Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Chantry Dance and MurleyDance all in the same day. How good is that!

Assassination of Riccardo
Illustration August Pollak, Wikipedia 

On Friday afternoon I received the following email from Rae Piper, one of the artistic directors of Chantry Dance:
"Apologies for the late notice, but we have just been given 2 tickets for the general dress rehearsal of 'Un Ballo In Maschera' to be held at the Royal Opera House on Monday 15th at 11am-2:30pm. If you would like these tickets, you are very welcome to them - it would be our pleasure to give them to you. Please let me know if you would like them, and I will arrange to get them to you."
I did not need to be asked twice. Opportunities like this don't grow on trees and I know a good thing when I see one.  I accepted with alacrity and then rang one of my friends to see whether she was free to come to London with me.

My friend and I had seen an HDTV transmission of the Met's production from New York at the National Media Museum which we both enjoyed. She also knew Chantry Dance having also seen Paul Chantry and Rae Piper in Halifax a few weeks ago (see "The Happy Prince in Halifax" 21 Nov 2014). We knew they were assisting Lucy Burge with the choreography and that they would also be in the show.

We got up very early yesterday morning and set off for Luton Parkway just after 06:00. Although I live in Yorkshire I do most of my work in London and have tried every way of getting there. Unless you book well in  advance trains are expensive and you have to allow at least 90 minutes to drive from Holmfirth, park and pick up the ticket from one of those irritating ticket machines with a perpetual queue. The number of trains I have missed waiting in the queue at Sheffield station does not bear thinking about. It also costs an arm and a leg to park by the station. I have found the best way is to drive to Luton Parkway (which usually takes no more than 2 and a half hours) where one can park all day for £3 and then take the Thameslink into St Pancras. Had the day gone according to plan we would have reached Luton no later than 09:30 and Covent Garden well before 11:00.

Alas, the day did not go according to plan. We found ourselves in a horrendous snarl-up outside Nottingham which delayed us by 2 hours. The result was that we rolled up at the Opera House late and had to watch the first part of the opera on a monitor. However, we were able to take our seats after the interval and were treated to a brilliant show. There were excellent performances by Joseph Callleja as Riccardo, Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Renato, Ludmyla Monastryska as Amelia and indeed the whole cast. Although their's was a non-singing role it was good to see Paul and Rae on stage. We were particularly pleased to see them because they had not been well the day before and feared that they might miss the rehearsal.  Happily they had recovered enough yesterday morning to soldier on and, like the rest of the cast, they did very well. The music conducted by Daniel Oren was magnificent. Our tickets were in the stalls circle so we were very close to the orchestra.  The sets and costumes were beautiful. It was every bit as good as the Met's production. We congratulate those who have been fortunate enough to get tickets. You are in for a treat, folks.

After the rehearsal I returned to chambers. Tomorrow is our Christmas party which I shall miss because it clashes with the Huddersfield Choral Society's public performance of Handel's Messiah. We therefore held an impromptu party to which I invited friends from the barre as well as the bar. Paul and Rae did not pick up their Christmas card upon which I had written an invitation but Paul Kelly and David Murley of MurleyDance were able to come. Over wine and mince pies it was interesting to discover just how much my world has in common with theirs. As I discovered when I took to the stage the part of my brain which engages when I go into court kicked in to play when I found myself on stage (see "The Time of my Life" 28 June 2014).

I am a great fan of both Chantry Dance and MurleyDance. I owe Chantry Dance a great debt of gratitude for coaxing me on stage (see "Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance" 10 May 2014). Had I not been in Dream Dance I would not have put my name forward for the Northern Ballet Academy end of year show. That was one of the greatest moments of my life and I owe a lot of other people - notably my teachers Annemarie Donoghue, Fiona Noonan and everyone else who has taught me for advancing me to that point - and Mel, Dave Wilson and the folks in Chelmsford for encouraging me to have a go.

Saturday, 13 December 2014


Manchester's Theatre Street: The Dancehouse Theatre, Northern Ballet
School and KNT Danceworks
Photo Wikipedia

Manchester City Ballet, The Nutcracker, Dancehouse Theatre, 12 Dec 2014

For the last week Jeannette Winterson has been talking about Manchester on Radio 4. The title for her talks is Manchester: Alchemical City. She has chosen that title to celebrate our city's genius for creating riches of all kinds - intellectual, cultural, spiritual as well as material - out of base matter.

A good example of that genius is Northern Ballet School which set up in a derelict cinema on Oxford Road. If Manchester is to the United Kingdom what St Petersburg is to Russia then Oxford Road which connects out great universities to several of our theatres and concert hall is our Theatre Street (see "The New Mariinsky" 4 May 2013 for the significance of "Theatre Street").  The space has been converted into a magnificent centre for the study and performance of all kinds of dance. As well as the School, which justifiably describes itself as "an international centre of excellence in training for classical ballet and musical theatre" there is KNT Danceworks for adult classes which I attend whenever I can  (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014) and the Dancehouse Theatre. Every year, members of the school dancing as Manchester City Ballet, present one of the classical ballets in that theatre.  This year they chose The Nutcracker which I saw last night.

The Nutcracker must be a challenge to stage because every member of the public thinks he or she knows the ballet and has his or her own notions as to how it is to be performed, whether a balletomane or not. It is one of the traditions of Christmas like Handel's Messiah. Most of  the major companies of the world have a version in their repertoire. The ballet is often shown on television. Tunes from the ballet like the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Waltz of the Flowers are played, whistled and even sung in all sorts of versions. There is not much of a story and thus not much for the principals to do but there is lots of character dancing and the second act is chock full of divertissements. 

Because the ballet is so well known choreographers and producers are tempted to put their own twist on the story and introduce gimmicks such as balloons. That is nearly always a mistake.  As I said when I reviewed Chelmsford Ballet's production ("The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmicks but with Love and Joy" 20 March 2014) the ballet works best when it holds fast to Hoffmann's story and Petipa's choreography. Yesterday's performance by Manchester City Ballet was true to the original though the Stahlbaums were elevated to the Russian nobility as Count Pyotr and Countess Katrina, Drosselmeyer was renamed Kazimir and Clara's naughty little brother was called Misha rather than Hans or Fritz.

There were some interesting linkages between the first and second Acts. Clara had an elder sister called Natalia who morphed into the Sugar Plum Fairy and Natalia's fiancé in Act I became the Sugar Plum Fairy's cavalier in Act II. The battle scene between the toy soldiers and the rodents was one of the best I have ever seen. That was choreographed specially by Anton Alexandrov separately from the rest of the ballet which was choreographed by David Needham.  I should add that I loved Sarah Oxley's set designs, particularly her backdrop for the kingdom of the sweets with cup cake fillings substituted for onion bowl cupolas.

Manchester City Ballet showed that Northern Ballet School has a lot of very promising young dancers. Misato Ito who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy and Natalia and Jack Brownhill who was Sugar Plum's cavalier and Natalia's fiancé displayed considerable virtuosity. Nicole Hamill was an adorable Clara. She was given much more to do than in many productions in that she danced several of the divertissements of Act II.  Her dance with the children was particularly charming. Steven Lloyd, who also danced Clara's father was a magnificent King Rat. Luca De Martino, who was also Harlequin and in the Chinese tea dance was a great Nutcracker. Bradley Parsons, who also danced in the Spanish chocolate was an excellent Kazimir (Drosselmeyer). Megan Reid danced delightful solos in the snowflake and waltz of the flowers. While all the divertissements were good I cheered particularly loundly for the Russians - Alex Burrows, Carlos Oliviera and Harry Powell - the Mirlitons - Yui Hayahsi, Yukiho Kasai and Aida Martinez Pastor - and Columbine - Sayaka Sugimoto who also accompanied Bradley Parsons in the Spanish dance.

Unlike the second city of Russia the second city of the United Kingdom does not host a major ballet company for the moment (though that may change with the massive investment in The Factory - Manchester (see "Let's bring the Royal Ballet to The Factory Manchester11 Dec 2014)), but our city does have a very good ballet school on its theatre street.

Post Script
If you want to find out more about Northern Ballet School and the studios in which KNT Danceworks operates there is a beautifully made video called "Want To Be Here - A taste of life at Northern Ballet School" which I thoroughly recommend.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Bedouin of Ballet

Ballet Theatre UK's Swan Lake. The Atkinson, Southport, 11 Dec 2014

I introduced readers to Ballet Theatre UK ("BTUK") when I reviewed their performance of The Little Mermaid in Southport (see "Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport" 27 April 2014). I wrote:
"BTUK is no ordinary company. It has a punishing schedule. Before coming to Southport it had danced a matinee and evening at Dunstable on the 22 April, an evening show at Tamworth on the 23, a matinee and evening at Keswick on the 24 and an evening at Runcorn on the 26. Today it crosses the Ribble to Blackpool and on 1 May it comes to Rotherham and then on Peterborough on the 2. I counted over 66 different venues throughout the British Isles. This show has quite elaborate scenery and props and sumptuous costumes. Bearing in mind that the dancers must find time for company classes, rehearsing their next production, eating and drinking, some kind of family and social life as well as travelling, I take my hat off to them."
 Last night BTUK returned to Southport to dance Swan Lake and I was in the audience to welcome them.

I have to start by saying that with the exception of Matthew Bourne's (see "Swan Lads - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Bradford Alhambra 4 March 2014" 5 March 2014) this was the most unusual Swan Lake that I have ever seen. It was very much shorter - two acts instead of the usual three or four. Different dancers danced Odette and Odile and in this version Odile turned out not to be all bad. Nobody gave Siegfried a bow. He simply got lost in the woods looking for Odette. Instead of cygnets there was a pas de quatre  - that is to say two men and two women and not just four girls with arms linked in lock step. Siegfried and Odette already knew each other at the start of the ballet. We see Rothbart turn Odette into a swan so that he could offer Odile to Siegfried as a bride. Siegfried is not deceived by Odile's appearance but is influenced by the same sort of drug that Puck used to make Titania fall in love with a donkey in Midsummer Night's Dream. This was not the only balletic allusion that the choreographer, Christopher Moore, used.  Odile wielded a sword just like Giselle in the mad scene before she plunges it into Rothbart's body. And there is a sword fight in Act II just as in Romeo and Juliet. Instead of the lovers plunging into the lake to break Rothbart's spell there is a happy ending which would have pleased Joseph Stalin.

Not everyone likes the reworking of this plot. Yesterday, one of the members of my ballet class warned me that BTUK "had murdered Swan Lake." When I asked her what she meant she replied that the music was still there "but precious little else." It is true that some important bits of the ballet are missing - most notably Legnani's 32 fouettés and the Venetian dance though the czardas and the Spanish dance survived - but the ballet still worked. In fact, I have to congratulate Moore on his adaptation of this ballet for the exigencies of touring.

If BTUK were a traditional company with principals, soloists, coryphées and corps it might have been possible to run the traditional version of Swan Lake but this is a touring company where all the dancers are of approximately the same age and experience and each of them is allowed a go at the leading roles. This production was engineered for a young company constantly on the move. Hence my nickname for them: "the Bedouin of Ballet".

My only criticism of the show is that BTUK never publish cast lists though they do sell a very glossy souvenir brochure for a fiver. Towards the back of the brochure there are biographies and thumbnail photos of the dancers. It is always difficult to recognize on stage faces in a programme because of the lighting and make-up but I was told by the programme seller I mentioned in my Little Mermaid review that Nathalie Cawte was Odette, Claire Corruble Odile, David Brewer Rothbart and Vincent Cabot Siegfried, They and indeed everybody in the company danced beautifully and deserve to be commended.

Tomorrow the company are performing in Cannock. They are spending the weekend in Warwick. Then on to Dorchester and Newbury before a well-earned Christmas break. This company is taking ballet to every nook and cranny of the British Isles introducung the art to new audiences just as Peter Brinson's Ballet for All did in the 1960s and 1970s. They all deserve our gratitude and there are many ways we can repay it through their support page.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Let's bring the Royal Ballet to The Factory Manchester

Palace Theatre
Photo Wikipedia

With 2.9 million inhabitants the Greater Manchester metropolitan area is the second largest conurbation in the British Isles. It is also the largest conurbation without a resident world class ballet company. London has lots of good companies - the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Rambert, Ballet Black to name just a few. Birmingham has the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Glasgow Scottish Ballet, Leeds Northern Ballet and Newport Ballet Cymru.

It has not always been so. Northern Ballet began life in Manchester but moved across the Pennines first to Halifax and then to Leeds.  It now has a magnificent home at Quarry Hill in Leeds with its own theatre in the same neighbourhood as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds College of Music, Yorkshire Dance, the BBC and the Grand.  There is no reason why it should move anywhere else. Of course, we still see Northern Ballet in Manchester from time to time just as we see the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Rambert and many other companies. We also have the Northern Ballet School which performs a classical ballet every year at the Danceworks Theatre in Oxford Road. All very good but not the same as having our own world class company.

A few years ago there were plans for the Royal Opera House to establish a Northern base at The Palace with regular seasons for the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera in Manchester. That would have been wonderful but austerity put paid to that (see Rob Sharp Royal Opera House shelves move north 28 Oct 2010 The Independent). Although the news report says that the plans have been put on hold nobody has tried to revive them in the intervening time.

But maybe we can do so now.  In his Autumn Statement 2014 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £78 million investment in a massive theatre and arts centre on the site of the Granada Studios to be known as "The Factory Manchester".  It is part of a £7 billion programme of investment in transport, science and technology and the arts to transform the cities of the North into a "Northern Powerhouse" to serve as an economic counterweight to London.  

An economic counterweight needs culture.  As Manchester City Council recognizes in its press release "£78m for The Factory Manchester - a new large scale, ultra-flexible arts space" 3 Dec 2013 
"The Factory Manchester will play an integral part in helping Manchester and the North of England provide a genuine cultural counterbalance to London, supporting the city and region's growth."
Now Manchester already has The Hallé, The Royal Exchange and The Lowry which go a good way towards providing that cultural counterweight but it needs first class opera and ballet to be complete.

We could try to persuade an established company in another city to move to Manchester as Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds did but that would be resented by the city such company would leave behind and we Mancunians are too big hearted for that. We could also grow our own company but that would take years. Dusting off the plans that were put on hold only five years ago now seems a viable option. If the BBC can move to Media City why not the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera for at least part of the year? The second city of the nation needs and deserves nothing less.

Post Script
The following paragraph appears in the Wikipedia article on the Royal Ballet:
"The Royal Opera House and Manchester City Council are currently in the planning stages of a new development known as Royal Opera House, Manchester. The proposal is for the Palace Theatre in Manchester to receive an £80m refurbishment, creating a first-class theatre capable of staging productions by both the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera. The Royal Opera House would take residence of the theatre for an annual 18 week season, staging 16 performances by the Royal Opera, 28 performances by the Royal Ballet and other small-scale productions. The proposals would establish the Palace Theatre as a designated base for the Royal Opera House companies in the North of England, as a producing house for new ballet and opera, and as a training centre for all aspects of theatre production. The proposals could potentially lead to the creation of 700 jobs for local people.
The proposals have been approved by Andy Burnham MP the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, and accepted by a number of public bodies. However the plans are currently being revised to address the concerns put forward by those who are opposed to the plans. Issues that have been raised include:
  • How will the refurbishment of the Palace Theatre be funded?
  • Will the proposals impact negatively on The Lowry, a theatre and arts complex in nearby Salford?
  • Will the Manchester season present the same standard of performance as the Royal Opera House in London?"
More on Ballet in Manchester

13 Dec 2014 Alchemy
9 Nov 2014  A Mancunian Nutcracker
10 Oct 2014 What Manchester does today
29 Aug 2014 So proud of Manchester

More on the "Northern Powerhouse"

10 Dec 2014 Jane Lambert "Let's take this opportunity with both hands" IP North West
8 Nov 2014 Jane Lambert "Northern Futures Summit" IP Yorkshire (see the links to other articles)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Bourne's "Lord of the Flies" at Bradford: good though not quite my cup of tea

William Golding
Photo Wikipedia

New Adventures' Lord of the Flies closed in Bradford to a standing ovation  though it has to be said in an auditorium that was a good deal less than full. I was one of the few members of the audience who did not stand up on Saturday evening. Neither did I cheer. But I did clap. For although the show was not quite my cup of tea it was good.

Based closely on the novel by William Golding about a group of schoolboys on a desert island who descend into savagery when left to their own devices. it was far from comfortable to watch. The cast was of course all male and many of the dancers had been recruited from local schools. An on-line form on New Adventures ' website explains:
"Lord of the Flies is a unique project that will bring together professional dancers from our company and young male dancers from the regions in which we will present the production. Over the coming months each regional venue will be launching large-scale community outreach programmes to find the young men to be in the show. We are interested to hear from young men aged between 10 - 25 year old. No previous experience of dance is necessary. "
The main characters were Ralph, Piggy and Jack danced respectively by Sam Archer, Sam Plant and Danny Reubens of New Adventures. They all performed well and I think I would have liked to have seen more of those principals had the story and choreography permitted.

The score by Terry Davies fitted the story very well. There was a lot of percussion and rhythm. The choreography which had to be within the capability of schoolboys with no previous experience of dance while allowing the principals to shine was devised cleverly by Scott Ambler. Lez Bretherson made ingenious use of hampers and clothes rails as props.

The show was dramatic, well produced and well danced. For the children who took part it must have been a wonderful experience. Nureyev, Acosta, Polunin and indeed Bourne himself had already eroded much of the the prejudice against dance for boys. Shows like this bury it for ever and for that alone it deserves to be commended.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Now you can see why I am such a fan of the Dutch National Ballet

I am very grateful to Richard Heideman, press officer of the Dutch National Ballet for bringing this video to my attention on twitter:

I think it is the best flashmob that I have ever seen.

For those who don't follow ballet this dance is a scene from the second act of Giselle . Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis, summonses the souls of girls who died of a broken heart just before their wedding night. Giselle, the heroine of the story, has just joined their number because she died in the arms of her mother on learning that Albrecht, a local aristocrat who had dressed up as a peasant was really a count and already engaged to be married to another lady. In some versions Giselle kills herself with Albrecht's sword which he left lying around for Hilarion, Giselle's old boyfriend, to pick up. In other productions, Giselle dies of shock or a broken heart.

I find something very dark and creepy about Giselle on stage which I find hard to reconcile with my religious beliefs (see Reflections on Giselle 29 Jan 2014). But Petitpa's choreography to Adam's haunting score is magnificent and I watch it as an abstraction as I would a ballet Balanchine. The beauty of this film is that it strips away the spooks and superstition and celebrates the glorious choreography and gorgeous music.

Shot in a Beijing shopping centre with the dancers wearing trainers and jeans rather than pointe shoes and romantic tutus with little wings hanging out at the back and their hair worn loose rather than in buns this is a marvellous way to appreciate this wonderful romantic ballet.

I am in no position to rank ballet companies but I have seen the world's finest including the Royal Ballet, English National, the Bolshoi and Mariinsky and American Ballet Theatre. Of all the great national companies the Dutch is the one I admire the most and like the best. If you want to learn more about this wonderful company I have written 11 articles about Ernst Meisner and his outstanding young dancers.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers

Ernst Meisner
Photo Robin DePuy
(c) Dutch National Ballet 2014
Reproduced with kind permission of the Dutch 
National Ballet

Having danced with the Royal Ballet for 10 years Ernst Meisner is very well known and very well-liked by British audiences. In 2010 he returned to the Netherlands and joined the Dutch National Ballet as a grand sujet. He is now Artistic Co-ordinator of a group of exceptionally talented young dancers within Dutch National Ballet known as “the Junior Company”.

I saw their opening night in Amsterdam on 23 Nov 2013 which I reviewed in The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013. In May 2014 Ernst Meisner brought his Junior Company to the Linbury and I reviewed their show in And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden 30 May 2014. The more experienced members of the Junior Company have now joined the Dutch National Ballet as apprentices and their places have been taken by Bart Engelen, Martin ten Kortenaar, Lisanne Kottenhagen, Ryosuke Morimoto, Cristiano Principato, Emilie Tassinari, Yuanyuan Zhang and Riho Sakamoto.

I had admired the works of Rudi van Dantzig and Hans van Manen for many years but I started to follow the Dutch National Ballet only recently. I am now a Friend of that company and am getting to know It better. I was led to the National Ballet by the Junior Company and have written a lot of articles about both of them in Terpsichore. Noticing my interest in the Dutch National Ballet in general and the Junior Company in particular Ernst Meisner kindly agreed to help me write this feature by answering my questions and introducing me to the new members of the Junior Company.

As there is a lot of material I have divided this feature into a number of posts. The first is on Ernst Meisner’s work with the Dutch National Ballet. The second is on the Junior Company. The rest of the feature consists of interviews with each of the new members.  I asked each of those dancers:
  • how he or she had started to study ballet;
  • where he or she had trained; 
  • whether there was a dancer or choreographer who had inspired the new member and if so who it was;
  • whether a teacher had inspired the new member and if so who;
  • the member’s greatest achievements to date;
  • the roles he or she had already danced;
  • the ballets or roles that the member wished to dance;
  • the new member’s favourite dancers and choreographers;
  • the member’s immediate ambitions;
  • his or her long term ambitions such as choreography, teaching or another career outside ballet; and
  • the member’s interests outside ballet such as sports, music, film and other performing arts.
I am very grateful to Richard Heideman, Press Manager of the Dutch National Ballet, for putting those questions the dancers on my behalf.

If you want to meet Ernst Meisner you will have a chance to do so in March when he talks to the London Ballet Circle. I understand from Susan Dalgety of the Circle that the date of his talk has not yet been fixed, I shall post details of the date, time and venue of his talk as soon as I learn them.