Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Highlights of 2015

Ballet Cymru's Cinderella

In Looking Forward to 2015 - My Choices 29 Dec 2014 I tipped Queensland Ballet's La Sylphide for ballet of the year with the Dutch National Ballet's Cool Britannia, the Royal Ballet's Fille, Ballet Black's triple bill, Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet and Scottish Ballet's Nutcracker as likely runners up. They were all good and I enjoyed them all tremendously but none of them was the ballet of the year in my book. That accolade belongs to Ballet Cymru's Cinderella by Darius James and Amy Doughty (see Ballet Cymru's Cinderella 15 June 2015).

James and Doughty also choreographed the second best show which was Tiran arrangement of Welsh folk songs sung on stage by Cerys Matthews (see "The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales" 8 Nov 2015 and Ballet Cymru in London 1 Dec 2015). The performances that I saw were charged with emotion because the company had recently lost Mandev Sokhi, one of the most attractive dancers on the stage (see Mandev Sokhi 10 Oct 2015). Matthews had added the Rev Eli Jenkings's prayer from Milkwood to her medley in Sokhi's memory. I doubt that there was a dry eye in the house. How the dancers carried it off with memories so raw is  remarkable.

Ballet Cymru have some wonderful dancers and this was the year I got to make their acquaintance (see Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015). I visited their studios in Rogerstone with the London Ballet Circle and watched their company class and a rehearsal of Cinderella. At the end of the company class James invited each of his artists to perform their party piece. The women showed off their fouettés and the men their jumps and turns.

This was a vintage year for Cinderella as the panel agreed in the State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet during Northern Ballet's Choreographic Laboratory 2015 (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). There were great productions by Christopher Hampson for Scottish Ballet and Christopher Wheeldon's for the Dutch National Ballet (see Scottish Ballet's Cinderella 20 Dec 2015 and  Wheeldon's Cinderella 13 July 2015. They both had their strengths and I liked them a lot but it is the Welsh version with Jack White's glorious score that stands out like a beacon.

Ballet Cymru shows that a company does not have to be big to be great and two of my other favourite companies, Ballet Black and Phoenix Dance Theatre, emphasize that point. I saw them both at the Linbury - Ballet Black's triple bill on 14 Feb 2015 (see Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet 17 Feb 2015) and Phoenix's on 12 Nov 2015 (see The Phoenix Soars Over London 13 Nov 2015).

There are of course big companies that are also great and one of the greatest is Scottish Ballet. Last year was a succession of successes: the revival of Peter Darrell's Nutcracker in Edinburgh (Like meeting an old friend after so many years 4 Jan 2015), A Streetcar named Desire at Sadler's Wells (see Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015), Marc Brew's Exalt and van Manen's 5 Tangos at the Tramway (see No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015) and Christopher Hampson's magnificent Cinderella which I mentioned above. Scottish Ballet was the first ballet company I got to know and love and it is still special to me. Yesterday I tweeted that if I could see only one ballet company this year it would have to be Scottish Ballet.

Scottish Ballet owes much of its success to its artistic director in Christopher Hampson. I was lucky enough to see him in the flesh in the State of the Art Panel Discussion which I mentioned above. He choreographed Perpetuum Mobile for Northern Ballet which accompanied Madame Butterfly on its mid-scale tour which was the best thing I saw from that company last year (see Nixon's Masterpiece 22 May 2015) and Four for Ballet Central (see Dazzled 3 May 2015).  I look forward to his Sextet for Ballet Black very much.

I saw two great performances by the Royal Ballet in 2015:  Cranko's Onegin on 16 Feb 2015 with Matthew Golding and Natalia Osipova in the leading roles (see Onegin: the most enjoyable performance that I have seen at the House since Sibley and Dowell 21 Feb 2015) and La Fille mal gardée with Laura Morera and Vadim Muntagirov as Lise and Colas (see The Best Fille Ever 18 April 2015). Morera was a lovely Lise and Muntagirov was the best Colas ever and I got the opportunity to tell Morera how much I enjoyed her performance when she and Ricardo Cervera spoke to the London Ballet Circle in August (see Laura Morera 25 Aug 2015).

Cranko is my favourite choreographer of all time but he died so young. Two young choreographers who remind me of Cranko are Christopher Marney and  Ernst Meisner, I had an opportunity to compare Cranko and Marney back to back when the Chelmsford Ballet Company performed Cranko's Pineapple Poll and Carnival of the Animals, a work that Marney created specially for the company (see A Delight Indeed  22 March 2015. Meisner created Embers for the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company of which he is artistic coordinator. In my review of the work danced by Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme I described it as "one of the most beautiful ballets I have ever seen" (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015).

We were lucky enough to see the Junior Company in London in June (see Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015) and the main company's Cinderella in July. I also saw their Cool Britannia, a mixed bill of works by British choreographers at the Stopera in Amsterdam (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015) and the opening gala of the Amsterdam ballet season (see The Best Evening I have ever spent at the Ballet 13 Sept 2015). There was  a party after the gala at which I met many of the company's choreographers and dancers including Ted Brandsen, Juanjo Arques and Michaela DePrince.

Another splendid evening at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 20 June 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the Birmingham Royal Ballet's move to Birmingham and the 20th anniversary of David Bintley's appointment as artistic director of that company (see In Praise of Bintley 20 June 2015). The company performed David The King Dances, Bintley's latest work, and his Carmina Burana (see A Special Ballet for a Special Day 23 June 2015 and Oh Fortuna 23 June 2015). Bintley spoke about both works on his visits to the London Ballet Circle in May and November.  The Birmingham Royal Ballet also danced a magnificent Coppelia in Salford on 5 March 2015 (see Sensational 6 March 2015 and Swan Lake on 24 Sept 2015 (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake at the Lowry 26 Sept 2015)

Yet another gala too place in Leeds on the 14 March 2015 to mark Northern Ballet's 35th anniversary (see Sapphire 15 March 2015). Thirteen works were performed that night by artists from Northern Ballet and many other companies. The highlight of my evening was the pas de deux from the White Act of Swan Lake by Muntagirov and Daria Klimentova.  They were a remarkable partnership and I had thought that I would never see them dance again. It was also good to see Xander Parish again in Eric Gauthier's Ballet 101, Phoenix's Shift and Javier Torres's Dying Swan. That was the first time I had seen a male dancer attempt Pavlova's iconic piece and Torres succeeded handsomely. My mother saw Pavlova dance the Dying Swan in the same theatre many years ago (see In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic 18 Sept 2013). I also enjoyed Jonathan Watkins's Northern Trilogy and in particular his Yorkshire Pudding. It promised so much for 1984 but although that ballet grew on my the second time I saw it, it fell a long way short of my expectations (see My First Impressions of 1984 12 Sept 2015 and 1984 Second Time Round 24 Oct 2015).

I saw 3 productions of Romeo and Juliet in 2015. One was by Northern Ballet, another by Ballet West and the third by the English National Ballet in 2015. Northern's version by Jean Christophe-Maillot with its emphasis on Friar Lawrence was interesting but the production that I enjoyed the most was Nureyev's version which ENB danced at the Palace on 28 Nov 2015 (see Manchester's Favourite Ballet Company 29 Nov 2015). Max Westwell and Lauretta Summerscales danced the title roles magnificently and I was particularly pleased to see Sarah Kundi as Lady Capulet.

ENB also performed Lest We Forget at the Palace on 24 Nov 2015 (see Lest We Forget 25 Nov 2015). This was a triple bill of works by Liam Scarlett, Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan in memory of those who took part in World War 1. This was not an easy programme to watch but it was intensely moving. I admired all three works, particularly Scarlett's No Man's Land,

The centenary of World War I was also marked by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in Andrew Simmons's Dear Horizon and Neil Ieremia's Passchendale which they performed at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre on 4 Nov 2015 as part their A Passing Cloud mixed bill (see Kia Ora! The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Leeds 5 Nov 2015). This was one of two antipodean companies that visited us in 2015 of which I for one would liked to have seen more. I did catch the New Zealanders' Giselle in High Wycombe on 7 Nov 2015 (see Royal New Zealand Ballet's Giselle 10 Nov 2015).

The other antipodean company that we welcomed was the Queensland Ballet which danced La Sylphide at the Coliseum in August (see A Dream realized; the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015). Australia used to send its best dancers to us starting with Sir Robert Helpmann but is now a power house of dance in its own right attracting talent from around the world. One of its brightest stars is the legendary Li-Cunxin who has carved an impressive career in stockbroking as well as dance. Meeting him at the London Ballet Circle and hearing his life story was an unforgettable experience (see Li-Cunxin at the London Ballet Circle 5 Aug 2015).

Another foreign company that visited us in August was the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre which brought the Mariinsky's Denis Rodkin to our shores. I saw him in La Bayadère with Irina Kolesnikova as Nikiya (see Blown Away - St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere 24 Aug 2015). I had previously seen him in HDTV transmissions from Moscow as the Nutcracker (see Clara grows up- Grigorovitch's Nutcracker transmitted directly from Moscow 21 Dec 2014). Siegfried in Swan Lake (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Bradford 26 Jan 2015) and Ferhad in The Legend of Love (see The Bolshoi's "A Legend of Love" streamed from Moscow 27 Oct 2014) but he is even more impressive in real life.

I saw some great performances last year by some outstanding dancers from the world's most famous companies and it is probably unfair to select any for special praise but here is my list for what it is worth:

Ballet of the Year
Ballet Cymru's Cinderella, runner up Ballet Cymru's Tir

Company of the Year
Scottish Ballet, runners up Dutch National Ballet and the Royal Ballet

Small Companies of the Year
Ballet Black and Ballet Cymru

Contemporary Company of the Year
Phoenix Dance Theatre

Male Dancer of the Year
Denis Rodkin in La Bayadere, runner up Matthew Golding in the Royal Ballet's Onegin and the Dutch National Ballet's Cinderella

Female Dancer of the Year
Laura Morera as Lise  runners up Anna Tsygankova and Bethany Kingsley-Garner as Cinderella 

Choreographers of the Year 
Christopher Hampson for Perpetuum Mobile for Northern Ballet and Ernst Meisner for Embers for the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company

Dancers to watch
Floor Elmers of Dutch National Ballet, Krystal Lowe of Ballet Cymru, Marie-Astrid-Mence of Phoenix Dance Theatre and Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet

Promising Newcomers
Bart Engelen, Norwegian Ballet, Cristiano Principato and Emilie Tassinari, Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Tim Hill of Ballet Cymru and Prentice Whitlow of Phoenix Dance Theatre

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