The metamorphosis of a dark tale of trespass

Those with long memories might recall the acrobatic pas de deux, much loved in the Soviet era, for the mythical characters Diana and Actaeon.

Apart from the red dress and the crescent moon tiara usually worn by Diana in the pas de deux, there’s not a lot in this showpiece that connects it with the ancient telling of the myth in Ovid’s Metamorphosis that inspired the masterpieces of the renaissance, paintings by Titian depicting Diana, Actaeon and Callisto.

Titian’s canvasses, in turn, inspired last year’s Titian Metamorphosis, an ambitious collaboration between the National Gallery in London and the Royal Ballet, a project that involved three new ballets and new interpretations of the Titian paintings by three contemporary artists.

This week, the background to the project has taken a new form with the publication of a book edited by the instigator of the collaboration, Minna Moore Ede, assistant curator of renaissance paintings at the National Gallery.

Titian Metamorphosis, on the stage at Covent Garden and in an exhibition at the gallery, was a celebration of the acquisition by the gallery and by the National Galleries of Scotland of two of the Titian paintings and the result of a push for London cultural institutions to promote their treasures prior to the Summer Olympics in 2012.

The project included three creative teams comprising seven choreographers, three composers and three artists, Mark Wallinger, Conrad Shawcross and Chris Ofili who designed the sets and costumes and whose separate response to Titian’s paintings were displayed at the National Gallery. On the left is Shawcross’s art work, Trophy.

The new book, titled Titian Metamorphosis: Art, Music, Dance: A Collaboration between The Royal Ballet and The National Gallery, describes the project from conception to the stage and the gallery, showing the evolution from the artists’ notebooks and sketches into working designs and includes Q&As with the creators of the ballets.

The conversations with the artists, in which they reveal their sources of inspiration, are the most intriguing part of the book.

Diana, the moon goddess, sent Wallinger in search of “many texts to do with the moon and with trespassing, ranging from Shelley poems to Philip Sidney, through anecdotes about astronauts, to the address to the nation that was written for Richard Nixon in case Armstrong and Aldrin perished on the moon.

“Then I gave the creative team this little dossier of material, and on the front it said Trespass…”

Trespass became the title of the ballet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and Alistair Marriott with Wallinger’s designs.

Shawcross, who worked with choreographers Wayne McGregor and Kim Brandstrup, interpreted Diana as a robot for their work, Machina.

“I’m not sure when I decided that Diana would be this cold machine precisely”, said Shawcross, “but it was early. I was interested in exploring this duality inside the vitrine, this tension between dominance and victimhood.

“Diana is supposed to be the victim, but then she is the one who survives, and it is Actaeon who perishes”.

Chris Ofili, who designed Diana and Actaeon, choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett and Jonathan Watkins sums up: “What is so incredible is that this centuries-old tale still has meaning today. All of its themes – desire, temptation, pride, beauty, the joy of the kill – continue to be relevant”.

The book can be ordered from Amazon or artbookspublishing.com.

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Melissa Hamilton in Trespass, photo © 2013 Royal Opera House and Andrej Uspenski

Melissa Hamilton in Trespass, photo © 2013 Royal Opera House and Andrej Uspenski

The completed installation of Trophy at the National Gallery, © 2012 Conrad Shawcross. Photo © 2013 Stephen White, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London

The completed installation of Trophy at the National Gallery, © 2012 Conrad Shawcross. Photo © 2013 Stephen White, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Tamara Rojo and Edward Watson in Machina, photo © 2013 Royal Opera House and Gautier Deblonde

Tamara Rojo and Edward Watson in Machina, photo © 2013 Royal Opera House and Gautier Deblonde

Federico Bonelli as Actaeon with the Hunt in Diana and Actaeon, photo © 2013 Royal Opera House and Gautier Deblonde

Federico Bonelli as Actaeon with the Hunt in Diana and Actaeon, photo © 2013 Royal Opera House and Gautier Deblonde

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1556-9, Photo © The National Gallery, London

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1556-9, Photo © The National Gallery, London

Titian, The Death of Actaeon, about 1559-75, Photo © The National Gallery, London

Titian, The Death of Actaeon, about 1559-75, Photo © The National Gallery, London

Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556-9, Photo © The National Gallery, London

Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556-9, Photo © The National Gallery, London