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.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Mariinsky's Bayadère

Bolshoi Theatre, St Petersburg

















Mariinsky Ballet, La Bayadère, Royal Opera House, 12 Aug 2017, 14:00

Yesterday afternoon's performance of La Bayadère by the Mariinsky Ballet met all my hopes and expectations. As I have had to cut out ballet for the last few weeks I had promised to treat myself to something nice once I had done all that I was supposed to do. And what a treat La Bayadere turned out to be.  It was an enchanting performance. A dramatic story. Awesome choreography. Thrilling dancing. Lavish sets and costumes. And, of course, Minkus's magnificent score.

I have often wondered why La Bayadère is not performed more often, particularly by companies outside Russia.  I think that at least part of the answer must be that it cannot be easy to stage or at least to stage well.  It requires considerable dramatic skills on the part of the lead dancers as well as technical virtuosity because they have to communicate powerful emotions to the audience. These include love as it subsists between Solor and Nikiya in the first and last acts, jealousy on the part of the brahmin and Gamzatti (a jealousy in the case of the latter that is so strong that it induces her to commit murder), the conflict between love and duty on the part of Solor when forced to choose between his ruler's daughter and his lover and despair and perhaps a sense of betrayal on the part of Nikiya when she refuses the brahmin's antidote to the serpent's venom because she can't see the point of living if she can't have Solor. The success of a performance of this ballet depends to a large extent on the ability of the dancers to communicate those emotions and especially the conflicts inside the heads of Solor and Nikiya.

I think Yekaterina Chebykina who danced Nikiya, Timur Askerov who was her Solor, Nadezhda Batoeva who danced Gamzatti and Soslan Kulaev, the brahmin, did pretty well. Chebykina impressed me particularly because of her expressive countenance and especially her doe like eyes. At times she seemed to dance with her eyes much in the way that Antoinette Sibley used to do. It was in that regard and for that reason that I admired Sibley even more than Margot Fonteyn though I loved Fonteyn too. Askerov is a fine dance-actor too though I was thrilled most by his mighty leaps. Batoeva also impressed me with her virtuosity. As for the brahmin, Kulaev communicated his jealousy, his cunning, his malevolence to the entire house.

In the Mariinsky's version of La Bayadère the golden idol is just one of several divertissements at Solor and Gamzatti's wedding celebrations whereas in other versions the idol seems to central to the story. So great is the offence of Nikiya's betrayal in the eyes of the gods that they cause a statue to come to life rather like the Commendatore in Don Giovanni. It was my favourite dance when I was learning the choreography last year (see La Bayadere Intensive Day 2: Idols and Disembodied Shades 17 Aug 2016).  Nothing like that yesterday but it was still a very popular dance which earned Vasily Tkachencko some loud cheers as well as sustained clapping. Tamara Gimadieva, one of the members of the corps who performed another of the divertissements with a jug, also received a resounding cheer.

Although I have not heard anybody mention it, this year marks the 140th anniversary of the first performance of La Bayadère.  According to our cast sheet, it was first danced at the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg on 23 Jan 1877.  "The Bolshoi Theatre where?" I hear you say.  "I have heard of a Bolshoi in Moscow but not St Petersburg. Well, apparently there was a "bolshoi" in St Petersburg too but the authorities closed it down for health and safety reasons and the company moved to the Mariinsky Theatre where it has remained to this day. There is an engraving of the St Petersburg bolshoi at the top of this blog. I have never got round to studying Russian (though it is on my "to do" list to stop me losing my marbles should I ever retire) but I think "bolshoi" just means "big" hence "bolshevik" which has somehow become "bolshie" (troublemaker) in our language.

I should just say a few words about the sets and costumes.  The sets were gorgeous.  I particularly liked the stuffed elephant and the palanquins for the wedding ceremony.  The costumes were also lavish, particularly the rajah and the brahmin's outfits. Evgeny Ponomarev has to be congratulated. Also, there was some ingenious lighting particularly of Nikiya and the shades in the last act.  In every regard, it was a very polished production.

There was just one disappointment about yesterday's show and that was the lukewarm response from the audience. There's usually a ripple of applause to welcome the principals. Not yesterday. There should have been flowers all round for all the leading ladies. Not a single petal.  And the curtain calls should have lasted and lasted. Those dancers gave us their all yesterday and we should have thanked them properly. I know London sees a lot of ballet and it takes a lot to impress a Cockney but yesterday's matinee was a great deal better than a lot of shows that have earned more rapturous applause. I watched the ballet with a fellow Mancunian and we agreed that the Lowry or Palace would have risen as one. I think so too would New Yorkers who also see a lot of ballet or even maungy old Yorkers in the Alhambra or Grand. Londoners are spoilt. Too damn snooty for their own good. 

So it is up to me to do justice to the artists.  Well, here are some digital roses for Chebykina, Batoeva and each of the other super talented women dancers:
Author Jebulon
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And a very special single malt for each of the men:

Authr Sansvase
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Xander Parish will tell you all about malt whisky if you don't already know.

Have a good trip back to Russia, folks, and come back soon.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Welcoming the Mariinsky: Looking Forward to the Original Bayadere


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The Mariinsky have been in London since the 24 July but this afternoon's matinee performance of La Bayadere will be the only time I shall get to see them on this visit. I usually get to the ballet at least once a week and sometimes much more often, but, unless you count Citrus Arts' Savage Hart and Northern Ballet's preview of The Little Mermaid, today's performance of La Bayadere will be the first show that I will have attended since the Dutch National Ballet's New Moves in Amsterdam at the end of June. I have gone to a few classes but that has been just about it.

The reason I have seen and done so little ballet for the last few weeks is that I have been invited to address the Cambridge IP Law Summer School on Thursday. I don't get a fee but I do get a chance to attend the week's conference which normally costs £3,498 to hear some of the leading practitioners in my field. The topic on which I have been asked to speak is a controversial one on a jurisdiction that allows companies and other private investors to claim compensation from foreign governments in certain circumstances.  There have been two big arbitration decisions on claims brought under this jurisdiction, one of which was decided just a few months ago. As I want to do a good job I have focused all my time and energies on legal research over the last 6 weeks.

I have now written my hand out and sent my Powerpoint to the conference organizer.  I can now concentrate on today's performance.  It should be good. The Mariinsky are the successors to the Imperial Russian Ballet which first performed the work in St Petersburg just over 140 years ago. I will get the chance to see three of the company's rising stars, namely Nadezhda Batoeva, Timur Askerov and Yekaterina Chebykina. I shall watch the ballet with my classmate and friend, Yoshie, who also attended Jane Tucker's La Bayadere intensive at KNT last year (see La Bayadère Intensive Day 1: There's Life in the Old Girl Yet 16 Aug 2016,  La Bayadere Intensive Day 2: Idols and Disembodied Shades 17 Aug 2016 and La Bayadere Intensive Day 3: No Snakes 17 Aug 2016). We shall watch and learn what we should have done from the experts.

La Bayadere is not performed very often in this country.  Most of the versions that we see trace their origins to the Mariinsky by one route or another. One big exception is Stanton Welch's for the Houston Ballet. There was an appeal last year for funds to bring that ballet to Birmingham (see A Birmingham Bayadere 24 Nov 2016). Alas, that project was scuppered when the local authority's reduced its subvention to the company (see How Nikiya must have felt when she saw a snake 21 Jan 2017). I have  seen the trailer for Welch's ballet and several extracts but it is the following parody that really whets my appetite for his show:


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And I used to think Americans lacked a sense of humour.

Jane Tucker will offer another intensive on Coppelia the week after next for which I have to get back into shape quickly. I am packing my ballet bag in the hope of finding some drop in adult ballet classes in or around Cambridge next week.  Do any of my readers have any suggestions?  I should like to take a class in the East of England but if there are none London is not too far away.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Sophie Rebecca's Adult Ballet Class Map



Adult ballet students everywhere owe a great debt of gratitude to Sophie Rebecca for compiling this map of adult dance classes around Britain. We move heaven and earth each week to attend our usual class but sometimes work gets in the way or we go on holiday or maybe the teacher has flu.  If we had to miss a class for any of those or other reasons there was very little we could do about it until now. Disappointing because a day without ballet is like a day without sunshine.

Now, thanks to Sophie, if we miss a class or find ourselves away from home maybe there is something we can do about it.  Perhaps we can find another class elsewhere.  Experiencing another studio, meeting new people, observing how another teacher works, picking up a useful tip, perhaps even having a previously undiagnosed fault pointed out and corrected is always worthwhile.

Sophie's map shows just how popular adult ballet has become.  There is hardly a town of any size without a thriving class.  But there are sure to be many that we have missed and that is where you can help.  If you are a teacher, school proprietor or student drop Sophie or me a line. If you contact me I shall make sure she gets the message. Also, if you have attended any of those classes and are willing to write a short review I should be very glad to publish it. Especially if you could tell us stuff that will not be on the teacher's website such as the nearest parking, bus stop, tube or railway station, whether there is a pianist, where you can change and how much the classes costs.

There are great swathes of the country such as the whole of the south coast where I know there are plenty of classes but I don't know where. And I can't believe there are no classes in Northern Ireland or the East of Scotland. So lets help Sophie complete the map.

Changing the subject every so slightly, one of the things I love about about ballet is its universality. Tp show you what I mean, there is a school in Moscow called Dance Secret. Why it has an English name I really don't know but it has an adult ballet class as you can see from this YouTube video. This film appears to be an exhibition by the members of the Beginners Class.  They are performing to their kids, husbands and boyfriends. They must have been full of nerves before the show.  Look at their satisfaction with a job well done. I have never met those women but I do what they do and it makes me feel so proud of them.

Returning to the map, so long as Sophie allows me to do so I will always link to it. You can access it by clicking the "Adult Ballet Classes" button.