Ballet meets the blues as White Stripes team up with Opera House

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The Independent Culture

The primal, back-to-basics blues of the White Stripes has won over rock fans from sweaty clubs to festivals around the world. Now the band's music is to be performed for an entirely new audience - ballet-lovers at London's Royal Opera House.

Three songs, including the pounding top 30 hit 'The Hardest Button To Button', will provide the soundtrack for a world premiere performance by the Royal Ballet next month.

The White Stripes, which consist of Jack and Meg White, famously rely on just the guitar and drums to accompany most of their songs, but instead of their usual stripped-down sound, the material has been scored for a 35-piece orchestra.

It is the work of composer Joby Talbot who is collaborating with the acclaimed choreographer Wayne McGregor.

McGregor had been imp-ressed by one of Talbot's original compositions, "Hovercraft". The composer then pieced together other works for the show, which has the working title of New Wayne McGregor, and turned to his latest project, an album of White Stripes covers that he recorded under the name Aluminium for Richard Russell, the boss of XL Recordings. Talbot said: "We wanted to take whatever emotion you got from the White Stripes originals and intensify that for the orchestra. We did three songs on the spot and Richard played a recording to Jack and Meg and it blew them away. They gave it their blessing so we went ahead with the rest of the album."

"It is supposed to be a homage to the band and Jack's songwriting so we would have hated to have him unhappy with his own tribute. When I met him he said it was a great honour."

Talbot, formerly of the chart band The Divine Comedy, has taken three White Stripes songs "Aluminum", "Blue Orchid" and "The Hardest Button To Button" for the ballet score and used a further three pieces which he had written during a stint as composer-in-residence at the radio station Classic FM.

"There is this very in-your-face White Stripes music and then some contemplative meditative chamber stuff, as well as 'Hovercraft'," he said of the score, which will get its first performance on 17 November.

The White Stripes, from Detroit, found fame in 2001 after ecstatic reviews and the patronage of John Peel which helped them to a £1m recording deal after years of obscurity and low sales. Jack White, who along with Meg wears just red, white and black while performing, once dated Renée Zellweger. Last year he married the British model Karen Elson.

He released an album, Broken Boy Soldiers, in May with the Raconteurs, a band he co-founded with old friends. They will be performing in the US later this year although Jack continues to head the White Stripes, who toured Australia and Japan in March. The director of the Royal Ballet, Monica Mason, acknowledged that the White Stripes' material would not be to all ballet-goers' tastes, but was in keeping with other works featuring the music of more contemporary songwriters.

"In the past we've had a bit of the Beatles, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin and Jimi Hendrix and this just flows on from that," she said. "At the Opera House we like to think we can put things on that will bring in new audiences.

"It's like when we had Jimi Hendrix, if you know you are not going to like that, you don't buy a ticket. You go to see Swan Lake or something. For a choreographer to create a ballet they must have a very strong idea and that idea may be inspired by a particular music or they may look for music which help you to realise that idea."

Oliver Condy, the editor of BBC Music magazine, welcomed the use of the band's music. "It's always good to freshen the repertoire of the Opera House for people to be continually surprised and delighted," he said.

"But I suppose the only real danger is that the music could in some way be diluted - the White Stripes music is, as I understand it, just guitar and drums and once you start to arrange it for a 35-piece band it might start sounding like Mamma Mia!"

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