Feature: Titian Metamorphosis -book review

Tuesday 19 February 2013 by Laura Dodge

Titian Metamorphosis - cover.

Published by Art / Books in association with the Royal Opera House. RRP: £24.99, hardback
Reviewed by Laura Dodge

The last programme of Dame Monica Mason’s directorship at The Royal Ballet last Summer, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, was a spectacular partnership between choreographers, artists, musicians and dancers. The scale and vibrancy of the creativity on display made for a uniquely memorable experience, all thanks to Mason’s inspiring vision. As well as the performances at the Royal Opera House, the ballets were transmitted live to screens across the UK. I saw the works in the open air of Trafalgar Square, just meters away from the National Gallery, where the original Titian paintings that provided their stimulation, were on display.

Titian Metamorphosis the book now records and celebrates the project’s incredible collaborations. It focuses on the artists – Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger – who were commissioned to create work in response to Titian’s masterpieces Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon and The Death of Actaeon , as well as design stage sets for the ballets. There are therefore interviews with these three figures as well as an extensive introduction by exhibition curator, Minna Moore Ede. It’s good to have Titian’s paintings gloriously reproduced side-by-side on an extra large pull-out page. As the ever eloquent choreographer Wayne McGregor says “It’s the paintings that have really driven this project”.

The dance components of the partnership are represented via photographs of rehearsals and performances, with the occasional quote from a choreographer. It is a shame that the book doesn’t have more information about the creative processes involved at the Royal Opera House. Seven choreographers – Kim Brandstrup, Alastair Marriott, Wayne McGregor, Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett, Jonathan Watkins and Christopher Wheeldon – collaborated to create the three works performed. It would have been interesting to know how they managed to work together and the challenges they faced in sharing responsibility for the ballets.

Equally, it would have been nice to hear from the dancers involved, including Edward Watson, Marianela Nunez, Carlos Acosta, Steven McRae and Melissa Hamilton, who no doubt played pivotal roles in the choreographic process. The musical compositions by Jonathan Dove, Nico Muhly and Mark-Anthony Turnage are mentioned little, though understandably it is hard to translate these aural elements onto the page.

Whilst these elements are lacking, this is still a book that will excite dance fans because its numerous images are so beautiful. Artfully-arranged, these photos don’t quite capture the magic of the live performances but do provide a lasting tribute to its brilliance.

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