Sunday, 11 August 2019


Hermann Vogel "Death of Spartacus"

Bolshoi Ballet Spartacus  10 Aug 2019 14:00 Royal Opera House

Ever since I saw a streaming of the ballet from Moscow nearly 6 years ago  I have longed to see it on stage. I have had a long wait because few if any Western companies seem to perform the work and certainly no British ones.  This year, however, the Bolshoi included Spartacus in its London season so I traipsed down to London yesterday to see it.   The ticket in the centre of row G of the stalls wasn't cheap. Neither was the rail fare. The rail network was all over the place as a result of the high winds and the aftermath of Friday's power outage. Nevertheless, I can think of no better use of my time or a better way to spend my money.  I have been going to the ballet for nearly 60 years and see about 50 shows a year.  Rarely have I been more excited by a performance than I was yesterday by the Bolshoi's performance of Spartacus,

As I summarized the plot and discussed the background to the ballet in Spartacus - Streamed Direct to Wakefield 21 Oct 2013, I need not repeat them here. There is, in any case, a full synopsis on the Bolshoi's website and even a video of a performance of the whole ballet adapted for the screen featuring the incoming director of Birmingham Royal Ballet on YouTube.  The show that I saw yesterday featured Igor Tsvirko and Ruslan Skvortsov as Spartacus and Crassus and Margarita Shrayner and Ekaterina Krysanova as Phrygia and Aegina. 

I had already seen Tsvirko on screen in the peasant pas de deux in Giselle (see The Bolshoi does the Business - Giselle streamed from Moscow 12 Oct 2015), the jester in Swan Lake  (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Bradford 25 Jan 2015), Count Pepinelli in Marco Spada (see Marco Spada Streamed from Moscow 31 March 2014) and the jester in A Legend of Love (see The Bolshoi's "A Legend of Love" streamed from Moscow 27 Oct 2014).  Magnificent though he was on screen he is so much more impressive in person.  His strength and endurance are amazing,  Spartacus is a long ballet and he is on stage for most of the show.  There were frequent bursts of applause as he demonstrated that strength such as hoisting Shrayner into the air with one hand as though she were a feather.

The last time the Bolshoi came to London I saw Skvortsov dance Siegfried in Swan Lake  (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016).  Although I thought that the Bolshoi has better shows and other companies have better Swan Lakes I enjoyed Skvortsov's performance very much.  I listed Skvortsov as one of the outstanding male dancers of 2016. I had also noticed him in the screenings of A Hero of Our Time, The Bright Stream and The Golden AgeIntensely good looking, his was the first face that appears on stage from the centre of a testudo stamping his feet and brandishing a fasces. Another dancer of prodigious strength and agility.

I cannot recall watching Shrayner dance before but she is beautiful. She has a face that communicates emotion like few others.  One of my friends who knows Spartacus well described it as a man's ballet. That is true because both the gladiators and legionnaires as well as the leading artists perform spectacular feats of endurance attracting ripples of applause throughout the show. But it is also a ballet about two strong women and Phrygia's role is by far the more dignified and graceful,  The one bit of the ballet that the British public knows well is the theme from the Onedin Line largely because the show was never off our TV screens when I was young. That is, of course, Phrygia's solo and pas de deux with Spartacus and I could not help rooting for a tissue as she danced that piece.

I was already a big fan of Krysanova before yesterday's matinee.  I loved her performance as Kathrona in Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew which is now one of my all-time favourite ballets (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016).  She was a great Kitri in Don Quixote which I saw on screen in April 2016.  Katharina and Kitri are heroines but Aegina is very different.  There is a telling scene immediately after the legions goosestep off to slay the slaves when Aegina appears goosestepping like the soldiers.  She had just lifted the defeated Crassus out of his despair after losing his fight with Spartacus, given him back his sword and filled him with a desire for vengeance.  I admire her all the more for that.

When you watch a show from the amphitheatre as I did when I was a Young Friend the auditorium seems cavernous.  When you sit a few rows from the orchestra the House is intimate.  You feel the audience around you.  When an audience fires up as it did yesterday there can be no experience in the theatre more thrilling.  Yesterday, the audience was boiling.  That brought out the best in the artists - the musicians under Pavel Klinichev as well as the dancers.  It was a performance that I think I shall remember for the rest of my life.

PS  I said that I was no British company had ever performed Spartacus but Sarah Lambert has sent me this footage of a rehearsal by Jenna Roberts & Iain Mackay of Birmingham Royal Ballet which suggests that I may be wrong.   At least bits of it appear to have been performed in Symphony Hall and Northampton.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

In Mist and Rain

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Arts of China In Mist and Rain 8 Aug 2019 19:30 Manchester Central Exchange Auditorium

Yesterday I was one of the guests at the premiere of In Mist and Rain, a remarkable collaboration between Chinese finest artists and talented young dancers working in the United Kingdom. One of those talented local dancers was Bo Zhang who danced in the premiere of Powerhouse Ballet's Aria at The Dancehouse on 4 May 2019.  It was she who kindly invited me to that performance

In Mist and Rain was inspired by a poem of Su Shi who lived from 1037 to 1131.  From the little I have been able to find out from my researches for this review, Su Shi is one of the greats of Chinese literature, but he seems to have been much more than a poet. Wikipedia describes him as Minister of Rites, poet, essayist, painter, calligrapher and statesman. The translation of the poem in our programme notes was "Calming the Wave". I believe that the original was 定風波 and, if I am right, I have found a delightful translation by Alice Poon in The Monday Poem > "Calming Wind and Wave" by Su Shi (a Song poet) - Oct. 6, 2014. It puts me in mind of Horace's Solvitur acris hiems.

The work was created by Leon to music by Zhao Nan and Sun Ye, One of those composers was in the theatre for questions and answers after the show. He explained that he had written Autumn and Winter while his collaborator had composed Spring and Summer. Though firmly anchored in Chinese classical tradition they had used Western classical idioms and some Western instruments as well as Chinese ones with the result that it was pleasing to my occidental ear at least.

 Much the same was true of the choreography which started with a figure proceeding across the stage while another was struggling with a burden. There were some bits such as a duet between the leading lady and the male lead that could have been in a ballet.  There were other scenes where members of the corps (for want of a better word) seemed to take a few steps and retire. I was mindful that this was an art form that had existed much longer in China than ballet had existed in the West and that I was absorbing it only at the most superficial level.

Of course, sets, costumes and lighting and the production as a theatrical experience can be appreciated even by those who are new to Chinese dance and I did.  The set was plain with a single tree illuminated obliquely.  The lighting throughout the show was restrained but not to the point that the dancers were obscure. The costumes were gorgeous as were some of the props like a red parasol with ribbons below which the male and female lead progressed.  "A bride and bridegroom, perhaps?" I thought.

This was a great theatrical experience and I congratulate everyone who took part.  In particular, I single out Susie Lu who founded Arts of China and produced In Mist and Rain.

On the "About Us" page of its website, Arts of China describes itself as a world-class company that combines education with entertainment.  Classes in Chinese dance are available at The Dancehouse in Manchester and I have often commended the students' performances in my reviews of MoveIt. The company will perform In Mist and Rain at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre between 13:00 and 14:00 on Saturday, 10 Aug.  If you can get to Edinburgh this afternoon, you will be rewarded with a splendid spectacle.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Central School of Ballet's Summer Performance

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Central School of Ballet Summer Performance 18 July 2019, 19:30 Bloomsbury Theatre & Studio

Central School of Ballet has trained some excellent dancers.  They include Sarah Kundi who stole the show as far as I was concerned with her hilarious performance as Cinderella's stepmother in the Albert Hall (see Cinders in the Round 13 June 2019).  Hannah Bateman was at Central too.  She is my favourite at Northern Ballet.  So, too, was Rachael Gillespie whom I also admire greatly.  The School trained Kenneth Tindall whom I described as "a many sided genius", and, of course, its current artistic director, Christopher Marney, who is my favourite living British choreographer.  Central was founded by Christopher Gable whom I first saw as Romeo with Lynn Seymour ar Covent Garden.  I saw him again many years later in A Simple Man and it was that performance that attracted me to Northern Ballet as it is now called.  His term as artistic director was that company's golden age.

Yesterday, I got a chance to see some of those who will follow in the footsteps of those great names in Central School of Ballet's Summer PerformanceThat is not the same as the annual tour that the performing company, Ballet Central, make each spring and summer.  The Summer Performance offers a chance to see the first and second-year students as well as those in the third year.  Though there is some overlap, the programmes are different.  Ballet Central visits about 20 theatres up and down the country between March and July,  The Summer Performance takes place only at the Bloomsbury Theatre & Studio on the 18 and 19 July.

Heidi Hall, the Director, opened the show with a talk about the School and the performance.  She reported that the £9 million appeal had been successful and that the School hoped to move into its new premises after Christmas.  Funds were still needed, she reminded us, and she invited everyone in the audience to join its "Friends" scheme.  She promised a great show and that was exactly what her young artists, the choreographers, staff and technicians delivered.

The show consisted of seven works divided into two acts:
  • Jenna Lee's Rock 'n' Roll  
  • Calvin Richardson's Dying Swan
  • Louse Bennett's Twin Figures
  • Sandrine Monin's Hidden
  • Thiago Soares's Vossa Sinfonia
  • Leanne King's All in Four, and
  • Christopher Marney's Carousel Dancers.
I liked all of the works, particularly Lee's Rock 'n' Roll, Richardson's Dying Swam, Monin's Hidden, Soares's Vossa Sinfonia, King's All in Four and Marney's Carousel Dances most of all.

I became a fan of Lee when I saw her ballroom scene from Romeo and Juliet in 2017 (see Triumphant 1 May 2017) and my admiration of her work grew still more when I saw Black Swan at Stratford last year (see Half a Show is Better than None 16 July 2018). I enjoyed her Rock 'n' Roll best of all.  Set in a 1950s US diner or maybe a high school hop, the girls wore the most gorgeous full-skirted dresses with yards of tulle petticoats while the boys wore white tops and black bottoms.  The action revolved around a jukebox that played the fifties pop of my childhood.  It was fun to watch a turns on pointe to Little Richard.  I hope and suspect that it was fun to do those turns.

Next came Richardson's Dying Swan danced by Joseph Beretta.  Like Michel Decombey's which was danced elegantly by Javier Torres in Northern Ballet's 45th-anniversary gala (see Sapphire 15 March 2015), this was a solo for a male. Pavlova died nearly 20 years before I was born so I never saw her dance Fokine's work but my mother did when she was 3 years old and it made such an impression on her that she could describe every detail of the choreography up to the day she died (see In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic 18 Sep 2013).  I have seen it performed twice by a modern ballerina - once by Elena Glurdjidze in the Gala for Ghana and a few years earlier by Marianela Nuñez of which I have no recollection at all.  Though I like Decombey's work as performed by Torres, Richardson's work was closer in spirit to Fokine. He took no liberties with the score.  Had Fokine created a version for a man I think it would have been like Richardson's.

Twin Figures by Louise Bennett was set to Boreslav Martinu's concerto for piano and cello.  A very energetic work, it offered plenty of opportunities to the first-year students to demonstrate their virtuosity. Some 20 dancers took part.  Clad in blue and green the effect was quite mesmeric.  It was a good piece to take us through to the interview.  At that point I tweeted:
I dubbed Sandrine Monin as "Leeds's own" because I first got to know her work through Phoenix Dance Theatre for whom she created Calyx from Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal in 2018.  Deep currents ran through Calyx as they did for Hidden which she created for the second years.  Figures move about the stage their heads slightly bowed as though they were automatons.  I got the impression that the work was inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis because that was the feel of the piece and the narrative that was communicated to me - but I could well be wildly wrong.  The music which was contributed by Rusconi and Martinu added to the sense of mechanistic desolation.  A very thoughtful piece that needs to be seen again and probably more than twice.

Thiago Soares's Vossa Sinfonia was delightful.  It started with Beethoven, continued with Ernesto Nazareth, then Heitor Villa Lobos and Noel Rosa and finally back to Beethoven.  Its juxtaposition of Beethoven with recent composers reminded me a little of Arthur Pita's Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream.  The piece was the nearest we got to a classical work and in that regard, it would have done credit to Balanchine.

Leanne King's All in Four for the first years was a joyous work.  The girls were barefoot.  They wore long flowing skirts their hair in ponytails. They danced to Monteverdi's Beatus Vir (which I think means "blessed man" rather than "blessed be" as stated in the programme) arranged by Philip Feeney.  Feeny actually played the piano accompaniments with a keyboard and took a bow at the end. As a work of dance, it was my favourite of the evening.

Ballet is, of course, more than just dance.  It combines dance with drama, music, costumes, sets and more.  It grabs all the senses. That is why I described Carousel Dances as the piece de resistance in my tweets.  I saw several dancers who I think will go far.  The man who played the male lead, the female lead and the mistress of ceremonies to note just three.  There were plenty of circus thrills such as snake charmers, men crashing through hoops and acrobatics all forming the background to a romance.  Choreographed to tunes by Rogers and Hammerstein that we all know, it was the perfect end to a great show.

There will be one more performance tonight at 19:30.  If you are anywhere near Bloomsbury tonight and there are any tickets to spare go see this show.  It is one of the highlights of my year so far.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Dancers of Tomorrow

Dutch National Ballet Academy and the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company Dansers van Morgen Theatre of the Dutch National Opera and Ballet, 9 July 2019, 20:00

On 13 Sept 2018 Ernst Meisner was appointed artistic director of the Dutch National Ballet Academy (see Ernst Meisner appointed as interim artistic director of the Dutch National Ballet Academy and René Vlemmix as business manager 13 Sept 2013 Amsterdam University of the Arts).  He combined that appointment with his existing role as artistic coordinator of the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company. I featured Meisner and the Junior Company in Ernst Meisner’s Work with the Dutch National Ballet on 2 Dec 2014.  On Tuesday 9 July 2019, Meisner's students from the academy and his artists from the Junior Company united to perform Dansers van Morgen (Dancers of Tomorrow)

The performance took place in the principal auditorium of the Dutch National Ballet with the company's own orchestra under the direction of Matthew Rowe, its director of music. Seven works were presented:
  • Part of Paquita by Marius Petipa
  • Together(E) by Wubkje Kuindersma
  • Part of Wayne McGregor's Atomos
  • Revelry by Ernst Meisner
  • Made in Holland by Didy Veldman
  • Ode aan Fred by Iva Lešić, and
  • Bolero by Gregor Seyffert and Larisa Dobrozhan.
I enjoyed all of those pieces, particularly Revelry. Ode aan Fred ("Ode to Fred") and Bolero.

If I understood the programme notes correctly, Meisner created Revelry for the 2017 gala for which I had been unable to get a ticket.  Set to Lowel Liebermann's composition of the same name  An infectiously exuberant work it is perfect for dance and particularly well suited for the individual personalities of the members of the Junior Company.  Guests arrive at a party and throw themselves into the celebration with gusto.  Clearly, they have a good time.  So much so that when the music ends the audience see each and every one of them prostrate on the floor.  This was the first time that I had seen Revelry but it is already one of my favourites.  It is a work that they could easily have taken to London last week and I am sure the audience would have loved it.

I am guessing that "aan" means "to" in Dutch.   When I saw Ode aan Fred  I thought this would be an ode to Ashton and that we would see lots of developpés, arabesques, pas de bouré and pas de chat.  In fact, this Fred was a well-loved instructor at the National Ballet Academy.  The music started with what sounded to me like didgeridoos and I wondered whether Fred Berlips was an Australian. On consulting the programme notes I found that the opening had been Andrea Geraks Jews Harp Music and that there was also music by Goran Bregovic. I understand from friends who know him that Berlips specialized in teaching younger students.  He was invited onto the stage for the curtain call and auditorium exploded in applause.  Meisner came on stage and made a short speech.  Berlips was presented with an enormous bouquet.  The affection for the man was palpable.

The last work was set to Ravel's Bolero and was quite different from Maurice Béjart's which I had seen at the Coli or the Wells many years ago. It began with a spotlit single dancer but in this version, it was a young woman on the floor.  The arc widened to reveal more women on the floor and then more. As the music gathered pace so did the dancers.  The stage cleared and another group of dancers performing ever more energetically than the last.   As the music reached its conclusion the stage erupted in colour and movement.   It was the perfect way to end a perfect evening,

The show started with Paquita cannot be the easiest work for students. It includes a pas de deux which requires a lot of lifting, some spectacular jumps and turns and 32 fouettés which seem to be at least as difficult as Kitri's in Don Quixote or Odile's in Swan Lake.  There were several difficult solo bits for both men and women as well as work for the corps.  In the absence of a cast list, I cannot identify the dancers otherwise than by the colours of their costumes but I have to commend Yellow for her jumps.  White, of course, was also impressive.

Set to Anthony Fiumara's haunting Aerial for piano and orchestra, Together(E) featured the academy's younger students.  The music reminds me of waves breaking on a beach and that was reflected in the precise movements of the students,   With its bar of red light and almost sculpted dancers, the hand of Wayne McGregor was unmistakable.   Another difficult piece which was executed well by the students.
Having seen Sense of Time in [Un]leasted just a few days earlier I was curious to see more.  Set to Simeon ten Holt's Canto Ostinato which is another work for a single pianist Made in Holland was a beautifully crafted work.

Meisner appeared on stage immediately after Paquita with the academy's business manager.  As his speech was in Dutch (a language I have never formally studied) I did not pick up every word but he explained that he was the artistic director and described the works that were to follow. He said that several of the pieces had been written especially for last Tuesday's show, that the programme included one of his own works and that Wayne McGregor and Didy Veidman had contributed works for the performance.  He also introduced the National Ballet's Orchestra and its illustrious conductor.  The manager mentioned the need for funding and tight management, He and Meisner had worked well together and he looked forward to their future collaboration.

I have made it my business to see student shows ever since 2007 when I saw Xander Parish and his sister Demelza and his sister steal a gala that included Marianela Nuñez and Samara Downs (see Charles Hutchinson Review: A Summer Gala of Dance and Song, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday 31 July 2007).  I have seen many great shows in that time but I think last Tuesday's was in a class of its own.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Welcome Back! Junior Company returns to the Linbury

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Dutch National Ballet Junior Company Young Talent Festival Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House 5 July 2019, 19:45

Last night I dashed down to London to welcome the Dutch National Ballet, Junior Company back to the UK. I have been following them since 24 Nov 2013 when I first saw them at the Stadsshouwburg in Amsterdam.  They visited London for the first time in 2014 (see And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden 30 May 2014) and again in 2015 (see Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015). Since then the Linbury has been closed for refurbishment.  Last night they returned as part of the Royal Ballet's Young Talent Festival.

I went to Amsterdam in 2013 to see Michaela DePrince whom I had first mentioned in April 2013 - several months before she joined the Junior Company,  I saw her at the Stasshouwberg and was impressed:
"I had come to Amsterdam to see Michaela dePrince about whom I have written a lot. She appeared as Diana in Diana & Actaeon a ballet originally choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova for the Kirov in 1935. Soviet ballet was athletic and spectacular requiring enormous virtuosity. I had seen something of dePrince's virtuosity in her YouTube videos but she is even more impressive in real life. She is quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while."
But I was also impressed by the other 11 dancers. I have followed their careers and those of their successors ever since. I have seen many performances by several cohorts of the Junior Company but I don't think I have ever seen the Junior Company dance better than they did last night. 

More satisfyingly, the audience loved them. London sees a lot of dance - possibly more than any city in the world with the possible exception of New York - and balletomanes in our national capital do not easily rise to their feet for anything. I have always stood up for the Junior Company but in London, I have often been the only one. Yesterday I was joined by others and there was certainly a lot of noise even from those who had remained seated.

The programme started with Ernst Meisner's No Time Before Time.  That is one of my favourite ballets from one of my favourite choreographers of all time. Meisner's work touches my emotions in a way that only one other work has ever done.  When I see Embers, for example, my eyes begin to water, I start to sniffle, my body begins to tremble. I deploy every single sinew to control myself.  Only Fokine's Dying Swan has the same effect on me and that is at least partly because of its association with Pavlova.  No Time before Time is exuberant and makes me want to join the dancers on stage. It has a beautiful score by Alexander Balanescu that echoed tin my brain all the way back home to Yorkshire. Lasr night's cast interpreted it differently from those who danced it at Lausanne and the Meervaart in 2016. Perhaps more sensitively and delicately but equally delightfully. 

The next work was Charlotte Edmonds's Fuse which I had also seen at the Meervaart in 2016.  Set to Armand Amar's Dam in China and Paddy Fields it begins with three dancers who appear to be bound to each other with their bonds behind their back. As the music changes from vocals to percussion the dancers appear to break free.  In a short speech before the show, Ernst Meisner explained that the idea for Fuse had originated on the Linbury stage the last time the Junior Company had visited London.  They had been so impressed with Edmonds's work that the company had invited her to create a work for the Junior Company in Amsterdam.  In a short video which was shown before the piece was performed Edmonds reflected on the encounter between different cultures, interests and traditions. "Fuse" in this context appears to mean the result of mixing rather than the ignition of explosive (though it could also have meant that). The first time that I saw that ballet, I wrote:  "This was the first time I had seen Edmonds's work and I look forward to more." Since then I have seen more at Northern Ballet's Tell Tale Steps 2 and I look forward to her work with Ballet Cymru.

Daniela Cardim's Cardim's What got you here was the only work that I had not seen before.  It was a thought provoking piece but one that was not entirely bereft of humour.  There was a commentary which started with a celebration of the genetic accident that each individual represents but continued with the chilling thought that well over 99% of all life forms  that have ever existed are now extinct. There was an exchange of finger pointing that seemed to result in a realization that any responsibility for such mass-extinctions is pretty widely shared. There was the interesting discussion of the circularity of time and movement. If a traveller started in a straight line to travel to the end of the universe he would eventually return to his starting point.  More disturbing was considering what would happen if we knew the world would be destroyed within 4 years by the explosion of a neighbouring star,  Would farmers bother to plant crops or deliver them to stores?  The work ended dramatically with the dancers pointing accusingly at the audience before retracting their fingers and directing them to themselves.

An interval followed Cardim's work in which members of the audience were equipped with tiny red and green torches for Juanjo Arques's Fingers in the Air.   That was a work I had seen at the company's fifth anniversary show on 15 April 2018 (see  "In the Future" - Junior Company's Fifth Anniversary Performance 17 April 2018).  This time the commentary was in English. The audience was asked to vote on whether the men or women should dance, whether we wanted to see solos or duets and whether we wanted the dancers to perform with or without lights.   It did not matter because at the end we were shown what we had been missing but the audience voted for the women, duets and lights. The site of the whole company dressed in the same black leotards was compelling.  Arques was in the audience. I greeted him just before his piece started. It happened to be his birthday, What a way to celebrate!

The last work was Hans van Manen's In the Future.  I had seen that work in the fifth anniversary show and also at last September's gala.  Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, two new movements were added to In the Future.   According to the programme notes, these were Winter and The Sound of Business which were part of David Byrne's Music for the Knee Plays album.  I enjoyed Winter and the Sound of Business but I would have preferred to see them as separate pieces. Each of those works is a complete work itself in words and music as well as dance.  It was, however, a spectacular way to end a very successful evening and a triumphant return to London.

The Junior Company will perform again tonight at 19:45. I do not know whether tickets are still on sale at the box office but if they are and you can reach the House in time I strongly recommend this show,

Monday, 1 July 2019


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Birmingham Royal Baller [Un]leashed (Lyric Pieces, Sense of Time and Peter and the Wolf) Sadler's Wells, 25 June 2019, 19:30

I enjoyed Peter and the Wolf so much when I saw it in Shrewsbury on 18 May 2019 that I booked to see it again in London on 25 June 2019. Sadly, that performance clashed with the transmission of Nothern Ballet's Victoria which I believe to have been the first time that Northern Ballet had streamed its output to cinemas.  Although I always prefer stage to screen, the big advantage of HDTV is that offers close-ups of the artists, their costumes and the sets. Having seen the show in Leeds and Leicester several curiosities on my part could have been satisfied.

Returning to Peter and the Wolf, it appeared at the end of a triple bill with Jessica Lang's Lyric Pieces and Didy Veldman's Sense of Time.   The title of the show was [Un]leashed and I wondered why.   I considered whether it was something to do with the wolf.  It would explain the letters in square brackets for the animal had been leashed in the sense that it was lassoed by Peter and led off to the zoo. The nearest I got to an explanation in the programme notes was in the welcome from David Bintley. He wrote that "[Un]leashed epitomises Birmingham Royal Ballet's enthusiasm for and commitment to new work."  I have to say that it had never previously occurred to me that the Birmingham Royal Ballet's artists had been constrained in any way.  With Brill, Holder and Day to name just three, the BRB has always struck me as a prodigiously creative company.

Lyric Pieces is the second of Lang's pieces that I have seen.   In 2016 she contributed Wink based on Shakespeare's 43rd sonnet to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death (see Birmingham Royal Ballet brings Shakespeare to York 18 May 2016).  The piece consists of 10 dances set to selected short solo piano compositions by Edward Grieg.  With titles like Elves Dance, Peasants Song, Norwegian Melody and March of the Trolls they are clearly connected with Norwegian folklore. The dancers' space is defined or in some cases marked by expandable or contractable black kraft paper. They constructed fan-like props for themselves.  I enjoyed all of the pieces, particularly Phantom, a duet by Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence, and March of the Trolls by Maureya Lebowitz, Yvette Knight, Yijing Zhang, James Barton and Max Maslen.

Didy Veldman's Sense of Time explores our relationship with time.  Possibly because busses, trains and aeroplanes run to timetables the central feature of this piece is a pile of suitcases some of which fall away. Others are removed to reveal cosy boltholes through which artists climb.  The piece is not just about the dominance of time.  It is also about time as a resource and how we sometimes squander it.  In one scene the dancers appear to squint at mobile phones.  The score was composed by Gabriel Prokofiev who also created the music for Shobana Jeyasingh's La Bayadere - The Ninth LifeThere is a sort of connection with Peter and the Wolf as Gabriel Prokofiev is Sergei Prokofiev's grandson. The music combines the sort of melodies the grandfather could have written with strident electronic sounds.  Gittens, Lawrence, Zhang and Knight were in Sense of Time together with Tyrone Singleton, Delia Matthews, Gabriel Anderson, Edivaldo Souza da Silva, Yaogiang Shang, Lachlan Monaghan, Beatrice Parma and Aitor Galende.

Even though I liked Lyric Pieces and Sense of Time very much, the highlight for me was Peter and the Wolf. The cast was the same as it had been in Shrewsbury except that Brooke Ray was able to dance the duck. Laura Day danced Peter as charmingly as she did in Theatre Severn, Matthias Dingman the wold, Tzu-Chao Chou the bird, Samara Downs the cat, James Barton the grandfather and Tori Forsyth-Hacken, Alys Shee and Eilis Small the hunters.  As I forecast in my review of their performance in Shrewsbury, the audience at Sadler's Wells loved Peter and the Wolf.  I don't think that they danced any better in London than they did in Shrewsbury but a London audience somehow lifts a show. I think that is because a show is a sort of conversation.  An audience that sees a lot of dance appreciates a good show and responds accordingly.  That, in turn, is picked up by the cast who shine even more. It was a great atmosphere and it was lovely to see the choreographer acknowledging our applause at the reverence.

Peter and the Wolf have more performances in Plymouth in October and children will be introduced to that ballet with a special hour-long, interactive show, called First Steps: Peter and the Wolf.  I hope that they will bring it to the Lowry or some other Northern theatre one day.  Sadly, we have to wait until March to see them again but as they will bring us their Swan Lake it will be worth the wait.  Two shows that I shall try to catch in Birmingham will be Giselle and The Nutcracker.   I also recommend The Nutcracker in the Albert Hall.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? Or Juliet for that Matter?

Richard Burbage, an Early Romeo
Author Unknown
Source Wikipedia Romeo and Juliet

New Adventures Romeo and Juliet The Lowry, 15 June 2019, 19:30

As I hate to dis a show in which a lot of resources have been invested and in which brilliant young artists have danced their hearts out, let's start with the positives. There was some dazzling dancing, particularly by Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite in the title roles and Daisy May Kemp as the Rev Bernadette Lawrence, the Verona Institute's chaplain. There was some very clever choreography for the inmates. I particularly liked the exercise in which the dancers did everything they could with a chair except sit on it. There were some brilliant designs by Lez Brotherston as always. It was a very slick and polished production that almost everyone in the audience rewarded with a standing ovation.

I was not one of them.  I remained firmly in my seat.  The show was good in many ways but not that good. Certainly not in comparison to some of the recent performances in that auditorium by Phoenix Dance Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet, Or, indeed, other works by Sir Matthew Bourne such as Red Shoes, Highland Fling and The Car Men. "What was wrong with it, exactly?" asked my friend who had spent the evening at the Bridgewater Hall listening to the BBC Philharmonic playing a new work by Mark Simpson as well as Mozart and Mahler.  I replied that it was shorn of just about everything that makes Shakespeare's play and almost every other version of the ballet so gripping.

It was set not in Verona, Italy, but in some gruesome psychiatric hospital called the Verona Institue,  There were no Montagues and Capulets or even Reds and Fascists as in Krzysztof Pastor's version, Just clipboard-wielding medics and brutal armed guards one of whom was called Tybalt,  Romeo was not a scion of one of the leading families but a disturbed young man who was ambushed by the inmates, debagged and clad in hospital whites as his loveless parents took their leave of him.  Juliet was also disturbed and apparently abused by Tybalt.  The couple met at an inmates' ball where most of the patients danced as woodenly as the dolls in Coppelia.  Romeo and Juliet's duets were different.  Their dances, particularly the last passionate one just before Juliet knifed herself, were the bits of the performance that I enjoyed the most.  There were no sword fights.  Just a shot from a drunken Tybalt and his strangling by the inmates for which Romeo allowed himself to take the rap. There was no grief-stricken Lady Capulet. No attempted forced marriage. No drug inducing a catatonic state. No final encounter with Paris. No suicide by knife or poison in the Capulet family tomb.

Now I am all for restaging a ballet in modern dress if it can be done well as Darius James and Amy Doughty did with Ballet Cymru's Romeo a Juliet, Ted Brandsen with Coppelia and indeed Sir Matthew with his re-imaginings of La Sylphide and Cinderella but change for change's sake as in Nixon's Swan Lake or Akram Khan's Giselle is pointless.  There is nothing wrong with creating a new work to a well-known score as Jean-Guy Saintus did with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring or, indeed, as Milena Siderova did with the Dance of the Knights in her pillow dance for Bart Engelen. This was not so much a restaging of a gripping, complex work as a degutting.

Now I am a blogger, not a critic.  I keep this blog to remind me of shows that gave me joy.  If I can't say anything nice I say nothing at all.  If I really hated this work I would have kept it to myself.  There were things to admire which is why I started with the positives. It is just that I think Sir Matthew has done better and I have certainly seen better versions of Romeo and Juliet, not least Ballet Cymru's which is in Bracknell today. 

Don't let me put you off New Adventures's version.  Everyone else in The Lowry seemed to think it was outstanding. It is coming to Cardiff this week, London in August, Norwich, Birmingham, Canterbury and Southampton in September and Nottingham and Newcastle in October.  See it for yourselves and make your own minds up about it.  As I say, I am a  dance fan not a critic and my only qualification to cast an opinion is that I have seen an awful lot of dance in my 60 years or so of fairly regular theatre-going.