Friday, 23 June 2017

All Hail to the Lone Star Dancer


Texas is often called the "Lone Star State" because of the design of its state flag which harks back to the days when a number of English-speaking settlers adopted a flag that consisted of a single star for an insurrection that resulted in Texas's secession from Mexico in 1836 and its eventual absorption into the United States in 1846. Sadly when it joined the Union it did so as a slave state which prolonged one of the most egregious outrages of human history that ended only after a particularly tragic civil war and was followed by the systematic oppression and marginalization of former victims of that outrage and their descendants that have continued until our own times.

However, that is only part of the picture for that state of nearly 28 million people has contributed much to humanity in the arts, science, technology, government, industry and commerce. One of the more illustrious of those 28 million is the dancer Damien Johnson who celebrated his 10th anniversary with Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse last night. We were alerted to the celebration by the cast sheet that urged the audience to
"celebrate our Senior Artist, Damien Johnson's 10-year anniversary with Ballet Black at the final curtain call after Red Riding Hood." 
We did indeed celebrate with a standing ovation for that fine dancer when the company's founder, Cassa Pancho, entered the stage and presented Damien with a massive bouquet of flowers. It was the first time in over 50 years of ballet going that I have seen such recognition for a premier danseur noble as opposed to a ballerina in this country (though it is often done in Russia and other countries) and, as a feminist, I hope it will not be the last.

Yesterday's performance was memorable for me not just for Damien's celebration or even the company's performance but because Cassa introduced me to Anabelle Lopez Ochoa as we were taking our seats for Little Red Riding Hood.  Annabelle had created that ballet for Ballet Black but she has also choreographed A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet (see Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015), Reversible for Danza Contemporanea de Cuba (see Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at the Lowry 19 Feb 2017) and many other works. Earlier this year, she held a workshop at the Barbican in February which I was actually invited to attend and I was very tempted to do so. Had I been a stronger and more skilful dancer I would have accepted readily but I really did not feel up to the challenge. I am very grateful to David Murley for attending the event and reporting back to us in Red Riding Hood Workshop at the Barbican with Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa and Ballet Black.

As Is often the case, I enjoyed Ballet Black's mixed bill the second time even more than I did when I first saw the show (see Ballet Black Triumphant 7 March 2017). I think that is because I noticed details that I had missed before such as the humour in the show like the mewing of the wolf cubs as they harass Grandma, the swooning of the she-wolves as they encounter the Big Bad Wolf's, BBW's gestures such as the swinging of his pyjama string tail and Grandma's battering of BBW with the flowers that he had just given her, I also appreciated the other two works more, particularly Corder's House of Dreams as his Baiser de la Fée which I had seen in Birmingham the night before was still fresh in my memory (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia 22 June 2017). Indeed, I was going to compare and contrast the two works had it not been for Damien's celebration. I had even toyed with "Cordered" as a headline for today's post.

I look forward to seeing Ballet Black again in November when they will venture out of the Beautiful South for a night in Derby on the 15 and two in Leeds on the 17 and 18 where we shall ply them with Taddy Ales, Bradford naans (not all that different from Yorkshire puddings) and parkin. They won't get any of that in their other venues.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia

Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence in Ruth Brill's Arcadia
Photo Ty Singleton
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company




























Birmingham Royal Ballet Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia, Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 June 2017, 19:30

The strength of the Birmingham Royal Ballet was on display last night with important works from three generations of choreographers:
  • John Cranko's Pineapple Poll from the company's early days;
  • Michael Corder's Le Baiser de la fée from its recent past; and
  • Ruth Brill's Arcadia which may be a glimpse of its future.
The ballets were presented in reverse order.

By any measure, Arcadia is an important ballet and there are two reasons for its importance. 

First, its artistic quality with a powerful score by saxophonist John Harle, striking designs by Atena Ameri, ingenious lighting by Peter Teigen and of course inspired choreography by Ruth Brill beautifully executed by Brandon LawrenceCéline Gittens as the moon goddess Selene, Brooke RayYijing Zhang and Delia Mathews as the nymphs Pitys, Syrinx and Echo and a chorus that consisted of Laura Day, Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami, Miki Mizutani, Anna Monleon, Alexander Bird, Feargus Campbell, Max Maslen, Lachlan Monaghan and Lewis Turner. 

Secondly, its timing. In the programme, Ruth Brill writes:
"The ballet opens as Pan watches over the nymphs Pitys, Syrinx and Echo from the shadows, In Pan's paradise he is worshipped by his subjects, the chorus. As night falls, Pan is left alone. Selene, the beautiful goddess of the moon appears. Through their interaction, Pan is transformed. Selene uplifts him to become both a better man and a better leader. Finally, we see an Arcadia, now harmonious, after Pan learns that to connect with his people he must respect them. The change in Pan is reflected by the emergence of a more loving and united society."
Now what could be apter than those sentiments after a bruising referendum and general election, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the outrages at Finsbury Park, Borough Market, Westminster Bridge and Manchester?

In my preview, Ruth Brill's Arcadia, 16 Dec 2016 I tipped Arcadia as "one of the works to look out for in the coming year".  Having seen Matryoshka two years ago (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe 31 May 2015) I expected Arcadia to be good but my expectations were exceeded greatly. Arcadia was of quite a different order to Matryoshka. In the medieval guilds, the apprentice craftsman proved his readiness to join the masters with a masterpiece and that is exactly what Brill has done with Arcadia. It is no longer appropriate to refer to her as a "promising" or "up and coming" choreographer. With this work, she is undeniably an established choreographer and, in my humble opinion, she is likely to become a great one.

Jenna Roberts  and artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in
Le Baiser de la fée

Photo Bill Cooper
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company




























Michael Corder's Le Baiser de la fée is based on Hans Christian Andersen's Ice Maiden.  I watched this ballet with Gita who had previously seen Ratmansky's version for Miami City Ballet (see Gita Mistry Attending the Ballet in Florida: Miami City Ballet's Program Three 6 March 2017) and I had seen Donald MacLeary's reconstruction of part of Kenneth MacMillan's version with James Hay in Pavlova's sitting room (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 June 2014). The synopsis of Corder's ballet is very much the same as Ratmansky's and he also uses Stravinsky's score. The ballet contains one strong male role (the young man) for Joseph Caley and three strong female ones for the young man's mother (Daria Stanciulescu), his fiancée  (Momoko Hirata) and the fairy who had selected him for her own (Jenna Roberts).

In the interval, I asked Gita which of the two versions of the ballet that she had seen recently she preferred. She replied that she enjoyed them both. Perhaps because this year is the 25th since his death I had driven to Birmingham expecting MacMillan. I found Corder instead but was not in the least disappointed. I am a big fan of Caley, Roberts and Hirata. I loved the sets and costumes. With Sir Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes, David Nixon's The Little Mermaid and Paul Chantry's The Sandman we shall see quite a lot of ballets based on Hans Christian Andersen this year. Last night's performance has whetted my appetite.

Pineapple Poll
Photo Roy Smiljanic
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company

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The evening ended with a favourite work by my all-time favourite choreographer which has a personal as well as balletic significance for me as I explained in Doing the Splits 8 May 2016.  Since writing that preview I have seen the work performed by the company at York which I reviewed in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour 2017 13 May 2017:
"Pineapple Poll with its synopsis based on W S Gilbert's ballad The Bumboat's Woman's Story, Charles Mackerras's arrangement of a selection of Gilbert and Sullivan's favourite tunes and Osbert Lancaster's intricate designs was a wonderful way to round off a wonderful evening. Yesterday it occurred to me that this work may well have inspired Ashton to create Fille and Balanchine to create Union Jack. There is certainly a link in Osbert Lancaster in that he created the designs for both Poll and Fille and the exuberance of Mackerras's arrangement finds resonance in Hershey Kay, Maybe my imagination but why not. Matthias Dingman was the gallant Captain (later Admiral) Belaye. Easy to see why the girls' hearts were aflutter. Laura Day (who had earlier delighted the audience as a playmate in Solitaire) danced his sweetheart Blanche. Laura Purkiss was her interfering aunt, Mrs Dimple, who doubles as Britania at the end. Nao Sakuma danced Blanche's rival, Pineapple Poll. Kit Holder was the hero of the piece rising from pot boy to naval officer and Poll's husband without even having time to remove his apron."
It was almost the same cast and an equally glorious ending to another great evening of ballet last night. I think the only important substitution was Daria Stanciulescu for Lau Purkis as Mrs Dimple. I believe there may have been some extra bits of choreography and a bit more scenery in Birmingham but maybe I just didn't take it all in last time.

After being reassured by Birmingham resident, Sarah Lambert, in a comment to my review of Coppelia that flowers are presented and even cut flowers thrown at the Hippodrome I had expected the stage to be ankle if not knee deep. It was a premiere of an important new work after all.  Yet another flower free reverence. My only disappoinment of the evening.  So here are digital blooms. First a van load of the choicest roses for Ruth Brill for Arcadia. She did get tumultuous applause when she stepped on stage for her curtain call and I was able to catch her in the bar to tell her in person how much I loved her show but I wish I could have given her flowers. Enormous bouquets also to Brill's leading ladies, Gittens, Ray, Zhang and Matthews, to Roberts and Hirata for their performances in Fée and a whole greenhouse full for the delightful Nao Sakuma for being such a spirited, comical and quite enchanting Poll.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

"Mesmerizing!"


Standard YouTube Licence


"Mesmerizing!" Not my adjective but that of Leon London, a member of the audience who watched Giovanni Princic and Melissa Chapski dance at the Natalia Kremen Foundation gala on Sunday night and kindly commented on my preview of that event.  Ernst Meisner's Embers is one of my favourite ballets and if you watch the film you will see why. Short ballets can be as great as full-length ones (viz Fokine's Dying Swan per Wikipedia) and I think this masterpiece by one of the best choreographers I know will become a classic too. The dancers in the film are the ones who danced on Sunday night.

Another work that impressed Leon was the British premiere of a duet from La Scala Ballet's Progetto Handel which was performed for the first time in Milan on 20 May 2017. As you can see from La Scala's website this is a full-length work created by Mauro Bigonzetti to some beautiful music by George Frederick Handel. The website contains a detailed description of the ballet if you click on the "Synopsis" tab.

Leon thought that the gala was "superbly produced" with grand imperial showpieces interspersed with contemporary and some brilliant performances by the students of Natalia Kremen Ballet School.  Having seen some pictures that have been posted to Facebook by Graham Watts, I think one of those grand imperial pieces must have been the pas de deux from The Nutcracker danced by Yorkshire's very own Brandon Lawrence and Delia Mathews of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Leon described the ballet as "a gem" but lamented that it was not fully attended with some 75% of the seats sold.  I feared that might happen which is why I did my best to promote the event on Sunday. Had I learned of it sooner I would have been there for a start and so might a lot of my readers. I only found out about it when I did because I follow Giovanni and Melissa on Facebook and Melissa posted a note about the show to her timeline.  If those in charge of the school ever contemplate a similar gala, I invite them to notify me well in advance so that I can drum up some support. Dance education is very dear to my heart.

Possibly because we are lucky enough to have as our capital one of the world's two ᾁ++ Weldstädte (see the table in Weltstadt in Wikipedia) those who live in that city tend to forget that there is culture outside. As I gently reminded dear, dear Cassa yesterday in Ballet Black's Tour 20 June 2017 conurbations like Greater Manchester, the West Midlands. West Yorkshire, Greater Glasgow, the Bristol-Cardiff corridor and Merseyside are as populous and as economically significant as most of the EU's capitals. Some of the institutions of those city regions, such as the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and the Halle Orchestra, are world class. We travel to London for shows like this one that are worth seeing and causes like Ms Kremen's ballet school that are worth supporting.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Ballet Black's Tour












Last year we were lucky enough to see Ballet Black for two days in Sale, one at the Lowry appropriately on Manchester Day, two days in Leeds and again in Doncaster. They also performed in Glasgow where they were much appreciated.

This year they have a particularly good programme which Joanna and I reviewed very favourably (see Joanna Goodman Sexy wolf stole the show 5 March 2017 and Jane Lambert Ballet Black Triumphant 7 March 2017). David Murley also covered Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa's workshop at the Barbican on 25 Feb 2017.

We shall see very much less of Ballet Black in the North this year. Nothing at all in the North West, a region of over 7 million people and only two days in Leeds on 17 and 18 Nov for the whole of Yorkshire and the North East with a combined population of over 8 million. However, Ballet Black are visiting Oxford, Enfield, Harlow, Canterbury, Watford, Stratford East and Pompey and they started their tour at the Barbican in London.

Save for their visit to the Stanley and Audrey Burton in November, the nearest they come to us will be the Nottingham Playhouse on 22 June 2017 and Derby on 15 Nov 2017. Ballet Black occupies a particularly warm spot in my affection but Heaven know's how I am going to make it to Nottingham on Thursday evening when I shall be at the Birmingham Royal Ballet's press night at the Hippodrome tomorrow and a breakfast meeting at Daresbury near Runcorn at 08:00 on Friday morning.

Ballet Black, you have a lot of fans in the Northern Powerhouse. Do come and see us a little more often.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Sage Dance Company


















Yesterday @SageDanceCo1 started to follow me on Twitter so I looked them up. I found that they are  "a community dance company for people aged 55 years and over" with a mandate continually to "create new work for performance and improve the members’ technique and further their skills through the rehearsal and performing process" which "has led to increased abilities in learning skills and memory capacities as well as maintaining both the health and fitness of the dancers." The company is based in London and has performed at festivals in Barnes and Richmond and various other venues around the capital.

When I joined Northern Ballet's Over 55 class in Leeds, it was one of the few classes for dancers in my age group anywhere n the country (see Realizing a Dream 12 Sept 2013). Now there are loads such as Rambert's Mercury Movers in London, Scottish Ballet's Regenerate in Glasgow and Dance City's in Newcastle, Also, the Royal Academy of Dance plans to roll out its Silver Swans programme throughout the UK and USA.

Class is all very well but ballet is intended for the theatre. There is nothing like a performance in front of a living, breathing and paying audience to get the adrenalin running as I discovered when I stepped on to the stage of the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds for the first time (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014). Timetabling constraints prevent the Northern Ballet from running shows for the Over 55 class but I have been able to perform at the Dancehouse in Manchester (see Show 14 May 2017 and "Show!" The Video 10 June 2017).

Sage Dance Company offers an opportunity for dancers of my age group in London to perform in public at an even higher level.  The company was founded in 2010 by Simon Rice of the Royal Ballet. It is a classical company and the standard appears to be very high. According to the company's home page there are in the repertoire:
"three classical works: a thirteen minute work to the music of Brahms, a sixteen minute work to Telemann and a twenty minute work to the music of Schumann, all choreographed by Simon Rice. Additionally they perform a ten minute Merce Cunningham style work choreographed by former Cunningham dancer Fionuala Power."
Richard Taylor made a delightful film about this company on YouTube which covers their classes, rehearsals and drinks in the pub afterwards. Just look at the expressions on the dancers' faces. Just like us in Leeds. Dance is a wonderful thing is it not.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Giovanni and Melissa to dance van Manen's Trois Gnossiennes

Melissa Chapski and Giovanni Princic
Photo Michel Schnater
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet, All rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by kind permission of the company



















I have just found out that the piece that Giovanni Princic and Melissa Chapski will dance at the Cadogan Hall tonight is Hans van Manen's Trois Gnosiennes (see Natalia Kremen Ballet Foundation Gala "I Have a Dream" 18 June 2017). They danced that work in Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart Theatre in Amsterdam on 14 Feb 2016 which I reviewed on 8 March 2016 in Trois Gnossiennes.  This is what I wrote in 2016:

"No performance by the Junior Company would be complete without a work by van Manen. In previous years the great man has come on stage to take a bow and the applause has exploded. Trois Gnossiennes with music by Erik Satie is of particular interest to British balletomanes because of its similarity to Ashton's Monotones. The music is sublime and so is van Manen's choreography executed sensitively by Chapski and Princic."
Since I found out about tonight's show in the early hours of this morning I have been consulting railway timetables to London but Sunday is the worst day of the week for a quick dash to London. I am trying to clear my desk in order to fly out to Amsterdam for Cristiano Principato's New Moves next week (see Principato moves to a Bigger Stage 30 May 2017).

For those who can make tonight's show, Princic and Chapski are two of the most promising young dancers I have ever seen. Van Manen is one of the world's greatest choreographers.  You are in for a treat.

Natalia Kremen Ballet Foundation Gala "I Have a Dream"

Giovanni Princic in Ballet 101
Photo Michel Schnater
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet
All rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company




















In you are in, or can get to. London this evening, you may wish to see two fine young dancers. Giovanni Princic and Melissa Chapski of the Dutch National Ballet. They are taking part in the Natalia Kremen Ballet Foundation Gala, I Have a Dream at the Cadogan Hall at 19:00 this evening. I am a big fan of Giovanni and Melissa. I know it is short notice but I have only just learned about this gala from Facebook.  Had I known of it sooner I would have contrived to be there or would have arranged for someone to attend and review the show for this blog at the very least.

I googled "Natalia", "Kremen", "Ballet" and "Foundation" and found this page on the NK Ballet School website.  The author, whom I assume to be Ms Kremen, writes:
"NK Foundation is a non-profit organisation that provides financial support to ballet students of exceptional talent but limited means. 
The principal goals of NK Foundation are:
  •  to assist children and young peopled with a talent for classical ballet and dance in their technical, artistic and creative development in the UK and abroad;
  • to preserve and develop cultural values and traditions of classical ballet, including through providing financial support to students with a potential for excelling in this art form.
Our scholarships and bursaries give students a chance to attend ballet classes as well as to perform in stage productions, participate in examinations, attend numerous ballet events organised by Natalia Kremen Ballet School (NKBS) and cover expenses for ballet uniforms and equipment."
The website lists the trustees one of whom is Ms Kremen who danced with the English National Ballet after several years with the Stanislavsky Ballet in Moscow while another describes herself as the co-founder of BalletCo Forum.

Giovanni and Melissa will appear with two more of my other favourite dancers, Brandon Lawrence from Bradford and Delia Mathews of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Other performers include Kristina KretovaMarianna Ryzhkina and  Andrei Merkuriev from the Bolshoi and Igor Kolb and Andrei Batalov of the Mariinsky and there will also be artists from the Vienna State Ballet, the Berlin City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, La Scala and  Kyiv Modern Ballet.

Ticket prices range from £15 to £70. If you think £70 is a bit steep for a Sunday night performance in a concert hall, please remember that the object of the exercise is to raise money to enable talented kids of limited means to learn ballet.

I wish Giovanni, Melissa, Brandon, Delia and all the other artists toi-toi and chookas for this evening. I also wish Ms Kremen and her staff and students well with their school and foundation. If anyone who attends tonight's show would like to review it for me, I shall be pleased to consider his or her review for publication.