Thursday, 21 June 2018

Newyddion Gorau drwy'r dydd! Ballet Cymru are coming to Leeds


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The bit of the headline in Welsh means "Best news all day,"

Ballet Cymru are coming to Leeds on 29 November 2018 to perform A Child's Christmas in WalesIt is another collaboration between Cerys Matthews, Darius James and Amy Doughty  The last time those three worked together they produced TIR .   This is one of my all time favourite ballets as you can see from my reviews The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales 8 Nov 2015 and Ballet Cymru in London 1 Dec 2015.

James and Doughty are not the first choreographers to translate Dylan Thomas's poetry into dance.  Christopher Bruce created Ten Poems for Scottish Ballet in 2014 to mark the centenary of the poet's birth.  I reviewed the work in Bruce Again on 6 Oct 2014.

This may be Ballet Cymru's first visit to Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre but Darius James is no stranger as he danced with Northern Ballet when it was called Northern Ballet Theatre.  It will be good to welcome him back.  I hope that this is the first of many visits.

Tickets for this show are already on sale and are likely to go like hot cakes.  This link will take you to the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre website.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Congratulations to Sarah Kundi


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Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a very big fan of Sarah Kundi.  Sarah led me to Ballet Black and later to MurleyDance. For a while I feared that she would leave the country (see Bye Bye and All the Best 10 June 2014) and was overjoyed when I found that she was saved for the nation for she had been offered a job with English National Ballet.

Although she spent the last four years as an artist of the company she has performed some important roles.  One that impressed me particularly was as Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet (see Manchester's Favourite Ballet Company 29 Nov 2015),  I wrote:
"But the casting that delighted me most was to see Sarah Kundi as Lady Capulet. I have followed that dancer ever since she danced in Leeds. It was she who led me to Ballet Black and through MurleyDance to Richard Chappell. She is tall and elegant with the most expressive face. An actor as much as a dancer, yesterday's role was perfect for her. It is an important one in Nureyev's production for it is Lady Capulet who forces her daughter to take desperate measures. How I clapped at the curtain call. I fear my "brava" roared from the middle of the stalls would have been drowned out by everyone else's applause by the time it reached the stage. Had this show been in London I could have tossed flowers at her."
On the last occasion that English National Ballet performed in Manchester  Gita Mistry, Helen McDonough and I actually met Sarah.  It was just after she had danced Effie's confidante, Anna, in La Sylphide (see Always Something Special from English National Ballet: La Sylphide with Song of the Earth 18 Nov 2017). As the performance was just before Daiwali, Gita had made her a little sweet for the festival.

It was therefore a particular pleasure to read in Promotions and new dancers joining the Company for the 2018-19 season on ENB's website that Sarah had been promoted to first artist for the new season.  I am sure that all the contributors to Terpsichore will join me in congratulating Sarah and wishing her well.   I will definitely be in the audience at the Opera House when the company returns to Manchester in October with Manon and at the Empire when it dances Swan Lake in NovemberIn fact, maybe one of those shows could be Powerhouse Ballet's first outing

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Powerhouse Ballet's Training Programme



Following the success of its first class in Huddersfield on 26 May 2018 (see We have a company 27 May 2018) Powerhouse Ballet plans to hold classes on 30 June in Manchester, 28 July in Leeds, the 22 Sept in Liverpool and 27 Oct 2018 either in Huddersfield or Sheffield.

We have a very strong team of teachers from KNT Danceworks, the Northern Ballet Academy and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

For the future we plan a residential courses in a pleasant part of the country with distinguished guest teachers where we can concentrate on technique and repertoire and occasional workshops with visiting companies. I have already approached the artistic director of one company with such a suggestion,

As ballet is an art we shall offer training for the mind and soul as well as the body.  We shall therefore take a leaf out of the London Ballet Circle's book by inviting distinguished choreographers, dancers, teachers, critics and others who are either based in or visiting the North to give a talk to our members and other dance enthusiasts over a glass of wine.  These will be open to the general public as well as dancers. I hope that the first talk will be in September and that our guest will be a very big name indeed.

I hope we shall be able to host occasional outings to the Lowry, Alhambra and other theatres in the region and in time maybe even to Covent Garden, the Paris Opera or Stopera or to see our favourite dancers and maybe even meet some of the great names from whom we can derive inspiration.

However, one step at a time.  And we will take our next step with Mark Hindle who is an  excellent teacher in Studio 3 of the Manchester Dancehouse at 10a Oxford Road on Saturday 30 June at 13:30. The Dancehouse could not be easier to reach as it has an NCP multistory car park next door and is just a few hundred yards from  Oxford Road station which is on the Leeds to Liverpool mainline. Several bus routes run down Oxford Road and it is a short walk from the nearest tram stop.

I shall pay for Mark and the studio hire so the class is free to you but you must register in advance as we are limited to 25 dancers.  I know it's summer but please register and turn up.   None of the good things that I have suggested will be possible without good turnout in both senses of the word.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Plato's Cave - the Live Transmission of the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

Plato's Cave
Author Jan Sanraedam according to Cornelos van Harlaam
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Royal Ballet Swan Lake 12 June 2018 Live streaming to cinemas worldwide from Covent Garden

I was lucky enough to see the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake from the stalls of the Royal Opera House on 22 May 2018 and reviewed the performance in Scarlett's Swan Lake 23 May 2018. I saw it again last Tuesday at the Leeds Showcase against my better judgment and really wish I hadn't.

In Flowers for Dreda 9 June 2018 I wrote that ballet should never be a passive experience and that is the difference between watching ballet in the cinema and watching it live. You can marvel at Legnani's 32 fouettés from your local flicks just as much as you can in the theatre. Arguably you can even get a better view.  Certainly more than you would in rows L to Q of the amphitheatre. But however loudly you clap or cheer Nuñez or Nikulina can't hear you.  They are 200 or in the case of the Bolshoi 1,500 miles away and their dialogue is with the living, breathing, thinking audience a few feet away.  Not the hot dog munchers or cola quaffers of Birstall, Bergen or Brescia.

There are some advantages to ballet in the cinema.

You can see details that you might want to see such as the dancer's facial expressions, Rothbart's picking up the crown at the end of act III or Odette's mime in act IV when she breaks the news that they have to spend the rest of their lives floating around a slimy pond because Siegfried has blown it. On the other hand you also see some details that you don't like the brush strokes or bricks on the backdrop or loose threads on the costumes.

The other big advantage of cinema is that audiences can gain insight into the production or performance that they would never get in the theatre by interviewing the choreographers, composers or designers who created the work or the conductors and dancers who are about to perform it.  Generally, that is something that Pathé  Live and the Bolshoi do so much better than Covent Garden. One of the reasons the Bolshoi get it right is that they employ a multilingual journalist with good dress sense and an excellent knowledge of the ballet.

One feature of the Royal Ballet's transmissions that I wish they would drop are the gushing tweets.  Most seem to state the obvious - namely that ballet is a remarkable spectacle (it wouldn't be worth watching otherwise) plus their locations. Social media could have a role.  For example, it could be used to put questions to the creatives. I would love to have quizzed Liam Scarlett on why and how he developed  von Rothbart's role.  Covent Garden just seem to use it as a marketing tool or perhaps just simple vanity.

In watching the cinema transmission I was reminded of the story of Plato's cave.

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I first heard of it from my father long before I started to learn Greek.  Live transmissions of ballet are rather like the shadows of reality from the fire in the cave.  They may be better than nothing and they have their place but don't let anyone tell you that they are ballet because they are not. The analogy works quite well with live transmissions because some things that look good in the theatre just so not show up well on screen. John Macfarlane's designs are a case in point.  The screen images did not do justice to them.

I expressed these views on a ballet goers' website some years ago and got roasted. I was accused of elitism by a lady who makes her living from translating foreign  language patent specifications and was excoriated a man of the cloth.  I was reminded of the fate of the man who broke free of the cave and tried to warn the remaining troglodytes and gave that website a miss for many years. I am now very careful about what I post to that website confining myself to reviews of performances that most subscribers would not have seen lest I be offered a pint of hemlock.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Querencia

Author Benh Lieu SONG
Licence Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported
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Studio 59 Querencia 16 June 2018, 19:30 Victoria Theatre, Halifax

Querencia is an unusual title for a Halifax dance studio's annual show. Look it up in a Spanish dictionary and one of the meanings is "haunt" as a noun in the sense of a place where living creatures as well as unquiet spirits like to go. Hemingway used the term as the bull's space in the bull ring. The show's programme shows a pride of lions under the words "a place from which one's strength is drawn, where one feels at home: the place where you are your most authentic self."

Hmmm! Well I guess the show's organizers had to call it something even if most of the audience (I included) had to google the name.  Student shows are very important because dance developed in the theatre and is intended for an audience.  As I said in my review of Hype Dance's Annual Show 13 May 2018:
"Every dance student from toddler to pensioner can and should feel that charge no matter how inexperienced or incompetent he or she may be. Most get that opportunity because almost every dance school worth its salt offers its students a chance to take part in its annual show. Training and rehearsing for that show is what distinguishes dance classes from dreary keep fit."
This was a particularly ambitious show because it took place in Halifax's main repertory theatre which seats over 1,500 patrons and consisted of almost 2 hours of continuous, vigorous dancing. Considering that Studio 59 opened its doors only 18 months ago and has just under 100 registered students this was an impressive undertaking.

I was there at the invitation of one of the dancers who attended Jane Tucker's class for Powerhouse Ballet on 26 May 2018 (see We have a Company 27 May 2018 Powerhouse Ballet).  She told us about this show when Amelia Sierevogel and I visited her Thursday evening ballet class at Ballet North on 31 May 2018 (see Class Review - Ballet North Halifax 2 June 2018).

The show consisted of 19 pieces in every style from ballet to tap.  It opened with a scene from Hairspray with the girls in flowing full length dresses performing a high octane routine.  Grace Allen as Corny Collins made a very convincing young man.  I could not fault the dancing.  It was exuberant and fun to watch.  The only part of that piece which could have been improved was in the dialogue. The Baltimore accent is particularly difficult to imitate as Maryland lies just south of the Mason-Dixon line but is influenced by the more nasal tones from New Jersey and New York and the nearest thing Americans have to a received pronunciation in Washington DC. I would have thought the girls' natural voices would have been good enough especially as the West Riding has quite a lot in common with Baltimore.  Also, the casting was a bit strange with the mother looking very much younger than her teenage daughters unless irony was intended by the producer.

Hairspray was followed by Milkshake by the intermediate commercial class, a tap number We both reached for the gun from Chicago, Ice Royalty (hip hop), Can Can (great dancing but no fin de siècle music), Wash & Set in heels, Bye Bye Blackbird (more tap this time by the intermediate class which was one of my favourites), Youth (lyrical), Gangland (more hip-hop), I just can't wait to be king (another favourite performed by two very talented young girls Elenya Coates and Grace Raine) and finally the ballet which wound up act 1.

The ballet was called Young & Beautiful and combined the junior, intermediate and senior classes in one piece.  The dancers performed in grey classical tutus and what appeared to be lemon coloured tops. The senior dancers wore eye masks and pointe shoes.  There seemed to be quite a lot of bourrées on full pointe and demi which must have required some stamina.  Even though ballet accommodates every type of music and none (even Bollywood as my old university dance club showed in Colour of Love) I wondered at the juxtaposition of classical tutus with anything but classical music. However, the piece was performed slickly. It was well rehearsed and thoughtfully choreographed.  I congratulate those who coached the artists as well as the artists who took part.

The second act began with Tribute, a jazz piece celebrating 100 years of women's suffrage.  It was followed by Black Magic (junior commercial), Pop Mania (more jazz and a very confident performance by two junior dancers), Chun Li (more hip hop), Flashmob  (break dance and acrobatics which was the only piece that included some boys), OTW (more commercial) and Tapathon that included another appearance by the talented Grace Raine).

Throughout the show there were breaks for speeches by a lady and gentleman who appeared to be in charge of Studio 59.  They presented small silver cups to students they wished to reward.  At the very end of the show they and each of the choreographers performed a party piece to prove that they had not forgotten their dance skills.

It goes without saying that a lot of work must have gone into the show. Not only with the dancing but also with the costumes, properties and lighting.  It was entertaining for the audience and must have been fun to rehearse and perform.  Studio 59 have every reason to be pleased with the result.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Huddersfield University's Graduate Costume Show


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University of Huddersfield  Graduate Costume Show 15 June 2018 17:00 Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

I am often asked by friends who regard balletomania as an addiction how I came to be hooked. Even  though I saw a lot of theatre, attended a lot of concerts and visited a lot of art galleries and museums as I was growing up, I never had much to do with ballet.  That was largely because my father, a kindly and erudite man of letters, regarded it as slightly disreputable owing to its association with the Soviet Union and the tendency of the classical tutu and male dancers' tights to reveal more than many considered decent.

My interest in ballet was sparked by an exhibition of early 20th century Russian art at the Victoria and Albert Museum or possibly Royal Academy when I was about 16 or 17.  There I saw some of the work of Leon Bakst and was quite bowled over. I learned of his work with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. I found that he was just one of many great artists who had been commissioned to design for the ballet.  When I should have been revising for "A" levels and Oxbridge scholarships in Hammersmith Library I was pouring over its massive collection of reference books on theatre design and ballet.  I watched what I could on television and became an early fan of Peter Darrell's Western Theatre Ballet. Eventually the London Festival Ballet staged a triple bill at The Coliseum that included the The Firebird, widely regarded as Bakst's masterpiece.

On the pretext of treating an elderly aunt I persuaded my parents to pay for me to see the show. It was better than I had ever imagined. The music, the colour, the movement and the drama absorbed all my senses.  It was the most thrilling experience that I had ever known.  The auditorium exploded at the curtain call.  The cheering, whooping and growling from the crowd, the thunderous applause, the mountains of flowers were theatre in themselves. Nobody with any soul could fail to have been moved by that experience.  Although I had to wait till I got to St Andrews with an independent income before I could afford another show or ballet lessons my passion for dance had been ignited.

I experienced a similar frisson  of excitement last night when I saw another costume for The Firebird .  That garment had been designed by Amelia Sierevogel who has just graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a bachelor's degree in Costume with Textiles. The costume was modelled by Erin Phillips who also reads Costume with Textiles at Huddersfield.  As soon as she came on stage I recognized her as a fellow adult ballet student. Erin did not simply display that costume. She danced in it.  Much of her performance was on pointe.  It was - or rather costume and dancing were - spell binding.

Amelia's costume was just one of several excellent works that I saw last night at the Graduate Costume Show at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.   The students on that course learn to design costumes for theatres around the world as can be seen from the placements.  Amelia's were with the Australian Ballet and the Australian Opera last year.  Students pick characters from theatre, literature, film or television and create costumes for them. Last night we saw costumes for Cinderella and Ophelia as well as The Firebird and many other characters.  There were several designs for the ballet. Erin was not the only model on pointe last night.  The show opened spectacularly with a scene from Midsummer Night's Dream with a splendid Bottom dressed as an ass.

Although last night's show was filmed, it is likely to be some time before any of it is posted to YouTube.  Happily one can get some idea of its format from the above recording of Rhianna Lister's designs for characters from A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from the 2016 show.

As I said above, I was led to ballet by Leon Bakst so I cannot stress too much the importance of theatre design. Over the years I have been impressed by other designers such as Nicholas Georgiadis, Osbert Lancaster and more recently Lez Brotherston   The course at Huddersfield is described in Costume with Textiles at the University of Huddersfield - Natalie Day. It is clearly an important resource for the theatre and thus for all of us.

Although it has nothing to do with costume design or fashion I must report another find.  On my way back to my car I passed an eatery called Rostyk Kitchen that advertised jollof rice. It is a delicacy from West Africa that my late spouse used to cook and I miss it so.  West African food requires a lot of preparation and the ingredients are not always readily available. I can cook simple dishes like plantains and sweet potatoes but not plasas, pepper chicken or groundnut stew. Now I no longer need to mither Vlad the Lad's mum and dad, my sisters in law in London or my relations by marriage in Freetown when I get a craving.  My feast of jollof rice and chicken completed a perfect day.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Nifty North Korean Footwork


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Prompted by the comings and goings in Singapore I googled "Ballet in North Korea" and this is what I found.  I am not sure that this counts as ballet but it certainly passes muster as tap.   Some very nifty footwork there.

There are plenty of dancers from South Korea in the world's ballet companies.  Kimin Kim, the first to spring to mind, actually dances in Russia.  He will be performing in London with the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre between 22 and 26 Aug 2018.  There is also Hyo-Jung Kang with the Stuttgart Ballet and I nearly forgot Young Gye Choi who is one of my favourites at the Dutch National Ballet.

I struggle to think to think of any from the North.  Given Pyongyang's adoption of other Stalinist practices I am surprises that there is not a strong North Korean Ballet or, if there is, that we in the West hear so little of it.  If any of my readers know otherwise then do say.