Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Hans van Manen Variations

Adagio Hammerklavier
Maria Chugai, Daniel Silva, Luiza Bertha, James Stout, Elisabeth Tonev, Vito Mazzeo
Author Hans Gerritsen © 2021 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved

Dutch National Ballet Hans van Manen Variations  Music Theatre, Amsterdam 27 amd 28 Feb 2021, 14:00

When I first took an interest in ballet as an undergraduate at St Andrews at the end of the 1960s, I subscribed to Dance and Dancers and the Dancing Times. Although both publications carried reviews and news stories from around the world, four great names seemed to dominate.  Balanchine in the USA, Ashton and Macmillan here and Hans van Manen in the Netherlands.  Sadly, Ashton, Balanchine and Macmillan are no more but van Manen remains with us.  

On 27 and 28 Feb 2021, the Dutch National Ballet held two special matinees in his honour. They were danced in an empty theatre but screened to a worldwide audience. It was, of course, a celebration of van Manen's genius, but with two separate casts, it was a showcase of the strength and depth of one of the world's great companies..

Six works were presented:

27 Feb

28 Feb

Adagio Hammerklavier

Anna Ol, Semyon Velichko, Qian Liu , Jakob Feyferlik Maia Makhateli, Artur Shesterikov

Luiza Bertho, James Stout, Maria Chugai, Daniel Silva, Elisabeth Tonev,  Vito Mazzeo


Floor Eimers, Jozef Varga 

Salome Leverashvili, Timothy van Poucke

Déjà Vu 

Erica Horwood, Young Gyu Choi 

Floor Eimers, Edo Wijnen

Trois Gnossiennes

Anna Ol, James Stout

Qian Liu, Jakob Feyferlik

Two Pieces for HET 

Maia Makhateli, Remi Wörtmeyer 

Anna Tsygankova,

Constantine Allen

Variations for Two Couples 

Anna Tsygankova, Constantine Allen, Jessica Xuan, Martin ten Kortenaar

Riho Sakamoto, Young Gyu Choi, Jingjing Mao, Jared Wright

The programme opened with Adagio Hammerklavier which is the longest and most dramatic of the 6 works. It was created for the Dutch National Ballet in 1973 but it has been performed by many of the world's other leading companies including the Royal Ballet in 1976 and the Maryinsky in 2014.  In a short introductory speech, the company's director, Ted Brandsen, said that van Manen had worked with some 60 companies around the world. 

The score is by Beethoven and I once heard someone who really should have known better that Beethoven is impossible to choreograph (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). There are,  it is true, not many ballets by Beethoven and it can't be easy to create dance from his music but van Manen succeeded spectacularly as indeed did Ashton with his Creatures of Prometheus in 1970.  This is a challenging ballet which is why companies field their best dancers. In the London premiere, for instance, it was danced by Makarova, Mason, Penney, Wall, Eagling and Silver.

Both casts for this piece were brilliant. The Saturday one was majestic. A cast that included Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov, Anna Ol and Semyon Velichko, could not be otherwise. Shesterikov has been my dancer of the year and Makhateli is another favourite. I had not seen Jakob Feyferlik before but I shall certainly look out for him in future. He partnered Qian Liu who never fails to impress. The Sunday cast brought energy and freshness to the work. It was good to see Daniel Silva whom I have followed closely since I saw him in No Time Before Time on 14 Feb 2016 (see Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016). He is particularly graceful and partnered Maria Chugai confidently but sensitively. She was, as ever, a delight to watch in a role to which she is particularly well suited. Save for Ernst Meisner's class on World Ballet Day I had not seen Elisabeth Tonev before but I shall certainly look out for her in future, I also enjoyed the performance of Luiza Bertho. I had, of course, seen the principals, James Stout and Vito Mazzeo many times before. As was to be expected, their performances were masterly.

Nowhere was the contrast between the two casts more striking than in Sarcasmen. This is a sexy (if not slightly risqué) duet to Prokofiev's Cinq Sarcasmes, Opus 17. It is about a man who can't resist showing off and a woman who can't resist puncturing his ego.  At one point she grabs his unmentionables. The ballet was introduced to the audience by Rachel Beaujean in a short interval between stage changes. Her comments were particularly interesting because she had premiered the female role of this ballet in 1981. On Saturday Jozef Varga, who has been in the company since 2007, and Floor Eimers, one of its most admired soloists, danced with sophistication.  On Sunday, Timothy van Poucke and Salome Leverashvili danced with flair. I have been a fan of those artists ever since they were in the Junior Company. They used to run a delightful vlog that I mentioned in Missing Amsterdam on 18 Feb 2017. Van Poucke won the Radius Prize, which is usually awarded to principals, just 2 years after he had joined the company.

Eimers performed again with Edo Wijnen in Déjà vu, a work that he had created for the Nederlands Dans Theater to  Fratres, a striking composition for violin and piano by Arvo Pärt.  I enjoyed her performance in this piece even more than her performance in Sarcasmen.  The dancers on Saturday were Erica Horwood and Young Gyu Choi who impressed the audience with their virtuosity. During the interval, Beaujean explained that the title was a gentle reproach from the choreographer to critics in the mid-1990s who complained that his ballets had become much or a muchness.

After Adagio Hammerklavier my favourite work of both shows was Trois Gnossiennes and that is at least partly down to the score.  As far as I am aware, Erik Satie did not compose for the ballet but his work has been the basis of two masterpieces, van Manen's and Ashton's  Monotones.  They are quite dissimilar in the number of dancers, set design and, in the case of Monotones, orchestration but they are both works of genius.   I first saw Trois Gnossiennes in Ballet Bubbles on my birthday in 2016 when it was performed by Melissa Chapski and Giovanni Princic and I could not have wished for a better birthday present. It was performed elegantly by Ol and Stout on Saturday and Qian Liu and Feyferlik on Sunday.

The other piece that I had seen before was Two Pieces for HET for RachelThe artist to whom that work had been dedicated was of course Rachel Beaujean. "Het" is a definite article in Dutch, It is used by lazy, anglophone, monoglot and possibly in some cases brexiteer journalists as an abbreviation for Het Nationale Ballet instead of "HNB" or even "DNB". It is, however, a beautiful work which was danced by Makhateli and Wörtmeyer on Saturday and Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen on Sunday. In other companies, they might be called "Etoiles".  Tsygankova won many hearts in London which her performance of Cinderella and she reduced many of us to tears with her portrayal of Mata Hari. She is an accomplished pianist which perhaps accounts for her musicality.

In an interlude shortly before the programme ended, we were treated to a screening of the film Hans van Manen Performer - Dutch National Ballet which the company had commissioned for the choreographer's 75th birthday.  Van Manen was born in 1932 yet he marched onto the stage of the auditorium on Friday ramrod straight like a guardsman to acknowledge the internet's applause and affection.

The finale was Variations for Two Couples which is one of van Manen's most recent works.  Tsygankova had danced in the first performance of that work with Matthew Goulding, Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga. She danced the piece again on Saturday but this time with Allen, Jessica Xuan and Martin ten Kortenaar. I have been following Xuan and Kortenaar ever since I first saw the Junior Company for the first time in 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013).  They have soared since then which makes me very happy. Another dancer I have followed from the time she joined the Junior Company is Riho Sakamoto. She performed on Sunday with Young Gyu Choi, Jingjing Mao and Jared Wright.  Both casts did justice to this work which was set to an eclectic score that included pieces by Benjamin Britten, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Stefan Kovács and Astor Piazzolla. It was a perfect way to end a delightful weekend.

As the vaccination rollout accelerates and the accuracy of testing and tracing improves in the Netherlands and the rest of the world there is hope that this pandemic will retreat.  It will take some time for social distancing to end but at least there is at least a chance that theatres around the world will re-open soon. I look forward to returning to Amsterdam just as soon as it is safe to travel.  

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Ballet Rising

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One of my favourite principals at the Dutch National Ballet was Casey Herd.  He impressed me in Dawson's Empire Noir. Brandsen's Mata Hari and many other works. He continues to impress me now with his latest enterprise, Ballet Rising.

Ballet Rising is the standard-bearer of a movement with the following vision:
"The stars of the ballet world used to be born and trained in Europe and North America or sometimes Japan, Cuba and Argentina. Today the talent pool has grown. More major dancers are coming out of China, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and elsewhere. Dancers have a wider range of ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds than ever before. Globalization is expanding the ballet world, fueling international exposure to and passion for ballet—and transforming the art form. Ballet Rising takes an in-depth look at the communities reshaping ballet and brings their stories to global audiences. Although ballet has always spoken to people on a profound level, imagine how engagement would grow if people all over the world felt like ballet represented them. What if ballet were accessible to dancers everywhere? Ballet Rising is joining the movement to make ballet a truly global art form that welcomes all to take part."

Now if those sentiments sound familiar you are quite right. Though my background and experience have been from the other side of the footlights, I have shared Herd's vision ever since I helped to establish a dance club at my university over 50 years ago. It has been one of the focuses of Terpsichore  and it is one of the reasons why I set up Powerhouse Ballet and The Stage Door,

Some idea of the breadth of Herd's vision can be gleaned from its recent articles:

Now all of those countries have a long and rich tradition of dance. Many in those countries regard ballet which developed in the imperial and royal courts of the former colonial powers with understandable suspicion.  Herd acknowledges that  possibility and accommodates it:
"We want to highlight communities where there is already an interest in ballet. We are careful to visit places where the drive to build ballet communities has originated within the local communities themselves. We pay close attention to the sensitive nature of cultural encounters, and we strive to build positive relationships with local arts organizations so that the global ballet community grows in harmony with local customs. While we encourage the exposure of ballet to people in all walks of life, we hope that classical ballet expands only in places where a community expresses its own interest."

In fact, as the South African dancer, Dada Masilo has shown, ballet can be the medium through which African dance tradition can be communicated to audiences outside that continent (see A Brace of Giselles 13 Oct 2019).

For many years the best and the brightest students from Africa, Asia and other countries have won scholarships to Europe and North America where they have been hired by the world's leading companies.  That's fine for the dancers as it provides them with an opportunity to perform but not so good for audiences and other students in their countries of origin,  That is understood by Ballet Rising and it is for that reason that Herd and others encourage the development of schools and companies in those countries.

This will not be the last time I shall mention Ballet Rising and if there is any way that I can further its objectives I shall certainly do so.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala

Artur Shesterikov in Hans van Manen's 5 Tangos
Photo Hans Geritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet


Dutch National Ballet Christmas Gala 19 Dec 2020 19:15 GMT

Even though it was performed without an audience and I watched it on a tiny laptop, I think I shall remember the Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala for as long as I live.  It will stand out in my memory like Scottish Ballet's performance of David Dawson's Swan Lake at the Liverpool Empire on 3 June 2016 (see Empire Blanc: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016) or the first time I saw the Junior Company at the Stadsshouwburg in 2013.

Although there was no grand defilé, Radius Prize or reception after the show, it was very similar to the opening night gala in September which is always one of the highlights of my year.  The show took place in the National Opera and Ballet's auditorium. The company's Director of Music and Principal Conductor, Matthew Rowe conducted the National Ballet Orchestra.   The artists performed the following: short ballets or extracts from longer ballets:

  • Balanchine's Who  Cares?
  • Echoes of Tomorrow by Wubkje Kuindersma to the music of Valentin Silvestrov 
  • Wayne McGregor's Chroma
  • Grand Pas Classique by Valentin Silvestrov 
  • David Dawson's Metamorphosis I to the music of Philip Glass
  • 5 Tangos by Hans van Manen to the music of Astor Piazzolla
  • Rudi van Dantzig's Romeo and Juliet
  • Ted Brandsen's Classical Symphony 
  • Christopher Wheeldon's  Duet 
  • Hans van Manen's Solo 
  • John Cranko's Onegin, and
  • The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.
I enjoyed all the works in the programme. It was very well balanced and must have satisfied every possible balletic preference: Broadway razzamatazz in Who Cares?, modern masterpieces such as van Manen's 5 Tangos and McGregor's Chroma, twentieth-century classics like  Romeo and Juliet and Onegin, works that had never been heard before and The Nutcracker.

The evening was introduced by Milouska Meulens who is a presenter on Dutch television. She interviewed Ted Brandsen, Maia Makhateli Floor Eimers and members of the children's choir who provide the vocals for the snowflakes scene. That was a lovely touch because the children are usually hidden in most productions. Though the conversation was in Dutch it was clear that the children appreciated the attention.  

Rafael Valdez, Edo Wijnen, Sho Yamada
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The last time that I saw the National Ballet live on stage was at the Zuiderstrandtheater, a seaside theatre just outside The Hague on 17 Nov 2019.  They performed a triple bill entitled Best of Balanchine which included Who Cares?  (see Balanchine by the Beach 20 Nov 2019).   Who Cares? is a favourite of American companies. but very few companies outside the United States can carry it off as well as the Americans.  The Dutch National Ballet is one that can.  This was the third time that I have seen the company dance the work and last Saturday's performance was the best,   They danced Somebody Loves You with Salome Leverashvili, Khayla Fitzpatrick, Naira Agvanean, Erica Horwood and Floor Eimers, Bidin' My Time with Edo Wijnen, Giovanni Princic, Sho Yamada, Rafael Valdez and  Dustin True, The Man I Love with Jessica Xuan and Martin ten Kortenaar, Stairway to Paradise with Nina Tonoli, My One and Only with Riho Sakamoto, Liza by Ten Kortenaar and I've Git Rhythm by the cast of that piece.

Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Echoes
of Tomorrow
Photo  Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The first of two works that were premiered at the gala was Echoes of Tomorrow by Wubkje Kuindersma.  Kuindersma is one of three choreographers who have recently been appointed as young creative associates of the company.  Set to the music of Valentin Silvestrov's In Memory of Tchaikovsky for violin and piano the work represented a dialogue of two souls reliving an event in the past that they once shared.  It was performed eloquently by Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke.  Readers will remember the banter between Leverashvili and van Pouck in their blog which I mentioned in Missing Amsterdam! on 18 Feb 2018.  Van Poucke is a remarkable young man.  He has been in the company only since 2916 and he has already risen to grand sujet.  In 2018 he won the Radius Prize which is normally awarded to principals.

Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo in Chroma
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballert

The next work was the pas de deux from Wayne McGregor's Chroma.   I had seen the Dutch National Ballet perform the whole ballet in 2015 when they included it in their  Cool Britannia. mixed bill.  I had also seen performances of the work by Alvin Ailey and the Royal Ballet.  Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo danced it exquisitely.  Even though they could not have heard me on the other side of the North Sea I clapped and cheered until my voice was hoarse and my palms were raw.  My only reservation was that I am not sure that the pas de deux succeeds as a standalone work.  The ballet's appeal lies in the combination of McGregor's choreography with Talbot's score and Pawson's architectural set designs.  That did not quite come across in the extract.

Photo Hans Geritrsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet  All rights reserved

Victor Gsovsky's Grand Pas Classique was new to me.  The reason why I had not seen it before it that it is an exhibition piece to display the dancers' virtuosity.  It had been created for Yvette Chauviré and Vladimir Skouratoff at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées in 1949.  It could be regarded as a mid-twentieth century hommage to the Imperial Russian Ballet perhaps in the same way as the third act of Jewels.  The ballerina is resplendent in a blue and white classical tutu.  With spectacular jumps for the man and lots of fouettés for them both, it cannot be easy.   Jessica Xuan and Jakob Feyferlik performed it with great flair and precision.

Anna Öl and James Stout
Photo  Hans Gerritsen ©2020 Dutch National Ballet

The second work to be premiered on 19 Dec was David Dawson's Metamorphis I.  He is an Associate Artist of the Dutch National Ballet and he has created a lot of pieces for that company though my favourite of his works is his Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet.  Metamorphosis I reminded me a little of Swan Lake possibly because Swan Lake is also about metamorphosis.  The choreography and even the costumes seemed to echo that work.  However, Philip Glass's music was different,  A piano piece played by Olga Khoziainova. The dancers were Anna Öl and James Stout.  Immediately after seeing this piece, I tweeted:

That just about sums up my impression of the work. 

Hans van Manen was an important influence when I first took an interest in dance at the end of the 1960s. He has created a vast body of work over the years.   Many - and I include myself in that number - regard him as the world's greatest living choreographer.  One of his most popular works is 5 Tangos to the following pieces by Astor PizzollaTodo Buenos Aires, Mort, Vayamos al diablo, Resurrección del angel and Buenos Áires hora cero. In this context it is important to remember that tango is more than a style of social dancing. It is an art form in its own right in Argentina. Pizzolla helped to elevate tango music from something that was played on the streets of the immigrant neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires to the world's concert halls.  The tango as it is performed around the River Plate is a swaggering dance for alpha males and vampish females which van Manen captured in his work. For the gala, Artur Shesterikov danced the solo Vayamos al diablo (literally "Let's Go to the Devil") with energy, flair and machismo.  It was one of the highlights of my evening which is why Shesterikov's photo is at the top of this review.

Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko in Romeo and Juliet
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Vallet

The other great Dutch choreographer of our time is Rudi van Dantzig.  He created the Dutch National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet which I have yet to see. I have however seen productions of Romeo and Juliet by MacMillan, Lavrovsky, Maillot, Pastor, James and others.  Having seen the balcony scene danced by Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko it is now a personal priority to see the complete work.  The leading roles must be the most difficult for any principal to perform because they have to imagine themselves as impulsive teenagers even though they are expected to be mature adults in nearly every other role they dance. A good test of a Romeo and Juliet is whether the audience can imagine them as kids despite their 'life and stage experience.   Qian Liu and Velichko passed that test in my eyes.

Jared Wright, Martin ten Kortenaar, Vito Mazzeo and Daniel Robert Silva
in Classical Symphony
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballwr


More Prokoviev in Brandsen's Classical Symphony and a chance to review his male dancers:  Martin ten Kortenaar, Sem Sjouke, Joseph Massarelli, Daniel Montero Real, Dingkai Bai, Michele EspositoManu Kumar, Alejandro Zwartendijk, Isaac Mueller, James Stout, Daniel Robert Silva, Pascal Johnson. Giovanni Princic, Leo Hepler, Bela Erlandson, Giorgi Potskhishvili, Vito Mazzeo, Nathan BrhaneRémy Catalan, Fabio Rinieri, Bastiaan Stoopm Dustin True, Rafael Valdez, Conor Walmsley and Sander Baaij.  With their jumps and turns, the virtuosity and athleticism of those artists were impressive.  Balanchine is reported to have said that ballet is "a purely female thing" but this piece showed the fallacy of his remark.

Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen in "Duet"
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

As its title suggests this gem of a work by Christopher Wheeldom to a piano piece by Ravel is a duet.  This was yet another ba;let that I had not seen before but long to see again.  According to the programme, Duet was created in 2012 but I have not yet found out for whom it was created and when it was first performed.  It could well have been made for Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen for they made it their own.  This is a work that was particularly well suited for Tsygankova because she is an accomplished pianist. Having seen her performance as Cinderella in London I thnk she has a special understanding of Wheeldon's work (see Wheeldon's Conderella 13 July 2015).  I imagine she would be a great Hermione in his Winter's Tale and I hope that she may be cast in that role one day.

Sho Yamada in Solo
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

Solo was the second van Manen masterpiece in the programme.  Originally created for the Netherlands Dance Theatre Junior Company in 1997, this is a work for three male dancers. to the music of  Johann Sebastian Bach. It was performed on 19 Dec 2020 by Sho Yamada, Daniel Silva and Remi Wörtmeyer.  This was another highlight of my evening.

Anna Ol and Jozef Varga in Onegin
Photo  Han Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballt

The last full-length ballet that I saw before the lockdown was the Royal Ballet's Onegin with  Thiago Soares in the title role, Itziar Mendizabal in the lead roles. The penultimate scene from  John Cranko's Onegin was a poignant reminder of a lost year.  It is the denouement where Onegin shows up after years of exile to look up his old flame Tatiana.  Earlier in the story, Tatiana had declared her love for Onegin in a letter which he heartlessly destroys in front of her.  That led to a duel in which he killed his best friend and was forced into exile. Tatiana would have been heartbroken but she found a good man to marry and was living very happily until Onegin returned to seduce her.   In the final duet, Tatiana is still attracted to the cad and for a second we fear that she will throw her new life away.  But she doesn't.  Instead, she screws up Onegin's love letter in front of him and sends him on his way.   A dramatic scene danced passionately by Anna Ol and Jozef Varga.  Although the ballet was created by a South African it was based on a poem by Pushkin which Ol will have known well.   Like Osipova who danced Tatiana in London in 2015, she seemed to have injected a je ne sais quoi which only a Russian could do.

Photo Hans Geritsen © 2020 Dutch Narional Ballet

The gala ended with scenes from Wayne Eagling's The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.  The first was the Snowflakes scene which the members of Powerhouse Ballet had intended to learn on 14 March.  We had booked Mark Hindle to teach it to us but we had to abandon the workshop at the last minute to avoid the risk of infection. The first thing we shall do once this virus is eradicated will be to fix a new date for the workshop.  I was delighted to see that the lead dancers in the Snowflakes scene were Maria Chugai and Jingjing Mao. I am a very big fan of both dancers but particularly Chugai who impressed me with her performance as Myrthe in Heerlen in 2018. During the lockdown, she has given us two unforgettable online classes and been our guest at The Stage Door,

The other scenes in the gala were the Chinese, Russian and Greek divertissements and the grand pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier.   The Chinese dance was performed by Kira Hilli, Fabio Rinieril Dustin True, Rémy Catalan and Dingkai Bai.  I had noticed Hilli when the Junior Company visited Covent Garden and it is good to see that talented young artist has made the main company. The soloists in the Russian dance were Sandra Quintyn and Pascal Johnson.   

 Floor Eimers and Nathan Brhane in the Greek scene
Photo Gabs Gerritseb © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

If anyone is wondering, the Greek dance was what other companies call the mirlitons.  With a ruined temple as a backdrop with mythical beasts, it was danced superbly by Floor Eimers Sem Sjouke, Nathan Brhane and Daniel Montero Real.  Wayne Eagling also produced The Nutcracker for English National Ballet when he was its Artistic Director but I do not recall that scene.

Maia Makhateli  and Young Gyu Choi
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The evening was perfected by the final pas de deux.   Makhateli was a delightful Sugar Plum.   Seldom have I seen her solo danced so beautifully.  Young Gyu Choi, a powerful athletic dancer, who gas impressed me in everything that he has performed, was a worthy cavalier.

This has been a miserable year for balletgoers but this gala is a positive memory.   Many who lived through the Spanish flu pandemic blocked 1918 from their recollection and we may do the same.  Whatever else I remember or choose not to remember of 2020  I shall never forget that outstanding gala. My congratulations to all the dancers, musicians, technicians and other staff who made it happen.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Scottish Ballet's Secret Theatre

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Scottish Ballet's Feature Film The Secret Theatre 21 Dec 2020

A little boy (Leo Tetten) bounces his football off a soot-stained wall in Victorian Glasgow. He dribbles it across a footbridge into the West End.  He bounces it against a door which creaks open.  His curiosity gets the better of him and he goes in.   He finds himself in an auditorium but the stage is lit.  Evading the watchman's torch he finds himself in the props department.  A basket heaves and creaks and out jumps Lexi.

Now you would have to have visited Scotland at the beginning of the year and seen The Snow Queen in order to know about Lexi.  As I said in my review, Hampson's Masterpiece: The Snow Queen on 7 March 2020, she is the Snow Queen's sister in Christopher Hampson's adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale which can fairly be described as his best work yet.  When I saw the ballet the role was danced by Grace Horler but in Scottish Ballet's first full-length film, The Secret Theatre, she is danced by Alice Kawalek.

Around the stage are the snow wolves' heads, the shattered ice backdrop of the Snow Queen's palace and many other components of Lez Brotherston's magnificent sets and costumes.   Many of the characters in Hampson's ballet were in the film including the Snow Queen performed by the wonderful Constance Devernay, the Ringmaster (Bruno Micchiardi), the Strongman (Nicholas Shoesmith) and the ballerina (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo), 

However, The Secret Theatre is not a screen version of The Snow Queen.  If anything it has more in common with The Nutcracker as you can see from the synopsis The one big difference is that there is no Clara, Marie or Princess Masha.   In their place is the little boy who shows in one scene that he knows how to head a football.   The Snow Wolf characters rub shoulders with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sophie Martin) and the snowflakes led by Marge Hendrick. Hendrick will always have a special place in my affection for reminding me so much of Elaine McDonald at Northern Ballet's 50th-anniversary celebration in Leeds on 4 Jan 2020.  She danced Peter Darrell's Five Rückert Songs which was my highlight of that evening (see Northern Ballet's 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala  5 Jan 2020).

The climax of the film was the final pas de deux from The Nutcracker.   Just as Clara morphs into the Sugar Plum Fairy in some productions of The Nutcracker the little boy morphs into the handsome cavalier (Jerome Anthony Barnes).  Having studied the Sugar Plum Fairy's solo  I follow it particularly closely.  Martin performed it exquisitely and had I been in a theatre I would have thrown flowers on stage.  Indeed the whole pas de deux was a delight.

I have to congratulate Hampson and Brotherston who co-directed the film.  The only film of this genre that I have enjoyed as much as has been Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes.   I believe that The Secret Theatre will be watched and enjoyed in 70 years time just as our generation appreciates The Red Shoes now.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Meet Amedeo Giunta of the Plovdiv Opera House Ballet

Amadeo Giunta
© 2020 Amadeo Giunta 



A few weeks ago I joined KNT's Saturday online intermediate class and met a new teacher, He asked us to bear with him because it was the first time that he had taught in English.  He had no need to seek our indulgence. He had a love of dance which he communicated to us eloquently.  It came as no surprise to learn at the end of the class that he was a professional dancer. He is a member of the ballet troupe of the Plovdiv Opera House.

A few weeks later, he taught us again on the Day of Dance.  This time for a full 90 minutes.  There are many good teachers who have never been members of a company but those who have bring something very special to their classes.  I am not sure what it is but they make us want to jump that little bit higher or make a bit more of an effort at something else.  I don't know whether we jumped a fraction of an inch higher or whether our pirouettes were tighter and straighter but we definitely felt lifted by our teacher's manner.  

Immediately after the class, I contacted Karen Sant, the Principal of KNT, for the teacher's contact details so that I could ask him for this interview.  Karen sent me a short bio from which I learnt that his name was Amedeo Giunta.  I transmitted the invitation through a mutual friend and, almost immediately afterwards, I received his acceptance.

Amedeo told me that he was born in Barrafranca, a small, inland cathedral city in the province of Enna in Sicily.  He has a younger brother and two older sisters. The older of his sisters, Rosamaria, has two daughters of whom he is particularly fond. He says that the days on which his nieces were born were among the happiest of his life. He is justifiably proud of his region which is distinguished for its history, architecture, cuisine and traditions.  

He comes from a family of dancers.  His mother attended dance classes until she learned that she was pregnant with Amedeo.  Rosamaria teaches ballet to children and young people. It was she who took Amedeo to his first dance class at the tender age of 3.  He was the only boy in a class of girls.  He remembers being the centre of their attention sitting on the floor in his sister's dancing shoes. He felt at home in the studio right from the start despite being the only boy.

He studied hard under his first teacher Cettina Averna.   He describes her as almost a second mother.   After a few months of classes, he was invited to perform in public for the first time.  His piece was a Michael Jackson solo.  From that moment he knew that he was destined for the stage.

As there are no theatres near his home, Amedeo did not see ballet live on stage until his student days in Rome.  However, he had DVDs of the great classical works including Giselle, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Le Corsaire.  I asked him about his first live ballet.  It turned out to have been a dress rehearsal of Roland Petit's Coppelia.  That must have made quite an impression on Amedeo because Petit's version is particularly dramatic as can be seen from this clip in which Sergei Polunin danced Franz.  I asked Amedeo whether he was inspired by any of the artists that appeared in his DVDs. He replied:

"Of course as dancers, we all have our idols (Nureyev, Baryshnikov, and the more recents like Roberto Bolle, Carlos Acosta, Federico Bonelli, Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel) but what most inspires me is the desire to improve myself not to be like my idols, but to be the best version of myself everyday."

 He said that he took advantage of every opportunity he could get to attend workshops with the leading Italian and international masters.  

Amedeo's big break came in 2012 when he won the best soloist title in the Mentana Danza Life competition.  This is the video for the 2013 competition.  His prize included a scholarship to the MAS professional school in Milan.

Between 2013 and 2015 Amedeo trained at the Balletto di Roma School, As it is attached to the Rome Ballet and directed by the distinguished choreographer, Paola Jorio, it is very prestigious.  I asked Amedeo whether he had any favourite teachers at the Rome Ballet School. He mentioned Alexandre Stepkine who taught ballet, Mauro Murri, another of his ballet teachers and his contemporary teacher, Paolo Mangiola.  Stepkine helped him to understand how to develop the power needed for jumps and tours en l'air.  Murri showed him how to work on his body with intelligence and awareness. Mangiola opened his eyes to new possibilities of movement and to explore new ways to find expression through the human body.  

As end of term shows often provide the first opportunity for artistic directors, critics and audiences to spot up and coming dancers, I asked Amedeo about his performances at ballet school.   He mentioned, in particular, dancing  Brighella in Alexandre Stepkin’s Commedia Dell’arte.  He also had the chance to dance with the Rome Ballet. That was his first experience of working in a studio with different choreographers.  He danced in Futura, a piece by  Milena Zullo who also taught at his school.  He took part in the premiere of Tefer by Itamar Serussi Sahar a the Belgrade Dance Festival.  Other performances included Tourning by Alessandro Sciarroni and Reveals which was created by the dancers themselves.

Amedeo seems to have enjoyed his time in Rome.  I asked him what was the most important lesson that he had learned there.  He replied:

"The best advice that I received was to focus on my limits, accept them and make them my quality,"

His first job was with the Sienna Ballet (Balleto di Siena),  One of the works in the company's repertoire is entitled in English The Great Pas de Deux which includes extracts from Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty and many more.  Amedeo had the chance to dance in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Diana and Acteon, and Esmeralda. He also learned some of the technical skills of staging a ballet such as lighting design and scenography. 

I asked him where he had acquired his teaching skills.  He replied that he had always assisted his sister and his first teacher Cettina Averna.  He would give classes to their students and choreograph pieces for their shows.  His bio mentions the "Snoopy School" so I asked him about that.  He told me that Cettina's classes are known as "The Snoopy School" because the sports and leisure centre where she gives her classes is named after Snoopy in Peanuts.  He is passionate about dance education not just for the talented but also for the public as a whole.  He said:

"Our mission is to make dance, culture and art more accessible to the people of our city and to destroy the prejudice that the ‘unknown’ takes within society."

That is identical to the mission of this blog and indeed Powerhouse Ballet which grew out of the blog.  I shall make it my business to keep in touch with those artists in Sicily.  Who knows? Maybe we can find a way of working together. 

As I said in the first paragraph, Amedeo is now with the Plovdiv ballet.  Plovdiv, like Manchester, is the second city of its country and it also has a long history.  It used to be known as Φιλιππούπολη because it was founded by Philip of Macedon.  Also like Manchester, Plovdiv is a big manufacturing and commercial centre with lots of theatres, concert halls and other places of entertainment, museums, universities and plenty of arts festivals.  The opera house was founded in 1953 and the auditorium now hoists operas, musicals and concerts as well as ballets.

Amedeo is very glad to be in Plovdiv:

"I enjoy every single day, emotion, show, moment. It’s amazing how much this country believes in culture and theatres, and I’m really happy to dance in such a beautiful city like Plovdiv."

While he has been there he has danced the Rat King in The Nutcracker and Magdavaya in La Bayadere.  He has also danced Siegfried in a performance of Swan Lake for children.  I asked him about roles that he would like to dance in future.  He replied  Birbanto in Le Corsaire and Rothbart in Swan Lake.

I learned that Amedeo had created some ballets of his own so I asked about them.  He replied:

"The piece that I created for State Opera Plovdiv is a pas de deux called  The Opposite Pole that talks about the attraction, relation and complementation of everything. For example, day and night are completely opposite from each other, but they compliment each other because they are attached together. It is inspired a lot by the symbol of Yin-Yang (That I actually have tattooed on my arm because it is a very special symbol that always appears in my life). It is choreographed to a beautiful music by an Italian composer, Andrea Farri and danced by myself and my colleague from State Opera Plovdiv, Mara Salvaggio. Now I am starting to choreograph a new piece for the company, under invitation by the artistic director Mariana Krancheva, with only male dancers! Which is a big challenge for me, and I cannot wait to develop it in the studio and hopefully on stage."

I guessed that Wayne McGregor might have been one of his inspirations and so it turned out.  Other favourite choreographers include Alexander Ekman, Marco Goecke, Akram Khan and Ohad Naharin.

I asked Amedeo whether he had any unfulfilled ambitions and this is what he said:

"The only ambition that I have right now is to dance all over the world, and why not create new choreographies and inspire people with them."

I asked him whether that might include the UK  "Living in the UK?" he replied,  "Why not? Who knows, maybe my next adventure is there!"

As for the future, he said that he has always loved teaching:

"So yes, later in life I would like to teach as well as choreograph in professional schools and pass all of my love for this art form to the new younger generations."
"In that case," I replied, "your students will ask you for advice,  What are you going to tell them?"

He said:

"The only advice that I want to give young aspiring dancers is to accept themselves with their limitations and their qualities and work on them. Only by working in that way, can they improve every day and maybe become someone that they never imagined to be. At least that is what happened to me. I started my career certain that the only way for me to dance was in modern or contemporary because of my body limitations for ballet; and I see now that I’m living a dream that I never even imagined, to dance in an Opera House."

How many others who have grabbed a barre can say that? 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Dance in Nigeria

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Yesterday I took part in a webinar entitled "The Business of Dance" which was organized by the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association of Nigeria.   My fellow panellists were Jemima Angulu, Artistic Director of Krump Studios, Victor Nwejinaka of Blackbones Theatre Kompany, Basorun Aderoju of Hyeres Elite Athletes and Talents and the distinguished Nigerian IP lawyer Folarin Aluko. I set out my reflections as a lawyer in Intellectual Property Lawyers Association of Nigeria Webinar - The Business of Dance 27 Nov 2020 NIPC News.  Here I set out some thoughts as a dance blogger.

As I said in my other article, speaker after speaker - lawyers as well as creatives - stressed the importance of dance in Nigeria.  It may be important to us but it is vital to Nigerians. Some idea of the diversity and energy of Nigerian dance can be gained from the videos and photos on the Blackbones Theatre Kompany Facebook page.  The company describes itself as "an entertainment outfit of youths that seeks to promote our rich African cultural heritage through dance, drama and music."

While Nigeria has a rich heritage of indigenous dance genres it is making its mark in other art forms.  It would appear from the costumes and hand links in this photo from Blackbones's Facebook page that those dancers are rehearsing the cygnets' dance from the second act of Swan Lake.  There are students of enormous talent in Nigeria Anthony Mmesoma Madu and he is by no means unique as can be seen in Lindsay Alissa King's articles  Ballet in Nigeria and Imagining the Future of Ballet from Nigeria in Ballet Rising.

Now that I have learned a little more about dance in Nigeria and established links with some of the leaders in the sector I shall follow the sector with great interest.

Further Reading

The Hon Ehusani Abel Simpa The Role of the Customary Court in protecting Nigerian Cultural Expressions and Dance 28 Nov 2020 Eruditepark