Sunday, 7 January 2018

2017 in Retrospect

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This is when I review the past year and nominate the best ballet, the best dancers, the best choreographer of 2017 and so on.  I have had less time for blogging than in previous years as I have had to focus on the day job, but I have seen almost as many shows as I ever do.

As a Mancunian living in Yorkshire I was delighted by the renaissance of Northern Ballet, our regional company.  That company has taken a few big hits recently with the floods that destroyed the costumes of some of its best loved ballets and the departure of two of its premier or principal dancers, Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt, to San Diego (see Lisa Deaderick Making the leap from dancer to artistic director 10 Dec 2017 San Diego Tribune 2017). However, it had a very good year last year with three new full length ballets.

These were Kenneth Tindall's Casanova which I had expected to be good and was not disappointed (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 and Casanova Second Time Round 7 May 2017). Daniel de Andrade's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which I did not expect to like at all but was moved deeply (see The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet" 10 Sept 2017) and David Nixon's The Little Mermaid which I have yet to review but is, perhaps, his best work yet.  I also enjoyed the company's MacMillan triple bill in Bradford (see Northern Ballet's MacMillan Celebration 4 Nov 2017).

For most of the year I thought Tindall's Casanova would be my ballet of the year but it was pipped at the post on 17 Dec 2017 by Sir Peter Wright's The Sleeping Beauty performed by the mighty Dutch (see The Dutch National Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty" - I have waited nearly 50 years for this show 20 Dec 2017). That show with Maia Makhateli as Aurora and Daniel Camargo as Florimund was outstanding. Also, if I had not seen The Sleeping Beauty I would have had to choose Paris Opera House ballet's Don Quixote with Isabella Boylston as Kitri at the Bastille auditorium on Christmas day as my ballet of the year (see Paris Opera's Don Quixote 26 Dec 2017).

Now although I can't say that Casanova was my ballet of the year I can at least say that Tindall was my choreographer of the year.  I must add that it was no walkover. He faced fierce competition from Ruth Brill with her Arcadia which was certainly my one act ballet of the year (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia 22 June 2017) and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for her Reversible for Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Little Red Riding Hood for Ballet Black (see Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at the Lowry 19 Feb 2017 and Ballet Black Triumphant 7 March 2017). At this point I need to say that the Dutch National Ballet displayed a wealth of choreographic talent in New Moves 2017.  I was particularly impressed for the second year running with Cristiano Principato and Thomas van Damme. We will hear a lot about both of them before long though I have to say that Tom is showing as much promise as a film maker as he is as a choreographer and there is a lot of overlap between the two.

My ballet of the year (as I have already indicated) was the Dutch National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty. Makhateli would have been my ballerina of the year had I not seen Boylston in Paris a week later.  Now she really is a superb virtuoso and dramatic figure and I was so lucky to see her.  Nobody really stood out as male dancer of the year in quite the way that Boylston did but Javier Torres was excellent in Casanova and devastating in Las Hermanas.  Here's what I wrote about him:
"As I noted above, we had a very strong cast. Giuliano Contadini was the poster boy of the show and deservedly so for he danced Casanova very well but Torres was cast perfectly for the role. Powerful, athletic and passionate, he was how I had always imagined the historical Giacomo Casanova. There is a point towards the end when he has to hold a very uncomfortable pose for what must seem like an age. That was when I appreciated just how good he was."
He is also Northern Ballet's sole remaining male premier dancer.

Northern Ballet has more than enough flatterers and fawners not all of whom ever bother to see any other company.  I have never held back from criticizing it when I have felt that criticism was due.   So when I say that it was my company of the year it will know that my compliment is sincere.  I have followed the company ever since its golden age when Christopher Gable was at the helm.  His successor, David Nixon, has also produced fine work such as Madame Butterfly, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Cinderella, Gatsby and now The Little Mermaid as well as commissioning Tindall and Cathy Marston.  The company may have lost two premier dancers but it still has first rate artists such as Torres, Hannah Bateman, Dreda Blow and Ashley Dixon not to mention emerging stars like Mlindi Kulashe. Rachael Gillespie and Abigail Prudames.

Finally a very special, self-indulgent award for my best adult ballet experience of 2017.  Being a bit of a show off I love to perform and one of the highlights of my year was dancing in Move It at The Dancehouse on 13 May 2017. The other was taking part in Martin Dutton's Nutcracker intensive on 16 Dec 2017. That was the weekend that I saw a preview of Sharon Watson's Windrush which I expect to be my leading work of 2018 and Peter Wright's The Sleeping Beauty in Amsterdam. "Weekends don't come any better than that" I tweeted. I don't expect another like it in my lifetime.  As both of those events were organized by Karen Sant of KNT I have to grant her the adult ballet teaching award of 2017.

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