Earlier this week Bennet Gartside sat in the Royal Ballet office facing a team of three and was asked, an hour before the general rehearsal for The Judas Tree, “so, moment of truth; do you know it ?” Unfazed, he replied “I know what I know and I’ll do what I can do.”
This meeting came about because Principal Thiago Soares had been indisposed since last weekend’s Nureyev gala, and in order for the second cast to have their stage rehearsal, they wanted Bennet to take Thiago’s role. Stage rehearsals are significant because it’s the dancers’ first chance to perform with the orchestra, the sets and the costumes, in the theatre setting, which is a very different place from the studio. There is also an audience, albeit one aware that it’s a rehearsal and not a performance.
Bennet is a First Soloist with The Royal Ballet, and regular readers will recall his honest and charming interview for BALLET NEWS last year. When I asked him with whom he’d most like to dance, he had everyone literally in the palm of his hand with his reply : “Actually I’ve been lucky to dance with some great names over my career, Sylvie Guillem. Darcey Bussell, Alina Cojocaru, Tamara Rojo, Marianela Nunez, Sarah Wildor, but I think I might have to say my wife. She’s not a dancer – works in PR. At our wedding we did a Tango that was brilliant. I’ve never seen her so nervous in her life! I think because a lot of the guests were dancers, it really got her wound up. But I have dreams of what it could be like if…!”
He also explained that his motivation for starting the week was “that I’m in control of my own future.” Within the company, though, his future is decided by a combination of the Artistic Director (currently Monica Mason) and the misfortunes of his colleagues (and the reverse is also true). Which brings us back to the general rehearsal, and these vivid images captured by photographer Elliott Franks.
You get a strong sense of the teamwork on stage; the atmosphere, which Bennet describes to me, “when the curtain came down everyone back stage was applauding and it was all very nice, all very kind from everyone.” They knew that he had been covering the role, but “they also knew that I had never done it, never done a rehearsal, I was never given a go in the studio.”
There are two casts for The Judas Tree (part of a triple bill) with the Principal roles of The Woman and The Foreman cast as Leanne Benjamin and Carlos Acosta; Mara Galeazzi and Thiago Soares respectively. Bennet was cast as Peter and Monica asked him to cover The Foreman, “I said to myself : ‘learn it, make sure you know it because anything can happen, just try and learn what you can’. And who knows things might happen, and it did.”
Bennet had spent time in the studio watching Irek Mukhamedov coaching Carlos and Thiago. Both of them also had private calls to rehearse the pas de deux, and Bennet stood in the studio without a partner “I didn’t have a girl to cover because one of the girls that was covering it wasn’t there because she was working too heavily on other things. So I used to just stand and watch it and take in what I could take in”.
Luckily the role of the Woman was danced by Mara Galeazzi, who relishes the challenge of new partners. Just as well, since Bennet describes the process, “I’ve never done anything with her, of these rehearsals, so we just literally went into it blind. I just did what I could do. So, you know, everything starts aching, your arms are tired, but I just wanted to keep going because there was an audience out there.”
Was he was happy with the rehearsal ? “I was. Given the circumstances, I felt I did something. Finding the character came throughout the piece. So difficult, but, as I say, I was happy. Mara was very happy. They were all very nice about it and the support backstage from management when we came off – they were all very complimentary about it.”
After completing the rehearsal, Bennet had to prepare to dance the Peter role for the evening performance, which was being filmed.
This story is tinged with a sadness though. At the beginning I talked about being in a company and how that works for you and sometimes against you. The good news is that Thiago is back; for Bennet that means his hard work won’t come to fruition in terms of a performance. But this is an extra bittersweet tale because while you are, to an extent, at the mercy of the Artistic Director and of fortune, as a dancer the clock is also always ticking furiously and this may have been Bennet’s last opportunity to dance a role he covets.