Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Li-Cunxin at London Ballet Circle

There are many advantages to living in Yorkshire but it is over 200 miles from the nation's capital which means that you have to allow a minimum of 5 hours (or, to be comfortable, 6) to reach it. On Monday 3 Aug 2015 Li-Cunxin, the artistic director of Queensland Ballet, was the guest of London Ballet Circle. I had been looking forward to hearing him ever since I learned that he was coming to speak at the Circle's AGM in January.

Both Gita and I had things to do on Monday morning which meant that we set off from Bradford at 15:30 that afternoon. As I work in London I have to go down there quite often and I have found that the quickest and most convenient way is to drive to Luton Parkway and then take Thameslink into town. "Why not leave the car at Sheffield and take the train all the wau?" I hear you say.  Three reasons. Although you can get some good deals on East Midlands Trains if you can book well in advance fares can be hideously expensive if you can't. Also, car paring costs an arm and a leg ar Sheffield station car park compared to £2.50 after 17:00 and at weekends at Luton Parkway. Secondly, you have to allow yourself an hour and a half from leaving home to boarding the train in order to drive to Sheffield, park your car, collect your ticket from the very slow and very temperamental ticket machines at Sheffield station and clamber with your luggage upstairs and over a bridge to reach the platform for the London train.  By contrast it is only 145.5 miles from Dodworth (where I pick up the M1) to Luton Parkway and takes an average of 2 hours and 37 minutes. Thirdly, there are 4 fast trains an hour on Thameslink which take me to within walking distance to most places in the West End City that I need to reach, Also East Midlands' express trains from Sheffield and the Midlands often stop at Parkway.

Although we left with high hopes on Monday we did not have very realistic expectations of hearing much if anything of what Li-Cunxin had to say. But the gods were smiling upon us.  There were no major delays or hold-ups on the M1 despite extensive roadworks on at least 4 stretches. We arrived at Parkway just after 18:30. The East Midlands express which usually departs at 18:32 had been delayed by a few minutes enabling us to catch it.  It delivered us to St Pancras just after 19:05. The doors of a departing Piccadilly line train opened for a second allowing us to sauté in and a Northern line train pulled in at Leicester Square just as we reached the platform. We dashed out of Embankment like bats out of hell and sprinted towards the Nigerian embassy. We squeezed into the lift and caught the voice of our chairperson as she introduced Li Cunxin and his interviewer Gerald Dowler.

I have never seen so many people at a London Ballet Circle meting. The room was packed.  Our numbers were swelled by members of the Queensland Ballet Friends who had flown from Brisbane to support their call. Extra chairs had been sent for and the chair invited those of us who could sit on the floor to do so at the front. Gita and I found a spot where we could hear and see everything and could catch the moderator's eye. We had made it and exchanged high fives.

I can't say anything about the talk because of the Chatham House Rule that applies to meetings of the Circle. Dowler interviewed Li Cunxin magisterially allowing plenty of pauses for questions. Although I knew quite a lot about Li-Cunxin before he spoke from his book Mao's Last Dancer and film of the same name the interview filled in lots of gaps in my knowledge. Li-Cunxin has clearly done great things for Queensland Ballet in the three years since he took it over. Afterwards he signed copies of his book and exchanged greetings with those like Gita and me who stayed to shake his hand.

Li Cunxin was here because the Queensland Ballet is dancing La Sylpide at the Coliseum. The show opened last night.  Gita and I will see it on Saturday and review it shortly afterwards. La Sylphde is a very special ballet for all kinds of reasons (see Queensland Ballet's La Sylphide - Why it is so special 22 July 2015). On 29 Dec 2014 I identified this season as one of the highlights of the coming year (see Looking Forward to 2015 - My Choices 29 Dec 2014).

One reason why I admire this company even before I have seen it is that it says that it is dedicated to sharing its  love of dance with as many people as possible. It  does that through performances, dance workshops, training programs, public talks, industry experiences, online resources and more (see the Learn page on the company's website and follow some of the links).  Of course, Northern Ballet does that here too and I am one of the beneficiaries of its Over 55 classes. So, too, do Ballet Cymru in Newport and Scottish Ballet at The Tramway. However, I get the impression that Queensland Ballet are particularly committed to bringing dance to everyone within their massive state of over 715,000 square miles. I wish this company well in London and I hope to see it back soon.

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