My Life – a week with Christopher Hampson

Christopher Hampson, chief executive and artistic director of Scottish Ballet, shares his diary with IAM in the lead up to the premiere of the company’s thrilling double-bill premiere at EIF in August.

This article first appeared in the September issue of IAM: Vol 12 Issue 9. Purchase a copy online or subscribe here.

Scottish Ballet dancers in Angelin Preljocaj's MC14-22. Photo © Andy Ross
Scottish Ballet dancers in Angelin Preljocaj’s MC14-22. Photo © Andy Ross

Today is a perfect slice of a day in the life of Scottish Ballet. We’re preparing for our upcoming season at Edinburgh International Festival (EIF). Our double bill comprises two of today’s most engaging and important choreographers, Angelin Preljocaj and Crystal Pite.

Before rehearsals get underway, I teach company class. I try to do this at least twice a week. It’s a great way to keep a connection with the dancers, to share in their progress and to set the pace for the season ahead. My day can often end up pulling me away from the studio or theatre, but if I’ve given class I know I’ve seen the dancers and have taken the ‘artistic temperature’ for the day.

We have a team meeting around our upcoming USA Tour (2017) and also future touring around Scotland and another planned trip to the USA. Touring is our default setting and the level of expertise around the table is enviable. I have lunch on the hoof as I watch a full run of MC14/22 Ceci est mon corps by Preljocaj. The work is for 12 men and forms part of our programme for EIF. It’s an incredibly visceral performance and the dancers are covered in bruises. Tomorrow I travel to Prague, so tonight I’ll be busy packing.

The airport lounge provides the perfect place to switch-off and focus on reporting on our past year. I’m working to pull together data for the chairman’s statement.

Just before boarding I take a phone call with our director of education, Catherine Cassidy. We are facilitators and course developers for DanceEast’s inaugural Young Rural Retreat. This is an excellent initiative to train and develop future leaders within dance. It’s important for choreographers, producers and administrators of the future to learn early on the necessary skills of analysis and balanced thinking they will need to keep a clear head when their vision is being challenged most.

After landing in Prague I head straight to the studios of the National Theatre. I co-founded the International Ballet Masterclasses there with former ballerina, Daria Klimentová, her husband, Ian Comer, and our long-time friend and musical collaborator, Jonathan Still. The masterclasses are a fantastic opportunity to see the talent coming out of the top vocational schools. We invite teachers and practitioners along (all of them very well-known names in the dance world) and, I’m happy to say, our friends. I finish up a long day by relaxing with a cold Czech beer.

This morning I’m up at 5am to head out for a run along the Vlatva river and across to the Petřín Lookout Tower. Prague is an opportunity to dedicate my focus on work that needs reflection and time. We are currently going through a strategic review and the ideas and aspirations coming forward are illuminating. Our new executive director Steven Roth is leading this and it’s great to have somebody to work with on consolidating all the data that informs our direction.

I spend the last part of the day watching classes and gauging the level of the students at the masterclasses. I always find it inspiring watching teachers teach. I always learn something new.

Scottish Ballet Company in Emergence by Crystal Pite. Photo © Andy Ross
Scottish Ballet Company in Emergence by Crystal Pite. Photo © Andy Ross

I begin with another run along the Vlatva river and then go straight into teaching class for an hour and a half. I spend the next few hours catching up on each of the many projects we’re producing. We have an exciting year ahead with Pite’s Emergence coming to the repertoire, a world premiere from our own emerging choreographer, Sophie Laplane, and a restaging of my own production of Hansel and Gretel in December.

Then there are committee papers which need authorising, and preparations for board meetings. Being involved in this side of the business lends an unparalleled perspective to our work. Articulating and understanding the complexities of the company, and engaging with government ministers and other arts agencies first hand, gives us the ability to be proactive in our artistic vision and implementation.

The afternoon sees me teaching repertoire to 50 or so students (exhausting, but very rewarding) followed by a catch up with Laura, my executive assistant.

This morning Steven and I exchange on topics ranging from our strategic review, to pensions, to committee reports. Having Steven’s expertise on board at a time of change has been vital towards building our pathway to our 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2019. Another afternoon of teaching repertoire just about finishes me off, but not before I get an update from Hope on how the first full run through of our EIF programme has gone. Excellent, by all accounts. Today is the last day of the masterclasses, but the first day of EIF. Tomorrow I will head back to Scotland.

I catch a 4am taxi to Prague airport: the flight gives me the chance to catch up on some reading for the week ahead, and landing on time in Glasgow at midday gives me enough turn-around time before I head off to Edinburgh in the afternoon to meet with board member, Caroline Roxburgh. Today, I have the opportunity to enjoy others performing as I watch Cecilia Bartoli’s fantastic performance as Norma. I meet up with Steven after the performance (he was at another event) and we head to the official opening night reception for EIF. Our evening ends just after midnight and I finally arrive home at 1.30am.

Edinburgh at this time of year is incredible: we have the world’s largest arts festival on our doorstep. Presenting at EIF means that my week ahead will be filled with juggling festival receptions, rehearsals at the studio, performances and welcoming guest creatives. The following week holds more of the same as we move between Glasgow and Edinburgh as the double bill finally goes on stage.