Flying High at WNO.

6th May, 2015

Article by Carys Davies.

Second generation Israeli Ran Arthur Braun has dedicated his whole life to sharing moments, dreams and fantasies with people around the world. This season, he directed and choreographed new productions of L’enfant et Sortilèges and Le Rossignol for Theatr Wielki and won the Jan Kiepura Award for Best Director in the 2015 Polish Theatre Awards. But, it could have been a different story for this ambitious character:

I was very close to being drafted to the Navy Seals. As an Israeli, it is mandatory for men to be drafted to the military for three years. My childhood was preparation to become a soldier. Early on, during the draft, I realised that I didn’t belong there, in that specific capacity. What I really wanted to do was sing and dance, and make people happy; and that’s exactly what I did. I auditioned for a special position in the army as an actor and a singer. I had the luxury to entertain and to put a smile on people’s faces, and for that, I was grateful. During my service, I performed 375 times for various fighting units within the Special Forces.

I’ve always loved music. I listened to Mozart for Kids every day as a child. I remember, when I was about 5 years old, telling my mother that I could make music. They sent me to music school and, from the age of five, I studied the recorder and piano and, at music college, I started singing. I love music, and I could create music, whether with an instrument, my voice, or now via choreography or directing.

My family supported my decision to follow a career in music. My parents have been one of the most important influences during my years of training and performing, and now directing. As a child, they allowed me freedom to be myself and to try different things. They allowed me to be wild and creative and for that I’m grateful. They invested in me, so now, every time I have a premiere, they come and see it. It’s my way of saying thank-you for allowing me to be myself and for the support they’ve given me over the years. Without family support, one would quit this industry quite easily.

Ran initially trained as a singer at the Piano and Classical Singing class of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance:

I was a character tenor. I didn’t have a glorious voice, which was unfortunate, so I thought I would compensate with some physical ability, focusing on martial arts. It went from being something that was an additional hobby to becoming my main income.

With an old-school understanding of dramatic storytelling, vocal art and an absolutely cutting edge modern eye for movement and technology, Ran Arthur Braun is in great demand for Aerial, Movement and Fight direction, and this month, he’s joined Welsh National Opera as an Aerial and  Fight Director for Richard Ayers’ Peter Pan. With Peter Pan opening at the Wales Millennium Centre next week, I was very fortunate to spend some time with Ran in-between rehearsals, to learn about his craft, and to ask some important questions. 

I’m very happy to be back with Welsh National Opera. It’s like returning to a family, as if no time has passed. There are some old faces, some new faces, but the general feeling is always the same. It’s a National Company at its highest standard. The size of the company does not reflect the quality of their work.

As an aerial and fight director, I get to do all the fun stuff. I basically translate into motion, what people, these days see in the movies, and put it on the stage. I don’t see it as a job, I see it as a gift - people pay me to be a child! It’s great.

How exactly do you put a fight scene together?

The most important thing to remember when you’re putting a fight scene together is to tell a story, a clear and exciting story. I like to use certain elements from the orchestration: phrasing, counter points and interpret them into different layers of movement. The composer has already provided us with the soundtrack. It’s normally the other way around. In movies they put the soundtrack in after the movie is done, but in opera, we already have the soundtrack, so in a way, it’s more fun – you know what you’re working with. 

Would you choreograph a fight scene before going into rehearsals, or do you need to know what you’re working with first?

You should always be prepared, both musically and dramatically. I have the sequences to everything in my mind, but I have to be able to abandon everything if a better idea comes along. When you work with a person, they can sometimes interpret a certain movement or action differently to what you have in your head. That could generate a new sequence or a new move that could be better than the original idea, so it’s a combination of preparation, but being open minded towards the natural development of the process.

Am I right in saying that you worked on the Sherlock Homes film – the one with Robert Downey Jr?

Unfortunately, no, that is not true – I wish I did. I’m a member of the Bartitsu Society that did a lot of research on the martial art, Bartitsu. We made a documentary, produced several Instructional Books, and trained people worldwide. Some of the Sherlock Holmes fight scene was based on the research material we had done. As a result, this eclectic martial art was revived.

As a choreographer, you need to be able to demonstrate to your guys what they have to do; therefore, you need to be physically fit. How do you stay fit and healthy? Do you have a fitness schedule?

At a certain age you trust Mother Nature to do all the work for you. Between youth, ambition and carelessness you can do a lot of things. When you cross a certain age, and you’re no longer as fit and strong as you once were, you must be more careful. I train at the gym, and do some fight and movement training. I must discipline myself. Your body requires more care as you grow older. You want to be able to enjoy life and in order to do so, you cannot neglect your body; your body is your temple.

What can we expect from WNO’s Peter Pan?

You should expect the brilliant mind of Keith Warner at its very best. It’s a joy and a pleasure to work with him, and the rest of the team. The production has been rehearsed with such care and enthusiasm from everyone, and it will show on the night. It’s going to be a very, very exciting, fast, dynamic, witty show, with a lot of spectacular things going on for audiences of all ages.

I like a good challenge and Peter Pan is a big challenge. It’s not easy at all.

What’s been the hardest element of Peter Pan?

Peter Pan is an extraordinary production. We always invest greatly in creativity, but within the limitations of a Touring Show that needs to fit all venues and a theatrical budget that needs to accommodate all the other wonderful elements that are as important for the show. We’ve had to work a lot harder.  It’s been a very exciting and rewarding process.

In a recent interview with the newspaper International Poznan, you said that ‘you’re only as good as your last performance’. Do you think you put too much pressure on yourself?

No, I think it is a very realistic observation. When you’re directing or choreographing, you have to be convincing in what you do, otherwise you cannot get other people to follow your fantasy, your dream. Public opinion can affect your next job, so it’s important to push yourself.

We would all like to be appreciated; and appreciation can be presented in different ways - with a smile, a hug, with awards or with a nice line in a review, but you have to be happy with what you have done, otherwise nothing matters. You should always create something you yourself would like to watch.  That should always be your starting point as a choreographer or director and aim to share it with as many people as possible.

Do you get nervous before performances?

I get a “good” nervousness. I suppose you’d call it excitement. Even if I’m not at a performance in person, I’m still very aware that a performance is happening, and I smile.

What’s been your most nerve racking performance?

I wouldn’t know, I have not had it yet.

You’ve worked as revival director, associate director and stage manager for more than 50 productions in opera houses throughout Europe. Which productions are closest to your heart?

Honestly, I fall in love with every production I work on, and this, I believe, is very important for the creative process.

My most memorable productions are all related to David Poutney and the Bregenz Festival. I met David Poutney after I quit singing and through the years, with his guidance and care, he’s been like an artistic mentor and a role model for how I now see and work in theatre. In order to direct you need that musicality and it’s very much a joy to work with him; he’s very inspirational.

What has been a highlight in your career so far?

Trans Maghreb was the most important production for me, personally. It was an interactive production that premiered on my birthday; it was a fantastic occasion. I wanted to make a show where the audiences were the main character. A Theatrical experience that touched you. They weren’t just observing the political mayhem; they were a part of it.  They got to be in the centre of the action. Audiences reacted differently during the show, to the different actions and therefore, every performance was different. The aim was to create theatre that touched and entertained people, but to leave them with something to think about.

What’s coming up in the diary that you are most looking forward to?

I have to admit it that I’m getting more and more excited about directing, so I hope to do more of my own productions in the future.

There are, however, several things, related to action, at the Bregenz Festival that I’m looking forward to. I’m very much looking forward to being a part of the team that will do Carmen in 2017. As for a specific project - I look forward to every job. Always happy that the job allows me to travel often!

If you could work with any company in the World, who would it be?

I would like to work with any company that wishes to embrace and invest in the theatrical experience. It’s an understanding that to receive, you need to give.

What would you like to do in the future, if you could choose?

To direct Bryn Terfel. Actually, to direct Bryn and Jonas Kaufmann in Tosca. I know they’ve done it, but they haven’t done it with me! Tosca is very much something I want to do, and now, after all this time, I’m ready. There’s a difference between wanting and knowing. 

Flying Dutchman would be another option, it’s his choice!

I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that you would like to direct the opening ceremony to the Olympics – is this true?


If you could do only one, which would it be: the Olympics or Tosca with Bryn?

I would say, to direct Bryn at the Olympics.

You’re not asking for much then.

No. Life is like a rollercoaster, and I would like to try everything, at least once.  Big venue shows allow you to challenge yourself, and to have a large scale production, like the Olympics, well, it’s like living in Never Never Land!

Peter Pan opens on Saturday, 16th of May at 18:30 at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, with subsequent performances on Saturday, 23rd of May at 18:30 and Sunday, the 31st of May at 16:00. The production will then travel to the Birmingham Hippodrome on Thursday, 11th of June, and to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on May 24th and 25th.

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