Monday, 20 March 2023

Digwyddiad Cyntaf yng Nghymru - February Company Class in Myndd Isa

© 2023 Powerhouse Ballet: all rights reserved


I was inspired to found Powerhouse Ballet by the examples of the Chelmsford Ballet Company in Essex and the Duchy Ballet in Cornwall,  As Huddersfield is about the same size as Chelmsford and has good road and rail connections with Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield I thought about basing the new company in Huddersfield and calling it the Huddersfield Ballet,  I decided to broaden it to Powerhouse Ballet because the original concept of the Northern Powerhouse was a Leeds to Liverpool agglomeration as a counterweight to London (see my article Creating a Northern Counterweight to London is good for the Nation 5 April 2014 IP Northwest).  That is why I resolved to alternate monthly events between Yorkshire and the Northwest.

We held our first company class in Huddersfield in May 2018 and attracted 11 dancers "from Salford in the west and York in the east, from Harrogate in the north and Birmingham in the south and points in between" (see We have a Company 27 May 2018 Powerhouse Ballet).  We held our second class in Manchester in June and attracted four beautiful dancers from Wales.  Two of them, Holly Middleton and Alicia Jelley, were chosen by Terence Etheridge to dance in his ballet Aria.  They rehearsed assiduously for 6 months even though they are busy young women with careers and families.  The distances they had to travel were enormous as rehearsals alternated between Leeds and Manchester and on one occasion York.

During that time I promised them events west of Manchester including at least one in Wales just as soon as they could be arranged.  The pandemic and the closure of our studios in Liverpool and Manchester delayed the delivery of that promise until 25 Feb 2023 when we held our first company class at Elite Studios in Myndd Isa near Mold.  The class was delivered by Alicia Jelley who teaches at the studios. It included Sarah Lambert, Sue Pritchard, Holly Middleton, a very gifted local dancer and me.  It was not a big class but it was a very good one.  Alicia worked us very hard at the barre, in the centre and in the choreographic exercises.

Elite Studios is an excellent venue.  It is very close to the A55 and there are acres of free parking in the village centre and behind the studio.  There is a Sainsbury's local with an ATM and a fish and chip shop that would delight Gareth the Orangutan nearby.  The studio has two well-equipped studios with fixed barres and well-sprung floors, ample changing facilities for both men and women and excellently maintained bathrooms.   We shall certainly be back. 

As soon as it can be arranged I plan to hold a residential summer school which will alternate between the university cities of York and Bangor.  According to Christie Barnes, York St John University could host the York school.  We have already held a Giselle workshop and a rehearsal for Aria there.  The Bangor venue could be a recently opened youth theatre called Frân Wen.  We have already recently received an expression of interest from its management.  There is a lot of work to be done and I am not sure that I will be ready by this summer but we have made a start,

Sunday, 19 March 2023

Sleeping Beauty Workshop

© 2023 Powerhouse Ballet: all rights reserve


Beth Meadway is one of Ballet Cymru's most experienced dancers.  She joined the company in 2017 and has performed many of the leading female roles in the company's repertoire.  She danced Helena and the wall in Dream which toured the country last year (see Ballet Cymru at its Best 13 Nov 2022).  Just before Christmas, I saw her in A Child's Christmas in Wales and Terms and Conditions at the Pontio Centre in Bangor.  After the show, I invited her to give  Powerhouse Ballet an online Post-Christmas class and a workshop in Leeds in the New Year.

As we are keen to develop our repertoire and need pieces that we can rehearse quickly in case we are invited to perform at short notice Beth offered to teach us three of the fairy variations from the Prologue of The Sleeping Beauty.  Each of those solos is very short.  Last Autumn's Giselle showed that we have members east and west of the Pennines who could perform solos.

Our workshop took place at Dance Studio Leeds on 12 Feb 2023.  It consisted of a full 90-minute class with a thorough barre and the usual centre exercises.  After a short break, Beth played us the music for the Fairy of the Crystal Fountain and then showed us the choreography. She taught us two more variations in the workshop.

Beth comes from our region.  She was born in Hull and trained in Leeds before she went to Central. She also attended Northern Ballet's Pre-Profesional Programme after she graduated.  It is a joy to watch one of our own establish herself in a very competitive occupation.   Beth was one of the trainers when we hosted Ballet Cymru's Dylan Thomas and Giselle workshops at Yorkshire Dance in 2018 and 2021 and she delivered two great online workshops for us during covid and after Christmas.  We look forward to her continued success and - if she can spare us the time - working with her yet again.

Saturday, 18 March 2023

Essex Excellence - The Chelmsford Ballet's Cinderella

(c) 2023 Chelmsford Ballet Company: all rights reserved Licence Courtesy of the company


Chelsea Ballet Company Cinderella Chelmsford Theatre 17 March 2023 19:30

Chelmsford is a community about the size of Huddersfield and the same distance from London as Huddersfield is from Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.  Although Chelmsford has been a city for many years in the ecclesiastical sense as it has a cathedral it was elevated to city status in the municipal sense in 2012 to celebrate the late Queen's diamond jubilee.  While Huddersfield is renowned for its choral society Chelmsford has an institution that is at least as precious, namely the Chelmsford Ballet Company.

Chelmsford Ballet Company is a company of artists who live and work or study in and around Chelmsford.  Although some of its members have made a career in dance - including one of my dear teachers at Northern Ballet Cara O'Shea - many do not.  I shall not call those artists "amateurs" because that description has connotations of aspiration rather than achievement.  In the quality of its productions and the enjoyment that its audiences experience the Chelmsford Ballet stands comparison with many companies of full-time dancers.

Every March the company stages a full-length ballet or mixed bill in Chelmsford's Civic Theatre.  This year it presented its own version of Cinderella.  The score was by Glazunov and not Prokofiev and the choreography was by the company's artistic director Annette Potter with the important contribution of a pas de trois for Cinderella, her prince and his footman from one of my longstanding, favourite choreographers Christopher Marney.  One of the company's strengths is the quality of its sets, costumes, lighting and special effects.  Annette Potter designed the sets, Ann Starlings the costumes and Alana Holland the lighting.  This year we were treated to indoor pyrotechnics when the Fairy Godmother cast off her cloak to reveal a dazzling tutu, Cinderella set off for the ball and at the finale.  I do not know who takes credit for those fireworks but they were spectacular.

Another strength of the Chelmsford Ballet is that it finds a role for as many of its members as possible.  These include the children who performed as mice and the adults who danced as fairy godmother's assistants, seamstresses, ladies of the court, court dancers, the hours of the clock and guests at the wedding.  All of those performers danced well and all deserve congratulations but if I gave each and every one of them her due in this review it would resemble a telephone directory.

The lead roles were, of course, the prince danced by Nicola Marchionni and Cinderella danced by Isabelle Fellows.  They performed their roles with fluency and flair.  They impressed me particularly in their first duet with movements that required considerable virtuosity and more than a little daring. They communicated ecstasy to the audience.  Appreciating the difficulty I applauded them specifically for that sequence.  I have no idea whether they could have heard clapping from row "O" but they know about it now.

The other important female characters were the fairy godmother danced elegantly by Samatha Ellis and the step sisters Alycia Potter and Georgia Olley.  The sisters were my favourites and I can assure readers that there is nothing "ugly" about either of them in real life.   I was able to congratulate one of them on the way out of the theatre when I deposited a somewhat larger contribution to the company's charity than I would otherwise have made.   It is very difficult to clown in ballet and they showed their virtuosity in the dancing lesson by collapsing into splits.  I was reminded of Paddington Bear at Her Majesty's platinum jubilee when one of the sisters took the teapot and poured its contents down her throat from the spout.

The three other males were Neil Harget who was Cinders's long-suffering dad, Alexander Evans who was the tailor and pageboy and James Fletcher who also performed several roles including Marney's pas de trois with Marchioni and Fellows.  All were impressive but I have to give special praise to Evans.  He is still very young but I am sure he will go far.  He has stage presence in spades.  I was particularly amused by his chutzpah as he extracted the last wad of banknotes from a father on his way to Carey Street

Cinderella continues at the Civic for one more day and if you can make it to Chelmsford either for the matinee or the evening show you will be amply rewarded.

Friday, 17 March 2023

An Evening of Music and Dance

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Author JimmyGuano Licence CC BY-SA 4.0  Source Wikimedia Commons


Birmingham Royal Ballet  An Evening of Music and Dance  Symphony Hall, Birmingham 11 Feb 2023  19:30

If there is one thing that riles a Mancunian it is the proposition that the city of a thousand trades somehow rakes precedence in the national pecking order.   When propounded by a southerner our usual riposte is "Oh I always thought the second city was London." But to be fair, Birmingham has some great institutions not least of which are the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Symphony Hall.

An opportunity to enjoy them both occurs every February in An Evening of Music and Dance That is a concert by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia with contributions from artists of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and students of Elmhurst Ballet School.  It is one of the rare occasions when the audience can see the orchestra on stage.  I imagine that it must be a liberation for the musicians to escape from the orchestra pit and share the limelight with the dancers they support for the rest of the year.

According to the Birmingham Royal Ballet's website, the programme was "hand-picked" by Carlos Acosta and Paul Murphy which perhaps explains the preponderance of works associated with the Spanish-speaking world.    The programme was as follows:

  • Rossini The Barber of Seville: Overture
  • Howard/Nunes Interlinked pas de deux
  • De Falla El amor brujo: Ritual Fire Dance
  • Rachmaninov/Ashton Rhapsody pas de deux
  • Granados Goyescas: Intermezzo
  • Pugni//Petipa/Vaganova Diana and Actaeon pas de deux
  • Chabrier España
  • Tchaikovsky/Petipa/Wright Swan Lake: Act III pas de deux
  • Albéniz Tango
  • Bizet/Acosta Carmen pas de deux
  • Ginastera/Fajardo Estancia, Danza dek trigo and Malambo 
  • Drigo/Petipa/Vaganova Le Corsaire pas de deux
The evening was compered by Marverine Cole.

The first ballet was Juliano Nunes's Interlinked, Pas de Deux to Luke Howard's score of the same name.  According to the programme notes it was created for On Your Marks, a triple bill to celebrate the Commonwealth Games which were held in Birmingham last summer.  It was danced by Tzu Chao-Chou and Brandon Lawrence, two very graceful but also very muscular dancers.  I stress muscular because they were clad in what appeared to be romantic tutus.  According to the programme the costumes and choreography do not distinguish between male and female performers often turning balletic conventions on their heads.  For me, that was a distraction but it was still possible to appreciate the virtuosity of the dancers. 

Having attended An Evening with Ashton at Elmhurst on 24 Jan 2023 I was particularly looking forward to Ashton's Rhapsody Pas de Deux. Ashton had created Rhapsody for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Lesley Collier in August 1980 on the occasion of the late Queen Mother's 80th birthday.  At Elmhurst, Collier had coached  Frieda Kaden and Oscar Kempsey-Fagg so her tips and recollections were fresh in my memory.  It had been a direct link with Sir Frederick himself.  The dancers who performed that piece at Symphony Hall were Max Maslen and Beatrice Parma. Throughout the piece, I recalled Collier's instructions to Kaden and Kempsey-Fagg such as "Lift her but not too high".  Altogether, it was a rare and precious moment.

Diana and Actaeon is a spectacular piece.  It begins with the entry of Diana practically jumping on pointe.  Actaeon joins her on stage with massive leaps It was choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova to the music of Cesare Pugni. The only time that I had seen the work before was when I watched Michaela DePrince for the first time.  I was bowled over both by her and the choreography (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013).  Tyrone Singleton and Sofia Liñares danced this piece at the Evening of Music and Dance.  Their interpretation was quite different.  Elegant, fluid and lyrical and while still exciting their performance was somehow, a little more restrained.  

There was an interval between Diana and Actaeon and España.  The first ballet of the second half of the show was the seduction scene from Act III of Swan Lake.  That pas de deux was performed exquisitely by Brandon Lawrence and Céline Gittens. Gittens is one of my all-time favourite ballerinas. Odette-Odile is one of her most impressive roles.  Her execution of Legnani's 32 fouettés was the high point of my evening.  In the full-length ballet, the piece is followed by pandemonium as Rothbart and his daughter exit the stage.  It is the last that audiences ever see of Odile.  As this was a concert, there was a reverence after the performance at which Gittens acknowledged her applause with the most enchanting smile.  I could not help thinking that she was much too nice for Odile.

Liñares returned with Lachlan Monaghan to dance the Interlude from Carmen which Carlos Acosta had choreographed for himself and Marienela Nuñes while he was still a principal with the Royal Ballet.  I had previously associated Carmen with Zizi Jeanmaire and to a lesser extent Maya Pliesetskaya though I had only seen them on film.  Acosta's version is based on one of the most haunting parts of Bizet's score.  It will be interesting to see the work in full.

Students from Elmhurst performed Danza del trigo and Malambo from Alberto Ginastera's Estancia which were choreographed by Sonia Fajardo.  According to the programme notes, the composer wrote Estancia for American Ballet Caravan whose choreographer was George Balanchine. The rhythm of Malambo is infectious.  The artists threw themselves into the work.  it was the most exuberant performance of the evening.

The finale was Drigo's pas de deux  from Le Corsaire.  Although most of the score had been composed by Adolphe Adam I learned from the programme notes that Marius Petipa had incorporated music by other composers including Ricardo Drigo.  I also learned that Vaganova had created a pas de deux on Drigo's work which was performed by Riku Ito and  Yaoqian Shang.  Only English National Ballet includes Le Corsaire in its repertoire.  It is a work that would suit Birmingham Royal Ballet well.

This was a very interesting programme.   I was introduced to three composers, namely Ricardo Drigo, Alberto Ginestera and Luke Howard and two new choreographers, namely Juliano Nunes and Sonia Fajardo.   It was also good to meet the Elmhurst students some of whom will join the Birmingham Royal Ballet and other leading companies.   It was my first visit to Symphony Hall and I look forward to returning, perhaps for a concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra which I have so far heard only in recordings and broadcasts.   

Friday, 3 February 2023

Dance for Parkinson's in the Pontio Centre

Srandard YouTube Licence

I remember an interview with Tamara Rojo in which she said that one of English National Ballet's achievements of which she was particularly proud were its Dance for Parkinson's class.  I blogged about them in English National Ballet's Appeal for Funds for its Parkinson's Classes on 14 Dec 2014 and I have supported them ever since.

I have recently learnt that the National Dance Company Wales runs Dance for Parkinson's classes at the Pontio Centre in Bangor as well as Blackwood, Cardiff and Wrexham.  The Pontio Centre is an initiative of Bangor University that houses a theatre, cinema, gallery, fabLab, bars and restaurants as well as the dance studio where the classes take place.  I described its importance in How the Pontio Centre and M-SParc complement each other in the Social and Economic Development of Northwest Wales in NIPC Wales on 5 June 2020:
"Like M-SParc, the Pontio Centre is an initiative of Bangor University and they complement each other. While the science park provides facilities for new knowledge-based businesses the Pontio is a venue for the performing arts. Both are essential for the economic and social regeneration of Northwest Wales. The new businesses in or clustering around M-SParc already provide employment for the region's graduates and young professionals. The arts will nourish their minds and spirits."

I have reviewed three shows at the Pontio by Ballet Cymru:  Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs on 1 Dec 2018, Wired to the Moon, Divided We Stand and Celtic Concerto on 30 Nov 2019 and A Child's Christmas and Terms and Conditions on 2 Dec 2022.

According to the National Dance Company's website classes at the Pontio take place every Tuesday at 13:30 and cost £3.50.  The Centre is on Deiniol Toad not far from the town centre.  There is a car park almost opposite.

The National Dance Company Wales is one of the UK's leading contemporary dance companies.  It is based at the Dancehouse in Cardiff   It is about to take its mixed bill Pulse which will start at the Pontio on 23 March 2023 and will take in London, Derby and Huddersfield as well as venues throughout Wales.  I am looking forward to seeing the show at the Lawrence Batley on 18 May 2023.

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Michaela DePrince's Coppelia

Modern Films Coppelia


Modern Films Coppelia BBC 2 18:15 27 Dec 2022  and iPlayer

On the evening of 27 Dec 2022, the BBC broadcast Modern Films' Coppelia in the UK. Readers who missed the transmission can still catch it on the iPlayer.  It was choreographed by Ted Brandsen and has much in common with his production for the Dutch National Ballet which I reviewed in Brandsen's Coppelia on 12 Dec 2016.  The main differences are that the score is by Maurizio Malagnini and not by Leo Delibes and it is very much shorter.  Most of the dancers are or were in the Dutch National Ballet and some of the designs seem to be the same.

For me, the main attraction of this film was that it featured Michaela DePrince. Because I have strong connections with Sierra Leone, I took an interest in her even before she joined the Dutch National Ballet (see Michaela DePrince 4 April 2013). When I learned that she had joined the Junior Company I flew out to Amsterdam to watch her dance (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013  25 Nov 2013).

DePrince introduced me to the rest of the Junior Company which included some outstanding dancers. Through them, I got to know the rest of the company which has given me enormous pleasure over the last 10 years.  Some of its members have become dear friends and acquaintances and I have made many more friendships among its regular ballet-goers.  I am therefore grateful to her not only for her performances but also for the introduction to the company and its fans. 

DePrince is now in Boston which is a lot further away.  Modern Films' production was one last chance to see her with members of the Dutch National Ballet.   She danced Swan, the lead role in the film. Traditionally the heroine is called Swanhilde though, in Brandsen's stage production, she is known as Swantje. Daniel Camargo who has also crossed the Atlantic but was formerly a principal of the Dutch National Ballet danced Franz.  Dr Coppelius was danced by Vito Mazzeo.  Swan's friends were Nancy Burer, JingJing Mao and Sasha Nukhamedov, Franz's were Timothy van Poucke, Sam Sjouke and Edo Wijnen and Igone de Jongh was the ballet teacher.  Darcey Bussell, one of the few cast members not to be in HNB danced the mayor.  Floor Eimers, Giovanni Princop and Rachel Beaujean were also in the film.

I enjoyed it more than Scottish Ballet's Coppelia but not as much as English National or Birmingham Royal Ballet's or indeed Ted Brandsen's stage version.  I think that is because all those companies retain Delibers's score which contributes so much to the ballet.   It was lovely to see DePrince again as well as other members of HNB.  I am not sure that I would have liked it as much had the cast come from any other company.

Monday, 30 January 2023

An "Evening with Ashton" and the Launch of an English Junior Company

Lesley Collier
Photographer MaraJK Licence CC BY-SA 4,0  Source Wikimedia Commons

Birmingham Royal Ballet  An Evening with Ashton 24 Jan 2023  Elmhurst Ballet School

Lesley Collier was one of my favourite dancers when I first took an interest in ballet.  I had not seen her for many years so I jumped at the chance to watch her coach two dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet at Elmhurst Ballet School on 24 Jan 2023.  Shortly before the masterclass was due to start, Carlos Acosta appeared,  It was clear that this event would be out of the ordinary.  The director introduced the dancers as founder members of BRB2.

It was only in the interval that I appreciated the significance of that introduction.  I overheard Caroline Miller (who was sitting immediately behind me) discuss the new company.  Her description sounded very like Ernst Meisner's Junior Company which I have followed since 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Feb 2013 Terpsichore). I turned around and asked her whether my surmise was right.  She confirmed that it was.  I was delighted because I had been calling for British companies to follow the Dutch lead for many years, The Junior Company has launched many dazzling careers and strengthened still further an already great company.

The dancers whom Lesley Collier coached were Frieda Kaden and Oscar Kempsey-Fagg,  The piece that she rehearsed was the pas de deux from Ashton's RhapsodyAshton had created that work to celebrate the Queen Mother's 80th birthday and he had chosen Collier to dance it with Mikhail Baryshnikov.  The music is  Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini which the conductor, Barry Wordsworth described as virtuoso in the pit as well as on stage in the Royal Opera House's YouTube clip An Introduction to Rhapsody (the Royal Ballet).   The video shows Collier coaching Steven McRea and Natalia Osipova on the same piece as she coached Kaden and Kempsey-Fagg in Birmingham. 

Kaden and Kempsey-Fagg are at the very start of their careers but they seemed to do the pas de deux just as well as McRea and Osipova.  For the audience the exercise was fascinating.  Ashton had labelled different parts of the piece with distinctive names such as "the pussy cats".  Collier spotted the most minute details such as Kempsey-Fagg lifting Kaden a little bit too high. She reran each sequence requiring a correction until it was perfect.  My only regret as an audience member is that there was not enough time for the dancers to take the whole piece from the top.

The two young dancers rehearsed the piece not only in front of their artistic director but also their artistic coordinator, Kit Holder and three of their colleagues.  The appointment of Holder is an excellent choice.  I recognized his exceptional talent as a choreographer as long ago as 2015.  I wrote in It Takes Three to Tango:
"Kit Holder has choreographed Quatrain for Birmingham Royal Ballet to Piazzolla's The Four Season's of Buenos Aires. Holder is an impressive talent. I first noticed him in Ballet Black's To Fetch a Pail of Water (see Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet 17 Feb 2015) and I was bowled over by Hopper which he created for Ballet Central (see Dazzled 3 May 2015)."

Holder has created plenty of work since then.   

Like the Junior Company, BRB2 will tour to gain stage experience.  They will start in Northampton on 25 April, continue to Nottingham on 28 and 29, Peterborough on 3 and 4 May, Covent Garden on 13 and 14 June and Wolverhampton on 24 June.  The best night to see them is probably their premiere in Northampton on 25 April 2023 when they will perform with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.  Unfortunately, I shall have to miss that show as I have to chair a lunchtime seminar in Gaerwen on Anglesey the very next day but I will catch them in Nottingham (which is the closest venue to my home) and possibly other stages of their tour.

After the masterclass, we were introduced to the former Sadler's Wells Ballet dancer Lynne Wake who had made Frederick Ashton: Links in the Chain for The Frederick Ashton Foundation.  The film contains contributions from Sir Anthony Dowell, Dame Antoinette Sibley and Lynn Seymour who were at the height of their careers when I started to follow ballet.  There are also interviews with Dame Beryl Grey, Dame Gillian Lynne and Henry Danton who sadly died recently. Happily, there are also contributions from dancers who are still with us such as Marianela Núñez and Vadim Muntagirov.

The title "Links in the Chain" reminds me of Clement Crisp's interview of Dame Antoinette which I discussed in Le jour de gloire est arrive - Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School on 3 Feb 2014:

"Sibley spoke about her teachers I realized that every teacher represents to his or students every dancer, choreographer and teacher who has gone before. Sibley loved her teachers and I can relate to that because I love every one of mine. Those who have gently corrected my wobbling arabesques and feeble turns. I texted one of them yesterday after the talk from a restaurant where I ordered - guess what - a steak.
'Oh super jealousy/ she replied.
'Don't be jealous' I responded 'You are also part of the tradition. You live it, I just see it. And you pass on your gift to others.'
'Awwwww Thanku xxxx'
'When I go to class you or Annemarie represent every dancer, choreographer and teacher who ever lived'.
'Aw Jane! I won't be able to leave the room soon'
'I am only paraphrasing Sibley. She should know. Through you I am linked to your teacher who is probably linked to someone at Ballet Russes who is linked to Petipa..
'xxxxx wise woman!.'
As indeed Dame Antoinette is. I learned so much from her yesterday for which I shall always be grateful."

Wake's film celebrated such links. Collier's coaching illustrated another. The exceptionally gifted young men and women who have been accepted into BRB2 and the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company will plug into those links through Kit Holder and Ernst Meisner.