Saturday, 8 February 2014

Ballet in Ireland

My interest in Ireland was stimulated by an email from Northern Ballet about the "Big Ballet" series on Channel 4 which started last Thursday.  I missed last week's programme because it clashed with "Inside Science" and "In Our Time" and I am going to miss next week's because a friend is taking me to see "Coriolanus" for a birthday treat. I love ballet but I am also interested in science, history and drama. As my time, like everybody's, is limited I judged I might get more satisfaction from Radio 4 than Channel 4 on the Jeremy Bentham measure. I might also add that as a somewhat unpromising and over mature ballet student I do not see anything weird or even unusual about people who are less or more than the optimum shape and size for a career in ballet getting as much enjoyment as they can from the art, as I do, and I wish them all well.

The email explained that while the programme was not about Northern Ballet, much of the filming takes place in Quarry Hill and the Northern Ballet Sinfonia will accompany the live performances at the end of the series.  The bit that startled me however was the reference to Wayne Sleep and "prima ballerina Monica Loughman". Now I have seen Wayne Sleep many times and I remember his Neapolitan dance with particular affection but I had not heard of Monica Loughman. Now although I do not know everything about ballet I do get to about 20 shows a year and I read the ballet columns of The Guardian, Independent and FT as well as Dancing Times and dip into Ballet News and the other blogs. Even though I have not seen every ballerina or even every prima ballerina I have usually heard of them and the name Monica Loughman did not ring any bells.

So I googled her. The first five results were:
  • Monica Loughman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • Irish ballet starlet Monica Loughman found love at Tesco checkout ...
  • Big Ballet: Wayne Sleep & Monica Loughman stage Swan Lake using only plus-size dancers
  • Big Ballet's plus-size swans step out to prove dance suits all shapes, and 
  • Monica Loughman Ballet - Ireland's Ballet Company
I had a look at her Wikipedia entry and found:
"Monica Loughman is now best known in Ireland for establishing a National ballet company. Ireland was one of the only countries in the world (apart from Liechtenstein) that did not have a full-time professional ballet company."
 Now I found that rather surprising because I spent my honeymoon in Ireland in 1982 and I remember an evening at either the Gate or the Abbey when my late spouse and I watched a very polished performance by a company that called itself the National Ballet of Ireland. Moreover, my teacher comes from Ireland though she trained in Brisbane, and Dame Ninette de Valois who founded the Royal Ballet came from the Emerald Isle.

So I checked out YouTube and found the footage of The Dying Swan from RTE above. Now although I was initially put off by the Tesco checkout story, Big Ballet and another TV show in Ireland called Ballet Chancers it is clear from this footage that Monica Loughman knows what she is doing.  So I scrolled down to the entry for Monica Loughman Ballet.

It appears that the company has four ballets in its repertoire:  The NutcrackerLa SylphideGiselle and Masterpieces of World Opera and Ballet. It has just finished touring the Irish Republic with The Nutcracker and it is planning to dance Swan Lake this year. I searched YouTube again and found these clips of Part I and Part II of La Sylphide from 2012 which I would gladly have crossed the Irish Sea to see had I been aware of those performances.  I should add that I much prefer La Sylphide to Giselle because it is set in Scotland which is still part of the United Kingdom (at least for now) and not in the Vosges or Black Forest and there is no monkeying about with the spirit world which gives me the creeps (see "Reflections on Gisellle" 29 Jan 2014).

Incidentally, while carrying out my searches I found the website for the National Ballet of Ireland which shows that I wasn't imagining things. It will dance Carmen in Limerick on 29 and 30 May 2014 and with tickets priced between 10 and 20 euros it seems very good value even after taking account of the Ryanair fair to get there.

Now a limerick
"Now there once was a Scotsman called James
With whom Madge had some fun and some games.
She gave him a scarf
For the sylph for a laugh.
Who died and Gurn took Effie back hame." 
"Hame" I think is how they pronounce home in Scotland (see The Steamie by Tony Roper).  Yeah I know it's terrible but you try and find a better rhyme for "James" and "games".

Post Script 9 Feb 2014

There will be a chance to see Monica Loughman's company, if not Loughman herself, as it will dance Giselle at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast on 4 or 5 April 2014, As I am curious and will qualify for a concessionary ticket I think I may just slip over.

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