Friday, 21 November 2014

The Happy Prince in Halifax

Oscar Wilde, Author of The Happy Price
Photo Wikipedia

Oscar Wilde lived between 1854 and 1900. In 1888 he published a series of children's short stories entitled The Happy Prince and other Tales. To celebrate the 160th anniversary of Wilde's birth Paul Chantry has created a ballet based on The Happy Prince which his company, Chantry Dance Company, has taken (with two other works) on a nationwide tour. Yesterday the company was at The Square Chapel in Halifax. They delivered a heart warming performance that the audience loved and brought me to my feet.

The show opened with Eliza Wade carrying a lantern and a suitcase and calling out for anyone who might be there. She stumbled upon Oscar Wilde danced by David Beer. Wilde makes a paper swallow and thus begins the story. The swallow was brought to life by Rae Piper dressed in a blue. She is an impressive dancer combining power with grace but it is her power of expression that enchants me. It is the quality that I noted the first tine I saw the company in Sandman last May (Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance 10 May 2014) and I saw it again when Piper danced Scura in Chasing the Eclipse on 28 Sept 2014. The swallow delivers precious stones from a bejewelled gilded statue of the city's prince whose spirit sends those gems as gifts to relieve the suffering of the city's poor. Grazziano Bongiovnni danced that role with flair. A handsome young man with elegant movements he was a delight to watch - particularly in his pas de deux with Piper towards the end of the piece.  I had seen them dance that pas de deux at the company's open day in August.  I described in the post how my spine began to tingle in the way that it did when I saw Sibley and Dowell (Chantry Dance - Making Connections 30 Aug 2014). On stage and in costume they are even better.  I don't think that the company has released a video of the performance, but you can see a trailer for the show in my review of Sandman.

The Happy Prince was the first act of the show.  Two shorter works composed the second act: Rhapsody in Blue to Gershwin's well known music and All I can do is be me - the Bob Dylan Ballet to Bob Dylan. These works were also choreographed by Chantry whose repertoire is already long and diverse. While I enjoyed all three works my favourite was Rhapsody in Blue, partly because I love the music and the period but mainly because of the opportunity to see Chantry dance with Piper. I have already mentioned how much I admire her dancing. Well, her husband dances beautifully too. Tall and authoritative he commands a stage. He is thrilling to watch. Together they are magnificent. In this work Chantry danced a man on a train. An actor perhaps for he whipped out a copy of The Stage. Piper, again in blue, was The Lady of Jazz

The Bob Dylan ballet showed off the whole company including two talented young women, Camille Barrié and Rosie Macari. The scene opened with Bongiovanni in a party hat muttering to himself in Italian.  He was joined by Barrié also in a party hat muttering to herself in French. I have studied both languages but couldn't make much sense of either monologue. A few seconds later Macari entered the scene muttering equally incoherently in English. They were joined by Beer and Chantry who seemed to have had a good time at the party. Both were attracted to the same girl and a rivalry ensued to the strains of "All I Really Wanna Do" in which she was literally pulled by each of them. It must have been a challenge to dance.  And there were many other challenges in the choreography including a spectacular jump by both Barrié and Macari into the arms of their partners who hoisted them shoulder high.

The company travel light with costumes and a few props but they don't need more for they have an excellent lighting designer in Owain Davies. The one ballet that did require slightly more, The Happy Prince, showed off Zoe Squire's considerable ingenuity.

I have already mentioned the audience's applause. I am not sure that the cast expected it to be quite so strong because the auditorium is not large but Piper's smile was a delight to behold.  Anyway she was moved to say a few words about the company and its outreach and educational work including its associate programme of which Eliza Wade was a member. I mentioned the range of their work briefly in Chantry Dance - Making Connections and I reviewed the associates' show in Chantry Dance Associates: Lots of Promise 28 July 2014. I have personally benefited from one of their workshops for their dance director, Gail Gordon, coaxed me onto the stage of the Lincoln Drill Hall in May which gave me the confidence to put my name forward for the Northern Ballet Academy's end of term show (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014). If Chantry Dance can get a Rumpolean elephant like me to come on stage and enjoy herself they can do anything.

Earlier in the day I got a chance to see their company class and a rehearsal for the Dylan ballet. All dancers work hard. I appreciated that when I saw English National Ballet in class in Oxford three weeks ago (Coppelia in Oxford 2 Nov 2014) but I think this troupe works harder than most. I had been to class in Leeds in the morning and had done several of the same exercises. Watching the professionals from a distance of a few feet I noted  how they hold their arms in bras bas and second, how they define space in a forward port de bras, how they find their balance on demi-pointe and arabesque and much, much more. I hope I can remember and incorporate what I learned in my own dancing the next time I go to class.

Halifax was the penultimate stage of the tour. Tonight Chantry Dance are in London. So good was their show that I seriously thought of taking the day off and belting down the motorway to see it one last time. If you are in the capital tonight and can obtain a ticket do yourself a favour and get yourself over to The Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells at 19:45. After last night's show Piper told me that the company plans to dance The Happy Prince for children so there may be another chance to see it. But tonight is your last chance to see the whole triple bill including the gorgeous Rhapsody in Blue.

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