WRITING

Michael Kaiser / ADI / Southgate / Lawrence Mackintosh

July 2000

By now, you'll all be aware that the Opera House is once again taking space in the 'wanted' columns: Executive Director required, GSOH, mere mortals need not apply. When Michael Kaiser arrived at Covent Garden in the autumn of 1998, he made it perfectly clear that he wouldn't be staying long. Sure enough, he has now declared his intention to leave at the end of his third season, allowing Sir Colin Southgate and the board plenty of time to find a replacement. Nevertheless, the headline writers are still indulging in a spot of 'turmoil!' shrieking, as Opera House pundits roll out the statutory thousand words on the subject.

Despite all their theories, there's only one thing we know for sure: if there is anything more behind the departure, we will never know. Like Genista McIntosh, Michael Kaiser is far too discreet to air kiss and tell. He has always made it crystal clear that he wants the spotlight on the Opera House to focus on the art, not the machinations that produce it. He has never sought publicity for himself and despite the early announcement of his resignation, it was telling that by last Sunday, the papers carried far more column inches about the Kirov Ballet's performances on the stage than any shenanigans going on behind it.

The Kirov might have attracted the most coverage, but Covent Garden has been a hive of artistic activity this month. Since my last column, I've performed on every one of the Opera House's three stages. In early June, I danced in the Clore Studio Upstairs in new work created through the Artists' Development Initiative by independent choreographers Gill Clarke and Wayne McGregor. ADI was set up to provide opportunities for artists from outside and inside the Opera House to collaborate and experiment in a low risk environment. It opens up the theatre to the wider arts community, sharing its specialist skills and recognising the role it has to play as a national resource. Without the support and active involvement of Michael Kaiser, such a scheme would never have made it off the drawing board. Mid-month, The Royal Ballet made a return visit to the Grand Opera House in Belfast, our second season there in two years. Over the past fortnight, we've been dancing in the Opera House's Linbury Studio, a space which, prior to Kaiser's arrival, was due to remain dark through lack of funds. Last week I started work on a project with the Education Department that will have me dancing on water with choreographer Tom Sapsford and Dame Judi Dench, as part of July's 'String of Pearls' Festival. 'The Fleeting Opera' will combine singers, musicians and dancers from the Opera House in the first piece of music commissioned for the Thames since Handel's Water Music – and it's free. Not bad for a month's work, or for a season they said would implode halfway through, as software problems continued to beset the stage's new machinery.

Michael Kaiser would be the first to admit that this level of activity is not the work of a single person, but his hand and, more importantly, his support, is evident in all of it. Everyone I've talked to at the Opera House expresses a sense of loss that someone who combines real financial and managerial savvy with true artistic sensibility has booked his flight home. Not least, we'll miss having him around. He's enabled us to forget the less salutary bits of the past, enjoy the present and look forward to the future. He will leave us far, far better off than when he arrived and if this is turmoil, as the pundits claim, long may it continue.

I accept that the greater the distance, the broader the perspective, but why is it that while we insiders are still polishing our glasses to try and see what's going on, people on the outside are professing 20/20 vision? Just as the sports writers had the reasons for England's depressing exit from Euro 2000 all worked out before the referee blew his final whistle, certain commentators were into their third dissertation on Michael Kaiser's resignation before the ink on the press release was even dry. 'He should have moved Bussell forward and played a 4 – 2 – 4. Pavarotti's lost a yard this season. Opera's a game of three halves.' And so on. Of course, we're now faced with the endless speculation that inevitably accompanies any new appointment at national level. The usual list of suspects is being wheeled out and their form evaluated. Some of the papers are even saying that Southgate is in line for the top job, but personally, I don't think he's got over that missed penalty in 1996. My money's on Tony Adams as the next England captain.

It's not all short stay in the arts world. The Arts Council has just said goodbye to someone who served there for almost forty years. In 1963, Lawrence Mackintosh walked into the Council's offices and asked the formidable Mrs Martin, on reception, whether he could inquire about an appointment. 'Come back after lunch,' she said, adding, somewhat suspiciously, 'half past three'. He did, and never left, rising to be Head of Secretariat and surviving several Chairmen and countless council meetings. Discreet and unflappable, I always suspected Lawrence was a man of untapped skills. At his leaving party, I danced a surprise farewell gift, Mark Baldwin's Sabre Dance, which regular readers will remember from my trip to New York in March. It's a pocket sized piece which suited the two strips of lino on offer, and it's packed full of 'in' jokes, balletic references that make Mark and me laugh but go over the audience's head. As I long suspected, nothing gets past Lawrence. He asked me afterwards if he'd spotted a 'bit of Nijinska'. Yes, Lawrence, you did, but no one else has ever noticed.