Saturday, 21 July 2018

Now you can see for yourself why Scottish Ballet is very, very special

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Scottish Ballet has performed recently in the USA, Russia and East Asia.  It has also performed just as enthusiastically in Oban and Stornoway bringing not just a full cast but also complete sets and costumes.  More importantly it brought its education and outreach team.  And most importantly of all it brought its artistic director Christopher Hampson who patiently fielded questions from the audience after the show.

I was at the Arlantis Centre in  Oban on 29 April when it danced Sir Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling and it was one of the most memorable nights that I have ever spent in the theatre.  I was also at the pre-performance talk by the education officer who said that outreach was at least as important as performance.   In my review, Scottish Ballet's "Highland Fling" in Gurn and Effie Land 2 May 2018 I wrote:
"A company that thinks like that is very, very special."
Watch the film and see you yourselves what I mean. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

Half a show is better than none

Stratford Circus Theatre
Author Andy Roberts
Licence Creative Commons 2.0 Generic

Ballet Central Black Swan et cetera  14 July 2018 19:30 Stratford Circus Theatre, Stratford, East London 

Ballet Central is the touring company of Central School of Ballet.  Its members are final year students on the degree course. Many of my favourite dancers and two of my favourite living British choreographers, Chris Marney and Kenneth Tindall, trained there.  Its tour of the UK during the second quarter of the year is one of the highlights of my calendar.

The lucky old South saw a lot of Ballet Central this year.  But their only appearance north of the Trent this year was in Leeds on 29 April and that was the day that Scottish Ballet danced Highland Fling in Gurn and Effie Land and the evening before I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend class with Ballet West in Taynuilt and the 50th anniversary gala of the St Andrew's Dance Club which I helped to found many years ago.  I couldn't possibly miss all that even for Ballet Central.

I had hoped to see Ballet Central in London but alas alack the last train north by our wonderful, renationalized railway now leaves King's Cross at 22:00.  I tried ticking them off on twitter and you can see where it got me:

The Stratford Circus Arts Centre is a delightful theatre which reminds me of the Linbury but it is at least half an hour's trek to King's Cross whether you take HS1 from Stratford International or the tube. The tube was particularly awkward on Saturday because Bank was closed.  I looked into minicabs and black cabs but they could have been help up in traffic.   The only safe way to make the rattling Donny Choo-Choo was to
leave the Circus at 20:29 
without the chance of a shine.
Never mind!  Half a show was better than none and the but of the show that I did see was well worth the journey.

Wendy McDermott described the show in an excellent review when it visited Leeds (see Ballet Central in Leeds 31 May 2018).  I saw Jenna Lee's Black Swan and the extracts from Wayne McGregor's FAR and Kenneth MacMillan's Valley of Shadows.   I missed Christopher Gable's Cinderella which is one of my favourites in Northern Ballet's repertoire that I long to see again.  I felt so cheated as I left the theatre during the interval.   I have never walked out of a show before. Not even a bad one. To leave a good show was nothing short of heartbreaking. Although I am not a big fan of Sir Matthew Bourne's The Sleeping Beauty - the curtain climbing baby gives me the creeps - I would have loved to have seen the fairies' prologue once more.  

I comforted myself with the thought that I had at least seen Jenna Lee's Black Swan.   I like Lee's work a lot. I had enjoyed her ballroom scene from Romeo and Juliet  last year (see Triumphant 1 May 2017).  Her Black Swan combining scenes from the film and the ballet is even more ambitious.  It opened with a bad tempered ballerina banging her pointe shoes on a table thereby interrupting Philip Feeney who was at the piano playing Tchaikovsky.  The ballet continues with rehearsals and performance and ends with the removal of yesterday's black swan by her successor.   An interesting touch which might be followed in other Swan Lakes is the presentation of a white feather.  Even more dramatic perhaps than the flickering Odette in the seduction scene.

Like Wendy I saw Ayca Anil as the black swan. Wendy was impressed by Anil's technique and I agree with everything that Wendy said about that.  However I also thought she was a pretty good dance actor as was her prince, Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis.  He represented a very complex character, a bit like the prince in David Dawson's version.  The action flashed back to the ballet with clips from act 1 and act 3.  Echoes of familiar choreography and music as well as some innovation.  The entrance of the black swans with their arms in open 5th was particularly effective.  

Dante Baylor's costume designs, especially the red headdress for the women and the geometric piping of the prince's doublet were impressive.   There was a lot - probably too much - for the senses to take in on seeing this ballet for the first time.  I would love to see it again.

 In FAR - Company Wayne McGregor - 2010 - Behind the Scenes McGregor explains how he drew inspiration from Diderot's Encyclopedia and, in particular, his drawings of the human nervous system. Diderot showed how it was the brain that made the body work.  The brain is represented in McGregor's piece by an array of tiny lamps representing neurons.  Those neurons control movements of the body which are sometimes convulsive.  Ballet Central showed two scenes from an hour long work.  There was a duet by Rita Lee and Aitor Viscarolasaga Lopez and a group scene with Rishan Benjamin, Aoibh Ní Riain Broin,  Hitomi Nishizawa,  Hikari Uemura, Olivia Van Niekerk, Harris Beattie, Thomas Harden and Kevin Memeti.  Not an easy piece to dance, I should have thought, particularly with Ben Frost's multilayered score.  Again, I need to see this work again - and perhaps more than once - to appreciate and understand it fully.

The extract from Valley of Shadows was a beautiful dance for four: Mical Klara Coxill, Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis, Jamie Wallis and Scot Baldie set to Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence. This scene shows the Finzi-Contini family in the seclusion of their garden before their lives are shattered by deportation to a concentration camp in Germany.  Wendy referred to sad and dark undertones and that is because we know what happened to the family.

Knowing that I would have to leave early to catch the rattling Donny choo-choo I booked a seat in the balcony which would have allowed me to slip out before the end of the performance with minimum noise and fuss.  It allowed me to spot who was in the audience and I spotted more than a few friends and acquaintances.  That made it even harder to leave the theatre.

Finally a message for Heidi Hall and Chris Marney.  There are approximately 25 million people who live north of the Trent and we can't all squeeze into the Stan and Audrey on a Sunday night.  We have some lovely theatres such as the Keys and Aldridge at the Lowry, the Atkinson at Southport, the Waterside in Sale, the Cast in Doncaster, the Library in Sheffield and indeed the Lawrence Batley here in Huddersfield.  Do stay with us a little longer when you go on tour next year.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Powerhouse Ballet Update

Author Mark Hindle
© 2018 Mark Hindle: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright owner

I wondered whether anyone would turn up to our first company class in Manchester which took place in a studio that lacked air conditioning on one of the hottest afternoons of the year.  As you can see from the photograph, we had excellent attendance.

Mark Hindle took the class and we had a great time.  After foot limbering warm up exercises he led us through a brisk barre, a delightful port de bras, pirouettes starting with quarter and half and finishing with full turns, sautés and jetés and a joyous final exercise across the studio.

Mark is a very thorough teacher with a great eye for detail.  I think most of us received at least one correction and I got four which I now record immediately after class in a small notebook that I keep in my dance bag.  One of many tips that I have picked up from fellow company class members.

I am now close to completing a draft business plan which I shall circulate to everybody who has attended class or expressed interest in the company.  I think we need to grow a little bit more before we can contemplate staging even a short piece.

Not everybody who supports the idea of a ballet company in the North of England can make company class each month.  Indeed, not everybody wants to dance in public.  We need to offer something for such well wishers.  One of the benefits that we can offer is an opportunity to hear and meet well known dancers, choreographers, composers and other important figures from dance in an informal setting.  The London Ballet Circle offers a good model.  Yesterday the well-known dance critic, Gerald Dowler, interviewed the American dancer, Chase Dansey, at the Civil Service Club.  I am in negotiations with various organizations about holding similar meetings in Leeds and Manchester and I already have a first guest in mind.  I hope to make an announcement shortly.

As I announced in Powerhouse Ballet's Leeds Company Class  26 June 2018 our next company class will be given  by Annemarie Donoghue of Northern Ballet Academy at the Dance Studio Leeds in Madgate Mills at 14:00 on 28 July 2018.  I have attended Annemarie's classes regularly since 2013 and have learned a lot from her.  Though she teaches with endless patience and good humour her classes are challenging.  She expects nothing less than the best and she draws out the best from each and every one of her students.  Like other teachers at Northern Ballet Academy, she teaches in accordance with the Ichino technique so expect a very brisk warm-up, a thorough barre, challenging centre exercises, a charming port de bras  and a joyous final exercise at the end. 

The class is filling up nicely but we still have some space. You can register for Annemarie's class by clicking this button. 

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Emotion Pictures

Birmingham Royal Ballet and Birmingham LGBT Emotion Pictures 7 July 2018 ACE Dance and Music Studio, Birmingham

Shortly before England faced Sweden in the quarter finals of the World Cup members of Birmingham LGBT staged a choreographic work called Emotion Pictures at the ACE Dance and Music Studio in the Birmingham inner city district of Digbeth.  Given the timing of the event and the location of the studio a very small audience indeed might have been expected.  Instead, a more than respectable number turned up including at least two of us from Yorkshire.  We clapped and cheered enthusiastically at the end of the performance because it had been a good show.  I was particularly impressed on learning that it was the first performance in public for many of the dancers.

The background to the performance was explained by Maria Hughes in Emotion Pictures: LGBT dance performances with Birmingham Royal Ballet (Event) 2 July 2018 LGBT website:
"Three months ago, Birmingham LGBT partnered with Birmingham Royal Ballet for the Move in Movies programme, a 12 week-long dance participation project for LGBT people. Under the direction of professional instruction from staff members of BRB, participants would be offered the chance to learn dance (across all areas – not just ballet), and contribute to a production (lightening, costume and composing), as well as gaining experience in putting on a dance-piece performance for members of the public."
The choreographers, Jenny Murphy and Fiona Potts, created a 45 minute work inspired by movies that had impressed those taking part in the project. These films included Metropolis, Death in Venice, Titanic and The Greatest Showman.  

The performance began with a slide show of the dancers followed by a short speech from the presenter and then different dances for different films starting with the automaton like movements of the inhabitants of Metropolis. Considering that many received only a few weeks of dance training I was amazed by the achievements of many individual performers.  In particular, one of the men towards the end who executed a tricky tour en l'air as well as other difficult jumps and turns.  As I had met only three of the performers before the show it would be invidious of me to single any of them out any of them by name for special praise.  They all danced well and I congratulate each and every one of them.  I also commend those who designed and made the costumes and provided the lighting.

The department of Birmingham Royal Ballet that partnered with Birmingham LGBT are called Ambassadors.  They are described on the BRB's website as a group of young people who have worked on past projects with the Company and now aim to pass on their skills and experience by supporting other young people taking part in new projects.  Several were in the studio wearing distinctive back t-shirts.

The audience were welcomed to the studios with soft drinks, fresh fruit and other refreshments and invited to stay behind for discussions after the show.  A large flat screen TV was set up for those who wanted to watch the start of the football.  After we had consumed all the food and drink I was invited with other members of the audience to join the cast party at a local bar with concessions that served all sorts of exotic street food.   There was no telly but we were kept informed of the progress of the match from ecstatic cheering from the rest of inner city Birmingham.

I saw a good show, met some interesting people in very convivial circumstances, explored a bit more of one of our nation's great cities and renewed a couple of longstanding acquaintances.  Not a bad way to spend quarter finals match day.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Dame Gillian Lynne (1926 to 2018)

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Theatre goers generally and ballet goers in particular will be said to learn of the death of Dame Gillian Lynne.  Although she will be better known for her musicals, Cats and Phantom of the Opera, I shall remember her for three reasons.

First, her choreography of A Simple Man starring Christopher Gable and Moira Shearer.  That was the first time I saw Northern Ballet shortly after I returned to the North to take a seat in Manchester chambers.  My late spouse and I were regular ballet goers and I was a Friend of Covent Garden. Though we looked forward to occasional visits to Leeds and Manchester by touring companies we missed the Royal Opera House, Sadlers Wells and The Coliseum. I had read of the Northern Dance Theatre (as Northern Ballet was then called) in Dance and Dancers when it was founded but I never expected much from it.  Gillian Lynne's A Simple Man was a revelation.  It was every bit as good as anything I had seen anywhere else in the world. 

As a native Mancunian I was bloated with pride that it had been achieved by a Manchester company.  After seeing that work I began to follow Northern Ballet.  In my humble opinion A Simple Man has never been bettered  though other great ballets were created by Christopher Gable and more recently Cathy Marston.  It was Dame Gillian's masterpiece that attracted me to the company and it is one of the reasons why I have continued to support Northern Ballet through Friends' subscriptions, donations and other ways for more than 30 years.

The second reason I shall remember Dame Gillian is that she recreated Sir Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2014 (see A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2014).  She had been a member of the original cast.  She said in The Inspiration which was reprinted in the programme: "There are very few people left alive from that 1944 creation and not one of us remembers a step."  However, as I said in my review, Lynne re-created the ballet to Bliss's music in the style of Helpmann and it certainly looked authentic to me.  In my My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014 28 Dec 2014, I wrote:
"My favourite ballet of 2014 was Gillian Lynne's re-creation of Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals for Birmingham Royal Ballet which I was at Sadler's Wells in October. I had seen Helpmann dance with Frederick Ashton in Cinderella and he also presented the gala to Sir Frederick which I saw when I first became interested in ballet. Miracle in the Gorbals broke new ground in many ways just as its almost exact contemporary Appalachian Spring did in the USA. Even though Lynne's production was a re-creation rather than a revival its performance was something of a miracle in itself and a joy to behold."
The third reason I shall  remember Dame Gillian is a charming story that Sir Ken Robinson told about her in a famous TED talk.  I discussed it in Dance is just as important as Maths 17 Aug 2014. When she was a little girl in the 1930s Dame Gillian was thought to have a learning disorder because she was lacked attention and was disruptive in class. Her teachers referred her mother to a specialist in such disorders who gave her an opportunity to dance to the radio. Sir Ken continued:
"And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, "Just stand and watch her." And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, .Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school.'"
Dame Gillian's mother heeded that advice and the result was miraculous. In Dame Gillian's words:
"I can't tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me. People who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to think. Who had to move to think. They did ballet; they did tap; they did jazz; they did modern; they did contemporary."
As I remarked about the specialist: "What a remarkably perceptive, far sighted, enlightened man he was. And what a wonderful mother."

I am sure all readers will join me in sending sincere condolences to Dame Gillian's family, friends and connections.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Chase Johnsey

Civil Service Club
Author Philafrenzy
Licence Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4 International
Source Wikipedia

On 9 July 2018 at 19:30 Gerald Dowler will interview the American dancer Chase Johnsey at the Civil Service Club for the London Ballet Circle (see Chase Johnsey, in conversation with Gerald Dowler on the "Events" page of the London Ballet Circle website).

Johnsey has been in the news for appearing in a female character role in the English National Ballet's recent production of The Sleeping Beauty even though registered at birth as a boy (see Roslyn Sulcas How Sleeping Beauty got woke: Meet ballet's first male ballerina 12 June 2018 Independent). Earlier in the year Johnsey left Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo which also gave rise to a lot of press attention.

Those news stories may fascinate some but the most interesting press report for me was the announcement on 6 Feb 2017 that Johnsey had won the Dancing Times Award for Best Male Dancer in 2016 (see 2016 National Dance Awards – Winners Announced 6 Feb 2017 Dance Tabs). This was a very interesting decision because the obvious candidates for such an award would be athletic male dancers in such roles as Siegfried or Albrecht. Johnsey appears to have won that award not for technique but for pure artistry in dancing not just a female role (Ashton and Helpmann did that hilariously as the step sisters in Cinderella) but a female artist dancing such role.

Because I live in Yorkshire I cannot attend many London Ballet Circle events so it is unlikely that I shall make this one.  But if you live in, or happen to be passing through, London next Monday you could learn a lot from this one.  A lot of horrible things are said (and even worse things thought) about gender fluid or indeed trans folk in the performing arts and society generally. Johnsey's interview may not shift any prejudices but it should enlighten those of a receptive mind.

The Civil Service Club is at 13-15 Great Scotland Yard, London, SW1A 2HJ. It is next door to the Nigerian embassy near the corner of Great Scotland Yard and Northumberland Avenue. Look out for the green and white flag and colours which often adorn the embassy's shopfront. The nearest tubes are Embankment and Charing Cross. "Can't miss it guv!" as they say (or at least used to say) down there

Saturday, 30 June 2018


Author Steve F
Licence Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Gary Clarke Company Wasteland 29 June 2018 14:00 CAST in Doncaster

Following the success of Coal which explored the "darker underbelly of the mining industry unearthing the true nature and body wrecking demands of a working class industry now almost forgotten", the Gary Clarke Company is producing a sequel to that work called Wasteland which considers what happened to the coal mining areas of Yorkshire and their communities after the  miners strike of 1984 to 1985. They presented a preview of the show to the CAST in Doncaster yesterday.

The preview consisted of an 80 minute sharing of the work that had been done so far plus a 30 minute question and answer session with Gary Clarke.  The audience who stayed for the Q & A included a row of local schoolchildren, former miners, dancers, musicians, journalists, theatre directors and ordinary members of the public such as me.  Clarke told the audience that the work was very much a work in progress.  Members of the audience were given a feedback form and Clarke took note of the audience's suggestions for improving the show.

Because I was a bit lethargic after my 300 mile trek to Birmingham and back the night before as a result of which I set off for the theatre later than I had attended and congestion on the M62 and A1 I regret to say that I missed the very start of the show.  Gita who arrived a few minutes before me told me that the show opened with a male voice choir and a brass band.  I would love to have heard that for many member of the audience remarked that it was lovely.  I did in fact catch a bit of the music because a trombonist and one or two other musicians were playing in the sitting room of a former miner's home.  The characters in the room were the former miner, his wife and their boy.  The piece focused on what had happened to them and other miners' families in the 30 or so years since the miners' strike of 1984 and 1985.

It was not a very happy story.  There seemed to be a fight between the former miner (Alistair Goldsmith) and his son (Tom Davis Dunn) and at one point another between the miner and his wife (TC Howard). To underscore the point that there was not much else for miners and their offspring to do after the mining industry closed down, much of the action centred on a rave which was eventually broken up by the police.  There was a point when the dancers appeared carrying riot shields painted with smiley faces. There was a lot of very loud metallic sounding music of the kind I can vaguely remember from the era.

The dancers who portrayed the ravers were very impressive. Gary Clarke told Gita that they had been professionally trained in ballet and contemporary dance and some had actually been ravers.  The male dancers were Robert Anderson and Jake Evans and the women were Elena Thomas Voilquin and Emily Thompson Smith.  Some of the dances they perform were very energetic and lasted for quite a time.  An impressive display of stamina and discipline.

There were tragic scenes where the boy lost his money on a horse. There was a poignant scene of his clutching the television.  Somehow we got Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture  and an eclectic collection of other music.  It nevertheless seemed to fit together and whether intended or not the last scene gave an impression of optimism.

Clarke choreographed the show and his dramaturg was Lou Cope. Steven Roberts was the music director. Ryan Dawson Laight designed sets and costumes.  Lighting and projection was by Charles Webber.

Gary Clarke told Gita that the work should be ready to tour next year or the year after and that it was still in embryo.  The audience seemed to like it,  It is supported by the Arts Council and the programme featured the logos of some important venues and companies.  I will report back when I show opens formally.