Re-imagining a Classic: Morgann Runacre-Temple Q & A

Morgann recently choreographed Scheherazade and 1001 Arabian Nights for National Ballet of Ireland. Working outwards from the fate of the eponymous heroine, it encompassed three of the tales from the Arabian Nights: Aladdin, Sinbad and the Little Hunchback. The resultant ballet was an intricate work, weaving between the tales and the frame story: a far-cry from the oriental pastiche of Fokine’s original ballet.

Tackling a narrative ballet is a challenge in itself; re-imagining an existing ballet, especially one with such a weight of history attached, is especially difficult because of the expectation it inevitably carries with it. Dance Dialogue spoke to Morgann recently about her views on story ballets and re-imagining the classics.

KIeran Stoneley and Jack Jones in rehearsal for Scheherazade (Photo: Mikah Smillie)

Dance Dialogue: As a choreographer, what is the attraction of narrative work?

Morgann Runacre-Temple: Characters and how they inform movement and generate ideas. I find how people behave and their body language endlessly fascinating and fun. A narrative also provides structure to move the piece forward and I love the challenge of solving how to tell a story.

DD: What attracted you to Scheherazade in particular?

MRT: The character of Scheherazade herself and her relationship with the king; the idea that stories can change people. Also the window into the theatrical Arabian Nights stories themselves which I think are rich pickings for a ballet! The abundance of fantastic Russian Orientalist music written around the time of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is perfect for an Arabian Nights ballet.

DD: Did you draw on any aspects of the original ballet?

MRT: The music.

DD: Did you have any reservations about tackling such an established and widely-known work?

MRT: When you say ‘I’m going to make a new….’ there are reservations – people come to see the show with ideas and expectations based on what they know, and with that brings a pressure to deliver.

DD: How did you approach reconstructing the libretto?

MRT: I started by researching the Arabian Nights tales themselves, finding characters, images and ideas that I thought would work in a ballet context. I knew pretty quickly which stories I wanted to include, but there was a lot of editing.

DD: How did you find working with the score?

MRT: The score was a real challenge! It’s a big sound with lots of tempo and time signature changes: I learned a lot.

DD: What direction do you think narrative ballet is going?

MRT: I think that stories will always be told and will always engage, and that ballet is a wonderful medium through which to tell stories because it can be incredibly succinct and clear. Audiences will always want to engage with characters on stage. I think it’s going to have a renaissance.

DD: You also do non-narrative work; what is different in your approach?

MRT: All the non-narrative work I have made so far has always started from what I would consider a narrative point: a relationship, a character or a series of situations.

DD: Are there any choreographers from whose work you draw inspiration?

MRT: Many! Matthew Bourne, Wayne McGregor, Kenneth Macmillan, Matthew Hart, Hofesh Schechter….

DD: Can we expect a Rite of Spring any time soon?

MRT: No plans at the moment; I’d definitely have to learn to count!

Diarmaid O’Meara

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