Friday, 6 March 2015


Giuseppina Bozzacchi., the first Swanilde
Photo Wikipedia
Outside London ballets are like buses. You wait for ages for a show and then three come along at once. In Leeds Northern Ballet were dancing Jean-Christophe Maillot Romeo and Juliet last night.  In Southport Richard Alston Dance Company were performing at The Atkinson. At The Lowry the Birmingham Royal Ballet brought us Peter Wright's Coppelia.

Which to see? Northern Ballet is almost family to me. I know many of its dancers. I take classes in its studios. Its new production received rave reviews from the Scottish press. But it is on for over a week though until yesterday nobody knew the casting. Richard Alston was in the North for only one day but Southort is not close and his company will be back. Coppélia is a ballet I know well and love and Tyrone Singleton and Céline Gittens were cast as Franz and Swanilde. These are two of my favourite dancers and while  I had seen them individually many time before I had never before seen them dance in principal roles together. Yesterday was almost the 20th anniversary of its entering the Birmingham Royal Ballet's repertory, In the end it was the prospect of seeing two of my favourite dancers dance in one of my favourite ballets with sparkling choreography and Peter Farmer's designs that proved irresistible.

I am so glad I chose Salford because yesterday's performance was sensational.  It takes a lot to get an English audience to its feet, particularly in Manchester because we Mancunians have a distressing habit of cutting the tall poppies down to size. Especially anything from Birmingham which has the preposterous temerity to claim to be the second city when everybody else acknowledges Manchester's superiority in just about everything except ballet. But there were members of the audience other than me standing and clapping at the end of the show. Not everybody it is true and the theatre was by no means full but the buzz and chatter in the foyer and on the tram back to town indicated that everybody loved the show and that we had seen the company at its best.

Why was that? Much of the credit must go to the principal dancers, Singleton and Gittens, who danced magnificently.  Tall and slender and almost indecently good looking Singleton is one of the best male dancers this country has produced. Athletic and accomplished he is a thrill to watch and the choreography provides ample scope for his virtuosity. Particularly the pas de deux in the last act. Gittens was an adorable Swanilde. Spirited and feisty, how we burned with indignation as she watched her fiancé eye up the talent just before their wedding day.  And how our hearts almost missed a beat as she and her mates prowled around Dr Coppélius's workshop setting off one automaton after another.  Brave girl.  Alone in the presence of a madman intent on sucking the life force out of the drugged and slumbering Franz she mimicked the movements of the robot wearing its clothes as she tried to revive him.

Yesterday morning I had tweeted:
And indeed they were but so was everybody else.   Maureya Lebowitz (another favourite as you can see from my review of her Lise in La Fille mal gardée) was a gorgeously sexy gypsy. Small wonder that Franz could not keep her eyes off her. Samara Downs, Angela Paul, Feargus Campbell and Mathias Dingman danced a great mazurka and czárdás in Act I. Rory Mackay was a fine burgomeister and Jonathan Payn a doughty publican rescuing poor old Dr Coppélius from his muggers.

Act III is one long divertissement around the tolling of the bell - hence the title Dance of the Hours. Brandon Lawrence, yet another favourite, danced Father Time, Karla Doorbar Dawn, Yijing Zhang Prayer, Ruth Brill (one of three very special dancers in different companies who are not yet principals but who nevertheless somehow make my spirits soar) led Work, Laura Purkis and Max Maslen danced Betrothal and Oliver Till led War.

But the character who dances in all three Acts and holds the ballet together is Dr Coppélius. His role was performed brilliantly by Valentin Olovyannikov. Coppélius is a complex character - part villain, part clown, part victim - brilliant but just a little mad, tragic but in the end redeemed riding immediately behind the happy couple on the cart as they and the bell leave the stage. Olovyannikov portrayed his character beautifully.

Having seen English National Ballet's Coppélia in Oxford recently I thought I might compare them but I can't because they are such different works and I can't say that I like one more than the other. Each production has its own strengths and delights and in each company there are some very special dancers. Coppélia is not danced anything like as often as it should be because it has an interesting plot and stunning choreography. The ballet going public have been treated this year to two magnificent productions.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


No - not that kind of fusion
On Monday evenings I normally take Fiona Noonan's ballet class at Hype in Sheffield. This week my friend in Bradford said she would like to join me. As Sheffield is a bit of a trek from Bradford we decided to look for a class a little nearer home. We called Northern Ballet and they offered us fusion,

Now fusion to me is a process by which two or more atoms collide at very high speed to create a new atom and unleash a lot of energy. It is how the sun or for that matter a hydrogen bomb works. Somehow I didn't think that was what we would do at Quarry Hill this evening.

It was only a partial misdescription, however, for we certainly released a lot of energy. Maybe not quite as much as the sun or even an H-bomb but quite enough all the same.

We were shepherded up to the 4th floor which is part of the building usually occupied by Phoenix Dance Theatre and ushered into one of the studios. Our class consisted of about 20 women nearly all of whom were a great deal younger and fitter than me. We had a good instructor who walked us through each of the exercises before she played the music.

The class seemed to be very like Fiona Noonan's ballercise: that is to say a combination of aerobics, pilates and ballet.  We started off with a warm up beginning with running on the spot, bending our legs, skipping, then lunging to the right and lunging to the left.  She followed that up with some cardio exercises which included deep pliés in parallel, first and second, side bends and various other sequences and required quite a bit of concentration. Then we went to the barre where we tried several relevés, fondus and ronds de jambe. Afterwards we returned to the centre for some jumping which is always the best bit of a dance class for me. Then some tendus using resistance bands to build up our strength and improve our balance. Finally some floor work which I am sorry to say I couldn't quite finish. Some deep stretches and then it was time to go home.

I enjoyed the class very much and my friend did too.   She is 19 years younger and could keep up with the pace much better.   I was quite stiff at the end of the class but nothing like as stiff as I had been after my first contemporary class.   And also much less bruised.  I am still sporting shiners on both knees and elbows from rolling about on the floor.  it's great to try other styles of dance and other classes.  Maybe jazz next.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Dance with DePrince

On 7 July 2015 between 10:30 and 12:00 Michaela DePrince will give a master class at Danceworks. The class is for intermediates and above aged 14 or over. The cost is £21.50 and one can book on-line. If I were 50 years younger and a lot better at ballet I would have booked my place like a shot.

I have written a lot about Michaela DePrince over the last two years. You will find links to my articles about her at Michaela DePrince at TEDx Amsterdam 28 Nov 2014. I took an interest in that dancer long before she crossed the Atlantic for two reasons.

The first is that she comes from Sierra Leone and I was married to a Sierra Leonean for nearly 28 years. My late spouse and I never had any children but we did take care of a young woman from Sierra Leone whose parents sent her here just as violence in Liberia was beginning to spread across the Mano River. That young woman is the nearest I have to a daughter.  We sent her to school in Huddersfield where she did well. After three years in Cambridge where she read economics she married a lovely man from Ghana. They have a beautiful little boy with the most expressive face who can run like the wind and jump like a frog.  It was she and her husband who gave me the copy of Hope in a Ballet Shoe in the photograph above for my 66th birthday just before  we saw Ballet Black's Triple Bill where they gave the performance of their lives. I don't think I have ever received a better birthday present or spent a happier birthday.

The other reason for my interest in DePrince is that
"She is quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while."
I wrote those words in  The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013 after I had seen her dance for the first time. I saw her again when the Junior Company came to London and she was even better (see And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden 30 May 2014).  I saw that show with my daughter manquée and sister in law who is, of course, also Sierra Leonean and the pride with which they left the theatre was palpable.

I read somewhere that DePrince plans a ballet school in Freetown. I don't know whether that is true but I hope it is. Or if not DePrince then someone. There is a ballet school in Kenya that is doing wonderful things for kids in one of the roughest neighbourhoods of Nairobi (see Back to Africa 7 Jan 2015 and What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013). Not all of those students - possibly none of them - will perform at Covent Garden or the Met but through their exercises at the barre they have been given the physical and mental skills, confidence and pride that will make them much more likely to qualify as the doctors, teachers, engineers, nurses, managers and entrepreneurs who will lead their nation out of poverty. I'd love to see something like that Kenyan school in Kroo Town or Kissy. After a vicious civil war that killed and mutilated thousands and the ebola epidemic that is killing thousands more that beautiful country that combines the grandeur of Argyll and  the charm of Cornwall in an almost perfect climate deserves a break.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Murley on Chappell

RCD - Two Duets Rehearsal Trailer from Richard Chappell on Vimeo.

I was introduced to the work of Richard Chappell by David Murley. David is Artistic Director of MurleyDance which I admire very much. David had commissioned Richard to create Wayward Kinship for his company's Hail Britannia programme which I saw at the Shaw Theatre last October (see MurleyDance's Autumn Tour 28 Oct 2014). Wayward Kinship is about the relationship between King Henry and Thomas Beckett and I was very impressed by the work. I was all the more impressed on learning that its choreographer was not yet 20 and still at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance.

Earlier in the day I had attended the Birmingham Royal Ballet's Shadows of War at Sadler's Wells which included Dame Gillian Lynne's re-staging of Sir Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals which I reviewed in A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2015. I noticed many similarities in the two works. One had been created by one of the great names of British dance with over 70 years experience of the stage. The other by a young man at the very beginning of his career.  Seeing Wayward Kinshop stimulated a thirst for Richard's work which I had hoped to slake at the Chisendale Dance Space yesterday.

Alas, it is not possible to be everywhere and see every show. When it became clear that I could not get to London yesterday I asked David to review the show on my behalf. He knows Richard's work better than most.  Here is what he wrote.

IRIS Watch This Space
Reproduced by kind permission of Richard Chappell
All rights reserved

"28 February 2015


Tonight concluded Richard Chappell Dance’s (RCD) first UK tour since Chappell himself first graduated from Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in July 2014. At just 20, Chappell is steadily making a name for himself through his work and complex choreography.

First on the programme was a curtain raiser Moments in 360. The piece was beautifully danced by Emma Farnell-Watson and Will Thompson. I immediately praise Farnell-Watson for her mastery of walking on stage. Years of dance training can often make this seemingly simple step one of the hardest things to do. Yet, Farnell-Watson struts and coasts across the stage in a typically everyday gait and seamlessly swings into lighting quick and intricate Chappell movement. Her partner work with Thompson appeared to go off without a hitch. Thompson tossed Farnell-Watson from one sequence of pas de deux to the next. As a partnership, they appeared to push one another to the edge. There were elements of risk in changes of grip from one partnering sequence to the next. No matter how much Thompson flung Farnell-Watson around, he still simultaneously handled her like a Fabergé egg.

Next on the programme came IRIS – a piece about nyctophobia, which is an extreme fear of the dark. Growing up in rural Devon, Chappell was inspired to create this piece because of the pitch-blackness that can occur in the countryside. Dancer Olivia Roach is a force to be reckoned with in this piece. Her understanding of Chappell’s complex and substantial material is masterful. The embodiment of her fear of a dark London alley on stage when being partnered by Kai Tomioka was captivating. Roach not only understood the vast array of emotions Chappell can often throw at his dancers, but she continued to push her character and her performance all the way until the end. To add, as a contemporary dancer, Roach has amazing earth-bound qualities and a great relationship with the floor. Yet, Roach can take flight with no effort or obvious exertion making elegant and beautiful lines. Combing all of these attributes, Roach is a true ballet contemporary dancer. Thank you. 

The final work on the programme was The Vast Rocks. Chappell took inspiration for this piece from the landscape of his native Devon. Chappell’s aim was to transition the performance space into a more rural and calming environment. Firstly, I did enjoy this piece. However, I, personally, did not feel it was a well developed as the first two pieces on the programme. The work was divided into four sections with music by Aaron Martin and accompanied by Anne Chappell’s fantastic poetry. The overall shape of the piece could have been improved with more vocabulary in the movement matching the text in the first two sections. Chappell began to get to find his rhythm in sections three and four. To add, the text, read by Chappell himself, would have been more effective with vocal projection. This piece could really be something engaging and spectacular. I, personally, feel Chappell can push this one further.

As a choreographer and Artistic Director of his own company in under a year out of professional training, Chappell has achieved an astounding amount. Having just turned 20 in the February, it would be disappointing if he were already hitting the nail on the head with all of his choreography and movement. Richard Chappell is definitely one to watch. Since I first met Chappell in 2013, he has grown tremendously. Knowing he is a diligent and intelligent young man who perseveres, I have no doubt he is in for the long haul. It is a pleasure to watch Chappell grow with each piece he creates. He is not just a clever young man who thinks and creates, but he is also someone who has lived and continues to live who also has something interesting to say. I hope he continues to keep sharing those interesting things with us all. 

By David Murley Artistic
Director of MurleyDance"

Without a doubt this is one of the best reviews that will ever appear in this blog. Because David is a dancer and choreographer he was alert to technical matters and nuances in the choreography that would have eluded me. I am very grateful to him for his excellent contribution.  I am now even more eager to see Richard Chappell's work and I will be at his next show come hell or high water.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

London Ballet Circle's Guests

Ernst Meisner
Photo Robin DePuy
(c) Dutch National Ballet 2014
Reproduced with kind permission of the Dutch 
National Ballet

One event that I am not going to miss come hell or high water or even a brief to the Court of Justice of the European Union is the visit by Ernst Meisner of the Dutch National Ballet to the London Ballet Circle at The Dining Room, 1st Floor, Civil Service Club, 13-15 Great Scotland Yard, SW1 on 20 July 2015 at 19:30.

I have written a lot about Ernst and earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting him in Amsterdam; but here is some more information about him, some of which I didn't know:
"After winning the Eurovision competition (no, not the song contest!) Ernst gained a place at The Royal Ballet Upper School then joined the company in 2000. After 10 happy years with The Royal Ballet dancing soloist roles Ernst put together a gala show for Kent County Council in Dartford, an experience he much enjoyed. He later got the chance to participate in the Rural Retreat for future leaders and got the opportunity to shadow Ted Brandsen, artistic director of Dutch National Ballet. Ernst left Covent Garden in 2010 and danced several seasons with Dutch National Ballet and when the company decided, two years ago, to set up a Junior Company, Ernst was appointed its Artistic Co-ordinator. He now choreographs works not just for the Junior Company but also for the main company.
Ernst, who also teaches at the Amsterdam International Summer School, has been inspired by LBC's work with student dancers and has very generously given us a two week scholarship to the Amsterdam International Summer School to award to a talented young dancer. We record our gratitude to Ernst and his colleagues for their kindness and greatly look forward to our evening with him and to hearing more about his work and life in dance."
I admire Ernst Meisner most for his choreography. Embers which was danced by Thomas van Damme and Nancy Burer on 6 Feb 2015 is a real gem (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 6 Feb 2015). There is a video of the pas de deux in Amsterdam Central Station which is beautiful until someone announces a train departure over the tannoy or perhaps a late departure of an incoming service, leaves on the line, the wrong sort of snow or even a cow on the line in the closing seconds of the ballet just as they would at Waterloo. Ernst's Junior Company are dancing at the Linbury in June. Don't miss them!

Another must see event will be the talk by David Bintley, artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who comes from Huddersfield.  I'm coming all the way from Huddersfield to see Mr Bintley too.  It was after all his company's Miracle in the Gorbals which was my favourite ballet in 2014 (see My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014 28 Dec 2014) and it has some of my favourite dancers. He is speaking at the same venue on 11 May 2015 at 19:30.

There are also talks by Li-Cunxin on 2 Aug 2015 and Sir Peter Wright on 13 April 2015 at the same time and in the same place.

Two trips I would love to make if I lived in London are to Chelmsford Ballet's rehearsal of Pineapple Poll and Carnival of the Animals at CYGAMS HQ Recreation Ground, Meteor Way, Chelmsford CM1 2RL on 8 March 2015 between 10:15 and 12:30 and to Central School of Ballet at 10 Herbal Hill, Clerkenwell Road, EC1 on 19 May 2015, 13.45 for 14:00. Central is where Kenneth Tindall and Chris Marney trained as well as Paul Chantry and Sarah Kundi so it is very special for me.

But the best reason for supporting London Ballet Circle is the help that it gives young dancers and I can do no better than quote the treasurer:
"The Circle has made four visits to various ballet schools for both rehearsals and performances, and also the annual visit to the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, a visit to the ROH workshop at Purfleet and one to Ballet Rambert. It has made donations to the schools for general purposes and has also provided scholarships for two students to attend The Yorkshire Ballet Summer School and one to attend the Ballet Cymru Summer School. The Circle also continues to award the De Valois and Broderick Prizes to students of The Royal Ballet School. This year was the first year the Sir Peter Wright Prize was awarded to a student at Elmhurst School.

The total of all the above mentioned was £6155.00, scholarships amounting to £2930.00 and donations, following members’ visits, to £3225.00 (English National Ballet School, Rambert, Central School of Ballet, Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, Ballet Cymru, Dance Teachers’ Benevolent Fund following the visit to the ROH workshop at Purfleet)."
The Circle's beneficiaries have included Xander Parish and his sister Demelza, two of Yorkshire's finest, so it is not just a London institution.


Not all my mates are balletomanes. I have a Helvetic friend in Golcar who is into cats, Dr Who, politics, mobile phones, brisk walks in the country, English literature, German conversation, cheese, meat free cooking  - you name it she knows about it - a real polymath - just about everything except ballet. So imagine my joy and surprise when she identified a ballet that she would like to see.

That ballet is 1984 by Jonathan Watkins to a score by Alex Baronowski which Northern Ballet will dance in  Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield this Autumn. I can't tell you much about it. Here is a quote from Northern Ballet's website:


"Winston Smith lives in a world of absolute conformity, his every action is scrutinized by Big Brother. However, when Winston meets Julia he dares to rebel by falling in love.
Based on George Orwell's masterpiece and created by Guest Choreographer and former Royal Ballet dancer Jonathan Watkins, 1984 will change the way you think about ballet.
With a brand new score from Tony nominated Composer Alex Baranowski played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, see this iconic classic reimagined for a modern audience.
Tickets for the World Première at West Yorkshire Playhouse are on sale from Friday 27 February by calling 0113 213 7700."
I am eager to learn about the casting.

Who will dance Winston Smith? Poeung perhaps? Or maybe Broadbent or Bates.  Or possibly Watkins will bring on some of the younger talents like McCaig.

And who will be Julia?  My choice would be Bateman or Gillespie.

Tindall would have been an obvious choice for O'Brien but he will leave the company on 2 May 2015 (see Kenneth Tindall 28 Feb 2015).

Northern Ballet promises that "1984 will change the way you think about ballet". It has already done that with someone I know.

Kenneth Tindall

The latest newsletter for the Friends of Northern Ballet contained glorious news of the Sapphire Gala of the 14 March in which Sarah Lamb of the Royal Ballet and Xander Parish of the Mariinsky Ballet and many of the world's greatest stars will perform. But it also contained a headline that made me root for a tissue - just for a second - before I also raised a smile. The headline was "Kenneth Tindall is retiring" and that was the bit that made me sad for he is one of my favourite dancers but my sadness was tempered with the words "award-winning Kenneth is moving on to a career as a Freelance Choreographer after gaining recognition for his work with Northern Ballet and other artists."

I have written a lot about Tindall in this blog.  Watching The Architect last year was one of My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014 28 Dec 2014. Mel Wong and I reviewed that work in Kenneth Tindall - The Architect of Ballet 21 June 2014 and A Wonderful Evening - Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill 21 June 2014 23 June 2014 and we both supported Stephen Lally's film of the work (see They Made It 20 June 2014),  Wong also wrote an interesting feature on Tindall entitled Kenneth Tindall’s Brave New World 3 Sept 2014 in her own publication. There will be another chance to see The Architect as part of the Mixed Programme at The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds between 6 to 9 May 2015 and The Linbury Studio Theatre in London between 12 and 14 May 2015.

The Architect is the third of Tindall's ballets that I have enjoyed.  I mentioned his Bitter Earth briefly in my post on the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala at Sadler's Wells (see More Things I do for my Art - Autumn Gala of Dance and Song 30 Sept 2013) and I reviewed Luminous Jun-cture in Angelic - Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill 9 June 2013.

According to the Friends' newsletter Tindall's last appearance with Northern Ballet will be as Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights at Milton Keynes  on 2 May 2015. No doubt the M1 will no doubt have to carry particularly heavy traffic from the North that day.

That will not be the last time that Tindall will be mentioned in this blog. He has an international following which was brought home to me when I visited Amsterdam earlier this month (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015). His name came up whenever I mentioned Northern Ballet or Leeds at the party after the show.  Perhaps not so surprising for a choreographer who has already won a fistful of awards and nominations. He is still a young man and his career - though meteoric - has only just begun. I look forward to great things.

Further Reading
Paul Szabo   INTERVIEW: Kenneth Tindall - Designing The Architect 12 June 2014 The Gay UK