Since 2005, Australian native Kathryn Bennetts has been artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, which makes its full-company Manhattan debut with William Forsythe’s Impressing the Czar at the Lincoln Center Festival in the Rose Theater. Impressing the Czar, described simply as a history of western civilization conveyed with humor, was choreographed in 1988, and has not been performed in the US since 1989. Bennetts spoke from Antwerp by phone on July 12, prior to coming to New York.
Impressing the Czar seems like an ambitious work with which to acquaint New York with the company.
It’s a great way to acquaint New York with the company, because it shows the many talents they have. It’s a piece on a very large scale, and it shows off the company very well.
You worked with Ballett Frankfurt for 15 years, as a rehearsal director. How did the dancers in Antwerp take to William Forsythe’s style?
Great. He was here the last four days working with the company before we go to New York. He was saying how fantastic they were. He was so impressed, he loves them. They’ve been doing his stuff now for a few years… Because I’m here, I can look after his pieces. Each time they do another piece from him, they can grow in his style, and get deeper into the movement quality, which doesn’t always happen with other companies. So he’s thrilled that there’s a company that’s performing his work – not only this work, we do a few other ones – the way it’s supposed to be done.
How long did it take to restage Impressing the Czar?
It came together quite quickly. I staged “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated” (the second section), just before I came here as the director, the season before, so that part was already done, and that’s the main section of dancing in the ballet. And then the first, third and fourth act, we put that together in five weeks. At that point, Bill only came and saw the dress rehearsal. It was really put together without him; he just came on the last day.
So now, he wanted to actually come and work on it a bit. Also to adjust some things – the piece is 20 years old, so he wanted to redo a few sections for himself, just to keep it fresh and alive. So there are a few little changes, but not major things that people might notice if they know the piece. He said the dancers are better these days. He wanted to challenge them, so he made some things a bit harder.
What’s your favorite section of the dance?
Hard to say. We’ve done it so much that I never get bored watching it. I guess for most of the public, the part that they all know, “In the Middle,” from a ballet point of view, is the most interesting. But Act One is also fascinating to watch. It’s like a Breughel painting or something – so many things going on at once, and it’s timed so perfectly. It’s one of my favorites.
What has been the most gratifyng part of your job since you got to Antwerp?
To see how the dancers are just thriving. And to have someone like Bill come in to say, this is great, you guys look fantastic. It’s gratifying, exposing them to really good choreographers, and really good influences in their artistic lives… how they can thrive and change very quickly and develop as artists. That’s my main wish – that I can give artists the opportunity to have a good career and to thrive. I think that’s the main task of an artistic director, actually.
Image: Jim De Block as Mr. Pnut. Photo by Johan Persson.