Wednesday, 1 October 2014

World Ballet Day - Live Streaming from some of the World's Greatest Ballet Companies

 Today is World Ballet Day and you can read all about it on the Royal Opera House website.

For the last hour I have been trying to tear myself away from YouTube. I've been gushing like a geyser on twitter about the Bolshoi's class where all the stars were exercising.

Right now there is now a rehearsal of The Legend of Love from Moscow.

Later there will be our own Royal Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada and the Australian Ballet.


Bintley's Beauty

Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast has more than a little in common with Cinderella. It is also a story about a beautiful young woman who is put upon by her somewhat unattractive elder sisters and let down by her father - I suppose that's also true of King Lear now I come to think of it - who after lots of trials and tribulations also finds her prince. From a female point of view the story is slightly more palatable in that it is the man rather than the woman who has to break free of his circumstances. Cinderella is at least human even if she is a scullery maid whereas the beast is sub-human.

The other respect in which Beauty and the Beast shares something in common with Cinderella is that it has never really taken off either as a ballet or a fairy tale in the way that other stories have. It is even Cinderella to Cinderella which is well established in so many companies' repertoires with its wonderful Prokoviev score (even though David Nixon discarded it in his version of the ballet (see Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph! 27 Dec 2013)). Having said that many companies have a version of Beauty and the Beast though they are all different (see the list as it stood in 1997 in the programme notes for Ballet Met's version by David Nixon). The first one that I saw was Peter Darrell's with its score by Thea Musgrave shortly after Western Theatre Ballet moved to Scotland. Three years ago I saw David Nixon's for Northern Ballet which I reviewed in my IP Yorkshire blog ("Ballet and Intellectual Property - my Excuse for reviewing 'Beauty and the Beast'" 31 Dec 2011 IP Yorks). Most recently I saw Ballet Cymru's in Lincoln ("Diolch yn Fawr - Ballet Cymru's Beauty and the Beast" 24 June 2014).

I saw Birmingham Royal Ballet's version at The Lowry one and a half times on the 26 and 27 Sept 2014. The reason for the half is that I rolled up at the box office shortly before 19:30 on Friday night only to be told that the performance had started at 18:30. Grrrrrrrrrrr. Nobody had thought to tell me when I booked the seat by telephone the day before. If I'd been the woodsman with powers of transmutation I would have turned the person responsible into a very inferior life form if not a block of stone. Not that I could have made it at 18:30 even if I had known of the early start because some of us actually have to do some work occasionally even on Fridays. To be fair, the box office did offer to swap my ticket for the matinee but I had arrived dolled up in a dress having driven 25 miles across the Pennines and I considered it somewhat perverse to drive 25 miles back again just because the Lowry had not seen fit to tell me, and I'd not seen fit to ask, what time it started. So I watched what was left of the show and bought a ticket for the following matinee.

On its web site the BRB promised us Brandon LawrenceMaureya Lebowitz (whom I had admired as Lise in Fille (see "Fille bien gardée - Nottingham 26 June 2014" 27 June 2014)) and Ruth Brill who are all favourites of mine. Now we did get Ruth Brill as one of the sisters but the Beast was Yasuo Atsuji and Beauty by Momoko Hirata. Now I make no complaint at that cast change because those guys were good and they danced beautifully together but it is a bit disconcerting to see a completely different pair of principals from the ones you had expected as the curtain rises. The day before I had seen two other favourites, Elisha Willis and Tyrone Singleton, as Beauty and the Beast who were also splendid in those roles but in a very different way. I can now understand why folk like Janet McNulty sit through the same show night after night (and sometimes matinee and evening on the same day) with different casts and never seem to tire of it.  One dancer whom I saw on both Friday and Saturday was Marion Tait who danced the grandmother. She has been dancing for as long as I have been following dance and she is wonderful. I loved the wedding scene especially when she used her walking stick as a weapon.

One of the strengths of the Birmingham Royal Ballet is that its sets and costumes are sumptuous and this production was no exception. The action moves from a comfortable town house to a forest and from a forest to the Beast's castle. There is some delightful robotry going on as wine glasses are replenished and chairs recline without any human intervention.  Philip Prowse was the designer who put that all together

I was not quite so enthusiastic about Glen Buhr's score at first but it grew on me the second time round. The waltz in the ball at the Best's castle at the start of Act II in the video above was one bit that I really liked. There was a lot of percussion but not a large orchestra was required. They had more than enough room to spread themselves out in The Lowry's already roomy orchestra pit.

There was some gorgeous choreography particularly the final pas de deux between Belle and Beastie after he is changed back into human form. Bintley is the closest modern choreographer to Ashton.  He uses the same lifts and flourishes.  That is why I like the BRB so much.

"Now", asked my awkward friend, "you've seen four Beauties and the Beast which one do you like best?" Well I like them all but in different ways. Musgrave's for the music. Birmingham's for the sets and costumes but also Bintley's choreography. Nixon's for the last Act. Ballet Cymru's for its spirit. BRB's Beauty moves on to the Hippodrome tonight and if tickets are still available I'd gladly recommend it.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Nowt to write home about

As you know Yorkshire folk are a very modest bunch. They never blow their own trumpets or shout about their achievements. Much. Now they have something to shout about.

First they won the county championship. The first time since 2001. Cricket as you may or may not know is one of my abiding passions.

The other is ballet. According to "Bluebird", one of the subscribers to BalletcoForum, Xander Parish won the best young male dancer category of the Malakhov Foundation's Taglioni Awards and Northern Ballet the best company category. I might add that Kenneth Tindall was one of the finalists of the young choreographer award. You will find the full results in Bluebird's post to BalletcoForum here.  Congratulations to all the winners and finalists.

A few days ago I tweeted that it was good to meet Dominic North and that I noted that he came from Yorkshire.

I replied:

That tweet was favorited (sic) by Xander Parish.

That got me thinking about who else I could include - David Bintley, Elaine McDonald, Marguerite Porter, Thomas Whitehead, Brandon Lawrence - for starters. Einstein is reputed to have said that dancers are the athletes of God so it is only fitting that a fair number hail from God's own county.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gravity Fields - Chasing the Eclipse

Gravity is the force that binds the universe together. Without it there could be no galaxies, no sun, no planets and no us. It is also the medium of the dance. When a ballerina stands on pointe she manipulates the force of gravity as a sculptor shapes a block of marble. The scientist who understood the law of gravity and explained how it works was Sir Isaac Newton who was born in Woolsthorpe and attended the King's School Grantham, To celebrate his connection with the town Grantham is holding a science and arts festival which ends today called Gravity Fields.

In the market place in Grantham there is a stage upon which was performed a wonderful ballet called Chasing the Eclipse. It was danced by Chantry Dance Company about which I have written a lot (see Chantry Dance - Making Connections 30 Aug 2014). The choreographer was Paul Chantry (whom you can see in this YouTube clip) and the principal artists were Rae Piper and Dominic North.

There is something special about this company and while tweeting yesterday I tried to put my finger on it. One of those reasons is that the company's ballets make you think. They are based on a story - often on a significant but not particularly popular work of literature like Hans Christian Andersen's Sandman and Oscar Wild's The Happy Prince. Clearly, Chantry is a man who reads voraciously and in reading he has learned the art of story telling for the story of Lumen (Latin for "light") and Scura (darkness) is a modern myth.  Lumen and Scura are attracted to each other but they cannot meet except in an eclipse where the moon crosses the path of the sun or the earth the path of the moon and then a in nature something beautiful happens.

Lumen danced by North is dressed in orange while Scura danced by Piper is in blue. They dance before a gauze backdrop upon which shapes representing spheres of light and darkness are projected. To create those effects special software had to be developed which Rosemary Richards (the festival organizer) explains in this clip.  The work opens with telescopes as the dancers explore the heavens. Piper, an accomplished actor as well as dancer, has the most expressive face and the look of wonder and delight on her face is enchanting. Beyond the gauze - in the heavens - dances Lumen. Then he appears before the gauze bounding and graceful. He in turn spots Scura. They try to touch but the gauze is between them. Then the spheres converge and they are temporarily united. All of this is danced to a score specially composed by Tim Mountain.

This ballet was staged twice on Thursday the 25 Sept 2014 and three times on Saturday the 27.  I saw the second performance on Thursday which started at 21:00. It was not a particularly warm evening and the audience had to watch it on their feet but everyone around me was entranced.  It was over far too quickly and we wanted more.

Happily there will be more for the company is about to go on tour with a mixed bill consisting of The Happy Prince, Rhapsody in Blue and All I Can Do Is Be Me - the Bob Dylan Ballet. One of the places they are visiting is The Square Chapel in Halifax on the 20 Nov 2014 to which I have been kindly invited by one of the venue's volunteers.

Other Reviews
Graham Newton   VIDEO: Great reception for Chantry Dance Company’s riveting show at Gravity Fields in Grantham 28 Sep 2014 Grantham Journal

Saturday, 27 September 2014


President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in the presence of Dr Martin
Luther King
Photo Wikipedia

On 2 July 1964 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which outlawed discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin, ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, employment, hotels, restaurants, public transport and other facilities that served the general public in the United States. That statute prompted similar legislation in other countries including our own. To mark the 50th anniversary of that enactment Phoenix Dance Theatre presented Tenacity, an evening of dance, film and song, at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds.

The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre is a specially constructed dance venue which forms part of the Quarry Hill studios that Phoenix shares with Northern Ballet. I have been coming to that theatre regularly for several years. I have seen many shows there and have even danced in one (see The Time of my Life 28 July 2013), but Wednesday evening was the first time that I had ever seen Phoenix perform there. It will certainly not be my last. Having experienced contemporary dance very late in life - I had my first lesson only on the 8 of this month (see "It's not every Class that you can use Lord Canning's Eyes for Spotting" 9 Sept 2014) - I have the zeal of the convert and really want to see and do more.

The performance opened with a short sequence of film to a sound track of breaking waves. According to the programme, the title of the film was Honour and it was made by Quays Culture but when I googled  "honour", "film" and "Quays Culture" the result was somewhat different although it was clearly connected with Phoenix and its artistic director, Sharon Watson. The film was followed by Tila and Tavelah Robinson who entered the stage from each side of the auditorium singing John Newton's hymn Amazing Grace  without any accompaniment.  Then Sharon mounted the stage to make a short speech. She spoke about the importance of the Civil Rights Act and how far the world had come in the last 50 years with the ending of apartheid and other victories; but also how much still needed to be done when she reeled off the wars and repression that still exist.

The first dance piece was 1976  by Alesandra Seutin. It was by far the most moving. Tanya Richam-Odoi and Seline Derrick danced two young school girls from Soweto. In 1976 schoolchildren from that township protested against curriculum changes that forced them to study in Afrikaans. Their protest was met with extreme violence including the use of live ammunition to disperse the protesters and many lost their lives. The dancers represent two of those kids - chirpy and ragging each other - and then one of them is hit by a bullet and she falls to the floor. Her friend tried to revive her but it's too late. She carried her in her arms to the strains of the Twenty Third Psalm. That image has haunted me all week and I can't get it out of my system.

The next piece was actually a video of Jane Dudley teaching Sheron Wray Harmonica Breakdown or the misery dance which Dudley had choreographed for herself to the music of Sonny Terry in 1938. Dudley had danced with Martha Graham and later moved to London where she met Wray. The session was filmed by Darshan Singh Bhuller and is available on YouTube. Rather than have me rabbiting on you can view it for yourselves. Part 1 is here and Part II here. Terry's music is still buzzing about my mind as is the image of Wray.

Gary Lambert's Longevity followed. No music just the words of Martin Luther King addressing the civil rights march in Washington in 1983 which this dance commemorated. Two powerful male dancers Gee Goodison and Andile Sotiya dressed in white shirts, ties and  trousers symbolized the epic march from all parts of the United States to the Lincoln memorial. I remember listening to the speech on the BBC home service when I was 14 years old and wanting to share Dr King's dream in my lifetime.

The world did move on to the extent that there is now an African-American President of the USA. He wrote The Audacity of Hope which inspired Warren Adams's The Audacious One. Choreographed to Mozart's music this work involved the whole company. The set was very simple.  Just chairs which could represent seats in a legislature or indeed a lecture room. But there was competition for those chairs reflected in the faces of the dancers.

The show runs until today when there will be a symposium on Dance and Civil Rights at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre. I can't encourage you to go there because it is already a sell out but I can urge you to see the company as it tours the country for it is very good.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

An Explosion of Joy

Stuck in the Mud, Llandudno 20 Sept 2014
(c) 2014 Jane Elizabeth Lambert

If a dancer contracts an illness or suffers an injury that confines him to a wheelchair then it is the end of his career is it not. Not necessarily. Yesterday I saw a dancer in pointe shoes - I think it was Suzie Birchwood but if I am mistaken I apologize - as beautiful and graceful as any, approach a stage in a wheelchair. She was lifted onto the stage and danced. She thrilled us - not as one who had overcome a disability - but as a dancer. She delighted us with her port de bras, her battements, her pointe work but most of all with her expression of joy.

The ballet that I saw was Stuck in the Mud, a collaboration between Ballet Cymru, Gloucestershire Dance and other organizations.  It was performed in Llandudno as part of the Llawn Festival not in a theatre but in the railway station, the town square and beside the sea. Choreographed by Marc Brew this was one of the most joyful works that I have seen all year. I previewed the work in "Stuck in the Mud" doesn't mean you're stuck" 25 June 2014 embedding into my post extracts of a performance at Blackfriars Priory.

The show opened on a temporary stage in the station concourse. First Ballet Cymru's dancers mounted the stage: Lydia Arnaux. Annette Antal. Andrea Battagia, Nicholas Cappelle, Krystal Lowe, Daniel Morrison, Robbie Moorcroft and Mandev Sokhi whom I had last seen at Lincoln in June in Beauty and The Beast. They danced to the music that you can hear in the YouTube trailer which was composed by Jack White. This is the first time that I had noted White's work and I have spent much of the morning working through the clips on the Quick Player panel to his website. White has posted some photos of the performance of Stuck in the Mud in Swansea to his website ("Stuck in the Swansea Mud" 13 July 2014). You can see a picture of the opening scene in the bottom panel. This was a classical sequence with the women in pointe shoes. The dancer whom I believe to be Birchwood entered during that scene.  You can see her sitting by a pillar in White's photo. I have already remarked that she danced with with skill, with grace and with feeling.

There was a change of mood and music. In the space between stage and audience there entered a group of dancers some of whom were quite young. The programme does not identify them but the website mentions collaboration with TAN Dance, Hijinx Theatre and Dawns i Bawb so I guess they must be members of one or more of those organizations. Each of the dancers had a label such as "idiot", "freak" and "bossy". They shuffled about the space rather like Lowry's matchstick men peering at their own and their neighbours' labels disconsolately. Then they peeled off the labels, screwed them up and threw them in the air in an explosion of joy and danced exuberantly.

We were shepherded out of the station by stewards bearing enormous coloured flags and conducted to a square with a statute of a march hair a few hundred yards away. This square had two features - a statue of the March Hair from Alice in  Wonderland and a tree which reminded me of the one in the second act of the Royal Ballet's The Winters Tale except that this was a real tree. First there was a vigorous duet by Lowe and Sokhi which you can see in the photo above. Sokhi had impressed me as the Beast in Lincoln and I have been a fan of Lowe ever since I saw her dance as one of the Montagues in Romeo a Juliet in Kendal last year. Then the community dancers performed under the tree bedecked with what appeared to be Wellington boots and other curious fruit again and that again reminded me of Wheeldon's choreography.

I don't know what happened next as I lost the lady with the pink flag for a few minutes as I was distracted by Lowe and Sokhi. I think we were supposed to be in two groups. I went in the direction where I had last seen my group but couldn't find them. Then I heard a French horn and followed its sound to a beach where I saw Lowe slowly roll up over the pebbles gently unravelling an enormous length of material.

The last scene was a Victorian band stand before which a temporary surface had been laid and it was there that a wonderful integration of the cast occurred. There were dancers in wheel chairs and dancers on foot. There were the professionals and the rest.  They came together in a wonderful swirl of movement.  What delighted me was that every jete and turn of the able bodied dancers was answered by an equivalent movement from those in wheel chairs. All the dancers impressed me but I have to say a special word for Alice Sheppard who was magnificent. She amazed me with her virtuosity. If I had to pick a star of the show she would have been it.

After the show I managed to catch Marc Brew for a a few minutes  He told me about his company and its dancers, how he works with disabled and able bodied and gets them both to do wonderful things. He listed his other work including his recent commissions. Brew told me that he was based in the Tramway in Glasgow near Scottish Ballet. He spoke about his collaboration with companies in Scotland, particularly Scottish Dance Theatre in Dundee and also with the great percussionist Evelyn Glennie. I asked about his future work and he said that his next big production would be in May. I must say that I like Marc Brew. I like his work. I like his approachability - his willingness to talk to a complete stranger on a beach - but most of all I like his willingness to make dance accessible for all. I may not be disabled but I am old, I am fat, I am bereft of talent yet I love to dance as much as any ballerina.

Stuck in the Mud was not the only dance I saw yesterday in Llandudno. While writing up my notes of my interview with Marc Brew I noticed a lady and gentleman with a walking stick in Victorian dress with glitter balls for heads proceed along the prom. A few minutes later three women in 1940s bathing dresses and bare feet marched towards the band stand the leader with a whistle sounding out the time "bleep - bleep - bleep, bleep, bleep" reminding me of my CCF days in the 1960s.  I followed them and saw them dance a couple of routines to wartime music. All the time they were in bare feet and I really felt for them. It wasn't warm yesterday and the metalled surface of the prom was not exactly a dance floor.

Llandudno was in festive mood yesterday. I saw a lion in union jack colours accompanied by another in the colours of the Scottish saltire. I mentioned the March Hair. A statue of Alice was outside the railway station and the Mad Hatter was by the prom. The Llawn Festival continues today and there will be two more performances of Stuck in the Mud this morning and afternoon. After Llandudno the show will be staged in Cardiff. Do go and see it, It is well worth seeing.

PS Here is a short video of the performance

Stuck in the mud from John Whittle on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My T-Shirt says it all

Yesterday I bought tickets for the 14:00 performance of Dogs don't do Ballet  in Harlow on the 11 Oct 2014 and Ballet Black's Mixed Bill in Leeds on the 6 Nov 2014. I have already seen the Mixed Bill in London, Southport and Nottingham and I love it - particularly Christopher Marney's Two of a Kind in which I see new layers every time - and this may be my last opportunity to see it for some time. Dogs don't do Ballet, also by Marney, is new. I've read Anna Kemp's book to my grandson manqué and neither he nor I can wait to see it on stage.

To celebrate the new production Ballet Black are running a photo competition. Members of the public are invited to send a photo of their dog (or cat, or hamster, or any pet!) doing ballet to Ballet Black! Woof! The winner will receive two tickets to the "Dogs Don't Do Ballet" performance of their choice, a signed "Dogs Don't Do Ballet" poster and a backstage visit to meet the cast.

I don't have a dog or other pet so I can't enter but I am going to the show anyway and have already met several members of the company briefly, They were as gracious off the stage (even though they must have been tired) as they are graceful on it.

Ballet Black has already posted pictures of some dogs and at least one cat to their Facebook page. The closing date for entries is 9 Oct 014.