Thursday, 11 January 2018

From Barnsley to Harrogate by way of Moscow and Astrakhan

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Russian State Ballet and Opera Theatre of Astrakhan Romeo and Juliet Royal Hall, Harrogate, 6 Dec 2017. 19:30

The Astrakhan State Opera and Ballet Theatre is nearly 864 miles from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (commonly known as The Bolshoi Ballet Academy) where Tala Lee Turton trained. She is one of a very small number of British students who have studied there. It is one of the most famous ballet schools in the world. Its alumni include Maya Pliesetskaya, Natalia Osipova, Sergei Filin and other great names.

Although I saw her on the stage for the first time only on 6 Dec 2017 I have been following her for several years.  One of the reasons why I followed her is that she comes from Barnsley which is almost the nearest town of any size to my Pennine fastness. The second and more important is that she kept one of the most readable and informative blogs of her time at the Academy.  Ms Lee-Turton has now graduated from the Academy and joined the ballet company of the Astrakhan State Theatre. I am very pleased to see that she has started to blog again and has already written about How to Choose Music to Choreograph To For Classical and Contemporary Dance and Choreography Ideas for Classical Dance - Where Should You Start? 8 Jan 2018.

 By Fred Schaerli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Common
According to Wikipedia Astrakhan is a city of some 520,000 inhabitants in the far South West of Russia not far from the Caspian sea.  It has an interesting history and some impressive buildings including its own Kremlin and the State Theatre.  That theatre was built between 2007 and 2011 and there is a virtual tour on the home page of the theatre website.

Shortly after it was built, Konstantin Uralsky was asked to set up a ballet company for the new theatre.  He recruited young graduates from the Moscow State Academy, the Vaganova Institute of St Petersburg and other Russian ballet schools.

Although the company performs a full season in Astrakhan and tours Russia it also spends a lot of time in the United Kingdom.  I caught up with it at the Royal Hall in Harrogate where it performed Romeo and Juliet on 6 Dec 2017.  I have seen a lot of versions of that ballet by Lavrovsky, Maillot, Pastor, James, Nureyev and, of course, MacMillan but this version was different from any any I had seen before. It was choreographed and staged by Uralsky and had several original touches in its choreography and orchestration. I particularly liked the sword fights.

Considering that the sets and costumes had to be transported all the way from Southern Russia and trundled around the United Kingdom and Harrogate was their last stop I was impressed  by their freshness.  I was similarly impressed by the energy of the dancers.  It was the first cold snap of the Winter and they had been performing more or less continuously since the 14 Oct but they showed no sign of tiredness.

Unfortunately, I have no idea who was on stage on 6 Dec other than Ms Lee-Turton because there were no cast lists and the programme more than one name for several of the roles.  The leads were good as was Tybalt, the nurse Friar Lawrence and Lady Capulet. So, too, were the rest of the cast  but the artists I singled out are entitled to take a special bow.  Ms Lee-Turton, a member of the corps, made two appearances in the crowd scenes.  It was good to see her on stage and to meet her briefly after the show.

A lot of Russian ballet companies tour the United Kingdom these days and they vary enormously in quality. This is one of the better ones. They are well trained and well managed. They bring a full orchestra.  They have a home in Astrakhan where they can rehearse and develop their productions. They are obviously not in the same league as the Bolshoi or Mariinsky but they are still young and they have potential. The population of Astrakhan is about the same as that of Bristol from where Western Theatre Ballet sprang in 1957 or Leeds which is now the home of Northern Ballet.  Would anybody who followed Peter Darrell or Laverne Meyer and their dancers in the early days have anticipated that their troupes would become the world class companies that they are today?  There is no reason why the same should not happen to these artists from Astrakhan.

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