Thursday, 11 April 2019

Phoenix's Rite of Spring and Left Unseen

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Phoenix Dance Theatre The Rite of Spring and Left Unseen 9 April 2019, 19:30 CAST in Doncaster

On 8 March 2019, I saw Phoenix Dance Theatre perform  Jeanguy Saintus's Rite of Spring with a live orchestra on the main stage of the Lowry Theatre.  It was a magnificent performance that I described as Phoenix's coming of age.  It had been part of an evening of dance and song - a very successful collaboration with Opera North that I should like to see repeated.   

On 9 April 2019,  I saw the Rite of Spring again at the Cast in Doncaster as part of a double bill with Left Unseen by Amaury Lebrun.  The company had already performed those works in Poole and will take them to Malvery, Keswick, Dundee, Cheltenham and the Peacock. 

The evening opened with Left Unseen which is the first of Lebrun's works that I have seen.  However, we shall shortly see another because he told me that he has been commissioned to create a work for Northern Ballet. Lebrun was born in France and trained at the School of the Ballet du Nord in Roubaix and the School of American Ballet in New York.  He danced with several companies before joining the Compania Nacional de Danza in Spain as a principal.

Left Unseen opens with a spotlit single dancer.  According to the programme notes, the work explores inclusion and isolation.  I was particularly impressed by an interaction between Prentice Whitlow and Vanessa Vince-Pang. She reaches out to him but he recoils from her.  She tries again to similar effect. He approaches her but she steps aside.  He tries again but she pushes him out of the way. Finally, she leaps onto his back as an act of aggression - not of affection.  The score was contributed by Alva NotoRyuichi Sakamoto and Hildur  Guðnadóttir.  It was integrated into a single piece so seamlessly that I thought it had been a single work.

The main difference between the performances of the Rite of Spring at the Lowry and the Cast is that the company had to rely on recorded music in Doncaster.  They have chosen a very good recording by the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Pierre Boulez. The work that the Ballets Russes had performed in Paris in 2013 had been set in Pre-Christian Russia.  Using the same score by Stravinsky, Saintus set his work in contemporary Haiti drawing heavily on voudou rituals that invoke Ogou (the spirit of fire, iron, war and blacksmiths), the Marasa (divine twins) and Damballa (the serpent spirit and creator of life). In Saintus's version as in the Ballets Russes', there is a chosen one but she is chosen not for sacrifice but to host the spirit of Damballa.

I was much closer to the stage in Doncaster than I had been in Salford and I could see and admire the intricate robes worn by both male and female dancers with their tassels and drapery. For one of the movements, two of the dancers' hands were coloured green,  For another, the hands of all the dancers were coloured red.   At one point a red cushion which I had assumed to be a heart was passed on stage but, on reflection, I think it may have been the spirit of  Damballa. 

Saintus's production is an original work anchored in the traditions of the Caribbean and probably also  Africa.   However, I also think it is a very faithful one.   As I said in my previous review, Nijinsky's shade would not have been troubled by Saintus's reimagining. There is something unsettling about the idea of human sacrifice even though it is only on the stage.  That was largely absent in Saintus's work.  It felt like a celebration rather than an oblation.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Another Look at Victoira

Author: Rasiel Suarez
Licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 3.0 Unported
Source Wikipedia Queen Victoria 

Northern Ballet Victoria 6 April 2019 Curve, Leicester

"How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear Queen!"  The Oxford Essential Quotations attributes that remark to A Laugh A Day Keeps the Doctor Away by the American humorist, Irvin S Cobb which was published in 1924.  It is said to have been overheard at a performance of Antony and Cleopatra in which Sarah Bernhardt played Cleopatra.

The conversation is probably apocryphal but the reason why the quotation is remembered is that the home life of Queen Victoria was unremarkable.  Of course, there was sex.  How could it be otherwise with 9 children? But it was almost certainly within marriage notwithstanding speculation over her relationships with John Brown and Abdul Karim.  Queen Victoria gave her name to an age of momentous cultural, economic, political, scientific, social and technological change throughout the world but, as a constitutional monarch, she had very little to do with any of that.

According to "Creating Victoria" in the programme the idea of a ballet about Queen Victoria was David Nixon's.  He asked Cathy Marston whether she would be interested in making such a work, Evidently, someone mentioned the TV series for Marsrion spent part of a weekend watching a recording of the series before deciding to accept.

To make a full-length ballet about a home life that is a byword for respectability and normality must have been something of a challenge. Marston responded to that challenge by selecting incidents from the queen's life that she had recorded in her diary.  Those incidents were presented not as they had happened but as they had been perceived by Princess Beatrice upon reading her mother's diary for the first time. An impression was given that some of those incidents bordered on the scandalous for there were for there were several scenes where Beatrice tore pages from the diary.

On the whole, I think Marston's approach worked well, particularly in the second act.  There were moments of great beauty such as the passionate duet of the queen and prince consort towards the end. There were also some comic moments such as the childbirth scenes with Mlindi Kulashe delivering baby after baby.  Some of the scenes in the first act were still lost me even though I had seen them before and had read and digested the synopsis.  Someone - I could not work out who it was - drew a revolver and shot John Brown. I could find no reference to that in the synopsis.  It certainly did not happen in real life for Brown died in his bed in Windsor.  I had a vague recollection from my criminal law studied that Queen Victoria survived an assassination attempt because it was from that incident that we have got the M'Naghten rules but it seems to have nothing to so with that. I concluded that the assassination must have been an analogue for character assassination. There were several other analogues in the piece such as the ritual kissing of the queen's feet.

The cast I saw in Leicester was almost the same as the one I saw in Leeds (see A Great Send-off for a Great Lady 17 March 2019).  Abigail Prudames was the queen, Joseph Taylor the prince consort, Pippa Moore was Beatrice and Kulashe doubled as John Brown as well as an obstetrician.  All the cast danced well but I particularly enjoyed their interaction with a curious piece of furniture that I can best describe as a Victorian round sofa and their tussle over the red dispatch boxes.  Everybody in the show danced well and it would be unjust for me to select any for special praise,

Steffen Aarfing's set worked well.  A semicircular structure doubled as a gallery in a palace and the stacks of a library.   I am not quite so satisfied with the costumes.  The queen's white gown with its blue sash was effective. The red and cream costumes of the corps were less so.  Philip Feeney's score was pleasant enough. It was said to be derived from the music of the period.   I am sure that must be so but I struggle to remember a note of it even though I have heard it twice.

Though the auditorium was far from full the audience seemed to appreciate the show.   There was some cheering and the curious masculine growls that one sometimes hears in live streaming from the Bolshoi and even Covent Garden.   Several folk in the stalls rose to their feet which does not happen quite so often in England as in other countries.  I think Northern Ballet can chalk up Saturday evening's performance as a success.

The ballet's tour continues to Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes and Belfast and it will be streamed to cinemas throughout the nation on 25 June 2019.  I think it is worth seeing and probably more than once since I appreciated it more the second time around.   Marston is a master of her craft and while I still prefer The Suite and Jane Eyre I appreciate Victoria.   Her many fans (of whom I am one) can look forward to her Snowblind which the San Francisco Ballet will bring to London at the end of May and beginning of June.  We will have another chance to see The Suit in Birmingham in September

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Campbell and Magri in Royal Ballet's Don Quixote

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Royal Ballet Don Quixote 30 March 2019, 13:30, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Except when I was a graduate student in Los Angeles, I have visited Covent Garden several times a year, every year, since 1969.   Seldom have I enjoyed a performance at the Royal Opera House more than last Saturday's matinee of Don Quixote. I had already seen that production several times in the cinema and once on television and had been somewhat underwhelmed by those transmissions (see ¡Por favor! Don Quixote streamed to Huddersfield 17 Oct 2013). I think that must be because no screening comes close to communicating the colour, movement and energy of the live show.

Although Gerard Davis referred to this production by Carlos Acosta as a remake in the programme notes, it seems to be pretty much the same as other companies' versions of the ballet.  The prologue begins with the dotty Don Quixote sheltering the shoplifting Sancho Panza.  The rogue kits the old man out with a bedpost for a lance and a shaving bowl for a helmet.  He is dubbed a knight by an imagined dulcinea and is confronted immediately by equally imaginary hooded demons.  As in other versions, he meets Kitri and Don Basilio in the town square and helps them elope.  On their travels, they meet gipsies.  He falls ill fighting ambulatory windmills.  In his delirium dreams of dryads or tree spirits.  They return to the town where Kitri's suitor is partnered up, KitrI marries Don Basilio and Don Quixote and his squire slip away for more adventures.   I  understand that the score had been rearranged and reorchestrated by Martin Yates but I did not detect any variations even though I know the music well. Aspects of the show that impressed me particularly were the lavishness of Tim Hatley's sets and costumes and the slickness and energy of the dancing.

My enjoyment of the show was facilitated greatly by the casting of Alexander Campbell as Don Basilio.  A year or so ago I read about his taking part in a scheme by the RAD and MCC to encourage kids to take up ballet and cricket.  Perfectly natural in my view as I have always had a passion for the two.  I think it was Arnold Haskell who observed that cricket had predisposed the British to ballet pointing out many parallels between the two.  Like another of my favourites, Xander Parish, Campbell had been a promising cricketer as a boy. I had long surmised that that might be the case before I had read that article for Campbell commands the stage like a batsman at the crease.  There is something about his manner - perhaps his grin - that makes it impossible not to like him.  He wielded his guitar while wooing the coquettish Kitri as an extension of himself just as a batsman holds his bat.  As he seized her fan in the same scene I imagined his diving for a catch. In his jumps and lifts, he is much an athlete as an artist.  It may be a figment of my imagination as it may be have been years since he last played the game, but I think that his youthful cricketing prowess has contributed more than a little to his appeal as a dancer.

Campbell's Kitri was the Brazilian first soloist, Mayara Magri,  She excelled in that role.  I was told by a well-informed acquaintance whom I met in the interval that last Saturday's matinee had been her debut.  If that was the case, her performance was all the more impressive.  I mentioned her coquetry in the previous paragraph but the role also requires virtuosity and prodigious stamina.  She displayed those qualities in abundance, particularly in the last act where she dances in the pub and in the final pas de deux where she performs lots of fouettés.    She dazzled me with those displays.

Other artists who particularly delighted me included  Itziar Mendizabal as Mercedes, Claire Calvert as the queen of the dryads. Lara Turk as the Dulcinea and, of course, Gary Avis as Don Quixote.  It was also good to see Jonathan Howells as Sancho Panza.  I had been looking forward to seeing Thomas Whitehead as Gamache. I am one of his fans and that is not just because he comes from Bradford.  That role was danced by Benet Gartside whom I also follow. I hope that Whitehead's absence was not the result of injury or illness but, if it was, I wish him a full and speedy recovery.  Valentino Zucchetti had been advertised to dance the matador and he was also indisposed through illness or injury. I wish him a full and speedy recovery too.  He was replaced if my memory is correct, by Reece Clark but sadly he was also hurt and had to be replaced (I think) by Thomas Mock. Like the rest of the cast, Mock and Clark danced well.  I wish Clark too a full and complete recovery. I congratulate everyone who took part in that performance.

I have been lucky enough to see two other fine performances of Don Quixote.   On Christmas day of 2017, I saw Mathieu Ganio and Isabella Boylston in the ballet company of the Paris Opera (see
Paris Opera Ballet's Don Quixote 28 Dec 2017).  I wrote:
"Spectacular choreography needs virtuoso dancers and Isabella Boylston is a virtuoso par excellence. She launches into grands jetes almost as soon as she appears on stage and hers seemed as graceful and effortless as any I have seen before. She danced Kitri who ends the show with spectacular fouettés. I have seen plenty of those from lots of Odiles but the excitement that Boylston generated with hers at the Bastille last night could not have been exceeded by Legnani herself."
A few weeks later, on 28 Feb 2019, I was delighted again by Sho Yamada and Riho Sakamoto in the lead roles in the Dutch National Ballet's performance of that work (see A Day of Superlatives - Dutch National Ballet's Don Quixote  1 March 2018).  I enjoyed that show a lot:
"I don't think I have ever seen a better Don Quixote even though I have seen artists like Isabella Boylston and Marianela Nuñez dance Kitri and Carlos Acosta dance Don Basilio. Above all, I don't think I have ever seen the Dutch National Ballet dance better."
Comparisons between three great performances by three great national companies would be odious.  They all had strengths.  For me, the Royal Ballet's were Hatley's designs and the casting of Campbell, Magri and Avis.  It is enough for me to say that the Royal Ballet's  Don Quixote is right up there in my esteem with the Paris Opera's and HNB's.

Without wishing to be too political I had booked my ticket to Don Quixote to cheer me up for what had been scheduled to be the day after brexit.   As it happened it wasn't but that has prompted me to think of parallels. Don Quixote lived in the past and looked back to a mythical golden age.  In that regard, he reminds me very much of our brexiteer MPs living in the past with their notions of English exceptionalism being the modern equivalent of courtly love and chivalry.  The battle with the windmills raises obvious analogies with our noble ministers battling against an intransigent commission.  Cervantes intended his novel to be a satire.  He would have had a field day had he been alive now.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Made in Wales

© 2019 Sian Trebart: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of Ballet Cymru

Ballet Cymru Made in Wales Dance House, Cardiff, 22 March 2019 19:30

One of the reasons why the Dutch National Ballet is so strong is that it provides "a stepping stone for young dancers to make the leap from the Dutch National Ballet Academy to The Dutch National Ballet, Holland’s largest ballet company."  That stepping stone is the Junior Company and it has launched the careers or some of HNB's most exciting young dancers such as Michaela DePrince, Martin Ten Kortenaaar, Riho Sakamoto and Sho Yamada.

I have often argued for a British junior company and I think I may have found one at Rogerstone in South Wales.  Rogerstone is a small town near Newport where Ballet Cymru is located.  One of Ballet Cymru's initiatives is a Pre-Professional Programme for "talented, aspiring and highly motivated young dancers with bold ambitions." Like the Junior Company, the Pre-Professional Programme is "designed to facilitate the transition from full time training into professional company life in a focused, nurturing environment."

Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to meet those motivated young dancers and to watch them rehearse. There are 13 of them:
  • Natalia Cimpeanu
  • Beau Dillen
  • Kibyusa Forcos
  • Anais Gentjens
  • Colleen Grace
  • Emma Ikavalko
  • Caitlin Liston
  • Renan Alvez Manhaes
  • Sophie Morris
  • Guilia Machado Rossi
  • Michaela Skuce
  • Naomi Stientstra, and
  • Ann Wall.
They come from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Romania, the UK and Ukraine and have trained at some of the world's top ballet schools such as the Australian Conservatoire, Ballet West, English National Ballet School, the International Dance Academy of Berlin, Kiev State Choreographic College, the National Ballet School of Finland, Northern Ballet Academy, the RAD Academy, Royal Ballet School of Flanders, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the State School of Municipal Theatre in Rio de Janeiro.  

They have all done well to have progressed as far as they have. Awareness that they have achieved a lot gives them confidence and poise in their dance but there is no cockiness about them. They are 13 of the most likeable young people that I have ever met or am ever likely to meet.  When we discussed connections I told Sophie Morris, who had graduated from Ballet West, that I had attended the first year undergraduates' class with Jonathan Barton and that I have dined out about it ever since. They laughed heartily imagining the honour to have attended such a class but also the exertion it must have required of me (see Visiting Taynuilt 6 May 2018).

The piece the dancers rehearsed for me was an excerpt of As We Are choreographed by Emma Lewis who had been teaching them when I arrived.  They were to perform it the following evening at the Dance House in Cardiff. Ballet Cymru had very kindly offered me a ticket to the show which I had declined as I had to be in Leeds to set up Powerhouse Ballet's company class on Saturday morning.  After watching those angels move I just had to see them again even if though it would mean driving through the night to Yorkshire.  I asked whether I could change my mind about the ticket and, happily, I could.

The Dance House is behind the Wales Millennium Centre, an auditorium that I had visited once before to see Ballet Cymru's Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs (see Ballet Cymru's 'Sleeping Beauty' Moment  5 Dec 2016). It is very close to the National Assembly for Wales and reminded me of The Quays near Manchester with its waterfront, pubs and restaurants and expensive looking flats and townhouses. The Dance House is the home of the National Dance Company of Wales which is a frequent and very welcome visitor to the North of England.

The Cardiff Dance House is somewhat smaller than ours in Manchester but it appears to be very well equipped.  The auditorium reminds me of the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Leeds and the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells in that it is a very intimate space.  The front row is within inches of the dancers.

We saw five pieces on 22 March 2019:
  • Excerpts from Child's Christmas by Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty 
  • As We Are by Emma Lewis
  • Concerto Junkins by Alex Hallas
  • Ex Situ by Jack Philps, and
  • Divided We Stand by Patricia Vallis.
Each work was introduced by a short video from the choreographer just as the Junior Company's shows.

The Child's Christmas is very familiar to me as I had seen it in Leeds and Bangor and described it aptly as the company's best work ever (see Ballet Cymru's Dylan Thomas Programme: The Company's Best Work Ever 13 Dec 2018). I had even danced a little bit of In My Craft or Sullen Art at Ballet Cymru's workshop in Leeds on 28 Nov 2018 (see More than a Bit Differently: Ballet Cymru's Workshop and the Launch of the Powerhouse Ballet Circle 29 Nov 2018). When the words "Not for the proud man apart" I felt myself bracing as I had been taught to do in the workshop.

I loved all the works but one that made a particularly deep impression on me was Alex Hallas's Jenkins Concerto.  That is partly because I like Carl Jenkins's music and in particular, The Armed Man and Dies Irae which formed the bulk of Hallas's contribution, partly because it was an opportunity for Renan Alvez Manhaes (the only gentleman on the course) to show his potential which is considerable and partly because the ballet enabled all the artists to shine.  Not an easy work but, I should imagine, an immensely satisfying one to perform.

Hallas, a Yorkshireman, has impressed me several times in Ballet Cymru's Cinderella and the Dylan Thomas double bill and Ballet West's The NutcrackerHe attended our reception in Leeds after Ballet Cymru's workshop and he taught at KNT's Day of Dance in December. I have booked him for a workshop for Powerhouse just as soon as he is free. Maybe he can teach us some of his Concerto Jenkins or other choreography.

Even though I had to stop for an espresso at every service station between Cardiff and Sheffield and arrived so full of caffeine that I could not sleep once I made it to my bed in Holmfirth at 05:45, I would not have missed the evening for all "the cats in Wales standing on a wall" with a 6 foot drift of snow. Or, indeed, even a fire in Mrs Prothero's parlour.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Van Dantzig's "Swan Lake"

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Dutch National Ballet Swan Lake The Music Theatre, Amsterdam, 24 March 2019, 14:00

Rudi van Dantzig is one of three towering geniuses who have given Dutch ballet its reputation for excellence,  The others are Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk.  Van Dantzig and van Schayk collaborated in the 1980s to stage one of the best versions of Swan Lake that I have ever seen.

As I entered the auditorium, I saw a screen bearing a likeness of Tchaikovsky, his name and the title of his ballet in Dutch and Russian.  As the house lights faded and the orchestra struck up, the principal characters of the drama appeared behind the screen. The tale of Odette's enchantment by Von Rothbart is sketched out.  The screen rose to reveal the palace gardens where Prince Siegfried's coming of age took place.  From there until the final act the ballet proceeds in the same way as most other versions of Swan Lake until the last act.  There, the story deviates.

According to the programme notes:
"Von Rothbart tries to drive Siegfried away from the lake, but although Siegfried manages to defy him, he drowns in the waters."
That appears to be an accident rather than a deliberate sacrifice by Siegfried and Odette to break von Rothbart's spell as in other versions.   The drowning is represented by a pale blue sheet of silky material suddenly fanned across the stage.  The lifeless Siegfried is carried ashore by his companion, Alexander. The programme concludes:
"In Alexander, Siegfried's ideals will live on."
That is how the ballet ends.   No epilogue of lovers ascending to heaven on a swan-shaped barque as in the versions with which we are familiar.

Every performance of Swan Lake turns on its lead ballerina.  She has to assume two very different personalities in the same work.  There are some who dance Odette well but are less convincing as Odile and vice versa.   The superabundantly talented Maia Makhateli can do both.  She is pure and delicate as Odette and brazen and explosive as Odile. Never have I seen Legnani's 32 fouettés performed with greater aplomb. Her virtuosity is thrilling and her acting was compelling. She was perhaps the best Odette-Odile I have seen since Sibley.

Sibley was partnered in Swan Lake by Sir Anthony Dowell who later created a beautiful version of Swan Lake for the Royal Ballet. Comparisons are odious but Camargo does have a lot in common with Dowell.   He is equally graceful and just as strong.  His solo in the seduction scene was a thrill to watch emphasized by a single fiddler striking out his tune.

Swan Lake is a struggle between good and evil as personified by von Rothbart.  Liam Scarlett portrays von Rothbart as a treacherous courtier as well as a magician. Indeed the costume and makeup department make him look like the real-life head of a nuclear-armed potential adversary.    In that regard, he was truly scary. Van Dantzig dressed his evil one in a suit of green which is the colour of reptiles, slime and decay.  Jared  Wright flapped his wings with menace and paced the floor with foreboding.

Jane Lord, a former principal with the National Ballet who is now with the National Ballet Academy, danced Siegfried's mother.  Tall and elegant she exuded regal authority.  Her role is pivotal.   By insisting on his contemplating marriage and acknowledging his state responsibilities, she started a chain of events that ended with the drowning of her son.  The tragedy is that she brought about this catastrophe out of an abiding sense of duty.  That prompted home thoughts from abroad about another female leader courting catastrophe as a result of such a sense of duty.

Van Danzig has expanded the role of the prince's companion.  The companion is called "Alexander" in this work and the role was danced by Semyon Velichko.  Alexander comforts the prince as he bemoans his approaching adulthood and state responsibility.  He is with the prince when he is asked to choose a bride.  He tries to warn the prince that Odile might not be Odette. Finally, as I observed above, it is he who retrieves Siegfried's body from the water.  Benno plays a similar role in David Dawson's Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet (see Empire Blanche: David Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016).   Since seeing van Dantzig's work I have been wondering just how far his Alexander inspired Dawson's Benno.

I was pleased to see that many of the dancers whose careers I follow closely were in yesterday's show.  Maria Chugai (whom I had featured most recently in Meet Maria Chugai of the Dutch National Ballet on 8 March 2019) appeared with Vera Tsyganova as one of the two lead swans in act two.  Chugai also led the Hungarian dance with Dario Elia. The czardas happens to be one bit of the ballet that I know well (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 1 18 Aug 2015). I watched it particularly intently.

There were some interesting little touches in van Dantzig's ballet that I have not seen elsewhere. I have already mentioned the fiddler in the prince's solo during the seduction scene. Here is another. One of the prospective brides breaks from the others and hides.  She is coaxed back by one of the other girls. When she dances, she does so with flamboyantly and energetically.  On the other hand, no images of Odette fluttered onto the screen during the seduction scene or after the palace is destroyed.

I was delighted to see the pas de six which is often cut from other productions and I must congratulate  Tsyganova, Martin ten Kortenaar, Jingjing Mao, Sem Sjouke, Floor Eimers and Timothy van Poucke on their performances.   I liked all the divertissements but I think we do the Neapolitan dance better than HNB or, at least, Wayne Sleep did.  Here is a clip of Sleep and Rosemary Taylor in that piece.  I am glad to see that English National Ballet retains that choreography.

Yesterday's matinee was a stupendous performance that was aptly rewarded by a standing ovation, but not by many curtain calls.   Had the show taken place in London there may not have been a standing ovation but there would have been umpteen curtain calls many for the lead dancers and the stage would have been covered with flowers. A bouquet certainly for Makhateli and probably also for Lord and several of the other female dancers who richly deserved them.  Amsterdam and London are very close but we have very different ballet traditions.  A ripple of applause meets a principal when he or she appears for the first time.   We count Legnani's fouettés and explode with applause and roars on the 28th turn - never on the 27th nor the 29th. There was applause for Makhateli but it started just as Camargo got into his stride.

I could not say that this is my favourite Swan Lake.  Derek Deane's for English National Ballet is very hard to beat (see English National Ballet's Swan Lake: Kanehara conquers the Empire 25 Nov 2018) and I also love David Dawson's for Scottish Ballet. However, it is certainly up there with them.

This show will continue until 2 June. There are convenient and inexpensive flights to Amsterdam from most British airports.  My seat in the centre of row 14 of the stalls cost a mere €87 and that includes the programme.  I have paid more than that for the amphitheatre before now.   Tariffs for hotel accommodation, food, drinks and public transport are about the same as in Manchester.  It would be a shame to miss this show.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Chelmsford Ballet's Seventieth Anniversary Show

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
Author: Willliam Blake
Source Wikipedia, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Chelmsford Ballet Company A Midsummer Night's Dream 20 March 2019 19:30 Chelmsford Civic Theatre

It is very hard for me to review a performance by the Chelmsford Ballet Company objectively because I am an associate member of the company. As I live in Yorkshire I cannot participate in its performances but I have attended all its shows since 2014 and even one of its AGMs.  I am very proud of my connection with the company.   I have come to expect a lot from the Chelmsford Ballet and its dancers have always delivered.   This year's show was no exception.

The evening was in three parts:  it opened with preparations for Hippolyra's wedding to Theseus. It then switched to Coppelia starting with the dolls' scene.  That comprised the whole of the first act.  The second act was a transposition of the play without Pyramus and Thisbe. A computer-generated graphic flashing the years back to 1949 indicated why Coppelia had been substituted for the play within a play.  Coppelia had been the company's first full-length ballet so there was no need for a lion, wall or even a man in the moon which would not have been easy for a choreographer transpose into dance.  There are also some parallels between Hermia and Swanhilda in that Franz makes a pass at the strange new girl reading a book upside down.  Is that is reading too much into the juxtaposition of Athenian wood and Swabian village?

Although I love Coppelia I enjoyed the second act much better than the first.  It told the story beautifully.  It started with the quarrel over the changeling boy and continued with the troubles of the lovers, Puck's blunder, Titania's infatuation with Bottom and the final reconciliation.  I think Annette Potter was right to include Coppelia into the 70th-anniversary production though it might have been better to have Midsummer Night's Dream with an extract of Coppelia as part of a double bill.

There were some memorable performances.   Andrew Potter danced both Dr Coppelius and Oberon.  James Fletcher was a hilarious Botton.  Olivia Riley was a splendid Puck.  Women can often dance that role at least as successfully as men as Isabela Coracy has shown in Arthur Pita's version for Ballet Black. Titania, the fairies, lovers all danced well and all deserve congratulations.

I have already mentioned the computer-generated graphics. Whoever created them for Chelmsford Ballet is a genius. I am surprised he or she has not been snapped up by New Adventures years ago.  I think that artist's best work was the overgrown palace in The Sleeping Beauty.   The other things the company does particularly well are the costumes. They were gorgeous.  Particularly the fairies' tutus and in some cases headgear.

Wednesday's opening night was attended by both of the company's patrons,  Doreen Wells and Christopher Marney.  Readers of this blog will know I have always been one of Marney's fans. Wells, who danced with what was then called the Touring Company, was one of the big names when I began to follow ballet. She was and remains one of my favourite dancers. The city's lord mayor was in the audience resplendent in her chain of office.  It was, altogether, a very good evening.   Well worth the long drive from Holmfirth.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Stunning - Ballet Black's Triple Bill

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Ballet Black, Triple Bill (Pendulum, Click! Ingoma) Barbican Theatre, 17 March 2019 15:00

I see a lot of dance every year and one of my highlights every year is Ballet Black.  I usually see them in London (whenever I can get a ticket because they perform to packed houses) and again when they go on tour.  I have come to expect a lot from them and they have never failed to meet my expectations.

Their matinee at the Barbican last Sunday was stunning.  I mean that quite literally and I was not the only one.  Neither the family to my left nor the one to my right could get up after the performance.  We just sat still coming to terms with what we had seen on stage.  When we found the strength to move I clambered up the stairs and slumped into the first unoccupied chair.  There I stayed for a couple of hours until I was forced to sprint to the Circle Line to avoid being marooned in London.

I had brought my Chromebook with me with a view to reviewing the triple bill while it was still fresh in my mind but when I tried to write it I found it was just too soon.  The words would not flow.  However, I did make notes. I wrote that Mthuthzeli November's Ingoma was the most impressive new work that I had seen in a while. It is a work of considerable substance. It is all the more remarkable in that it was created by one so young.

According to the programme, Ingoma means "prayer" in Xhosa. In this case the Lord's Prayer though I had guessed that before I read the note. The performance began with the house lights burning.  Two miners came on stage carrying their equipment. They were joined shortly by the rest of the cast dressed identically irrespective of gender.  November mentioned two strikes in his programme note: one in the 1940s that had been suppressed brutally by the authorities and a more recent one at Marikana in post-apartheid South Africa which was also put down violently.  While I think there was more to the ballet than that there was a scene where Ebony Thomas seemed to fall to a rat-tat-tat that reminded me of automatic gunfire.

For me, the most moving part was the women's dance in the last phase of the piece.  It was danced with considerable energy by the company's four female members dressed identically in light blue smocks and head ties.  Having lived through the 1984-1985 miners strike 7 miles from Barnsley I can attest how it was the women who kept the coalfield communities intact - and indeed still do even though the mines are long gone. Having been married to an African for 27 years I was reminded of my sisters in law, strong, fierce women. Just as in the choreography.  It took a lot of courage to be a miner and perhaps, even more, to be married to one. There were always threats of accidents. pneumoconiosis and poverty even when the men were not on strike.  All of that fierceness and passion came through in that dance.

The piece was greeted enthusiastically even in London which never had mining and has now lost its heavy industry.  I think ti will strike a chord when it goes on tour.  It may have been set in South Africa but it will speak to folk here in a way that few other works can.  This is not the first time Ballet Black has moved me. It did so the first time I saw Chris Marney's War Letters at the Bernie Grant Centre and it did again last year with Cathy Marston's Suit.  But I don't think the impact of those ballets was anything like as great or as longlasting as Ingoma.

Because he had created and staged Ingoma we did not see much of November this year. That was a shame because he has the habit of stealing shows as he did with Little Red Riding Hood (see Ballet Black Triumphant 7 March 2017). I have been following him since 2015 when he was with Ballet Central (see Dazzled 3 May 2016).  He appeared in Pendulum, the first ballet of the evening, with Sayaka Ichikawa. With music by Steve Reich this was a revival of a work that Martin Lawrence had created for the company in 2009. The work starts in silence and then a gentle heartbeat cuts in.  It gathers pace until it becomes compelling.  This is a thrilling work amplified by those dancers' vigour.

The middle work was Click! by Scottish Ballet's Sophie Lapllane whom I have long admired. It shows her sense of fun. Jose Alves, Isabela Coracy, Marie Astrid Mence, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas are in primary colours. The piece opens with some dialogue:
"Eddie consulted his therapist because he could not stop clicking his fingers,
The therapist asked Eddie why he thought he was clicking his fingers,
'To keep the tigers away' he replied.
'But Eddie there are no tigers here within 6,000 miles of here.'
'I know' he replied, 'It works pretty good.'"
Ballet Black can make us laugh just as easily as it can make us cry,  This was our chance to laugh before Ingoma.

A sixth star of Click! was David Plater, the company's lighting designer.  I have never mentioned him before and I should have done because he is a genius.  Nowhere did his genius shine more brightly than in Click!  I love that piece and can't wait to see it again.

The company will tour Cambridge, Northampton and Bristol next month before venturing to Cambridge, Derby and Birmingham in May and Edinburgh in June (see Upcoming Performances on its website). It has not announced a date just yet but it usually comes to Leeds in November.   I shall see the company at least a couple more times this year.  This will be a season we shall long remember.