Monday, 25 July 2016

Hans van Manen's Lifetime Achievement Award

Hans van Manen 10 Nov 1986
Author Roland Gerits
(c) 1986 Dutch National Archive: all rights reserved
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Hans van Manen has been a huge name in dance for as long as I can remember. He is resident choreographer of the Dutch National Ballet but his works are performed by major companies throughout the world including several in this country. I have reviewed Scottish Ballet's performance of his 5 Tangos (No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015), Northern Ballet's performance of his Concertante and, of course, several performances by NDT2 and the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company.

It was at performances by the Junior Company in Amsterdam that I actually saw the great man. On both of those occasions the audience exploded in applause and every man, woman and child in the auditorium rose to his or her feet in unison.

A few days ago (not long after his birthday as it happens) Richard Heideman (the press officer of the Dutch National Ballet) tweeted that van Manen had just been awarded a lifetime career award (Grand Prix à la Carrière) by a jury of distinguished critics in Cannes (see Hans van Manen krijgt carrièreprijs in Cannes 19 July 2016 RTL Boulevard). According to the report previous recipients of this award have included Maya Plisetskaya, Alicia Alonso and Vladimir Vasiliev.

Huge congratulations to Mr van Manen and long may he continue to delight dancers and audiences around the world with his creations.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

La Bayadere - where it all took place

Author Haseeb1608
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Source Wikipedia

Throughout the 19th century Russia was fascinated by India. Such fascination was perceived by Britain as a diplomatic and military threat which prompted several Afghan wars.  However, that fascination found dramatic expression in Sergei Khudekov's libretto, La Bayadère or "temple dancer".

In an article on the history of La Bayadère, Gerard Charles explains that in the early 19th century a librettist (nowadays we might call such a person a dramaturge) penned the story and then left it to the composer and choreographer to the rest:
"It is important to understand how ballets in this period were traditionally put together. The librettist (or author) would select a story or legend that suited his fancy and transpose it into a ballet in five or six acts, regardless of weather it had sufficient dramatic content to support this length. The librettist would also have little acquaintance with either the music, choreography or design."
There is no evidence that Khudekov or any of the creators of La Baydere ever visited India but then it is unlikely that Shakespeare ever visited Italy or even Scotland but that did not stop him from setting plays set in both of those countries. Khudekov seems to have done some work for the Rajah whom Solor served ruled over Golconda which is a real place. In fact, it is an important archaeological site just outside Hyderbad, in South West India.

Now I have no idea what Jane Tucker will teach us at the Bayadere intensive next month but central to the story is the wedding between Solor and Gamizatti at which Nikiya is forced to dance.

It is there, you will remember, that she is presented with some flowers in which  someone (most likely Gamzatti or her sidekick) had accidentally or on purpose concealed a venomous snake.  Now we all know that Indian weddings go on for days even in Hendon, Cheadle and Bradford.  So elaborate, in fact, that Anaish Parmar made a ballet on the theme called Shaadi Magic a, review of which you can see here.   Imagine the extravagant affair that the rajah would  have staged for the wedding if his daughter to his conquering commander.  You get the picture.

According to Wikipedia Hydrabad is famous for its palaces but also for its food:
"Hyderabadi cuisine comprises a broad repertoire of rice, wheat and meat dishes and the skilled use of various spices. Hyderabadi biryani and Hyderabadi haleem, with their blend of Mughlai and Ara cuisines,have become iconic dishes of India. Hyderabadi cuisine is highly influenced by Mughlai and to some extent by French, Arabic, Turkish, Iranian and native Telugu and Marathwada cuisines. Other popular native dishes include nihari, chakna, baghara baingan and the desserts qubani ka meetha, double ka meetha and kaddu ki kheer (a sweet porridge made with sweet gourd)."
There us in fact a whole Wikipedia article on  Hyderbadi Cuisine. Yum!

Jane and Karen can't promise us any of that but we are bound to build up an appetite from Jane's warm up, her 90 minute class, her wall to wall rehearsals until 16:00 and cool down after all that.  And Rusholme with all its culinary delights is only a mile down the road from the Danceouse where the intensive takes place.

 So if you want to take part call Karen on 07783 103 037 or get in touch through her contact formFacebook page or twitter.

Ratmansky's Razzmatazz

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Australian Ballet, Cinderella, Coliseum, 23 July 2016, 14:00

I had heard a lot about Alexei Ratmansky but had not actually seen much of his work. I doubted that I had seen any of it at all until Janet McNulty reminded me that Lana Jones and Adam Bull had danced the final pas de deux from Ratmansky's Cinderella at the 45th anniversary gala at The Grand last year (see Sapphire 15 March 2015). In his review of the National Ballet of Canada's Romeo and Juliet at Sadler's Wells (Carrying a Torch for Pure Academic Ballet 22 April 2013 New Your Times) the well kniwn US critic Alistair Macaulay described him as "the most gifted choreographer specializing in classical ballet today."

Ratmansky has created works for the Mariinsky, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Dutch National Ballet New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, The Australian Ballet, the Kiev Ballet and the State Ballet of Georgia but, so far as I can recall, not for any company in this country.  Perhaps we just can't afford him - particularly not in these horizon narrowing and increasingly austere and nasty post-Brexit days. In Working with the Master, one of the notes in the programme, Deborah Jones, mentions his arrival at the Australian Ballet's studios in a Ferrari (or was it a Lamborghini?). Certainly a fabulously expensive motor car obviously chosen to make an impression on the dancers and their management.

This show had everything: ocean liners, express trains, a Citroën Traction Avant prowling the poplar trees of Picardy, bushes that morph into metronomes and the most fabulous costumes with men in what appeared to be tutus representing the planets and the fairy godmother in a bowler hat. There were some breathtaking lifts as well as comic clowning by Cinderella's stepmother and sisters, the narcissistic dancing master (reminding me incongruously of Christopher Marney's dalmatian from Dogs Don't Do Ballet), her wino father and his cronies.  Our emotions were tossed everywhere from outrage as the stepmother and her daughters trashed the portrait of Cinderella's mother to elation as the godmother flashed her image everywhere in the kitchen and hoots after said stepmother and stepsisters made one faux pas after another.

Altogether this was a jolly good show. Perhaps not the best Cinderella.  I've yet to see anything that beats Darius James's for Ballet Cymru (see Ballet Cymru's Cinderella  15 June 2015) though Christopher Hampson (see Scottish Ballet's Cinderella 20 Dec 2015) and Christopher Wheeldon (see Wheeldon's Cindereella  13 July 2015) came close largely, I think, thanks to their leading ladies. Bethany Kingsley-Garner was beautiful in her role and Anna Tsygankova amazing in hers.

In praising those dancers, however, I take nothing away from yesterday's cast. Amber Scott sparkled in her dancing as much as her ballgown under the lights. Ty King-Wall was every inch a prince. Amy Harris was a beguiling stepmother. Last week we saw her as Odile (see The Australian Ballet's Swan Lake - Murphy won me over 17 July 2016). Why was that beautiful young woman cast in the villain's role two weeks running? Last week's Siegfried and Odette, Rudy Hawkes and Robyn Hendricks were planets this week. Ingrid Gow and Eloise Fryer, entertained us as the ridiculous dumpy and skinny sisters. I particularly liked their boxing poses. No messing about with those Sheilas. Jasmin Durham delighted us as the fairy godmother. Great character performances also from Steven Heathcote as Cinders's hapless father and Franco Leo as the prince's doddery retainer.

Everyone involved in this production deserves congratulations. Ratmansky, of course. I can quite see why Macaulay wrote what he did. Jerome Kaplan for his fabulous designs. Rachel Burke for her lighting. Wendell Harrington for the ingenious projections. Perhaps most of all Nicolette Fraillon for the gorgeous music that she delivered so well.  I learned a little bit of ballet etiquette yesterday. When the conductor is a lady it is the premier danseur noble and not the principal ballerina who leads her onto the stage to take her bow.

The Australians have now finished their short season in England. They brought their country's sunshine with them just when our poor, dear country needed it most. I shall miss them. Bon Voyage and come back soon.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Background to La Byadere

Between the 15 and 20 Aug 2016 Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy will run two intensive workshops on La Bayadère for KNT Danceworks in Manchester.

The first one, which is suitable for beginners, will run from the 15 to the 17 Aug 2016. The second for more advanced students will run from the 18 to 20 Aug. Each course costs £200 though if you are fit and keen enough you can do the two for £350.

I did Jane Tucker's Swan Lake Intensive last year (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3) and her Romeo and Juliet Intensive in April and although those experiences nearly killed me I would not have missed them for the world.

Although La Bayadère is one of the most beautiful romantic ballets it is not performed very often in this country.  I have only seen it once and that was a performance by The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre at the Coliseum last year with  Irina Kolesnikova and Denis Rodkin in the leading roles (see Blown Away - St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere 24 Aug 2015). As it is not so well known I shall be publishing a number of articles on as many aspects of the ballet as I can.

I will start with a treat which is a trailer for the Dutch National Ballet's production in 2009.

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The National Ballet will perform the ballet again in Amsterdam between the 8 Oct and 12 Nov 2016 which will be the first opportunity for most of us to see it.  Amsterdam's Stopera is actually cheaper and easier to visit than Covent Garden for many of us outside London despite the pound's fish dive. There's lots of information about the current production on the company's website (see La Bayadere Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa).

Here are some other articles about the ballet and its background.


Jane Lambert   Blown Away - St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere 24 Aug 2015

Jane Lambert   La Bayadère - The Ninth Life 29 March 2015


Jane Lambert   La Bayadere  31 March 2015

Gita Mistry   A British Asian’s Perspective on La Bayadère 29 Aug 2015

Wikipedia   La Bayadere

Companies' Repertoire

Bolshoi Ballet

Dutch National Ballet

Royal Ballet

What Manchester Did Yesterday ......

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 If you are in London tomorrow you nay want to make your way to Canada Square Park at Canary Wharf between 12:30 and 14:00 for a pop-up performance of ballet, contemporary, modern and street dance promoted by the Royal Academy of Dance. There have already been pop-up performances at Finsbury Square this  month and there will be another at King's Cross in October.

These events build on the success of pop-up performances at Broadgate Circle and King's Cross in support of the Genée last September.

All good stuff but these are not the first pop-up dance performance in a major UK city.  Enjoy this video of KNT Manchester dancers in Piccadilly Gardens supporting Oxjam in 2013.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Another Class at Dance Studio Leeds

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A lot of things seem to happen on Monday evenings. It's the night that the London Ballet Circle meets for its talks.  Last Monday it was Ballet Black's first Friends evening (see Ballet Black's First Friends' Event: A Rehearsal with Chris Marney 14 July 2016). A few weeks earlier I was on my way to Trecate (see From Italy with Love 1 July 2016). Before that I was travelling back from Hungary (see My Trip to Hungary 23 April 2016). For all those reasons and more I had got out of the habit of visiting The Dance Studio, Leeds for its Monday evening Beginners and Improvers Ballet Class.

That is a pity for the class is good.  It is held in a convenient location at Mabgate Mills less than a mile from Northern Ballet where there is plenty of free parking and at the very convenient time of 19:45 which enables me to do a full day's work before grands battements and ronds de jambe.  There is a nice bunch of students in the class and until a few weeks ago it was run by the studio's founder, Katie Geddes, who is lovely. Last Christmas she organized a trip to The Nutcracker at The Grand (see Northern Nutcracker 19 Dec 2015) and a great party which raised funds for the NSPCC.

Katie is on maternity leave just now and one of the members of the class showed me some photos of her little boy who was born in May so huge congratulations to her and best wishes to the rest to her family. Since Katie went on leave her class has been taken by Sara Horner. According to the studio's website:
"Sara has been performing and teaching for over 11 years since completing her professional training at Performers College, Essex. During this time, she has worked in corporate shows, Pantomime, Cruise ships and Theatre tours of the UK and abroad, as a lead female vocalist, dancer and backing artist. Sara is also a freelance dance teacher teaching in numerous establishments in the West Yorkshire region. She is also Principal of Sara Horner School of Dance teaching ballet, tap, and modern to adults and children in Leeds."
Essex is the county of The Chelmsford Ballet Company and Just Ballet so anyone trained there must be good.

And so she was. Distracted by a passionate conversation about mobile phones I lost my turning and had to drive round acres of urban blight by the motorway before I found my way to Mabgate Mills by which time I had missed warm up and plies. However, I caught the rest of the barre which proceeded briskly with combined tendus and glisses, fondus and ronds de jambe, developpes, cloches and barre stretches. Embarrassingly I was the only member of the class who couldn't get a right leg on the barre and as they were travelling barres there was no lower rail. However, I could get my left leg up. Dunno what's gone wrong with my right leg. I could manage it OK this time last year. No doubt a sign of ageing. It's the only thing holding me back from putting my name down for Jane Tucker's Bayadere intensive in Manchester next month (see La Bayadère it is 2 July 2016).

Be that as it may I enjoyed the adagio, the pirouette exercise which Sara worked into a little enchainement, glissades and assembles and the temps leves and grands jetes at the end.  As I said in Dance Studio Leeds Beginners' Ballet Class 23 Oct 2015 the studio in which class takes place is not exactly cavernous so we have to apply the brakes after the second step hop let alone the step across the puddle which is how I was originally taught grand jetes but it was a lot of fun and the cool down and reverence came far too soon.

I thoroughly recommend this class especially while Northern Ballet is closed for the vacation.  It costs £6.50 for a 90 minute session which is about average for the North of England and well below the cost in London. There is a good teacher and nice atmosphere. Everyone makes an effort but it's not edgy or competitive.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Australian Ballet's Swan Lake - Murphy won me over

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The Australian Ballet, Swan Lake, Coliseum, 16 July 2016, 14:00

The synopsis in the programme notes were ominous as were some of the reviews in the papers and on BalletcoForum. A lot of parallels had been drawn between the plot of Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake and Prince Charles and Lady Di though Judith Mackrell thought the story saw closer parallels to Giselle (see Australian Ballet: Swan Lake review – a royal tragedy lifted by its leads 14 July 2016 The Guardian). It all sounded very like change for change's sake which I don't like very much at all (see Up the Swannee 17 March 2016). To my great surprise and delight I enjoyed Murphy's version despite the liberties that he took with the story and the score.

I think the reason why I liked Murphy's Swan Lake  so much more than say David Nixon's is that it was a genuine variation upon a theme with some real innovation and not a completely different story with different characters albeit with some bits of Petipa and Ivannov's choreography such as the cygnets' dance bolted on. That was also true of David Dawson's Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet which I saw in Liverpool last month (see Empire Blanche: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). I hesitate to use the expression "traditional Swan Lake" because ballets evolve over time and Geraldine Morris reminded us in Tell Tale Steps 2 that there wasn't much Petipa or Ivanov in the Swan Lake that she danced in the 1960s but if we take Anthony Dowell's production for the Royal Ballet as the meme Murphy did not stray all that far from it.

The plot of Dowell's Swan Lake and of every similar version is Siegfried's betrayal of Odette. Murphy explored that theme as did Dawson though their Odettes were very different. I have to say that I prefer Dawson's as his Odette is nobody's victim but Murphy's is interesting all the same.  She is head over heals in love with her husband but he still hankers after another (hence the parallels with Lady Di). When she realizes that her marriage is somewhat crowded she flirts with just about everything in trousers and creates a terrible scene which ends in her committal to a psychiatric hospital beside a lake staffed by nurses who appear to be members of a religious order with a scary swan like headgear (a bit like the Ursuline sisters though I had always thought they were a teaching order). I think it must be the mad scene that reminded Mackrell of Giselle though Siegfried's philandering reminded me more of James's two timing of Effie and the sylph in La Sylphide. During her stay in the hospital Odette imagines herself swimming on the waters of the lake with its swans and Siegfried coming to look for her.

Odette recovers her sanity. She gatecrashes a party given by Odile where Siegried sees Odette in a new light and falls in love with her. This time it is Odile who loses herself in a frenzy of jealousy. She summonses the psychiatrist and scary nurses but Odette scarpers with Siegfried and the whole court scouring the countryside for her.  I should point out that Odile is never referred to as such in the programme. She is called "Baroness von Rothbart" but that is not such a big departure as it sounds for Odile is Rothbart's daughter in the Dowell version. There is no Rothbart as such but his function is served by a lugubrious psychiatrist in charge of the psychiatric hospital.

There are some interesting transpositions.  It is Odette and not Odile who dances fouettés in the mad scene. The music that announces Rothbart and Odile's arrival in the black act of Dowell announces Odette's presence at the Baroness's party. Odile prowls outside the hospital looking pointedly at her watch as Siegfried visits his wife just as Odette flutters outside the palace as Siegfried declares his love for Odile in Dowell's version. Both Dowell and Murphy end with Odette jumping in the lake. There is a dramatic epaulement in Murphy when Odette and Siegfried spot each other for one last time before Odette is dragged down into the deep taking the draperies representing the water with her.

Several commentators talked about Murphy's use of contemporary dance. I didn't see all that much contemporary as opposed to classical vocabulary and what I did see seemed to work very well.  For instance, I liked some of the more unconventional lifts very much indeed as well as steps that gave the impression of skating.  Having nearly killed myself as a 66 year old Rumpole trying to learn the cygnets' and Hungarian dances and swans' entry at the KNT Swan Lake intensive last year I was pleased to find that they were all there and not too different from the versions that Jane Tucker had taught us unlike Dawson's where the cygnets became a pas de quatre.

For all its cleverness Murphy's Swan Lake would have been nothing without some excellent dancers. Robyn Hendricks was a perfect fit for Murphy's Odette. Tall and commanding but also delicate and vulnerable she was as great an actor as she was a dancer.  The expression "dance-actors" is often used by critics but except for Ed Watson I could think of very few people who merited the description. Ms. Hendricks is certainly one who does.  She was matched by Amy Harris as Baroness Rothbart who was captivating in the jealousy scene.  Earlier this year I saw Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari in Amsterdam (see Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016). That dance is how I imagine Mata Hari in real life. Partnering both Odette and Odile magnificently. Rudy Hawkes was a great Siegfried.  Murphy's Siegfried is a complex character. Not a complete bastard despite the way he treated Odette though someone who needed chastisement. Hawke understood his character well.  Every Swan Lake needs what the Bolshoi call an "evil genius" and that lot fell to Tristram Message as the psychiatrist. Not as big a role as Dowell's Rothbart but just as important to the story.

Looking through the dancers' bios I notice that nearly all of them come from Australia and many of them were trained at the Australian Ballet School. Given its relatively small population, the existence of two other fine companies in Brisbane and Perth and the fact that it continues to export fine dancers like Steven McRae and Jenna Roberts to us, Australia's contribution to dance is massive. I shall return to London for Cinderella next week and I am looking forward to it tremendously.