Thursday, 8 October 2015

More from World Ballet Day - Akram Khan's Dust

Footage from World Ballet Day, English National Ballet's rehearsal of Akram Khan's Dust, Embedded under YouTube standard licence

Having been bowled over by Kaash on Tuesday night (see Akram Khan's Kaash - contemporary meets Indian classical 7 Oct 2015) I am keen to see more of Akram Khan's work. I shall get my chance when English National Ballet perform Dust as part of Lest We Forget triple bill in Manchester on 24 Nov 2015. I got a taster of the work this morning when I watched the above clip from World Ballet Day. The dancers are Erina Takahashi and James Streeter.

It will be interesting to compare Lest We Forget with the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Dear Horizon by Andrew Simmons and Paschendale by Neil Ieremia which also commemorate the First World War. These will be performed in Leeds as part of  The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud programme on 3 and 4 Nov 2015,

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Akram Khan's Kaash - contemporary meets Indian classical

Akram Khan Company, Kaash, The Lowry, 6 Oct 2015

Watching the Akram Khan Company's Kaash is one of the most exhilarating theatrical experiences I know. Its dancers can contort their bodies into almost unimaginable shapes and they can move around the stage like bats out of hell.  For 50 minutes I was totally absorbed with the sounds and movement. Alternating periods of sound and silence. Corresponding stillness and explosions of energy on stage.

The performance starts with a Sung Hoon Kim alone on stage. He stands with his back to the audience in silence with the house lights on. Then darkness as the other dancers enter. The men are stripped to the waste in what appear to be black chiffon trousers. The women are also in black with tunics over leggings their costumes reminding me of shakwar kameez. They performed before a backdrop consisting of a black rectangle framed in red. The score consisted of percussion, fragments of speech including phrases in English, something that resembled the roar of an aircraft engine which was almost deafening followed by blessed silence. It was during the silences that the most delicate movements occurred. There were delicate hand movements which I surmised to be derived from or at least inspired by Kathak dance.  The performance ended as suddenly as it began with the lights suddenly cut and the stage in silence. Then wild applause and ululations.

According to the Lowry's website Kaash means "if only" in Hindi and that was reflected with such muffled phrases as "if only I had bought two instead of one" whispered on stage. Apparently
“Hindu Gods, black holes, Indian time cycles, tablas, creation and destruction” were the starting points for this work ........ Khan’s quest to build bridges between the worlds of contemporary dance and the Indian classical dance form Kathak."
Almost certainly I lost many of those allusions viewing the work from an Anglo-Saxon perspective.

The dancers were Kristina AlleyneSade Alleyne, Sung Hoon Kim, Nicola Monaco and Sarah Cerneaux. The score was by Nitin Sawhney, the set by Anish Kapoor and the costumes by Kimie Nakano.  The show is at The Lowry for one more day. If you can get to Salford this evening then perhaps you should.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Working my way through World Ballet Day footage: Part 1 The Bangarra Dance Theatre

Rock Paintings, Kimberley, Western Australia
Author TimJN1
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

I am slowly working my way through the footage of World Ballet Day and I am still only on Australia. However one of the delights that I have already encountered is the Bangarra Dance Theatre which is introduced by one of its dancers, Tara Bower. The company describes itself as "an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander organisation and one ofAustralia’s leading performing arts companies." It consists of 16 dancers and according to the video each and every one of them shares an indigenous Australian or Torres Islander heritage.

The company was formed just over 25 years ago and is directed by Stephen Page. According to its website the company's dance technique is "forged from over 40,000 years of culture, infused with contemporary movement." Although based in Sydney it remains close to the Aboriginal communities from whom its material is drawn.

The slot given to Bangarra on World Ballet Day was not long. Just enough time to show a class, a trip to the country, a dancer stretching by the sea shore, a rehearsal, part of a performance and snippets from the company's tour to Turkey and Paris. The film shows the dancers in a magnificent modern auditorium in Istanbul and then in a special performance in the Australian embassy in Paris.

As they have been to Paris it occurred to me that they had probably been to London so I googled Sadler's Well and Bangarra. I found that they were here in 2008 with the Australian Ballet with whom they danced a version of Rite of Spring called Rites. The film is very impressive and I really wish I had seen those dancers on stage. In her commentary Tara Bower says that the dancers are trained in several styles including jazz and contemporary and of course ballet. In fact the class shows the dancers performing the traditional barre exercises.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Ballet Cymru at Home

The Riverfront Theatre, Newport
Photo  Gif absarnt
Creative Commons Licence
Source Wikipedia

After the State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet earlier this year I exchanged a few words with The Herald's dance critic Mary Brennan, Brennan had spoken very warmly of Peter Darrell whom I greatly admired and once had the honour of meeting. Darrell was artistic director of what was then Western Theatre Ballet and it was he who took the company to Glasgow shortly after I went up to St Andrews. "He gave us our national dance company" Brennan enthused. "But at the expense of the West Country and South Wales" I replied. Being a native Mancunian I know how it stung when Northern Ballet crossed the Pennines even though it never affected me personally as Leeds is no further away from my home than Manchester. The departure of Northern Ballet diminished our city even though we still have Northern Ballet School, The Lowry and Manchester City Ballet.

Well, South Wales and the West Country have had to wait a very long time but they now have a first class ballet company again in Ballet Cymru. Actually the company has existed  for nearly 30 years but it is now receiving the recognition and funding that it needs to go places. It is still quite small. It reminds me very much of Scottish Theatre Ballet when I first knew it. Although James is very different from Darrell he has similar drive and similar sense of vision. Nearly half a century ago I envisaged Scottish Theatre Ballet as it is now - one of the world's great companies. I have the same feeling about Ballet Cymru and I hope that I live long enough to see it

On Saturday 3 Oct 2015 I joined the London Ballet Circle's visit to Ballet Cymru's premises in Newport. In order not to pre-empt the official write up I will say that we met James, Amy Doughty, Patricia Vallis and Mike Holden as well as the dancers. We watched the company class and a rehearsal of Cinderella. We toured the company's building which is on an industrial estate in Rogestone a few miles to the north west of the city centre.  Darius James told us about the history of the company and his plans for the future which are very ambitious indeed.

I will however mention two things that I knew already. The first is that there is now a magnificent theatre in Newport for the company to showcase its work. That is the Riverfront arts centre on the banks of the Usk. The second is that the company provides great opportunities to local dancers.  It runs workshops, intensives and associates programmes in conjunction with the Royal Ballet and the RAD. On the 18 Oct it is hosting a "Creative Spaces" event in conjunction with the RAD and on the 30 Oct a Junior Associate Experience Day for the Royal Ballet School. It also offers body conditioning and ballet classes to the general public every Monday for a very reasonable fee. Details of these outreach programmes can be obtained from the education officer Mandev Sokhi on

Newport lies at the heart of the Great Western Cities with a combined population of 2.5 million and a GVA of £58 billion. This is South Wales and the West's answer to the Northern Powerhouse. The initiative aims to improve transport links and attract investment to the region.  If it succeeds it will greatly expand Ballet Cymru's market. It will also provide opportunities for attracting sponsorship and funding of other kinds. After the visit I toured some of the city's landmarks and did a little shopping in a local supermarket. I got the impression that things are beginning to buzz around the Severn estuary.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Phoenix at Home

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Phoenix@Home, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 1 Oct 2015

Although I missed most of World Ballet Day on Thursday because I had to work Phoenix Dance Theatre's showcase Phoenix@Home more than made up for it. The audience at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre was treated to a glorious programme of dance:  Melt Document and Mapping - very different but somehow complementary works by Sharon WatsonUri Ivgi and Johan Greben and Darshan Singh Bhuller. All three works were impressive and I appreciated them all.

The most joyful of the works was Melt. It was dance in three dimensions. Dancers formed patterns on the stage. Then they were hoisted up on ropes from which they swooped and twirled and turned. The programme notes mentions elements colliding and  the choreographer talks about ice and fire from which I surmises the title Melt is derived. I saw only harmony and fluidity. If there were collisions they were controlled. The work is hauntingly beautiful not least because of the music chosen for the work: "We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues" by Wild Beasts from their 2009 album ‘Two Dancers‘. Watson, the company's artistic director, created Melt for the company's Reflected programme in 2011.

Whereas Melt suggested fluidity and joy Document conveyed restriction and violence. I was reminded of Plato's cave.  Other members of the audience thought of gassed or shell shocked soldiers or refugees landing at Lampedusa.  You can see what I mean from the trailer here and the video in which the choreographers discuss their work here. There is very little movement as the piece begins. Staccato movements to the throbbing percussion which persists with occasional overtones for the length of the show. Their hands appeared to be shackled. But they broke free flaying their limbs in all directions. There were duets but these were more like duels. In the second of the two videos Ivgi and Greben say that they are a team who draw strength from their differences. Ivgi is Israeli and Greben is Dutch.  They also speak of their collaboration with Tom Parkinson who wrote the score. An impressive but very disturbing piece of theatre.

Mapping was created by a former artistic director of the company and it is a lot of fun. Ballet Central had included it in their touring programme two years ago (see Central Forward  25 March 2013). Bhuller projects the movements of the dancers onto a screen and deploys a tiny vehicle with a blue light to follow the dancers like a dog.  By his projection technique he creates the illusion of improbable shapes and movements. I tried to relate all that to mapping and thought of the Google earth vehicle and Mercator projection which distort the shapes and sizes of continents and oceans. "Was there an analogy there?" I wondered. According to the programme notes Mapping was inspired by the choreographer's father's journey to the west.

Each work in the programme was received with thundering applause and the end was greeted with ululation and foot stamping. A Phoenix audience seem to show their appreciation in a completely different way from a Northern Ballet one which may be because it tends to be younger and more diverse. Perhaps that is because they get a lot more than dance with Phoenix.  Yesterday the company held a conference called MindBody which included contributions from the well known cricketer Mike Brearley. Last year there was a similar conference on Dance and Civil Rights.

Phoenix is not a big company but it is an important one. I suspect that is largely due to the drive and vision of the company's artistic director. I have seen her at many dance events but also on the panel of the Creative Industries Federation's roadshow in June (see The Creative Industries Road Show comes to Leeds 1 June 2015). It came as no surprise to me that she is chairing Leeds's European capital of culture bid for 2023. However, a dance company also has to have dancers and Phoenix has some fine ones. One familiar face that I am pleased to welcome to Leeds is Marie-Astrid Mence whom I know from ballet black. I look forward to seeing more of her.

Friday, 2 October 2015

A Review of our Performance at Morley Town Hall

Morley Town Hall
Photo Steve Partridge
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

A Feast of Music and Dance by Older Performers, Saturday, 26 Sept 2015, Morley Town Hall

Last Saturday I danced at Morley Town Hall with members of my over 55 class at Northern Ballet. I wrote about the experience in Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015. Our classmate Inger Huddleston was in the audience and she chatted with us after the show, During our conversation I asked her whether she would care to review our performance for Terpsichore. She kindly agreed to see what she could do.

On the 30 Sept 2015 I received this lovely email from Inger.  I think you will agree that she came up trumps.
"Dear Jane,
Following your background coverage on Terpsicore blog, I rather hesitate to write a review of Northern Ballet over 55's contribution to the Feast of Music and Dance having been in the early rehearsals, but not having taken part in either performance - the End Of Term Show at Northern Ballet or The Young at Arts showcase.
The technical steps you have already described, in your review of the day at Morley, so my contribution is more personal.
Having started in the 1990s (actually at Yorkshire Dance) very late in life, having done no ballet as a child I know how difficult the first years are, but you have to start somewhere!
I have kept going since then in the Academy classes either Open or over 55, and observing and sketching at open rehearsals as a Friend of Northern Ballet. It's a constant fascination, how choreography constantly changes, no two steps are really the same - whether professional dancers or amateurs - attending company class or amateur classes, dancers have to be prepared for the unpredictable and adapt.
With regard to performances, changes in cast, choreography and staging, lighting and costume, and music, to name but some, everyone must keep all this in mind, with patience and remain very alert!
As I see it, this was one of the greatest challenges for seven lovely, very contrasting classical dancers on this occasion. To be this adaptable seemed quite remarkable. Adapting to "theatre in the round" instead of proscenium, close proximity of audience, different group dynamics and situation was a big ask, for teacher Annemarie and the cast.
Each gave an individual performance, yet the work showed what a wonderfully supportive and inclusive group this is.
The Lullaby by Lulaby music, was interpreted so well, with rests, sways, dreamlike pauses, rocking, through Annemarie Donaghue's brilliant choreography. This would have been a challenge for any professional classical dancer, though there may have been some such in the group. I thought the enjoyment given and received quite wonderful. Lovely smiles (yours in particular) showed confidence and relaxation, surely the purpose of a lullaby.
The audience was very involved, and gave a much appreciative ovation.
I just thought I owed it to you to send something by way of thanks to you and all for a most enjoyable time.
Good Luck, and keep dancing!
Kind Regards,
This is one of the most generous reviews that has ever appeared in this blog:
"I thought the enjoyment given and received quite wonderful. Lovely smiles (yours in particular) showed confidence and relaxation, surely the purpose of a lullaby.  The audience was very involved, and gave a much appreciative ovation."
I think Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova would have been purring at praise like that. In my case just a little bit too flattering perhaps,  But we all did our best and we certainly enjoyed ourselves.

The important point about our class and our show is that it is never too late to dance and no dancer is ever too old to take part in a show.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


Van Gogh "Sunflowers"
Source Wikipedia
Reproduced under GNU free documentation licence

On 27 Sept 2015 Chantry Dance performed Duology, their double bill at the Square Chapel in Halifax. Gita and I had already seen their rehearsal of Vincent - a stranger to himself when we visited their rehearsal studios earlier in the month and knew what to expect (see Chantry Dance's Vincent - Rarely have I been more excited by a New Ballet 4 Sept 2015). Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, however, was completely new.

I enjoyed both works but I think that the Nachtmusik was the better of the two. Ostensibly it was a tussle between Paul Chantry, Rae Pipler and David Beer for space on a settee that could seat three at a pinch but comfortably only two. Of course as two of the contestants were men competing for the attention of the female it developed into something of a love triangle. It was very cleverly choreographed by Chantry and Piper to Mozart's famous music and executed beautifully by the three.

Vincent which followed after the interval was an opportunity for the company's recruits, Rebecca Scanlon and Sorel de Paula Hanika, as well as some of their associates to shine. They were a credit to the company. I was particularly impressed by the appearance of their ghostly faces from behind a glass screen at the back of the stage. Beer, dressed in black, was a disturbing presence. Did he represent death or madness? Piper and Chantry were powerful and their last duet was particularly moving. The production was impressive even in rehearsal. It was magnificent on Saturday night.

After the show the company stayed on stage to answer questions from the audience. Helen Gavaghan asked whether the choreographers had read much about van Gogh before they started to create the ballet and learned that they had read loads. In particular, they had read the artist's letters to his brother. Someone else asked about the creative process, whether the music came first and how they developed the story.  Gita commented on the enormous progress the company had made since their last visit to Halifax. I asked them about their school (see If only I were young again - Chantry School of Contemporary and Balletic Arts 27 July 2014).

It was a good evening. My only disappointment was that the Square Chapel was nowhere near full. I knew that they had a full house in Grantham and Woolwich and a good turnout in Birmingham. Piper said that we had been a lovely audience and that the company hoped to return to Halifax but I can't help wondering whether they might do better at some other venues such as the Studio in Bradford or even the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Leeds where there is already an audience for contemporary ballet. Halifax is at the very extremity of the Leeds City Region, it is not as easy to reach by public transport as Bradford or Leeds and not everybody has heard of the Square Chapel. I think most of the Square Chapel audience would travel to Leeds to see Chantry Dance again. I do not know how many of the crowd who regularly turn out in mass for Phoenix or Rambert would trek out west however good the show.