Monday, 12 August 2013

IDTC: Manon Masterclass

Monica Mason masterclass, International Dance Teacher Conference, Royal Ballet School - 8th August

Monica Mason coaching Beatriz Stix-Brunell
at the IDTC 2012. Photo: Elaine Mayson
The International Dance Teacher Conference (IDTC), held annually at the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden, features a variety of practical workshops, talks and performances to give dance teachers inspiration for the coming year. I attended the conference in its entirety in 2011 and 2012 and an undoubted highlight is always the Royal Ballet masterclasses, where repetiteurs including Jonathan Cope and Monica Mason coach company dancers.

For the IDTC 2013, Mason returned, using her expertise in Kenneth MacMillan's choreography to coach principal dancer Lauren Cuthbertson in the Act II solo from Manon. And although I wasn't able to enjoy all of this year's conference, I was lucky enough to pop in to observe this session.

The title character of Manon was created on two different dancers - Antoinette Sibley and Jennifer Penney. Both had very different body types and movement qualities, so different sections of the choreography embody different styles. The Act II solo is "so Antoinette", and displays Manon "in love with her clothes and jewels". She is aware that everyone is looking at her and "clocking the quality of her frock".

Mason loves MacMillan's choreography because he "illustrates the character with every step" and here the steps show Manon's love of  being centre of attention and having male admirers. But Mason also highlighted the character's vulnerability - "she desperately wants to escape her poverty". Mason believes her job in coaching dancers is about "serving the choreography" and "appreciating the detail of a masterpiece".

Cuthbertson has been injured for a year and this was her first repertoire rehearsal following two sets of surgery on her knee. Mason described the toughness of returning to health and having to fight feelings of hopelessness and disappointment: "Dancers sometimes feel uneducated because they haven't gone to university like most people. But there is no substitute for real life and the power of clawing your way back from an injury."
Monica Mason at the IDTC 2012
Photo: Elaine Mayson
Cuthbertson appeared comfortable with the technical demands on the solo but Mason encouraged her to think about the meaning of each step, whether showing off her dress, her body or 'speaking' directly to the two men in her life (Des Grieux and Monsieur GM). "At times, it's as if there's a camera and she is posing. At others, it's like she's walking in stilettos. Nothing should look like a preparation - it's important to keep moving."

Cuthbertson described how Manon is a great role to dance as the character has such colour and variety. Clearly, she has struggled over the last year but she now looks fighting fit and it will be great to see her return to the stage. Mason stated: "I'm delighted Lauren is back. As a director, you're not supposed to have favourites but I couldn't help it. I love Lauren - she's such a wonderful dancer."

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