Ballet? What I saw was the dancers’ pain and the unnatural positions of bodies. To move about en pointe seemed slightly daft; tutus too froufrou and the men’s tights, well... So I was perhaps at odds when I was asked by Eaglemoss to illustrate a ballet magazine for young girls. Ever up for a challenge, I did sample illustrations. At this point I did not know that these were to be approved, or otherwise, by the Royal Ballet. The project was then put on hold because although the work was admired, (by Monica Mason herself I was later told), there were thought to be too many inaccuracies in the dancers’ positions, stage sets etc. It was then proposed that the RB would provide reference material and approve rough artwork. As a proper introduction to dance I was also given a privileged invitation to attend rehearsals at the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden.
Degas would have recognised that rehearsal room; the dancers in their leggings and layered leotards and sweaters; sitting on the floor sewing their shoes; stretching at the bar; repeating small scenes; moving with a serious beauty into their roles. I watched a full rehearsal of Kenneth MacMillan’s
The notes on my roughs from the RB (remembering that thing about perfection) would say things like “Ondine’s left foot is badly fished”, by which they meant that I should move the toe down by about a millimetre. This was not a small project; I did more than 120 illustrations over 2 years. Because I was being fed reference, some decisions about composition, set design etc. were taken out of my hands. I wonder too if my line would have been stronger without direct reference, but I learnt more about drawing the human form and, most of all I think, became more confident with watercolour technique in coping with the depiction of various and strange sets and characters.