This is ‘not a conventional autobiography’ but it is a fascinating and inspiring account of 75 years of work in dance and theatre. Immensely humorous, Wright seems to have known almost everybody in the ballet world, and he conjures up vivid images of dips in the freezing January sea with Henry Danton at Eastbourne in the 1940s, Princess Margaret backstage at the Birmingham Hippodrome holding her breath to avoid the whiff from the gents’ loo, or of Michael Somes who could be ‘very difficult’, ‘particularly at full moon’.

For those of us outside the professional ballet world, the book sometimes ‘joins the dots’, and fills the gaps that other, more discreet, accounts have left in obscurity. I imagine that Wright’s colleagues and acquaintances will have looked for their names in the index with some trepidation, for he is almost as frank about the living as he is about the dead. Yet there is also great generosity in his descriptions of dancers such as Brenda Last (‘the sort of ballerina who would have a go and do anything to save the day’) or Tatiana Leskova, who staged Leonid Massine’s Choreartium (‘In Birmingham the company was crazy about her’).

The book offers a damning indictment of the way in which some of the critical moments in the history of the Royal Ballet companies have been handled. For example, Wright describes how Kenneth MacMillan’s death backstage during a performance was announced to the audience before his wife had told their teenage daughter, and how nobody thought to inform the company in Birmingham at the time, and Wright himself only heard of it at about midnight.

Wright does not hold back when he discusses some modern choreographers. He seems to compare Wayne McGregor’s work unfavourably with Glen Tetley’s, and while he has ‘a lot of respect’ for Matthew Bourne, and was impressed by The Car Man, he asks why Bourne does not produce ‘more original ballets’. On the other hand, while he suggests that David Bintley might have achieved even more as a choreographer had he remained at the Royal Opera House (Hobson’s Choice, ‘a brilliant ballet’, dates from 1987), he feels ‘really confident’ about the quality of Christopher Wheeldon’s work and its impact on the Royal Ballet.

There is far more to this memoir than narrative and gossip. The section on Giselle is well worth reading for its thoughtful insights into how it should be performed, and throughout the book Wright discusses questions such as intellectual property in dance, authenticity and style. At times the immediacy of the writing almost runs ahead of the sentence structure, and Wright’s own voice seems to burst off the page. He brings to life the awfulness of the old Sadler’s Wells theatre, where new male dancers used to jump from one roof to another to prove their masculinity, and dancers ran the risk of colliding with a masonry column as they left the stage. But this is not just about the past: the book ends with an Epilogue entitled ‘The Future’: even at the age of 90, Wright looks forward.

It is a long time since I have enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one.

Maggie Watson

15 November 2016

Peter Wright with Paul Arrowsmith (2016)  Wrights and Wrongs   Oberon Books Ltd.

You can purchase this book here

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