falling flat on his face in Giselle.
He was asked whether there were any dancers who had inspired him when he was young. He replied that he had never seen a ballet before he joined the Royal Ballet School. He was impressed by Anthony Dowell and Wayne Eagling. The interviewer interjected that the role of male dancers had evolved tremendously over the years. Watson agreed adding that they can now be anything. Young dancers nowadays are much less patient than his generation had been. They had a lot of enthusiasm and energy which was on balance a good thing.
The interviewer asked what he hopes to do when he retires from full time dancing. He had no plans beyond staying in the profession. Coaching was one possibility. Being a ballet master was another.
He was asked whether he got on well with the other principals and to the surprise of at least some of the audience he said he did. He shared a dressing room with Thiago Soares but it was rare for them to use it at the same time.
On being asked whether he wanted to say anything at the end of the interview he simply thanked everybody for coming,
Lesley Osman proposed a vote of thanks and we all clapped enthusiastically.
Almost everyone in the audience formed a queue to shake his hand. He had a kind word for each of us. Some of his fans asked him to sign autograph albums. Others asked him to pose for photos. He accepted the adulation with enormous grace. I thought to myself as I started my long drive back to Yorkshire: "what a really good bloke,"