The Royal Ballet exhibition at The Lowry and the X Factor
I read two stories - one about the X Factor and the other about the Royal Ballet - which appear completely unrelated. But both the Royal Ballet and the X Factor involve the performing arts. They both depend on discovering and nurturing talent, and their founders were and are demanding personalities. I thought there was another hidden link, which illuminates us. See what you think. The Royal Ballet first -
Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Marguerite and Armand, a ballet created for them by Royal Ballet Founder Choreographer Frederick Ashton. In 1961, Ashton attended a performance of Alexandre Dumas' “La Dame aux Camélias” played by English actress Vivian Leigh and was inspired to transpose the play into a ballet. That same year, the young renegade from the Kirov, Rudolf Nureyev, leaped across the Iron Curtain to freedom in London. Soon he and Dame Margot became inseparable dance partners.
In the 1950s, the worldwide public saw the Royal Ballet as beautifully British. In 2010, the X Factor has become a British global phenomenon. Writing in the Telegraph, Matthew Norman speaks of the "fiendishly manipulative mind" of founder Simon Cowell, whose primary aim, according to Norman, is his own "further enrichment".
This seems a unfair to Cowell, though it could be argued that even Norman is serving his aims by publicizing him.
Cowell brings 'ordinary' men and women whose talent had been obscured, sometimes justifiably so, but sometimes not, into the spotlight. Many people wish they could stand on the X Factor stage, revealing an unseen talent. Cowell grips viewers with a narrative - who will show us an astonishing gift? Will real talent get lost in the crush or will it survive and dazzle us? How will the implacable judges respond - will their love be won? - and will we agree with their decisions?
In contrast, at the Royal Ballet we see the story of the Swan Princess, but we don't usually see the narrative hidden in the student studying at the Royal Ballet School - the young dancer with promise who falls by the side of the road, the ugly duckling who becomes a swan.
Royal Ballerina Darcey Bussell. When she was thirteen she auditioned and won one of eight places at the Royal Ballet Lower School at White Lodge. There she worked for six years, unseen by the world, until, just nineteen, she burst on the ballet scene. An inspiration for twenty years, she is now a full-time mother living in Australia with her husband and children.
That is a narrative which never appears on Royal Ballet or X Factor stages. It's the narrative of motherhood and fatherhood and friendship - the world's most private and important and luminous narrative, created by 'ordinary' men and women.