The Most Incredible Thing
Depois de décadas fazendo a festa nas pistas de dança mais legais do planeta, o duo Pet shop Boys agora vai encarar outro tipo de dançarino: Neil Tennant e Chris Lowe produziram uma faixa especialmente para um espetáculo de balé de uma companhia inglesa.
A faixa “The Most Incredible Thing” foi escrita junto com o coreógrafo Javier De Frutos para a companhia de balé Sadler’s Wells, e é baseada numa antiga história do escritor Hans Christian Anderson. A ideia surgiu do próprio Chris Lowe, durante um encontro com o diretor do Balé Real inglês que era fã da dupla e pediu que o músico escrevesse algo que ele pudesse dançar um dia.
El dúo británico Pet Shop Boys y el coreógrafo español Javier de Frutos logran convecer con su reciente producción, basada en un cuento de Hans Christian Andersen titulado “Lo más increíble”, y que se estrenó recién en el Sadler’s Wells londinense. Javier de Frutos y su equipo, la diseñadora Katrina Lindsay y el cineasta Tal Rosner, eligieron una estética soviética de los años veinte para la puesta en escena de esa fábula, que cuenta la historia de un rey que ofrece la mano de su hija y la mitad del reino al súbdito que invente la cosa más extraordinaria que pueda imaginarse. En el relato original, éste resulta ser un reloj del que salen todo tipo de figuras con cada movimiento de las manillas, invento que destruye cruelmente el malvado del cuento, en un intento de quedarse con la princesa, pero que vuelve a recomponerse milagrosamente, lo cual resulta todavía más increíble, y proporciona un final feliz a la historia. Es este lado oscuro, con el personaje del malo interpretado por el gran bailarín ucraniano Ivan Putrov, del Royal Opera Ballet, lo más imaginativo de una producción en la que no faltan los toques de humor. En tanto, la partitura del veterano dúo británico (Neil Tennant y Chris Lowe) es un cruce entre música sinfónica, electrónica y pop, con un ritmo que oscila entre el swing y los ritmos sincopados de la música discotequera, y su maestría consiste en saber integrar elementos en principio muy dispares en un espectáculo de tremenda energía. Uno de los momentos más hilarantes es sin duda el concurso convocado por el rey, que se presenta como una especie de “Operación Triunfo”, publicidad incluida, con una presentadora armada de micrófono y un jurado, y con el barbudo monarca y su hija observando y juzgando todo. Las ovaciones con las que un público integrado por invitados y críticos acogió el espectáculo debieron saber especialmente dulces para De Frutos, que antes del estreno había confesado que aún le afectaba el rechazo que suscitó su producción anterior, “Condena eterna de Sancho y Sánchez”, en ese mismo teatro.
Sadler’s Wells has joined forces with electronic pop legends the Pet Shop Boys and radical choreographer Javier De Frutos to create a brand new full-length dance work based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Most Incredible Thing.
Based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, the world famous electronic pop duo, Pet Shop Boys, have composed an original score for their first ever full-length dance work and their first collaboration with Sadler’s Wells. Titled The Most Incredible Thing, the production makes its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells in Spring 2011. A team of world-class creative collaborators join choreographer/director Javier De Frutos who brings his unique brand of visceral intensity to this modern fairy tale, which celebrates the power of art in the face of human destruction.
Pet Shop Boys were introduced to Sadler’s Wells over four years ago by The Royal Ballet Principal, Ivan Putrov, who asked them to write a ballet score for him. Lowe and Tennant suggested that The Most Incredible Thing would be the perfect narrative basis for a new ballet.
Andersen’s The Most Incredible Thing was written in 1870 and tells the story of a princess, a kingdom, and of two very different approaches to the task of creating something extraordinary. With its resonant narrative adapted by Matthew Dunster and Pet Shop Boys, design by Katrina Lindsay, and film and animation by BAFTA winner Tal Rosner, this new production is designed on a large scale, featuring a cast of 15, a 26-piece orchestra, and a message of hope that lies at the heart of Andersen’s tale.
Pet Shop Boys comment “This is a very exciting project to be part of. In the past we have written music for the club dancefloor so to write music for the ballet stage seems like a logical development. Also we have always been fascinated by giving our music a theatrical context.”
Javier De Frutos says “The opportunity to stage Hans Christian Andersen with music by Pet Shop Boys – alongside some of my beloved long-term collaborators – is an irresistible cocktail!”
Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding says “New full-length dance works for today’s audiences are surprisingly rare, so I’m particularly excited to be announcing the plans for our next new production – a collaboration with Pet Shop Boys. Sadler’s Wells’ own productions have at their heart a desire to work outside of conventional genres, to introduce artists with a collaborative sensibility and to support the creation of new work that pushes the boundaries of dance. The Most Incredible Thing absolutely embodies those aims.”
Ivan Putrov says “I am so excited that my friendship with Neil and Chris has led to the development of The Most Incredible Thing. I am happy to be working with this great team and very much looking forward to the new creation.”
Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are the world’s most successful pop duo and have released 10 pop albums. For their live shows over the last 20 years, they have collaborated with directors, designers and artists including Derek Jarman, David Alden and David Fielding, Zaha Hadid, Sam Taylor-Wood and Es Devlin. They have also written the 2001 West End musical Closer to Heaven with playwright Jonathan Harvey. In 2004 they performed their soundtrack to the classic silent film, Battleship Potemkin, with the Dresden Sinfoniker in a free concert in Trafalgar Square presented by
The Most Incredible Thing is the latest Sadler’s Wells Production following previous critical and sell-out successes, such as PUSH, zero degrees, Sutra and Sacred Monsters. It was researched and developed at Sadler’s Wells as part of the Jerwood Studio programme. Funded by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Jerwood Studio enables Sadler’s Wells to support artists to develop new ideas through
a variety of means including studio time, professional development courses, networking meals and public talks.
Music and original concept by Pet Shop Boys
Choreography & Direction by Javier De Frutos
Design by Katrina Lindsay
Scenario & Dramaturgy by Matthew Dunster
Film & Animation by Tal Rosner
Sound by Paul Arditti
About Sadler’s Wells
Sadler’s Wells is the leading venue for dance, bringing the widest forms of world-class international and UK dance to the widest possible audiences. Under the Artistic Directorship of Alistair Spalding, the theatre’s acclaimed programme spans cutting edge contemporary works by artists such as William Forsythe, Hofesh Shechter and Wayne McGregor, sell-out runs from Matthew Bourne and his company New Adventures, hugely successful tango, street dance and flamenco shows, and award-winning Sadler’s Wells Productions including Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant’s PUSH, and groundbreaking cross-art form collaborations such as zero degrees and Shoes. Since 2005 Sadler’s Wells has commissioned, co-commissioned, produced and co-produced 48 new productions.
About Jerwood Studio at Sadler’s Wells
The Jerwood Studio at Sadler’s Wells was launched in 2006. Funded by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation Jerwood Studio enables Sadler’s Wells to support artists to develop new avenues of exploration with people or ideas through a variety of means. These include studio time for ideas to be test driven before launching into production, professional development courses, networking meals, and public talks. The vast majority of studio research projects go on to be programmed, produced or commissioned by Sadler’s Wells. Recent works that have come out of the Jerwood Studio include Pictures From An Exhibition a co-production with Young Vic directed by Daniel Kramer, and Electric Hotel, a Fuel production, co-commissioned by Sadler’s Wells and Without Walls.
Pet Shop Boys – Music
Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) are the most successful pop duo in the world. Since signing to Parlophone Records in 1985, they have had 42 Top 30 singles and 22 Top 10 hits in the UK, including four number ones.
In 2000, Pet Shop Boys song writing skills won them the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. At the 2009 BRIT Awards they were presented with the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. As writers, producers and re-mixers, Tennant and Lowe have collaborated with artists including Dusty Springfield, Liza Minnelli, David Bowie, Yoko Ono, The Killers and Girls Aloud.
Pet Shop Boys have also written the West End musical Closer to Heaven with playwright Jonathan Harvey, produced in 2001 by the Really Useful Group. In 2004 they performed their soundtrack to the classic silent film, Battleship Potemkin, with the Dresden Sinfoniker in a free concert in Trafalgar Square presented by the ICA; they have since performed it at various spectacular outdoor events in Germany, Spain and the UK.
In their live shows over the last 20 years, Pet Shop Boys have collaborated with directors, designers and artists including Derek Jarman, David Alden and David Fielding, Zaha Hadid, Sam Taylor-Wood and Es Devlin. Their latest arena tour, Pandemonium, was recently described in a five-star review in The Times as “the ravishing pop spectacle of the year”.
Javier De Frutos – Choreography & Direction
Multi award-winning director and choreographer Javier De Frutos was born in Venezuela in 1963. He began his dance training there in 1980, continuing at the London School of Contemporary Dance and at the Merce Cunningham School, New York.
From 1988 to 1992 Javier was a member of Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians in New York. In 1992, he was appointed Choreographer in Residence at Movement Research in New York City. On his return to the UK in 1994 he established the Javier De Frutos Dance Company which toured to great acclaim around the world. In 1999 his achievements were recognised in a South Bank Show special directed by Susan Shaw that follows the creation of his work Grass and the premiere of the Hypochondriac Bird in Lisbon. The programme was nominated for the Royal Television Society Award.
He has directed a dynamic range of theatre productions as well as movement for TV and film. His work is in the repertoire of many ballet and contemporary dance companies including The Rambert Company and The Royal Ballet. In 2007 he received an Olivier Award for his choreography in Cabaret. He is also credited with movement direction for Mika’s video for We Are Golden and more recently the pilot episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Javier is currently developing a musical about Cigars set in Cuba, collaborating with filmmaker Julien Temple and directing and choreographing a ballet with music by the Pet Shop Boys.
Matthew Dunster – Scenario & Dramaturgy
Matthew Dunster is an actor, playwright and director. He has directed Love the Sinner for the National Theatre, The Fahrenheit Twins for Told By An Idiot at the Barbican, Troilus and Cressida and The Frontline at The Globe, and Macbeth at the Royal Exchange Theatre. His You Can See The Hills and Love and Money for the Royal Exchange and the Young Vic were nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement In An Affiliate Theatre. Other directing work in the theatre includes Testing the Echo for Out Of Joint, Some Voices and The Member of the Wedding at the Young Vic, Cruising at the Bush, and Port Authority at the Liverpool Everyman.
A successful writer for the stage, Matthew Dunster has worked on You Used To for Contact, Tell Me for Contact and the Donmar Warehouse, Two Clouds Over Eden at the Royal Exchange and The Band and NYT at the Soho Theatre. He has also written for BBC Radio4: Depth of Field and Poor Echo.
Matthew Dunster has acted on stage, film and TV and has created roles in The Daughter In Law at the Young Vic and Toast, Plasticine, Under the Whaleback and Harvest, all at the Royal Court.
Katrina Lindsay – Design
Katrina Lindsay’s commissions include Morte D’Arthur, Love’s Labour’s Lost (Costumes), Romeo and Juliet, Comedy of Errors, House of Desires (Royal Shakespeare Company); Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Broadway – Tony, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Henry Hewes Award for Best Costume Design in a play); Cabaret (West End/UK tour); Death and the King’s Horseman, Market Boy (National Theatre); Macbeth (Globe); Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez (Sadler’s Wells); Private Lives (Hampstead); Cattlecall (Phoenix Dance); Blood Wedding, I.D. (Almeida); Aristo (Chichester); Sleeping Beauty (Young Vic/ Barbican/Broadway); Under the Blue Sky (Royal Court). She was Assistant Director on Festen (Almeida).
Her opera design work includes Turandot (English National Opera – Costumes); La Cenerentola (English Touring Opera); The Magic Flute (Holland Park); Fingerprint (Linbury Studio, ROH/The Shout); Tall Stories (BAC/Vienna Music Festival/ Long Wharf Theatre, USA).
Future work includes costumes for Earthquakes in London (National Theatre), Die Tote Stadt (Finnish National Opera) and The Damnation of Faust (English National Opera).
Her work for television includes Costume Designer on Fugee Girl, and Production Designer on The Power of Genius and Metrosexuality, a six-part series for which her designs were short-listed for a BAFTA. Katrina Lindsay was the recipient of a 2005 Arts Foundation Fellowship Award.
Tal Rosner – Film & Animation
Award-winning artist and filmmaker Tal Rosner’s work has been screened across the world and
won him a BAFTA award for his title sequence for Channel 4’s series Skins (2008). He made his name
with radical interpretations of musical compositions. His work has been described as ‘hypnotic’ and ‘strikingly different’, with his unique visual eye earning him the label of ‘choreographer of the moving image’.
Tal’s independent experimental films Doppelganger (2005) and Without You (2008) have been screened at prestigious film festivals and venues, including Tribeca (NYC), Onedotzero and Tate Modern in London. Commissioned by Animate Projects for Channel 4 and Arts Council England, Without You has earned him critical acclaim and gained a wide following since its appearance, which include TV broadcasts in the UK and France/Canal +. Tal’s solo exhibition Family Tree, a multi-channel video installation, was launched at Tenderpixel Gallery, London in February 2010.
A retrospective of his work was held at the Forum des Images in Paris as part of the Nemo Festival in April 2009. Tal is currently working on two commissions for the new home of the New World Symphony Orchestra in Miami designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Paul Arditti – Sound
Paul Arditti is an internationally acclaimed theatre sound designer with many credits for plays, musicals, and more recently, opera and dance. He received a Tony Award, an Olivier Award, a Drama Desk Award and a BroadwayWorld.com Fans’ Choice Award for the Sound Design of Billy Elliot The Musical.
Other designs include Mary Stuart at the Donmar Warehouse, in the West End and on Broadway (Tony Award nomination); A Ring, A Lamp, A Thing, a new opera at the Royal Opera House; Blood and Gifts, Love The Sinner, Nation, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Happy Now?, Market Boy and Saint Joan (Olivier Award) at the National Theatre; The Pillowman at the National Theatre (Olivier Award nomination) and on Broadway (Drama Desk Award); The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard for the Bridge Project at BAM in New York and The Old Vic; The Arabian Nights, As You Like It, and The Crucible at the Royal Shakespeare Company; The House of Bernarda Alba for the National Theatre of Scotland; The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Been So Long, The Member of the Wedding, Vernon God Little, and The Respectable Wedding at the Young Vic Theatre, London; Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway; When The Rain Stops Falling, There Came A Gypsy Riding, Enemies and Festen (Evening Standard Award, Olivier Award nomination) at the Almeida Theatre.
Other awards include a Drama Desk Award for Four Baboons Adoring The Sun at Lincoln Center, New York.
Ivan Putrov – dancer
Ivan Putrov was born in Kiev to a ballet family. Trained at The Kiev State Choreographic Institute and at The Royal Ballet School. After graduation Sir Anthony Dowell invited him to The Royal Ballet where he was promoted to Principal in 2002. His repertory includes all the classics and ballets by MacMillan, Ashton, Balanchine, Tetley, Robbins, Cranko, Forsythe, Kylián, Duato, McGregor, Zamuel and Maliphant.
He has appeared with the national ballet companies of Hungary, Lithuania, Ukraine and Vienna Staatsoper. Awards include First Prize at the Prix de Lausanne, Gold Medal at the Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition, Gold Medal at the Nijinsky Festival, Critics’ Circle National Dance Award and Medal for Work and Achievement from the President of Ukraine.
In 2009 he was made an Honorary Artist of the Ukraine. He has worked with Mario Testino, Johnnie Shand-Kidd, Philip Haas, Nick Knight and Sam Taylor-Wood on photographic and film projects.
Neil Tennant hasn’t been sleeping well lately. ‘I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and think: What am I worried about?’ he says, while Chris Lowe, the other half of the Pet Shop Boys, chortles unsympathetically. ‘And then I remember: Oh yes! The ballet!’
As Tennant and Lowe enter their sixth decade as individuals and their fourth making music together, they might be forgiven for taking things a little easier. But that wouldn’t be interesting – and if you spend any time at all with the Pet Shop Boys, you’ll notice that ‘interesting’ is one of their favourite words.
Which is why, apart from 10 extraordinarily consistent studio albums and their elaborate, theatrical live shows, they have taken on side projects from a West End musical to writing an orchestral score to the silent film classic Battleship Potemkin, which they first performed in Trafalgar Square in 2004 to a crowd of more than 20,000 people. Four years ago, they started work on what may be their most ambitious project yet: a three-act ballet that makes its debut in London next month.
‘What we wanted to do,’ Tennant explains, ‘was a narrative ballet with the sort of structure of a Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev ballet – Swan Lake is in three acts – but with contemporary dancing.’
Although the Oscar-nominated film Black Swan and the glut of dance-based reality shows on television are encouraging a new, wider audience to watch ballet, it is still rare to see lengthy new work. The Royal Ballet is launching Alice in Wonderland, a full-length piece choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, at the end of the month, but this is a happy coincidence: no one I spoke to could remember the last time a new three-act ballet with an original score has premiered in London.
With a 26-piece orchestra, video enhancements by the Israeli-born digital artist Tal Rosner and a spectacular set, the Pet Shop Boys’ ballet is a huge – and risky – production for Sadler’s Wells.
‘It’s one of the most ambitious things we’ve undertaken, both in terms of the length of the score and the design, which is quite remarkable,’ the theatre’s artistic director, Alistair Spalding, says. ‘It’s a gamble, both artistically and financially, but I feel we need to take those gambles. And the audiences are always very excited by that.’
It all started in 2007 with a phone call to Tennant from Ivan Putrov, then a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. They had met through a mutual friend, the artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys on the staging of their 1997 tour, and who has also worked with Putrov on various artworks.
Putrov, who was born in Ukraine, had been offered a chance to perform at Sadler’s Wells during the Royal Ballet’s summer break, and wondered if the Pet Shop Boys would write some music for him. A few days later Lowe happened to mention that he was reading a new translation of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, and that one of the stories would make a great ballet.
The Most Incredible Thing is short even by Andersen’s standards, running at only three pages. It concerns a king who decides to give his daughter and half his kingdom to the person who can come up with the most incredible thing, leading to an outbreak of feverish creative activity – and, of course, idiocy – worthy of a Simon Cowell talent show.
The winner, however, makes something of real beauty: an extraordinary clock, built to show intricate scenarios as it strikes each of its 12 hours. But before he can marry the princess, another competitor smashes the work of art to pieces. This breathtaking act of destruction is, reluctantly, conceded to be an even more incredible thing, and the villain looks set to take the kingdom – until the clock’s broken figures come to life and kill him.
It is a strange, dark tale, and you can see why it never became a children’s classic. But as a parable showing that ideas cannot be destroyed by brute force, it has real power – so much so, that copies of it were handed round during the Second World War as a rallying call to the Danish resistance movement. Once they began researching this history, Tennant and Lowe found the idea irresistible. ‘We love doing pop music, but how many people get to write music for a ballet and have it performed at Sadler’s Wells?’ Lowe says.
When the Pet Shop Boys first started touring in the mid-1980s they were inspired by theatrical spectacles such as Grace Jones’s One-Man Show and David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour. Their first shows involved dancers and film backdrops by Derek Jarman, at a time when this kind of live stage show wasn’t the norm for a pop group. Since then they have continued to work with high-calibre collaborators from the architect Zaha Hadid to the opera directors David Alden and David Fielding.
‘There’s always been an interest in mixing music and some kind of theatre,’ Tennant says, and when their musical Closer to Heaven foundered after a relatively short West End run, in 2001, it made them even more determined to keep experimenting. ‘When it wasn’t a success, that gave me personally the hunger to continue to do something like this until we made it bloody work. Unlocking and unravelling this puzzle – a piece of theatre that has music as its heart and totally works – is really difficult. That’s the fascination.’
‘They’ve got a good track record of working with very interesting and modern collaborators,’ says Emma Gladstone, the producer charged with putting a team together to create the ballet. Her department at Sadler’s Wells encourages collaborations between dance and other artforms. ‘I call it “cultural dating”,’ she says, adding that the final line-up for The Most Incredible Thing has turned out to be unusually collaborative, with many of the final ideas coming out of group discussions.
One of her first calls was to Matthew Dunster, who in 2007 was a resident director at the Young Vic theatre, as well as a successful playwright. He took on the task of transforming a three-page story into a 20-page script that he subtitled ‘A Map for Music’. ‘I knew the Pet Shop Boys had done a very successful new score for Battleship Potemkin,’ he says. ‘So in a way, writing a silent film was our model. I gave them choices within each part of the story, to see which stimulated them the most. It was something they could follow, but which they didn’t necessarily have to stick to.’
Later, when the Venezuelan choreographer Javier de Frutos, and then Tal Rosner came on board, a longer draft was written, and the clock sequence expanded to include scenarios such as the Apollo moon landings. An artist with experience of setting images to live music – as well as winning a Bafta for his credit sequence for the Channel 4 series Skins – Rosner will create projections that play on a big screen throughout the performance.
‘I can ask Tal to do pretty much anything on that screen,’ Dunster says. ‘I’m used to having limitations as a theatre-maker, so it’s very exciting for me to feel I could write some sections of the piece without any limitations. If I wanted to go to the moon, then we could go to the moon.’
Over lunch at Sadler’s Wells the next day, de Frutos recalls when he first heard the Pet Shop Boys. It was in the mid-1980s, and he was working as a dancer in New York. ‘This was when people would stand in bars, watching MTV. And I remember this video came on, and there were lots of queens in the bar going, “Shhh. Listen to this! It’s really cool.” And it was West End Girls.’
Born in 1963 in Caracas to Argentine and Spanish parents, de Frutos describes himself as ‘a mongrel’, albeit one who has spent nearly half his life working in Britain. ‘I’ve been living here for almost 25 years now, so I’ve finally stopped bitching about the weather.’
It’s easy to see why he is a good creative fit with Tennant and Lowe. He has a mischievous sense of humour and a broad range of interests – his track record as a choreographer spans edgy contemporary dance, musicals such as Cabaret, a Turner Prize-nominated film short with the artist Issac Julien and a pop video with the singer Mika. In 2009 a dance piece called Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez caused a stir at Sadler’s Wells with its bloody orgy of stage violence.
‘I killed an imaginary Pope on stage, and some people got a bit upset,’ he says. ‘I got banned by the BBC and got three death threats.’ The new production will be less controversial. ‘My dancers are shocked: “You mean we’re not nude?” ’ He laughs uproariously, but Tennant and Lowe were clear from the start that this should be a family show. When they saw drawings for costumes for Adam and Eve, the first characters in the clock, which included pubic wigs, they immediately vetoed them. But it is not a show only for children, and like everyone involved, de Frutos appreciates the fact that the story can be read on many levels. A kingdom in recession; a king so desperate for solutions that he offers to give away his own child; the power of destruction. ‘We’ve all had experience of that in the last few years. All of us know where we were on September 11, we all remember the impact.’
When we meet, it is just over nine weeks before the run is due to start, but only the second day of the choreography, and de Frutos explains that it is all still at a fragile stage. He has spent two years researching Hans Christian Andersen, reading up on the Russian Constructivists (the starting point for the set design), listening to the demos of the music and thinking about the storyline. Now he has to leave his source texts and concentrate on expressing it all in movement.
Today he is working with the two principal dancers, Clemmie Sveaas, 26, and Aaron Sillis, 27, who will play the princess and the clockmaker. (Ivan Putrov is playing the villain, Karl.) De Frutos has chosen to start in the middle of the story, when they meet and fall in love, to get the chemistry right between them.
‘You are creating the steps as you go along,’ he explains. ‘That’s why it takes longer than theatre, where you have the text already written. On the first day of a play, when everybody reads the script, you get a sense of, “Ah! This is where we’re going!” You don’t get that with dance. You create about 10 minutes of choreography a week. And we have nine weeks, so that’s cutting it quite fine. We also have the challenge of telling this story for the first time. If this ballet becomes a classic, and other companies take the music and want to do it all over again, then they will always compare it to the original.’
After lunch, we go through to the theatre. What I see in the following two hours is magical: the transformation of something quite tentative and mechanical between two dancers into a flowing, beautiful and very emotional encounter between a young couple falling in love. It starts with an unconvincing kiss and a lot of technical discussion – where an arm should go, how long a lift should be – but slowly it comes together as the dancers grow in confidence. The kiss is replaced with a far more tender touch of the cheek, and when they dance to a recording of the finished score, the scene is genuinely moving. After two hours of intense, sweaty work, they take a break. They have created just over a minute of movement.
For Tennant and Lowe, the challenge was telling a story without words, giving each character a musical theme and interweaving these over longer melody lines than they would use in a pop song. ‘All the characters in the clock have their own different music, for instance,’ Tennant says, ‘and then when they’re killing the bad guy, all you can hear is shattered fragments of this music.’
Tennant’s voice appears only once in the show, when the princess is listening to a radio. ‘It’s completely different to a pop song, because you can’t rely on lyrics to tell the story,’ Lowe says. ‘You’re just trying to express it in music, to capture different emotions.’
We talk about the suppression of ideas, one of the themes of the ballet. The Pet Shop Boys have experienced this in its mildest form. When their most recent album, 2009’s Yes, came out in China, the government censor objected to a line on the closing track, Legacy: ‘Seasons will pass, governments fall.’ He asked for the line to be changed or muted, but Tennant and Lowe opted instead for the entire song to run as an instrumental. ‘They don’t like that!’ Lowe laughs. ‘Not in China: “Governments do not fall, get that out of your head right away!”’
Yes was their most pop-orientated album for some time, but its singles weren’t played on pop radio stations, something that still annoys Tennant. ‘I can’t relax about that,’ he says.
‘Well, you’re going to have to,’ Lowe shrugs. ‘I think one of the issues is that pop music is not meant to be made by older people. But I’ve never understood this idea that at some point you’re supposed to stop liking what you did. I still like going to some dubstep club in Shoreditch.’
None the less, the Pet Shop Boys have never pretended to be younger than their years (Tennant is 56, Lowe 51). ‘We’re not selling sex. And we never have,’ Tennant says. ‘Speak for yourself,’ Lowe says indignantly, before hooting with laughter. At times, interviewing the Pet Shop Boys can be like watching an experienced double act going through its routines: it all works because they complement each other perfectly.
‘Their creativity seems to be brilliantly split down the middle, which is probably why they’ve lasted as long as they have,’ Dunster observes. ‘Neil is very much the frontman, he’ll do the majority of the talking. And Chris sits at the back and doesn’t say very much. But when he does, it’s always the thing that gets us back on track. It’s no surprise that it was Chris who found the story for the ballet.’
In more than 30 years of working together there have been strains – especially on tour – but they have never really fallen out. ‘It’s a shame, really, because you don’t get the “Robbie rejoins Take That” moment,’ Lowe says. ‘Staying together is not as good a story.’
There is perhaps less glory in keeping on without too much drama, in consistently making art with a certain integrity. But the Pet Shop Boys have done this, and in recent years have been recognised for it as increasing numbers of younger artists cite them as a key influence. Starting with a Brit award for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 2009 and peaking with a triumphant headlining slot at last year’s Glastonbury Festival, they might now be considered national treasures. Which means, for them, more opportunities to do new and interesting things. Last year, for instance, they wrote the music for the Young Vic’s Christmas show, My Dad’s a Birdman, a touching play by the children’s author David Almond.
‘We’ve never at any point had a masterplan,’ Tennant says. ‘We just want to keep on doing fantastic projects – and hopefully make really good records. It’s an all-consuming thing, really. It takes up a vast amount of our lives. But ultimately, that’s what fuels us, what keeps us going.’
Sadler’s Wells has joined forces with electronic pop legends the Pet Shop Boys and radical choreographer Javier De Frutos to create a brand new full-length dance work based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Most Incredible Thing, adapted by acclaimed playwright and director Matthew Dunster.
Featuring former Royal Ballet star Ivan Putrov, this modern fairytale centres on a contest to produce ‘the most incredible thing’, with a prize of half the kingdom and marriage to the princess at stake. With its thought provoking narrative adapted by Matthew Dunster adn film animation by BAFTA winner Tal Rosner, a 26-piece orchestra and a talented cast of 16, The Most Incredible Thing is set to be a highlight of 2011’s cultural calendar.
As the planet’s most successful pop duo, the Pet Shop Boys have sold over 100 million records worldwide and amassed 22 top 10 hits, three Brit Awards and six Grammy nominations, but this new production signals their first foray into composing for dance – it’s a debut not to be missed.