Interview: Christopher Hampson - artistic director of Scottish Ballet
New artistic director ushers in a new era for the award-winning company
A stunning home in Glasgow’s Tramway, a new set of international dancers and a re-vitalised company – that’s what Ashley Page left behind when he bid farewell to Scottish Ballet after ten years as artistic director. His time at the company brought about great change, and a great many new works, but in August 2012, it was time for somebody else to take over the reins.
Enter Christopher Hampson, the man charged with taking Scottish Ballet into the future. If his ballet pedigree is anything to go by, we’re in safe hands. Trained at the Royal Ballet School, before performing for several years with English National Ballet, Hampson retired from dancing in 1999 to concentrate on choreography.
Since then, his work has appeared in repertoires in New Zealand, the USA and Europe. Scottish Ballet, however, is giving Hampson his first opportunity to run a company – not a challenge you take on lightly. So what is it about Scotland’s national ballet troupe that appealed to him?
‘One of the privileges I had in my previous career as a freelance choreographer working around the world, is I often see the UK from an outside perspective,’ says Hampson. ‘And Scottish Ballet, right from way back when, has always had quite a unique voice on the UK dance scene. It’s forward-thinking and seeks collaboration in its creative process and, because of the broad choreographic vocabulary used here, they’re a very dynamic group of dancers.’
In recent years, the technical standard of Scottish Ballet’s dancers has risen markedly, leading to tours of the USA and China, four appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival, and winning the 2008 Critics’ Circle Award for Outstanding Classical Repertoire. Additionally, principal dancer Sophie Martin picked up the Outstanding Female Award, and Ashley Page the Award for Outstanding Achievement, at the 2011 Critics’ Circle Awards.
Its most recent production, A Streetcar Named Desire, deservedly garnered a glut of five-star reviews. As far as Hampson is concerned, however, Scottish Ballet may be in fine form – but it could always be better.
‘I don’t think any company ever reaches its peak,’ he says. ‘There is always room for improvement. And that’s what’s wonderful here at Scottish Ballet – people are really up for the ride, for pushing through to the next level.’
He adds: ‘My hope is that I can intensify and build on those qualities, broaden the repertoire considerably, and continue to raise the technical standard of the dancing.’
Guest choreographers are a regular occurrence at Scottish Ballet, each bringing a new way of working for the dancers to adapt to. Speak to any of those choreographers, however, and they’ll all tell you what a special experience they had with the company. Hampson knows why.
‘One thing that differentiates the dancers at Scottish Ballet with other companies I’ve worked with, is there’s a real intelligence and autonomy to their approach,’ he says.
‘I spent a couple of weeks with them during the creation of A Streetcar Named Desire, which was a very new way of producing dance, working with a theatre director. And I was really enthused to see that the dancers were 100 per cent committed to the project, to working on their characterisation, and taking on board the director’s input. I don’t think there are many companies out there that could field that diverse a range of inputs.’