|St George's Hall, Bradford Source Wikipedia|
I was very suspicious of Channel4's Big Ballet for many reasons. First, I am not a fan of reality TV. I have never watched an episode of "Big Brother". I have watched the odd episode of "The Apprentice" but I get very cross at the bitchiness particularly when members of the losing team turn on each other. I have tried to watch "Dragons' Den" but am infuriated at the arrogance of the investors. The second reason I was suspicious is that I live in Yorkshire and I have seen far too many shows that take the mickey out of my county. I also dance for fun even though I am the wrong shape and size and have not the slightest natural aptitude. The idea of gathering a bunch of plus size dancers to dance Swan Lake struck me as the modern equivalent of watching the lunatics at Bedlam.
Nevertheless, I did watch highlights of the show on Channel4oD and was pleasantly surprised. Now this was not great ballet. The choreography was very simple. There was just one lift and nobody danced on pointe but it was not a shambles either. Far from it. When one considers the time available for training and rehearsal the dancers and their teachers, Wayne Sleep and Monica Loughman, did very well indeed. Indeed, I drew some inspiration from them for myself. Until I saw the video I had blamed my wobbliness in arabesque and my very unsteady pirouettes on being the wrong shape and size but lo and behold folk who are even less well proportioned than me were getting arabesques and pirouettes right before my very eyes. So I have no excuses. I must just work harder.
The ballet was performed in St George's Hall in Bradford which is really a concert hall. I have seen opera there but never ballet. That usually takes place at The Alhambra a few hundred yards away. The Halle and other visiting orchestras perform there and when they appear they seem very tightly packed together. How the dancers managed to move on a stage of that size beats me. If only for that they deserve a medal.
The story of Swan Lake was tweaked a little. Scene 1 was set in a New York art gallery in the 1920s which was fine except that I could not quite see the advantage of that setting since all the other scenes seemed to follow the story. There were some very clever adaptations of the music - the cygnets for example was used in part of the dance of Siegfried and Odile to underscore their intimacy as I think Sleep said in the preceding programme. I also liked the divertissements - particularly the Neapolitan dance - different choreography from when Sleep used to dance it but still good to watch. All the artists did well but I particularly liked the men, AJ who danced Siegfried and Raj who was Rothbart.
The programme received a lot of help from Northern Ballet. The dancers rehearsed in Quarry Hill, the music was provided by the Northern Ballet Sinfornia and David Nixon was in the audience. That is one of the good things about Northern Ballet. They cultivate excellence like every other company but they bring ballet to everyone: not just to elderly hippopotamuses like me but also to folk who have far greater challenges to overcome than simply being the wrong age, shape and size and bereft of any obvious talent. When everything is taken into account I am very proud of my beloved Northern Ballet for facilitating this project and even more proud of my fellow Yorkshire folk who danced before a live audience and cameras on very little training. It has motivated me to work that much harder when Northern Ballet Academy reopens after its half term break.
21 Feb 2013 Northern Ballet has just published s press release on its contribution to the series entitled "The door is always open with Northern Ballet Big Ballet may have seen their last curtain call but the stage door is always open with Northern Ballet".
7 Sep 2013 "Adult Ballet Classes" on adult ballet classes throughout the UK
12 Sep 2013 "Realizing a Dream" on Northern Ballet Academy's over 55 class
6 Dec 2013 "It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class"
12 Feb 2014 "Migrating Swans - Dance Classes for the Over 50s in the North"
18 Feb 2014 "Northern Ballet Open Day" on the Academy and its teachers in acton
And for a little bit of background on Monica Loughman see "Ballet in Ireland" 8 Feb 2014