Friday, 28 October 2016

"Quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while"

Michaela DePrince in Tarantella Pas de Deux
Photo Altin Kaftira
(c) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Licensed by kind permission of the company

Dutch National Ballet, Tarantella Pas de Deux, Stopera, 7 Sept 2016

When I first saw Michaela DePrince on stage at the Stadsshouwburg in Amsterdam I wrote:
"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"
(see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2915). I have, of course, seen DePrince dance several times since then and indeed I have seen her in class (see Double Dutch Delights 17 Feb 2016) and even met her briefly on one occasion (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015) but I experienced the same excitement when I saw her in Balanchine's Tarantella Pas de Deux with Remi Wörtmeyer.

Remi Wortmeyer
Photo Altin Kaftira
(c) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Licensed by kind permission of the company
First performed by Patricia McBride and Edward Villella of New York City Ballet in 1964 to the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, it is one of the most thrilling dances I know. It demands great virtuosity from both dancers. Dazzling footwork particularly from the woman and athletic jumps from the man.

This work was the last offering of the evening before Balanchine's Theme and Variations which wound up the show. It warmed the audience up  beautifully for the finale.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Soul's Paths

Manchester 1650
Source: Wikipedia

In the historic heart of Manchester not far from the Shambles and the cathedral off Shudehill there is a "creative wellness centre" known as "The Wonder Inn" whose focus is "to raise the vibrations of [the] community and the planet through the celebration of art." Classes and performances take place at The Wonder Inn from time to time,

One of those performances will be Soul's Paths in which my ballet teacher, Carlotta Tocci will dance. Carlotta is a very good teacher as I noted on Facebook when she first taught me:
"An excellent class at KNT in Manchester yesterday. A new teacher stood in for Ailsa. I didn't catch her name but she was very good and I do hope to attend another of her classes one day. She had a slight continental accent (though not sufficiently distinct to identify a country of origin) which suggests that she may have trained abroad. She was very friendly and had an encouraging smile."
She is also a very good dancer. I saw her in Northern Ballet School's summer show A Showcase of Dance  on 9 July 2015 in The Night Shift and singled her out for special mention (see my review of the performance (see Serendipity 15 July 2015).

Soul's Paths is described on the Wonder Inn's website as
"a result of a collaboration between Matrafisc Dance Company and Vonnegut Collective we present "Soul's paths", a site specific performance, grown around the idea of an inner journey that gradually goes deeper while experiencing the key themes of friendship, love, fraternal bond and sexuality. The journey itself starts the exact moment you step in."
There is not much on Matrafisc Dance Company's website right now but Vonnegut Collective's tells us that it is
"a Manchester-based chamber ensemble making new music relevant and accessible through improvisation and innovative collaborations."
Some of the ensemble's recordings can be played on the site. The music is certainly innovative; at least some of it appears to be improvised;  and it may well be relevant; but I am not sure about its accessibility as it may not appeal to everyone.

According to the Wonder Inn the show was:
"Born from a deep interest in life stories and what makes us humans, Soul’s Paths is a metaphor of our society. Sometimes we are just too busy to enjoy the little experiences of the life... With this performance they reflect on life’s complexity.
Follow Pied Piper (the violinist), through the building, from room to room, from scene to scene and explore in depth the challenges we all share."
The show has been choreographed by Ina Colizza and Antonello Apicella who will also dance with  Paula de la Puente, Giorgio De Carolis, Mariateresa Molino and, of course, Carlotta.

There will  be performances at 19:00 and 21:00 on 28 Oct 2016 and tickets cost £8.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Last Chance to see Ballet Black in the North

South Yorkshire
Crown Copyright
Creative Commons Licence
Source Wikipedia

Ballet Black are coming towards the end of their national tour with the triple bill that David Murley saw at the Barbican (see Ballet Black at the Barbican 22 March 2016) and I saw at the Lowry and Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre (see Ballet Black made my Manchester Day 20 June 2016 and Never Better: Ballet Black in Leeds 18 Oct 2016). The company usually makes an appearance in Leeds but this year they have spoilt their fans in the North with performances of Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Sale (see As Fresh as Ever: Ballet Black's Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Sale 7 May 2016 and I never tire of Dogs Don't Do Ballet 8 May 2016) as well as those I have already mentioned and their forthcoming visit to the CAST theatre in Doncaster on 2 Nov 2016.

As I mentioned in my review of Northern Ballet's Madame Butterfly (Nixon's Masterpiece) on 22 May 2015 CAST is  "a £22 million municipal theatre that opened in 2013 (Ian Youngs £22m Cast theatre opens in Doncaster 6 Sept 2013 BBC website)" and is one of the plushest performing spaces I know. It has attracted not just Northern Ballet but also Wayne McGregor and other dance companies. This will be Ballet Black's debut in Doncaster and tickets seem to be selling well (see the "Book Tickets" page on the theatre's website).

In my humble opinion, this year's programme is the company's best ever with works by three of my favourite choreographers including Christopher Marney (artistic director of Ballet Central) whose work reminds me so much of John Cranko and Christopher Hampson of Scottish Ballet who was my joint choreographer of the year for 2015 (see Highlights of 2015  29 Dec 2015). All the works in this year's programme are sombre. Storyville which charts the destruction of a beautiful young woman is particularly sad. But they are also very beautiful.  Ballet Black is a company that delivers the sort of works that Luke Jennings seemed to be calling for on Front Row  on Monday which I discussed in Of Bikes and Buses 25 Oct 2016. I can't imagine why nobody on the programme mentioned that.

Ballet Black's remaining performances of the triple bill will be in Exeter, Watford, Harlow and Lichfield. Soon they will begin work on a new programme which will open at the Barbican on 2 March 2017. I gleaned the following details from the Barbican's website:
"A four-hander characterised by intricate detail and propulsive energy, Captured ebbs and flows to the fiery emotion of Martin Lawrance’s edgy choreography, set to a Shostakovich string quartet.
Celebrated British choreographer Michael Corder, whose glittering versions of Cinderellaand The Snow Queen have been seen across Europe, creates the evening’s second abstract piece for four dancers.
South Bank Sky Arts Award-winner Annabelle Lopez Ochoa turns a popular fairy tale on its head, as she gives her short narrative ballet a surprising twist. This time, the Wolf will regret ever meeting Red Riding Hood."
Those who like Ballet Black may wish to consider the company's Friends scheme. Membership does not cost much and it provides opportunities to get to know the company better.  Friends receive an occasional newsletter and invitations to attend events like the rehearsal of Marney's To Begin, Begin at the Barbican (see Ballet Black's First Friends' Event: A Rehearsal with Chris Marney 14 July 2016).

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Of Bikes and Busses

Bicycles in Buenos Ares
Photo Lars Curls
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons 

On 23 Oct 2016 Chris Marney tweeted:
"Thinking of Christopher today 18 yrs on and proud to continue his work everyday #GableLegacy."
The "Christopher" Marney had in mind was, of course. Christopher Gable. He founded the Central School of Ballet which has a performing company called Ballet Central of which Marney is artistic director. I admire Marney's work very much so I tweeted
"And Gable's work could not be in better hands @chrismarney. Missing him too."
Christopher Gable became artistic director of Northern Ballet in 1987 which was just after I returned to the North of England to practise at the Manchester bar. He held that appointment until his death on 23 Oct 1998 (see Christopher Gable on Northern Ballet's website). it was during his directorship that my late spouse and I started to follow that company. In that time Gable created or commissioned some of my favourite works for that company.

Photo dave_7
Creative Commons Licence
Gable's successor as artistic director of Northern Ballet is David Nixon and I have asked myself whether I could say the same about Nixon as I had tweeted about Marney.  I think I can safely say that I can. I admire much of Nixon's work - though not everything. I am not, for example, the biggest fan of his version of Swan Lake with its bikes in the opening scene (see Don't Expect Petipa 5 Jan 2016 and Up the Swannee 17 Mar 2016) and I can't say that his Beauty and the Beast is my favourite ballet with its old bus (see Jane Lambert Ballet and Intellectual Property - my Excuse for reviewing "Beauty and the Beast" 31 Dec 2011 IP Yorkshire). But Nixon has created some fine work for the company such as A Midsummer Night's Dream (see Realizing Another Dream 15 Sept 2013), Cinderella (see Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph! 27 Dec 2013) and The Great Gatsby (Life follows Art: the Great Gatsby 8 Mar 2011) and has commissioned more such as Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre (see Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre: the best new Ballet from the Company in 20 Years 2 June 2016).

According to Northern Ballet's website, Nixon is working on a new ballet called The Little Mermaid which is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale and the company has commissioned Casanova from Kenneth Tindall and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas from Daniel de Andrade. I hope to learn more about those works when Nixon appears at the London Ballet Circle on 28 Nov 2016 to talk to Esme Chandler (see the Events page of the Circle's website). This is quite a challenging time for the company as two of its "premier" (that is to say, principal) dancers are developing careers elsewhere. I shall be interested to hear what, if anything, Nixon has to say about that as well.

Those who want to hear Nixon speak should make their way to the Civil Service Club on Great Scotland Street off Northumberland Avenue next to the Nigerian embassy before 19:30. The meeting will be open to the public at a charge of £5 for members of the Circle and £8 for everybody else. The meeting will take place on the 1st floor and there is a bar downstairs which serves hot meals to those attending the Circle's meetings. Very handy for those like me who have a train to catch from King's Cross and I particularly recommend the fish and chips. The nearest underground stations are Charing Cross and the Embankment.

As the Circle has set out Nixon's career in some detail I shall not embarrass him or weary my readers by repeating it beyond noting that he has achieved much on both sides of the Atlantic and that he enjoys a formidable reputation as a choreographer. director and dancer. I would have attended Nixon's talk anyway but my resolve has been reinforced by his remarks on Front Row (BBC Radio 4) last night. He was interviewed by John Wilson with Luke Jennings of The Guardian in a short section about 15 minutes into the programme entitled New, but always old, ballet. 

Wilson began by playing a recording in which Tamara Rojo had opined that dance needed to change in order to survive in a digital age in the context of Akram Khan's Giselle, remarks which were vaguely endorsed but not developed by Jennings. He then turned to Nixon and suggested that he was "playing safe" reminding the audience that Northern Ballet was dancing Beauty and the Beast in Norwich. Nixon replied with the entirely reasonable point that ballet needs an audience to survive. In answer to Jennings's contention that ballet needs to be relevant to its age and Wilson's remark that Beauty "was not breaking any moulds" he made another equally valid point that Beauty and the Beast appeared just after the credit crunch and contained plenty of allusions to austerity that were raw in his audience's experiences in 2011. He added that ballet is a language that takes dancers 8 years to learn which can be used to tell any story and express any emotion and that there was still room for classics as well as new work.

Jennings, whose review of Mary Skeaping's Giselle had been headlined A Giselle to cry for 14 Jan 2007 (see English National Ballet's other Giselle 22 Oct 2016), seemed to argue that works like Akram Khan's Giselle with its elements of Kathak and contemporary would attract whole new audiences. With all due respect I just don't see it. It may be innovative but not in the way that Nijinsky's L'Après-midi d'un faune and Le Sacre du Printemps were over 100 years ago. If audiences want experimentation they will go to NDT or Rambert or, on another plane, Sir Matthew Bourne. If they want cultural interaction they will go to Alvin Ailey or indeed Phoenix in the same building as Northern Ballet who do it so much better. Akram Khan's Giselle is interesting, it is not without merit and is certainly worth seeing but let's get a sense of proportion. It is not the choreographer's or the company's best work and it is nowhere near the best Giselle.

Classical companies like Northern should stick to what they do best which is to present fine theatrical experiences following a 400 year classical tradition that are nevertheless still relevant to modern audiences. That does not preclude classical companies from creating abstract masterpieces such as Chroma or Angels in the Architecture but there must be balance by which I mean there must always be room for Petipa and Ashton. Having heard Nixon yesterday, I think he understands that. It is for that reason that I say that Gable's Northern Ballet (like Ballet Central) is in very good hands.

Monday, 24 October 2016

A Dark Side to The Nutcracker?

Ivan Vsevolozhsky's original costume sketch for The Nutcracker
Source Wikipediadia

The dark side of Giselle is obvious with its ghosts of jilted girls or laid-off garment workers. Christopher Hampson's Hansel and Gretel is a bit gruesome with the witch being tumbled into a furnace. Even Swan Lake is a bit dodgy with Siegfried's jumping into the lake. But The Nutcracker is alright surely with its divertissements, Sugar Plum Fairy and girls singing "La, la, la, la, la" in the Snowflakes scene.

Well maybe not if Margaret Fleming-Makarian is correct. She  has written and published a 161-page treatise called The Original Nutcracker Ballet - A Hidden Allegory in which she argues that there are hidden meanings in the work. According to John Riley who has reviewed her work in the summer 2015 Digest of the Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies
"These include postEnlightenment ‘rationalisations’ of the human body as automata, early attempts at dream interpretation and comparative religion’s analysis of pagan, Christian and occult symbolism."
He continues:
"the major theme is early nineteenth-century Napoleonic expansionism, and the resultant pan-European upheavals and changes in society and geopolitical power, particularly the German–French–Russian relationship."
Now this may not be so strange as it seems as Russia was undergoing a period of rapid economic and social change at the end of the 19th century with the emergence of a new class of manufacturers and merchants. That phenomenon was a theme of many English and French novels of the time and it would not be unreasonable to expect it in some other art form elsewhere in Europe. It is certainly the case that Drosselmeyer like Rothbart and Carabosse are outsiders. Rothbart disguises himself as a wealthy merchant when he presents Odile to the princely court. Are the magician and witch in The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty code for the manufacturers who disrupted the existing order with their factories and technologies based on steam and steel?

Well, perhaps, and then again perhaps not but there will be an opportunity to hear Ms Fleming-Makarian and to explore and test her arguments on the 25 Nov at 19:00 when she will discuss The Hidden Allegory of Tchaikovsky's 'The Nutcracker' in a talk to the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies at 320 Brixton Road, London, SW9 6AB. The venue is served by the 3, 59, 133, 159 and 415 bus routes and the nearest underground stations are Brixton and the Oval.

According to the Society's website:
"Margaret Fleming-Markarian spent her professional life teaching dance. Now retired, she researches the classic ballets, drawing upon her practical experience, as well as early training at the Benesh Institute of Choreology, and academic education in European and Art History at the University of Edinburgh. Centring her research on the Sergeev choreographic scores in the Harvard Theatre Collection and the Royal Academy of Dance Library in London, she seeks to build a meaningful visual context for the original classic choreographies through their original designs and sets preserved in St Petersburg."
For those who want simply to dance The Nutcracker  Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy will teach an intensive workshop for KNT in the studios of the Northern Ballet School in Manchester on 28 and 29 Oct 2016 (see A Unique Opportunity to learn a Bit of The Nutcracker 12 Oct 2016). The last I heard was that the Saturday class for beginners is full though there may be vacancies through cancellations and there is still room in the advanced class on Friday.

If you just want to see The Nutcracker, the Royal Ballet will dance it at Covent Garden between 23 Nov 2016 and 12 Jan 2017 (see Royal Opera House's website), the English National Ballet at Milton Keynes, Liverpool and London between the 23 Nov 2016 and 7 Jan 2017 (see English National Ballet's website), Birmingham Royal Ballet in Birmingham between the 25 Nov and the 13 Dec 2016 (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's website) and the Ballet Ireland are taking it on tour to Coleraine, Newtonabbey, Cookstown and Enniskillen as well as many venues in the Republic of Ireland between 5 Nov  and 23 Dec 2016 (see the company's website). There is also a students' production of Act II by pupils of the Danceworks International Ballet Academy in London on 12 and 13 Dec 2016.

For background information and links to other resources on The Nutcracker visit my page on the ballet.

PS. I am very grateful to Colman Reilly for tweetng that the Irish National Youth Ballet will dance The Nutcracker at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, between the 9 and 11 Dec 2016. That is the handiest possible venue for visitors from Liverpool and North Wales and it is not too far from any part of Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 23 October 2016


A Pride of Lions
Author Benh Lieu Song
Source Wikipedia
Creative commons licence

The Dancehouse evening class students. Move It!, 22 Oct 2016 The Dancehouse, 19:00

I had promised a good show in Want to see a good show in Manchester this Saturday? 19 Oct 2016 but I never imagined in a million years that a member of my family would help to deliver it. But that is exactly what happened when Danny Henry of Rhythms 2 Dance invited members of the audience to join him on stage and my niece, Shola, responded. She mounted the stage to a massive cheer and picked up the steps and rhythm as though she had rehearsed it for ages. I must be one of the proudest people on the planet. Proud of my teachers and fellow students at KNT and the other dance classes at the Dancehouse, of course, but also proud of Shola.

As in the previous Move It! shows (see Better than Eurovision 24 May 2015 and One of my proudest moments - Dancing in Move It! 31 Jan 2016) the entertainment was provided by the students who attend evening and weekend dance classes at the Dancehouse theatre in Manchester. As I have said several times before, I am one of those students and I would have put myself forward for the show if I could have attended rehearsals. The show that we saw last night was to have been performed on 18 June 2016 but had to be postponed because of emergency repairs to the ceiling of the auditorium (see It could easily have gone pear-shaped ............ 19 June 2016).

Again as in previous shows the evening was compered by Tracey Gibbs of a Taste of Cairo. I have seen Tracey dance and know that she is a fine dancer but I imagine that she is also an excellent teacher for she is a great master of ceremonies. She has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand with her warmth and jokes and general good humour. "You're all here because you know someone in the show, right?" she asked. A mutter of ascent. "A son or daughter, husband, wife, brother or sister?" Applause. Tracey reminded the audience that the dancers give up their evenings and weekends to attend class and that for some of them it would be their first time on stage. She rehearsed us in whooping and clapping for them.

The show commenced with Josh Moss's Wednesday evening repertoire class dancing the Snowflakes Waltz from The Nutcracker. You know. The bit with the female voices singing "La, la, la, la, la". Here's a YouTube video of The Royal Ballet doing it to get the general idea. It was performed beautifully by my friends. Maybe not quite as polished as Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Clara, Ricardo Cervera and the artists of the Royal Ballet in the clip but when all things are considered they did pretty well. The crowd loved them and they gave the evening a flying start.

The lighting changed, A blast of what sounded to me like a didgeridoo. Ring of Fire from the contemporary class performed with energy and expression. I cannot quite remember whether they were Ailsa Baker's students or Carlotta Tocci's but whoever taught them is to be congratulated.

More congratulations to Karen Sant and the pointe class for what must have been a gruelling few minutes. Plenty of  échappés sur les pointes. I know from personal experience that it is bad enough doing that exercise on demi-pointe while facing the barre. It must be murder going all the way in pointe shoes while finding and maintaining one's balance at the same time. There are some seriously talented young women in that class.

Danny appeared next in the Brazilian football team's colours dancing a duet to what I believe to be samba but as I am unfamiliar with the genre I am probably miles off the mark. He and his partner were joined in the next dance by another two dancing to an infectious rhythm.

More ballet next and I recognized members of my Tuesday class including Simon Garner, one of the few gents in our group. They danced well and deserved a standing ovation so I gave them one.

At this point I ran out of paper for note taking so I have probably missed some of the performers for which I apologize. I remember Paint it Black performed with the same energy as Rambert do in Rooster albeit to somewhat different choreography. I also remember more of my ballet class members dancing Shostakovich's Waltz Number 2 well and prompting me to rise to my feet again but I can't for the life of me remember their place in the programme.

We had a short interval after which Tracey introduced the artists for the second half.

One of the highlights of my evening was the entry into the kingdom of the shades from La Bayadere by Josh's repertoire class. I don't know why but that dance always moves me. As I said in La Bayadere Intensive Day 3: No Snakes 17 Aug 2016 I have had a bash at dancing that piece. It looks easy enough - a tendu with arms in 5th inclining slightly towards the audience and then an arabesque but, believe me, it isn't. Watching the dancers emerge in height order is mesmeric. Being one of those dancers requires enormous concentration. Led across the stage by Yoshie Kimura, they were all impressive.

After the show, I spotted Jane Tucker, the inspiring teacher from Northern Ballet Academy who taught me the shades' entry in Manchester as well as so much more about ballet in  her Wednesday evening classes in Leeds over the last year or so. She will be teaching us repertoire from The Nutcracker next Saturday (see A Unique Opportunity to learn a Bit of The Nutcracker 12 Oct 2016) and I made an educated guess that we would be learning the snowflakes' waltz. She assured me that she had not yet decided what to teach us in that intensive. All I know is that it will be fun.

After La Bayadere there was some great tap dancing with the performers in sailor suits. Memories of Gene Kelly and On the Town. 

Then the gorgeous Peacock Dance from Susie Lu's Chinse dancers in their beautiful costumes. "Ooh" whispered Shola. "I'd love to wear one of those dresses, wouldn't you?"

Next, Danny appeared in a West African shirt to an infectious drum beat. The audience started clapping in time. Danny invited folk to join him on stage and a few responded.  "I want to join them" said Shola. She is my goddaughter as well as my niece and I have known her nearly all her life but I never knew that she could dance. Not only can she dance but she can also hold an audience. "Where did she get this from?" I asked myself. When she was a little girl my late spouse and I had taken her to see The Nutcracker by English National Ballet. As she seemed to like that we took her and her little cousin to see the Royal Ballet's Cinderella at Covent Garden. I remember her doing Fiona Noonan's ballercise class on her last visit to Holmfirth a few years ago. After the performance Danny invited her tp take his class. "If only," she replied, "but I am only here for the weekend and I live in London." Right now I am scouring the internet for classes like Danny's in the capital. "We are all good at something," I told her on the drive home, "and you seem to be good at dancing. Talent like your's needs developing."

The evening concluded with Saint-Saens Danse Macabre danced magnificently by the advanced class. They were the piece de resistance, the frosting on the cake, the bees' knees - any epithet for quality you care to dream up. Dressed in maroon they executed complicated and some very difficult steps with precision and poise. Yet another performance that hoisted me to my feet.

When Gita reviews a ballet she likes to make "a man (or woman) of the watch" award. Denis Rodkin and Isaac Lee-Baker have been previous winners. Had she been there I have no doubt she would have given it to Katie. She seemed to be in everything. "Was that 7 dances or 8  that I counted you in?" I asked her in the bar after the show. "Only 6 in the end" she replied. "Only!" That lady is full of energy as well as grace. Proud to know her and to have danced with her. Yet another source of pride.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Another Beautiful Giselle

Standard YouTube Licence

A delightful extract from Act II of Giselle danced in everyday clothes (and shoes) to Adolphe Adam's score by artists of the Dutch National Ballet in a Beijing shopping centre. Adam's score and Coralli and Perrot's choreography can still touch the spirit even in everyday settings.

And here is a trailer for that beautiful ballet which the Dutch National Ballet performed at the Stopera last year:

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