Thursday, 29 September 2016

Ernst Meisner's New Recruits

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Every year the Dutch National Ballet scours the world for twelve of its most promising young dancers and invites them to Amsterdam for an intensive programme of training and performances. The artistic coordinator of that programme is Ernst Meisner who is well known to, and well liked by, British audiences (see Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers 6 Dec 2014). Many of his dancers have been recruited into the Dutch National Ballet and other leading companies and their careers have taken off like rockets. Michaela DePrince, for example, joined the Junior Company in 2013 and is already a grand sujet. Cristiano Principato joined the programme a year later and has contributed work to New Moves (see Palagio  4 June 2016).

Ernst has now recruited new dancers for the Junior Company which includes Hannah Williams who was born in Ashford. Hannah trained in the United States and the Netherlands which no doubt explains her transatlantic accent but that will not prevent ballet goers in the country from wishing her, and all the other members of the Junior Company, all the best.

Every year the company tours the Netherlands and occasionally one or two theatres abroad. Before the Linbury closed for renovation they danced two shows here each year.  I am desperately racking my brains trying to find the best way of tempting them back. The first opportunity to see the new dancers will be at the Meervaart Theatre in Amsterdam in Juniors Go Dutch on 18 and 19 Feb 2017. Tickets start at 15 euros and the theatre is only 23 minutes from Schiphol airport by the 69 bus. There are cheap and convenient flights from Southend, Manchester and just about every other corner of the UK. Despite the post-Brexit nose dive of sterling Amsterdam is still a lot cheaper than London and there is plenty to do apart from watching ballet when you get there (see Three Days in Amsterdam 12 Sept 2016).

Alvin Ailey in Bradford

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
Source Wikipedia
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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Mixed Bill, Bradford Alhambra, 28 Sept 2016

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre visited Bradford on 27 and 28 Sept 2016 on the latest stage of its international tour which will take it to major cities in the UK as well as Lausanne and Copenhagen on the continent. The company performed four pieces of their repertoire in Bradford: Exodus, Night Creature, After the Rain Pas de Deux and Revelations. I saw the company last night. It was a magnificent performance which was received enthusiastically by the crowd.

Alvin Ailey founded Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in 1958.  He contributed nearly 80 works to that company before he died in 1989. I was introduced to his work by American Ballet Theatre which danced The River when when ABT visited London in the early 1970s. I have been an admirer ever since. In creating his work Ailey drew on all sorts of dance and musical traditions that flourished in the United States in his time including ballet and modern dance. "What I like" he is reported as saying "is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers, especially for the inner kinds of things." The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre continues that approach which was reflected in yesterday's programme that included a classical pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon and hip hop by Rennie Harris as well as two of Ailey's best known works.

The evening began with Exodus which was an explosion of sound and movement. It continued after a short interval with Ailey's Night Creature which he created to the music of Duke Ellington in 1974 for television and launched on stage the following year. A graceful work with swirling couples, jazz rhythms, balletic steps, gorgeous costumes - classic Ailey. The lights dimmed for a few minutes before Sarah Daley and Jamar Roberts performed After the Rain pas de Deux which was my favourite work of the evening. A classical piece with soaring lifts by two beautiful and well matched dancers to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel. Wheeldon created the work in 2005 for an evening to honour Balanchine but had I been asked to guess the choreographer I would have attributed it to Balanchine himself. The show finished with Revelations  which like the first work is inspired by African-American spirituals. It consists of 10 separate works each created on a different spiritual. I liked them all but Sinner Man danced by Jeroboam Bozeman, Sean Aaaron Carmon and Renaldo Maurice impressed me particularly. Even though the Alhambra was less than full the applause was deafening. The dancers were cheered back for an encore which they delivered exuberantly.

As there is so much dance in the North this Autumn I had planned to see the company only once but I can't possibly leave it at that. They will be at the Lowry very soon where they will perform a different programme. As soon as this review is published I will be on the blower for tickets. The company's next stops will be Nottingham, Cardiff, Salford, Southampton, Canterbury and Edinburgh. Whatever else you see this year you must not miss Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Akram Khan's Giselle

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English National Ballet, Giselle, Palace Theatre, Manchester 27 Sept 2016

I wanted to like Akram Khan's Giselle for English National Ballet so much. I love that company having followed it for ever since I was first taken to the Festival Hall to see The Nutcracker as a child some 60 years ago. As I said in Manchester's Favourite Ballet Company 29 Nov 2015 the company danced its first ballet in Manchester on 5 Feb 1951 and I am mindful of the compliment that ENB has paid my native city by premiering an important new work there. I am glad that virtually the entire audience (or so it seemed from my position in the centre stalls) was able to give it a standing ovation - though I was not one of those who stood.

Now I have to choose my words very carefully for I don't want to condemn a work that has much merit with faint praise.  There was some exciting, energetic and in the final duet between Giselle and Albrecht, quite beautiful dancing. Vicenzo Lamagna wrote, and Gavin Sutherland orchestrated, an interesting score with frequent allusions to Adolphe Adam's. Equally interesting were Tim Yip's designs. Two of my favourite dancers, Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernández, danced Giselle and Albtrcht and there were other favourites in other roles. The dancers worked hard contorting their bodies in unusual shapes and positions. The courou on pointe by Stina Quagebeur, who danced Myrtha, and the corps at the beginning of Act II must have been exhausting and for some excruciating.

I am glad I saw the work. I hope to see it again and perhaps pick up some of the nuances that my companion (who is of Gujarati heritage) appreciated but which passed me by. I recommend it. It was a good show - though not a great one - and it certainly was not one that swept me to my feet in the way that Brandsen did with Mata Hari (see Brandsen's Masterpirce 14 Feb 2016), Maillot with his Shrew  (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016), Dawson with his Swan Lake  (see Dawson's Swan Lake comes to Liverpool  29 May 2016) or Meisner with his No Time Before Time (see Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016) earlier this year.

To understand my critique of this work it is worth looking at The Story on the special website that ENB has created for this ballet. At first sight it is Gautier's libretto with a modern twist - perhaps closer to that version than the Dance Theatre of Harlem's Creole Giselle and certainly Mats Ek's for the Paris Opera - but it does not unfold that way. In Gauthier's libretto, which is explained so beautifully in the following Dutch language

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animation, the story builds. The audience can understand Hilarion's hostility towards Albrecht which is the only reason why he has to die. In Ruth Little's version that hostility is taken as read. The scene opens in the factory with Albrecht seeking out Giselle. Hardly any of the cues - the hiding of the sword, the picking of the petals, Giselle's heart tremor and so on - remain.  Surprisingly there is still the dance of the vignerons where Giselle playfully runs from Albrecht as the dancers wheel round stage but it seems to serve no obvious purpose in Little's version.  It is the absence of those cues that prompts my companion's question "Why does Hilarion have to die in act II?" As she said, he has done nothing wrong. Or at least he was not half as bad as Albrecht who seduced Giselle and then abandoned her for Bathilde. In Gautier's libretto there is a logic. In Little's it seems so unfair.

As I wrote in Reflections on Giselle 29 Jan 2014 I have problems with the second act. I have to treat it as though it were an abstract work by Balanchine in order to sit through it. In reworking Giselle the creative team had a golden opportunity to ditch the superstition as Ek did by settling act II in a psychiatric hospital. Had they done something like that it might have strengthened the show but they kept it spooky. However. Khan's choreography for act II was quite different.  Instead of those mesmerizing arabesques as the corps crosses the stage the girls couroured on pointe for what for them must have seemed ages. Instead of forcing their victims to dance themselves to death through exhaustion the wilis dispatched them with sticks to the accompaniment of grinding and crackly noises.  Instead of facing the whole company of wilis Giselle had only to fend off Myrtha who stood scowling with her stick as Giselle danced with Albrecht for the last time.

That final duet was for me the most beautiful part of the ballet and also the most impressive. At one point Hernandez held Cojocaru by the legs and she seemed to revolve in the hold in a most amazing fashion. That last dance is what I most want to see again. With some ballets it is only a single pas de deux that survives in a company's repertoire and perhaps that will be the case with this duet.

My companion and I discussed the sticks on the drive home. "Were they supposed to be tasers?" I asked myself. Whether intended or not they were the only allusion to the Sub-Continent that registered with me for they reminded me of the sticks carried in a Punjabi folk dance that I had seen at a Bhangra festival in Huddersfield Town Hall some years ago. My companion, who is fortunate enough to have grown up in two cultures, told me that there was so much more in the rhythms of the music and the dancers' steps.

My all abiding impression of the work was unremitting darkness. Dark in two senses. Every scene was very dimly lit. So dark that I could not recognize the faces of the dancers until the reverence. I had been looking out for Sarah Kundi who is one of my favourites - but I never saw her until that curtain call. However, my companion recognized Sarah from her movements that were quite different from those of the other dancers - perhaps because of her heritage, my companion suggested. Even darker than the lighting, however. was the story for it was one of constant grind. At least in the traditional Giselle there are some happy bits such as the crowning of Giselle as harvest queen. There was nothing like than in Khan's. Just a morose folk dance for the landlords who were heralded by blasts that sounded like factory sirens or perhaps fog horns. Very intense and just a little depressing.

How does Giselle compare to Khan's other work?  I regret that I have not seen much of it but of the works that I have seen I much prefer Ka'ash (see Akram Khan's Kaash - contemporary meets Indian classical 7 Oct 2015) and indeed Dust which was the highlight of last year's triple bill (see Lest we forget 25 Nov 2015).  However, as my friend said "Giselle is a work in progress that can only improve." She did get up to applaud at the end of the show and shouted "Go on Akram!" Maybe in time I shall be able to do the same.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Cassa Pancho is coming to the London Ballet Circle

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Tomorrow at 19:30 Cassa Pancho, the London Ballet Circle's most recently appointed Vice-President will address members of the Circle and their quests at the Civil Service Club, 13-15 Great Scotland Yard, London, SW1A 2HJ. Cassa is, of course, the founder artistic director of Ballet Black and although I try hard not to have favourites when it comes to ballet and contemporary dance companies it is hard not to have  particularly soft spot for the company.

Tomorrow will not be the first time that I will have travelled long distances to see them. I have even sacrificed an all expenses paid trip to Paris to see them dance in Leeds. There are a few other companies for which I would do the same, such as Scottish Ballet, Ballet Cymru and, of course, the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company but I wouldn't do it for them all. No way José!

And talking of José , what better news to read in Ballet Black Friends Newsletter than that  José Alves and Marie Astrid Mence are about to rejoin the company. They are both fine artists and I admire them both. I first saw Marie Astrid as Anna in Dogs Don't Do Ballet (see Woof 12 Oct 2014) and I have been lucky enough to see her dance over the last few months with Phoenix which is another company I like a lot.

I have seen quite a lot of Ballet Black over the last few months: two performances of Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Sale (see As Fresh as Ever: Ballet Black's Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Sale 7 May 2016 and I never tire of Dogs Don't Do Ballet 8 May 2016), the triple bill at the Lowry (see Ballet Black made my Manchester Day 20 June 2016) and a special Friends' event (see Ballet Black's First Friends' Event: A Rehearsal with Chris Marney 14 July 2016). They are about to set off on their Autumn tour which will include Leeds and Doncaster (see Performances on Ballet Black's website). I for one will be in the audience for both shows.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Toer van Schayk's "Episodes van Fragmenten"

Toer van Scayk wearing the Medal of the Order of Orange-Nassau
Photo Juri Hiensch
(c) 2016 Dutch National Balle
Licensed by kind permission of Richard Heideman

Dutch National Ballet, Episodes van Fragmenten, Stopera, 7 Sept 2016

The gala of the 7 Sept 2016 which I described in Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016 was a double celebration (Dubbel Feest) of the careers of the great ballerina Igone de Jongh and the great artist, choreographer, dancer and designer Toer van Schayk.

Van Schayk is perhaps the nearest we have in the modern age to a renaissance man and that is how he is described by Richard Heideman, press manager of the Dutch National Ballet in a press release to announce his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Orange Nassau (an order of chivalry in the Netherlands roughly equivalent to our OBE). He was presented with that honour by Mariette Bussemaker the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science on stage on the first night of Dutch Masters which celebrates three giants of Dutch Ballet, Rudi van Dantzig, Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk. The Minster described van Schayk as follows:
“Toer van Schaijk is multi-talented. Dancer and choreographer. Costume and set designer. Harpsichord builder and sculptor. Painter and also inventor of his own notation method for choreography. You cannot sum him up under one heading, and that makes him a wonderful, unique person.”
Dutch Masters includes van Schayk's latest ballet  Episodes van Fragmenten which was premiered at the opening night gala on the 7 Sept 2016. This is a particularly beautiful pas de deux as you can see from the following YouTube clip:

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Although there are only two dancers there are on stage two other artists on stage, namely a violinist and a pianist whom van Schayk regards as equally important. For that reason, he describes the work as actually a pas de quatre.  

The dancers at the gala were Young Gyu Choi and Qian Liu who also appear in the YouTube clip. Here are some photos by Altin Kaftira for you to enjoy. Please note that in each case copyright in the photographs belongs to the Dutch National Ballet which has kindly licensed me to reproduce the same. The company has not granted anyone else permission to copy the following pictures and neither do I.

The ballet is set to the music of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Extase.  It traces the relationship between the man and woman with different emotions. .

As well as choreographing and staging the work van Schayk also designed the costumes. Not surprising for he is a multi-talented artist. As Richard Heideman says in his press release; 
"he choreographs, paints, sculpts and designs scenery and costumes. In everything he does, he shows a craftsmanship, precision and eye for detail that seems almost to belong to another era. He has worked with Dutch National Ballet for over fifty years. Van Schayk began his dancing career with the Nederlands Ballet, stopped dancing to train as a sculptor, but returned to dance on stage again in 1965. He stood out for his expressive and moving interpretations and, from 1971, for the ballets he created, in which you can often discern the visual artist because of their plastic quality. He has created around forty ballets in total, including the full-length The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (in collaboration with Wayne Eagling). This ballet is still regularly presented by Dutch National Ballet, as are his designs for Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle."
Van Schayk celebrates his 80th birthday at the end of this month. I am sure all my readers will join me in congratulating him and wishing him well.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Ballet in Cornwall

The peninsula in the far south west of our island is a magical land that I know well. I am told that I took my first steps on the sands at St, Ives where my parents lived when my father taught at Redruth. They returned to Cornwall for a few years while I as at St Andrews. During that time my address in St Austell was one of the remotest in the student directory. I have also spent many holidays and weekends in the duchy particularly in Looe and its environs.

"I can't believe that I am in England" remarked my friend on her first trip to Cornwall to which I replied "You are not." Administratively it may be part of England but it has an identity that is quite distinct despite centuries of emigration to the Americas, Antipodes, other parts of the British Isles and the rest of the world and a massive influx of migrants and visitors from every part of the world over the last 100 years or so. That identity is based largely on culture with a strong literary and musical tradition inspired by a rich folklore with its tales of mermaids and pixies.

Drama and dance are part of that tradition including the famous passion plays and furry danceDuchy Ballet, Cornwall's national ballet company, has drawn on that tradition from time to time with such works as The Mousehole Cat and The Mermaid of Zennor (see the Productions page of the Duchy Ballet website). Some of those works were created or staged by Terence Etheridge who has enjoyed a distinctive career as a dancer and choreographer with some of the world's leading companies including the London Festival Ballet which is now known as the English National Ballet.

According to Kay Jones, the artistic director of Duchy Ballet, the company started because
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many children and indeed adults in Cornwall had never seen a full length classical ballet. Thanks largely to Jones, Etheridge and their collaborators that lacuna has now been filled.The company performs a full length work at the Hall for Cornwall every year which gives young Cornish dancers valuable stage experience. Some of those young people have been accepted by the Royal Ballet School, the Rambert School, Northern Ballet School and other well known ballet schools (see the "Springboard" column of the About page on the Duchy Ballet website.

According to the company's Facebook page, its next performance will be The Sleeping Beauty which it will dance on 17 and 18 March 2017. Somehow Team Terpsichore will get a reviewer to that show for Duchy Ballet is just the sort of initiative that this website and its associated blogs are keen to support.  The company seems to have created an audience for dance for the Hall for Cornwall is visited regularly by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Rambert and other companies. Also, Plymouth, whose hinterland includes much of South East Cornwall, has always been visited by the leading national touring companies.

Of course, most of those who study ballet have careers or ambitions that lie outside the stage and it is good to see that there are many ballet schools in Cornwall some of which offer classes to adults (see the Dance Schools page of Duchy Ballet). The dance agency for Cornwall is Dance and Theatre Cornwall and Plymouth Dance is the dance agency for Plymouth and surrounding districts.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Dutch Nationl Ballet Gala - Le Grand Défilé

Le Grand Défilé
Photo Michel Schnater
(C) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: All rights reserved
Licensed by kind permission of Richard Heideman

Dutch National Ballet, Gala, Stopera, 7 Sept 2016 

Nothing gives a better impression of the strength of the Dutch National Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet Academy than the Grand Défilé or big parade that begins the gala that opens the Amsterdam ballet season. As the curtain rises the first year students of the Academy present themselves to the audience. The girls are in light blue leotards and the boys in white t-shirts. They give way to the second year and so on until the Junior Company appear. They in turn give way to the élèves who are succeeded by the corps  and each and every other rank in the company until the ballerinas and premiers danseurs nobles.  All to the strains of the polonaise from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty.

Compared to the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and the Mariinsky the Dutch National Ballet is very new. It will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year. But it has achieved much in its 69 years as the timeline on the company's website indicates. In his speech at last year's gala Ted Brandsen remarked that there had been no balletic tradition in the Netherlands before 1947 (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015). The Dutch can and do take enormous pride in those achievements.

Of course, like all great companies the Dutch National Ballet is international. Artists of many nationalities have contributed to its success including some from our country. Wayne Eagling was the company's artistic director between 1991 and 2003. David Dawson is one of its associate artists. Matthew Rowe is, its director of music and principal conductor. Judy Maelor Thomas, who assisted Ted Brandsen with the choreography of the Grand Défilé, is the company's ballet mistress. More than a few of the dancers trained at the Royal Ballet School including its great ballerina, Igone de Jongh and the artistic coordinator of the Junior Company, Ernst Meisner.

The links between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom go back a very long way. David Bintley mentions the tour of the Vic-Wells Ballet to the Netherlands on the eve of the German invasion in Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II made British Ballet. The links are not all one way. Meisner, for example, was a very popular dancer at the Royal Ballet. He continues to contribute to British ballet through the New English Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet School summer programme. According to Bintley, the flower throw which I had always regarded as a quintessentially English tradition was invented by the Dutch who showered the Vic-Wells dancers with flowers on their visit in 1940.

The company's press officer, Richard Heideman, has sent me some lovely pictures of the gala of which this is only the first. My next post will be on the extract from La Bayadere.