Friday, 21 July 2017
My Thousandth Post
A thousandth post is something of a milestone I think you will agree. It deserves a special article to celebrate the occasion. I have been thinking about the best way to do it and I think a retrospective of the most memorable performances of each of the last four and a bit years would be appropriate. So here goes.
Without a doubt, the most memorable performance of 2013 was the launch of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's tour of the Netherlands at the Stadsshouwburg in Amsterdam on the 24 Nov 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). I had come to Amsterdam to see Michaela DePrince who had joined the company a few months earlier. I had already heard of her because of her success at the Youth America Grand Prix in 2010 and the critical acclaims she had received in South Africa and New York but I was particularly fascinated by her Sierra Leonean origin as I had been married to a Sierra Leonean national for nearly 28 years.
When I saw DePrince dance I described her as "quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while." I have watched her progress in the Dutch National Ballet from élève to soloist with enormous satisfaction for I get the impression that she is a very likeable young woman as well as a fine artist. I once had the pleasure of meeting her at the opening night gala of the 2015/2016 ballet season and "I left the Stopera thinking how that exceptionally talented young dancer was as gracious off stage as she is magnificent upon it" (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2013).
DePrince led me to the Junior Company and its remarkable artistic coordinator Ernst Meisner whom I featured a year later (see Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers 6 Dec 2014) and he, in turn, led me to the Dutch National Ballet which is one of the best companies I have ever seen. That company performed the most memorable performance of the 4 1/2 years that I have been keeping this blog, namely Natalia Makarova's La Bayadère with the excellent Sasha Mukhamedov in the title role on the 13 Nov 2016 (see Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere 14 Nov 2016). Once in a while, a ballerina shines in a role with such brilliance that she makes it her own. Fonteyn did that for me many years ago in Marguerite and Armand as did Sibley as Titania in Frederick Ashton's Dream. For me, Nikiya will always be Mukhamedov.
Of course, Fonteyn might not have shone so brightly in that role had it not been for Nureyev. Sibley was always partnered magnificently by Sir Anthony Dowell. Similarly, Mukhamedov had the most gallant Solor in Jozef Varga. There were many other fine dancers in that matinee including Daniel Robert Silva who danced the bronze idol. He is a man to watch. He first came to my notice in Meisner's No Time Before Time on 14 Feb 2016 which is the best birthday treat I have ever had and he impressed me again on 26 June 2017 in Cristiano Principato's Purcell Variations (see New Moves 2017 27 June 2017).
The shows that impressed me most in 2014, 2015 and 2017 were all by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. They were Gillian Lynne's atmospheric reconstruction of Sir Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals which I saw at Sadler's Wells on 18 Oct 2014 (see A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2014, David Bintley's The King Dances at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 20 June 2015 (see A Special Ballet for a Special Day 23 June 2015) and Ruth Brill's Arcadia also at the Hippodrome on 21 June 2017 (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia 22 June 2017).
The first two of those works were reconstructions though I suspect Miracle in the Gorbals would have been quite an accurate one as Dame Gillian had been in the original production even though she and Henry Danton have said that they cannot recall a single step. However, the score has survived as has the libretto and images of the sets and costumes. The ballet would have evolved had it remained continuously in the repertoire so I think we are as close to the original as we are to the original of any other ballet. We have Dame Gillian to thank for another great work, namely A Simple Man which marked the centenary of L S Lowry's birth. It was the first work by Northern Ballet that I saw after I returned to the North in 1987 and it remains my favourite offering from that company. One of the reasons why I love it so is that it was the last time I saw Christopher Gable and Moira Shearer on stage. I hold both of them in the highest possible esteem. Shortly after I saw that ballet, Gable became artistic director of the company and his term of office was unquestionably its golden age.
Bintley's The King Dances was quite different. Less of a reconstruction because the original pageant lasted all night. More an homage. But an impressive one all the same. Several 17th-century conventions were observed in that nearly all the female roles were danced by men and the stage appeared to be lit at times by torches. But the score was new and, of course, so was the lighting at the end of the ballet that radiated Louis's majesty more effectively than anything available to the royal household at the time. The premiere of the show coincided with the 25th anniversary of the company's move to Birmingham and the 20th of David Bintley's appointment as artistic director. It was danced with Carmina Burana, one of Bintley's most popular ballets.
Brill's Arcadia is a masterpiece. I knew she was talented from Matryoshka but Arcadia reveals brilliance. It is a complex work full of historical, mythical and literary allusions. Any choreographer would be proud of such a work but when one takes into account Brill's youth it is nothing short of prodigious. I am impatient for Brill's next new ballet....... and the next ... and next.
These were the five best shows I have seen since I started the blog but they are not the only precious moments. I have met some lovely people through ballet - great teachers in Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield, London and even Budapest, delightful classmates at all those venues and particularly those in Manchester, knowledgeable ballet lovers in person through the London Ballet Circle and the various friends groups to which I belong as well as many more online through Facebook, twitter and BalletcoForum. I have listened to some impressive presentations and interviews by dancers, choreographers, composers, designers and administrators many of whom I have interviewed for this blog. I have had the opportunity to dance before a living, breathing and paying audience in Leeds and Manchester (see The Time of my Life 28 June 2014 and Show 14 May 2017) and thanks to the ever patient Jane Tucker I have had a go at dancing cygnets, Juliet, knights, shades, Siegfried, sugar plum, swans, guests at the Stahlbaums' party and even a golden idol.
All that within months of the expiration of my three score years and ten expiring. Could anyone wish for anything more?