Friday, 31 October 2014

Catching them young

The combination of colour, drama, movement and music often set to a familiar fairy story can capture a child's imagination. Once captured the experience can lead to a lifetime's pleasure unless soured by compulsory ballet lessons on a Saturday morning in a draughty church hall.

In contrast to other children's media, ballet sends out some positive messages. It is the one art form in which women have always enjoyed at least equality with men. Great for the self-confidence of girls who may not want to dance on stage but have ambitions in other fields: see how ballet works for kids from a rough neighbourhood in Nairobi in What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013. Ballet also sends messages for boys in that women are to be cherished and respected - not insulted, molested or ravished. How a ballerina stands en pointe or turns on pirouette contains useful lessons on mechanics and mathematics for both genders. Getting kids moving in a studio instead of slouching in front of the telly or a tablet with a milkshake and burger would save the NHS billions. Perhaps most importantly of all ballet - unlike Disney animations - is palpably real. Dancers may do wonderful things with their leaps and turns but they are still human beings - in many cases just a few years older than their audience.

So how to get a young child hooked on all this positivity? The great Spanish educationalist St Ignatius de Loyola is reputed to have said "Give me a child to the age of 7 and I will show you the man". The problem with ballets like The Nutcracker and Cinderella is that they last too long for the under sevens. The answer is to choreograph a ballet for that age group and that is something that English National Ballet has done spectacularly well with its My First Ballet series. Last year it was Coppelia which I reviewed on 14 April 2014 and this year it is Swan Lake. Vlad the Lad who will be four in December and is the nearest I have to a grandson said it was "awesome" which is a big word for a three year old. He enjoyed the show so much that he even sat through a performance in which his real less-than-fairy-more-like-hippo-godmother had the time of her life in Leeds.

But Vlad was even more impressed by Chris Marney's Dogs Don't Do Ballet for Ballet Black and he actually had the pleasure of meeting Mr Marney as well as Cassa Pancho. She is the nearest he will ever get to meeting a fairy godmother in that she made possible the wonders that took place before his very eyes. Bless you Chris and Cassa and all your wonderful dancers, particularly Madame Kanikova whose predicament with the French horn was of real concern to Vlad.

So what else can children of Vlad's age see? My beloved Northern is touring the nation with elves and the shoemaker building on its success with Three Little Pigs and The Ugly Duckling.  Birmingham Royal Ballet is presenting First Steps: a child's Coppelia to kids in Edinburgh and Manchester in the Spring. Just across the North Sea Ernst Meisner's The Little Big Chest for the Dutch National Ballet seems to have been a runaway success in Amsterdam - easier to reach and cheaper to stay in than London for many of us in the UK. For slightly older children there is the Royal Ballet's The Mad Hatter's Tea Party and maybe Chantry Dance's The Happy Prince.

If I have time I will arrange a resource page of children's ballet's with reviews and information about prices, times and venues.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

On Tour with Sarah Kundi

New Theatre, Oxford
Photo Wikipedia

As readers of this blog already know I am a fan of Sarah Kundi. Although I must have seen her many times when she was with Northern Ballet she first came to my notice when I saw her dance Depouillage with Jade Hale-Christofi on You Tube when they were at Ballet Back (see Ballet Black's Appeal 12 March 2013). I have followed her career ever since.

Kundi is not just a wonderful dancer. She is also a talented blogger.  She has already published two posts to On Tour with Sarah Kundi that provide a fascinating insight on the life of a dancer:

I saw the company including Kundi dance at the Palace Theatre in Manchester (see What Manchester does today 10 Oct 2014) and I am looking forward to their company class and Coppélia at the New Theatre in Oxford on 1 Nov 2014. Shiori Kase will be dancing Swanilda and Yonah Acosta Franz. Kundi has tweeted that she will also be dancing in the show so it should be a very good evening.
With a cast like that how could I not enjoy the show? I shall of course review the ballet for this blog.


I must admit that I had never heard of "Frightnight" until I had received this tweet from Mel.  I asked her what it was and this is what she told me:
Apparently it is a Sheffield institution -  Britain's biggest Halloween party.

As Mel says, the festival is called "Out of this World - Sheffield's Festival of Sci-Fi, Magic and Horror" and I suspect the reason for the change of name is that it was announced in January that there was not to be a fright night this year (see "Sheffield Fright Night to take year off over funding worries" 16 Jan 2014 The Star). But there is a little matter of an election before Nov 2015 and as Oliver Cromwell found out when he tried to abolish Christmas nothing is more unpopular than spoiling someone's fun.  So we will have Frightnight on Sunday the same as always albeit under a different name (see "Horror-themed fun to be unleashed at festival in Sheffield city centre" 28 Oct 2014 Sheffield Telegraph).

The show that I want to see is my Paint it Black choreographed by my ballet teacher and good friend, Fiona Noonan, for the students of Hype Dance Academy one of whom is Mel. I watched a rehearsal of that show when I attended Fiona's ballet class the Monday before last.  I think I know everyone who is taking part in that piece as I took class with them for most of the summer. They are very nice people and I wish them all chookas or, if they prefer, toi-toi.

If you are in Sheffield

Post Script

Here is a link to a YouTube video of Christopher Bruce's "Paint it Black" for Rambert. Noonan's is quite different but to my eyes just as enjoyable.   See Rooster ................ :-) 4 Oct 2014 for my review of Rambert's version.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Gina Moffatt

It is not every day that I can incorporate a business story into my ballet blog but I think I am justified in doing so today because Gina Moffatt who owns and runs the Blooming Scent Cafe in the Bernie Grant Arts Centre has just  been named Entrepreneur of the Year at this year's Precious Awards according to today's Business Matters.

What's that got to do with ballet? Well it was at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre that I first saw Ballet Black (see Why Ballet Black is Special 20 May 2013). Although I had come to London to see Sarah Kundi I had the good fortune of meeting Gina who is also a star.  She provided the refreshments before the show and in the two intervals. I wish Gina and all the other business owners in the Bernie Grant Centre every success in the future. I look forward to my next visit to the Centre which is likely to be another show by Ballet Black.

While on the subject of Ballet Black I should say that they have recently celebrated the 14th anniversary of their formation with a wonderful retrospective display of photos on their Facebook page. The company is performing at the Stanley and Audrey Theatre in Leeds on 6 and 7 Nov (where I also danced) and I'm giving up an all expenses paid jaunt to Paris to see them which shows how good they are. They have also announced their new programme for their new season with new commissions which opens at the Linbury on the 10 Feb 2015.

I'm slowly building up a resource page on Ballet Black at Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury 26 Feb 2014 27 Feb 2014.

Shadows of War - the Other Ballets

Because the restoration of A Miracle in the Gorbals is so special I reviewed it separately in A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2014 but MacMillan's La Fin du Jour and Bintley's Flowers of the Forest are important works that should not pass unnoticed.  I saw those works with Miracle at Sadler's Wells in the matinee performance on the 18 Oct 2014.

The MacMillan was striking in many ways. Spurling's set with stylized human faces. The jerky puppet like movements of the dancers in the opening and closing scenes, the women in swimsuits and the men in golfing attire, Ravel's Concerto in G Major. The work was created in 1979 towards the end of MacMillan's career and contains some spectacular choreography. The tossing into the air and catching of the leading women Nao Sakuma and Maureya Lebowitz. The apparent levitation of the men several feet into the air. This is not everybody's favourite ballet but I enjoyed it if only for the music. But the choreography is good too and, as I said above, the sets are striking.  I think I will find fresh things to appreciate in it next time I see it.

The connection with war was not obvious. The note on the MacMillan website observes that the ballet ends as the door to a garden is closed on the world. Quoting Clement Crisp the note concludes:
"It is a requiem for the douceur de vivre of an era, and it is nostalgically grateful for the 1930’s wayward charm.”
Well, perhaps. The war brought full employment and opportunity for many as well as destruction. I don't think there was anything douce or charming about the 1930s. With dictators and depression they are best forgotten.

The Flowers of the Forest is an old Scottish folk song:
"I've heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lassies a-lilting before dawn o' day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
'The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away'"
Like our own Pratty Flowers the song berates the futility of war. Bintley, who comes from Huddersfield, must have heard that air many times. It is fitting that he chose the pacifist Benjamin Britten to contribute much of the score.

The ballet is two works in one. Four Scottish Dances to Malcolm Arnold's music with Sakuma and Lebowitz again and then the much more serious Scottish Ballad to the Britten. Two bits of the choreography stand out. A wonderfully rhapsodic tour en l'air by the lover in the second dance reminding me of Burns's lyric verse and then the dance of the two drunks who stagger around the stage collapsing in a heap with the women dancing the Huntley (or something very like it) over their spread eagled bodies,

Again there was no express connection with war but the connotations were much more marked in the Bintley. Created in 1985 Flowers of the Forest is one of Bintley's early works and for what my opinion is worth I rate it one of his best. The show is at the Theatre Royal Plymouth tomorrow. If there are any tickets left do go and see it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

MurleyDance's Autumn Tour

MurleyDance has achieved a lot since its début in February 2012. It has completed several nationwide tours visiting venues in Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as big cities like Leeds, Leicester and Manchester and has performed at the Edinburgh festival. It has commissioned work from Briar Adams, Richard Chappell and Anaish Parmar as well as providing a platform for its founder and artistic director David Murley. Above all, it has built up a troupe of beautiful and accomplished dancers. As I said in Ey Up from Upperthong 19 Oct 2014 they have grown in every way since I first saw them on 1 Dec 2013 (see MurleyDance Triple  Bill 2 Dec 2013).

I caught their quadruple bill Hail Britannia at the Shaw Theatre in London on 18 Oct 2014. It consisted of two works by Murley and one each from Chappell and Parmar. I enjoyed each of the works tremendously but particularly Parmar's Shaaadi which transposes the colours, drama and movement of the Hindu wedding into classical ballet. Classical ballet has only recently begun to put down roots in India itself (see More on Ballet in India 4 Sept 2014 and Ballet and Bollywood - why they don't meet more often 15 July 2014) and there are still only a handful of dancers of South Asian heritage in this country, but works like Shaadi should change all that. The jumps, turns and pointe work were all in the classical tradition but the costumes and most of the music could have come from the Hindi cinema. There were wonderful performances from the bride - full of apprehension as she embraced her father and brother - the bridegroom reluctant at first but then performing exuberant jetés - and the busy, busy mother in law despairing and cajoling at first and then dissolving into the dance. A lovely work, I do hope to see Shaadi time and time again.

Chappell's Wayward Kinship was a complete change of mood. Like Gilian Lynne's A Miracle in the Gorbals which I had seen earlier in the day it considered the struggle of the temporal against the spiritual. It explored the friendship between Henry and Beckett and its transition into hate with the eventual ridding of the turbulent priest. The knights who carried out the king's bidding were women and all the more sinister for that. The ballet ended with Beckett nearing his cross triumphant in death. A remarkable work for any choreographer but all the more impressive for a 19 year old who has only just completed his training at Rambert. No doubt we shall see a lot of Richard Chappell in the years to come.

Murley contributed Frisky Claptrap and Highgrove Suite. Both were good but I enjoyed the first work more than the second possibly because of its levity. Ostensibly a tour of Britain by three backpackers - a girl and two boys - it also explored the boys' loyalties. Attracted at first by the girl's charms as the three sped around Britain from Cockfosters to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch by way of Upperthong (a village in the Holme Valley not far from Huddersfield) to a backdrop of continental trains the boys eventually find their home at Happy Bottom.

Highgrove Suite was the last work of the programme and it was impressive. It traced the history of a young girl's passage through life from childhood to her final illness. Bashfulness at her first male encounter, her childish games, motherhood and eventually a hospital bed. Murley created fluent choreography reminiscent of MacMillan to a haunting, lilting score. It is that fluency that attracts me to his work which I noted fist in La Peau last year.

According to the company's website they intend to present their first full length work next year. That is something of an achievement for a company that is not quite three years old. It says a lot for Murley but also for the company's administrative director Paul Kelly, a senior officer of a major retailer who somehow finds time to chair Phoenix and help to oversee The Lowry. Of course, a growing company needs help from its public and there are many ways in which we can all support it.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Bolshoi's "A Legend of Love" streamed from Moscow

 A Legend of Love is not well known in the UK which is a pity because there is a lot to like about the ballet. A fine score by Arif Malikov, spectacular choreography by Yury Grigorovich and striking set and costume designs by Simon Virsaladze. It was first performed by the Kirov (now the Mariinsky) Ballet in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in1961. Grigorovich introduced it to the Bolshoi when he moved to Moscow. The Bolshoi performed it for the first time in 1965 with Maya Plisetkaya and Maris Liepa in the leading roles.

My first encounter with the ballet was watching a rehearsal during World Ballet Day on 1 Oct 2014. I saw an HDTV transmission from Moscow at the Wakefield Cineworld this afternoon. An HDTV transmission is not the same as watching a ballet in the theatre but Pathé Live's broadcasts are the next best thing. Although the Royal Ballet's transmissions are getting better they are still some way behind Pathé Live (see "Manon Encore at the Huddersfield Odeon" 20 Oct 2014).

The scenario for the ballet was contributed by the Turkish poet and playwright Nâzım Hikmet who based it very loosely on the 12th century Persian poem The Labours of Ferhad. There is a synopsis on the Bolshoi's website but the point to remember is that the hero, Ferkhad, chose to sacrifice his love for the beautiful Princess Shireen in order to secure a water supply for his drought ridden neighbours. Very public spirited. Indeed very socialist minded.  Just the sort of thing that Stakhanov might have done.

There are six strong roles in the ballet:
Grigorovich inserted some exhausting looking jumps for the men, particularly the jester in act II and at least as many fouettés for the Queen as in Don Quixote or Swan Lake. Indeed, he really put that character through her paces forcing her to adopt the most awkward, angular poses including one that resembled a table with one leg thrusting in the air like a flag post,  Nearly all her movements were en pointe even in the reverence at the end.  The effect was spectacular - one feat after another - just as in a firework display.

The most remarkable thing about this ballet is that it was created by very young men.   Malikov was in his late twenties when he wrote the score and Grigorovich was in his early thirties when he choreographed it. Both of those gentlemen are still alive and Malikov was in the audience.  He was interviewed by Katerina Novikova in the second interval and it was wonderful to see him as he rose to acknowledge applause in his box when a spotlight beamed on him just before the start of the third act. He took a bow to thunderous applause at the end of the show when the conductor invited him onto the stage. 

In her interview Ms Novikova asked him about his teachers and mentors. He listed a number of distinguished composers and musicians culminating with Shostakovich. Charmingly and not at all cheesily he noted that the title of the ballet was A Language of Love and wished everybody a little bit of love in their lives.

One of the reasons for the success of Pathé Live's transmissions is the remarkable Ms Novikova.  Always elegant - today she wore a smart blue top and trousers - fluent in French and English and very knowledgeable her discussions and interviews are as unmissable as the dancing.  As well as Malikov she spoke to Rodkin who was down in Moscow from the Mariinsky. She got him to talk about how the great dancers of the past, Liepa and Plisetkaya, had inspired him and how he had realized his ambitions of dancing Spartacus and Ferkhad by the age of 24. 

Last week I was driven to the hot dog stand after the umpteenth gushing tweet about "Federico" and "Marianella" not to mention the platitudes of the presenter. The Bolshoi and Pathé Live know they are good. They have sufficient self-confidence not to need such endorsements. They make good use of the intervals. They don't refer to their principals as Denis and Maria as though they were the neighbours from number 36. They have what the Americans call class and therein lies the difference.

Post Script

I posted an edited version of this article on the BalletcoForum blog and received the following responses from a lady I know only as "Amelia" and a gentleman called "Bruce Wall".

Amelia wrote:
"Thank you, Terpsichore, for your tribute to this remarkable ballet, which, in my view, should be seen on the Bolshoi's historic stage.

I just want to mention that the 24-y-o Rodkin has never been a Mariinsky's dancer. The Bolshoi has been his only employer since 2009."
I replied:
"Thanks for that information, Amelia.
I was foxed by the absence of a hypertext link to Mr Rodkin on the Bolshoi cast list but the presence of a link to him on the Mariinsky's site. I should be grateful if you could shed some light on the apparent anomaly.
I am afraid that I do not follow either company as closely as I should wish because I see them only when they visit London (and even then only once or twice a season because I live 200 miles from the capital).
You on the other hand do follow the Russian companies much more closely and I am always grateful for your information and opinions."
Mr Wall wrote:
"Terspichore, Denis Rodkin was one of the two prized private students of Nikolai Tsiskaridze, when he was still with the Bolshoi prior to becoming the Acting Rector of the Vaganova School. The other was Angelina Vorontsova ......  She is by all reports a lovely dancer and......, is now with the Mikhailovsky Ballet and features prominently in that company's NYC season at the Koch theater next month frequently dancing with I. Vasiliev."
I thanked him for that information as well.

If anyone else can assist us with information about Denis Rodkin's background and antecedents I should be glad to hear from them.  I know this blog is read in Russia so I should be particularly glad to hear from anyone who follows ballet closely in that country.