BALLET and rock ’n’ roll don’t seem obvious bedfellows. But Rooster, created by legendary choreographer Christopher Bruce, proves that it can work.
It’s a production that combines classical dance moves with the music of The Rolling Stones – including songs like Not Fade Away, Paint It Black and, of course, Little Red Rooster.
“It’s my youth really,” says Christopher, who has worked across the world with everyone from the Houston Ballet to the Royal Ballet, and first staged Rooster with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre in 1990.
“I didn’t think originally that I’d ever make a ballet to the Stones’ music, but towards the end of the ’80s I was re-listening to their songs and I began to have a few ideas of how I could construct a series of tracks into a good dance piece.”
But he admits it was a difficult feat – even with such great music.
“It’s music that’s so well known that you have to be careful it doesn’t just become a series of popular songs with some dance attached,” explains Christopher. “My job was to interpret themes that are there in the lyrics and make it a complete series.
“I also had ideas of contrast – there had to be energy but it’s not all rock ’n’ roll, there are ballads too like Lady Jane and As Tears Go By among the faster numbers. We finish on Sympathy For The Devil which is a great song.”
Using the songs of The Rolling Stones is not always easy because of licensing problems, but he says: “The problem was not so much the Stones as that a lot of the early recordings are owned by someone else so it became a bit of an administrative nightmare.
“The Stones themselves have been great. Mick Jagger has been along to see it at Sadlers Wells and he enjoyed it.
“He said at first he was just listening to the songs because he hadn’t heard them for so long but eventually got into it.”
It may seem strange that a ballet enthusiast would be a rock fan but Christopher explains: “This is the music I partied to.
“It was the scene that was around in my late teens and early 20s. In a sense what I’ve done is go back to those times. Some of the lyrics are quite chauvinistic and I probably was back then, so I’ve introduced a battle of the sexes, although that part is quite light-hearted.”
Times have changed a lot since the Stones’ heyday – and even more since Christopher, now aged 68, started learning to dance.
“When I was young I took my earliest lessons in Scarborough and I kept it secret for as long as possible,” he laughs.
“It began to seep out and I wasn’t really ribbed, people were just curious, but in those days it just seemed better to keep quiet.”
But he insists he wasn’t a real-life Billy Elliot. “My family were really supportive, although it started because I wanted to play football. The idea was that dancing would strengthen my legs for football but I got trapped by dance.
“To be fair, I made a better dancer than I ever would a footballer.”
He moved to London at the age of 18 to join Ballet Rambert and was one of the last people to be coached personally by the founder, Marie Rambert.
“She was very demanding, she could be cruel – savage actually – and a very hard taskmaster but I got on with her,” he recalls. “She obviously saw something in me and she rehearsed me mercilessly.
“We had a few fights and I stood up to her, which I think she appreciated. It was either that or burst into tears and I’ve seen that happen quite a bit.”
As for his own teaching style, he says: “I’m very demanding and very particular but I hope I’m fair. I take it seriously but I also like to have fun and laughter when we’re rehearsing.”
One thing’s for sure, Christopher will not be appearing as a judge on any TV dance shows in the near future.
“I’m not a great watcher of TV so I don’t see too much of what’s going on,” he says. “But I think dance has broken through a barrier and it’s much more acceptable to a wider audience now.”
Rambert will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, for three nights from Thursday, February 6 until Saturday, February 8 with three pieces of dance – Rooster, The Castaways set to 1950s Yiddish and American music, and Subterrain set to the music of Aphex Twin.