Saturday, 31 May 2014

Amsterdam or London?

When I travelled to Amsterdam to see the Junior Company Dutch National Ballet for the first time last November nothing could have been easier or more pleasant.  Contrast it with my trek to the capital of my own country to see them again at The Linbury. That journey could not have been more trying and cost a great deal more.

The flight to Amsterdam lasted 45 minutes. Though we are not in Shengen customs and immigration took minutes to clear. Outside the terminal at Schipol airport a bus was waiting to take me to my hotel in the Leidseplein which cost something like 4 euros.  The hotel was literally across the road from the Stadsschouwburg where the Junior Company was performing.  You can actually see a bit of the theatre in the photo on the hotel's home page. I booked through and got a room with a shower for under 100 euro. The hotel is about a quarter of a mile from the restored Rijksmuseum where I gorged my eyes on Rembrandt and the other masters.  The performance at the Stadsshouwburg was magnificent (see "The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013" 25 Nov 2013). After the show I consumed a traditional Dutch 3 course meal at The Pantry with a glass of beer for about 35 euros. I remember that the speciality of the house had a long Dutch name but looked and tasted very much like cottage pie. I then wrote my review using one of the hotel's computers in the business centre rather than its expensive wifi, had a good night's sleep and caught my bus back to Schipol at 06:30 in good time for my flight home.

I live in Holmfirth in the Pennines near the Peak District National Park. It is a beautiful part of the world and I have a 4 bedroom house with stunning views for the cost of a dog kennel in Kensal Rise. It is only 200 miles from London as the crow flies. No distance at all to an Angeleno or a Sydneysider.  But have you seen the train fares to Euston, King's Cross or St Pancras? Or the cost of parking at a mainline station car park? Or the time you need to allow to pick up your ticket from the temperamental ticket machines?

Through trial and error over the years I have worked out that the best way to London is to drive to Luton Parkway (164 miles away) where I can park for £2 after 17:00 and take Thameslink to Farringdon or Holborn Viaduct for £9.35.  When the M1 is clear the drive to Luton Parkway from Dodworth takes 2 1/2 hours - only an hour longer than  the drive to Sheffield or Manchester and the time you have to allow for parking and getting your ticket. But right now the M1 is not clear. There is a 20 mile stretch of roadworks from Derbyshire to Sheffield which will take a year to finish and when there is an accident as there was yesterday it takes hours for the carriageway to be cleared.  If you break your journey in London even at a Travelodge you're talking about serious money. And as for restaurants ..... £75 for a curry for 3 in Drury Lane.

Even more annoying than the prices and congestion in London is the arrogance of London audiences who can't acknowledge excellence from outside when they see it.  They were presented with excellence by Scottish Ballet two weeks ago (see "Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet" 15 May 2014) and all that they could do was grumble that Pastor's ballet was not the same as Macmillan's. I have already mentioned the reluctance of the audience at the Linbury to give those marvellous kids of the Junior Company the accolade that they had received in Amsterdam and which they so richly deserved in London after dancing their hearts out ("And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden" 30 May 2014). And when I happened to mention in a discussion on Ballet Black that Christopher Marney is my favourite living British choreographer I was answered by a post of a long list of others the inference being that I can't possibly have seen very much. When I pointed out that my respondent had omitted David Nixon and Tindall from his list I received an even more condescending observation in reply.

So I have been looking round for an alternative to London and I think I have found it in Amsterdam.  Just look at the programme of the Dutch National Ballet for the coming year. Right now they are touring with Ashton's Midsummer Night's Dream and Paquita in Dreams. Next month they are launching Pastor's Tempest. Having been thrilled by Scottish Ballet's Romeo and Juliet I am eager to see more of his work.  It may not be possible as the 21 clashes with Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill and the 29 clashes with Northern Ballet Academy's Friends Gala. But I will be back for van Dantzig's Swan Lake in September (of which we got a little taste on Thursday) and Jewels and Cool Britannia next year.

Of course I won't give up on London altogether. I still love the Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, Rambert, Ballet Black and so much more.  You will still catch me occasionally at the House, the Coliseum and the Wells.  I am braving the roads yet again tomorrow to see Clement Crisp interview Lady Macmillan and Donald Macleary's Masterclass at Ivy House, Anna Palova's old home at 15:30. I am staying over to see Chris Marney at the London Ballet Circle. But London had better look out. Amsterdam, Paris and Copenhagen are serious alternatives for a change of scenery.

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