Thursday, 7 October 2021

Toer

7th Symphony
Author Hans Gerritsen © 2021 Dutch National Ballet, All rights reserved










Dutch National Ballet  Toer  Streamed from the Music Theatre, Amsterdam, 25 Sept 2021, 19:15  and repeated 6 Oct 2021, 19:00

Toer is a double bill in honour of the celebrated choreographer, artist, designer and former dancer, Toer van Schayk.  It consists of two of his ballets: Lucifer Studies and 7th Symphony    Lucifer Studies is a new work which was premiered on 14 Sept 2021.  7th Symphony is described by the programme as one of van Schayk's most successful ballets.  He created it in 1986 and he was awarded the choreography prize of the Dutch Association of Theatre and Concert Hall Directors for the work within a year.   The programme was streamed over the internet from the Amsterdam Music Theatre on 25 Sept and repeated last night,   I watched both transmissions.

Both works were new to me.   They are very different.  The first contains studies that were intended to form part of a full-length ballet based on Vondel's Lucifer.   Work on the ballet has been interrupted by the pandemic but Van Schayk rightly considered that the studies were worth showing. The second piece is based on Beethoven's 7th symphony.   That symphony is one of Beethoven's most famous compositions.  Contrary to the opinion of an eminent ballet critic who really ought to know better that Beethoven is undanceable, the 7th symphony was crying out to be danced and van Schayk has choreographed it beautifully.  While I had to work hard to digest Joep Frannsens's Echoes for Lucifer Studies I could barely sit still and keep silent as the orchestra romped through Beethoven's exuberant work.

I like to think that I am reasonably well-read but I have to confess that until I saw Lucifer Studies I had never heard of Vondel or his play and I fear that few of my fellow Anglophones could claim otherwise.  There is a beautiful open space in the centre of Amsterdam known as Vondel Park and I wonder whether it was named after him.  Joost van den Vondel lived from 1587 to 1689 which encompassed the life of our great poet, John Milton, who lived from 1608 to 1674. I have now had a chance to acquaint myself with Lucifer. Even in translation, Lucifer is impressive and its subject matter is the same as Paradise Lost.  I know that poem well perhaps because I attended the same secondary school as Milton.  I am told by one of his former classmates that Matthew Rowe attended that school too.  Fragments of Milton's verse flashed through my mind as I watched the ballet. From the way the orchestra played, I sensed that Rowe was also inspired by Milton too and that he had communicated that inspiration to each and every musician.

Lucifer Studies
Author Hans Gerritsen © 2021 Dutch National Ballet, All rights reserved












Lucifer Studies had an all-male cast. As I suspect that each of the studies was intended to be danced by a principal or soloist in the full-length work, van Shayk selected some of the company's ablest young dancers.   They included Timothy van Poucke who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the company winning the Radius prize within a very short time of graduating from the Junior Company.   Also in the piece was Martin ten Kortenaar whom I featured in 2014.   Others I recognized were Daniel Robert Silva, Nathan Brhane and Giovanni Princic.  That is not a complete list because I cannot recover the cast list for 25 Sept from the company's website.   Each and every one of those excellent young men impressed me greatly. 

Van Shayk designed the sets and costumes for Lucifer Studies.   The most striking feature of the costumes was that each of the dancers wore a differently coloured right sleeve.   Sometimes the colours of those sleeves were projected onto the backdrop focusing the audience's attention on the solo or duet in question.

Though Lucifer Studies lasts no more than 27 minutes it is a very absorbing work.   I had to watch it twice and discuss it with a dancer friend to get the measure of it.   After the world emerges from the pandemic I fervently hope that resources will be found to enable van Schayk to finish the full-length work.

Young Gyu Choi and Nancy Burer
Author Hans Gerritsen
© 2021 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved






















It is not hard to see why 7th Symphony was an immediate success.  Van Schayk caught the exuberance of the score and amplified it.   The cast was split into two groups lettered "A" and "B".   I regret that I did not record the names of all the dancers on 25 Sept because I thought that the cast list would be available with the repeat   I remember that I admired the performances of Artur Shesterikov and Floor Eimers but there were many others some of whom I did not recognize.   Everyone danced well in that show and I congratulate each and every one of them.   Van Schayk designed the sets and costumes. The women's dresses must have been a joy to wear. 

Of all the online shows that I have seen since the start of the pandemic, this double bill was one of my favourites.  It was a fitting tribute to an extraordinary talent who celebrated his 85th birthday last month.

Friday, 6 August 2021

Dancing in the Penthouse











In Back to the Studio with KNT  I described KNT Danceworks new venue in the ABC Buildings on Quay Street in Manchester and gave practical directions on how to get there, where the park and how to find the studio once inside the premises.   Though not designed as a studio the space is in many important respects superior to the rehearsal studios in the Dancehouse.

If there is sufficient demand the ABC Buildings will host the first studio Day of Dance for nearly two years on 14 Aug 2021.  It is a day on which Karen Sant hires some of the best dance professionals on stage or in the schools to train us.   Those whom she had assembled in the past include Alex Hallas, dancer and choreographer with Ballet Cymru, Harriet Mills, principal ballerina with the Karlsruhe Ballet and Joey Taylor of Birmingham Royal Ballet from the stage as well as great teachers such as Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy and Martin Dutton of the Hammond School.

Next week's programme looks very inviting:

  • Beginner and Pre-Intermediate Ballet Class between 10:00 and 11:30
  • Beginner and Pre-Intermediate Choreograph between 11:30 and 13:00
  • Intermediate and Advanced Balled Repertoire between 13:30 and 15:00
  • Intermediate and Advanced Ballet Class between 15:00 and 16:30

If you want to attend this event (and why wouldn't you) you must register through the Class Manager app as soon as possible.   It will only go ahead if there are at least 15 takers for each event.   If you have not already signed up for the event do so soon.   Karen will need to make a decision at least a week ahead.  I have put my name down for the Pre-Intermediate Class and Choreography sessions.   I look forward to seeing some of you there,

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Back to the Studio with KNT

Manchester Quay Street
Author Mikey Licence CC BY 2.0 Source Wikimedia Commons



















Throughout this pandemic, Karen Sant of KNT Danceworks has kept north country dancers moving and motivated. Frst by transferring her regular classes online. More recently by holding some of those classes in the open air in Castlefield near the Roman fort where Manchester began.  While nothing beats alfresco dancing on a warm summer evening our city is better known for precipitation than sunshine.   On a particularly inclement evening, Karen announced a new venue in the ABC Buildings on Quay Street.  I rolled up there for my regular pre-intermediate ballet class with Karen yesterday.

 As Quay Street was my old stamping ground when I practised in Manchester I had no difficulty in finding the building.  It is located near Cobden House which housed the Manchester District Registry and County Court offices for many years and is now occupied by a set of barristers into which my former chambers merged.  It is a few hundred yards from Spingingfields car park and there is usually some metered street parking nearby if you care to look for it.  It is very close to Deansgate which is the main shopping street of Manchester.  Also, a moderate walk from the nearest tram stop by the Town Hall or Victoria and Piccadilly mainline railway stations.    

One hazard for dancers coming by car is the roadworks in Quay Street and approaches.   The congestion caused by those excavations was horrendous.   The journey from the intersection of the Oldham Road and Swan Street to Spiningfields - which can't be much more than a mile - took almost as long as the 25 miles from Holmfirth to that intersection.  Next time I shall park on the outskirts of the city centre and finish my journey on foot.

The class took place at the top of what I believe to be the B Building of the ABC complex. It was not easy to find because there is no signage. The reception desk was unoccupied and the staff in the cinema bar hadn't a clue though they did their best to point me in the right direction.  Happily, I ran into two other wandering souls.  After eliminating between us just about every landing and staircase in the building we caught a peel of tinkly music that eventually led us to Karen.   Newcomers to the class should enter the building by the first set of doors if coming from Deansgate or the last if coming from Spiningfields, walk down a long corridor to the lifts, take a lift to the top floor and climb the stairs to what appears to have been the penthouse.

Although probably not intended to be a dance studio, that space is an improvement on Studio 2 of the Dancehouse in several respects.  For a start, it has windows along both main walls.  Two doors open onto a balcony with views of central Manchester. The doors also provide good ventilation.  On the other hand, the floor is unfinished, there is no sound system and we have to use the window structures as a barre.  However, the amenity of the space more than made up for its limitations.

Because I was badly delayed by traffic and could not immediately find the class I arrived in the middle of pliés.  Karen took us through all the usual barre exercises except grands battements which she combined with tendus and pirouette practice in the centre.  She also taught us a delightful adagio which we performed in two groups.  We had warm-up jumps and joyful temps leves at the end.

It was a delightful class.   It was good to see so many familiar faces and of course Karen.  Everyone I could see had grins from ear to ear.   At £6.50 this class was a bargain.   To sign up or future ones, register or log on to the KNT Class Manager site and follow the simple directions.  There are also other classes at different levels of several genres on most days of the week,

Friday, 9 July 2021

Giselle Re-imagined

Lichfield Cathedral
Author Nina-no Licence CC BY-SA 3.0 Source Wikimedia

 






















Ballet Cymru, Giselle Livestream from Lichfield Cathedral, 8 July 2021 19:30

Ballet Cymru is not a big company.  If one consults the dancers' page as I tried to do yesterday because there were several artists in the cast I could not recognize, Ballet Cymru appears to have only four members.  Yet Ballet Cymru is capable of staging major full-length classical ballets and often doing them better than many bigger and better-resourced companies.  its Romeo a Juliet is one of the best and its Cinderella is definitely the best - much as I admire the Hampson and Wheeldon versions for Scottish Ballet and HNB.  

Those productions are successful because Darius James and Amy Doughty rethink those ballets for a small cast on the road. They are innovative without being gimmicky.  Their works are of our time yet remain anchored in the classical tradition.  Most importantly, though their artists are from Australia, Bermuda, Italy and Yorkshire, the company is unmistakably Welsh.  Here are two examples of how they work.   If a score does not quite work for them they have the courage to commission a new one.  As often as not, that commission will go to a Welsh composer such as Jack White or Catrin Finch. Another example is how they tell a story.   Romeo a Juliet is set not in renaissance Verona but post-industrial Newport.   The brawl between Montagues and Capulets in Act 1 takes place in the pedestrian underpass to the River Usk.  It is broken up not by a duke but by flashing blue lights.  

James and Doughty applied that formula to their new Giselle which was premiered at Lichfield Cathedral last night.  Although I saw it only on screen I have no doubt that it was a spectacular success.  The camera caught the front row of the audience who rose to their feet at the curtain call. Standing ovations are de rigeur in some parts of the world, but in Lichfield they are rare.  I know that city well because I attended prep school there.

As I knew that James and Doughty had commissioned Finch to write the music I was surprised to hear the opening notes of Adam's overture but it was quickly followed by percussion as the cast entered the stage and shortly afterwards (and my memory may be playing tricks on me here) Bugeilio'r Gwenith GwynAs I tweeted last night Finch's arrangement of Adam with her own work and traditional Welsh airs was one of the reasons for the ballet's success.

The ballet followed the familiar story but with some modern twists.  There are not too many peasants in Newport these days so there was no peasant pas de deux.  Fox hunting is illegal in Wales so there was no ducal hunting party.  Young Welsh women can learn about the men they encounter from their smartphones nowadays so there was no petal picking. But there was still a Giselle danced by Beth Meadway, an Albrecht (Andrea Battaggia), a Hilarion (Yasset Roldan), a Berthe (Hanna Lyn Hughes) and a Bathilde (Natasha Chu).  Other artists, described in the cast list as "friends", were  Robbie Moorcroft, Joe Powell-Main, Madeleine Green, Jakob Myers, Sanea Singh and Jethro Paine.  Chu and Lyn Hughes also appeared in the crowd scenes. 

We at Powerhouse Ballet hold all the dancers of Ballet Cymru in high regard but we have a particular affection for Meadway. She taught us In my craft or sullen art at the Dylan Thomas workshop when Ballet Cymru visited Leeds (see More than a Bit Differently: Ballet Cymru's Workshop and the Launch of the Powerhouse Ballet Circle  29 Nov 2018 Terpsichore).  She also gave us one of the best online company classes ever last year.   Above all, she is a North Country lass - just like most of us.  I already knew that she could dance but I had never seen her act before.  She is at least as good an actor as she is a dancer.  She did not just dance Giselle.   She made us believe that she was Giselle.

Tall and dashing, Battagia was cast well as Albrecht. It was easy to see how Giselle's head was turned by him.  He did not carry a sword but he did have some sort of ID that he carelessly left in a wallet in his coat pocket.  I have always felt a bit sorry for poor old Hilarion.  If anyone deserves to die it is Albrecht and in Dada Masilo's version, he does (see  A Brace of Giselles 15 Oct 2019 Terpsichore).  James and Doughty stick to tradition and he perishes in a horrible way. Roldan danced his role with verve and passion.   The choreography gives him opportunities to demonstrate virtuosity and he took full advantage.  Berthe seems even younger than her daughter which may be why she is described in the cast list as "Giselle's friend".  There is a poignant moment as Berthe comforts Giselle when she first experiences heart trouble.   It is also Berthe who tries to revive Giselle at the end.   

In any production of Giselle, there is a contrast between acts 1 and 2.   In this production, the contrast was marked by the absence of pointe work in act 1.  The women wore soft shoes and turned on demi.  In the spirit world, Myrtha and Giselle were on pointe.  No doubt to emphasize their lightness like Taglioni in La Sylphide or Grisi in the first Giselle.  The wilis were the scariest I have ever seen.   The friends in act 1 became spirits in act 2.  They, therefore, included men who were particularly threatening.   They crawled over their graves like serpents.   No graceful arabesques or penchés.   They were led by Isobel Holland.   The tension between Holland and Meadway was palpable.   Holland like Meadway is an excellent actor. She also taught us at our Dylan Thomas workshop.  We at Powerhouse know that she is delightful in real life but as queen of the wilis she was grisly and venomous.  

The set was simple but robust which will be ideal for touring.   Essentially rectangular slaps with reflective surfaces. As in their other ballets. Ballet Cymru relied on projectors to create scenery or change mood.   One background - ancient Celtic and Latin crosses - was simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. All credit to the lighting designer, Chris Illingworth.  Congratulations also to the costume designer, Derek Tudor.  Myrtha's was stunning.   The women's skirts with their layers of material must have been a joy to wear.

I look forward to seeing this show on stage very much.  A screen is all very well but it is two dimensional and ballet has depth.   If Ballet Cymru ever offers this choreography as a workshop we should love to learn it.   Once this third wave has subsided we shall learn the Coralli-Perrot-Petipa version of the dance of the wilis but the James and Doughty version would be such fun.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Muntagirov's Masterclass

Vadim Muntagirov and Alina Cojocaru
Author ASH Licence CCO 1,0 Source Wikimedia Commons 

 













I have just noticed that Danceworks has arranged for Vadim Muntagirov to give a 90-minute master class between 14:30 and 16:00 today.  Dancers in London can attend the class at Danceworks's studio at 16 Balderton Street which is just off Oxford Street almost opposite Selfridge's. It will cost £18 which is not much more than a 90-minute with any other teacher in London.  The rest of us can follow the class online for £9. Bookings can be made through the Danceworks website,

There is also a master class next week with Brandon Lawrence of Birmingham Royal Ballet followed by Jane Coulston of Beyond Repair Dance Company on 11 July, Alejandro Parente and Marianela Nuñez on 25 July, Alexander Campbell on 8 Aug Nathalie Harrison on 22 Aug and Claire Calvert on 5 Sept 2021. 

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Celebrating Beethoven's 250th Birthday

Standard YouTube Licence

Dutch National Ballet Prometheus and Grosse Fugue Livestreamed from Amsterdam 8 June 2021 19:15

Just over 6 years ago I attended a panel discussion advertised as a State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015 Terpsichore). The panel was chaired by Mike Dixon and included the critics, Mary Brennan, Louise Levene and Graham Watts, Christopher Hampson, the artistic director of Scottish Ballet and dancers Tobias Batley and Dreda Blow.   The reason it has stuck in my memory is that one of the panellists alleged that it was impossible to choreograph ballets to Beethoven.

I was itching to put him right because I had seen a performance of Sir Frederick Ashton's  The Creatures of Prometheus by the Royal Ballet's Touring Company (now known as The Birmingham Royal Ballet) at the Royal Opera House on 12 Dec 1970. The cast included Doreen Wells, Derek Rencher, Alfreda Thorogood, Christopher Carr, Wayne Sleep and Brenda Last.  It was part of a mixed bill and as far as I can remember it was danced to, and received enthusiastically by, a full house.  Sadly there were only two performances but that often happens to ballets that are created for special occasions such as anniversaries.    

Ashton was not the only choreographer to create a ballet to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth.  On the other side of the North Sea, Hans van Manen created Grosse Fuge for the Nederlands Dans Theater, It was premiered at Scheveningen on 8 April 1971.   Unlike The Creatures of Prometheus, Grosse Fuge continues to be performed regularly.   According to the programme notes it is one of the most sought after of van Manen's ballets.   It is currently in the repertoire of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.   On 8 June 2021, it was part of the Dutch National Ballet's Beethoven double bill.  The other work in the programme was Prometheus which was a collaboration by  Wubkje Kuindersma, Ernst Meisner and Remi Wörtmeyer,

The two ballets were very different.   Kuindersma, Meisner and Wörtmeyer used The Creatures of Prometheus which was the only score that Beethoven wrote for the ballet.  It requires a large cast that included several of the company's principals, an elaborate set and costumes and a full orchestra.   It broadly follows the myth in which Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to mankind for which transgression he is sentenced to eternal torment.  Grosse Fuge requires 8 dancers and a very simple backdrop and lighting.   Speaking to the audience before the show, Ted Brandsen, the company's artistic director, said that Grosse Fuge is as fresh to modern audiences as it was on the day that it was first performed.

Beethoven wrote The Creatures of Prometheus for the Italian choreographer Salvatore Viganò in 1801.  That was 20 years before La Sylphide in which Taglioni danced en pointe for the first time. Viganò is remembered for coreodramma which is literally "dance drama".  His ballet would have been very different from a modern one.   Beethoven's score may well have been ideal for a dance drama before an audience that was familiar with classical literature but both the music and the story are unfamiliar today.  It was a challenge for the choreographers to produce a work based on that score and myth that would appeal to audiences today.

In my eyes, they succeeded and, I think, two reasons.  First, the choreographers had a remarkably gifted cast. Timothy van Poucke who danced Prometheus is young and energetic but he also has an expressive countenance.   Particularly memorable in that regard was the scene with Luc Smith and Raul van der Ent Braat representing humanity in its infancy.  Van Poucke seemed to express amusement turning quickly into exasperation at humankind's antics.  There was a poignant moment with the entrance of Floor Eimers, a tall, graceful and almost regal figure representing womankind.  There were impressive duets and solos and it would be unfair to single any of the artists for special praise.  The other reason for the success of the piece was Tatyana van Walsum's designs.   The backdrop was particularly striking.   It seemed to morph in texture and colour from scene to scene.  At one point parts of classical statutes, a rockface at a third, the facades at Petra and eventually fire.  

Having followed their careers closely since they joined the Junior Company I was delighted to see Riho SakamotoYuanyuan ZhangMartin ten Kortenaar, Sho Yamada, Daniel Silva, Nathan Brhane, Nancy BurerGiovanni Princic and Conor Walmsley in Prometheus.  It has been great to see their progress over the years which in some cases has been meteoric. I congratulate them all.

Eimers appeared in Grosse Fuge together with Maia Makhateli, Qian Liu and Salome Leverashvili. Dressed simply in white they regard the entry of Semyon Velichko, James StoutEdo Wijnen and Young Gyu Choi in long black skirtlike garments that underscored their strength and masculinity. In so far as those garments signify status they are removed and the men are left with their underpants.   At one point the women grab the tops of the men's pants.   According to the programme van Manen designed the costumes so I assume that the debagging of the men and the grabbing of their shorts must have significance.   The ballet was danced against a plain background at times with a beam of light.   Jean-Paul Vroom designed the set and Joop Caboort the lighting.

As they were forbidden to leave their seats during the interval. the audience was treated to Rose which was directed and choreographed by Milena Sidorova.  I have been a fan ever since I saw her Full Moon which she created for Bart Engelen to the music of the Dance of the Knights when he was with the Junior Company (see Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015).  I have now discovered Spider which she created when she was very young.   In his welcome, Brandsen described Rose as "very much not Beethoven".  The music is Brent Lewis, Doris Day and CAN.   The action takes place in a cocktail bar.  It begins with a young woman (clearly in distress) pouring out her heart to a barman impersonating a donkey. It is followed by some impressive duets.  It ends with the cast on their feet dancing against a plain backdrop.

Shots of the audience at the end of the performance show an auditorium that was, perhaps, a quarter full. Though necessary, social distancing is such a misery.  Despite the paucity of numbers, the crowd still made a lot of noise.  As often happens in that theatre there was a standing ovation.  There was a special roar when van Manen appeared.  In a delightful touch, the grand old man applauded his artists. I miss that audience, that company, that theatre and that city so much.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

A Coppelia for our Times

Author Jean Raoux  Pygmalion in Love with his Statue















A show to which I am particularly looking forward is Jess and Morgs's Coppelia for Scottish Ballet.  It will be premiered at next year's Edinburgh International Festival and then go on tour. It is described as a "deliciously dark comedy of mischief and mistaken identity, reinvented for the digital age." It addresses the question: "What happens when you fall in love with a machine? How can we compete with the perfection of the unreal?"

The idea of a human being falling in love with an artefact is not a new one.  I remember translating the story of Pygmalion from Ovid's Metamorphoses as an unseen when I was at secondary school. The reason why that story is relevant now is that it is possible to create a robot with some human and animnal characteristics.  In Japan, robots that respond to touch, sound and light are already being used in nursing homes (see Don Lee Desperate for workers, aging Japan turns to robots for healthcare 25 July 2019 LA Times). 

In Saint-Léon's ballet, Franz's infatuation for a doll that sits on a balcony all day holding a book upside down is secondary.  The love story is between Franz and Swanhilda although one wonders just how long that marriage will last if Franz is already eyeing other women, breaking into Coppelius's workshop and accepting a drink from the old boy he has just burgled and whom he had previously roughed up on his way to the pub. What will he be like when he is in his forties and Swanhikda's left at home to look after the kids?

Jess and Morgs's production should be different.  It promises to "test the boundaries of dance, theatre and film in this distinctive new adaptation of the classic ballet, blending location and real-time filming with projection and live performance." Jess and Morgs have already produced The Secret Theatre which I reviewed in Scottish Ballet's Secret Theatre on 22 Dec 2020. They have also created Cinderella Games for English National Ballet based on the ballet that Christopher Wheeldon created for the Dutch National Ballet and English National Ballet.  They discuss their work for ENB on Chat with the Creatives: Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple | English National Ballet 14 July 2020.

It is interesting that Jess and Morgs describe themselves as film makers and choreographers.  The pandemic has brought a lot of suffering but there have been a few compensations. One of those is the development of dance film as an art form in its own right.  It is to be hoped that that development continues when the emergency is over.