Sunday, 15 March 2015


This year marks the sapphire anniversary of the formation of Northern Ballet so the company celebrated yesterday with a magnificent gala at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. Four new works were premièred by the company and dancers came from Australia, Germany, Russia and London. There have been only three other occasions when I have seen such an array of talent from around the world. They were the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala at Sadler's Wells on 29 Sept 2013, the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala at the Grand Opera House in York on 30 July 2007 (when incidentally I saw Xander Parish and his sister Demelza for the first time) and a gala for Sir Frederick Ashton's retirement on 24 July 1970. Artistically it was a glorious evening to which the audience duly paid homage by rising  as one at the end.

We saw 13 works last night:
They were all good but for me there were three highlights.  

The first was seeing Klimentova and Muntagirov together again. I never thought I would ever see that beautiful ballerina again especially after her last performance at the Royal Albert Hall and certainly not with Muntagirov after he left English National Ballet for The Royal Ballet. The last time I had seen then was in The Nutcracker at the Coliseum just before Muntagirov announced his departure (see Cracking! 14 Dec 2013). Theirs was one of the great partnerships of ballet and seeing them again together in my own county was like a miracle. That pas de deux  alone made the evening for me.

Next was Torres's A Dying Swan and there's a story behind that. I inherited my love of ballet from my mother. My father, a highly educated, urbane and kindly man, didn't care for it at all. He regarded men's tights and women's tutus as bordering on indecency and the whole art form an instrument of Soviet propaganda. Don't forget I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s when we scrambled the V-bombers on more than one occasion. The Bolshoi arrived in London immediately after Khrushchev had crushed the Hungarian uprising. But my mother had seen Pavlova dance the Dying Swan at the Grand Theatre in Leeds when she must have been a very little girl (see In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic 18 Sept 2013), It made such an impression upon her that she could describe the choreography in every detail.  I have seen Pavlova's performance on flickering film and I know my mother's recollection was accurate. I had longed to see a modern ballerina perform that dance and I did at the Gala for Ghana 4 Feb 2014 when Elena Glurdjidze danced the piece. It was as beautiful as my mother had described and I wept. A few days later I actually met the great ballerina at the London Ballet Circle and told her the story and she seemed to be moved too.

So there was a lot of emotion welling up inside me before Torres took to the stage. At first I was in despair because the cello was almost drowned by sound effects but then it shone through and so did Torres. He was as beautiful and as moving as Glurdjidze. And indeed as Pavlova so far as I can tell from my mother's description and the film. Again I was moved to tears. Now I am a hard nosed barrister specializing in patents and I don't cry easily but I couldn't help myself yesterday. Some of those tears were prompted by my associations with Pavlova and my mother's story but most sprung from Torres's dancing. And when the auditorium exploded with applause at the end of his piece I felt sure it was the latter.

My third highlight was Jonathan Watkins's A Northern Trilogy. Do watch his video for so long as it remains on YouTube. He set three ballets to Stanley Holloway's monologues - Yorkshire Pudding, One Each a Piece All Round and The Lion and Albert. For this Leeds audience it was mother's milk and it was for me too because I had heard those monologues from both parents while growing up in Surrey. Neither my Yorkshire mother nor my Lancashire father ever allowed me to forget that I had been born in Manchester and if ever I inserted an "r" into "grass" or "bath" I was met with a contemptuous "Oh you cockney clod." Bateman, Blow and Leebolt were beautiful  (especially the angel). Lee-Baker made a great Albert and Poeung can do no wrong in my book. I think I liked Yorkshire Pudding best. Why? No reason except my friend Gita, who has joined me in turning Terpsichore into a business and is as Yorkshire as my mum, published a recipe for Yorkshire pudding in Milan, Happy Birthday 3 June 2013 Gita Mistry Food. Gita's first name means Heaven in one of the Indian languages and her Yorkshire pudding really is heavenly.

As this post is already long I will try to canter through the rest but I must say a few words about Kenneth Tindall and Xander Parish.

Tindall is one of the best young choreographers we have and I love everything he has created including the ballet we saw last night. His work appeals to the brain as well as the heart. We Never Said depicts two mannequins in jeans and jackets who come to life to music by The XX, In the programme notes Tindall quotes an anonymous poem:
"My love for you is statuesque, come let us dance like we're made of stone."
Batley and Leebolt were magnificent.  As it happens I met Tindall in the foyer before the show and he said a few words about his plans which are exciting.  I shall be featuring him and his work later this year.

Xander Parish is not only a great dancer he is also a very kind man. I saw him dance Romeo when the Mariinsky visited London (see Reet Gradely: Romeo and Juliet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House 29 July 2014 31 July 2014) and Joanna Goodman and I were lucky enough to meet him at the London Ballet Circle a few days later. Because proceedings take place under something like the Chatham House Rule I can't say anything about his talk but I think I can give two instances of his kindness.  First, he lifted one of his younger admirers as I had seen him lift Tereshkina a few days earlier. That young girl who is a promising dance student was thrilled to bits. Secondly, he signed a birthday card for my ballet teacher's younger daughter. I had offered him two cards to sign - one from the shop at Covent Garden for his old company and the other of Martha Leebolt as Cleopatra from our shop at Quarry Hill. And guess what! He chose Martha. My ballet teacher's daughter was as thrilled as the young student he had lifted in London.

Now for Xander Parish's performance. It is always a thrill to see him. He and his sister shone in 2007 and he also shone last night but I do wish he had been given something like Balanchine's Apollo in which role he dazzled London last year. Now don't get me wrong. I had seen Daniel Montero of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company dance Ballet 101 in Amsterdam and London and I like it very much. Parish performed it beautifully though it ended with him flat on his back from his exertions rather than in little pieces as in the Dutch version. But having seen Parish's Romeo I wanted more. So I guess I must save my kopeks and go to Russia after all.

I'm afraid I won't do justice to the rest in this post but hopefully others will follow. Nixon's Sapphire showed off our excellent young men. Lean, sleek and muscular like greyhounds. Do watch this YouTube video. De Andrade's A Fatal Kiss reminded me of Tango and Buenos Aires and the novels of Luis Borges. Shift was Bruce at his best. Jones and Bull were magnificent. Australians are perfectionists as I know from personal experience having been taught by one. It was great to see a bit more of Gatsby again both the Charleston and the pas de deux. Little Monsters to the music of Elvis Presely oozed sexiness and menace. Blow's Juliet wowed me last Saturday and now I am yet another of her devoted fans.  And having seen just a little of Neumeier's The Nutcracker and Trusch I want to see more.

There is just one thing that worried me about last night and that is that there were empty seats even in the front stalls. Gita managed to get a good seat at a good price towards the rear of the stalls a few hours before the show. Also it was not the usual ballet going crowd. There were some faces I recognized such as students from my Over 55 class and, of course, Janet McNulty of Balletco Forum from Liverpool but not many. I felt I was one of the younger ones and as I was at Ashton's retirement gala I am no stripling.

That and the fact that there were rows of empty seats on Thursday for the last night of Romeo and Juliet troubles me about Leeds. According to the authoritative Globalization and World Cities Research Network Leeds is only a gamma city on its classification of cities whereas even Manchester where Northern Ballet began is a beta and London together with New York is an alpha plus. How long can this mid-size town support a company of the quality of Northern Ballet? in his speech before the show Nixon mentioned that all the shows in London are fully booked whereas yesterday's gala and next week's Wuthering Heights are certainly not. Had the gala taken place at The WellsThe Coliseum or even The Albert Hall it would have been sold out for months. It makes me wonder for how much longer Northern Ballet can afford to remain Northern?

Further Reading

Nick Ahad   Dancing to music of time 15 March 2015 Yorkshire Post


  1. Fab review, Jane, thanks so much for sharing your experience of the gala and your thoughts. I had a brief look at the programme during a quick break in class with Fiona tonight.

    That's an interesting question that you raise in the final paragraph. I can't help but wonder how much longer classical ballet performed in traditional theatre settings can afford to remain the way it is. Ballet is prohibitively expensive, to participate in and to watch, and has a habit of excluding those who could fall in love with the movement and the promise of expression it holds. The elitism at the core of the classical ballet industry has, in my opinion, numbered its days too. How much longer, even in London, will people continue to support it? Lucky for us then, that we have this wonderful company in the UK who not only encourage affordable trips to the ballet, but also support those who wish to learn the movement by opening the doors of its studios and theatre.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I am glad you like the review.

    I agree that Northern Ballet is a wonderful company and I am glad of the opportunity to study in its studios, We are also lucky to have other companies that do great outreach and educational work. Ballet Cymru and Scottish Ballet to name just two.

    We need more money for the performing arts but there is a limit to what the public can bear either for ticket prices or taxes. Sponsorship and merchandizing may be part of the answer and in that regard we should learn from the Dutch.