Saturday, 14 October 2017

Phoenix - A Double Celebration


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Phoenix Dance Theatre A Celebration of Female Choreographers Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 28 Sept 2017 19:30 and Celebration Gala for Nadine Senior West Yorkshire Playhouse, 8 Oct 2017 19:00

Phoenix Dance Theatre does not have a large number of dancers and only half of them are women, yet it can stage a whole evening of top-class dance in celebration of female choreographers created entirely by its own artists.  How impressive is that?  How many other companies many times its size can do anything like that? Yet that is what that company presented in Phoenix At Home on 28 Sept 2017.

That is why Phoenix was my contemporary company of the year in 2016 despite competition from Alvin Ailey, Nederlands Dans Theater 2, the National Dance Company of Wales and, of course, Rambert (see Terpsichore Titles: Contemporary Company of 2016 31 Dec 2016).

When I started to follow Phoenix I learned about Nadine Senior and everything that she did for that company:
"Phoenix Dance Company was formed in 1981 by David Hamilton (Artistic Director), Donald Edwards and Vilmore James, three young men who had their enthusiasm for dance sparked by the tuition they received in school, particularly from teachers John Auty at Intake High School and Nadine Senior at Harehills Middle School who went on to found Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and following her retirement in 2001, was Chair of Phoenix’s Board of Trustees for six years."
Nadine Senior died in 2016 and Sharon Watson, Phoenix's Artistic Director, penned this beautiful tribute to her. Last Sunday her former students, colleagues and friends as well as folk like me, who had never met her but acknowledge an enormous debt of gratitude to her, assembled at West Yorkshire Playhouse to celebrate her life and work.

Thus we had a double celebration within a few days of each other.  First, a celebration of the enormously creative female artists of the present. Then, a celebration of a remarkable woman of the recent past who created so much and inspired and continues to inspire so many.

The celebration of female choreographers began with Sandrine Monin's Calyx which I reviewed in There's a reason why Phoenix was my contemporary company of the year 11 Feb 2017 and previewed in Calyx  8 Dec 2016. I have always been impressed by the work ever since I first saw it in rehearsal but I appreciated it only on a superficial level. Watching it a second time certainly increased my understanding.  I saw the parallels between limbs and shoots or roots from the moment Sam Vaherlehto's leg emerged from the box in which he had germinated. These were not houseplants or flowers from the garden but weeds and perhaps toxic ones at that.

Tracy Tinker's Elemeotary which she created with Vanessa Vince-Pang was a welcome relief after all that Japanese knotweed and deadly nightshade which we had just seen.  Vanessa Vince-Pang, who is in reality at the very top of her art, presented herself for an audition as a nervous young dancer. We heard disembodied voices off stage. "Would you like me to do some tap?" volunteered Vanessa. "Would you mind removing your top so we can see your number?" came the reply. Not even a name. Just a number. Then commands were barked out as in Gauthier's Ballet 101: "fall", "recover", "feel the space". Vanessa threw herself around the stage with considerable grace disappearing in what appeared to be a shower of lemons.

Next came Page 24 by Carmen Vasquez Marfil to music by Paganini and Arvo Pärt. A solo work by the choreographer with an outsize chair as a single prop and a screen upon which appeared images of the dancer. Clad in a simple flowing dress Marfil seemed to interrogate first the chair as though it were alive and then the screen.  I see from my programme notes that film was made by Ana Zamorano and Prentice Whitlow. Now I know Prentice. He is a hugely talented and impressive dancer who can now add filmmaking to his catalogue of accomplishments but I don't know Ana Zamorani. So I googled her. The only Ana Zamorano that I could find was the author of a children's book called A Comer about a family with a little girl called Alicia who looks and is dressed very like Carmen in this performance. Now I may be barking up quite the wrong tree (in which case apologies all round) but this fascinating piece made me think very much of growing up. Just like Alicia in Zamorano's story.

The first Act was rounded off by Vanessa Vince-Pang's Kerenza which was my favourite piece of the evening. The stage was full of joyful energetic young people who are the pre-vocational students of Phoenix Dance Academy. A few movements from the piece appear in the YouTube video that you can see above. I love the music which was written by Oliver Davis - or so my programme tells me. I felt uplifted as I do when I see anything by Chris Marney or Ernst Meisner.  Kerenza and Elemontary have left me eager to see more work by Vanessa Vince-Pang.

Everyone I spoke to was excited by what we had seen but the best was yet to come in Act 2. The whole of that Act was devoted to a preview of Sharon Watson's Windrush which will be premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse in February. The piece was named after the Empire Windrush which carried 497 passengers - mainly young men of African heritage - from Jamaica at the invitation of the government to ease the post-war labour shortage.  They were by no means the first Afro-Caribbean or African people to come to this country. Many others had studied here, served in two world wars or settled in great port cities like Cardiff and Liverpool. However, the Windrush is a symbol of an event of enormous significance for this country as it is of course for those who made the journey and their descendants.

Introducing the piece, Sharon told us that the work will be in two parts - first the preparation for the voyage and the voyage itself and then what happened upon their arrival. We saw the first part which was harrowing enough as it showed the separation of families. And as we know what happened afterwards - Notting Hill, Smethwick and Enoch Powell - the second part may not be a bundle of laughs either.

But, of course, this was not history but dance and I don't think I had ever seen, or would ever see, Phoenix dance better. But that was before I saw them perform Robert North's Troy Game. This is a work originally performed by men. It was created for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre in 1974 and has been staged by the Stuttgart Ballet, Scottish Ballet and many other companies. The performance that we saw last Sunday was restaged by Julian Moss for Phoenix, the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Phoenix Dance Academy and pupils of Harehills Modern School. The cast was twice as large as in the original show and, for the first time, there were women in the show.

Troy Game was the pièce de résistance in a glorious evening that included a solo by Darshan Singh Bhuller in his own work The Path, David Hughes's performance of Siobhan Davies's interpretation  of L'Après Midi d'un Faune, Northern School of Contemporary Dance's Ocean, RJC Dance's Soca Jambiez and ACE Youth's State of Mind.  There was poetry from Khadijah Ibrahim and tributes from the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Janet Smith, the Principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Peter Gruen and, of course, Sharon Watson.

Long though this review is it does not begin to do justice to the Nadine Senior Gala when we saw some splendid and unique things. Think of the last two paragraphs as an appetiser, folks. I shall review the gala properly just as soon as I can.  I have seen some great dance over the last few weeks and I am burning to write about it all.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Sandman in Halifax

Chantry Dance Company: The Sandman
(c) 2017 Chantry Dance Co: all rights reserved






















Chantry Dance Company The Sandman Victoria Theatre, Halifax, 25 Sept 2017 19:30

When I first met Paul Chantry and Rae Piper they were literally a two-person and a dog company that had yet to acquire a dog (see Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance 10 May 2014). Now they are touring the nation with their first full-length ballet having recruited some pretty impressive young dancers on the way (see The Sandman Tour 27 Jan 2017). Those dancers include Isaac Peter Bowry whose career I have followed ever since he was a student at Ballet West (see Ballet West's The Nutcracker 25 Feb 2013) and Rebecca Scanlon who impressed me when I first saw in rehearsal her over two years ago (see Chantry Dance's Vincent - Rarely have I been more excited by a New Ballet 4 Sept 2017).

The ballet was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's tale Ole Lukøje though I think the libretto was entirely original. It centred around a husband and wife.  The husband was danced by Paul Chantry and his wife by Rae Piper.  The Sandman, Jack Beer, visits them and induces pleasant dreams with his multicoloured umbrella and nightmares with his plain black one.  The ballet consists of a number of dream sequences - some jolly like the brightly coloured bubbled on transparent Pilates balls - and others disturbing with faceless dancers and crawling simonite creatures.  The Sandman's umbrellas seem to represent good and evil. The husband is attracted to the black umbrella which leads him to a tavern where his wife is taken away.  All she can do is revisit her husband as a dream.

Creating a ballet from scratch with an original libretto and an original score as well as some quite elaborate set and costume designs would have been a formidable task for very much bigger companies. I can't say that they got everything right.  I lost the story in several places and Tim Mountain's score did not quite fit the mood at times but I enjoyed it a lot more than say Jonathan Watkin's 1984, Nixon's Beauty and the Beast and Christopher Wheeldon's Winter's Tale that I did not like at first and have since warmed to.  I am sure that the company will iron out the bits that need improvement.  They deserve congratulations for a successful production.

Before The Sandman, the company presented three new works created by young choreographers and performed by dancers from Studio 59.  Chantry Dance is a small touring company but it is a great deal more than that.  They are the missing link between hours of practice at the barre and performing on stage. They provide opportunities through their school, associate programmes and summer school to those with talent and ambition and they provide a sprinkling of stardust for the likes of me with their outreach programme.  A lot of companies offer open classes for the general public.  I have attended one of the best in Leeds for the last 4 years but for Paul and Rae education and outreach are central to everything they do.

The company will be in Sale tonight and then proceeds to Worcester, Greenwich, Stamford, Horsham and Andover (see the 2017 Tour Dates). If you can get to any of those performances you will be very well satisfied.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Aladdin nearly Five Years on


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Birmingham Royal Ballet Aladdin The Lowry, 23 Sept 2017, 19:30

Shortly after I started this blog I reviewed Birmingham Royal Ballet's Aladdin (see my review of 1 March 2013). I saw it just after I had started taking ballet lessons with Fiona Noonan several months before I entered the over 55 class at Northern Ballet. Although I had seen a lot of ballet before 2013 I had not actually done very much. I have since learned that however much ballet you see from the stalls or dress circle you really don't know what you are talking about until you try your hand at it. Then your admiration for those who make their living from the art soars beyond bounds.

In March 2013 I wrote:
"Having developed my love of ballet while Frederick Ashton was the Royal Ballet's choreographer I am very hard to please. But pleased I was. The pas de deux that Bintley created for Aladdin and the Princess danced yesterday by Jamie Bond and Jenna Roberts reminded me a lot of Ashton. So did the powerful roles for the djinn (Matthias Dingman), Mahgrib and Sultan (Rory Mackay). Also, the sweet role for Aladdin's mother danced delightfully by Marion Tait - no Widow Twankey she. Other lovely touches - and very familiar to Manchester with our famous Chinese quarter - were the lion and dragon dances. It is probably unfair to single out any of the other dancers because all excelled but I was impressed particularly by Céline Gittens who danced Diamond. Finally, Davis's score with its oriental allusions was perfect for Bintley's choreography."
I saw many of the same dancers in the same roles last night. Would I still like it especially as I had been looking forward to Stanton Welch's La Bayadère which had to be axed when Birmingham City Council reduced its grant to Birmingham Royal Ballet? (see A Birmingham Bayadère 26 Nov 2016 and How Nikiya must have felt when she saw a snake 31 Jan 2017)

Well, I am glad to say that I liked Aladdin even more last night and I think I have to thank my teachers in Leeds, Manchester, Huddersfield, Sheffield, London, Liverpool, Cambridge, Budapest and, half a century ago, St Andrews for that as they taught me how to appreciate ballet. As before I loved Carl Davis's score. I was impressed by Sue Blane's costumes, Dick Bird's sets and Mark Jonathan's lighting. I was thrilled by David Bintley's choreography. Most of all I was dazzled by the dancing.

César Morales was a perfect Aladdin alternating from an awkward adolescent to the sultan's splendid sun in law. Jenna Roberts was as lovely as she had been when I had last seen her in that role. Iain Mackay was a magnificent magician (why does Salford feel it has to boo him at the curtain call just because he is cast as a baddie?)  Aitor Galende. clad and coloured from head to toe in blue was a noble djinn. Tom Rogers was every inch a sultan.  Marion Tait is always a delight. One of my all-time favourites. It was appropriate that many of my other favourites appeared as jewels for gems they are. The incomparable Céline Gittens, glittered as a diamond, Chi Cao glowed as an emerald, Samara Downs and Alys Shee gleamed as gold and silver, Yasuo Atsujii and Yijing Zha radiated as rubies, Karla Doorbar shone as onyx as indeed did the whole cast.

I attended the performance with a friend who has seen a lot of ballet and attended a lot of classes though she likes the other performing arts and other dance forms at least as well. She also saw the 2013 show with me and said she enjoyed last night's performance even more. Sitting next to us were a couple for whom ballet was still a new experience. In fact, for one them it was his first live show. I was curious to see whether he would take to it. He told me that he found difficulty with the first act but enjoyed the second and third very much. On balance he enjoyed the whole experience.

I hope to see Stanton Welch's La Bayadère one day even if I have to fly to Texas to do so.  As one of my favourite young dancers has just moved from HNB to the Houston Ballet I hope to do so soon, I was sad to learn that the company had suffered so much from Hurricane Harvey.  As I said in Houston Ballet  30 Aug 2017 we in the North know the damage flood water can do. I am sure that company will emerge stronger than ever as Northern Ballet did. I shall look out for the Houston Ballet on World Ballet Day and give it a special cheer.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Northern Ballet and Phoenix host the China IP Roadshow


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Ever since Northern Ballet moved to its new studios I have been looking for a chance to introduce it to my colleagues and clients (see Ballet and Intellectual Property - my Excuse for reviewing "Beauty and the Beast" 31 Dec 2011 IP Yorkshire and The Things I do for my Art: Northern Ballet's Breakfast Meeting 23 Sept 2014). The opportunity arose when I was asked by Tom Duke, our IP attaché in Beijing to arrange venues for and chair the China IP Roadshow in Yorkshire.

As Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre create more intellectual assets than most in the form of choreography, musical scores, set and costume designs and performances and both have strong links with China I proposed Northern Ballet as the venue for the Leeds event. I was overjoyed when my proposal was accepted.

The event took place in the Boardroom on the top floor on Tuesday 19 Sept between 09:00 and 12:00. Many of Leeds's biggest law firms and patent and trade mark agencies were represented as well as the city's businesses, universities and local authority.  I invited two special guests - Sharon Watson Phoenix's artistic director who is chairing Leeds's bid to become the European City of Culture and Tobias Perkins, planning manager of Northern Ballet.

Tom spoke about China and the opportunities for British businesses in all sectors including the creative industries but warned of some of the things that can go wrong.  He recommended a number of countermeasures such as registering IP rights, getting contracts drawn up by Chinese lawyers and not leaving your business sense behind at Heathrow. Precautions that business people would take here such as requiring partners to enter non-disclosure agreements before disclosing trade secrets work in exactly the same way in China.

After Tom had answered a few questions I invited Sharon to talk about Phoenix and the City of Culture bid.  As you would expect, Sharon spoke passionately on both. Tom congratulated her on her presentation.  There were a lot of lawyers and business people who wanted to talk to buttonhole Sharon before she left the boardroom.

Tobias also spoke well. He spoke of two ways in which Northern Ballet raises revenue.  One was by performing and the company had made many tours of China over the years. The other is by licensing out to foreign companies and Tobias mentioned that the West Australian Ballet was performing David Nixon's The Great Gatsby in Perth almost as we spoke.

As the boardroom is almost next door to Studio 7 I proudly showed Tom where our 55+ class trains. Before leaving the building he asked to see the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre.  As Sean was in reception I asked whether it would be possible for Tom and his party to glance inside and I was delighted when he said it was.

Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre did me proud as they always do.  I shall certainly try to arrange more such events at their premises.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

World Ballet Day is coming


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One of the compensations of Autumn is World Ballet Day in which five of the world's top companies present their offerings and those of their guests. This year it falls on 5 Oct 2017.

The day begins in Melbourne with the Australian Ballet. We have a special interest in that company as they hosted Amelia Sierevogel earlier this year.  She told us all about her experiences with that company in Melbourne City of Dance 23 May 2017.  The Australian Ballet is sharing its slot with three other companies with which we have a connection, namely the Queensland Ballet, the Hong Kong Ballet and the West Australian Ballet.

We welcomed the Queensland Ballet to London in 2015 (see A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015).  Gita and I also had the honour of meeting its legendary artistic director, Li Cunxin, when he visited the London Ballet Circle. Amelia and I have another connection with that company since our teacher, Fiona Noonan, trained and danced with them. Another favourite teacher, Jane Tucker, danced with the Hong Kong Ballet who are also guests of the Australian Ballet. The third guest that we follow with interest is the West Australian Ballet who are dancing David Nixon's The Great Gatsby in Perth this month.

The baton passes to the Bolshoi whose Taming of the Shrew delighted audiences in London last year (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2017). The choreographer of that work was Jean-Christophe Maillot whose company Les Ballets de Monte Carlo will share the Bolshoi's slot. The Bolshoi's other guests are the Netherlands Dance Theatre who are well known and greatly appreciated here.  The Bolshoi will rehearse for us Balanchine's Diamonds and The Golden Age and introduce us to The Moscow State Academy of Choreography.

Next comes London with the Royal Ballet and four of our other great companies all of whom I know well and admire greatly. The Royal Ballet will rehearse Anastasia, La Fille mal gardée, The Sleeping Beauty and a new ballet by Charlotte Edmonds. Students from the Royal Ballet School will dance Concerto and the company will dance Anastasia.  The Royal Ballet's guests include some of the world's greatest companies including The Dutch National Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, La Scala, the Stuttgart Ballet and the Vienna State Ballet. This should be the highpoint of the day.

Across the Atlantic to Toronto with the National Ballet of Canada. They will be rehearsing Cinderella and Onegin and interview the great Karen Kain. Wayne McGregor and Robert Binet.  Their guests include the Miami City Ballet whom Gita saw in February (see Gita Mistry Attending the Ballet in Florida: Miami City Ballet's Program Three 6 March 2017) and the Boston Ballet who were in London in 2013 (see High as a Flag on the 4th July 7 July 2917).

Finally to San Francisco, one of the oldest and finest companies in America who also promise rehearsals of Diamonds and Cinderella as well as Liam Scarlett's Frankenstein, Helgi Tomasson's Haffner Symphony and a new work by Yuri Possokhov. Their guests include the Houston Ballet which suffered badly from Hurricane Harvey (see Houston Ballet  30 Aug 2017). I take a special interest in that company partly because of its many connections with this country. partly because Li Cunxin started his career there but mainly because the outstanding young artist, Emilie Tassinari, has recently joined the corps.

Every year seems to be better than the last and this year promises to be the best of all. Nobody can watch the whole feast on one day but, happily, recordings remain on YouTube for months after the event.  It takes about a year to savour it all.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Bridgewater Hall's Birthday Party

Author Alan Stanton
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I thought of our 55+ class's talented pianist, Alena Panasenka, this weekend when I visited the Bridgewater Hall for its 21st birthday party on Sunday. There was a lot to see, do and, above all, hear that day as the concert hall opened its doors to its patrons and friends.

The high point of the day, and this is the bit that made me think of Alena, was a  concert by Noriko Ogawa, Graham Scott, Murray McLachlan and Martin Roscoe on the Bridgewater Hall's four Steinway pianos. The programme included works by Beethoven, Bernstein, Debussy, Holst, Mozart and Wagner some of which were arranged very ingeniously. Some of the works were arranged for four pianos and others for two. You will not be surprised to learn that my favourite piece was the prelude to L'Aprȅs Midi d'un Faune.

There was also music in the stalls café bar by the main entrance.  I heard guitar music from Emma Smith, saxophone music from four students of the Royal Northern College of Music known as the Cornelian Saxophone Quartet and clarinet music from another four who performed as the Arundo Clarinet Quartet.  My companion also had a free lesson on one of the Steinways.

We both heard a talk chaired by Peter Davidson, the Bridgewater Hall's artistic consultant, on "Playing the Bridgewater Hall."  The acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall are sometimes compared to a Stradivarius violin which sounds quite ordinary in the hands of an average player but extraordinary in the hands of an exceptionally talented violinist. We heard from Rob Harris, the hall's first acoustic consultant, the critic Robert Beale, the singer, Jacqui Dankworth, and the guitarist, Craig Ogden.  I learned a lot about the hall from that talk. For instance, the fact that it is mounted on springs like a vehicle. I also discovered that it is soundproofed so well that technicians assembling the organ were quite oblivious to a terrorist explosion in the Arndale Centre a few hundred yards away.

There was much that we did not see because the celebrations lasted the whole weekend.  The day after tomorrow I shall see the Bridgewater Hall in a different light when it hosts Venturefest. It is a source of great pride for the whole city and for everyone who is entitled to call him or herself a Mancunian.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet"


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Northern Ballet The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 9 Sept 2017 19:30 West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds


Daniel de Andrade's ballet, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet last night. I congratulate the choreographer, his fellow creatives, the dancers and everyone else who was involved in the show on an outstanding performance. It greatly exceeded my expectations and raised my admiration for the company to new heights.

Although  I had neither read John Boyne's novel nor seen the film and had been unable to catch the work in Doncaster or any of the other venues on this year's midscale tour, I had been aware of the story. I feared a descent into mawkish sentimentality and that this review would be an exercise in floccinaucinihilipilification. Instead, de Andrade explored the twin themes of corruption of decent men by poisonous ideology and love between children.  Watching that ballet was a moving, indeed harrowing, experience that tugged at every emotion.

Boyne's novel cannot have been easy to transpose to dance.  De Andrade responded to that challenge with considerable ingenuity.  For example, Hitler appears in the book and personally appoints the father of one of the children at the centre of the story as Commandant of Auschwitz. Easy enough, one would think, as Hitler is instantly recognizable with his half moustache and floppy forelock. But de Andrade resisted the temptation to do the obvious. He substituted a Fury for the Führer - an even more menacing Siegfried type character crouching, creeping and dripping with evil. For some reason or other, the Bolshoi refer to Siegfried as "the evil genius" in its version of Swan Lake (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). Well, de Andrade's evil genius was spine chilling.

The strong libretto was just one reason for the show's success.

There was some pretty powerful choreography.  The duet between the boys on different sides of the fence - always harmonious but never symmetrical - the acts of violence - the cashiering of the arrogant and sadistic Lieutenant Kotler - and so much more of which space does not permit proper acknowledgement.

There was also an excellent score by Gaty Yeschon reminiscent of the compositions of the time - at least in this country, America and even Russia though not perhaps Nazi Germany.  It must have been difficult to play and seemed from the luxury of my chair particularly difficult to dance but it fitted the ballet exactly.

There were sets cleverly transporting us to the Reichs Chancery, the Commandant's home, the boundary of the concentration camp and even the train and gas chambers by Mark Bailey. The outline of that monstrous sign, "Arbeit macht frei" (as horrifying as the inscription on the gates of Hell "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate") made me shudder. Bailey's uniforms and civilians' costumes seemed authentic to the last detail.

Finally, there was some exquisite lighting by Tim Mitchell. The pool of red light around Kotler's body represented his death in combat eloquently and chillingly.

The dancers, as I said above, were splendid.

The boys, Matthew Koon who danced Bruno (the Commandant's son) and Filippo di Vilio who danced Shmuel (the prisoner), central to the story, were lyrical. The playful, loving, innocent Bruno with his cartwheels and jumps. The starving, beaten, almost dehumanized Schmuel with his arabesques. How I rejoiced as he sank his teeth into an apple, How I wept as the cloud destroyed them both.

Mlindi Kualshe, often cast as a villain even though he is a most affable young man, radiated evil as the Fury. He was an excellent choice for the role.  He emerged from his mask with a gleaming smile and special applause at the reverence.

Javier Torres, the company's remaining premier dancer, interpreted the Commandant's role with sensitivity and sophistication.  This was a man who would almost certainly have been hanged at Nuremberg for his crimes.  However, he was also a loving father and husband and even in the running of the camp he showed signs of humanity. A much more complex character than O'Brien in Jonathan Watkin's 1984.  Torres discharged that role magnificently.

Also magnificent was Hannah Bateman who danced his wife.  A vain and spoilt beauty - a model of Aryan womanhood - hollowed out by conscience and in the end the loss of her son in her husband's death machine.  A formidable dancer.  A superb actor.  I can think of few artists from any company who could have carried off that challenging role anything like as well.

Magnificence, too, from Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Bruno's sister who swallowed the Nazi message, perhaps because of the attentions of Lieutenant Kotler (Sean Bates) who delivered it, Mariana Rodrigues, the Commandant's mother who would have none of that message, Dominique Larose, the Commandant's maid, and indeed each and every other member of the cast.  I don't know whether anyone else joined me but I was compelled to rise to my feet after that performance.  That's not something I do every day.

Yesterday's was almost the last performance of the current run.  The show moves on to Hull next month and then that's it for the time being. I hope it stays in the company's repertoire for I would love to see it again.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Ballet Couple


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There is a great overlap between film and dance. It started long before The Red Shoes.  Pavlova experimented with the camera as you can see from her clip of The Dying Swan In Leeds of All Places - Ashton Pavlova and Magic  18 Sept 2013.  So, too, did Nijinsky as you can see from Hommage au Faun 9 July 2013.

When I interviewed Kenny Tindall in "A Many Sided Genius" - Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017 we talked about the cinema which he refers to as "church". Tindal compared the work of a choreographer to that of the director of a film:
"The roles were similar and maybe even converging as techniques and technology that had been developed for the cinema were increasingly used in ballet. I recalled the filming of The Architect to which project I had contributed (see Tindall's Architect - How to Get a Piece of the Action - Literally! 7 June 2014). I asked whether another film might result from Casanova. Tindall’s eyes sparkled. No concrete plans as yet, he said, but would it not be splendid to film Act I in Venice and Act II in Paris."
I was reminded of my conversation with Tindall when I saw New Moves on 24 June 2017.   As I said in my review:
"The most dramatic work of the evening was Thomas van Damme's Convergence which he created for Skyler Martin and Clara Superfine to music by Gorecki. Superfine is yet another dancer whose career I follow closely (see Thank You Ernst 17 March 2016). Through superb use of lighting reminiscent of cinema, he seemed to force the dancers together. They seemed to approach each other but not as lovers, more like predator and prey. It seemed like a gripping narrative though the programme notes suggest something gentler:
"1. Independent development of similar characters often associate with similarity of habits or environment.
2. Moving toward union or uniformity."
As he has mastered the technique of building suspense, I look forward to seeing whether van Damme will use that technique in his future work."
I have not had to wait very long. He used the same technique in Girls Night with Riho Sakamoto and Yuanyuan Zhang,  This is one of a number of short films that Thomas van Damme has made with Youanyuan Zhang as The Ballet Couple.  They have their own YouTube Channel, Facebook page and Twitter stream.  They describe themselves as:
"Professional ballet dancers in love enjoying life and youtube. 
Follow us in our life with our special jobs and crazy adventures! 
Tell us about your adventures and experiences with dance or other. 
Love, 
Yuanyuan & Thomas"
You have already seen enough of them to appreciate their talents.  Just imagine their potential.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Ann Maguire Gala 2017


On Sunday 3 Sept, my friend Erin and I attended the Ann Maguire Gala 2017 at Leeds Grand Theatre. The money raised by the ticket sales went towards the Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund less the essential running costs. All the performers and stage crew volunteered to be part of this event. 

But this event was not just any old dance gala.  No. It was an incredible opportunity for us to feast our eyes upon dancers from the Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet and Ballet Boyz. The repertoire consisted of choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, Frederick Ashton, Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett, Alastair Marriott, Steven McRae and Christopher Wheeldon.

As one who does not have a lot of money, this was an opportunity for me to see some of my favourite dancers.

I was so incredibly excited!

Erin and I filled with excitement for the night's event. 
The show began with an introduction by Wayne Sleep.  I was surprised to see how small he is in real life

The first act included
  • the second movement pas de deux from Concerto,
  • a piece enitled simply New Work
  • the White Swan pas de deux, 
  • Quizas
  • Aeternum pas de deux and 
  • Voices of Spring.  
I shan't go into detail about every piece of the programme, but will instead talk about the pieces that have stuck in my mind since Sunday night.
Quizas was a new piece choreographed by Will Tuckett, to the track of the same name by Nat King Cole and Shigeru Umebayashi. It was performed by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera. It has a very latin vibe to it but was still balletic.  I truly found myself falling in love with it. I just wanted to get up and dance with them. It looked so incredibly fun! And, of course, effortless, much to the credit of the dancers.

Ashton's Voices of Spring was performed by Yuhui Choe and recently promoted Alexander Campbell. It was so beautiful to watch. It left me feeling like I was dreaming at the end of the act!

The second act opened with a musical medley of songs from Les Miserables and West Side Story performed by Leeds Youth Opera.

Act two included
  • Debussy's Clair de Lune performed by Edward Watson,
  • Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour pas de deux,
  • Asphodel Meadows - second movement pas de deux
  • Northern Ballet's 1984 by Jonathan Watkins- the final pas de deux
  • Steven McRae's famous tap piece Czardas
  • Meditation from Thais pas de deux, and 
  • Le Corsaire - pas de deux.
Clair de Lune was one of my favourite performances of the whole night. It was very simple and elegant. Watson executed the most incredible attitude turns (believe me when I say from my own experience they're hard). His ending position which was a plié in second, left Erin and me breathless for he did not move at all - for what seemed like forever. Not even shaking!

Czardas by Steven McRae was so much fun. He was accompanied on the stage with violinist Vasko Vassilev. Both artists were truly incredible to watch.  I would love to watch this over again and again.*

Le Corsaire pas de deux was performed by Akane Takada and Benjamin Ella. Akane did all 32 fouette turns perfectly and Benjamin flew across the stage with his incredible jumps. It was a truly a delight to watch. It left the audience on such a high note!

Finally, the night concluded with a thank you from Wayne Sleep and Emma Maguire (the daughter of the late Ann Maguire and event organiser) followed by, of course. the curtain call. each of the performers was given a single red rose.  I was left feeling overwhelmed and happy to have watched such a wonderful night of performances.

Myself with Edward Watson
Erin with Alexander Campbell

The night, however, did not end there for Erin and I decided to go to the stage door after the performance. We were fortunate enough to meet Alexander Campbell, Steven McRae, Fumi Kaneko and Edward Watson. All of whom were lovely, and we had enjoyable conversations with them. We found out that the stage was raked, which made us gasp even more. We sadly did not meet any of the other artists due to having to catch a train back to Huddersfield from Leeds and it was quite late. But I still cannot believe we met some of our absolute favourite dancers, let alone watched them perform. It will be a night I will remember for the rest of my life!

Amelia x

* You can.  He performed it on World Ballet Day and a video of his performance is right here (Ed).

Monday, 4 September 2017

Shanghai Ballet - "The Greatest Swan Lake in the World"


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Shanghai Ballet Swan Lake, Theater Carré, Amsterdam, Wed 30 Aug 2017.

Remco Van Grevenstein 

Last Wednesday. I saw Swan Lake for the first time on stage. I had seen it a couple of times before on YouTube and other sites with performances by the Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. This was also the first time I had sees a ballet company from China. It was fabulous. It was billed as the ''Greatest Swan Lake in the World'' and with 48 swan's it was pretty big. If you have ever been to the Carré Theatre you will know that the stage is not as big as those of most Opera Houses, but they somehow made it work.

With 48 swans as well as Princess Odette and Baron von Rothbart on stage, there were a lot of people. Choreographer Derek Deane made it possible. Perhaps they should have called this ballet Swan Sea - but who is counting?

The role of Odette/Odile was danced by Qi Bingxue. According to an interview on Dutch TV, this was the first time that she had danced in this ballet as a principal dancer. She did a great job. The role of Siegfried was danced by Wu Husheng. While I think he is a good dancer, I did not like his hesitation in the PDD.  His dance did not seem to flow. The rhythm was staccato: move - break - move - break. I did not appreciate that.*

What I did like at the end was the standing ovation for the corps de ballet. It was the first time that I had seen that in a ballet or indeed any other show. After the whole company had appeared on stage the principals stepped aside so that the corps could receive their own standing ovation.  Indeed the public clapped even harder for them.

According to their website the Shanghai Ballet have been touring the globe for a year, so perhaps they will show up some day at an auditorium near you.

Rothbart was performed by a chap called Wu. I can't remember his family name or find it on the Internet, but he was great in that role both as the baron and as the sorcerer.

What I missed was the lovers' sacrifice at the end. In this ballet, both Siegfried and Odette got into a small barque and sailed away into the future. A bit too tame for my taste

* Readers may like to see Graham Watts's interview with Wu Husheng and Qi Bingxue on DanceTabs on 14 Aug 2016 (Ed).

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Welcome Silver Swans

Author Marek Szczepanek
Licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported  


















The top item of my RAD newsletter features Angela Ripon in a dance studio above the headline "Silver Swans Take Flight". The article announces that the RAD is piloting ballet classes for the over-55s in the UK and elsewhere to be taught by specially trained instructors under the SILVER SWANS trade mark and that Angela Ripon is promoting them.  No classes have been arranged just yet but the RAD's website shows a map of the UK where those instructors are located. The most northerly is in Billingham and the most southerly in Helston unless you count Jersey which also has a teacher at Saint-Ouen. The RAD map complements Sophie Rebecca's more comprehensive map of adult ballet classes in the UK some of which also cater for the over 55s.

The RAD's initiative seems to have been a long time in the making.  I reported on three taster classes in Haslingden, Richmond and Glossop marketed by the RAD under the SILVER SWANS sign as long ago as 12 Feb 2014 (see Migrating Swans - Dance Classes for the Over 50s in the North 12 Feb 2014). Interestingly, the first use of the words SILVER SWANS to refer to dancers of a certain age appears to have been by the BBC.   Those words appeared in the headline for an article about a Scottish Ballet class for older dancers by Emma Ailes as long ago as 18 Oct 2013 (see 'Silver Swans' taking to the barre later in life for ballet lessons 18 Oct 2013 BBC).

If you are over 55 and want to return to dance after a gap of many years or even take up ballet for the first time, you do not have to wait for the RAD.  Northern Ballet Academy has been running several beginners and improvers classes a week for dancers over the age of 55 in Leeds for many years.  As you can see from the class timetable, it now runs classes for beginners and improvers over the age of 55 at its studios in Leeds on Tuesdays and Fridays as well as two classes in Gomersal on Monday mornings. I started the beginners' class in Leeds almost exactly 4 years ago. If you are wondering what to expect on your first day. I wrote about my first experiences in Realizing a Dream on 12 Sept 2013. You can actually watch a video of our class in action and find links to lots of other articles on dancing in later life in We're in the Paper 15 April 2013.

I know for a fact that there are similar classes in London run by Rambert which seem to attract royal patronage (see Mercury Movers 60+ on the Rambert website), Birmingham (see Move into Ballet on the Dance Exchange website), Newcastle (see Ballet Beginners on the Dance City website) and Glasgow (see Regenerate on the Scottish Ballet website). For the more ambitious or extrovert there are elder companies in Glasgow and London which perform before a paying public (see Caledonian Cousins 9 June 2015 and Sage Dance Company 19 June 2017) and indeed Canberra (see Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015).

One other thing to note. I have found out that there is not much difference between an over 55 improvers class in Leeds and any other adult ballet class.  We do exactly the same barre and centre exercises and the teacher expects exactly the same degree of effort and commitment from us as she does from her other students.  I discovered that by accident when I strayed into Christopher Hinton-Lewis's class after I was prevented from attending my over 55 class by a fallen tree on the A1 (see It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class 8 Dec 2013). So if there is no over 55 class in your town, don't be afraid to join an all age class as you will not feel out of place.  I discovered KNT in my home town of Manchester three years ago and have never looked back. I do not know a more congenial group of classmates or more encouraging teachers on the planet (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014).

So I wish RAD and their students every success with their SILVER SWANS venture. I shall be very pleased to assist them in any way I can. If anyone who takes a SILVER SWANS class would care to review it for me I shall be very glad to publish it. I encourage everyone of every age who loves ballet to check out their local dance school for an adult ballet class.  I remember a poster a few years ago with the words "You can't buy happiness but you can buy a ballet class which is kinda the same thing." That is just so true.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Bank Holiday Ballet: Wendy McDermott's Reflections on the latest Ballet Retreat

Wendy McDermott















The Ballet Retreat, Leeds, 26-26 Aug 2017

The August bank holiday was quite a special time for UK adult ballet dancers as the fourth Ballet Retreat of 2017 took place at Northern Ballet’s studios in Leeds, West Yorkshire. I think there have been five retreats altogether since emerging on the adult ballet scene around this time last year. I think all the ‘retreaters’ would agree that we are a pretty lucky bunch of adult dancers. We have the good fortune of using the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre for all three days, which is a studio space of around 30 metres in length (great for leaps, not so good for turns – oh the dizziness ), we are taught by professional dancers and have the added bonus of dancing to music performed by a live pianist.

As with other retreats, the day always starts with a warm up, led by the event’s organiser and producer Hannah Bateman (she’s also a Leading Soloist for Northern Ballet). There are plenty of standing and seated stretches, warming up of the spine, body and hip alignments, ports de bras and leg rotations to loosen the hips and prepare the muscles for the day’s dancing ahead. After a short loo/ballet bun/water break, we went straight into our 90 min technique class taken by David Kierce and musically accompanied by Northern Ballet’s company pianist, Andrew Dunlop.

Classes are always challenging but also injected with David’s humour and positivity. He does this in such a way that we’re able to keep the focus and concentration, particularly when giving group corrections. He has a very good knack of explaining the kinesiology, how the body works logically to stay aligned when performing everyday activities and what should (or shouldn’t) happen when rising onto demi pointe or standing with the working leg in retiré position for example.

Following class and before lunch we always start work on the repertoire and this time the female variation was Gamzatti’s Act 2 solo in La Bayadère. The men’s variation was Solor’s Act 2 coda. For days one and two the ladies had extra help in learning the rep from Dreda Blow another Leading Soloist at Northern. The men were not left out either and heartily welcomed back Gavin McCaig, now a third-year corps de ballet member after starting with the company as an apprentice (see Meet Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet 3 Sept 2014).
Gamzatti’s variation is, I think, the longest that we have danced so far though it is less than a minute in length. That doesn’t sound long in the normal scheme of things and granted, some of the steps were modified to suit our abilities. But when you’re performing développés to relevé in retiré whilst also turning, then chassés into grands jetés, turning waltzes, turns in attitude to arabesque, posé turns into chaînés and then more grands jetés around the studio, with attitude on demi pointe to finish, this is no mean feat. Everyone did brilliantly.

As the August retreats are three days instead of two, we’re given the chance to experience a different kind of dance or movement on the second day. This year’s surprise taster class was no exception. We were given a sneaky hint when, a few days before the retreat, Hannah suggested that we follow Amaury Lebrun on Twitter. 
He is a contemporary dance teacher and choreographer, and new to Leeds. Whilst some of us may have guessed the connection I don’t think anyone was prepared for the hour long session ahead. I referred to the session on Twitter as the "Gaga Technique", but that is incorrect as it is a style created by Ohad Naharin. It is described as a ‘movement language’ that does not have a particular technique as we might think; ballet being the obvious one here. It is the antithesis, the renegade you might say. 
Amaury took our class, remarking that all that was required was our imaginations and to keep moving. Even on the spot, we did not stand still but very gently sway from side to side, shifting our weight from one leg to the other. He gave us mental images of water running through the fingers, snakes, balloons deflating in our bodies, walking through crowded streets of people without collision. With these thoughts, we moved either within our own space or around the studio imagining how we might move, or react, to that image. There was no right or wrong – just move. 
One of the last exercises was to lay in our own space, to think of something funny – a joke perhaps, and laugh out loud. We were all a little tentative, to begin with, but once the embarrassment subsided and encouraged by one or two more confident voices, we were able to release our inner reserved selves and release the laughter. Judging by people’s immediate reaction when the session ended I think it was a very successful class though perhaps a little avant-garde for some but most left feeling lifted and exhilarated.

The third and final day came around and again, following the morning class we had roughly an hour or so to put the whole variation together. This was easier for some to remember than others, partly I suspect (and confess) as nerves set in and the realisation that we’d shortly be performing to all the other dancers. We split into pairs and threes and each group performed the solo to all the other retreaters and everyone received rapturous applause.

Our final goodbyes were said, but not before a lovely lunch, vintage style with cut sandwiches, mini cream scones and an assortment of cakes and tea or coffee to drink. The tables were laid out beautifully and it was such a lovely end to what had been an amazing three days, and one which I am eager to repeat again.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Dutch National Ballet: Congratulations All Round

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It's always a pleasure to announce promotions.

First, congratulations to both the Dutch National Ballet and Rachel Beaujean on the latter's appointment as Associate Artistic Director of the company. It is the culmination of a stellar career as a dancer, ballet mistress, choreographer and head of the company's artistic staff.  Here she is talking about her production of Les Sylphides or Chopiniana.  She will strengthen considerably an already great company.  This year Beajean will celebrate her 40 years with the company, an anniversary that will be celebrated at the opening night gala on the 12 Sept 2017.

Beginning their careers in the main company are two outstanding young dancers I know personally and two more whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting but whom I feel I know very well from their Vlog. The two dancers I know are Melissa Chapski and Priscylla Gallo. I first saw them in Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart Theatre on my birthday last year and I later saw Priscylla at Trecate in Cristiano Principato's Gala for Alessia (see From Italy with Love 1 July 2016). The vloggers are Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke and I have mentioned their vlogs in Missing Amsterdam 18 Feb 2017 and Dutch National Ballet's New Season and a New Vlog from Tim and Salome 21 Feb 2017. Last but not least is Rafael Valdez. I don't think I have not yet had the pleasure of making his acquaintance but I am sure he will impress me with his dancing. Congratulations and very best wishes to each and every one of those five young dancers.

Finally, it gives me enormous pleasure to see one of my compatriots in the Junior Company. Conor Walmsley is one of the Junior Company's  new recruits and he comes from  Yorkshire. To be more precise he comes from East Yorkshire.  Xander Parish also comes from that part of the world as does Kevin O' Hare. Great local heroes to inspire this talented young dancer.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet's Centre for Dance
Author Marshall Strabala
Licence Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported



















Although I sympathize with everybody in the USA who has been bereaved, injured, displaced, inconvenienced or in any way affected adversely by Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent flooding, I have a particular concern for Houston Ballet, its dancers and other staff. There are two reasons for my concern: the first is that this is an important company with close links to this country through its former artistic director Ben Stevenson; and, secondly, one of my favourite young dancers, Emilie Tassinari, has recently joined the company's corps de ballet. 

The pictures and press reports from Houston are horrendous.  According to the Houston Press, Houston's theatre district had taken a serious hit from the hurricane (see Natalie de la Garza Houston's Theater District Takes Serious Hit From Harvey 29 Aug 2017 Houston Press). One of the photos to Ms de la Garza's report shows flood waters lapping the walls of the company's studios. I see from the company's website that the company suffered a power outage and water damage and that its offices will be closed until after Labour Day which is a public holiday that falls on the first Monday of September and that it has had to cancel its opening performances of Poetry in Motion that was scheduled to start the new ballet season (see Hurricane Updatea message from Jim Nelson and Staunton Welch).

Although we have been spared weather as intemperate as Hurricane Harvey, we in Yorkshire know the damage that water can do to a ballet company's costumes and properties. On 26 Dec 2015, the River Aire burst its banks and flooded the warehouse where our regional ballet company, Northern Ballet, stored many of its sets and costumes (see Northern Ballet's press release Flood Update 21 Jan 2016). Northern Ballet is a company to which I am particularly close as it was formed in Manchester, my home town, and is now based in Leeds which is my nearest big city. I have followed its productions for many years and support both the company and the academy (of which I am an adult ballet student) financially. Many of the productions were salvaged but some were lost, including Peter Pan which I enjoyed very much (see Not too sure about Fairies but I certainly believe in Rachael Gillespie 21 Dec 2014).

Happily, Messrs Nelson and Welch have reported that the dancers, artists, and staff are safe, although many have been displaced and otherwise affected by this terrible storm.  I was in touch with Emilie through Facebook on Sunday morning. She replied that her district was unaffected and that she was safe and well. She responded very quickly indicating that she still had electricity and access to the internet.  I wondered whether that was still the case but I am very glad to report that she marked herself safe on Facebook 21 minutes ago.

Northern Ballet recovered from the flood and is now as strong as ever. This year it will have created three new ballets including Kenneth Tindall's excellent Casanova (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 am sure Houston Ballet will do the same.  They will probably need a little bit of extra help from ballet fans around the world.  If you want to lend them a hand they have a donations page though it is not open yet. I am sure it will be very soon.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Zest Dance Studios




















Donna Hargreaves

In the beginning, there was Big Ballet, I auditioned to be part of the successful Channel 4 programme, I think for all the ballerinas this was the hardest but most enjoyable experience ever.

When the programme was aired for some of the ballerinas, we did not want the journey to end, so Zest Adult Ballet Company began.

I have been part of this class from the beginning, 3 years of joyful dance.

We are a group of ladies and gentlemen, brought together with a passion to dance.

The class is open to all ages, our current ballerinas are aged between 20 and 52. 

We also collaborate with the established dance school, bringing the opportunity to dance alongside young talent. 

All abilities are welcome, no previous dance experience is necessary.

Our ballet mistress is Shona Stringer, the most patient and encouraging teachers you could ever meet.

We are taught the IDTA syllabus in class, which progresses to Adult Ballet Exams, if the ballerinas, wish to do so. 

We also experience the most wonderful choreography, as Shona creates stories that we are lucky enough to perform, fully costumed, #BalletLioness #BalletBowie

The classes are on a Wednesday at 7 pm, and the website is http://www.zestdance.co.uk/  
Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/bigballetuk/

All you have to do now is find those ballet shoes and come and join our #BalletFamily.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

KNT Coppelia Intensive


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I had a splendid day at the Dancehouse yesterday dancing in Jane Tucker's Coppelia Intensive with my classmates from KNT and Northern Ballet Academy plus two new friends from Birmingham and Harrogate with whom I have much in common.  As readers of this blog know, I have attended Jane's intensives on Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadère and The Nutcracker and have enjoyed them all but this was by far the best.

There were several reasons for that.  The first is that I know Coppelia very well and love the story. Unlike most other 19th century libretti, this story is years ahead of its time. It addresses issues of artificial intelligence and robotics which are now very much in the news with Elon Musk's call to ban killer robots (see Elon Musk leads 116 experts calling for outright ban of killer robots 20 Aug 2017 The Guardian). Secondly, I have seen some lovely productions of the ballet in the last few months at all levels from Manchester City Ballet's in The Dancehouse last December to Ted Brandsen's triumph in Amsterdam. Thirdly, I was dancing with people I know and like under the guidance of one of my favourite teachers.  I felt just so lucky and privileged.  Small wonder I wore the widest of wide grins for most of the day.

Jane's classes are never easy and the second day of the intensives are particularly hard because that is the day for consolidation and learning.  It began with floor exercises on our towels and Pilates mats.  We followed with a full 90-minute class which is very similar to the ones we do in Leeds.  I think everyone in Northern Ballet Academy and a lot of the regulars at the Dancehouse is used to Jane's warm up, particularly the abrupt turn on a sixpence half way through the run but she still manages to catch the odd punter out. It was a fun class with a brisk barre, lovely adagio, lots of chaînés and even some temps levés at the end,

After a 15 minute break which I regret to say I spent on the blower when I should have been stretching or at least relaxing we were into our first bit of repertoire.  That turned out to be Zwaantje's (or in most productions Swanhilde) dance after she and her ladette pals break into Dr Coppelius's den, discover that Coppelia is nothing more than a robot and Zwaantje swaps clothes with the android. As Jane had taught the dance to the others the day before she offered to coach me. However, on the first run through I found that I could keep up. Images of Celine Gittens and Anna Ol flooded back.

The next dance, Frans's (or Franz's) solo was much more difficult for me as it requires two tours en l'air from a standing start, a fouetté and more than a few grands jetés en tournant.  I had a go at one or two of these but they quite zonked me out and I had to sit out the last exercise.  Happily, we had two Franses - David and Sam from KNT - and they both did very well. At least in my eyes.

Finally, we rehearsed the village scene from Act I. Jane had also taught that dance to others the day before.  Again I was more or less able to pick it up though I made tons of mistakes. From time to time I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and I was grinning like the Cheshire cat.  I have had a lot on my plate lately and this day off for ballet was just so liberating.

The class continues today. I wish I could have joined it.  It will end with a show before Karen which I am sure she will applaud heartily.  Jane Tucker runs these courses during the Autumn half term, Easter vacation and the summer.  If you have never attended them, do yourselves a favour and sign up. It wasn't just I who had had a whale of a time yesterday.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Ballet, Bodywork and Bits in Cambridge


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I'm having a simply wonderful time in Cambridge. I'me here to give a talk on bilateral investment treaties or "bits" at the Cambridge IP Law Summer School and intellectual property at Downing College. As a week without ballet is like a week without sunshine I asked all my friends and followers on Twitter whether there were any adult ballet drop in classes in or near Cambridge that I could attend this week. Wendy McDermott and KidarWolf suggested Bodywork Company at Glisson Road so I gave them a call in my coffee break. I found out that there was an improvers' class at 19:30 last night. Though it clashed with a slap up dinner and quiz night in hall that the conference organizers had arranged for us, I decided to give it a go.

The Bodywork Company is quite literally in premises that must once have been a car body repair shop. The studios surround an enclosure with space for 12 vehicles where mechanics must once have mended bent fenders.  I know we say mudguards in this country but the transatlantic term has a certain assonance don't you think. The space is now used for customer parking which is as rare as hens' teeth in Cambridge.

As I don't know Cambridge very well, I got hopelessly lost and arrived at the studios with just minutes to spare.  Precious seconds from those minutes were lost when the chap at reception showed me the gents' changing room even though I was in a dress. Consequently, I arrived at class in the middle of pliés which meant that I missed the warm up and an opportunity to introduce myself to the instructor. The class took place in a medium size studio - not quite as big as those at the Dancehouse in Manchester or Northern Ballet in Leeds but considerably larger than those at Dance Studio Leeds. There was plenty of room for each of us at a fixed barre. I didn't count the numbers but I think there must have over 20 of us. All of us were female and some members of the class seemed quite young.

I learned from a copy of the timetable that I picked up after class from reception that our teacher was called Louise Howarth. Like Jane in Leeds and Fiona in Huddersfield, Louise expects a lot from her students and she made us repeat some of the exercises until she was satisfied with us. That is just the sort of instructor that I like. The emphasis was on pirouettes and Louise worked them, or preparation for pirouettes, into every exercise.  For instance, we finished every plié on relevé with our legs in retiré. We did every possible type of pirouette from first and fourth dehors as well as dedans. That was exactly the sort of class that I needed.  As everyone who has ever taught me or attended class with me knows, pirouettes are not my strongest suit.

We did a very brisk barre with the usual pliés, tendus and glissés followed by ronds de jambe and grands battements. We followed it up with a nice adagio in the centre with some much-appreciated développés and ports de bras. Then some very serious pirouette training with quarter, half, three-quarter and full turns alternating in each direction at quite a pace. Louise even worked a turn into our jumps which began not with sautés but with changements.

As always happens when one's having fun, the class ended far too quickly.  The class was in two parts - the first 60 minutes for everybody and the last 30 for the pointe work students.  The first 60 minutes cost £8 which is slightly more than the North but a lot less than London.  There is a beginners' class on Wednesday which I should like to attend and also an intermediate class on Thursday which is likely to be way beyond me. If I lived in Cambridge I would certainly attend class regularly at Bodywork and I have no hesitation in recommending the studios to denizens of that city.

If you are wondering about bilateral investment treaties, they are international agreements by which governments promise each other not to expropriate the investments of the other party's nationals. If they do, the government of the expropriating state has to compensate the expropriated investor generously. A disappointed investor has the right to bring proceedings against the expropriating state through the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes without any intervention from his home government,

"Kippers" (members and supporters of the UK Independence Party) and lefties (Mr Jeremy Corbyn MP and his acolytes, such as the lovely-lady-from-Liverpool who shares my love of ballet but whom I just can't resist teasing) would be irate if they only knew the limits that bilateral investment treaties impose on national sovereignty. In the leading case, a US waste disposal company won millions of dollars from the Mexican government because a local authority refused to let it dump hazardous waste near a public watercourse a few yards away from human habitations. Indeed, some on the left, such as the distinguished journalist George Monbiot, do know about BITs which is why he campaigned so assiduously against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership before Mr Donald Trumo scuppered the negotiations. Her Majesty's Government has made 110 such treaties mainly with third world governments which wicked British rentiers enforce mercilessly with the best of them.

If you want to know more about the subject matter of my talk on Thursday, see my article Can a business recover compensation if a state fails to protect its intellectual assets? The decision in Eli Lilly & Co. v Canada suggests "maybe" 25 July 2017.