Sunday, 18 February 2018

At Last - Sylphs in Gurn and Effie Land: Scottish Ballet's Tour of the Highlands and Islands

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As regular readers know, I love La Sylphide.  I have been hinting like mad to Gillian Barton and Daniel Job to stage that ballet for their students since 2013 for they are located in the Highlands where the ballet is set (see Taynuilt - where better to create ballet  31 Aug 2013).  They considered it but for one reason or another decided against it. Instead, they staged that other great romantic ballet, Giselle, which has proved to be a howling success (see A Very Special Giselle 4 Feb 2018 and Ballet West Amplified 11 Feb 2018). 

Last year Central School of Ballet, which, like Ballet West, tours the country to give its students stage experience, performed a large part of Sir Matthew Bourne's "romantic wee ballet", Highland Fling, as part of its show.  I caught it at Leeds and blogged about it in Triumphant on 1 May 2017. Highland Fling is by no means the same as La Sylphide but it does keep Løvenskiold's music which to my mind is the best bit of the ballet.

This Spring Scottish Ballet are taking Highland Fling on tour to the Highlands and islands and one of their stops will be Atlantis Leisure in Oban which is the nearest town of any size to Taynuilt.  The show takes place on 29 and 30 April and as there is a ballet school just down the road there is likely to be a run on the tickets. Needless to say, I bagged mine early.

While I am in Scotland I shall attend the 50th Anniversary Show of the St Andrews Dance Society which I helped to found (see Ballet at University 27 Feb 2017).  That will take place at the Byre in St Andrews on the 30 April and 1 May 2018. The Dance Soc used to have a link with Scottish Ballet through Professor Steer and to a much lesser extent yours truly.  It was I who helped to bring Scottish Theatre Ballet to the Buchanan on 15 Feb 1970 as I was on the steering committee of the first St Andrews Arts Festival. I will try to find out whether there is still a link between Dance Soc and Scottish Ballet and if it is broken do what I can to restore it.  It would also be good to link Scotland's oldest degree awarding institution with Ballet West which is one of the newest.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Winter's Tale - Close to Perfection though perhaps not quite there yet

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The Royal Ballet  The Winter's Tale 15 Feb 2018, 19:30 Royal Opera House

I have now seen Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale three times on stage and at least twice on screen and it has definitely grown on me.  The first time I saw it I was less than overwhelmed.  I wrote in Royal Ballet The Winter's Tale 14 April 2014:
"I expected so much of The Winter's Tale. I had been looking forward to it for months. A new work by Christopher Wheeldon based on Shakespeare by a fine choreographer for our national company with a stellar cast. It should have blown me off my feet. Well I quite liked the show but blown off my feet? I wasn't."
I liked it a lot better when I saw it in the cinema a few weeks later (see The Winter's Tale - A Time to eat my Hat 29 April 2014) and even more when I saw it again in 2016 (see The Winter's Tale Revisited - Some Ballets are better Second Time Round 20 April 2016).

Thursday's performance was for me the best ever.  I tweeted:
Yes, it is a lovely work - an uplifting story to a gorgeous score performed by some of the world's finest dancers in the grandest auditorium in England.  Pretty close to perfection.

Close to perfection but perhaps still not quite there.  I saw the ballet on Thursday with my friend Gita. She has seen a lot of ballet as well as other kinds of dance and attended a lot of adult ballet classes and even a few intensives. She watched the ballet with me on telly when it was broadcast one Christmas but this was the first time she had seen it on stage. Interestingly, her comments were very much the same as those that I had made in my first review. Fine choreography, great dancing, lovely music but the first act dragged a bit, the sets and especially the animations were distracting, she did not really get the bear and the ballet as a whole was far too long. Thinking about it again I couldn't say she is wrong but that does not mean that it is not a great work. On the contrary, I think it will keep its place in the repertoires of both the Royal Ballet and National Ballet of Canada and over the years it will evolve into something even better.  Especially if future producers do a bit of judicious pruning here and there,

Because it had been my birthday on Wednesday, Gita and I pushed the boat out a little.  We booked seats in the centre stalls close enough to see the expressions of the dancers but far enough back to take in the stage as a whole.  We dined in the Paul Hamlyn which meant that we could keep our table relax and reflect in the intervals. I have been to Covent Garden many times and it never fails to impress but to get the full the majesty of the place you have to sit in the stalls. Surrounded by red and gold, enveloped by light with the buzz of the audience I involuntarily squeaked with delight.

The lights dimmed and Kevin O'Hare entered the stage with the news that Alondra de la Parra was indisposed but Tom Seligman had stepped in to take her place.  Now Maestro Seligman is very good and he conducted confidently. So confidently in fact that he was already half way across the stage when the ballerina was about to invite him to take a bow and he was also the last performer to take a curtain call.  However, I had been looking forward to see Ms de la Parra. There are not many women conductors.  All those I have seen, such as Jane Glover and Marin Alsop, were extremely good. I have never seen a woman before an orchestra at Covent Garden and I would have been proud to see Ms de la Parra there. No doubt there will be other opportunities to see her and I wish her well.

I have seen Marianela Nuñez quite a few times over the years but I don't think I have ever seen dance better than her performance as Hermione on Thursday night. The same goes for Thiago Soares who danced Leontes, Beatriz Stix-Brunell as Perdita, William Bracewell as Polixenes,  Vadim Muntagirov as Florizel, Itziar Mendizabal as Paulina and Bradford lad, Thomas Whitehead, as the shepherd. Coming from Yorkshire, Gita and I applauded him particularly vigorously (as I always do) when he took his bow. Did he notice, I wonder?  Gita likes to choose a man or woman of the match. I can't remember whom she chose but the dancer who impressed me most on Thursday was Mendizabal. Paulina speaks truth to power but remains faithful to her awful boss and leads him back to his senses. She holds the show together. The role requires very careful casting and Mendizabal was the  right choice.

I loved the music, the choreography, the designs and special effects (except the bear) and the costumes (which, Gita said, showed Indian Sub-Continent influences). Once again I was close to tears at the final reunion of Perdita and her parents. Indeed the whole last act is a tear jerker. Yet again I loved the dancing round the tree.  Act 1 needs to be in the work to set the scene but I wish it were not quite so long.  Perhaps the last bit of act 1 could be added to the second act.  But these are minor niggles. Taken as a whole Thursday's performance was really good. If I did not have a ticket for the Dutch National Ballet's Don Quixote that evening I would see it again at the pictures when it is screened across the  world on the 28 Feb. If you can get to see it at least in the cinema but preferably on stage I strongly recommend it.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Newcastle Nutcracker

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Scottish Ballet  The Nutcracker  Theatre Royal Newcastle 2 Feb 2018

I have seen three versions of The Nutcracker over the last few months: the Royal Ballet's at the Royal Opera House, the Birmingham Royal Ballet's at the Hippodrome and Scottish Ballet's at the Theatre Royal Newcastle.  I just can't decide which I like best because each version has its own strengths. Scottish Ballet's are Peter Darrell's libretto and choreography, Lez Brotherston's designs and, of course, the company's brilliant dancers. 

In Darrell's version, Clara remains a little girl. She does not morph into Sugar Plum.  She gets rid of the vermin who stray into the second act by kissing rather than thumping them.  At the end of the ballet it is she and not Sugar Plum who invites the conductor onto the stage to take a bow.  I also like Scottish Ballet's divertissements.  The Chinese, for example, are not treated as acrobatic clowns despire the musical prompting.  They have a short but sweet dance for two female dancers.  The Arabian dance is a charming solo for one femalle. There is an English dance with a hornpipe that brought to mind  Balanchine's Union Jack and, to a lesser extent, Cranko's Pineapple Poll.

Brotherston's sets and costumes are magnificent. It cannot be easy to create a set for touring. The opening scene looked like a Christmas card.   It gave way to the Stahlbaums' Christmas party in a solid looking living room but the scene that impressed me most was the kingdom of the sweets with its hundreds of Christmas tree baubles.  As for the costumes I particularly liked the female mice.  Without a doubt Brotherston's vermin are the best in the business.  Nobody has better mouse heads.

Sugar Plum was danced by Bethany Kingsley-Garner. I became one of her fans when I saw her in Cinderella in 2015 (see Scottish Ballet's Cinderella 20 Dec 2015). I was impressed by her performance in Dawson's Swan Lake a few months later (see Empire Blance: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). She delighted me yet again in The Nutcracker.  She was partnered well by Evan Loudon. Chrstopher Harrison was a splendid Drosselmeyer.  Marge Hendrick was a charming Snow Queen. As I have said before, it is the children who can make or break The Nutcracker and in this production the students definitely helped to make it.  Particularly Ailish Ogilvie who danced Clara and Charles O'Rourke her tiresome little brother.  Finally, it s always good to see Matthew Broadbent.   Tall and athletc he attracts attention. I was a fan when he was at Northern Ballet and even  more so now.

There were a few weaknesses. The orchestra sounded a little thin at times partcularly in the overture but that could have been the theatre's accoustics.  Newcastle's Theatre Royal is an archotectural gem and it is easy to reach by public transport but it is not the most comfortable venue. Scottish Ballet's Christmas show visits all the major venues in Scotland but rarely ventures into England and never south of Newcastle. That is a shame because audiences in the rest of the UK would love it.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

One of the Best Ballet Experiences Ever

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When Karen Sant introduced Harriet Mills at KNT's Manchester studios last night, we gave her a spontaneous ripple of applause.  Applause is expected at the reverence but at the beginning of a class it is very rare indeed.  We applauded her because Harriet is a very special teacher.  A principal of the Karlsruhe State Ballet no less which seems to have a gorgeous repertoire. Feast your eyes, ladies and gents, on these YouTube clips that I have managed to google:  Romeo and Juliet, La Sylphide and Anne FrankThere is something very special about a class from a teacher who has danced with a well known company and a class from a principal is particularly precious.  I have been lucky enough to attend several classes by Chris Hinton-Lewis in Leeds who was one of my favourite dancers at Northern Ballet (see It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class 8 Dec 2013) but this was my first class with a ballerina at the height of her career.

Directing us to face the barre Harriet showed us how to stand from our toes to our shoulders.  She then conducted us through pliés in 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th, tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, frappés and a combination of tendus, glissés and grands battements. Calling us into the centre she said that the secret of the port de bras is to keep the arms flowing and she gave us a delightful exercise that required us to do just that.  Next came pirouettes - preparations, quarter turns, half and finally full turns. Then jumps starting with glissades and assemblés in preparation for a joyful combination of balancés, arabesques, pas de chats and temps levés.  Usually our class lasts a little over an hour but Harriet gave us a full 90 minutes.  The class was so good that Karen and Mark Hindle, who has just returned from a season of the Lion King at the Hague, joined in.

Because Harriet has given us some extra time she had to start the next one immediately afterwards. It was not possible for us to thank her for our class.  I always try to do that because the relationship between teacher and student is very special as I explained in Le jour de gloire est arrivé - Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School 3 Feb 2014:
"As Sibley spoke about her teachers I realized that every teacher represents to his or students every dancer, choreographer and teacher who has gone before. Sibley loved her teachers and I can relate to that because I love every one of mine. Those who have gently corrected my wobbling arabesques and feeble turns. I texted one of them yesterday after the talk .......
"Oh super jealousy" she replied.
"Don't be jealous" I responded "You are also part of the tradition. You live it, I just see it. And you pass on your gift to others."
"Awwwww Thanku xxxx"
"When I go to class you or Annemarie represent every dancer, choreographer and teacher who ever lived".
"Aw Jane! I won't be able to leave the room soon"
"I am only paraphrasing Sibley. She should know. Through you I am linked to your teacher who is probably linked to someone at Ballet Russes who is linked to Petipa."
"xxxxx wise woman!"
As indeed Dame Antoinette is. I learned so much from her yesterday for which I shall always be grateful."
So this blog post has to serve as my thank you to Harriet for a great class. We all left happy and inspired.

If anybody is interested, Karlsruhe is a pleasant medium size town in Baden-Württemberg which hosts the German Constitutional Court as well as a fine ballet company.  Practitioners in my area of law have been taking a particular interest in the Court lately because it is determining a challenge to German ratification of the Unified Patent Court Agreement. That was the topic of a talk that I gave to Queen Mary University of London Law School on Monday night (see Jane Lambert Is British Ratification of the UPC Agreement even relevant now? 12 Feb 2018 NIPC News).

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Ballet West Amplified

(c) 2018 Ryan James Davies: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright owner

Ballet West  Giselle and Rossini Cocktail  10 Feb 2018, 19:30 SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

I returned to Scotland yesterday as I said I would in A Very Special Giselle 4 Feb 2018 and Fizzing! Ballet West's Rossini Cocktail 6 Feb 2018 to see Ballet West's double bill again. This time they were in the Scottish Event Campus Armadillo which is a major auditorium with 2,000 seats. That is much larger than the Bradford, Alhambra (IMHO the best theatre for dance in Yorkshire) which has 1,456 seats and it is only slightly smaller than the main stage at Covent Garden which has 2,256.

When the company announced its intention of performing in the Armadillo for the first time in 2014 I was worried (see Scottish Ballet and Ballet West 3 Oct 2014). I had seen Ballet West perform The Nutcracker and Swan Lake in Pitlochry and I knew it was good. It attracted a big enough crowd to the Pitlochry Festival Theatre in an area that may not see a lot of ballet but Glasgow is altogether different. It is one of our major conurbations and hosts one of our leading ballet companies. I feared that Ballet West would be swamped on a massive stage and that it would rattle in an empty auditorium.

Clearly that did not happen for the company has come back to the Armadillo every year since its debut on Valentine's day 2015.  For those who do not know Glasgow the Armadillo is one of several buildings on the edges of the city centre known as the Scottish Event Campus. "Campus" is the right word for the space is huge. Much bigger than G-Mex or the Leeds Arena with its own railway station and several hotels. The Armadillo is one of the most comfortable theatres I have ever visited with seats like armchairs and masses of leg room. It is also one of the least fussy allowing members of the audience to come and go more as less as they please even while artists are dancing. I have mixed opinions about that.  Ballet West did not fill the auditorium but they attracted a very respectable turnout. I saw at least as many empty seats in the Alhambra for Northern Ballet's excellent MacMillan triple bill and there are times when even the Lowry struggles to fill its seats.

More importantly the company took possession of the massive stage and commanded it effectively. I feared the Glasgow associates who began the show with the first movement of the Rossini Cocktail might be daunted by the space and lights. Not a bit of it. Those young women in blue were as confident as they had been in Greenock.  I sat next to one of their mums in the auditorium and congratulated her on her daughter's performance.  Accepting my praise she was quick to point out that all the other students had done well, particularly in view of the short amount of time they had to rehearse.

First year full time students in Daniel Job's Rossini Cocktail
(c) 2018 Ryan James Davies: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright owner
The associates were followed in the second movement of Rossini Cocktail by the first year full-time students. Now that I knew who they were I viewed their performance much more critically but I could not find fault. I was as impressed yesterday as I had been last week.   I particularly enjoyed the last bit when the dancers lean forward and advance towards the stage like a wave. From the grins on their faces they seemed to be having fun and certainly the audience did.

Giselle followed shortly afterwards with the same cast as last week.  My heart missed a beat when I heard the first few bars of the overture because it seemed to be far too fast but it had slowed down enough for the dancers by the time the curtain rose.  The backdrop, barn and Giselle's bothy that had fitted the Beacon's stage like a glove looked a little bit lost in the Armadillo but the performers seemed to enjoy the extra space for dancing.

As I noted last week it was a very dramatic production.  Hilarion (Joseph Wright) tore Giselle (Natasha Watson) and Albrecht (Dean Rushton) apart and showed her Albrecht's sword with the misplaced relish of the prosecuting attorney in Perry Mason.  This week my attention centred on Watson's reaction.
(c) 2018 Ryan James Davies: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright owner
She is a superb actor and I mean superb.  All dancers have to act a little but it is formal and often strained. Watson's is real.  Her mad scene - or distraction on learning of her betrayal and humiliation if you prefer - is chilling.  She rips Albrecht and Bathilde apart.  I shuddered as she tore the locket that Bathilde had given her from her neck and grabbed the sword by its point.  Niamh Dowling (Giselle's mother) impressed me again.  So, too, did Rahul Pradeep who danced Bathilde's dad.  Tall and slender he was every inch an aristocrat.  Congratulations to them and also to all the dancers who had impressed me last week and did again last night.

The last scene was enchanting.  Mist (dry ice) wafted across the stage.  Lights flashed.  Myrtha (Uyu Hiromoto) glided onto the stage. She was as regal last night as she had been the week before.  I have been a fan for some time and yesterday I had the chance to meet her.  It is as hard to pick stars in dance as it is winners at Aintree but occasionally a student or member of the corps seems to stand out from his or her peers.  Xander and Demelza Parish did so at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala in York on 31 Dec 2007 (see "Review: A Summer Gala of Dance and Song, Grand Opera House, York"31 July 2007 The Press) . So, too, Michaela DePrice did in Amsterdam in 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). I saw the same signs in Hiromoto yesterday. Now I could be wrong but I was right about the Parishes (especially Xander) and I was right about DePrince though she was already in the Junior Company and on her way to great things when I first saw her.   However, Hiromoto was not the only fine dancer.  Once again I need to commend Sarah Nolan as Moyna and Storm Norris as Zulme as well as Wright, the hapless Hilarion, and all the corps of wilis.

Next year the company will tour Scotland with The Nutcracker.  I hope one year they may dip their toes into England for, as I said at the end of my very first blog post five years ago, audiences there will take them to their hearts.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Spotted - Northern Ballet Academy's Schools Outreach Programme

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In So Proud of those Students and their Teacher 7 Feb 2018 I wrote:
"Cara is not only an excellent teacher. She is also a fine choreographer. I have only seen one of her works, Small Steps, about the rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany in commemoration of the Kindertransport (see Small Steps and other Pieces - Leeds CAT End of Term Show 2 July 2016). It was profoundly beautiful and very moving and I long to see more."
I was, of course, referring to Cara O'Shea who appears in the film above as well as the recording in my earlier post.

As it happened I did not have to wait long to see another of Cara works for she had choreographed a short but delightful ballet for Northern Ballet Academy's boys called "Be My Guest".  The boys were dressed as waiters and they performed some quite difficult movements including soaring leaps that quite drew my breath away towards the end of the piece.

Cara had created the work to entertain some of the company's benefactors at a fundraising dinner on Thursday. The dinner was held to raise money for the Spotted the Academy's outreach programme for schools in Yorkshire. This is a programme to deliver dance to schoolchildren some of whom may never have attended a ballet.   Pupils in years 4, 5 and 6 are offered a 90 minute dance workshop.  All will have fun.  Those who show promise may be invited to the Academy for further training under the You've been spotted programme.

The company presented two other delightful interludes for our pleasure - Concerto and the proposal scene from the last act of Jane Eyre.   I congratulate all the dancers but I particularly enjoyed Abigain Prudames and Mlindi Kulashe in the proposal.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Windrush: Movement of the People

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Phoenix Dance Theatre  Mixed Programme (Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, Shadows and Windrush: Movement of the People)  West Yorkshire Playhouse, 7 Feb 2018

Yesterday Phoenix Dance Theatre opened its Spring tour at West Yorkshire Playhouse with a triple bill consisting of Aletta Collins's Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, Christopher Bruce's Shadows and Sharon Watson's Windrush: Movement of the People.  All three are important works. At any other time performances of the first two works would have received a lot of attention.  But yesterday the focus was on the last which was performed in full for the first time.

Having seen previews of Windrush at A Celebration of Female Choreographers and Windrush Studio Sharing, there was never any doubt in my mind that the work would be a great success.  So it was with the audience on its feet cheering until its members' voices were hoarse and clapping till their palms were sore.  They - we - were applauding a beautifully crafted and performed work of art, of course, but also something more.  A movement of people, a melding of cultures, a response to enormous adversity, hardship and in many instances even violence, a story of individuals and families, an epic in which everyone in the auditorium - indeed everyone in these islands - has participated in one way or another.  We celebrated not just those who boarded the Empire Windrush 70 years ago - one of whom was in the audience - but also everyone who has followed them since. "This was my mother's story" said Sharon Watson after the show. So it was but it was a story of many others and one that resonates with all.

The work divides into four scenes.  It opens in Jamaica full of light and colour and movement. The women in gorgeous costumes. Young men tumbling over each other to read a newspaper. The women are more restrained - subdued, even, as some of them will be left behind - but even they are excited by the adventure. The passengers board the ship still full of hope and energy.

The next scene is the most poignant. A voice calls out.  "You called and we came". The stage was much less bright. The dancers hardly moved. The voice continued about the skills, the energy, the quick minds of those who came and how so many of those talents were squandered in post-war Britain. Matrons reduced to sisters, sisters to nurses and nurses to chambermaids.  Women with masked faces hang out washing each with a letter spelling out the infamous words "NO DOGS" et cetera.  An arrangement of the national anthem is sung live on stage except instead of "Queen" it is "God save the Dream."

The Dream is saved for in the third scene sweethearts reunite in England. They find homes, lay down carpets and purchase settees - and radiograms.  The parents play their LPs but their mini-skirted children will have none of that. Off goes Jim Reeves and on comes 10ft Ganja Plant.  Again there is movement and energy on stage.

The final scene is a church with stained glass lighting, a pastor and his choir.  It's a service but this service is almost a party. The cast invite those in the front seats onto the stage. The audience claps rhythmically and euphorically then rises to its feet as one.  A triumph indeed!

There are so many people to congratulate for this triumph.  Sharon Watson, of course for her choreography, Christella Litras for her score, Eleanor Bull for her designs and Phoenix's beautiful dancers.  I spoke to several of them afterwards.  The show was special for them too.  Something they will remember for the rest of their lives. And for the audience?  I can only speak for myself but it was the best show that I have ever seen in Leeds.

Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe and Shadows need to be reviewed separately and I will review them soon.  They were fine works that were performed well and a paragraph or two about them tagged onto a review of Windrush will not begin to do them justice. Phoenix will perform the mixed bill at Leeds until the 10 Feb. Then it will go to Keswick, Cheltenham, Doncaster, Leicester, Aachen, London, Birmingham and Newcastle.  If you live anywhere near those places you really must go.