Friday, 27 December 2013

Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph!

Northern Ballet Cinderella Leeds Grand Theatre 26 Dec 2013

In my review of Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel on 23 Dec 2013 I wrote:
"Brilliantly conceived, brilliantly orchestrated, brilliantly designed and brilliantly danced my only fear is that it will spoil me for the next ballet that I shall see which will be Northern Ballet's Cinderella at the Grand on Boxing Day."
Hansel and Gretel was not the only ballet that might have spoiled me. I had also seen Ashton's Cinderella with Sir Fred and Sir Bob as the ugly sisters. I had seen Matthew Bourne's Cinderella which is set in  wartime London and is the best work from New Adventures that I have seen so far. While waiting for the Grand to open I watched on my mobile phone the trailer for Christopher Wheeldon's new version for the Dutch National Ballet which looks amazing. How could anything that Northern might produce possibly stand comparison?

Well, it does. Nixon's Cinderella is his best work yet. Even better than Gatsby (see "Life follows Art: the Great Gatsby" 8 March 2013) and indeed Dream though the audience did not respond so enthusiastically (see "Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sept 2013).  As you can see from the synopsis Nixon has reworked the story and used a completely new score by Philip Feeney.  Setting the ballet in pre-revolutionary Russia has worked at least as well as Hampson's setting Hansel and Gretel in post-war central Scotland which I commended last week. The first scene brought Chekhov's Cherry Orchard to mind and the circus and skating scenes on the Crystal Lake reminded me of Petrushka. The setting provided the opportunity for some spectacular sets by Duncan Hayler with dashing uniforms for the men and gorgeous skirts and headdresses for the women.

Nixon also created a strong new male character: a magician who replaced the Fairy Godmother  in other versions of the story. Danced yesterday by Hironao Takahashi who was also Cinderella's father, Count Serbrenska, he literally wrought magic before our eyes. Conjuring tricks at first and then bigger ones such as doing the housework in a trice (making me and probably every other woman in the audience smile)- a better job than even James Dyson for all his technical wizardry could accomplish - and then finally, after audience dazzling light effects, his tour de force, the Cinders mobile. Her sleigh pulled not by mice but by huskies with the word "Cinders" on the sides in flashing lights.  Nixon and Hayler have probably started a new trend in stretched limos. Every girl in Adel, Bramhope and Harrogate will want one for her 18th birthday, prom or hen night.

I must say something about the leading dancers. Like millions of balletomanes I watched Acosta and Nuñez dance Basilio and Kitri in Don Quixote in the cinemas and on BBC4 on Christmas day. There was a special sort of rapport between them which I attributed to their being Latin Americans dancing roles derived from one of the classics of Spanish literature. I saw something of the same yesterday in  Javier Torres, who danced the prince, and Lucia Solari, who was Cinderella. Torres, like Acosta, is Cuban and Solari was born in Uruguay which is next to Argentina though she has lived in Europe for many years. Was it coincidence, my imagination or something more?  Whatever the reason I was captivated by their dancing, particularly the pas de deux at the end of the ball and the second pas de deux in the last scene.

It would however be unfair to single out those two for special praise.  All performed well. Teresa Saavedra-Bordes and Rachael Gillespie, who danced Cinderella's, were anything but ugly except in the way they treated poor Cinders. A strong performance from Jessica Morgan, the stepmother.  Oh and I loved the performing bear who I suspect was Matthew Broadbent.

If you want to know more about the show Janet McNulty, who seems to be as big a fan of Northern Ballet as me, has written some marvellous notes for Balletcoforum  I have just discovered that forum and am hooked on it. It is a wonderful resource and I commend it to all. Cinderella will be at Leeds until the 4 January 2014 and it will be staged in Hull and Cardiff in April. If you live in or near any of those cities you really must see it.

My only thought - which is only half frivolous - is will Cinderella spoil me for the next ballet that I shall be see which will be Giselle with Acosta and Osipova on 18 Jan in Covent Garden? When I tweeted that thought yesterday @norhernballet (Dolly?) replied that Giselle might give me the wilis which provided plenty of Myrthe.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel

Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel, Theatre Royal Glasgow, 21 Dec 2013

If you want to rework a well-known story so that it is fresh and contemporary but not gimmicky Scottish Ballet's Artistic Director, Christopher Hampson, shows how to do it.  Locating the first Act of The Nutcracker by the banks of the Thames or getting rid of the divertissements from Aurora's wedding in Sleeping Beauty seem to me to be changes for change sake.  Hampson, however, has produced a version of Hansel and Gretel set in the 1950s and 1960s that is a different from the Grimm brothers' story and Humperdinck's opera but still works very well.

The synopsis is the product of a remarkable exercise called Hansel & Gretel and Me which included creative writing and art competitions for adults and children and outdoor performances of scenes from the story. Those exercises, which lstarted in 2012, were carried out in conjunction with the National Library and National Galleries of Scotland, the Scotsman newspaper and other Scottish and local institutions.

Whether intended by the choreographer or not there were plenty of Scottish cues as the ballet unfolded.  Muriel Spark's Prime of Miss Jean Brodie came to mind as a new teacher who turned out to be the witch charmed the children and spirited them away.  Nesbit and Roper's Steamie as Hansel and Gretel's mother, hair in head scarf, cigarette in hand, shuffled back into the house and slumped on the sofa as her children hauled off her shoes and shod her with slippers. Even the music hall song "I belong to Glasgow" as pa returned with two of his cronies very much the worse the wear with Glasgow going round and round. Judging by the conversations in the Bar in the interval, the audience at the Theatre Royal picked up on all those allusions.

The story has created some really juicy roles.  First, there is the teacher who morphs into the local vamp, the ballerina in the moon and finally a wicked and twisted, ugly old witch.  Next there are the parents who shed their everyday existence to perform a glamorous pas de deux in the children's dreams.  There are Hansel and Gretel themselves not to mention lots of ravens, chefs and fairies.   Because the theatre management distributed cast lists dated the 18 December instead of the 21 and as I am not yet sufficiently familiar with the company to recognize the dancers on stage I cannot be sure who danced those roles.  According to that cast list Marge Hendrick danced the witch, Christopher Harrison and Luciana Ravizzi the parents, Constant Vigier Hansel and Sophie Martin Gretel. If that cast list is right Hendrick danced impressively, especially as she is still listed in the corps on the company's website.

Although the score was composed by Engelbert Humperdinck it includes extracts from his other works as well as his opera. The fascinating story of how Richard Honner, the Principal Conductor, compiled and orchestrated a ballet score is set out in the programme in an article by Graeme Virtue.

Gary Harris's sets which had to transport us from Hansel and Gretel's home to a city street, the enchanted forest, the imaginary feast and finally the interior of the witch's gingerbread house were ingenious. The fridge which opened to reveal a solitary beer can anchored the ballet in the late 1950s or early 1960s.  An impression reinforced by the mother's pinny and headscarf and Hansel's shorts with braces and open neck shirt.

Brilliantly conceived, brilliantly orchestrated, brilliantly designed and brilliantly danced my only fear is that it will spoil me for the next ballet that I shall see which will be Northern Ballet's Cinderella at the Grand on Boxing Day. I hope not for as a Friend and as a member of the over 55 class of its Academy I feel part of that company and love it dearly. But I have followed Scottish Ballet ever since it was in Bristol and I got to know it well when it first moved to Glasgow (see Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013). Scottish Ballet was my first love and they say that one's first love is always the greatest. Having seen Hansel and Gretel my love for Scottish Ballet has been rekindled.

Hansel and Gretel will stay at Glasgow until this Saturday. It will then move to Edinburgh (8 to 11 Jan 2014), Aberdeen (15 - 18 Jan 2014), Inverness (22 - 25 Jan 2014), Newcastle (29 Jan - 1 Feb 2014) and Belfast (5 - 8 Feb 2014). If you live anywhere near those towns do go to see it.  Although no plans to bring it anywhere else have been published, I hope the company will dance Hansel and Gretel to London or, better still from my point of view, Leeds and Manchester.

Post Script

Andrew Cameron, Customer Services Manager of the Theatre Royal, has just emailed me the cast list for the performance on 21 Dec 2013 which I have just reviewed.


Mother Eve Mutso
Sandman Christopher Harrison
Ravens Daniel Davidson, Rimbaud Patron, Thomas Edwards
Chefs Nicholas Shoesmith, Thomas Kendall
Dew Drop Fairy Constance Devernay
Rag Dolls Sophie Laplane, Jamiel Laurence

Waiters, Waitresses,
Fairy Attendants, Sweet Treats
and other characters: Artists of Scottish Ballet

Conductor Richard Honner

Friday, 20 December 2013

Scottish Ballet

Tomorrow I go to Glasgow to see Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel. I am looking forward to it tremendously, partly because a new work by Christopher Hampson is a delight in itself but also because Scottish Ballet has a special place in my affections.

Although I had an interest in ballet when I was at school in West London - maybe because of a wonderful exhibition of costumes and scenery from the Ballets Russes or perhaps because I had got to know some of the students of the Royal Ballet School as they were just across the Cromwell Road from us - it was at St Andrews that my interest developed into a passion.  The Professor of Art History was John Steer who had come to us from Bristol. There he had got to know Western Theatre Ballet and it was through him that I got to know that company.

Peter Darrell  1928 - 1987
The company had a wonderful choreographer in Peter Darrell as well as wonderful dancers like Bronwen Curry, Ashley Killar,  Kenn Wells and my favourite Elaine McDonald. I began to follow them even while they were still at Bristol.

A year after Steer came to St Andrews the company moved to Glasgow and changed its name to Scottish Theatre Ballet. I do not know whether Steer had anything to do with that move but he was very close to the company and eventually became its chair.  Once when Scottish Theatre Ballet visited Dundee Steer actually introduced me to the cast.  I even had the privilege of giving two of them a lift to their lodgings.  One was Kenn Wells. I cannot remember who was the other.  Steer actually brought them to our university. They performed in the Buchanan Theatre in Market Street, on 15 Feb 1971, the day we adopted decimal currency.

The first of Darrrell's full length works that I saw was Beauty and the Beast.  I reviewed it for Aien our student newspaper.  I saw the ballet at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh shortly after they had moved to Scotland.  I also remember chartering a bus for our ballet club of which I was a founder member.  The dancing was superb and I can remember Thea Musgrave's score which Darrell had commissioned.   I could not find the ballet in the company's current repertoire which is a pity.

Darrell and Steer are now dead and I was very sad to learn today that Elaine McDonald is not in good health.  I was even sadder to learn that my world had intruded into hers when she sought a judicial review of the richest borough in England's decision to withdraw her carer to save a few thousand pounds.  But I have seen a film clip of her taken shortly after the appeal.  Despite her infirmity she retains her elegance and bearing as a star.

A lot has happened to Scottish Ballet since I left St Andrews. Tarama Rojo has come and gone and it now has an excellent artistic director in Hampson.  It has won critical acclaim around the world.  It is one of the UK's strongest companies.  I now have other loves in ballet but it was Scottish Ballet that was my first love.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Choral

A view of Huddersfield from Castle Hill   Source Wikipedia

For one day a year a week or so before Christmas Huddersfield becomes the centre of the musical world. On that day the Huddersfield Choral Society which is arguably the best choir in Britain if not the world performs Handel's Messiah in Huddersfield Town Hall.

The Choral as we like to call it has a unique sound which is easier to experience than describe. It is something that is felt almost as much as heard. It can be awesome and almost frightening, a rumble like an express train or even an earthquake in the Dies Irae of Verdi's Requiem. Or it can soar majestically in the Hallelujah chorus as it did yesterday. What my late spouse called "a foretaste of Heaven". Words, incidentally, used to describe only one other shared experience during a long marriage, the beauty and tranquillity of Iona. I have heard recordings of the Choral that were made before I was born and that sound was there. I have heard other Messiahs by other great choirs, and, despite the richness of their sound, it was not there.

Although  this Huddersfield sound is a constant each year every Messiah is different because there are different conductors and different soloists. Last night the conductor was Martyn Brabbins and he understands us the subscribers. How we clapped and how we cheered and, at one point, Brabbins conducted our cheers. We, the audience, good solid Yorkshire folk are part of every performance, you know. We could sing it ourselves from memory. Every word. Every note.

In fact we do sing a little because every Messiah begins with the Christmas Hymn, 
"Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Wherein the Saviour of mankind was born;"
Yesterday we were conducted by the Choral's chorus master Joseph Cullen. And he understands Yorkshire folk too.

We had four wonderful soloists, Susan Gritton, soprano, David Allsopp, countertenor, Ben Johnson, tenor and Neal Davies, bass.  Allsopp brought out qualities of the score that I had never previously noticed. I was particularly moved when he sang the air "He was despised". We had a great organist in Darius Battiwalla. And last but not least the magnificent Royal Northern Sinfonia.

"So what's all this got to do with ballet or even dance?" I hear you say. Well I did reserve the right to go off topic occasionally for an exceptional concert and this was certainly exceptional. And we dance in Huddersfield as well as sing (see "The Base Studios, Huddersfield"). We produced David Bintley of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. I don't know whether he had any connection with the Choral or even attended a concert but you can't live in this part of Yorkshire without knowing about it. The Choral must have been part of Bintley's cultural heritage.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Bounden - Something that appeals to my Interests in Technology and Dance

I am often consulted by start-ups with bright ideas for games and other applications in my practice as an intellectual property and technology lawyer. Over the years I have seen some amazing projects. But I have never seen one that I like as much as Bounden.  This is an app that appeals to my love of dance as well as my love of technology.  It is being developed by a small company in Utrecht in the Netherlands called Game Oven. Its creative team includes not just programmers and graphic designers but Ernst Meisner, one of my favourite dancers and choreographers.

All I know about this project is in this film so I shall leave it to the team to introduce themselves and their product.  All I will add to it is that Meisner says that he will involve the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet of which he is artistic director. Now I have seen that company dance in Amsterdam and it is impressive.  I reviewed that performance in "The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013" 25 Nov 2013.

On 12 Oct 2013 Dave Wilson wrote "Engaging Generation Y in ballet – thoughts and ideas" in his Dave Tries Ballet blog. The article suggested ways of attracting the young to ballet.  It is a very thoughtful article and I endorse it though I regret to say that I am no longer young. However, I now have an extra suggestion. If Bounden lives up to its promise this game could be the biggest attraction.  I have already tweeted Dave about this game.

Let's see what happens.


The greatest ballerina I have ever seen was Fonteyn but the one I love the most is Sibley. She was at her prime when I first took an interest in ballet. As I wrote in Ballerina on 1 July 2013
"Who is the greatest ballerina of all time?" I am sometimes asked. It is impossible to say. We can only know our contemporaries and, even then, comparisons are invidious. Each dancer is a star for a reason and the qualities that make a star of one dancer may be quite different from those that make a star of another.
But I can name my favourite dancer of all time and that is Antoinette Sibley. During her prime I could not see enough of her. I lost count of the number of her performances that I saw. Some praise her line, others her technique but, for me, it was the expressiveness of her face. Particularly her eyes. Above is a tribute of photos compiled by the RAD of which she was president. It is a lovely reminder of a great dancer and a still ravishingly beautiful woman."
Thanks to the London Jewish Cultural Centre and the London Ballet Circle whose excellent newsletter drew my attention to this event I shall see that wonderful artist again at the Royal Ballet School on 2 Feb 2014 (see Ivy House Music and Dance "Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp, An Afternoon at The Royal Ballet School"). Alas that event is now sold out but I was lucky enough to get a ticket and I shall review the event afterwards.

This visit to the Royal Ballet School is not the London Jewish Cultural Centre's only connection with ballet. Its home is Ivy House which was formerly the home of Anna Pavlova.  The Centre has published a lovely leaflet on the ballerina and her home on its website.  The leaflet shows Pavlova nestling a swan and it was The Dying Swan for which we remember her.

It is clear from its website that the London Jewish Cultural Centre does wonderful work not just in ballet or even the arts but in confronting racism, promoting education, running clubs and a vast range of activities for the young, women indeed everyone. We all benefit from such activities in one way or another and the Centre deserves our support.  The "How to Help Us" page suggests ways to do it.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Chelmsford Ballet

Amelia Wallis         Courtesy The Chelmsford Ballet Company

An amateur company with patrons like Christopher Marney, choreographer of the wonderful War Letters for Ballet Black, and the great ballerina, Doreen Wells, invites attention. On the home page of their website the Chelmsford Ballet Company describes itself as "an amateur company who set professional standards for all [its] work, involving professionals in [its] productions, courses, and other teaching and workshop opportunities." According to the history page it traces its history back to 1947 which makes it older than English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet.

I heard about the company through twitter. English National Ballet had been tweeting about the work that goes into their costumes for The Nutcracker (see "Cracking" 14 Dec 2013). I commented:
"@ENBallet's tweets on the amount of work which goes into each dancer's costume for a classical ballet like The Nutcracker is an eye opener."
The Chelmsford Ballet's publicity officer Jessica Wilson replied:
"@nipclaw @ENBallet we are busy sewing ours too, mouse king head has arrived and soldiers are at the ready!"
I followed the links and found the company's website.

The dancers are staging The Nutcracker at the Chelmsford Civic Theatre between the 19 and 22 March 2014 and I shall be there to review it on the opening night. If you want to come too, the following link takes you straight to the box office.  Clara in that performance will be danced by Amelia Wallis whose photo appears above. She and the other dancers were auditioned at a Nutcracker workshop other pictures of which you can see here.

If you do see the show it is worth staying awhile to visit the city and county. It has a very pretty 15th century cathedral dedicated to St Cedd who was one of the earliest English saints. There's a fine Saxon church that is also dedicated to him by the nuclear power station on the coast. Chelmsford also has a fine Shire Hall near the cathedral where the Crown Court used to sit. I got to know the city well in my early years at the Bar because my clerk sent me regularly to cross-examine coppers and plead mitigation there.  Essex is very like the North. It also has factories, coast and even a few hills though none quite so high as ours. More importantly, it has gritty, generous hearted people with a thirst for education and a determination to get on - not la-di-da but just like us. In fact I regard them as honorary Northerners.

Returning to the company for a second, there are classes for the company and guests which I would love to take, a regular newsletter and lots of other events. You can join as a dancing or a non-dancing member for a very reasonable subscription. You can download the application form here.  If you live nearby and are into dance, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, 14 December 2013


Standard YouTube |Licence

English National Ballet The Nutcracker The Coliseum 11 Dec 2918, 19:30

One of the pleasures of Christmas growing up in Surrey in the nineteen sixties and early seventies was London Festival Ballet's Nutcracker at the Royal Festival Hall. It quickly became part of the London Christmas like the Regent Street illuminations and the Norwegian spruce in Trafalgar Square.  It would appear from Alistair Macaulay's Nutcracker Chronicles in the New York Times when he set out to see 20 versions across the USA in December 2010 that there is a similar tradition elsewhere though not everywhere for Tamara Rojo writes in the programme for English National Ballet's current production that the first time she saw the work was when she was asked to dance in it for Scottish Ballet. The tradition continues though London Festival Ballet has changed its name to English National Ballet and it is now at the Coliseum and not the Festival Hall.

English National's current version of The Nutcracker is by Wayne Eagling and he has made a few changes to Petipa's choreography and Hoffmann's story such as setting it by the Thames rather than somewhere in Mitteleuropa, casting Clara as a grown woman fusing her with The Sugar Plum Fairy and letting the mouse hang on (literally) into the second Act which I am not altogether sure that I like. Turning Clara into an adult in particular takes away some of the innocence and indeed charm of a ballet which for me and many others is about sweets, toy soldiers and rampaging rodents.

Despite those reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed The Nutcracker on the opening night of its Christmas season. It will be at the Coliseum until the 5 Jan 2014.  It is well worth seeing for Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov's brilliance, for Peter Farmer's designs, for the sparkling Spanish, Arabic and Russian dances and other divertissements in the second Act and the wonderful character artistry by Junor Souza as the Nutcracker and James Streeter as King Mouse. There are some cute touches like a rat in a kilt in Act 1 (which may become a regular feature in English versions if Scotland votes the wrong way in September), using a mousetrap as a catapult and the substitution of a balloon for a sleigh as a transport to the kingdom of sweets and the land of dreams.

In the last 12 months I have seen Northern Ballet's Nutcracker at The Grand in Leeds, Ballet West's in Pitlochry and now English National's at the Coliseum as well as live streaming of the Royal Ballet's version from Covent Garden last year. Nothing like as many as Mr. Macaulay saw in his marathon but still a fair number. Do I have a favourite? Oh please don't ask me that for it is like asking parents to choose between their children. I love them all. I am just so grateful to every dancer who has ever been on the stage for his or her vocation and for sticking at it through years of training and risking injury to bring unadulterated pleasure to millions like me.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company: "Twelve Outstanding Talents" and "Stars of the Future"

I just spotted this trailer on the Dutch National Ballet's Facebook page which I "liked" along with the entire population of the Netherlands from King Willem-Alexander downwards. However I have actually seen these dancers on stage and they are even better in real life than they are in the video ("The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013" 25 Nov 2013). 

The video contains glimpses of the ballets that I saw in Amsterdam and reviewed in my post. There are a few words of Dutch which is not a language that I have ever studied but it is not very different from English and if you know some German you are well away.  My educated guess is that the first sign says "Twelve Outstanding Talents"  - or if it doesn't it could have done - and the second refers to "Twelve Stars of Tomorrow" and that is certainly true.

Although I am trying very hard to persuade the powers that be to invite them to England they seem to have their work cut out touring the Netherlands. They have already done Spijkenisse. Amsterdam and Heerelen and they are in Gouda tomorrow. After that they are taking a break until March when they are on the road again. It is well worth crossing the North Sea to see them. If you live anywhere in the near continent, what are you waiting for? 

Post Script 15 Dec 2013

Michaela dePrince and Sho Yamada of the Junior Company danced the pas de deux from Diana & Acteon at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam as part of the Netherlands' tribute to Nelson Mandela early this afternoon. I really wish I had heard of it in time to be there.  I can think of no better offering for a remarkable leader who probably spared his country, possibly his region and maybe the world, from a bloodbath.

Friday, 6 December 2013

It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class

I got up at 05:00 yesterday so that I could make Annemarie's 11:30 class for the over 55s in Leeds. This was more of a struggle than it sounds because I had come to London for our chambers Christmas bash at the Luce e Limoni the night before. Barristers are a fairly gregarious bunch as Lucentio noted in Taming 
of the Shrew
"And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends;" 
and Luce e Limoni is not a bad eatery if you ever find yourselves in the area (which you might if you go to Sadlers Wells for a ballet or even consult me about a patent).  So I rolled up to my long suffering daughter manquée's home in the early hours of the morning. But I hate to miss a class so I set off at 06:00 clearing the Blackwall Tunnel in no time at all and belting up the M11 and A1 towards Leeds with bags of time.

And then just south of Donny disaster struck. I found myself in a massive queue of trucks on the A1 (M). Yesterday's storm had blown down a tree which closed both lanes of the motorway. I found myself wedged between lorries, the hard shoulder and the central reservation unable to do anything except scan the ether for traffic information of which there came forth none.   As Melvyn Bragg gave way to Woman's House which in turn gave way to something else I realized that I was not going to make my class. Doubly galling as I shall have to miss next week's as well because I am speaking at a conference on Middle East intellectual property law at the Langham Hotel on the 12 Dec 2013. As Annemarie is a great teacher I rang the Northern Ballet Academy to send her my apologies. "No problem" said the kind lady at the other end. "there's a beginners' class at 19:00 tonight if you can make it in time".

Eventually the tree was moved and I reached my humble abode in time to prepare myself a late lunch or early dinner and make my way to Quarry Hill by 18:45.  The class took place in studio 3 which Annemarie had used on a couple of occasions. It has mirrors on only one wall and that is the wall where there is no barre. The class was very much like the one I had taken at Pineapple a few weeks earlier, lots of earnest looking disgustingly fit and thin young men and women one third of my age.

I understand that the class is usually taken by Fiona Beale but she was indisposed last night so it was taken by a teacher who introduced himself as "Chris". "Could that be Christopher Hinton-Lewis?"  I wondered.  One of my favourite dancers. Dancers look so different when you see them off the stage without makeup, lighting or costume. Well I couldn't think of any other Chris on the teaching staff so I guess it must have been. "What am I an ageing female version of Horace Rumpole of "traditional build" like Mma Ramotswe doing in the presence of this Adonis?" I thought to myself.

Class started with pliés though the sequences were a bit more complex and energetic than I am used to starting in second with port de bras, rises and quite brisk turns but I survived.  I also survived tendus and frappés plus a brush through which Chris described as "getting shit off your shoe" and an exercise which so far as I can remember was tendus to en plat front, side and back with the right foot culminating in a  retiré.  Quite a lot for an old lady.

Then we went into the centre which started off tamely enough with port de bras but became increasingly complex. The next exercise was pirouettes and that is something at which I am not very good. However, I did pick up some good tips and to my great surprise I was able to complete first 90, then 180 and finally 360 degree turns - more or less.

We next did chassés and pas de bourrée and even managed something approaching a port de bras which Chris commended.  I felt quite confident about that because Annemarie is mustard when it comes to port de bras. Finally we did some jumps which is about the only thing I can remember from my very first ballet classes in St Andrews 44 years ago. My teacher, Sally, used to get me jumping like a jack in the box. Chris started us with simple jumps in first and finally got us to do échappés.

It was very hard work but a wonderful class and great fun.  "See you next week" said one of the girls afterwards which was a wonderful boost to the self-confidence. "Was this your first class?" asked another which brought me back to earth with a bump. Was I really that bad? Anyway Chris invited me back though I am not sure how often that will be possible as I am already taking one regular class on a Thursday and nobody pays me to take ballet classes.

Monday, 2 December 2013

MurleyDance Triple Bill

MurleyDance Triple Bill Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds    1 Dec 2013

Topics like ageing, cancer, death and gender dysphoria are not exactly a bundle of laughs but they are aspects of the human condition which the arts exist to explain.  Yesterday's ballets by David Murley, Briar Adams and Gwyn Emberton performed by MurleyDance at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre addressed each of those issues and more. As some of those topics were a bit close to the bone they did not make for comfortable watching but they were compelling.  I would not have missed the show for the world.   MurleyDance, which I discussed in "Something to brighten up your Friday - MurleyDance is coming to the North" 8 Nov 2013 consists of those 3 choreographers and 6 remarkable dancers.  

One of those dancers is Sarah Kundi who is a particular favourite and I have to be careful how I explain why. In "Why Ballet Black Is special" 20 May 2013 I wrote:
"I was reminded of Fonteyn by Sarah Kundi when I first saw Depouillage on YouTube. Am I flattering Kundi extravagantly? I don't think so. Take a look at this YouTube clip of Marguerite and Armand and then another look at Depouillage. See what I mean? 
When I actually saw Kundi on stage for the first time in a Quadruple Bill at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre on Saturday 18 May the resemblance to the prima ballerina assoluta was quite uncanny."
Now those sentences have probably embarrassed the artist - for which I apologize - and many would say that they show how little I know about ballet;  but I do not resile from them for a moment,  Now I don't mean to compare Kundi to one of the greatest dancers if not the greatest of all time but Fonteyn actuated a switch that released contentment. No other dancer before or since has done that for me until now. Yesterday as in May Kundi flipped that switch in my brain. I don't know how she does it. Perhaps her stature or possibly her fluency and grace. But somehow I float when she dances. No other dancer has that effect on me. 

The first work of the evening was Murley's La Peau which transposed into dance Raphael's Three Graces, Ingres's La Grande Odalisque, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's Dying Slave.  The video shot in Edinburgh that I embedded into my last post on MurleyDance shows extracts from that ballet.  
  • The movement inspired by Raphael was titled Vanity and was danced by Sarah Kundi, Bianca Hopkins and Simona Marsabilio to the adagio in Albioni's Oboe Concerto in D Minor.  
  • The movement inspired by Ingres was a ravishing pas de deux by Joshua Royal and Giulia Neri to music by Patrick Hawes. These are beautiful dancers.  Royal is sleek and strong and Neri is smouldering and passionate.  
  • It took me some time to get the connection between the Birth of Venus and Ageing danced by Simona Marsibilio as the no longer young chanteuse and her nurses, Hopkins and Kundi.  The connection clicked several hours after the show when I realized that what I had perceived as an outsize bedpan was in fact the shell of the Botticelli.  The music also threw me for a while: a translation of Serge Lama's La Chanteuse a Vingt Ans (see the YouTube video here) by Murley and Paul Kelly set to music by Juan Rezzuto and sung by the soprano Emma Sewell. Just about everything bar the kitchen sink was thrown into that movement but it worked. Marsibilio is another rare talent. I shed silent tears for her as she struggled for her dignity en pointe as she was bundled brutally into a straitjacket by the red uniformed nurses. To stay on point, even for a few seconds with one's hands constrained, must have been horrible. 
  • Death the movement inspired by The Dying Slave was another slow burn because of the use of a step ladder but the dancing was exquisite. Umberto Aragno has a beautifully expressive face and great sensitivity.
Because of all the cultural allusions there is a lot to think about in La Peau and I think I will appreciate it more when I see it next time - and there certainly will be a next time.

My favourite work of the evening was The Marks We Leave by Adams to music by Al MacSween.  I think it is about the reactions of the young to the realization of their mortality.  According to the programme the dancers in the piece are all around the ages of 16 to 17. Having seen the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company (see "The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013" 25 Nov) I would love to see what those dancers would make of Adams's work. There are some strong roles: Augustus, an athlete suffering from brain cancer, danced by Royal, Caroline his girl friend who had died of a brain tumour danced by Kundi and Monica danced by Neri. This work enabled those dancers to display their virtuosity.

Gwyn Emberton's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress to a score by Razzuto is based on Alan Ball's play by the same name.  As I have not seen the play and I am not sure how well it is known in the UK I reproduce the story from the Dramatists Play Service website:
"During an ostentatious wedding reception at a Knoxville, Tennessee, estate, five reluctant, identically clad bridesmaids hide out in an upstairs bedroom, each with her own reason to avoid the proceedings below. They are Frances, a painfully sweet but sheltered fundamentalist; Mindy, the cheerful, wise-cracking lesbian sister of the groom; Georgeanne, whose heartbreak over her own failed marriage triggers outrageous behavior; Meredith, the bride's younger sister whose precocious rebelliousness masks a dark secret; and Trisha, a jaded beauty whose die-hard cynicism about men is called into question when she meets Tripp, a charming bad-boy usher to whom there is more than meets the eye. As the afternoon wears on, these five very different women joyously discover a common bond in this wickedly funny, irreverent and touching celebration of the women's spirit."
The choreographer introduced one important change by transforming Mindy from a lesbian into a man who "yearns to be the woman he's always wanted to be." That character was danced by Aragno.  The dress was represented by a purple garment worn by all the women and Aragno who removed his male clothes to reveal the dress. Though he danced without wig, makeup or pointe shoes he transitioned before our very eyes and then back to male again. This was the only work with any hint of humour in the show - a tussle between two bridesmaids over a necklace in which Kundi showed she can tease as well as dance - but also some violence when one of the girls was knocked out cold.

I have never attended the birth of a new company before and it is exciting,  I think I have a flavour of what it must have been like at the Mercury in the 1930s when Marie Rambert staged her first shows or at Oxford Road in Manchester in the late 1960s when Northern Dance Theatre was launched. I could be wrong but I think that MurleyDance will grow and mature.  I wish it well.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Stuttgart Ballet's "Taming of the Shrew" - well worth the Wait

In the film that preceded yesterday's performance by the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company of Hans van Manen's Kwintet, one of the dancers (I think it was Daniel Cooke but I could be wrong) spoke about the history of the work and the dancers for whom it was created  but added "it was way before my time," Oh puer felix to be so talented and so young.  Alas van Danzig and such stars as Alexandra Radius were not before my time. Van Manen was one of the Colossuses of the time that I first began to appreciate dance. And John Cranko (whom I discussed in "Cranko's "Taming of the Shrew": Now's our chance to see one of the Ballets everyone should see before they die" 21 Sept 2013) was another.

I first heard of Cranko's Taming of the Shrew from the review in the July 1969 issue of Dance and Dancers and I made up my mind to see the ballet when I could.  Last Saturday I achieved that ambition when Cranko's company, the Stuttgart Ballet, performed the ballet at Sadler's Wells. The French have an expression "Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre" which is roughly equivalent to "patience is a virtue" but it means something more than that.  If you wait long enough you will be amply rewarded albeit, perhaps, in Heaven. And so it proved with the Stuttgart Ballet's performance on 23 Nov 2013.

Cranko had created the ballet for the great Marcia Haydée who was one of the greats of her age along with Antoinette Sibley, Lynn Seymour and Alexandra Radius (see "Ballerina" 1 July 2013). However, something of her greatness was reflected by Sue Jin Kang who danced Katherina on Saturday together with Flip Barankiewicz as Petruchio. These are both exceptionally gifted dancers as you can see from the YouTube clip of their dancing those roles in an earlier performance.  

The ballet follows the play pretty faithfully save that Cranko dropped the prologue and substituted his own sub-plot of Lucentio's duping Gremio and Hortensio into marrying two local sex workers, something that could easily have been written  by Shakespeare. For a feminist Taming of the Shrew is not an easy play to watch and the ballet was worse with actions not words.  Starving poor Katherina and depriving her of sleep Guantanamo style so that she ends up saying: 
"Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable."
Ooh it makes my blood boil. I was mentally settling the divorce petition  on Saturday night. But Petruchio as danced by Barankiewicz is a hunk so I suppose you can see why she gave in to him. :-(

Cranko gives strong roles to Lucentio danced by Evan McKie and Bianca danced by Hyo-Jung Kang but also demanding character roles for Gremio (Brent Parolin), the priest (Matteo Crockard-Villa) and the tarts (Magdalena Dziegielewska and Daisy Long).

This is a happy ballet with a strong sense of fun. We English like to tease the Germans for their lack of a sense of humour so we say; but this ballet is hilarious.  There are at least as many laughs as is Ashton's La fille mal gardée.   Bits that the audience loved were Bianca's turning Gremio's script the right way round after he had finished wooing her and the dancers on their backs at the end of the first Act.

I ought to say a few words about the score which was Kurt Heinz Stolze's arrangement of Scarlatti. Not everybody liked it but I did.  Tragically, Stolze like Cranko died far too young.  Also a word about Elizabeth Dalton's sets and costumes - simple as though for The Globe but instantly recognizable.

One of the reasons I have had to wait 44 years to see Shrew is that the Stuttgart Ballet hardly ever come to London. I think we had to wait 20 years to see it staged in England for the first time and even longer for the company to come back again.  This should be a staple of all major ballet companies because it has everything. Powerful turns and jumps for the men, a wonderfully dramatic role for the ballerina and lots for the character artists. Just the sort of thing for a new director to get his teeth into. 

The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013

Stadsshouwburg, Amsterdam     Source Wikipedia

Often when one builds up high hopes and expectations one is disappointed. I had built up very high hopes and enormous expectations of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company. And you know what? My hopes and expectations were exceeded.

As it is rather late and I have a plane to catch at 09:30 I shall have to be brief. This evening we saw 8 short works the last of which was a world premiere.   Each of these works was introduced by a short film with commentary by the dancers or choreographer.

The first ballet was Minuet choreographed by Ernst Meisner the Junior Company's artistic director to music by Handel, It was danced by two young American dancers Therese Davis and Daniel Cooke. Dressed sumptuously as the Sun King's courtiers against a backdrop of what appeared to be Versailles they executed the intricate steps with precision and elegance. This was a good choice for the start of the evening because ballet can trace its origins to the French court of this period.

In a way the next ballet continued that theme. A voice explained why the vocabulary of ballet is French.  It asked Daniel Montero to demonstrate sequentially 100 positions in ballet. Then the commentator called the positions randomly forcing the dancer to greater and greater exertions culminating in turns to the whine of a jet aircraft engine.  The lights dimmed for a few seconds to reveal a stage full of body parts,  "Position 101"boomed the voice to the audience's laughter.  Happily the scattered body parts were not those of Mr Montero though the bust was a pretty good likeness.  Montero took his bow to thunderous applause.  The ballet was called "Ballet 101"and the music (such as it was) was by Jens-Peter Abele.

The third ballet was Rudi van Dantzig's arrangement of the first pas de deux of Odette and Siegfried in Swan Lake.   Odette was danced by Jessica Xuan and Siegfried by Nathan Brhane. The audience loved them and so did I.

I had come to Amsterdam to see Michaela dePrince about whom I have written a lot. She appeared as Diana in Diana & Actaeon a ballet originally choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova for the Kirov in 1935. Soviet ballet was athletic and spectacular requiring enormous virtuosity. I had seen something of dePrince's virtuosity in her YouTube videos but she is even more impressive in real life.  She is quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while. It cannot be easy to partner a dancer of dePrince's calibre but Sho Yamada was equal to the task. He dazzled the audience with his jumps and turns. A very powerful dancer.

Next came Peter Wright's pas de quatre in Sleeping Beauty. Having recently seen Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance at The Lowry (see "The Sleeping Beauty - a Review and why the Ballet is important" 29 Sep 2013)Wright's choreography was fresh in my mind. Veronika Verleich, Wantao Li, Nancy Burer and Mert Erdin executed it faithfully,

The last work of the first Act was Saltarello another ballet by Meisner.  Another opportunity for Yamada and dePrince to display their virtuosity together with Sofia Rubio Robles and Montero. In the introductory film before the ballet dePrince explained that the work was based on an Italian folk dance that required great technical skill but was also fun to dance. With music by Mendelssohn and beautiful rainbow costumes this was my favourite work of the show.

After the interval Xuan danced Quintet with Brhane, Cooke, Mert Erdin and Wantao Li. "In this ballet I get to dance with four men at the same time"she remarked charmingly. Choreographed by Hans van Manen to Mozart's music in 1974 this is one of the great works of 20th century ballet.   The audience knew it well and clearly loved it.  At the end of the performance the great man himself came on stage to take a bow.

The final work of the evening was a new ballet by the English choreographer George Williamson called Dawn Dances. This had been commissioned for the company and this performance was the world premiere.  In the introductory film Williamson explained that his aim was to give each of the dancers an opportunity to shine while still working as a team.  From my perspective he certainly achieved that objective.

Until tonight I had only seen two standing ovations the last as recently as September ("Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sep 2013). I never expected to see another and certainly not so soon.  But stand we did.  Not in groups as in Leeds but as if we were one.  Now I don't think the Dutch are more emotional or given to hyperbole than us British and they see a lot of ballet in Amsterdam. I doubt that they stand very often. Clearly this was more than just a good evening. It was outstanding.

I should just like to say a few words about the Stadsshouwburg.  It is one of the most beautiful theatres I have ever seen.  It is an intimate auditorium but it has all the grandeur of an opera house with tiers of galleries and intricate moldings. Not a bad place for these talented dancers to start what are likely to be stellar careers.

Further Information
Hans van Manen  Interview for Northern Ballet  Northern Ballet's YouTube Channel

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company - more than just dePrince

I have written a lot about Michaela dePrince in this blog and she deserves attention because she is a very promising young dancer,  But then so, it would seem. are all these others.   It looks as though I am in for a treat when I see the Junior Company of the Netherlands National Ballet perform at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam on Sunday.

Here are the names of all the members of the company
  • Michaela DePrince, 
  • Jessica Xuan; 
  • Nathan Brhane, 
  • Mert Erdin, 
  • Daniel Montero, 
  • Sho Yamada 
  • Nancy Burer,
  • Therese Davis, 
  • Sofia Rubio Robles, 
  • Veronika Verterich; 
  • Daniel Cooke, and
  • Wentao Li.
As you can see from the film these dancers come from all parts of the world.  

The company is now touring the Netherlands with a programme of extracts from the classics as well as new works commissioned specially for its young dancers.   If I can squeeze my Chromebook into my luggage and the hotel has wifi I shall review the performance on Sunday night.   

If anybody from the Netherlands reads this article perhaps he or she can tell me the word for "chookas". Whatever it is I wish the company well for the start of their season on Friday.

And they have the cheek to call Balletomanes obsessive.

Apparently something to do with Dr. Who    Source Wikipedia

This Saturday I shall see the Stuttgart Ballet dance Taming of the Shrew at Sadlers Well's.  The next day I am catching an easyJet flight from Luton to see the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company dance at the Staddschowburg in Amsterdam.  Then next Sunday I shall be in the audience of the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre for MurleyDance.

"Aren't you being a teeny weeny bit obsessive?" asked one friend who is a Dr Who fan.  Another friend who is a Chelsea supporter told me to get a life.  "Like watching 22 grown men chasing an inflated pig's bladder around a freezing stadium?" I replied.  If you ever want a study in obsession find yourself a football fan. When I was at St Andrews I learned of somebody's dad who demonstrated his allegiance to Rangers by planting forget-me-nots in his lawn as that was the only part of his dwelling that he could not paint blue. And as for Dr Who I remember being dragged around industrial estates in South Wales after a strenuous hearing in the Trade Marks Registry by a former clerk on the hunt for David Tennant. "Now there's obsession for you" as the locals would probably say.

Now balletomania isn't like that.  It can save lives and civilize as I mentioned in my article on "The New Mariinksy" of 4 May 2013. Tamara Karsavina's brother probably owed his life and certainly his liberty to the fact that his interrogator loved ballet.  And I don't think that loving ballet is an obsession for it is nothing more than the pursuit and admiration of beauty. A dancer like Sarah Kundi actuates an electrochemical switch in the brain that induces a feeling of contentment and well being.  Look at her "Dépouillage" in "Ballet Black's Appeal" of 12 March 2013 or her "Dépouillement" after the terrible events in Woolwich.  See what I mean.  That's why I can hardly wait for MurleyDance (a company that I would have longed to see anyway for the reasons I set out in "Something to brighten up your Friday" on 8 Nov 2013).

As for the trip to Holland I think we shall see a lot of Michaela de Prince in the opera houses of the world but at seat prices greatly in  excess of a return flight on a budget airline.  Often a dancer is at his or her best when he or she is young and I shall have seen this remarkable young artist while she is still young (see "Michaela dePrince" of 4 April 2013).

As for "Taming of the Shrew" see my post of 21 Sept as why John Cranko's masterpiece is one ballet everybody should see before they die.

If you are still unconvinced go, find yourself a dalek to play with.


Like me, Debbie Moore comes from Manchester. In 1979 she founded Pineapple Dance Studios which she later floated on the London Stock Exchange. I remember the stir she created when she visited the Stock Exchange in 1982. Last Tuesday evening I visited Pineapple because I had to miss my regular classes at The Base and Northern Ballet Academy.

I took Adam Pudney's beginners/elementary class on the top floor of the building. It was vast.  There are about 15 of us in the over 55 class at Leeds and sometimes as few as 2 at the Base in Huddersfield.   In Pineapple I stopped counting after 30. All very keen and competent young women and men. It was the first time I had ever trained with men and back in Huddersfield today was the second.

This was the most exhilarating class I have ever taken. It was hard work. When I finally struggled down to the changing room my T-shirt and leggings were as wet as they are when they come out of the wash.  It was also demanding.  Even the barre work was difficult. The floor work was largely beyond me.   But Adam is a wonderful teacher with lots of patience and we all learned something. Even I found myself making turns and jumps that I had never managed in Yorkshire.

I can't recommend Pineapple too highly, Now that I spend more time in London I will certainly be back.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Christmas Carol - "A Fine Performance Filled with Joy"

Standard YouTube Licence 

Northern Ballet A Christmas Carol Alhambra, Bradford, 16 Nov 2013

The Bradford Alhambra is a lovely theatre in a magnificent position:  just across the road from the National Media Museum, a few minutes walk from St George's Hall and overlooking the City Park with some of the finest 19th century architecture in the world. Bradfordians love to dis their city. I don't know why.  "Try living here!" is their usual response when challenged. Well, perhaps.  But I am glad to see when something important happens to their community they unite whether it is something bad like the anniversary of the disaster at Bradford City football ground in which 56 spectators died or something good when that same football club played triumphantly at Wembley a few days later.

And Bradfordians clapped and cheered their hearts out in  the Alhambra last Saturday when Northern Ballet danced A Christmas Carol.  As one of Bradford's most famous daughters tweeted, it was a "fine performance filled with joy." All my favourite dancers were there: Tobias Batley, Hannah Bateman, Matthew Broadbent, Martha Leebolt, Pippa Moore, Kevin Poeung, Hironao Takehashi and Javier Torres but the evening provided an opportunity for Sebastian Loe to shine as Scrooge. I had no idea that he was such a talented character dancer.

A Christmas Carol is one of the oldest works still in the repertoire of Northern Ballet. Created by the great dancer and actor Christopher Gable who was Northern Ballet's artistic director and also founder of Central School of Ballet with a magnificent score by Carl Davis, a spectacular set by Lez Brotherston  and sparkling choreography by Massimo Moricone it was one of the ballets that made the company's reputation (another being A Simple Man which I discussed on 14 Sep 2013).

Based on Dickens's novel there are tugs for every emotion from Tiny Tim's song (a prodigiously talented Oscar Ward who is still at Sara Packham Theatre School) to the joy of Christmas morning when Scrooge doles out the goodies to the Cratchit family. Everyone has his or her favourite bit and for me it was the pas de deux between young Scrooge (danced by Batley) and Belle (danced by Leebolt).

The production is now at the Palace in Manchester until the 23 Nov. The company was founded in Manchester and has at least temporarily come home.  Do welcome them back!