Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Melbourne City of Dance

Photo © The Australian Ballet Studios

Since arriving in Australia, the last three weeks have flown by and I have settled into life in Melbourne. Melbourne is a really cool city, very clean, easy to navigate and arty. But the biggest thing I have noticed is that there is a massive dance scene here. There are adult classes in everything from ballroom to hip-hop to ballet, and a good range of levels.  

Obviously, I’ve come to Australia for my placement in costume department at the Australian Ballet and Opera Australia, gaining industry experience for when I graduate. But that hasn’t stopped me from taking the opportunity to take class out here; because of course it is important to take class to keep good form.

The first dance class I took part in was actually a Salsa class at The Salsa Foundation. I was invited to join in by a guy I met on my flight to Melbourne from Hong Kong.  Having touched the basics of Salsa whilst on holiday in Cuba three years ago, I was a little apprehensive as to whether I would be able to keep up with the class. Especially as I took part in a Level 1.5 class – focussing on teaching partner work, lots of turns and cross body leads – so the basic steps are essential!

The class was extremely busy, there was a surprising male turn out, but as to be expected women dominated the class.  

They split the group into three lines of men and women. The excess women were spaced in-between couples, so at points you would dance by yourself, as the women would rotate and change partners roughly every 5 minutes or so. I feel this is a good way to learn the steps as you’re not always with the same partner. I also think it is great that rather than some women learning the male steps you really had a chance to get the female steps ingrained into your mind. It was a fun evening, I managed to keep up and it was enjoyable to let my body move loosely and freely for a change. Rather relaxing. The class cost $15, which I think is pretty reasonable, as the instructors are really informative and entertaining. The beginner’s class is also free. 

Following this, I have taken a few weekly ballet classes, repertoire classes and pointe classes. The classes I have attended are at the Australian Ballet Studios and City Dance Centre in Armadale (south Melbourne).

The Australian Ballet Studios is a great option when looking for classes in the city centre of Melbourne, they offer Pilates, Jazz, Contemporary, Ballet and Repertoire.  They also have a fantastic set of teachers – incredibly knowledgeable professionals. You really are getting your moneys worth here. When you register to take classes, your first week with them is absolutely free, which is why I took the opportunity to get involved in so many classes after that each class has a set price. A ballet class is $28, but you can buy class passes, which work out cheaper in the long run.

To take part in repertoire class you have to take a Level 2 or Level 3 ballet class beforehand – this is important so that you obviously warm up, but also so that you can keep up with learning the choreography.  I’ve been taking the level 2 classes, which is the equivalent of an intermediate class. Technically challenging but not too overwhelming. Like in any class you start at the barre with plies and tendus, grand battements and frappes too, amongst other steps.  After the barre, we then move into the centre and do a lovely port de bras, a variation of turns and jumps. The truly wonderful thing about the classes here is that there is a live piano accompaniment – something I haven’t experienced much, so that really has given me the opportunity to work on my musicality.

The teachers I’ve had for repertoire and ballet have been Jessica Thompson, Justine Miles and Roland Cox. In repertoire with Justine Miles we have been learning Balanchine’s Serenade and with Jessica Thompson we have been learning Seguidilla from Don Quixote. Both are very challenging pieces but fun to learn.

On a Saturdays, I have been attending ballet class and pointe class at City Dance Centre. The classes cost $20 for ballet and $10 for pointe (this however is the student price, a full price list is available here). The classes are taught by Sakura Shimizu who has danced with the Hamburg Ballet and Singapore Dance Theatre to name a few. Ballet class again as to be expected starts with barre and works into the centre with a variety of travelling sequences.

Pointe class has been particularly enjoyable for me and I feel I have made a lot of progress. I only started doing pointe in November, doing only 10 minutes at the end of class, so I feel rather pleased that I am able to keep up with a 30-minute class.  We start pointe facing the barre with tendus working our intrinsic muscles and getting our feet warm. Then rises and relevsés in first and second position, followed by échappés and rises in fifth.  Next we pas de boureé with the foot coming to sur le cou-de-pied (Not necessarily the correct name for the step – but that was the only way I could think of how to describe it!). We then turn side on to the barre and pique to retire travelling forward three times. On the final piqué  we come up to arabesque. Following this we move into the centre and do rises in first and échappés again – this I find particularly challenging without the barre but I feel I am making progress and getting stronger. We have then been doing preparation for pique turns and courus across the floor. I really love doing the courus as I feel so elegant and dainty, like a fairy (despite the loud noise my Grishko's make).

There are many other dance schools in Melbourne that offer ballet classes, but as I don’t have a lot of money and I like repetition, I have happily settled into taking the classes at the Australian Ballet Studios and City Dance Centre.

With just a week and a half left in Melbourne I will be sad to leave these classes behind. I’m also incredibly sad that my placement with the Australian Ballet is coming to a close at the end of this week. I have loved every minute working with the wonderful wardrobe department, gaining incredible experience, which I will value for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, although I would love to be able to share what costumes I have been working on for the ballet, I am not publicly allowed to do so. I would hope that you as readers would respect and understand this. 

Most importantly, I hope that this post will give you a good insight into the dance scene in Melbourne.

Amelia x

Monday, 22 May 2017

Photos from Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour

Robert Parker as Captan Belaye in Birmingham Royal Ballets Pineapple Poll
Photo Roy Smiljanic
© 2017 Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

I reviewed the Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance of Solitaire, 5 Tangos and Pineapple Poll at York on 12 May 2017 in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour 2017 13 May 2017. I now have some lovely photos of scenes from the triple bill which I am delighted to share with you thanks to Mr Lee Armstrong. the company's design executive. I should stress that the photos were not taken at the performance that I reviewed but they will give you a good idea of the costumes, scenery and choreography.

The artist who danced Captain Belaye in York was Matthias Dingman. The artist in the photograph above is Robert Parker who is the Artistic Director of Elmhurst Ballet School.  Parker would be very well cast for the role of a sea captain as he is qualified in real life to be an airline captain. According to his biography, he acquired a commercial pilot's qualification in 2008. Last week Northern Ballet and Phoenix hosted a dancers' career development workshop at Quarry Hill helping dancers explore their career options when they retire from the stage (see Evolve in Leeds 4 May 2017). Even though he has returned to dance as Artistic Director of a leading ballet school, his qualification shows that dancers really can do anything.  I would quite happily board a 747 in the knowledge that its captain has reliably supported high flying and fast moving ballerinas through countless fish dives. Incidentally, I last saw Parker at the 25th anniversary of the Birmingham Royal Ballet's move to the Hippodrome and David Bintley's 20th anniversary as the company's Artistic Director (see In Praise of Bintley 21 June 2015).

In my review of Solitaire I mentioned how much I enjoyed "Desmond Heeley's gorgeous costumes - especially the red bodice of Baselga's tutu - and his draping golden sun backcloth design" which you can see in the photo below

Miki Mizutani in Solitaire
Photo Bill Cooper
© 2017 Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Readers will recall that Dame Ninette de Valois asked Sir Kenneth MacMillan to create Solitaire at very short notice using sets and costumes that had been designed for The Angels by Cranko.

Finally, two glorious shots from 5 Tangos also taken by Bill Cooper:

Birmingham Royal Ballet 5 Tangos
Photo Bill Cooper
© 2017 Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Birmingham Royal Ballet 5 Tangos
Photo Bill Cooper
© 2017 Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Light Princess - a Special Ballet for a Special Company

Copyright 2017 Ballet Cymru: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

BalletCymru The Light Princess, Riverfront Theatre, Newport 20 May 2017, 19:30

In 2015 Ballet Cymru's Cinderella was my ballet of the year and its Tir was the runner-up (see Highlights of 2015 29 Dec 2015. Last year Gwenllian Davies was my young female dancer of the year for her magnificent performance as Juliet on 5 Nov 2016 (see The Terpsichore Titles: Outstanding Young Dancers of 2016 28 Dec 2016 and A Romeo and Juliet for our Times  7 Nov 2016). Quite remarkable, I think you will agree, for a small company in a city with a slightly smaller population than Huddersfield some 140 miles from London.

Yesterday I tried to put my finger on what made Ballet Cymru special and this is what I concluded.

First, the company is lucky to have as artistic directors Darius James and Amy Doughty who are two of the finest choreographers on the British stage. Their ballets with expansive upper body movements and sudden spins, whether chaînés, fouettés or pirouettes, are thrilling to watch. James and Doughty create their work in collaboration their dancers with the result that every movement showcases the artist's personality as well as the vision of the choreographers. Each of those artists is young at peak strength and energy, When James unfurls them, as he does at the end of company class, they are a wonder to behold (see Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015).

Secondly, this company is unmistakably Welsh. Its dancers may come from all parts of the world and it visits nearly every part of the United Kingdon on tour but its credentials are entirely cymric.  The company's name, after all, is "Ballet Cymru" - never "Ballet Wales", the literal translation. There are Welsh characters even in Romeo a Juliet and Cinderella: Juliet's confidante in Romeo a Juliet is Cerys, Cinderella's half-witted step brother is named Cas and her step sister is called Seren. The backdrops projected onto the screen are created digitally from scenes of Wakes ranging from the subway under the arterial road near the Riverfront Theatre in Romeo a Juliet to Lake Bala in The Light Princess. More importantly, the company commissions scores from outstanding Welsh composers like Jack White who wrote the music for Cinderella and Stuck in the Mud and Catrin Finch who contributed Celtic Concerto as well as The Light Princess to the company's repertoire. I am most grateful to Ballet Cymru for introducing me to those composers.  I am now a fan of both.

Thirdly, James and Doughty make clever use of technology. I have already mentioned the projected backdrops which are designed for the theatres around this island which might struggle with conventional scenery. Yesterday, there were gently floating images as the overture concentrated our thoughts on weightlessness. We saw circus hoops courtesy, no doubt, of Citrus Arts who had previously worked with Ballet Cymru on Cinderella.  For those who had not read the programme or my preview, the synopsis in two languages flashed onto the gauze with occasional directions to the audience such as "hiss". Did you know that the Welsh for "hiss" is "his"?

Like The Sleeping Beauty, George McDonald's story begins with a christening for a princess to which three of her relations had not been invited. Like Carabosse those relations were witches but, instead of sending the royal household to sleep for 100 years (a fate that Exeunt's Anna Winter might regard as lenient (see Exeunt's Ballet Reviews - Mayerling and Casanova 12 May 2017) they made her weightless with the result that she had to be tethered with ropes. The king and queen consulted Kopy-Keck and Hum-Drum, Chinese experts in spells as to what might be done but they offered conflicting and equally useless advice. At a water carnival on Lake Bala, the princess discovered that she could acquire weight under water. She nearly floated away again when a visiting prince dived into the lake to rescue her for which gallantry he received no thanks at all from the princess. Realizing that their spell did not work in water the witches tried to drain the lake. They were foiled when the prince offered his body to plug the drain. The prince's willingness to sacrifice himself for the love of the princess broke the spell. A cartwheeling king and equally ecstatic queen allow the princess to marry her rescuer. All, no doubt, lived happily ever after.

Anna Pujol, who had delighted the Millennium Centre as Little Red Riding Hood before Christmas (see Ballet Cymru's "Sleeping Beauty Moment" 5 Dec 2016), danced the princess. She showed formidable strength and artistic versatility with her floorwork representing her swimming and her adeptness with hoops. Her prince, Andrea Maria Battagia, partnered her gallantly. I loved Robbie Moorcroft's performance as king (particularly his cartwheels) and was impressed by Beth Meadway, a recent recruit to the company, as queen. I was also impressed by another recruit, Miles Carrott, who complemented Miguel Fernnades and Natalie Debono as the vindictive, serpentine witches. Gwenllian Davies was one of the experts and the magnificent Krystal Lowe (anything but humdrum) was the other.  Davies showed that she can dance character roles as convincingly as she can dance Juliet. Daniel Morrison danced the butler and Ann Wall the nurse with their usual flair. Each of those roles offered the dancers a chance to shine and shine they did.

Something that made last night particularly special was the appearance of Catrin Finch in the orchestra pit. This was not the first time that the company had performed with live musicians.  The last time I saw them they shared the stage with the entire National Orchestra of Wales, but it was the first time that I had seen them with their own ensemble and the result was magic. Sadly, the musicians cannot follow the company everywhere so the performances at Bury St Edmunds, Llanelli, Milford Haven, Stevenage and Newcastle under Lyme will make do with recorded music.

Those performances will still be worth seeing.  This is the best ballet that I have seen from this company ever and it is the best new ballet that I have seen so far this year from any company.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Music Copyright

By User:Milantex (File:DVD-4.5-scan.png) 
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday someone asked a very interesting question about music copyright on BalletcoForum. I shall not address the specific question but I shall say a few words about music copyright generally.

What is Copyright?
In the United Kingdom, copyright is defined by s.1 (1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as
"a property right which subsists in accordance with this Part in the following descriptions of work--

(a) original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works,

(b) sound recordings, films or broadcasts, and

(c) the typographical arrangement of published editions."
Although this Act applies only to the United Kingdom, the definition will be very similar in most other countries as most of the world has agreed to bring their copyright laws into line with certain international agreements.

What is a Copyright Work?
The above definition says that copyright can subsist in musical works and sound recordings.  A musical work is essentially a score.  A sound recording is a recording of a performance of a score. Thus there at least two separate copyrights in every DVD or other sound recording.  One copyright will subsist in the work of the composer who wrote out the notes. The other will lie in the work of the recording studio which captured the playing of the work and reproduced it on DVDs or other media. If the music is a song then a separate literary copyright will subsist in the words of the song.  If there is more than one tune on the DVD there will be a separate copyright for each tune. On a typical DVD, there will be lots of different types of copyright works.

What does Copyrught do?
Copyright confers on the copyright owner the exclusive right to do various acts in respect of a copyright work.  These include copying the work and performing and playing the work in public. Unless you are the copyright owner (which is usually the person who created the work or his or her employer) you need the copyright owner's permission to do any of those things. If for instance, you want to play a DVD in public, you will need permission from the owner of the copyright in the score - that is to say the composer or music publisher - and the owner of the copyright in the sound recording.

Where do you get Permission?
Most copyright owners belong to collecting societies which grant permission to play, perform or make available copyright music on behalf of their members and members of collecting societies overseas in return for a fee. For instance, The Performing Rights Society represents songwriters, composers and music publishers and has formed an alliance with the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society.  You can find out whether you need a licence and, if so,  how much you will have to pay, from the Music Users section of the PRS website.

What if you don't get Permission?
Unless you fall within one of a number of exceptions you will infringe the copyright in the work which will entitle the collecting society to sue you for an injunction (an order by a judge to do or not to do a specified act), damages (compensation for your wrongdoing) or an account and surrender of the profits you made from your wrongdoing and an order that you contribute to the other side's legal fees and other expenses in bringing you to court.  Some copyright infringements are also offences which are punishable by long terms of imprisonment and unlimited fines.

Are there any Exceptions?
There is actually one for dance schools and a more limited one for teachers outside dance schools who provide teaching for recognized exams.

Further Advice
Copyright law is complex and if you are in any doubt you should seek specialist professional advice.

Simon Garner's Dancer

Dancer inspired by the work of Glen Keane
Author Simon Garner
©  2017 Simon Garner: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the author

I introduced Simon Garner in Images of Giselle on 20 May 2016.  He describes himself as a nurse, Photoshop lover, aspiring writer and an asexual male who takes ballet classes which are amazing fun. It is through those classes that I have made his acquaintance.

Although he does not mention it on his twitter account description he is also an artist. He made this drawing of a dancer for his "favourite ballerinas" on the day of our Show last Saturday.  He would have taken part in that show had he not sustained injury a few days ago. We all missed Simon and wish him well. We also appreciate his drawing which is why I sought his permission to publish it in this blog.

In granting permission, Simon asked me to add that his drawing was inspired by the work of Glen Keane. Keane is described by Wikipedia as "an American animator, author and illustrator. He is best known for his character animation at Walt Disney Animation Studios for feature films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan and Tangled." It will not have escaped your notice that the first three of those film titles are also the names of ballets by Birmingham Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet and Ballet Theatre UK. For those who want to know more about this artist, his work is explored and celebrated in The Art of Glen Keane and the Keane Art blogs.

If you liked Simon's drawing, you will find more of his work on his flickr account.

Sunday, 14 May 2017


Move it!13 May 2016
Author Gita Mistry
© 2017 Gita Mistry: all rights reserved

We attracted quite a good crowd to The Dancehouse for Move It! yesterday despite competition from the Eurovision Song Contest, Ballet Central's mixed programme in Whitehaven, Birmingham Royal Ballet's triple bill in York and the Royal Baller's Mayerling and Nothern Ballet's Casanova in London. That is not because we are such talented dancers -though several of our number are very good - but because it is fun to be there. It is more like a party than a performance both for the performers and for the audience.

I took part in KNT's pre-intermediate class show. "Sounds intriguing," said Tracy our compere at the dress rehearsal, "what's that?" Our teacher, Karen Sant, shouted that it was for students who were no longer beginners but not quite up to intermediate level. As it is a bit of a mouthful I prefer to call it the Tuesday night class which I have been attending off and on for the last two and a half years. You can see us in the picture that Gita took last night. I'm in the back row second from the left.

Karen had choreographed a piece for us that lay just within my capabilities based on the exercises that we do in class with lots of balancés and glissades and one spectacular lift by two of the gents in our group. We also had to run around the stage in clockwise and anticlockwise circles, a run into the centre and a run back and a reverence in which we bowed rather than curtsied. Unlike the previous years, all classes reappeared at the end for a final curtain call.

Yesterday was not the first time that I had danced in front of a paying audience so I knew what to expect. It did not mean that we were (or at any rate I was) any less nervous as we crept onto the stage in blackout  or any less exhilarated once the lights came on but I knew that I would not freeze like a rabbit in a car's headlights and that I was likely to enjoy the experience.

For once in my life, my hair was arranged in a proper ballet bun (merci a Gita who had arranged it in a heart shape just like one of her edible buns). Not even my hairdresser had been able to accomplish that.

Karen has asked us to assemble in the Dancehouse café at 15:45.  Gita had guessed as I panicked in the traffic looking for a way to the Chester Street car park that Karen probably meant 16:00 but knew better than to disclose the actual timetable to a band of adult ballet students. Olivier, our chef de quelquechose on whom I occasionally practise my French, confirmed that that was indeed the case.

At or about the appointed time we were led into the auditorium. Tracy emerged from behind the curtain and greeted us cheerily. We gave her a sort of half muffled grunt in reply. "You'll have to better than that, dancers", she told us. "If you expect to receive the love you've got to share it."  She read through the running order and called on the first act which was Josh Moss's repertoire class. A recording of harp strings and then Minkus's gorgeous music from La Bayadere as Katie Daly led her shades into their kingdom. Tendus and arms in 5th look simple enough but I had tried to learn that dance from Jane Tucker last year and knew that it was anything but - particularly when it comes to the bourrées with arms in arabesque towards the end.

All the other classes filed on and were warmly applauded by the crowd. I can't quite remember the order in which they came but they included the usual jazz and contemporary classes plus the belly dancers whose rhythmic music to a compelling Arabic air is clapped on by the audience and the lovely Chinese dancers in their flowing sparkly robes. "I can see you sparkling away," said Tracy from the stage, and they really do. The show rounded off with the adult ballet class in which my friend Yoshie Kimura performs. Now those students really are good. This year they recruited a young man who knows his onions when it comes to jumps. His assemblés and entrechats were a joy to behold.

After rehearsal, we were led back to our studios where we practised our steps, ate our sarnies, shared our jokes, caught up with our mates on Whatsapp and Facebook and generally chilled out. I spotted a member of the advanced class performing barre exercises. As we always have a class before a show in Leeds I decided to join her for a few pliés, tendus, glissés and ronds de jambe and am very glad I did because I would have been even more wooden otherwise. This is one thing that Manchester could learn from Leeds.

Before we knew it, it was our turn to come on. There had been some lively street dancers immediately before us and we knew they would be a hard act to follow. We entered the stage and all seemed to go well. The lift was perfect and received some cheers. We finished our routine and bowed to what seemed very generous applause.

There is always a flood of emotions after a show. On the one hand, relief that it went without too many disasters but, on the other, sadness that it is all over. That made me think of the cast of Casanova at Sadler's Wells whose two-month tour of the nation also ended last night. They must be going through the same emotions one hundred fold.

We all repaired for the bar. Hugged and congratulated each other, our friends and relations and theirs and then melted into that good Manchester night. More classes next week. More camaraderie. More pain and stiffness afterwards. More fun.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour 2017

Standard YouTube Licence

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Solitaire, 5 Tangos and Pineapple Poll, York Theatre Royal, 12 May 2017, 19:30

As I mentioned in Doing the Splits 8 May 2017, the Birmingham Royal Ballet splits into two. One group of dancers visits theatres in the North of England and North Midlands which this year includes Durham, York and Nottingham while the other goes to Cheltenham, Poole and Truro. Yesterday, I caught the dancers on the Northern Tour at York Theatre Royal in a splendid triple bill consisting of MacMillan's Solitaire, van Manen's 5 Tangos and Cranko's Pineapple Poll.

Each of those works was created by one of the greatest 20th-century choreographers. John Cranko was only 24 when he staged Pineapple Poll in 1951. Kenneth MacMillan was slightly older in 1956 when Ninette de Valois asked him to create Solitaire at very short notice using sets and costumes that had been designed for The Angels by Cranko. While in retrospect in looks like an early work because his career has lasted so long, Hans van Manen had already been working for over 20 years when he made 5 Tangos for the Dutch National Ballet in 1977.

I had already seen 5 Tangos performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe 31 May 2015) and Scottish Ballet in Glasgow (see No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015). I had also seen two performances of Pineapple Poll, one of which was by the Birmingham Royal Ballet when it was still known as the Royal Ballet Touring Company at a matinee at Sadler's Wells together with Ashton's Les Rendezvous and Facade, and the other by the Chelmsford Ballet (see A Delight Indeed 27 March 2015). Solitaire, however, was new to me and what a treat it turned out to be.

According to the Kenneth MacMillan website, Solitaire was subtitled  "A kind of game for one".  The site describes it as  "a sequence of dances knit together by Malcolm Arnold’s Eight English Dances and by the continuity provided by Margaret Hill’s appearance in each one."  Margaret Hill danced the lead role in the original production.  Referred to only as "the girl", she opens and closes the work appearing in one capacity or another in every scene. The other dancers are her playmates though it is hinted that they may not be real. They enter the stage, dance a scene and disappear as suddenly as they came on. Yesterday "the girl" was danced delightfully by Arancha Baselga who was joined on stage by 16 other dancers in various scenes. My enjoyment of the ballet was greatly facilitated by Arnold's music which included much that was familiar including the signature tune to "What the Papers Say" on Radio 4 on Sunday night. I also enjoyed Desmond Heeley's gorgeous costumes - especially the red bodice of Baselga's tutu - and his draping golden sun backcloth design,

Yesterday, the Dutch National Ballet's online magazine ran a feature on van Manen entitled Hans van Manen: een levende legende the meaning of which is obvious. A link appeared on Facebook which has already attracted 426 likes, 29 shares and lots of comments including this one from me:
"Just seen Birmingham Royal Ballet dance van Manen's 5 Tangos in York this evening. It was great. Jenna Roberts, Matthias Dingman and Maureya Lebowitz were in the cast. They did the great man justice."
That just about says it all. I love this work, the designs and Piazzolla's music, the choreography, the vigorous and expressive dancing and all the connotations with Argentina, one of my favourite countries, and the Netherlands where van Manen is a national living treasure and the subject of a great deal of blogging by me.

Pineapple Poll with its synopsis based on W S Gilbert's ballad The Bumboat's Woman's Story, Charles Mackerras's arrangement of a selection of Gilbert and Sullivan's favourite tunes and Osbert Lancaster's intricate designs was a wonderful way to round off a wonderful evening. Yesterday it occurred to me that this work may well have inspired Ashton to create Fille and Balanchine to create Union Jack. There is certainly a link in Osbert Lancaster in that he created the designs for both Poll and Fille and the exuberance of Mackerras's arrangement finds resonance in Hershey Kay, Maybe my imagination but why not. Matthias Dingman was the gallant Captain (later Admiral) Belaye. Easy to see why the girls' hearts were aflutter. Laura Kay (who had earlier delighted the audience as a playmate in Solitaire) danced his sweetheart Blanche. Laura Purkiss was her interfering aunt, Mrs Dimple, who doubles as Britania at the end. Nao Sakuma danced Blanche's rival, Pineapple Poll.  Kit Holder was the hero of the piece rising from pot boy to naval officer and Poll's husband without even having time to remove his apron. There were lots of other favourites in the cast including the magnificent Valentin Olovyannikov who delighted me in The Taming of the Shrew last year (see Birmingham Royal Ballet performs my favourite ballet at last 23 June 2016).

Birmingham Royal Ballet are giving two more performances today plus a talk and they are also opening their company class to the public. Next week, they move on to Nottingham. I would have been back today had I not been dancing in my own ballet this evening. If you can get a ticket for the matinee or evening performance in York tonight or Nottingham next week I strongly recommend the show.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Exeunt's Ballet Reviews - Mayerling and Casanova

The Mayerling Hunting Lodge near Vienna
Source Wikioedia

I have recently discovered Exeunt Magazine as a result of a twitter spat that has arisen from its review of a performance of the Royal Ballet's Mayerling (see Anna Winter's Review: Mayerling at the Royal Ballet 3 May 2017). I read the review to see what the fuss was about.

The review starts with the observation
"The Royal Ballet is on mighty form in Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, delineating the late choreographer’s dark vision of lust, morphine and mental instability with exquisite panache."
Had I not had other commitments tomorrow evening those words might have tempted me down to London. The reviewer then discusses the plot which deals with the death of the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian empire in very suspicious circumstances at Mayerling, the imperial hunting lodge just outside Vienna, in 1889. There is quite a good synopsis in Wikipedia (see Mayerling (ballet)) as well as a discussion of the incident (see Mayerling Incident).

This was a scandal that had many repercussions, though perhaps not as many as some would say as the First World War would probably have taken place even without the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the dual-monarchy would probably have collapsed even without a war. Nevertheless, Anna Winter was shocked by this story and wrote:
"You leave the theatre not only having experienced incredible dancing, Liszt’s luscious score and Nicholas Georgiadis’s murkily opulent designs, but also with the distinct feeling that the royal family should really be doing something else apart from narrowing their DNA selection and having parties."
She then took a swipe at the person sitting next to her who had "remarked that in several years’ time he hoped to see an all-British roster of principal dancers."  It was that remark that appears to have got Winter's goat for she linked it with the incident and her critique of monarchy generally:
"Yes, that’s right, you tweedy prick – let’s narrow the balletic gene pool. Let’s have British dancers for British people! Let’s ignore the fact that it’s such a fucking immense privilege that dancers – stupendously talented foreign dancers – like Marianela Nunez and Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov choose to make London their home and in doing so help to make the Royal a beacon not just of artistic excellence but relative diversity."
After that peroration, Winter returned to the performance of the principal dancers which included Marianela Núñez. Edward Watson, Natalia Osipova, Sarah Lamb and Franceska Hayward.  A very strong cast from whom one would expect an "astounding artistic achievement" which is exactly how the reviewer described the ballet.

On balance, a perfectly reasonable review, one might think, but that is not how it was viewed by everybody. Exeunt's editor, Alice Saville, reported "an unprecedented number of emails and tweets directed at Exeunt in response to Anna Winter’s review of Mayerling at the Royal Ballet" in her feature In Defence of Exeunt’s Mayerling Review 8 May 2017. The passage that seems to have prompted all those emails is Winter's reaction to the remark about an all-British roster of principal dancers in a few years time. That may have been an expression of post-Brexit chauvinism (in which case my thoughts would have been similar to Winter's), or it may simp,y have been an expression of hope that enough young British dancers would eventually make it to the top so that it would be possible one day to stage a performance of Mayerling from their number.  As context is everything I took the view that the reviewer's reaction to the remark was a little over the top and detracted from an otherwise good review.

But that was nowhere near as far over the top as sending "blisteringly unpleasant" emails. Saville complained of
"a forum thread devoted to picking apart both Exeunt’s response, and the credentials of our writer. One poster hunted down her educational background, and proposed confronting her at a future performance!"
She also said that
"Several members of ballet.co are calling on the Royal Opera House press office to revoke our press tickets, in a hugely illiberal response to a single review that offended them."
Now that really is going a bit too far. As Saville observes, "a threat of harassment is much more serious than reporting on the speech of an anonymous stranger."

Now that spat troubled me because I have been a subscriber to BalletcoForum for several years. I have enjoyed reading its discussions and have met a number of very interesting people who share my passion for ballet. When I learned that one of them had been blocked on twitter my reaction was to take up the cudgels against the blocking. However, even though I am still against blocking I can see why it was done in this case.

Some pretty horrible things were said about the Exeunt website.  I had never heard of it before but I read some of the reviews including Winter's and found that they are actually quite good. Winter has just written a particularly good review of Kenneth Tindall's Casanova (see Review: Casanova at Sadler’s Wells 11 May 2017 Exeunt) which is a ballet that I know quite well having attended the opening night in Leeds (see Casanova - "it has been a long time since I enjoyed a show by Northern Ballet as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night" 12 March 2017), last Saturday's performance at The Lowry (see Casanova Second Time Round 7 May 2017) as well as a preview in Leeds (see Casanova Unmasked 16 Feb 2017) and having been given an exclusive interview by Tindall (see "A Many Sided Genius" - Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017).  As I said in my original article on Winter's review (which I have removed at the request of one of the moderators of BalletcoForum) it is thoughtful and well researched and one of the best reviews of the ballet that I have seen so far.

Exeunt was founded in 2010 by Natasha Tripney who is now the Reviews Editor of The Stage and Daniel B. Yates. It claims to believe in "making beautifully written, experimental, fierce and longform writing about theatre available for free" and I think it succeeds.  I shall certainly visit it again.  The irony is that I might never have learned of its existence had it not been for BalletcoForum.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Rehearsal

Ballet is intended for the theatre. No matter how untalented a student you may be, unless you dance before the paying public in a theatre you miss something important. The occasions that I have danced in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014 and My Second Ballet  5 July 2015), The Dancehouse (see One of my proudest moments - Dancing in Move It! 31 Jan 2016) and Morley Town Hall (see Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015) have truly been high points of my life and, lest the cynical suggest that I ought to get out more, I have been blessed, through my career, marriage and education, with a very full, happy, challenging and fulfilling life.

This week I am preparing for Move It at the Dancehouse in Manchester on 13 May at 19:00. I know it clashes with the Eurovision song contest but, believe me, our show will be so much better (see  Better than Eurovision 24 May 2015). If anybody thinks that in this first contest after Brexit any jury in Europe will give the British entry any points at all, irrespective of its artistic quality. must already reside n Cloud Cuckoo Land. Unless you happen to have a ticket for Ballet Central's how in Whitehaven (see Triumphant  1 May 2017), the Birmingham Royal Ballet in York or Poole (see Doing the Splits 8 May 2017), Northern Ballet's Casanova at the Wells (see Casanova Second Time Round 7 May 2017) or the Royal Ballet's Mayerling 13 May 2017) you won't find better entertainment this Saturday.

Yesterday was the day of our technical rehearsal. I had a very busy week with and yesterday was particularly hectic with my IP clinic in Barnsley (see How can I protect my Business Idea? 7  May 2017), proofs to correct, my draft decision in a domain name dispute to review on top of the usual pressing paperwork. I also had to make a detour to Planet Dance at Batley to pick up the mesh dress that I shall be wearing for Saturday's show.

Traffic was very heavy in Princes Street last night delaying my tram for over 20 minutes as a result of which I arrived at class between pliés and tendus. Nevertheless, we had a good class with the usual barre and centre exercises.  At the end of the class, Karen. our teacher and choreographer led us to the theatre, We had only a 15-minute slot on stage so we had one run through from the top. I won't even hint at what it is but Karen has included something quite spectacular in our piece.  At the suggestion of the stage manager, we also practised entering the stage and finding our place in darkness. As we were somewhat less than perfect Karen brought us back to the studio for some further work in the studio. We staggered onto Oxford Road well after 21:00 and I finally rolled up at my Pennine fastness tired but happy just before Radio 4's Book at Bedtime.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

KNT's Le Corsaire: "It wasn’t called an intensive for nothing"

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KNT Beginners' Ballet Le Corsaire Intensive  Dancehouse Manchsester, 15 April 2017

Wendy McDermott

The workshop at KNT always seems popular and this one day workshop, taught by Jane Tucker, was certainly that. There were around 25 dancers all ready to learn some of the choreography of Le Corsaire. We poured into the Dancehouse Theatre building at around 9.40 am, the majority of us made a beeline for the changing rooms (a.k.a the toilets) and into the studio for 10 am to begin a 30min stretch and warm up followed by a quick break, after which our 90 min ballet class started at the barre.

Now the trouble with writing about class some three weeks after it has passed, is a little unfortunate as I’m struggling to remember the finer points, but what I do recall is that when we moved into centre we paid particular attention to pirouettes, both en dehors and en dedans, which gave us an inkling of what lay ahead for the repertoire classes in the afternoon. After another short break, we began learning Act II’s pas de deux, the male solo part probably made famous by Nureyev (though I must say, after watching other solos of the same I enjoyed Baryshnikov just as much, if not a tad more). Starting downstage left, a keen ear was needed to pick up the count to move into our three grand pas de chat, each one followed by attitude derriere on demi pointe and finishing downstage centre into pirouettes en dehors right and left, balancé de côté, one more pirouette then a pose, which is best described as Usain Bolt’s signature. Finally a step, glissade jeté* (I think!) around the studio with chaînés and final pose to finish. Phew! Just about the majority of this we all worked very hard to learn before our well earned hour long lunch break.

It wasn’t called an intensive for nothing, as the afternoon continued in earnest and for the remainder of the afternoon we were taught two sections of Act III’s pas de trois (pas des odalisques). From glissade assemble, attitude devant derriere, pirouettes from fourth position, and ‘lame ducks’, to temps levé in arabesques and all the other steps in between. As beginners, we may not get the leg height of some or turnout be as strong but we all danced our hearts out that afternoon, and came away feeling invigorated. What’s more, all our hard work was filmed for our final performance which can be viewed above.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Doing the Spits

Standard YouTuve Licence

This is the time of the year when the Birmingham Royal Ballet splits into two. One lot goes to Durham, York and Nottingham while the other goes to Cheltenham, Poole and Truro. I like to see both shows whenever I can but Cheltenham clashed with my only chance to see Northern Ballet's Casanova again before it goes to London. Also, the show in the southern tour's repertoire that I most want to see is Ruth Brill's Arcadia and that will come back to Birmingham as part of Three Short Story Ballets between the 21 and 24 June 2017.

For once I think the North will get the better end of the deal because it brings Pineapple Poll by John Cranko, my all time favourite choreographer ever, and 5 Tangos by Hans van Manen, my favourite living choreographer as well as Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Solitaire.

Pineapple Poll, created for the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1951 as part of the celebrations for the Festival of Britain when Cranko was only 24, shows the genius of the man. With the possible exception of Graduation Ball (see Please, pretty please, will somebody revive this lovely ballet 2 Jan 2016) it is the happiest, jolliest, prettiest one act ballet ever and a personal favourite. I have only seen it twice. Once quite recently by the Chelmsford Ballet as part of their double bill with Marney's Carnival of the Animals (see A Delight Indeed 24 March 2015). And once at Sadler's Wells with what was then the Royal Ballet Touring Company in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The first occasion was the one and only time my mother and I could ever persuade my father to attend the ballet. An erudite and urbane Mancunian and a fine economist he regarded the ballet with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. Suspicion because he regarded it as an instrument of Soviet soft power which was certainly one of the reasons for the Bolshoi's first tour of London in 1956 and contempt because he regarded the classical tutu and gentlemen's tights as bordering on the indecent. He sat very quietly through the show with a half benign and half sarcastic grin. At the end of the performance, my aunt asked him whether he had enjoyed it. "Up to a point", he replied. With Union Jacks everywhere Pineapple Poll was far subversive and there are no tutus in sight. He admitted to a certain admiration for the athletic prowess and nimbleness of the dancers and indeed the beauty of the women but he was less kind about the middle-aged matrons who made up the audience. "I should like to see them try to do some of the jumps that those girls cam do" he added.

Like Graduation Ball, Pineapple Poll is a wonderful period piece with sets and costumes by Osbert Lancaster and music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Enjoy the YouTube clip which would have been made not long after the ballet was created with such stars as Merle Park, David Blair, Stanley Holden, BrendaTaylor and Gerd Larsen. Birmingham Royal Ballet will dance it at the Theatre Royal York this Friday and Saturday and then in Nottingham on the 16 and 17 May. It really is a treasure.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

More Good News from Wales: Swansea Students' Show

Swansea Grand Theatre
Photo Fanrailuk
Source Wikipedia
Copyright waived by the author

Yesterday I mentioned that the Welsh composer Jack White who has written the scores of Cinderella and Stuck in the Mud for Ballet Cymru and has recently been commissioned to write a score for the National Dance Company of Wales has published a recording of Cinderella on his website and very reasonably invited the public to contribute what they can for licences to download and play his work. Today I bring more good news from the principality, My fellow adult ballet student, Sophia Komninou is taking part in a show at Swansea Grand Theatre on 18 July and she has kindly invited me to watch it. As Swansea is the gateway to the Gower Peninsula which has some of the finest coastline and countryside in Europe if not the world I will be there if I possibly can.

The show will be presented by the Irenie Rogers Classical Ballet Academy or Ballet Academy Swansea for short. According to Sophia, the show will include the greater part of act 2 of Giselle, the Dance of the flowers from The Nutcracker and various other pieces from the adult ballet and younger students. There are videos of previous performances on the Academy's Facebook page and I think you will agree that the standard is pretty high. I am particularly impressed with the scenes from La Bayadere which, as it happens, Sophia and I studied together in KNT;s intensive from Jane Tucker Manchester last summer (see La Bayadere Intensive Day 3: No Snakes 17 Aug 2016).

Sophia describes herself on twitter as a "feminist, amateur ballet dancer and ballet geek, foodie, crafter and curious". Dance, crafting and food are only her spare time activities by the way. She is primarily an interdisciplinary researcher with a background in nutrition and dietetics with a specialization in obesity and weight management.who teaches infant and chi;d public health at Swansea University.

Over the next few days I hope to find out more about adult dance classes in Swansea in order to compile a directory of such classes in Wales. I already know that Krystal Lowe teaches an adult ballet class at Ballet Cymru's premises at Rogerstone near Newport between 18:00 and 19:30 on Mondays (see Ballet Classes for Adult Beginners on the Ballet Cymru website) and that Louise Lloyd gives classes between 18:15 and 18:30 on Tuesdays at the Dance House in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff (see the Adult Beginners' Ballet page of the National Dance Company's website).  As I get to hear of more classes I will publish them in the blog.

Casanova Second Time Round

The Lowry
Photo Andrew Dunn
(c) 2004 Andrew Dunn: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2 Licence
Source Wikipedia

Northern Ballet, Casanova. The Lowry, 6 May 2017, 19:30

I was pretty complimentary about Kenneth Tindall's Casanova when it opened in Leeds on 11 March 2017 (see Casanova - "it has been a long time since I enjoyed a show by Northern Ballet as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night" 12 March 2017). I liked last night's show at the Lowry even better.

I think there are three reasons for that.

The first is that we had a very strong cast that included both of Northern Ballet's remaining premier dancers, Javier Torres and Pippa Moore as well as personal favourites like Hannah Bateman, Abigail Prudames, Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Mlindi Kulashe in important roles.

The second reason for last night's success is that the dancers will have grown used to their roles over the last two months and danced in the confidence that audiences around the country and most of the critics like the show.

Thirdly, I think the dancers were lifted by the venue. The Lowry is a great auditorium, certainly for audiences because seating is comfortable commanding good views of the stage from just about every part of the house, but I think also for performers as the stage is large and it is well equipped for scenery changes and special effects.

The company danced before a receptive crowd and though the house was less than full the warmth of the applause at the end when more than a few rose to their feet more than made up for it. Manchester audiences may be a little bit more critical than Leeds ones as they see Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and visiting companies from abroad such as the National Ballet of China and Alvin Ailey as well as Northern Ballet. If a show does well in the second largest conurbation of the United Kingdom it will probably do well anywhere. As the old saying goes, "what Manchester does today, the world does tomorrow."

As I have written a lot about Casanova already, I won't bore readers with a rehash of the plot or the work of the various contributors. They can get all that from Northern Ballet's website and the bibliography below. I will concentrate on the dancers and what made last night's performance even better than the first night.

As I noted above, we had a very strong cast. Giuliano Contadini was the poster boy of the show and deservedly so for he danced Casanova very well but Torres was cast perfectly for the role. Powerful, athletic and passionate, he was how I had always imagined the historical Giacomo Casanova. There is a point towards the end when he has to hold a very uncomfortable pose for what must seem like an age. That was when I appreciated just how good he was.

Another inspired bit of casting was Prudames as Bellino. One of the most touching scenes of the ballet - touching in both senses  - is where Contadini gradually winds her confidence. It was demonstrated at the preview with a commentary from Tindall by Contadini and Dreda Blow (see Casanova Unmasked 16 Feb 2017). Prudames made it work even better for she showed the vulnerability of her character and the sensitivity of their encounter given the disparity in power.

Yet another powerful performance came in the first act where MM (described in the blurb as "an aristocratic nun" and danced by Bateman) seduces Casanova thereby giving the inquisition the excuse they need to throw him into the Leads, the prison on the other side of the Bridge of Sighs.

Constraints of time and space prevent my commending everyone individually, All, dancers and musicians, did well last night.  I congratulate everyone who took part in the show.

As the orchestra pit of the Lowry is a bit more spacious than most I was able to glimpse the orchestra occasionally as it tackled Kerry Muzzey's score. Percussion is important particularly towards the end of the show and I was drawn to the percussionist seated on the back row of the pit as he sounded out the change of mood. Thr Northern Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Daniel Parkinson last night who interpreted the music well. I am not sure that I appreciated the score as much as I did last night the first time round. Yesterday I particularly liked the first act where there were hints of the 18th century without pastiche.

I also appreciated the sets and lighting more and noticed things like the sort of white smoke that rises from the Sistine Chapel when a new pope is found which opened the show. I am not sure of its significance. I assume it was used in the Grand but, for the life of me, I just can't remember it.  It was, however, very effective owing moe than a little to the cinema which I know to be Tindall's passion (see "A Many Sided Genius, Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017). Not everything worked quite so well. If, as I hope, this ballet has a second run, t I hope that Tindall takes another look at the flashback scene with its falling pages reminiscent of the snow scene at the end of Nixon's Wuthering Heights. A fine bit of choreography deserves a stronger and more original ending.

It was very good to see Northern Ballet west of the Pennines where the company began. As a Mancunian, I took pride in Northern Dance Theatre's existence long before I ever saw them dance. And when I did see them dance I saw them first in Manchester which is where they performed some of their best work. It would be good to see more of them in our city and there is no reason why they should not do so. After all, the Australian Ballet has a strong base in Sydney as well as Melbourne and the Miami City Ballet has homes in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach as well as Miami. As I have said many times, the company is called Northern Ballet, not Leeds City or even Yorkshire Ballet. If Birmingham Royal Ballet can manage two seasons a year in our city region I see no reason why Northern Ballet could nit do the same if it really wanted to do so.

Bibliography: Reviews and Insights