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ROYAL BALLET.

ROYAL BALLET OPERA HOUSE, COVENT GARDEN LONDON, U.K. DECEMBER 1,1999 GALA OPENING

"It's a wonderful moment. We are now in residence at last. Thank you, everyone, for your contribution in making this transformation and our dreams come true."

Thus spake an emotional Sir Anthony Dowell, the artistic director of the Royal Ballet, from the stage of the Royal Opera House at the eagerly awaited reopening celebration on December 1. Fortunately the aroma of mothballs did not fill the auditorium as it reportedly had done at the 1946 reopening when Londoners delightedly donned their long-stored evening wear once more after World War II. This time, after more than two years of closure, renovation and redevelopment, the House, as it is known, was ready to reveal its glamorous transformation. In a glittering gala before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, members of the royal family, and a black-tie gathering of politicians, sponsors and donors, as well as a nationwide television audience, the red-plush ER II-embossed curtains were raised.

At the final moments of the closure concert in July 1997, England's favorite ballerina, Darcey Bussell (dressed as the Lilac Fairy), had drawn those velvet curtains together, putting the House metaphorically to sleep. And in the intervening twenty-nine months, the company wandered gypsy-like from stage to stage around Britain and on overseas tours, while always returning to the studios it shared with the Royal Ballet School. Now the daily traveling to-and-fro on the London Underground between the School and Covent Garden is over. For the first time the company has its own home in the theater--six airy, large studios, a state-of-the-art physio- and body-conditioning suite, and a balcony that looks out over the rooftops of London where the dancers can go and relax in fine weather. The opera singers and the orchestra members also have their own facilities--a vast improvement from the days when musicians had to change in the corridors.

The chairman of trustees, Sir Colin Southgate calls the new Opera House "the most technically advanced theater in the world." Indeed the physical improvements are stunning: a huge glass atrium where one can mingle before performances and during intermissions; the cosy, aptly named Crush Bar area; the auditorium that has been carefully and lovingly restored by David Mlinaric, still clad in its magnificent red and gold but now boasting air-conditioning, newly covered seats and lights, a raked floor in the stalls, clearer sight lines, and excellent acoustics; a new studio theater--the Linbury Theatre--which is to be used for a range of educational performances, chamber concerts, lectures, master classes, and rehearsals as well as a venue for staging new works.

The money to pay for the redevelopment was raised from the National Lottery Fund, private donors, and the government, while sixteen million pounds came from the British taxpayers. The Blair government, which poured scorn on Covent Garden in the past for its elitism and frowned on black-tie events, now wants to make the House a "people's opera" so that all have the opportunity to attend. The building is now open daily to the public for coffee and snacks, while ticket prices range from as low as two pounds for a ballet matinee to sixty pounds.

It was the ballet company that took the honors on opening night. While the Royal Opera performed somber Wagnerian extracts concert-style with guests Placido Domingo and Deborah Polaski, the Royal Ballet offered a slick and sentimental potted history with twenty-three extracts of well-loved works and snippets of historical moments on film. Again the Lilac Fairy appeared, this time to draw back the curtains and reveal not a dusty old stage, but one with sparkling new workings from which dropped a cavalcade of portraits of the company's balletic galaxy, hung around that of the founder Dame Ninette de Valois (who at 101 was unable to attend). Then today's generation reawakened memories of the past, led by Bussell performing the Rose Adagio in a Margot Fonteyn look-alike tutu, and passing through the Ashton, MacMillan, and Nureyev days to the more contemporary works of Bintley, Tharp, and Forsythe.

Never has the company looked so good and offered so much variety at one sitting. The grand finale tableau of all the company onstage was performed to the last moments of Stravinsky's Firebird, when a young Royal Ballet School boy and girl solemnly climbed upwards to join their fellows--the future custodians of the Royal's heritage, who will soon appreciate the advantages of having a permanent home.
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Title Annotation:gala opening-night performance
Author:WILLIS, MARGARET
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Words:743
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