Sunday, 22 April 2018

Youth Ballet Company Launch in London


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Danceworks off Oxford Street has always been a lot more than just dance studios.  It is of course an excellent venue as I found for myself when I attended  Hendrick January's class in 2016 but I have also blogged about its Academy, its classes for the over 50sMichaela DePrince's masterclasses and its workshops for the photographer, Jordan Matter and much, much more.  As I said in If ever I came back to London ................  "I think I'd spend a lot of my time in Danceworks. I doubt if I'd ever get any work done. My long suffering clerk would suck his teeth and lament 'We see less of you now than when you were in Yorkshire, Miss.' Because there is so much happening at that studio."

Its latest initiative is the Youth Ballet Company which will offer young people the chance to learn and perform ballet in London, throughout the UK and even internationally.  The company plans to stage  Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.   Getting on stage under the lights in front of a living, breathing, paying audience is a delicious experience which I tried to express in The Time of My Life 28 June 2014.  It is important for dancers of all ages and abilities because it makes all those pliés and tendus worthwhile. It is theatre. It is the je ne said quoi that distinguishes ballet from keep fit classes or working out in the gym.

If I as a 60 something experienced that delight by appearing on stage, think how much more significant it must be for a talented child or adolescent.  It is one of the reasons why I am doing all in my power to set up Powerhouse Ballet in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester  If I can't pull it off for whatever reason the Youth Ballet Company may be the next best thing for young people in the North.

Anyone who wants to find out more about the Youth Ballet Company should email Katie Bretherick at balletschool@danceworks.net.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Ballet Cymru's 2018 Summer Tour


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For its 2018 summer tour which opens in Newport on 11 May 2018, Ballet Cymru has revived Darius James and Amy Doughty's Cinderella.  The first time I saw that beautiful ballet I wrote in Ballet Cymru's Cinderella 15 June 2015:
"I have seen a lot of versions of Cinderella over the years: Ashton's of course for the Royal Ballet but also Matthew Bourne's set in wartime London, Nixon's for Northern Ballet and a version danced by the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company which starred Elena Glurdjidze (see Good Show - Bristol Russians' Cinderella in Stockport 19 Feb 2014), Until yesterday evening I liked Ashton's version best but now I think I prefer Darius James and Amy Doughty's for Ballet Cymru. Perhaps I will change my mind again when I see Christopher Wheeldon's for the Dutch National Ballet at the Coliseum on 11 July 2015 as it looks lovely in the YouTube trailer, but for now this Welsh Cinderella is my favourite."
I saw Wheeldon's Cinderella less than a month later and loved it but not more than James and Doughty's. Theirs is a little gem.  One of the best Cinderellas ever created by any company.

The places to which Ballet Cymru are taking Cinderella on tour are as follows:
If you live anywhere near any of those towns and cities, do yourself a favour and book yourself a ticket.

What thrills me even more than the revival of Cinderella is the launch of  A Child’s Christmas In Wales at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage on 5 July 2018.  Why the company has waited until just after the summer solstice to launch a ballet about Christmas and why it as decided to do so in Hertfordshire of all places beats me. Never mind! It will be good.  I shall be there. With music by Cerys Matthews, how could it be anything else? Even though its dancers and creatives come from the four corners of the earth, Ballet Cymru is an unmistakably Welsh company.  As such it is at its best when it is most Welsh. 

So this should be Ballet Cymru's best summer season yet.  As I also said in my 2015 review of Cinderella: "Ballet Cyrmu is a great national treasure not just for the principality but for the whole United Kingdom ...... It is a good example of what a small touring company can do and provides an excellent model for others."

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Jane Eyre Second Time Round


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Northern Ballet Jane Eyre 13 April 2018, 19:45  Lyceum, Sheffield

The first time I saw Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre I described it as "one of the best new ballets I have seen all year from any company and it is the best new work from Northern Ballet for many years if not decades" (see Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre: the best new Ballet from the Company in 20 Years 2 June 2016). I saw it again in Sheffield on Friday and I am still of that view.

Jane Eyre is a very long read.  It consists of 38 chapters and was first published in 3 volumes.  There is a good summary of the story in WikipediaAlthough it cannot have been easy to compress a book of that length into a two act ballet, Marston preserved its essence in her librettoMost of the characters of the novel are reproduced in the ballet.  Marston has also invented a set of male characters called the "D-men" who are danced by some of the company's most experienced members. They haunt Jane at critical moments of her life.  In that regard, they perform a role similar to that of the chorus in Greek drama.  I noticed a similar use of such characters in The Suit (see Excellence - Ballet Black's Double Bill 17 March 2018).

Many of the dancers I saw at Richmond in 2016 were in Friday's performance in Sheffield though some had different roles. Dreda Blow danced Jane as an adult on Friday as she had two years ago. Jane as a girl was danced by Rachael Gillespie who had been Adèle last time.  Victoria Sibson, who had been Bertha Mason in Richmond, was Aunt Reed in Sheffield. However, there was a different Rochester.  Joseph Taylor performed that role on Friday.

Each and every member of the cast performed well.  Blow is the only Jane I know.  The last time I saw her I wrote:
"Blow is a fine dancer but I have never seen her dance better than she did tonight."
I can only say the same about her performance on Friday.  Taylor delivered a confident and convincing performance as Rochester.  Gillespie is one of my favourite dancers in the company and her portrayal as the young Jane did not disappoint me.  However, the performance that impressed me most in Sheffield was Mariana Rodrigues's as Bertha.  She makes only a couple of brief appearances but her role is a key one.  The attempted bigamy scene has a lot in common with the mad scene in  Giselle and if she is ever cast as Giselle I should be very interested to see what she makes of it.  I think she is an artist to watch and I will make a point of looking out for her.

Once again I admired Patrick Kinmonth's sets - especially the Pennine backdrop with its dry stone walls. Also his costumes, especially Bertha's ragged dress.  The more I hear of Philip Feeney's music the more I like his work. He also wrote the score for The Suit  which was another successful collaboration with Marston.

I concluded my review of the performance in Richmond with the hope that the ballet would be revived as I had hoped to see it again.  I am very glad that Jane Eyre is back in Northern Ballet's repertoire and that it has been staged in major venues this time.  I am particularly glad that it is coming to the Wells and Lowry for I think it will do well in both of those theatres.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

"In the Future" - Junior Company's Fifth Anniversary Performance


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Dutch National Ballet Junior Company In the Future 15 April 2018, 19:30  Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam

In the Future is a triple bill to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company.  It takes its title from Hans van Manen's masterpiece of the same name which in turn takes its name from David Byrne's setting of his own words:
"In the future everyone will have the same haircut and the same clothes.
In the future everyone will be very fat from the starchy diet.
In the future everyone will be very thin from not having enough to eat.
In the future it will be next to impossible to tell girls from boys, even in bed ....."
This is a visually arresting but also a very witty piece.  It opens to a repetitive, pulsating score suggesting an industrial process.  The dancers enter the stage in pairs coalesce into larger groups then separate into smaller ones again.  Each and every movement in completely synchronized just like the equipment and components on an assembly line.

Van Manen created In the Future in 1986 for the Scarpino Ballet of Rotterdam but it could have been tailored for the Junior Company. It requires 12 very special dancers with very sharp minds and very agile bodies.  The young men and women who performed at the Stadsschouwburg on Sunday night are among the best on the planet.  Their artistic coordinator, Ernst Meisner, scored the world looking for them at competitions like the Prix de Lausanne and the Youth America Grand Prix and elsewhere. Watching those artists was a mesmerizing, awe-inspiring experience that swept the audience to their feet.

Of the towering choreographic geniuses of my youth - Ashton, Balanchine, Béjart, Cranko, MacMillan, Petit - van Manen is the only one left and he is still busy.  He is one of the reasons why the Dutch National Ballet is special.  He symbolizes its willingness to innovate and thereby renew itself. Van Manen's muse is the great ballerina, Igone de Jongh, and she was the Junior Company's ballet master for Sunday's performance.   In the trailer. Ode to the Master, de Jongh and van Mann dance together.  There could have been no stronger collaboration for this work.

© 2018 Jane Elizabeth Lambert
All rights reserved
The colours red and green were also used by the brilliant Spanish choreographer Juanjo Arqués in Fingers in the Air.  Click on the link to the left to see the video as it is the best way to explain the work.  Lamps no more than an inch long were distributed to the audience and carried by the cast. One emitted red light and the other green.  At various stages of the performance groups of dancers competed with each other - three men against three women or a soloist against a duet - and the members of the audience were asked to vote on which performance they preferred, Celebrity Big Brother style using their lamps. On the first vote, the women won. The jubilant females punched the air and continued to dance as the dejected males slunk away.  Perhaps this was the beginning of a whole new art form - reality ballet.

Towards the end of the work the lights went down. The dancers continued to dance but all that was visible was the movement of the reds and greens just like fireflies. The effect was magical and captivating especially when members of the audience lit their lamps too

I discussed the work with the choreographer after the show.  "What if the audience had chosen the men in the first vote?" I asked.  "The audience had been guided" Juanjo added. "Just like we were in the Brexit referendum," I suggested, "or the Americans who voted for Donald Trump?" The choreographer did not deny the possibility of a political dimension to his work though I got the impression he was more comfortable discussing the analogy with reality TV where the viewers are consumers.

Though the Dutch National Ballet is innovative it is also strongly rooted in a tradition and looks beyond Petipa to Bournonville.  The Junior Company's homage to that tradition was the Pas de Six and Tarantella from Napoli.  Though notionally set in Italy Napoli is associated primarily with the Royal Danish Ballet - much in the same way as Ashton's La Fille mal gardée is quintessentially English even though it is supposed to be located in pre-revolutionary France.  In their swirling skirts the women were enchanting.  The men in their breeches and white shirts and stockings were so dashing. This is a feel good ballet if ever there was. Coached by Ernst Meisner and Caroline Sayo Iura the dancers were magnificent.

I cannot think of a better choice of work than those three ballets to show off the qualities of the Dutch National Ballet.  It is that combination of innovation and classicism that distinguishes that company from the others.  From time to time representatives of the company thank me for my support.  "But I don't think I do" I explain "other than by sitting in the audience and being one of the company's Friends." I am not, alas, an industrialist or aristocrat who could donate what I would like to give and that company deserves.  All I can do is cross the North Sea to see its shows whenever I can.  Why wouldn't I?   This company has a je ne sais quoi that makes it great.  I say that in all seriousness and with all sincerity.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

KNT's One Day Workshop on La Bayadère


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We spent the first sunny day of the year cooped up in a dance studio in Manchester. How sad is that?  Well not at all really because we had a whale of a time. For the first time, we beginners and pre-intermediate students had an opportunity to dance with the advanced class and the experience lifted us all.  Even me!  For that reason alone it was the best KNT intensive at the Northern Ballet School's studios that I have ever attended, though, I must emphasize, all the other ones have also been good.

We had two excellent teachers:  Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy and Martin Dutton of the Hammond.  Martin took our class and Jane the more advanced students. We had several joint sessions.  A warm up with Martin at the beginning of the day. Both teachers taught us the entry into the kingdom of the Shades towards the end.   We concluded the intensive with a joint performance at which each class danced its pieces before the other and we came together for the entry into the kingdom of the Shades at the very end. 

After a warm-up which started on the floor and ended with a brisk run round the studio, Martin led us into class. We did the usual barre exercises - pliés, tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, grands battements et cetera - then a delightful port de bras, pirouettes dehors and dedans and some of the jumps that we needed to master for Solor's solo.   We had one chap in our midst - Peter from North Wales  - and Martin drilled him (and us) in tours en l'air.  Sally used to make me do these when I was a student at St Andrews and I still remember them up to a point (see Ballet at University 27 Feb 2017).  We finished off with some jumps.  Throughout the class Martin emphasized the importance of performance.  "You look like your attending a maths class not a dance class", he said. "Dance is supposed to be fun," "So is maths" I protested sottissimo voce which was somehow picked up by the class.  Very naughty to break a cardinal rule of class etiquette that I had learned nearly 50 years ago at St Andrews but that was a provocation I could not ignore

The warn-up and class took us up to lunch time so Martin broke for lunch at 12:20.  I nipped out for some sushi and berries from Tesco across Oxford Road. While over there I noticed that the old National Computer Centre will become an incubator sometime this Spring.  There is a canteen at Northern Ballet School which opens to the public only for shows at the Dancehouse theatre. However, it has tables, chairs and a vending machine and we usually meet to eat our sandwiches there.  Many of the beginners and pre-intermediate class were regulars at Karen Sant's Tuesday class but there were three of us from Jane's Wednesday night class in Leeds and Peter from North Wales.

After lunch Martin gave us a quick warm up and then led us into the repertoire.  Before playing the music he taught us the steps as he would in class.  One of our pieces included a cabriole which he broke down into its components.  Only after he was satisfied that we were as good as we were ever going be he taught us the whole solo. For the performance, however, he divided the class into sections and allocated each of us part of the choreography.   We were able to concentrate on our part and while we were a long way from perfect we were also far from a rabble.

The second piece he showed us was from Solor's solo while he was stoned on opium.  "Heavy man" as my roommate at UCLA used to say. There were lots of jumps and turns which were great fun but we had insufficient time to polish them into a performance.

We did, however, learn the whole of the entry into the kingdom of the shades with all those arabesques and tendus as we descended the notional ramp followed by the  bourrés, the descent to one knee which I daren't risk as I might never get up again and some awkward soutenus.  Martin led us through that piece in our studio.  Then Jane invited us into hers to join her students.  She had taught her class a slightly different choreography and the two teachers drilled us together until they were satisfied that we were doing the same thing.  The advanced class danced Nikiya's solo and the second shade's solo delightfully to warm applause from us. We danced our solo to probably over generous applause from them. It was good to have an audience which included my good friend Yoshie, Karen and Mark Hindle as well as the advanced class members.

The day passed far too quickly.  However, we have a show to which we can look forward on 19 May 2018 and, of course, the launch of Powerhouse Ballet with Jane Tucker in Huddersfield on 26 May.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Bolshoi's Giselle Second Time Round


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Bolshoi Ballet  Giselle 8 April 2016 Pathé Live

The recording of Giselle (for which the Huddersfield Odeon charged me £15.15 even with a 10% discount) was first performed on 11 Oct 2015.  I reviewed that performance in The Bolshoi does the Business - Giselle streamed from Moscow the next day.  I liked it then and I still liked it when I saw the recording on Sunday though I would have much preferred to have seen a live work.  The Bolshoi was dancing Spartacus on Sunday with Denis Rodkin in the title role, Lantratov as Crassus, Zajharova as Aegina and Nikulina as Phrygia.  Now why couldn't the Bolshoi and Pathé Live have shown us that?

However, it was good to see Zakharova, Polunin, Shipulina, Tsvirko and Khokhlova again.  In contrast to his Swan Lake about which I had expressed reservations in Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016 after I saw it in London, Grigorovich's Giselle is one of the best I have ever seen.  I explained why in my 2015 review: a superlative cast, a fin orchestra and although I found the backdrops somewhat dowdy in contrast to the Royal Ballet's they are a good deal better than the sets for the Bolshoi's Swan Lake.

I am writing this article at a time of increasing tension between my government and the government of Russia following events in Syria and Salisbury.  Though I agree reluctantly with the decisions that my government have taken in solidarity with its international partners on those issues, I am and always have been a great admirer of Russia and its people for their contributions to science and technology as well as the arts.  I have never been to that country or learned Russian but have always wanted to do so. I look forward to better days.

While watching the recording of Giselle I received an email from Kirklees Active Leisure accepting my booking of the dance studio from at Huddersfield Leisure Centre from 15:00 to 16:30 on 26 May 2018 (see We now have a studio 8 April 2018 Powerhouse Ballet). If you would like a free 90 minute ballet class in Huddersfield with an inspiring teacher click the button marked "Register" below.  You will find more details in the Powerhouse Ballet blog.


Sunday, 8 April 2018

BalletLORENT's Rumpelstiltskin


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BalletLORENT  Rumpelstiltskin 7 April 2018, 14:30 Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

The dancers of BalletLORENT performed the Poet Laureate's adaptation of the Grimms' Rumpelstiltskin to an almost full house at Huddersfield's municipal theatre with great gusto yesterday afternoon.  The audience which consisted largely of schoolchildren and their patents seemed to like it. In so far as I have reservations they relate to the style of dance which is just not my personal preference.  The exaggerated and sometimes unpredictable jumps, turns and arm movements as well as the clambering over the sets reminded me more of troops on an assault course or even children in an adventure playground than highly trained dancers but then that may be because I see too much ballet and not enough of other styles of dance.  Having said that, it had very little in common with Wayne MacGregor;s Yugen or Sharon Watson's Wundrush which are contemporary works that I enjoyed very much indeed.

Despite its name BalletLORENT is not primarily a ballet company though one dancer did bourré on pointe briefly as she tried to distract a grief stricken king.  It is a contemporary dance company based at Dancecity in Newcastle (see Dance in Newcastle 4 Nov 2016).  It has already created two works based on the Grimms Children's and Household Tales, namely Rapunzel and Snow White which explore "how complicated and faulted individuals are relevant to the contemporary world". As the programme adds, "This is not Walt Disney." I had seen Snow White on 30 Sept 2016 and reviewed it in BalletLORENT on 3 Oct 2016.

Carol Ann Duffy's Rumpelstiltskin has parallels with Snow White in that they are both about the rejection of children by their patents.  I didn't like Grimms' tales when my mother tried to read them to me as a child because of the horrible ways that characters met their ends.   I don't think that she liked them either because we never reached Rumpelstiltskin and I looked up the story for the first time only yesterday. I was born just a few years after the second world war when passions were still running high against Germany.  I heard it said more than once that the Grimms showed a cruel streak in the German character. That, of course, was nonsense.  I am glad to say that such things are no longer said, but the stories were still chilling. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the most alarming aspect of the tales is the fact that not all children are loved as they should be. Alas, that is always a contemporary reality.

Yesterday's performance focused on the following main characters: the king and queen and later the queen's ghost danced by John Kendall and Virginia Scudeletti, the shepherd, Toby Fitzgibbons, his daughter Natalie Trewinnard and, of course, Rumpelstiltskin danced by Gavin Coward. There were also a  lot of children in the cast. All, professionals and kids, danced energetically and expressively and were applauded vigorously for their efforts. My favourite characters were the sheep who did not have to move with wild abandon.  They appealed to me because they behaved, well, just like sheep.  The choreographer  and maybe the dancers seem to have spent some time watching them on moors and in farmyards because their head movements  in particular were quite lifelike.

The set consisted of a palace and a hill mounted on scaffolding and there were props like straw, gold leaf and bigger and bigger spinning wheels all cleverly designed by Phil Eddolls. There was a lavish use of gold cloth by Michelle Clapton, especially in the queen's costume.  Murray Gold's music fittted the story well. I particularly liked the reel in the wedding celebrations.

The show opened at Sadler's Wells where it received good reviews from the dance critics. Huddersfield was its second stop.  It will move on to The Lowry, Hull, Oxford, Darlington and Aberdeen (see the tour dates page of the company's website).  The audience in Huddersfield seemed to like it very much so it is quite likely that you will too.  If you live anywhere near those towns then watch it - particularly if you have children to treat.