Sunday, 26 March 2017

An Adventure Indeed

John Teniel's White Rabbit

Chelmsford Ballet Company Alice's Adventures Chelmsford Civic Theatre, 25 March 2017, 19:30

I have been coming to the Chelmsford Civic Theatre for the Chelmsford Ballet Company's annual show since 2014 (see The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmicks but with Love and Joy 20 March 2014, A Delight Indeed 22 March 2015 and A Real Beauty: Chelmsford Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty 25 March 2016). Every show has been excellent but Alice's Adventures which I saw last night was by far the best.

Although the company has staged ballets based on Alice in Wonderland twice before (see the list of productions on the company's website), this was an entirely new production with a new plot, new choreography and new designs with some amazing computer generated graphics and inspired dancing. Save for the score which was Carl Davis's arrangement of various works by Tchaikovsky for English National Ballet's 1995 production of Alice in Wonderland everything was created by members of the company. Annette Potter, the company's artistic director, contributed the story and choreography, Ann Starling the designs and Phil Rhodes the special effects.

The ballet began with a prologue where Alice and her sister took a stroll in a park. There they took tea at an open air café called Hatter's run by a rather eccentric proprietor of the same name. There they spotted a hurried and forgetful businessman with a predilection for carrots, a bossy schoolmistress with a party of children, a sleepy urchin, a street vendor selling carrots among other things and a pair of workmen manhandling a tree. Alice was drawn to a hole in which the workmen tried to plant the tree. She stood on the brink. Then a gauze curtain fell onto which images of Alice floating through space were projected. The curtain rose to show her recumbent on the floor of a strange land with food that made her grow and drink that made her shrink. All the individuals that Alice had seen in the park were transposed to this land. The businessman became a giant white rabbit, the café proprietor the Mad Hatter, the schoolmistress the Queen of Hearts, the urchin the dormouse and the vendor the duchess. Alice took tea with the Mad Hatter, met Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, played croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs and encountered all sorts of other characters narrowly escaping decapitation at the command of the Queen only through a rapid return to the real world where she emerged from what had become a rather disturbing dream.

Annette Potter had a cast that ranged in skill and experience from the company's guest artist, Andrei Teodor Iliescu, to some very young ballet students and she had to create dances for them all.  Her choreography was incredibly ingenious. Here are just two examples. The experience of growing after eating the food labelled "East Me" was achieved by Alice's stretches on pointe. The experience of shrinking by splits on the floor. Potter drew out Iliescu's virtuosity while allowing everyone in between from the youngest student to Alice and the other soloists to shine.

There were a lot of dancers in the show and each and every one excelled from the tiniest hedgehog upwards. Sadly I shall omit some names that deserve substantial credit. All I can say is that you were all stars. You must have felt that from the loud and sustained applause at the reverence and at many points throughout the show.

Iliescu was magnificent as the white rabbit and carrot crunching businessman. Tall and slender all eyes were drawn to him, particularly his graceful jumps and turns. I had last seen him in Leeds in Chris Marney's Scenes from a Wedding for Ballet Central (see Dazzled 3 May 2015). According to the programme, Iliescu came to Central after Sara Matthews spotted him in Lausanne (see his performance as Albrecht in the 2013 competition). He was offered a full scholarship and has been here ever since.

Iliescu was partnered delightfully by Darci Wilsher whom I had last seen in Marney's Carnival of the Animals for the 2015 show. She was the perfect Alice, a role that demanded not only a mastery of technique but also of mime and drama.

Andrew Potter was a splendid Hatter. A great character dancer, he had impressed me as Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. I understand that Gary Avis was in the audience on Thursday night. I think he would have been reminded of himself. Samantha Ellis was a fearsome queen and schoolmarm but also occasionally a fetchingly flirtatious young woman whom we couldn't hate. Isabelle Fellows was a fine dormouse, Stacey Byrne an impressive duchess, Scarlett Man a beautiful bluebell, Megan Roberts and Alice Brecknell were a hilarious Dum and Dee and Lucy Abbot an equally amusing half stoned caterpillar.  No show by Chelmsford Ballet would be complete without an appearance by Marion Pettet. She entered in the prologue, a small role but one that she performed with her usual aplomb.

The sets and costumes deserve a special mention. They literally jumped out of Teniel's illustrations. I particularly liked the Cheshire cat which glided above the stage from a gantry. The company has a genius of a special effects designer in Phil Rhodes. I can think of at least one choreographer inspired by film not a million miles from Leeds but who is now in Germany who would have been mightily impressed had he seen those computer generated effects.

This is the company's 70th year and it has achieved a lot. It has launched more than a few careers in dance including that of Cara O'Shea, one of my favourite teachers at Northern Ballet Academy who is also a talented choreographer (see my review of Small Steps and Other Pieces - Leeds CAT End of Term Show 2 July 2016). Chelmsford Ballet will also have inspired three generations of kids to step up to the barre and created a considerable audience for dance in Essex. It is a great example of what dancers, teachers and other artists in a medium size town can do. We have the same building blocks in great profusion in the Northern Powerhouse. Would it not be wonderful to follow Chelmsford Ballet's example there.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

A New Interactive Resource: Royal Ballet School's Ballet History Timeline

Bridge of Aspiration between the Royal Ballet School and the Royal Opera House
Photo Edward
Source Wikipedia
Copyright released by the author

The Royal Ballet School has recently compiled a magnificent resource for anyone who is interested in the history of dance in the United Kingdom called the Ballet History Timeline. It consists of nearly 750 images of items held in The Royal Ballet School Special Collections together with commentary written by the School’s Manager of Special Collections, Anna Meadmore. There is a useful introductory video on YouTube which states what is in the collection and how to use it.

At present. the Timeline covers the period between 1862 (the year in which Marius Petipa was appointed chief ballet master of the Maryinsky Ballet) and 1956 (the year in which the Royal Ballet received its royal charter and, also incidentally, the year in which the Bolshoi made its first appearance in the United Kingdom). However, the intention is to go back much further and also to advance to the present time.

Readers can access this resource at There are at present 6 introductory chapters:
  • "Prologue: Marius Petipa and the Imperial Russian Ballet 1860–1897
  • The Birth of Modern Ballet: the Diaghilev Ballets Russes 1898–1919
  • Early British Ballet: foundations and pioneers 1920–30
  • Early British Ballet: building a repertoire 1931–38
  • World War Two: a national ballet for Britain 1939–46
  • Formative Years: The Royal Ballet 1947–56".
Users can either click on those or use the search facility.  

I have already had a lot of fun with this resource. I started by searching for "Petipa" and found references to him recurring in just about every chapter. The last of those references was:
"1862 – Marius PetipaBallet Master of Imperial Russia"
I clicked on the hypertext link and came across a page headed with that title bearing a splendid photo of Petipa in a costume from the ballet The Pharaoh's Daughter.  The introductory text states:
"Marius Petipa (1818–1910) was a French dancer and choreographer; he was chief Ballet Master of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg for more than 40 years (1862–1903). The repertoire and style of Imperial Russian Classicism is exemplified by the enduring ‘ballet classics’ that Marius Petipa and his assistant, Lev Ivanov, created to the glorious ballet scores of Pyotr Tchaikovsky."
More information can be obtained by clicking "Read More". There is also a short biography and a page of drawings, photos and an interesting lithograph of Arthur Saint-Leon's dance notation on a page headed "Gallery".

One of the pleasures of taking up ballet again very late in life is the awareness that one is participating albeit in a very small way in a glorious artistic tradition. It keeps me going when my legs ache and right foot screams out in agony. It motivates me to drive to Truro and back to see a youth ballet and, above all. to keep this publication going.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Au Revoir, Ailsa, and Good Luck

Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Photo Donaldytong
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

Last night I joined many of my fellow adult dance students at KNT Danceworks to say au revoir to Ailsa Baker, a favourite teacher. She was my first teacher at KNT (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014). We have all learned a lot from her and, just as importantly, we have all enjoyed her classes.

She had a pretty full class last night and its numbers were swollen by students from her other classes. When our principal, Karen Sant, presented her with an enormous card bearing all our names, the applause was as loud and as enthusiastic as could have been expected by any ballerina.  Afterwards, we made our way to a nearby pub and the party was still going strong when I left to catch my last train home.

Ailsa is going to Dubai where ballet is booming. A new opera house has opened recently (see The Dubai Opera House 11 June 2016) and there are lots of people who want to study dance of all ages and ability ranges. It should be a great adventure for her.

We won't forget her. There is an English language common law court there where I can appear. I will remember to pack a leotard and shoes as well as my wig and gown next time I have business there. She has also promised to visit us whenever she comes back to Manchester. So we wish her bon voyage and au revoir but definitely not goodbye.

Bouvier's Romeo and Juliet in Barcelona

Standard YouTube Licence

Last week, one of my friends visited Barcelona. While she was there she took a tour of The Liceu Theatre and attended a rehearsal of Rigoletto. The theatre has just announced its programme for 2017 and 2018 which includes performances of Joëlle Bouvier's Romeo and Juliet by the ballet of the Grand Theatre of Geneva, the Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina. a triple bill by the youth company of the Theatre Institute of St Cujat and Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Dream by the Monte Carlo Ballet.

If I were a lady of leisure I would willingly see all four shows but if I had to select one it would be Bouvier's Romeo and Juliet.  I have already mentioned the Geneva Grand Theatre Ballet in Ballet in Switzerland on 27 Oct 2013 and Geneva Nutcracker on 25 Oct 2015. It was the company that premiered Christopher Bruce's Rooster which is now one of the most popular works in Rambert Dance's repertoire (see Rooster ................ :-) 4 Oct 2014). Its latest work is Philippe Cohen's Une Autre Passion based on Bach's St Matthew Passion which is about to open on 28 March at the Opera des Nations in Geneva.  The company will perform Romeo and Juliet at the Liceu between 3 and 7 Nov 2017.

Bouvier created Romeo and Juliet in 2009 for the 22 dancers of the Geneva Ballet (see the Romeo and Juliet web page on the choreographer's website). There is a feature on the ballet with comments by Bouvier on website. Although Bouvier retains Prokofiev's score the interpretation is completely original. The company has already taken this work on tour to France and South Africa where it has received very favourable reviews (see Raphaël de Gubernatis Danse : un "Roméo et Juliette" magistral! 8 April 2011 Le Nouvel Observateur).

The Geneva ballet tour extensively but I cannot remember their last trip to England if, indeed, they have ever performed here at all. They are never in Geneva when I am there for WIPO events. They are definitely not to be missed. As there are plenty of cheap flights to Barcelona it looks as though the 4 or 5 Nov at the Liceu is my best opportunity to see them.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Spark of Excellence

Alabama Seymour
(c) 2917 Fieldgrazer Productions
Reproduced with kind permission of Fielfgrazer Productions

In The Importance of Performance 20 March 2017, I wrote that one of the rewards of watching shows by companies like Duchy Ballet well outside the big cities is that you sometimes spot a star in the making. The first time I saw Xander Parish was at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala at the Grand Opera House in York on 29 Oct 2007 (see Charles Hutchinson's Review: A Summer Gala of Dance and Song, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday 31 July 2007 The Press). I saw many fine young dancers that night but he stood out from the rest.

There have been other times when a young dancer has stood out in the same way.  The last occasion was on Saturday when I saw The Sleeping Beauty by Duchy Ballet at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro on Saturday (see Cornwall's Coup: Duchy Ballet's Sleeping Beauty 19 March 2017). Many dancers impressed me that evening but the young woman who danced the Lilac Fairy stood out from the rest. I wrote: "I think I saw a spark of excellence in the lilac fairy on Saturday."

I was, therefore, delighted but not surprised to receive a press release from Charlie Fripp, the company's press officer, entitled Cornish Girl wins place at a prestigious ballet school which announced that the artist who had danced the Lilac Fairy had been accepted for training by the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance. That "Cornish girl" was Alabama Seymour as I had guessed from the photo in the programme.

The press release stated that Ms Seymour comes from Chacewater which is a small village just outside Truro. She is studying dance at Truro College and has trained at Capitol School of Dance with Sian Strasberg.  Kay Jones, who is Principal at Capitol and Artistic Director of Duchy Ballet said:
“Alabama is one of the many talented dancers who have come through Duchy Ballet and gone on to dance as a career and we’re so excited to be able to offer so many dancers here in Cornwall the opportunity to dance on a stage like the Hall for Cornwall.”
Ms Seymour acknowledged the value of that experience:
"It is a real honour to win a place at Rambert School. Duchy Ballet has been an amazing start to my career and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had with the company and I am looking forward to the thrill of performing in front of more than two thousand people at the Hall for Cornwall.”
Having seen her on stage I congratulate Ms Seymour for an excellent performance on Saturday and wish her well at the Rambert and beyond.  As I noted in The Importance of Performance, I don't want to embarrass her or tempt fate but I don't think I have been the last of her.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Introducing Amelia Sierevogel

Amelia Sierevogel when she first attended Fiona Noonan's ballet class
© 2017 Amelia Siervogel: all rights reserved
Reproduction kindly licensed by the copyright owner

Amelia Siervogel

As a new contributor to this blog, I should like to introduce myself. My name is Amelia Sierevogel and I’m currently on my placement year, studying BA (Hons) Costume with Textiles at the University of Huddersfield.

I’ve always been interested in the world of ballet but never took classes as a child as I studied gymnastics instead. My parents were able to finance only one hobby each for my siblings and me. I gave up gymnastics aged 16. For two years between then and starting university, I was rather unwell. I had contracted glandular fever and was beginning to suffer from severe migraines.

When I moved to university I wanted to find an activity that I could invest myself into both physically and mentally to help improve my health. Of course, I naturally chose ballet having always wanting to learn it.

I took my first ever ballet class aged 18 with Fiona Noonan in Huddersfield. A teacher who is most inspiring. This class was also where I first met the lovely Jane Lambert – a lady I find most knowledgeable and passionate about ballet.

When I first started ballet I used to sickle my feet, twist and sit in my hips and my jumps were awful – I was like a spring that couldn’t quite articulate through my feet! However, I still had flexibility from being a gymnast as a child and with strengthening exercises, sheer determination and the help of Fiona I corrected my errors and it’s safe to say I have progressed quickly.

As I am currently on my placement year, I’m not living in Huddersfield at the moment. Instead, I moved home and started to commute to my placements to save money. Of course, this meant I needed to find somewhere to continue taking ballet!

So I enrolled myself at Ripon Dance Academy. I first attended their adult class, which was taken at a steady pace and was enjoyable, but I didn’t find it particularly challenging. Instead, Miss Carole and Miss Laura, the wonderful teachers at RDA, suggested that I attend their intermediate ballet class. I started this class the following week. The age range in the class is from about 14 to 18 and now they have me aged 21. The girls in my class are lovely and so talented, Miss Laura works us hard and I feel that I am being pushed and challenged. I have learnt so many new steps over the last seven months and in November was allowed to start pointe work! – a truly magical experience.

Currently, in class, we are preparing for a Showcase, which will take place at Ripon Grammar School on 2 April 2017. I’m very excited but I’m also quite nervous, as I haven’t performed on a stage for about six years. This performance will be spectacular for Ripon Dance Academy and I’m sad that I will be saying goodbye to them after this performance.

This is because I shall be travelling to Australia for four months to undertake my placements in the costume departments with the Australian Ballet and Opera Australia. This will, of course,l be an amazing experience and I am looking forward to it! Naturally, I will also be looking to take class in Australia and watch performances.

Ever since I started two and a half years ago, I have found my stress relief, health fix, enjoyment and passion in ballet. I strive to improve and become the best dancer I possibly can. None of which would be possible without my amazing teachers or other classmates. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you as a young adult dancer, reflecting on classes, reviews of performances and dance products, and perhaps some insider costume knowledge.

Amelia x

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Esposito for the Junior Company

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In Prizes, Prizes, Prizes 7 Feb 2017 I congratulated the winners of the Prix de Lausanne.  The winner of the first scholarship was Michele Esposito who also won the Contemporary Dance Prize and Best Swiss Candidate award. The video shows him at the finals as Solor from La Bayadère. 

Michele has decided to join The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet (see The Prize winners 2017: their choices! 20 March 2017 Blog Prix de Lausanne).  Having followed the Junior Company almost from its inception I cannot think of a better place to launch his career.  As I said in Dutch National Ballet's New Season and a New Vlog from Tim and Salome 21 Feb 2017:
"there will be a lot of work for the Junior Company. They will begin their annual tour of the Netherlands with In the Future which will feature the work of the same name by Hans van Manen. According to the website, this work was created by Hans van Manen in 1986 for Scapino Ballet and it has also been danced by Stuttgarter Ballett and Introdans Ensemble for Youth. It is described as "an energetic, swinging, amusing and surprising work, with wonderfully inventive costumes by Keso Dekker." They will also dance Narnia: the lion, the witch and the wardrobe in which Ernst Meisner collaborated with Marco Gerris to produce a work that is described as "Hiphop meets Ballet." I saw a scene from this work in the 2015 gala and loved it. Finally, the Junior Company will celebrate its 5th anniversary in Junior Company 5 Years with a special gala at the Stadsschouwburg. Having attended one of the first (if not the first) of those galas in 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013) this will be a special performance for me too - if I can only get a flight and ticket for it."
I am also glad to report that three of the prize winners are coming to London:  Taisuke Nakao of Japan to the Royal Ballet School where he will be joined by Lauren Hunter of the USA while Stanislaw Wegrzyn of Poland is on his way to the Royal Ballet.

Marina Fernandes da Costa Duarte of Brazil will go to the Bavarian State Ballet, Koyo Yamamoto to the Tanz Akademie in Zurich, Diana Georgia Ionescu to the Stuttgart Ballet and Fangqi Li of China to ABT's Studio Company.

I congratulate all the winners on their selections and I wish them all the best in their careers.