Saturday, 7 May 2016

As Fresh as Ever: Ballet Black's Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Sale

Waterside Arts Centre
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Ballet Black, Dogs Don't Do Ballet, Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, 7 May 2016

I was charmed by Christopher Marney's Dogs Don't Do Ballet ever since I saw its first performance in Harlow on 11 Oct 2014 (see Woof 12 Oct 2014). I enjoyed it again when  I saw it twice in Leeds last year (see Not Just a Children's Ballet 19 April 2015 and Le chien mal gardé 21 April 2015), I wondered whether I would still like it as much as I crossed the Pennines on the way to the theatre.

The answer was an emphatic "yes". It was as fresh as ever. I am not sure whether that is because of new choreography or because I noticed things that I had missed before. It may be because of cast changes since I had last seen the show. Sayaka Ichikawa was a delightful Anna and Mthuthuzeli November brought his panache and style to the ballet. While I liked Marie-Astrid Mence and Christopher Renfurm well enough it is always good to see another interpretation.

Loosely based on Anna Kemp's children's story, the ballet is about a ballet mad little girl called Anna and her pet dog Bif danced by Cira Robinson. Anyone who has ever kept a dog will be amazed by Robinson's performance because she has every canine mannerism down to a tee.  Anna takes her dog to ballet class kept by the slightly ridiculous Miss Polly. Bif wants to join in the class and after a few faltering steps at the barre proves to be rather good at it. Her mistress encourages that interest and during the night a storm breaks out. As it is whining and shaking Anna comforts the dog and they both watch a scene from The Nutcracker. They fall asleep and Bif dreams of dancing a pas de deux with a handsome dalmatian. The next day the children meet in the park with their dogs where they come across their teacher fast asleep with a hip flask by her side. There is a hilarious scene where they make fun of her. Miss Polly wakes up suddenly by the dogs licking her face, In the last scene Anna's father produces two tickets to the ballet. The dog wants to come but. of course, dogs are not allowed.  Nevertheless Bif gets into the auditorium somehow which is just as well for when Madame Kanikova jams her head in a French horn Bif is ready to jump on stage and dance the principal role.

It may be my imagination but I think there has been some new choreography to show Bif's progress at ballet. When the children do the centre exercises in front of the mirror she shows that she can perform the adagio quite as well as any of them. The audience is treated to two delightful duets between Bif and the dalmatian and Bif with the male principal.

If it was Marney's intention to inspire it worked.  As I left the theatre one small child asked her mother when she could start ballet.  Alarmingly another, who could not be aged more than 7, was on pointe in trainers. Several other kids were practising port de bras.  

As a Mancunian it was good to see one of my favourite companies in my native city. Well, almost, for I was born in Didsbury just the other side of the Mersey. They are dancing again at the Waterside Arts Centre tomorrow at 11:00 and 14:00 and if you can get to see them you should. They are also coming back to our metropolis on the 19 June to dance their triple bill which David Murley reviewed at The Lowry.

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