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On Midnight Express and Tutus...

A talk with Wayne Eagling

by Charlotte Kasner

April 10, 2013

Wayne Eagling has had a notable presence in dance since 1969, first the Royal Ballet as a dancer, then as a director at Dutch National Ballet and English National Ballet, with his twelve-year spell in the Netherlands from 1991 being particularly memorable. Recently, London audiences had the opportunity to see him in his former incarnation as a dancer when he appeared in Peter Schaufuss’ ballet, “Midnight Express.” Eagling found a few moments to talk to Ballet-Dance immediately prior to the opening night…

CK - Wayne, thank you for sparing the time to speak to me, given the hectic schedule that you are running. Have you been greatly affected by the precipitous departure of Have you been greatly affected by the precipitous departure of the two other leading dancers from the Company?

WE - Not really. I only came in towards the end of rehearsals as I only have a small role in the production.

CK - Do you have any inkling of why Sergei decided to leave?

WE - No: it was a surprise to everyone.

CK - It must have put everyone under a great deal of pressure?

WE - Well, everyone just got on with it and Johan Christiansen, who was understudying the role, is very good. In fact, he looks much more like Billy Hayes himself.

CK - I suppose that all companies are used to sudden changes when dancers are injured.

WE - Yes, but with two dancers departing [Igor Zelensky also left the production] it would be difficult to sustain any more replacements. The other dancers have begun to learn each other’s roles, but it would be a problem.

CK - Playing not only a real person, but a living person is much harder than a fictional prince, but it must been even more difficult when one has to meet that person face to face?

WE - Billy Hayes has been really supportive to the cast and especially Johan. He has been very encouraging to everyone.

CK - It is an exciting subject for a ballet, especially as it comes more than 35 years after the film came out. Do you know what the impetus for the production was?

WE - No. I have only really been involved in the last few days as a favour to Peter [Schaufuss]. The production is not new but this is the first time that it has been seen in London.

CK - It is certainly a change from princes and tutus. Do you think that there is a tendency to infantilise ballet and bury it under pink fluff?

WE - There is a problem with the way that ballet is regarded in society. Even when we did “Angela Ballerina” at ENB, there were demands to make it less frightening for young children. There is plenty of scope for narrative productions aimed at an adult audience, although the current climate does not allow for failure and full length, narrative ballets are very expensive.

CK - Do you feel that technique has changed much since you were first dancing?

WE - Yes. There is definitely a greater emphasis on athleticism and more abstract, short ballets. I had an eclectic training with a mix of lots of different methods and danced with a variety of partners including Fonteyn.

CK - I never saw her dance live, but I feel that she would not be regarded as a great technician compared with today's dancers.

WE - No, that's true, but everyone said it was more about her complete performance, not just the technique.

CK - How did it feel to be back dancing again after such a long gap? Have you kept up with class or did you start taking class again to prepare for this production?

WE - No, but demonstrating choreography and lifting dancers has kept me fit. I am only on stage for seven minutes; blink and you'll miss me! I think that it is a good duet though. I have enjoyed working with Johan. He is a talented dancer. We were both very tired by the end of the day in rehearsals; he is on stage throughout.

CK - What are your plans following this production?

WE - I am going to the National Ballet of Japan to choreograph Sleeping Beauty for November 2014. It will be a very traditional production. I wanted to set it in Japan but they were adamant that it should be as traditional as possible. So, lots of tutus again!

CK - I wish you all the best with the production; I had better let you prepare for the performance and thanks again for you time.

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