Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Good Show - Bristol Russians' Cinderella in Stockport

Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Cinderella, Plaxa Stockport, 16 Feb 2014
Photo  Wikipedia

On 31 Aug 2012 a little lad from Mottram called Reuben Graham died at Frenchay Hospital  in Bristol. While they were in Bristol Reuben's family were housed in a CLIC Sargent Home from Home, After his death the family appealed for funds to establish a similar residence in North West England in Reuben;s memory, To raise money for the appeal the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company visited Stockport to dance Cinderella at the Plaza on 16 Feb 2014.

According to its website the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company was formed by Chika Temma and Yury Demakov in September 2011 to offer talented dancers from Bristol and the South West between the ages of 14 and 19 and opportunity to work with world class dancers.  Temma and Demakov studied at the Kirov (now Mariinsky) and Bolshoi ballet schools respectively and have established the Bristol Russian Ballet School to teach ballet in the Russian tradition. I am not sure how the Russian tradition differs from other countries' traditions but I hope to find out.

At her talk to the London Ballet Circle on the 11 Feb 2014 Elena Glurdjidze said that she had met Chika Temma in St Petersburg and that they had become friends (see "Elena Glurdjidze - So Lovely, So Gracious" 11 Feb 2014). She spoke warmly about Temma's school in Bristol and also about the appeal in Reuben Graham's memory in North West England,  As I said in my earlier post,
"My admiration for Glurdjidze increased all the more. She is not simply a great dancer. She is also a lovely human being."
 Glurdjidze is the Patron of the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet and she wrote in the programme about her pride and delight in her connection with the School and at dancing Cinderella "in this very special performance" which was her first experience of dancing with youngsters.  I should add that she has already given classes to the Bristol students which I mentioned in my previous article and she will be teaching at an iintensive course at the School between 13 and 17 April 2014.

The School does not just teach teenagers,  Adult ballet classes are also available and one of the students on the adult ballet course is David Wilson who keeps the Dave Tries Ballet blog (see "Fantastic New Blog: Dave Tries Ballet" 28 Sept 2013).  As I said in that article
"Dave reminds me of myself 40 years ago. I had my first ballet lesson at about the same age when I was an undergraduate. I also went to graduate school in the United States (UCLA in my case). And I got into ballet for very similar reasons to Dave (see "Why I'm Trying Ballet" 4 Aug 2011)."
When I wrote that post I thought Dave was still in America for I added that if he ever came  back to England I should love to meet him.

I got the opportunity to meet Dave on 16 Feb 2014 because he was in the show. He danced two roles, the dancing master in the first scene with the ugly sisters, and the king at the ball. These were both demanding roles both dramatically and technically and at one point he had to lift the ballerina and deliver her into the hands of Arionel Vargas who danced the Prince. In fact Dave had to lift several dancers including the wicked stepmother who was danced by Demakov. Had Dave started his ballet career at the age of 5 and studied at a leading ballet school his performance would have been commendable. When one considers that he started only a few years ago at graduate school it is all the more remarkable. It says a lot for him and also for his teachers on both sides of the Atlantic. His training is set out in detail in his blog and it makes fascinating and for me at any rate inspiring reading.

I have seen a lot of versions of Cinderella in my time most recently David Nixon's at The Grand (see "Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph!" 27 Dec 2013). I think my all time favourite is the first one I saw at the Royal Ballet with Sir Fred Ashton and Sir Robert Helpmann dancing the ugly sisters in the early 1970s. The production that I saw on Sunday was very close to that version in that it retained the Prokofiev score and the fairy godmother was a woman danced delightfully by Leanne Shears unlike Nixon's and it wasn't set in wartime London unlike Matthew Bourne's.

There was also some quite delightful touches.  In the first scene Cinderella is given extra work to do by the stepmother and sisters including picking up the contents of a bowl that are discharged on stage. At that point a group of mice appear who pick up those contents and present them to the ballerina. The mice were danced by pupils of the Sara England School of Dance and the smile on the face of Elena Glurdjidze as she accepted them was delightful.

Another scene that I liked which I do not remember in the anyone else's version were the dances of the Spanish and Indian Princesses as the Prince and his attendants scour the town looking for the owner of the glass slipper.  The Spanish princess was danced beautifully by Ellie Wilson who is now at the Rambert School. I hope we shall see a lot more of her.  Also to be congratulated were Miriam Bennett, Celeste Lewis-Williams and Christina Lojo who represented the Indian princess.  The reason there were three of them was that the princess had 6 arms like Kali. Not an easy feet to accomplish on stage and they executed it brilliantly.

Of course, the top of the bill were Glurdjidze and Vargas and they glowed. When I filed past Glurdjidze on 11 Feb 2014 I told Glurdkidze that I would be in the audience on Sunday to which she replied that she would give her very best for that performance. She was as good as her word. Two weeks earlier I had seen her in The Dying Swan at The Gala for Ghana. She had been beautiful then and wonderful on Sunday night. Vargas, of course, is a magnificent dancer and a great favourite of the crowds as Conrad in Le Corsaire. He gave a thrilling performance.

Everyone on the stage on Sunday did well: the sisters, Caitlin Anstis and Paige Pulin, who were anything but ugly but showed their potential as character dancers, the fairies (Georgia Smart, Sarah Sigley, Abigail Baker and Miriam Bennett), Time (Andrea Santato), the Minister (William Griffin) the fairy attendants and the pupils of Denton Community College and Ashton Sixth Form College who danced in the ballroom scenes.

As I had seen previously seen plenty of empty seats at the Lowry and Palace when the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Rambert have been in town I feared that the Bristol Russians might not get a good audience even with Glurdjidze and Vargas on the bill. While they did not quite fill the Plaza I was pleased to see that they did not do badly. It is very important to support companies like the Bristol Russians and also Chelmsford Ballet in Essex and Ballet West in the Scottish Highlands because they bring ballet to new audiences and give the dancers and teachers of the future. I was delighted to meet in the interval a correspondent of the Dancing Times.  He was a very pleasant gentlemen who shared my admiration for Glurdjidze. It is good to know that at least part of the dancing establishment, which can be so infuriatingly snooty with its private language and in jokes, takes an interest in initiatives like the Bristol Russian Ballet.

I did get to meet Dave after the show making an exception to my usual practice of never going to the stage door however good the performance because the artists need their space too. We did not have long to talk because a coach was waiting with its engine running to take him and his wonderful companions back to the West Country.  And I am glad to say that the Reuben Retreat project is well on target. Before the show Mrs Graham mounted the stage to say that the appeal had raised most of the funds it needs and had already found a property and begun to deliver counselling services.  So well done her.  If you want to contribute to the Reuben project you can do so through Virgin Money Giving.  If you want to support the Russians in Bristol keep checking the "Support Us" page of their website.

Further Reading

22 Feb 2014  David Wilson who danced the king and dancing master has written a fascinating account of the performance from the perspective of a dancer in his blog (see David Wilson "Cinderella – performance time!" 22 Feb 2013 Dave Tries Ballet).
16 Feb 2016  Mrs Graham has also added a very touching note about the performance on the Reuben's Retreat blog (see "16 Feb – Days like today offer us sunshine and rainbows").

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