Monday, 24 April 2017

Royal Swedish Ballet


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The company that David Murley saw on 8 April 2017 is the fourth oldest in the world. The Royal Swedish Ballet was founded in 1773 and its ballet masters include some of the greatest names in ballet:
Despite its importance in the history of dance, we do not see much of this company. It last appeared at Sadler's Wells between the 24 and 27 Sept 2014 and its previous appearance before then was in 1995. 

When it came to London in 2014 it brought Mat's Ek's Romeo and Juliet based on a score by Tchaikovsky rather than Prokofiev.  Sadly, I could not get down to London in time to see it for myself but the following YouTube video suggests that I missed something good.


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The ballet that David saw (extracts of which appear above) was The Dream of Swan Lake but the Royal Swedish Ballet seems to have a pretty good traditional Swan Lake in its repertoire.



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There are, of course, other fine companies in Sweden such as The Culberg Ballet which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its foundation this year and the Gothenburg Opera Dance Company about which I shall try to find out more.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Pär Isberg's The Dream of Swan Lake

Royal Swedish Opera House, Stockholm
Photo David Murley
© 2017 David Murley: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright owner






















David Murley

Royal Swedish Ballet, The Dream of Swan Lake, 8 April 2017, Matinee, Royal Swedish Opera House

Due to the unfortunate events on Friday the 7 April 2017 in Stockholm city centre, the premiere of The Royal Swedish Ballet’s The Dream of Swan Lake (Kungliga Baletten Drömmen om Svansjön) by Pär Isberg was delayed. Instead, the production was premiered at the Saturday matinee on the 8 April 2017 with a cast change – the intended premiere cast. The performance was dedicated to the victims of Friday’s events.
Stage Royal Swedish Opera Houses
Photo David Murley
(c) 2017 David Murley: all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by David Murley

Not only was I watching a premiere by the Royal Swedish Ballet, but it was also the first time I had seen the company live. Colleagues of mine, whom I respect greatly, have been company members there at different points over the years. In fact, one colleague of mine left the company just last season. Now, I was sat in the breathtaking Swedish Royal Opera House in Stockholm at a point in time during my maiden voyage to the city surrounded by unforgettable events.

Isberg’s The Dream of Swan Lake is evidently a take on the original Swan Lake. The score had been cut and pasted and this initially disorientated me. However, I was receptive and listened and the results were positive and pleasing to the senses. The chopping and changing of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece elegantly encased Isberg’s creation. Parts of the score that were intended as an overture or an opening were now featured in Isberg’s choreography.   The results of quite exciting and captivating.

The shift in score also entails a re-visioning and restaging of the ballet. The Dream of Swan Lake still parallels the traditional tale of Sigfried and Odette/Odile and the manipulative malice of Rothbart. The ballet is set in modern times within a company setting and first takes place in the studio. Fred, the choreographer, (Calum Lowden) holds company auditions and promotes his coveted protégé (Desislava Soteva) to the role
Dream of Swan Lake Running Times
Photo David Murley
(c) 2017 David Murley: all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the copyright owner
of Odette/Odile. Fred then demotes his rival (performed by Vahe Martirosyan) to dancing the role of Rothbart. The dynamic cleverly sets up an undeniable tension which is woven throughout the fabric of Isberg’s vision.

A welcomed flavour to Isberg’s staging was the re-introduction of the once forgotten Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. In Isberg’s creation, the pas de deux is gorgeously danced by Sarah-Jane Brodbeck and Vahe Martirosyan. The style is less classical and more neo-classical in the pas de deux. This proves desirable. Brodbeck brought refinement and effortless power to the pairing while Martiriosyan, staying true to his character delivered toxicity and exactitude. The pas de deux gelled into the production and glimmered like a jewel amongst the other technical treats that were offered that day.

The corps de ballet were well drilled and a pleasure to watch as they adorned, decorated and graced the stage. The dancers also brought to life Jérôme Kaplan’s costume designs. The designs were very vibrant, elegant and eye-catching. The technical prowess of the corps de ballet was rival to that of the principals. It was exciting to watch, and evidently shows the strength and standard of the Royal Swedish Ballet as a company – very much a positive.

Company member, Jenny Nilson, performed the cameo role of the company director. Nilson’s class, undeniable stage presence and glamour were every inch the company director. She appeared youthful yet seasoned and knowledgeable. Nilson danced not only en pointe but also in heeled shoes and owned every costume she wore in her role as company director.  With commanding poise not far off the Queen Mother in the original, Nilson brought a gracious climax to Isberg’s Act III.
The final scene of Isberg’s ballet was personally my favourite – a peek into the backstage/after show world so few get to witness. The techies in their blacks striking costumes and scenery and the dancers scattering about casually disrobing themselves removing their headdresses and hair grips while chatting and wandering back to their dressing rooms. In the background upstage left, Fred and his protégé creating their own scene paralleling Petipa’s original. Beautiful and fulfilling.

Isberg’s The Dream of Swan Lake performs throughout the remainder of April, and also during the months of May and June 2017. Definitely worth seeing.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

CinemaLive's Coppelia


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The Australian Ballet, Coppelia, 12 Dec 2016, Sydney Opera House

Yesterday, I sacrificed my Wednesday evening ballet class at Northern Ballet Academy to see a performance of Coppelia by the Australian Ballet that had been recorded at the Sydney Opera House on 12 Dec 2016. Because of the time difference between Sydney and Leeds I did not expect it to be a live performance. We or the Australian performers and audience would have to get up at some unearthly hour for that to be possible and what would be the point as it would still be images on a screen rather than the interaction between artist and audience which make live performances so precious. Nevertheless, I did expect it to be more like an encore screening of a live performance by say Pathé Live or the Royal Opera House rather than just another ballet film.

The film was distributed by CinemaLive which describes itself on its About Us page as "leading producers and distributors of Event Cinema, reaching thousands of screens worldwide, allowing fans to see world-class music, theatre, opera, arts and other special live events at their local cinema." The company was founded in 2008 and holds a number of industry records including the highest grossing music event at the British and Irish box office which happened to be André Rieu: Christmas with André. Although CinemaLive resisted the temptation to flood the screen with gushing twitter messages and irritating presenters that mar other some of their competitors' transmissions they still have a lot to learn about filming ballet.

The screening started with an aerial view of Sydney with the camera zooming into the Opera House followed by a greeting from Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo who danced Swanilda and Frans in the performance. After a few words from each of them, they turned and walked towards the theatre arm in arm at one point. We saw them again in the interval when the artistic director, David McAllister and others spoke about the importance of Coppelia in the history of the company. McAllister explained that the ballet was the last work that the late Peggy van Praagh had created for the company. One of those who had helped to stage the ballet in 1979 spoke of the applause on the first night with the observation that "they seemed to like it."

Not everyone likes the story of Coppelia but I do, possibly because it is an early essay on the social consequences of robotics and artificial intelligence. Birmingham Royal Ballet has a great Coppelia (see Sensational 6 March 2015) which I am glad to see that it is re-staging at Birmingham and Bristol in June and July (see the company's website). So, too, does English National Ballet (see Coppelia in Oxford 2 Nov 2014). But I think my favourite is Ted Brandsen's where Zwaantje (Swanilde) works in a juice bar, Frans in a gym, Dr Coppelius runs a chain of beauty clinics and Coppelia has to do more than read a book and make a few jerky movements (see Brandsen's Coppelia 12 Dec 2016).

Van Praagh's Coppelia is of the traditional kind set in Galicia with lots of peasant dancing and a pageant staged for the presentation of a new bell. One interesting feature that I noticed in van Praagh's version was that Dr Coppelius possessed some kind of hypnotic power that reduced Franz to his knees in act I. All the rest of the story was there including the listening to the ear of corn for a rattle. The only bit that does not appear in the Australian story is the burgomaster's compensating Dr Coppelius for the wrecking of his laboratory and his invitation to the wedding reception.

Kondo and Guo danced well in the performance, particularly the pas de deux in the last act. I do not recall seeing them in either Cinderella or Swan Lake when the Australian Ballet visited London last year (see Ratmansky's Razzamatazz  24 July 2016 and The Australian Ballet's Swan Lake - Murphy won me over 17 July 2016). The absence of a cast list with more than three names on it (one of the many things CinemaLive has to learn) means that I cannot be sure whom I saw in the recording but I think I recognized Robyn Hendricks who had danced Odette in Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake in Prayer. The Australian Ballet is a magnificent company with an abundance of talent that shone through despite everything yesterday evening.

I have a very soft spot for Australia having spent three glorious holidays there during which time I attended an opera at the Sydney Opera House and a concert at the Melbourne Arts Centre.  There is a great appetite for the arts in Australia and an almost evangelical zeal to bring them to every Bruce and Sheila in the outback as well as the great opera houses of the world. Some of my best teachers have been trained in Australia and an attribute that they have in common is an exceptional eye for detail. There are fine companies in Brisbane and Perth as well as the Australian Ballet. My colleague Amelia Sierevogel is about to start a work placement with the Australian Ballet and the Australian Opera as part of her degree course in costume design at Huddersfield. She has promised us reviews and articles on her adventures on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

KNT's Le Corsaire Workshop and Evening Class Show


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I have been coming to KNT Danceworks's evening classes at the Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester ever since the 28 Aug 2014 (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014). I am very glad to have found KNT as it is now very much a home from home. I have met some delightful people there, both teachers and students, and learned a lot over the last three years.

In addition to regular classes in most types of dance on almost every day of the week, KNT holds special events that I particularly enjoy. These are repertoire intensives with Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet and shows for the evening class students in the auditorium of The Dancehouse.

The latest intensive was Le Corsaire which I mentioned in Le Corsaire Intensive on 2 April 2017. It took place on 15 April 2017. I was unable to attend the workshop but I did see most of the end of workshop show which impressed me greatly.  The above video is just one clip from it. I think you will agree that everyone in the film danced well. Their performance is particularly impressive when one considers that they had only one day to learn the choreography.

The next show will take place on 13 May and I will take part in it. I will appear in the Pre-Intermediate Class performance which will be one of several contributions in many dance styles ranging from African to tap. Our instructor, Karen Sant, has created a lovely piece for us. Students in other classes will present shows too. The Chinese dance is a particular favourite of mine. There is a wonderful atmosphere in the theatre both in the auditorium and behind the scenes on show night. We have a splendid compère who is herself a dancer. To get a flavour of the evening, see Pride of 23 Oct 2016 which also contain links to reviews of other performances.

If any of my readers happens to be in Manchester on 13 May with nothing better to do that day, it would be great to see you. The show has yet to be advertised but it usually starts at 19:00 and costs about £5, The Dancehouse is almost next door to Oxford Road station and a few hundred yards from St Peter's Square Metrolink tram stop. There is a multi-storey car park in the same block as The Dancehouse in Chester Street and there is usually plenty of unrestricted street parking in the vicinity after 18:30.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Claudia Dean Coaching


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I am not at all good at pirouettes so when I find something that helps me I am very happy to pass it on (see A Really Useful Video on Pirouettes 22 Nov 2014 and A Pint for Josh 24 Aug 2015). I think I have found another useful video from Australia.

Claudia Dean, who trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced with the Royal Ballet for several years, operates a coaching service in Brisbane known as Claudia Dean Coaching. Dean had uploaded many of her lessons to YouTube and there are lots of other tips on her YouTube channel.

Brisbane may only be the third most populous city in a middle ranking country but it contributes much to ballet. It hosts the Queensland Ballet and Queensland Ballet Academy. Fiona Noonan, the teacher who recently led me back to ballet, trained there. Although she spent only a few years with the Royal Ballet, Claudia Dean made her mark with the company dancing the role of The Chosen One in The Rite of Spring. A link to a YouTube video of her rehearsing the role with Dame Moniuca remains on the Royal Opera House website.

I should lke to wish all my readers a happy Easter.

Friday, 14 April 2017

MacMillan - A National Celebration


Tulsa Ballet, Elite Syncopations, Standard YouTube Licence


Sir Kenneth MacMillan died on 29 Oct 1992 (see the biographical notes on the Kenneth Macmillan website). To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death, dancers from the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Northern Ballet and the Yorke Dance Project will come together on the stages of the Royal Opera House to celebrate MacMillan’s extraordinary legacy (see Kenneth MacMillan: a National Celebration on the  Royal Opera House website.

On 18 and 19 Oct 2017, dancers from the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet will dance Elite Syncopations which the Kenneth MacMillan website describes as MacMillan at his most playful (see Elite Syncopations on the Kenneth MacMillan website). Extracts from the ballet performed by the Tulsa Ballet appear in the video above. Birmingham Royal Ballet will dance Concerto and Scottish Ballet Le Baiser de la Fée  (see Concerto, Le Baiser de la fée and Elite Syncopations on the Royal Opera House's website and Scottish Ballet dances Stravinsky on Scottish Ballet's). Readers may remember my article on the reconstruction of an extract from Le Baiser de la Fée in Pavlova's drawing room (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 June 2014),

On 24 Oct and 1 Nov 2017 dancers from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet will dance The Judas Tree and Das Lied von der Erde (see The Judas Tree and The Song of the Earth on the Royal Opera House website).  The Royal Ballet will dance The Judas Tree again on 26 and 27 Oct 2017 while Northern Ballet will dance Gloria and dancers from the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet will perform Elite Syncopations (see Gloria, The Judas Tree and Elite Syncopations on the Royal Opera House website).

The Royal Ballet will dance Jeux. a short ballet by Wayne Eagling inspired by MacMillan's recreation of Nijinsky's work at the Clore Studio Upstairs on the 18, 18 and 24 Oct 2017 (see Jeux on the Royal Opera House website).

Also in the Clore Studio Upstairs, dancers from the Yorke Dance Project will dance A Sea of Troubles on 26 and 27 Oct and 1 Nov 2017 (see Sea of Troubles on the Royal Opera House website).

As I noted in What can possibly follow Tindall? Nothing less than MacMillan 13 March 2017, Northern Ballet plans its own tribute to MacMillan by dancing Concerto, Las Hermanas and Gloria in Bradford between 5 and 7 Ocr 2017. The company will also dance that programme in Leeds on 16 and 17 March 2018 (see A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Master Choreographer  on the Northern Ballet website),

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Jewels - The Royal Ballet at its best


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The Royal Ballet, Jewels, transmitted live to cinemas, 11 April 2017, 19:39


I once asked a distinguished panel of dance critics, dancers and the artistic director of Scottish Ballet whether a narrative ballet needed a plot (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). All said no except Tobias Batley who was then a premier dancer at Northern Batley and seemed to have an interesting point to make but did not get the chance to develop it. When I asked that question I had Balanchine's Jewels in mind which actually tells a lot of stories from the history of ballet to the choreographer's life history without actually having a libretto.

Jewels is like a denial of service attack on the senses. Each of the three ballets is a feast in itself. You feel you can only take so much colour, and movement, and music in one evening - but after each act, there is more.  The only experience with which I can compare this ballet is, in fact, my first sight of real jewels. The Crown Jewels on my first trip to London. The impression that the dazzling display of light and colour made on a little five-year-old from the North in post-war Britain was very much the same as the concatenation of dancers in green, red and white create whenever I see Balanchine's masterpiece.

On Sunday I remarked that I had seen the Bolshoi at its best (see A Hero of our Time 10 April 2017). Yesterday, audiences around the world saw the Royal Ballet at its best. The company fielded Beatriz Stix-BrunellValeri HristovLaura MoreraRyoichi HiranoEmma MaguireHelen Crawford and James Hay in Emeralds.  As readers know, I am one humongous fan of Morera whose hand I once had the good fortune to shake (see Laura Morera  25 Aug 2015). She always delights me but yesterday she raised my admiration to a new level.

More favourites in Rubies Sarah LambSteven McRae and Melissa Hamilton. If Emeralds was lyrical, Rubies was spectacular. One gorgeous explosion of movement after another culminating in McRae's exit in chaînés. A dynamo harnessed to McRae at that moment could have powered a fair size town. Rubies is the shortest work in the three ballets but it is the one I like best, possibly because of Stravinsky's Capriccio possibly just the New World razmataz. The energy. The fun.

Diamonds, the white act, is sublime. An homage to Petipa. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares were majestic. Stix-Brunnell and Hay returned to join them together with Claire CalvertTierney HeapYasmine NaghdiNicol EdmondsFernando Montaño and Valentino Zucchetti. Not all Petipa's ballets end well but some of them do. Think of The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and all your other favourites rolled into one and combine it with Tchaikowsky's Polish symphony and you understand why I compared the overpowering of the senses to the overwhelming of a website by millions of messages.

I should also say something about the presentation. I was very impressed with Kristen McNally. I warmed to her the moment she opened her mouth. Proud, elegant, knowledgeable, amusing and above all, Northern. I do hope the Royal Opera House enlists her services again. It was also good to see Darcey Bussell as it always is but this time she was there in her capacity as a great ballerina escorting a member of the original cast to the jeweller's shop that inspired Balanchine. A beautiful dancer surrounded by beautiful things. That is how I like to think of her. It would be good to see more of her in scenes like that.