Ballet News Reviews | Titian | Metamorphosis

January 24, 2013


Ballet News Reviews | Titian | Metamorphosis: A collaboration between The Royal Ballet and The National Gallery

Federico Bonelli as Actaeon and Marianela Nunez as Diana with her Nymphs in Diana and Actaeon.  Photographer : Andrej Uspenski/Royal Opera House

Federico Bonelli as Actaeon and Marianela Nunez as Diana with her Nymphs in Diana and Actaeon. Photographer : Andrej Uspenski/Royal Opera House

It’s not often that a book comes along that is so compelling that you find yourself totally absorbed within its pages for hours at a time. Titian | Metamorphosis is one such rarity. If you missed the Imagine : Dancing with Titian programme, or the three world premiere ballets on 14th July 2012 at the Royal Opera House and think that you won’t enjoy this beautiful, compelling book, or even if you did see them and think you’ve seen it all before : think again.

What you’ll find is page after page of unseen photographs from the ballets, by Royal Ballet dancer Andrej Uspenski (remember the name) and Johan Persson, alongside fascinating accounts of the whole artistic process.

7 choreographers, 14 poets, 3 composers, 1 librettist, 1 repurposed robot, 1 lunar landscape, crumpled tin foil and one 20 minute film

The process I refer to is as multi-layered as this book, including 3 contemporary artists, 7 choreographers, 14 poets, 3 composers, 1 librettist, 1 repurposed robot and one 20 minute film made by Royal Ballet dancer Bennet Gartside. On top of these layers you’ll find artists’ notebooks, sketches and other studio material as the collaborators embark on an epic journey in response to 3 paintings : the Titians, including why one of them decided to experiment with crumpled tin foil. These two cultural institutions came together to showcase their work when London was celebrating an Olympic summer like no other.

Diana and Callisto, Diana and Acteaeon and The Death of Actaeon

Early on, the pages of this lavishly bound book open out so that you can see Titian’s three paintings, which were displayed at the National Gallery together for the first time since the 18th Century, last summer : Diana and Callisto, Diana and Acteaeon and The Death of Actaeon, with a synopsis of the story behind each painting. Titian was a Renaissance artist who drew inspiration from Ovid’s poem, Metamorphoses, for his three mythological paintings that were at the centre of this ambitious project.

The National Gallery and The Royal Ballet commissioned 3 contemporary artists to work with choreographers and composers to create three new ballets inspired by these paintings – Chris Ofili, Mark Wallinger and Conrad Shawcross. The artists also designed costumes and sets, and produced new work for a show at the National Gallery.

From page to stage over two years

The book takes you on their journey – how the ballets came about & how they evolved their initial ideas into working designs.  There is also an excellent introduction by National Gallery curator and originator of the project, Minna Moore Ede, who gives a lucid and fascinating account of how the collaboration unfolded. There is also a foreword Dame Monica Mason, who was, at the time, Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet and who wanted to leave, not with a gala to celebrate her directorship, but with something new for the Company.

Mark Wallinger, Conrad Shawcross & Chris Ofili

Interviews with the three artists form the backbone of this book, beginning with conceptual artist Mark Wallinger. Each artist had their own creative team, so Wallinger, who had the title of his ballet (Trespass) before anything else, worked with Christopher Wheeldon and Alastair Marriott as choreographers, with Mark-Anthony Turnage composing the music. Wallinger took his inspiration from Diana as Goddess of the Moon, and looked to the Apollo landings and various images from Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon. In particular, the reproduction of some of his notebooks show the gold visors both astronauts wore and how, as they took photos of each other, their image was reflected in that visor. This was to become a key feature of his stage set for Trespass. Wallinger used circuit diagrams that inspired his costume designs, and these too are reproduced.

Conrad Shawcross was responsible for the robot that caused so much drama leading up to opening night and which was central to his ballet, Machina. This enormous repurposed robot was named ‘Diana’ – albeit unofficially, and his timeline for the ballet shows the evolving mood and energy of the ballet which would be demonstrated through the robot. Royal Ballet Principal Ed Watson underwent a process of motion capture at Imperial College, London, so that the robot could be programmed to take on his movement signature. Shawcross, an abstract sculptor, collaborated with Wayne McGregor (who speaks about the importance of shadows) and Kim Brandstrup on his ballet, with Nico Muhly composing the score. In his room at the National Gallery, a smaller version of the robot was displayed with a carved wooden antler. What you may not know is that the (larger) robot also carved that antler, over a two-week period. At the end of the process, Shawcross admits that he didn’t produce what he was asked for – in essence, an envelope within which the dancers would work. Instead he gave them something else in flux!  In the end, it worked.

Chris Ofili painted his own set – all 37 metres of it – which was a new experience for him, painting with his whole body. He was teamed with Liam Scarlett, Jonathan Watkins and Will Tuckett for his ballet, Diana and Actaeon, and composer Jonathan Dove. As the only painter of the trio of artists, Ofili might have felt the weight of reimagining the Titians more than most, but if he did, his inspiration allowed choreographer Liam Scarlett to work with a corps of girls, which isn’t something he gets to do often.  Ofili designed directly onto his costumes while they were worn by the dancers. Will Tuckett picked up the fact that Ovid named each of the Hounds, and gave each an individual character, which they worked into the puppet heads. Ofili researched Ovid’s text and discovered that he had also given names to Diana’s Nymphs, such as Misty, Droplet and Seashore, which then led him to use a watery signature in his ballet which you can see in the costumes.

Page after stunning page of production photographs and rehearsal images from each of the ballets await you, printed on lusciously think paper. This book is a real treasure.


182 pages, including a 6-page foldout

Hardback and jacketed

28.0  x 22.5 cm portrait

With over 300 colour illustrations


There are two editions of Titian | Metamorphosis, published by Art/Books

Limited edition of 250 copies, presented with three original artists’ prints in a clothbound clamshell case, handmade in Italy. Chris Ofili, Design for Backcloth for Diana and Actaeon (Royal Opera House), 2012, archival pigment print on 300gsm Somerset Photo Satin with decal edge, 22.2 x 41.9 cm. Conrad Shawcross, Royal Opera House print, 2012, archival pigment print on 300gsm Somerset Photo Satin, 35.5 x 43 cm. Mark Wallinger, Trespass, 2012, archival pigment print on 300gsm Somerset Photo Satin, 29.7 x 40.8 cm. If you want to see photographs of the original paintings please follow the link above.

Hardcover :

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