Quick Q&A: Edward Watson
With his ginger hair, chiseled features, and über-flexible body, The Royal Ballet’s Edward Watson is a British ballet phenomenon. A principal since 2005, he has carved a niche for himself with a roll call of leads more psychotic than princely: the electrifyingly twisted Crown Prince Rudolf in MacMillan’s
Mayerling, for example, and in roles in nearly all the ballets Wayne McGregor has created for the company. In 2011, he also took part in a new venture: Arthur Pita’s dance-theater adaptation of the Kafka novella, The Metamorphosis, a Royal Ballet production that tours to New York’s Joyce Theater this month. As Gregor Samsa, a man inexplicably turned into an insect, Watson unleashes his inner freak, anguished and contorted, a tour de force that earned him an Olivier Award. Laura Cappelle caught up with Watson near the end of a busy Royal Ballet season in June.
Photo of Watson by Charlotte Macmillan, Courtesy ROH.
What was it like to work with Arthur Pita on
Metamorphosis? He is a very generous person. He wanted me to try and try, mess up, and then we’d sort something out. That’s how I like working.
What was the most challenging aspect?
I was in a room with these incredibly brave performers from different backgrounds— actors, modern dancers—who would scream and shout and do improvisations….I thought, I’m not doing that. But you get so inspired by their willingness to do anything. I thought I was brave already— I’m always willing to try—but this was another level.
How did you approach the transition from human to insect?
Arthur and I looked at bugs to find out what it is about them that’s so creepy and unnerving. It’s the fact that something is always moving on them. It makes you very uncomfortable. I tried to emulate some aspects of the way they move, and dehumanize the character completely.
Watson as Gregor Samsa in Arthur Pita’s Metamorphosis. Photo by Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH.
Metamorphosis live up to your expectations in performance? I didn’t go into it with any expectations, and every day in the performances I was out of my comfort zone. It’s terrifying and completely liberating.
How do you manage the goo that represents Gregor’s change onstage?
Manage is a good word. It feels like it looks: It’s disgusting, it’s degrading; you feel like something horrendous has happened to you. And that’s why it’s brilliant! It’s a fantastic device for saying a lot of things, and it changes the performance completely. I’m not sure Arthur is going to let me give the recipe away, but it comes off pretty quickly.
How do you feel about performing
The Metamorphosis in New York? I’m really excited. I haven’t danced there in four years, and never in a leading role. I love the city—you get swept up in it.
For you, is it the role of a lifetime?
I think [McGregor’s] Chroma, Mayerling, and Metamorphosis are three very important moments for me. What’s been great about this past season is doing Metamorphosis and Mayerling back to back. They’re both extraordinary roles, and I would be much poorer for not doing either of them.
What ballets would you still like to dance?
I’ve been really lucky: Everything that I’ve had a secret, real wish to dance, I have done. The one I waited the longest for was MacMillan’s Requiem, because someone thought I wasn’t right for it. It was a personal moment for me to fulfill that little dream last year, and it didn’t disappoint.
Two of your regular partners, Mara Galeazzi and Leanne Benjamin, retired last June….
Mara and Leanne have been incredibly important in my career and my life. I wouldn’t have been able to do half the things I’ve done without them. I will miss them enormously, but I’m not ready to retire yet.
What do you have cooking in London for the upcoming season?
I’m dancing Romeo, and then Chroma, the part I created. I’m also going to be in David Dawson’s first ballet for the company—I have no idea what he intends to do, but I’m excited to work with someone new.
How do you feel Kevin O’Hare is doing so far as director of the company?
It’s been really great, very smooth. He’d already been with us for a while in various capacities, and he’s very approachable. We’ve also had a lot of amazing repertoire, and it looks like it’s just going to continue in the future.