Thursday, 20 July 2017

Just as most Adult Ballet Classes are folding up for the Summer, here's one that's opening

Photo Huddersfield University~
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

At a time of the year when many adult ballet classes are winding down for the summer, it is great to hear of one that is opening up. Today and for the next four Thursdays, Fiona Noonan will run an open adult class at Huddersfield University Sports Centre between 11:00 and 12:00.

Fiona is an excellent teacher. She trained at Queensland Ballet Academy in Brisbane which is the ballet school for Li Cunxin's company that made such a memorable impression on critics and audiences when it brought La Sylphide to London in 2015 (see A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015). She then danced with a number of companies around the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She, therefore, brings two rare qualities to her teaching. A rigorous pursuit of excellence and an attention to detail which I have noticed in other Australian trained teachers such as Adam Pudney at Pineapple and more than a little stardust from the stage that some of my favourite teachers at Northern Ballet Academy and KNT also scatter.

I have attended Fiona's classes at The Base Studios and Team Hud in Huddersfield and at Hype Studios in Sheffield (see More than just Hype - Beginners and Improvers Classes in Sheffield 14 May 2014).  They are not easy.  She pushes her students to their limits and then some. But that is exactly what a ballet student needs whatever his or her age or natural ability. I have also learned some important lessons from her. "Ballet is a harsh mistress", I once heard her tell a promising young student " and she is wanting and waiting for you to fail."  Like most balletomanes, I had associated dance with tiaras and gravity defying leaps but the reality is graft, sweat, pain and on more than a few occasions physical danger. Something that requires will, determination and resilience even if you are just taking an adult ballet class. Transferable qualities, incidentally, if you are lucky enough to enjoy your job and have no plans to quit just because you have reached pensionable age.

So if you come to her class this morning you had better pack a towel with your leotard or sports kit because you can expect to sweat. If this is your first class you will be allowed to dance barefoot. However, if you plan to stay the course and invest in some shoes there is a dance shop in the Byrom Arcade called "Mr Frog Dancewear".

For those who do not know the campus, the Sports Centre is in a new building called "Student Central" where you will also find the students' shop and cafeteria. It is almost opposite Sainsbury's car park and there are two multi-storey car parks on the other side of Queensway. The Sports Centre is one floor down and you have to report at the front desk. I don't yet know how much Fiona will charge for her classes but it was £5 two years ago. Most other ballet schools in the North charge between £6 and £8. Well worth it for a fair dinkum touch of stardust, mate. Gooday.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Jumping for Joy

Standard YouTube Licence

I described Jump two years ago in Jump 11 July 2015. It's a fan club for young ballet fans with its own website but it is also an open day called Dansdag when kids take over the Stopera. This year it fell on 24 June and I am told by people who were there that it was particularly good this year.

Judging by this film it certainly seems to have been. Most ballet companies run special activities for children and young people but this must be one of the best.

Montpellier Danse

Hans van Manen by Bibi Neuray
Reproduced with permission of the Dutch National Ballet

Tonight, Hans van Manen will be created a Commandeur des Arts et Lettres, France's highest distinction in the arts at the Montpellier Dance Festival. That festival, which runs from 23 June to 7 July 2017, is an annual festival of contemporary dance which started in 1981 by the Montpelier city council and the National Choreographic Centre which was then run by Dominique Bagouet (see Festival Montpellier Danse in Wikipedia).

The festival attracts some of the biggest names in dance such as Lucinda Childs who is coming to Manchester on Thursday (see Manchester International Festival 3 July 2017) and the Dutch National Ballet who are performing tonight. To coincide with the presentation to van Manen, Dutch National Ballet will dance several of his works.

The Company's artistic director, Ted Brandsen, paid warm tribute to van Manen in an interview in Ted Brandsen / Dutch National Ballet : Hommage à Hans van Manen - Programme 1 & 2. In that same interview Brandsen was asked to say a few words about his company and where the company recruited its dancers.

I have been following van Manen for as long as I have been following ballet. Of the greats of my youth - Ashton, MacMillan, Balachine, Cranko - he is the only one who remains, Fékicitations to the new Commandeur but also to the company who will be dancing as I type.

Congratulations to Delia Matthews

Delia Matthews
Photo Andrew Ross
© 2016 Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced wth kind permission of the company: 

Ever since I saw have bravely and professionally she exited the stage of the Grand Opera House in York when she must have been in considerable pain or discomfort, I have been a fan of Delia Matthews (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in York 23 May 2015). I am therefore delighted that she and Tzu-Chao Chou, another favourite dancer, have become principals of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.  I congratulate both of them and wish them all the best for the future.

Heartiest congratulations also to Arancha Baselga and Yasuo Atsuji who become first soloists, Miki Mizutani who is now a soloist and Laura Day and Alys Shee who are now first artists. Best wishes to them too.

Welcome to  Elisabetta Formento and Lynsey Sutherland who join the company from the Estonian and Polish National Ballets and also to Haoliang Feng, Augustus Payne, Harry Wright, Brogan McKelvey,
Hamish Scott, Claudia Nicholson and Jade Wallace who have recently graduated from their respective ballet schools. I congratulate each and every one of them on landing jobs with a great ballet company. I shall follow their careers with considerable interest.

Joseph Caley and William Bracewell will leave the company - Caley to join English National Ballet as a principal and Bracewell the Royal Ballet as a soloist. I congratulate them on their new appointments and wish them well with their new companies.  Sadly, we sat goodbye to Jamie Bond who retires from ballet to take up a new career in sport in which I wish him every success,  Lewis Turner and Alexander Bird who will join the Berlin State Ballet and Emily Smith and Johanne Monfret. Many thanks to each of them for the pleasure that they have given us and good luck for the future

Monday, 3 July 2017

New Moves - The Photos No. 2

Dutch National Ballet, New Moves 26 June 2017 Amsterdam
Photo Michael Schnater |(c) 2017 Dutch National Ballet All Rights ReservedReproduced with kind permission of the company 

Another great photo by Michael Schnater from last Monday's New Moves by the Dutch National Ballet.  More to come in the course of the week

Manchester International Festival

Available Light                                                       Standard YouTube Licence

Manchester International Festival, our city's biennial arts festival, is in full swing. Between the 29 June and 16 July 2017, there will be a massive choice of events in the following fields:
Albert Square has been transformed into a village of tents, pavilions and other temporary buildings and has been renamed "Festival Square" where almost every type of street food was on offer.  Gita and I checked out Festival Square last night and I can recommend Heathcote & Co. and Life Bakery (see  Five foodie questions: Heathcote & Co and Staff of Life Bakery on the Festival website).

One of several dance events is Available Light which takes place at The Palace between 6 and 8 July. This is a collaboration between the choreographer Lucinda Childs, the composer John Adams and architect, Frank Gehry. The work is described as "a perfect fusion of music, movement and art," and as "a landmark in American dance." According to the website:
"Available Light beautifully unites the distinct visions of its three creators. Gehry’s designs playfully subvert convention, setting a backdrop of chain-link fencing against a stage split over two levels. Adams’ hypnotic soundtrack pulses out in waves, subtly blending acoustic brass with synthesisers and electronics as it anchors the movements of a dozen dancers. And Childs’ intricate, mesmerising choreography, playing with notions of space and time, is a brilliant distillation of the minimalist aesthetic that has long kept her work at the cutting edge."
I found the clip of the work on  YouTube which appears above.

Wikipedia describes Childs as a post-modern dancer and choreographer whose compositions are known for their minimalistic movements yet complex transitions.  It adds:
"Childs is most famous for being able to turn the slightest movements into an intricate choreographic masterpiece. Her use of patterns, repetition, and dialect has caused her to have a unique style of choreography that is often imitated for its ability to experiment."
Adams's work includes Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer which has been the subject of considerable controversy because of its subject matter.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Duchy Ballet's Auditions for the Anniversary Nutcracker

Later today Duchy Ballet, Cornwall's classical ballet company, will hold auditions for its annual show at Poltair School in St Austell. The timetable and other particulars of the auditions appear on the Info page of the company's website. I hope everyone who takes part has a good day.

The company will dance The Nutcracker in March which it first performed in 1998.  According to the Performances page
"Duchy Ballet was formed to celebrate the opening of a long awaited theatre in Cornwall in November 1997. Our first production just three months later, with a live orchestra, and professional soloists was 'The Nutcracker'."
As it will be the 20th anniversary of that first performance, next year's show is likely to be special. I shall make every effort to attend and review it.

I wrote about the company in Ballet in Cornwall 17 Sept 2017 when I was on holiday near Looe last year. In that article, I discussed Cornwall's cultural identity based on a strong literary and musical tradition upon which the company has drawn from time to time for the subject matter of its ballets. At that time I had not actually seen the company but I took an interest in it because I have connections with Cornwall having spent two significant periods of my life there as well as many holidays.

I saw Duchy Ballet for the first time last March when it performrd The Sleeping Beauty.  I was very impressed as you can see from my review, Cornwall's Coup: Duchy Ballet's Sleeping Beauty 19 March 2017.  The lead roles were danced by Tom Thorne and Laura Bosenberg of the Cape Town City Ballet but, as I noted in my review
"....... the company had its own stars. Terence Etheridge, who choreographed the show, was a magnificent Carabosse in the tradition of Robert Helpmann. The lilac fairy (danced, I think by Alabama Seymour) was delightful. Matthew Phillips was a great bluebird and he was partnered well by Amy Robinson. Jasmine Allen was a charming white cat. I need to credit the wardrobe, those who made the sets, the lighting designer - I could go on but it's late and I have a long journey tomorrow. The company won a standing ovation for its performance and that is all I need to say."
I later learned that Seymour had been offered a place at Rambert's school which delighted but did not surprise me at all (see A Spark of Excellence 23 March 2017).

Even though Truro is not a big city and Cornwall does not have a large population, the performance that I saw was well attended and there had already been others earlier in the day and the day before.  I mention that because the info page mentions sponsorship and advertising opportunities which must be worth considering for businesses based in, or doing a lot of business, in Cornwall.

Finally, the company relies on volunteers for technical, wardrobe, chaperoning, front of house and other jobs. I can say from experience that preparing for a performance is always great fun.  If you live in Cornwall this is your opportunity to experience the excitement of the theatre.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

KNT Summer Intensives

In her article "We’re a Bunch of Adult Ballet ‘Super’ Commuters!" 1 July 2017, Wendy McDermott wrote:
"It was about this time last year that I started to look for ballet Summer intensives for adults, as I had seen so many advertisements for young people to attend the same, for a week or more. Disheartened by what I thought was very little opportunity for adults to dance beyond their class of 60-90 mins per week, I tweeted a comment expressing my (I guess) frustration at becoming invisible as an adult dancer. This turned out to be one of the best things I did, as, through various new followers and chatting with other dancers (and more thorough research on the internet), discovered many more opportunities to dance than I could have imagined."
The intensive to which I think Wendy refers was La Bayadère taught by Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy. We both attended it last year and enjoyed it tremendously.  Here is my write-up La Bayadere Intensive Day 3: No Snakes 17 Aug 2016.

Not only did I enjoy the intensive but I also appreciated the Dutch National Ballet's performance of the ballet in which Sasha Mukhamedov danced Nikiya and Jozef Varga Solor so much more. In my review of that performance, I wrote:
"Having recently attended a three-day workshop in Manchester to learn bits of the choreography from Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy I had a personal interest in this ballet (see La Bayadere Intensive Day 3: No Snakes 17 Aug 2016). As the experts performed the steps that Jane had taught us my fingers traced the steps. It was like the icing on the cake, the fulfilment of last August's intensive. I felt even more chuffed with myself for attending the intensive than I did in August,"  (see Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere 14 Nov 2016).
Now KNT, which offers classes in the studios of the Northern Ballet School in  Manchester, proposes another series of intensives in jazz, musical theatre and contemporary as well as ballet in August. The ballet intensives will be taught by Jane Tucker again.  As I have noted more than once, she is an excellent teacher.  She has already taught me Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker as well as La Bayadère.  

These intensives tend to fill up quickly so if you want to join Wendy and me at the barre, get in touch with Karen Sant through her Facebook page.

We’re a Bunch of Adult Ballet ‘Super’ Commuters!

Wendy McDermott

If you live in a small town, chances are there are few opportunities to take part in adult ballet classes, let alone dance of any style. It would be my guess that most local dance schools focus their time and attention on dance for school age children and very little beyond that. Needless to say, those of us that have the freedom and facility to do so, travel many miles each week in search of classes to suit our age, level, ability and so on. Granted, an adult class may range in age from 18 to 70 years or more, however, it’s the love of the form that keeps us coming back for more. For some, it’s not just the chance to share a studio with their peers, but it’s a place where friendships are formed, nurtured and held dear. A recent straw poll amongst fellow adult ballet dancers revealed that some of us make a round trip journey of between 18-65 miles for our regular class, travelling up to an hour at a time per single journey.

The lengths we’ll go to for our art doesn’t rest there. Some of us have travelled from the North/Yorkshire to Manchester, Birmingham and London to take part in drop-in classes, one-day workshops to three-day intensives and rehearsals for shows. I think you’ll agree that’s quite a commitment and shows just as much dedication as our younger counterparts (not least by the number of leotards, ballet skirts, leg warmers and other dancewear we ‘need’ to buy – dear friend you know who you are and I’m doing my best to catch up).

It was about this time last year that I started to look for ballet Summer intensives for adults, as I had seen so many advertisements for young people to attend the same, for a week or more. Disheartened by what I thought was very little opportunity for adults to dance beyond their class of 60-90 mins per week, I tweeted a comment expressing my (I guess) frustration at becoming invisible as an adult dancer. This turned out to be one of the best things I did, as, through various new followers and chatting with other dancers (and more thorough research on the internet), discovered many more opportunities to dance than I could have imagined.

If you’re one of those people seeking new adventures in your personal ballet journey then I guarantee that those who’ve taken the plunge will say they wouldn’t miss it if at all possible. I’ve read blogs and had conversations at class where dancers feel that they’re not improving, but I believe (and I’m sure there’ll be some research somewhere to back up the belief) that the more you spread your wings; experience new environments, new teachers, you’ll soon start to notice some improvement in your dance. It might only be small – maybe better coordination of port de bras with the steps, or pick up a dance combination just that little bit quicker. But then return to your regular class and you’ll notice your improvement straight away.

Happy dancing folks!

New Moves - The Photos No. 1

New Moves 26 June 2017,
Photo Michael Schnater
(c) 2017 Dutch National Ballet All Rights Reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company 

I reviewed last Monday's New Moves gala on 27 June 2017. I have now received some lovely photos by Michael Schnater of the performance from Richard Heideman, the company's press manager which I shall publish over the next few days. Here is the first which I believe to be a shot from Clotilde Tran-Phat's In Limbo. More tomorrow.

Friday, 30 June 2017

More than "Dancing Bananas": Chantry Dance's Demystification of Contemporary Dance

Halifax Victoria Theatre
Author: Space Monkey
Reproduced licensed by the user
Source Wikipedia

Chantry Dance Company  Demystifying Contemporary Dance 29 June 2017, 19:00  Halifax Victoria Theatre

Chantry Dance Company is a family enterprise based in Grantham in the East Midlands which was already famous for its parish church with its chained bible and magnificent spire, its biennial science festival in honour of Sir Isaac Newton the most famous scholar of the town's grammar school who was born and raised nearby, its Beehive pub with its living inn sign and, of course, the grocer's shop in which Baroness Thatcher, our first woman Prime Minister was born. Chantry Dance has recently added to the fame of that handsome market town with their performances and school.

I first came across Chantry Dance just over three years ago when I allowed myself to be dragged onto the stage of the Lincoln Drill Hall by Gail Gordon to take part in a dance workshop called Dream Dance where four of us created and danced a modern ballet to accompany the company's performance of The Sandman (see Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance 10 May 2017). That was the first time I had danced in public and it emboldened me to put my name down for Northern Ballet Academy's  end of term show (see The Time of my Life 28 June 2014) and a number of other shows right down to last May's MoveIt in the Dancehouse on Oxford Road in Manchester (see "Show!" The Video 10 Jun 2017). But for Chantry Dance, it is unlikely that I would I have tried any of that which would have been a pity because I have also found out that performance is essential to dance education.

But I digress.  Chantry Dance has expanded the show it performed in Lincoln in 2014 into a full-length work which it is taking on tour (see The Sandman Tour 27 Jan 2017) including the North (see Chantry Dance goes North 14 March 2017). To prepare audiences for that work the company's directors, Paul Chantry and Rae Piper, are visiting some of the venues in which they will perform with an audio-visual presentation called Demystifying Contemporary Dance  (see Demystifying Contemporary Dance 1 June 2017). I caught them yesterday in Halifax in the bar of the Victoria Theatre.

Having seen hundreds if not thousands of ballet and other dance performances over the last 50 years, having kept this blog since 2013, having attended adult ballet classes for most of that time and having read loads of books and articles on all forms of dance I doubted that there was anything Paul and Rae could tell me in a PowerPoint presentation that I did not already know. I was wrong,  I learned a lot last night.

Rae started her presentation with exploding some myths about contemporary dance such as "It's all about dancing bananas" with a great slide of dancers in banana shaped tutus. She and Paul started with the characteristics of classical ballet (Paul trained at Central and Rae has been dancing since she was 5) and then the history of dance. They illustrated various points with a dance or demonstration.  So, the question "will you marry" me was reflected in a balletic flourish of the arms about the head ending with the right hand pointing to the ring finger.

They proceeded to the divergence from the classics such as The Rite of Spring, Les Noces and L'Après Midi d'un Faune by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, Isadora Duncan where Rae danced a few steps from one of her routines, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and finally to Mats Ek, Wayne McGregor and Sir Matthew Bourne of our own time and a summary of their respective contributions to dance. They listed some of the characteristics of modern dance and Paul appeared in a boiler suit and brush to demonstrate all of those.  The evening ended with a duet from The Sandman which the company will dance on the main stage in September.

There followed a Q & A and a mingling wth the audience which would have continued all night had an official not reminded us with a gentle "Eh Up!" that he had a home to go to even if we didn't. There will be similar presentations next month in Andover, Horsham and Lincoln and if you live in or near any of those places I would advise you to go.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Ultimate Masterclass

Richard MacDonald working with Sergei Polunin
Author Richard MacDonald
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence

It will not surprise readers that Sergei Polunin masterclass at Danceworks between 13:00 and 14:30  on 18 July 2017 is sold out. There is a waiting list although I am sure that must be as long as the River Nile by now but if you want to put your name down in the hope that everyone ahead of your drops out you will find the link on Danceworks 2017 Ballet Summer Masterclasses page.

I have only seen him dance once at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School Gala at Sadler's Wells in 2013 and I remember that he was pretty impressive (see More Things I do for my Art - Autumn Gala of Dance and Song  30 Sept 2013). He had just flown in from Moscow and had a taxi waiting outside the theatre to rush him back to Heathrow where he hoped to catch his flight home.

He has changed ballet companies quite a lot over the years which does not endear him to everybody but his formidable talent is undeniable as I noted in Sergei Polunin 3 March 2017 when I reviewed his film Dancer and his video Take me to Church.

If you miss Polunin's you can still attend a masterclass with Nathalie Harrison, Melissa Hamilton or Ivan Putrov later in July and they are also special.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

New Moves 2017

Standard YouTube Licence

Dutch National Ballet New Moves Music Theatre, Amsterdam, 26 June 2017 20:15

I have been following the Dutch National Ballet for several years now and have seen some great shows such as Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari and Coppelia (see Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016 and Brandsen's Coppelia  12 Dec 2016) and Natalia Makarova's La Bayadère (see Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere 14 Nov 2016), but never have I admired that company more than I did last night. New Moves is a gala of work by some of the company's most talented young choreographers.  All of those pieces were good and several were outstanding.  I cannot think of any other company that stages galas like New Moves every year and I struggle to think of another that would be capable of doing so.

New Moves is intended to close the Amsterdam ballet season just as the gala in September, which I attended in 2015 and 2016, opens it (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015 and Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 6 Sept 2016). As on opening night, there was "a swinging afterparty in the foyers of the theatre" where it would have been possible to meet the choreographers and dancers.

The programme began with Clotilde Tran-Phat's In Limbo.  This was a work for 8 dancers choreographed to a score by Nicholas Robert Thayer. The title and programme notes suggest that the choreographer was inspired by the following words of Dante:
"Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out, but even Hell itself would not receive them for fear the damned might glory over them" (The Divine Comedy, Hell Canto 8).
All but one of the dancers appeared in what seemed to be surgical gowns. That other dancer was in a tight fitting skin coloured costume.  It ended with all the dancers in similar costumes and some words spoken in English which I believe to be those of John E Visitc. Having read the programme notes after seeing the piece and having once read Dante I guess the white gowns perhaps represented spirits trapped in a region from which they could not escape. It complemented the last work of the evening which was also about a sort of limbo.

Chanquito van Hoewe was the only choreographer with two works in the show.  He is a talented singer-songwriter as well as an accomplished dancer and choreographer and he took to the stage with a guitar in his second piece.  A woman just behind me in the auditorium whooped with a piercing ululation the moment he picked up the instrument.  The first of his works was a solo for Daniel Robert Silva whom readers will remember was my outstanding young male dancer for 2016 (see The Terpsichore Titles: Outstanding Young Dancers of 2016 28 Dec 2016). It was called Echoes Through Time and the programme notes indicate why:
"As we all take our journey on this planet of life
Life will always seem to change
Life will always die
Life will always be born
Life shall always seem to be cruel
Life shall always and forever be beautiful
As life travels through the echoes of time in our own minds."
It was danced beautifully by Silva. As he took his applause he appeared at one point quite overawed by the audience's response. He thrust his head no his hands as though he was about to burst into tears.

Bruno da Rocha-Pereira, who, like Silva, is from Brazil danced Pages without End (which he had created in collaboration with Robin van Zutphen) with yet another compatriot. Priscylla Gallo. This was a beautiful duet to the music of Max Richter When she came back. Gallo is one of several hugely talented artists who began their careers in the Junior Company and whom I follow closely. It was one of my favourite performances of the evening.

The only ballet to require a dramaturge was Bastiaan Stoop's Brighter than Gold.  It was also one of the few works for which the choreographer had commissioned costumes from a designer rather than relying on the company's wardrobe. Thr dramaturge, in this case, was Fabienne de Vegt and the designer Dieter de Cock. The work was a solo for Nathan Chaney dressed in a hoodie. Above him was a single light bulb which was explained as follows in the programme notes:
"In an abandoned window
Light vs darkness and vice versa a never ending battle.
Like the endless times she told me to leave, knowing I would stay. Left alone, the same own non-goodbye ...... Choosing between nothing and emptiness, either way, just me. My energy and my prode hoping that door will one day open once again."
The music, Jon Hopkins's atmospheric Abandon Window, seems to have been the inspiration for the work.

Van Hoeve's second work, Hopeless Romantics, was a solo for the talented Canadian dancer Theo Duff Grant whom I first saw in Ballet Bubbles last year.  Van Hoeve sang his own composition Shame on Me.  In the programme notes, van Hoeve stated that he had created a new wave ballet for the "hopeless romantics" such as the characters in Swan Lake and Tristan and Isolde and perhaps even members of the audience. It was a very popular piece and earned deafening applause.

The first half was rounded off with Christopher Pawlicki-Sinclair Voyagers which drew its inspiration from the NASA probes through interstellar space carrying images of life on earth. This was an upbeat piece for eight dancers to Peter Gregson's Held and Time.  The audience loved it and so did I.

During the interval, I met Remco van Grevenstein who had very kindly reviewed the company's Onegin for me earlier this year (see (see Onegin 2 April 2017) and another of my Dutch Facebook friends who teaches ballet in IJsselstein some 30 miles south of Amsterdam. My teacher friend was accompanied by two of her students.  I asked whether I could attend one of their adult ballet classes next time I am in the Netherlands and was told that I could.  I warned my friend that I was hopeless at pirouettes but I enjoy jumping to which one of the students offered to jump with me. One of my teachers refers to her teachers and students as a "family". I think that is right but I would go so far as to say that there is such a thing as a "worldwide adult ballet family".

Sebastian Galtier had created Step Addition to the music of René Aubry's Steppe for the Noverre workshop in Stuttgart some tears ago and had brought it back to Amsterdam to see how a Dutch audience would take to it. Danced beautifully by Daniel Carmargo, one of the company's principals, and  Nancy Burer, one of my favourite young dancers, it went down a treat with the crowd.  He said in the programme notes that he hoped that the audience reaction would give him inspiration to do some more.  He should now have all the inspiration that he needs so we can look forward to more work from him.

As well as coordinating the whole event (see Principato moves to a Bigger Stage 30 May 2017), Cristiano Principato created, and danced in, my favourite work of the evening.  He based his work on the music of Herny Purcell, our first great composer. This was a work for four dancers and his casting was impeccable.  He chose Silva to accompany him in the first and last movements and Khayla Fitzpatrick and Fabio Rinieri to dance the others.  Della Lo' Milano dressed Principato and Silva in 18th-century century wigs and jackets. They turned and travelled in complete unison.  Fitzpatrick appeared in a mask which Rinieri lifted. In his programme notes Principato remarked:
"this ballet wants to explore the essence of being an artist and performer. It shows how we 'wear' a different identity on stage and how demanding it is to completely become another character and forget whatever has been going on in our personal life, the moment we take out mask off."
I was reminded of the scene in Kenneth Tindall's Casanova where Casanova meets Bellino. The removal of the masks charts the development of trust as I described in Casanova Unmasked on 16 Feb 2017. Like Tindall, Principato shows what some critics call musicality. I prefer to use the term "sensitivity to music". Principato's teacher Ernst Meisner shows that quality in all his work as does Tindall.  It is odd that Purcell's work is not used more often as it works well in ballet. José Limón used Purcell's music in The Moor's Pavane which Birmingham Royal Ballet dance so well (see Birmingham Royal Ballet brings Shakespeare to York 18 May 2016).

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.

Passing Shadows by the company's principal, Remi Wörtmeyer, was another gripping work though more for the choreography than the staging. There was an explosion of applause before the curtain began to fall as Wörtmeyer spun his fellow Australian Juliet Burnett of the Flanders Ballet inches from the floor. This was a work for four dancers to Rachmaninov's Cello Somata in G Minor Op 19 Slow. This was a work for four dancers the other two being Jingjing Mao and Clemens Fröhlich. Wörtmeyer is credited with painting the sets and designing the costumes though they were sourced from the company's wardrobe and props departments.

The finale was Milena Siderova's Withdrawn.  Siderova had created Full Moon for Bart Engelen who is now with the Norwegian Ballet. In that work, Engelen struggled with a pillow to the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet which impressed me greatly when I first saw it (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015). I expected much from her next work and I think that we got it. Withdrawn was a work for 10 dancers to the music of Emilie Satt's Butterfly. It appears to have been inspired by a passage from Carol Becker's essay Thinking in Place, Art, Action and Cultural Protection of a dystopian future in which human social interaction is replaced by the interaction of electronic devices. Each of the dancers carried a torch which I guess was reminiscent of the screen of a mobile phone. They seemed to wander in a sort of limber rather like the lost souls in surgical gowns in Tran-Phat's In Limbo that launched the show.

The audience rose as one as soon as the curtain rose and we stayed on our feet through all the curtain calls. There were bouquets for all the dancers, the men as well as the women. And such original bouquets too. They seemed to be arranged around gladioli. We clapped until our palms were sore and cheered until we became hoarse and rightly so for we had seen something wonderful.

I would dearly have loved to have congratulated Principato and his team of dancers and choreographers in person at the party that followed the show. I know from the opening night galas of 2015 and 2016 that the company knows how to celebrate and the company had given me a voucher for the bar. But I had a plane to catch in the morning and it was already late. In order to be sure that I would make my flight, I had booked into an hotel near the airport.  I found to my cost after last September's opening night gala that the underground and suburban railway services in Amsterdam close down very much earlier than those in London and that taxis fleece their fares mercilessly at night. Even Uber is expensive after dark. I could not afford to be caught out a second time.

Throwing a party for the audience on special occasions is a lovely idea for it cements the relationship between the company and its patrons. The Dutch National Ballet seems to cherish its patrons and they, in turn, support the company.  Too often in England, I often get the feeling that the audience is almost an irrelevance.  I suspect that may be because companies here rely so much on Arts Council England for their funding. It is different in Wales, or at least in Newport, where I detect a similar bond between Ballet Cymru and its audience to the one that subsists between the Dutch public and their National Ballet. That may be one of the reasons why I warm so much to the national ballet companies west of Offa's Dyke and east of the North Sea.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Top Cats: the NSCD and Northern Ballet Academy End of Year Show

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Leeds CAT End of Year Show, 24 June 2017, 15:00 Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

In The Lowry CAT 27 May 2016 I wrote:
"There are in England nine Centres for Advanced Training in Dance ("CAT") which identify children and young people with exceptional talent for dance and develop them through contact with leading dancers, teachers and choreographers."
According to the What are CATS? page of the Dance CATs website, there are now 12 and two of them are in Leeds, namely the Academy of Northern Ballet and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance ("NSCD"). Yesterday the Academy and NSCD held end of year shows at the NSCD's Riley Theatre. As I am a Friend of the Academy as well as the company, I support it in every way I can. Thus, I found myself at the matinee performance at 15:00.

Yesterday's visit was my first to the NSCD and, consequently, I did not know the layout of the theatre when I booked my ticket over the internet.  I had selected D7 in the stalls thinking that it would give me a good view as it was pretty close to the stage. It turned out to be a restricted view because the audience is seated in a semicircle in very solid upright, wooden chairs that are more like church pews than seats in an auditorium. As a result, I had a grandstand view of the wings at stage right but I could see hardly anything of stage left. That was only a problem in the last piece, Echo by Matthew Slater, because the work opens with several dancers' supporting another standing upright. It was a very impressive sight which must have required a lot of practice by the dancers and their choreographer.

The programme consisted of 10 works half of which were presented by the Academy and the other half by the NSCD.  The show opened with Greeting which had been created by Yoko Ichino, Cara O'Shea and Siobhan Camkin for all the Academy's students to music by Ottorino Respighi from La Boutique Fantasque. It introduced the Academy and was the first opportunity for the audience to see the capabilities and discipline of those talented young people. Next came Headspace by the NSCD students who were equally impressive in their genre. The work was choreographed by Krista Vuori of Frantic Assembly and was described as "An exploration into the questions we ask ourselves and thoughts that randomly enter into our mind everyday." There was some speech some of which was inaudible but that did not matter too much because it was a dance piece and the sentiments were clear enough from the dancers' movements. The rest of the show alternated between ballet and contemporary dance and ended with Slater's Echo.

All the contributions were good and I enjoyed them all but there were three works that stood out for me particularly.  One of these was Headspace which I have described above.   Another was The Reel scene from La Sylphide which Cara O'Shea had adapted skilfully. It was pretty faithful to Bournonville's choreography but, whenever I see dancers with folded arms, I ask myself whether that great choreographer had ever actually seen Highland or even Scottish country dancing. Not once since I was dragooned into making up the numbers for a Dashing White Sergeant at the Celtic Society's bejants' ceilidh have I ever seen anyone in Scotland dance like that but I think only someone as august as Bourne (Sir Matthew that is) dare contradict Bournonville (see Sir Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling Montage on YouTube). The last that stood out was Echo which was a perfect way to end the show.

One of the functions of the CATs is to prepare their students for vocational training. The programme listed the destinations of this year's final year students and they are very impressive. Two are off to Northern Ballet School in Manchester which celebrates its 40th anniversary today. Congratulations! Many of my favourite teachers at both KNT and the Academy trained there. Others are going to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, The Hammond School, Trinity Laban, Urdang Academy and many other famous institutions. And to remind us that dance provides great mental, as well as physical, training, one of the students is on her way to med school at Cambridge (Caius I presume). I wish each and every one of those students well in his or her career and look forward to seeing at least some of them on stage again.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Northern Ballet says Goodbye to Takahashi, Solari and Curnier

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I am very sorry to say goodbye to Jeremy Curnier and Lucia Solari who are on their way to Germany's northern ballet at Kiel which is a few miles from the Danish border. I wish them well in their new company. Kiel is a very pleasant little town about the size of Hull. I went there once after driving all the way from Copenhagen to Esbjerg and finding that my hotel restaurant (and all the other restaurants in Esbjerg) were closed at not much later than afternoon teatime. Even though it was an extra hour's drive to Kiel everything was open. There is a history of the ballet company on the Kiel Theatre's website which starts off with the words: "Tanz hat in Kiel lange Tradition" ("There is a long tradition of dance in Kiel") though "long" in this context seems to be over 25 years. They seem to do Swan Lake and The Nutcracker regularly as well as a sprinkling of new work and there is a season for new choreographers.

I am also sorry that I will no longer be able to see Hironao Takahashi though he at least is remaining in the company with a new job as "Assistant Rehearsal Director & Assistant Artistic Director of Short Ballets for Small People". Now he really does have a lange Tradition in dance. I wish him every success in his new role too.

Also leaving are Naomi Bottomer, Isabelle Clough, Jenny Hackwell and Luke Francis. They will be missed too. I can't tell you where they are going or what they are doing but I am sure all my readers will join me in wishing them well in whatever they do and wherever they go.

Happily, Northern Ballet is recruiting new dancers.   They include
  • Ailen Ramos Betancourt who was a guest artist in Casanova and joins as a Soloist; 
  • Eneko Amorós Zaragoza (Estonian National Ballet); Thomas Holdsworth (English National Ballet School); Ommaira Kanga Perez (Escuela de Ballet Carmina Ocaña y Pablo Savoye); Heather Lehan (Canada’s National Ballet School) will join the corps; and 
  • Andrew Tomlinson, Archie James, Carlotta Pini and Mathilde Lambert (no relation) join as apprentices.
Welcome to each and every one of them.

Finally, I am delighted to see that Victoria Sibson is now a First Soloist, Mlindi Kulashe, Ayami Miyata, Kevin Poeung and Abigail Prudames are now Soloists, Sean Bates, Matthew Koon and Matthew Topliss Junior Soloists and Sarah Chun, Riku Ito and Jonathan Hanks are Coryphée.  Well done folks!

Friday, 23 June 2017

All Hail to the Lone Star Dancer

Texas is often called the "Lone Star State" because of the design of its state flag which harks back to the days when a number of English-speaking settlers adopted a flag that consisted of a single star for an insurrection that resulted in Texas's secession from Mexico in 1836 and its eventual absorption into the United States in 1846. Sadly when it joined the Union it did so as a slave state which prolonged one of the most egregious outrages of human history that ended only after a particularly tragic civil war and was followed by the systematic oppression and marginalization of former victims of that outrage and their descendants that have continued until our own times.

However, that is only part of the picture for that state of nearly 28 million people has contributed much to humanity in the arts, science, technology, government, industry and commerce. One of the more illustrious of those 28 million is the dancer Damien Johnson who celebrated his 10th anniversary with Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse last night. We were alerted to the celebration by the cast sheet that urged the audience to
"celebrate our Senior Artist, Damien Johnson's 10-year anniversary with Ballet Black at the final curtain call after Red Riding Hood." 
We did indeed celebrate with a standing ovation for that fine dancer when the company's founder, Cassa Pancho, entered the stage and presented Damien with a massive bouquet of flowers. It was the first time in over 50 years of ballet going that I have seen such recognition for a premier danseur noble as opposed to a ballerina in this country (though it is often done in Russia and other countries) and, as a feminist, I hope it will not be the last.

Yesterday's performance was memorable for me not just for Damien's celebration or even the company's performance but because Cassa introduced me to Anabelle Lopez Ochoa as we were taking our seats for Little Red Riding Hood.  Annabelle had created that ballet for Ballet Black but she has also choreographed A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet (see Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015), Reversible for Danza Contemporanea de Cuba (see Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at the Lowry 19 Feb 2017) and many other works. Earlier this year, she held a workshop at the Barbican in February which I was actually invited to attend and I was very tempted to do so. Had I been a stronger and more skilful dancer I would have accepted readily but I really did not feel up to the challenge. I am very grateful to David Murley for attending the event and reporting back to us in Red Riding Hood Workshop at the Barbican with Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa and Ballet Black.

As Is often the case, I enjoyed Ballet Black's mixed bill the second time even more than I did when I first saw the show (see Ballet Black Triumphant 7 March 2017). I think that is because I noticed details that I had missed before such as the humour in the show like the mewing of the wolf cubs as they harass Grandma, the swooning of the she-wolves as they encounter the Big Bad Wolf's, BBW's gestures such as the swinging of his pyjama string tail and Grandma's battering of BBW with the flowers that he had just given her, I also appreciated the other two works more, particularly Corder's House of Dreams as his Baiser de la Fée which I had seen in Birmingham the night before was still fresh in my memory (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia 22 June 2017). Indeed, I was going to compare and contrast the two works had it not been for Damien's celebration. I had even toyed with "Cordered" as a headline for today's post.

I look forward to seeing Ballet Black again in November when they will venture out of the Beautiful South for a night in Derby on the 15 and two in Leeds on the 17 and 18 where we shall ply them with Taddy Ales, Bradford naans (not all that different from Yorkshire puddings) and parkin. They won't get any of that in their other venues.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia

Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence in Ruth Brill's Arcadia
Photo Ty Singleton
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company

Birmingham Royal Ballet Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia, Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 June 2017, 19:30

The strength of the Birmingham Royal Ballet was on display last night with important works from three generations of choreographers:
  • John Cranko's Pineapple Poll from the company's early days;
  • Michael Corder's Le Baiser de la fée from its recent past; and
  • Ruth Brill's Arcadia which may be a glimpse of its future.
The ballets were presented in reverse order.

By any measure, Arcadia is an important ballet and there are two reasons for its importance. 

First, its artistic quality with a powerful score by saxophonist John Harle, striking designs by Atena Ameri, ingenious lighting by Peter Teigen and of course inspired choreography by Ruth Brill beautifully executed by Brandon LawrenceCéline Gittens as the moon goddess Selene, Brooke RayYijing Zhang and Delia Mathews as the nymphs Pitys, Syrinx and Echo and a chorus that consisted of Laura Day, Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami, Miki Mizutani, Anna Monleon, Alexander Bird, Feargus Campbell, Max Maslen, Lachlan Monaghan and Lewis Turner. 

Secondly, its timing. In the programme, Ruth Brill writes:
"The ballet opens as Pan watches over the nymphs Pitys, Syrinx and Echo from the shadows, In Pan's paradise he is worshipped by his subjects, the chorus. As night falls, Pan is left alone. Selene, the beautiful goddess of the moon appears. Through their interaction, Pan is transformed. Selene uplifts him to become both a better man and a better leader. Finally, we see an Arcadia, now harmonious, after Pan learns that to connect with his people he must respect them. The change in Pan is reflected by the emergence of a more loving and united society."
Now what could be apter than those sentiments after a bruising referendum and general election, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the outrages at Finsbury Park, Borough Market, Westminster Bridge and Manchester?

In my preview, Ruth Brill's Arcadia, 16 Dec 2016 I tipped Arcadia as "one of the works to look out for in the coming year".  Having seen Matryoshka two years ago (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe 31 May 2015) I expected Arcadia to be good but my expectations were exceeded greatly. Arcadia was of quite a different order to Matryoshka. In the medieval guilds, the apprentice craftsman proved his readiness to join the masters with a masterpiece and that is exactly what Brill has done with Arcadia. It is no longer appropriate to refer to her as a "promising" or "up and coming" choreographer. With this work, she is undeniably an established choreographer and, in my humble opinion, she is likely to become a great one.

Jenna Roberts  and artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in
Le Baiser de la fée

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

Michael Corder's Le Baiser de la fée is based on Hans Christian Andersen's Ice Maiden.  I watched this ballet with Gita who had previously seen Ratmansky's version for Miami City Ballet (see Gita Mistry Attending the Ballet in Florida: Miami City Ballet's Program Three 6 March 2017) and I had seen Donald MacLeary's reconstruction of part of Kenneth MacMillan's version with James Hay in Pavlova's sitting room (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 June 2014). The synopsis of Corder's ballet is very much the same as Ratmansky's and he also uses Stravinsky's score. The ballet contains one strong male role (the young man) for Joseph Caley and three strong female ones for the young man's mother (Daria Stanciulescu), his fiancée  (Momoko Hirata) and the fairy who had selected him for her own (Jenna Roberts).

In the interval, I asked Gita which of the two versions of the ballet that she had seen recently she preferred. She replied that she enjoyed them both. Perhaps because this year is the 25th since his death I had driven to Birmingham expecting MacMillan. I found Corder instead but was not in the least disappointed. I am a big fan of Caley, Roberts and Hirata. I loved the sets and costumes. With Sir Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes, David Nixon's The Little Mermaid and Paul Chantry's The Sandman we shall see quite a lot of ballets based on Hans Christian Andersen this year. Last night's performance has whetted my appetite.

Pineapple Poll
Photo Roy Smiljanic
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company


The evening ended with a favourite work by my all-time favourite choreographer which has a personal as well as balletic significance for me as I explained in Doing the Splits 8 May 2016.  Since writing that preview I have seen the work performed by the company at York which I reviewed in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour 2017 13 May 2017:
"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 Day (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."
It was almost the same cast and an equally glorious ending to another great evening of ballet last night. I think the only important substitution was Daria Stanciulescu for Lau Purkis as Mrs Dimple. I believe there may have been some extra bits of choreography and a bit more scenery in Birmingham but maybe I just didn't take it all in last time.

After being reassured by Birmingham resident, Sarah Lambert, in a comment to my review of Coppelia that flowers are presented and even cut flowers thrown at the Hippodrome I had expected the stage to be ankle if not knee deep. It was a premiere of an important new work after all.  Yet another flower free reverence. My only disappoinment of the evening.  So here are digital blooms. First a van load of the choicest roses for Ruth Brill for Arcadia. She did get tumultuous applause when she stepped on stage for her curtain call and I was able to catch her in the bar to tell her in person how much I loved her show but I wish I could have given her flowers. Enormous bouquets also to Brill's leading ladies, Gittens, Ray, Zhang and Matthews, to Roberts and Hirata for their performances in Fée and a whole greenhouse full for the delightful Nao Sakuma for being such a spirited, comical and quite enchanting Poll.