Sunday, 31 March 2013

Olga Preobrajenska

Olga Preobrajenska was appointed prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theatre in 1900. She spent 25 years with that company where she created many roles. Important though she was as a dancer she was even more influential as a teacher first in St Petersburg and later at the Salle Wacker near the Place de Clichy in Paris.

I was lucky enough to step inside the Salle Wacker on my first trip to Paris in September 1969 less than 7 years after that great dancer and teacher had died.  My guide was one of her former students, Pamela Tipton (now Mrs. Carl Newton) who was then a graduate student at St. Andrews. Pamela, who is an American, had come to Europe when she was a little girl to study ballet.

I asked Pamela whether she could write something about Preobrajenska and this is what she sent me:
"Haven’t forgotten about your Olga P. request….don’t really know what to say except that she was a tiny and fierce little lady who believed in physical punishment and commanded the utmost respect from her students.  I was 9 years old and terrified of her.  I grew to love her and when she died, mother and I attended a benefit and somewhere I have one of her linens that we purchased.  There was a gentleman at the studio who acted as her manager…he appeared to be slavishly devoted to her.  As a child I did not know what their relationship was other than he also collected money for the dance lessons.  I remember the time that Maria Tallchief came to the studio.  She was beautiful.  Many famous dancers came to her for instruction." 
Tallchief was the first native American ballerina, the wife of George Ballanchine and one of his greatest dancers.  Preobrajenska's other students included Margot Fonteyn, Maurice Béjart and many other stars.

Nick Wallace-Smith has uploaded some clips of Preobrajenska to YouTube, one of the her walking through the streets of Paris and another of her teaching at the very time Pamela was her pupil.

Happy Easter everybody!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Central Forward

Ballet Central, The Lowry, Salford 25 March 2013

Ballet Central is the Central School of Ballet's touring company.  Its members are final year students on its honours degree course in professional dance and performance. Apparently that is the only degree course of its kind in the UK.  It is the sort of course I used to dream about when I was an undergraduate reading a conventional honours degree subject.

On 25 March 2013 I attended the company's octuple bill at The Quays theatre in the Lowry.  It was a wonderful show. One that I would eagerly have watched from beginning to the end immediately afterwards.  It was good to see the company in Manchester because it was founded by Christopher Gable who later became artistic director of the company that is now Northern Ballet.

The programme was arranged in three acts.  The first consisted of five short works by different choreographers including "Fireside Pas de Deux" by Gable himself. The music for that work (and indeed several others) had been composed by Philip Feeney and the maestro was at the piano in the auditorium. Indeed, I also caught a glimpse of him in the bar at the first interval.

All the ballets in the first act were good but the one I enjoyed most was Stacey Haynes's "Love on Top". Set to the music of Michael Bublé's "Cry me a River" and Beyoncé's "Love on Top" this was a jazz piece with the girls in black sparkly dresses and heels and the boys in white shirts and black ties. This was a work to show off the company's versatility and the boys' virtuosity with some spectacular jumps.

The second act showed the company in a familiar classical work, a pas de trois from Act III of Sleeping Beauty.  It was good to have this little bit of Petipa's choreography fresh in my mind as a reference point when watching Matthew Bourne's re-working of the ballet at The Alhambra in Bradford on Thursday. Tchaikovsky's score, Petipa's choreography executed convincingly by promising dancers with good technique resplendent in Richard Geller's sumptuous costumes this little work satiated all the senses. It was a good example of what I call total ballet.

The extract from Sleeping Beauty was followed immediately afterwards by Darshan Singh Bhuller's Mapping #3.  With males and females dressed alike in loose white judo style tops and trousers dancing to a score that included Shankar this was a perfect foil to Tchaikovsky and Petipa. The clever bit of the choreography was to protect dancers' movements on the floor on to a screen that gave the impression of weird and wonderful acrobatics.

If anyone wonders why I called this post "Central Forward" it is because the last act was about football.  At least that was one of the dreams of a bespectacled bookworm danced engagingly by Bethany Pike in Christopher Marney's anon. She also dreamt of Viennese waltzes. Sitting on a massive pile of books the bookworm receives a delivery of books from the postman into which she daydreams roles for herself first at a ball of which she was the belle and then at a football match in which she was the striker's darling. I loved Marney's humour - longing glances by the girl at the very fit postie and her futile attempts to dance a romantic pas de deux with her beau without her glasses. The quest for love makes fools of us all.  With costumes by Geller ingeniously morphing Royal Mail blue shorts and shirt into red and white football strip and music arranged by Feeney it was another example of total ballet.

This is the 30th anniversary tour by Ballet Central. Tours like this must provide  enormously valuable experience for young dancers at the start of their careers.  It is only possible through generous public support.  There are several ways in which balletomanes can help future tours from funding pointe shoes at £35 a throw to sponsoring a whole production or a dancer for £5,000.  Further information about helping the company is available from Joanne McIntosh, the company's development and communications director, on 020 7837 6332. Oh and don't forget the School which also welcomes support from its audiences. You  don't have to be Bloomberg to bankroll ballet.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

From Bar to Barre

Although I have been a balletomane for over half a century I have always known my limitations when it comes to ballet.   I make my living from the law and even as a child that was my aspiration though I loved my trips to Covent Garden, the Colosseum and the Wells .

"What do the Bar and ballet have in common?"   I hear you say,   "More than one might suppose" is my reply.

For a start both ballet dancers and barristers perform in costume,  We wear wigs and gowns and they wear whatever the part demands.

We're also neighbours.   The Royal Opera House is just across Kingsway.   In fact, I discovered Lincoln's Inn while looking for a parking space near Covent Garden one matinee.   Sadlers Wells is just up the road from Gray's while the Peacock is on our door step.

They say that barristers are actors manqués but look how they perform in court.  The exaggerated courtesy to the judge - "May it please your Lordship" and opponents - "my learned friend" - remind me of the flourishes of the courtiers in Act 1 of Swan Lake.   A rough cross-examination reminds me of the denunciation of Albrecht in Giselle  and sadly can have similar consequences.

Like ballet the Bar is a very competitive profession.   You have to be good to get into chambers - any chambers - in the same way that you have to be good to get into a company - any company.

Both professions have their stars - ballerinas and premier danseurs nobles in ballet - and silks or Queen's Counsel in the law.

Despite having much in common the two professions seldom come together.   There are very few ballets that have a role for a lawyer.   At the top of my head I can only think of the attorney at the end of the last act in Fille tearing up Simone's settlement.   One occasion when the two worlds did meet is when Margot Fonteyn was a guest at Grand Night in Lincoln's Inn.   Normally the Bar and Students bow as each bencher exits Hall but Fonteyn's exit was marked with thunderous applause.   That was the first and only time something like that has ever happened in my recollection.   And Fonteyn rewarded us with her smile - the same smile that I had seen so many times on stage.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Ballet 101 - for those need it

In an American university the foundation class for a new subject is numbered "101". Thus, introductory French is designated "French 101".  In anticipation of a visit to Washington DC by American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and the Russian National Ballet Theatre and a season by the District's own Washington Ballet, Stephanie Merry, the Washington Post's arts correspondent, offers "Ballet 101: Dispelling myths for newcomers and skeptics" in today's paper.  As she puts it,
"Ballet is more than layers of tulle and satin shoes. It’s ripples of muscle, explosive athleticism and inexplicably moving stories."
However, the best bit of Merry's article is the video in which Septime Webre, Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet and two male members of his company offer some useful tips for enjoying ballet to those new to ballet.

On the company's website there  is an even better "Ballet 101" which covers History of BalletThe Famous BalletsSeptime’s Top 10 Must See Ballets (which includes I have yet to see but omits Sleeping Beauty and La Fille mal Gardee which I find surprising), Tips for Enjoying the Ballet with which I heartily agree and some useful Ballet Terms.

Most "newbies" - as Webre calls newcomers to ballet - are captivated the first time they attend a performance.   If not by the dance then by the music, sets, costumes or drama.  Ballet is the fusion of many arts.  That's why it is so captivating.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Ballet Black's Appeal

Writing in the Independent ("Dance review: Trouping the colour - Why Ballet Black puts on such a jolly good show" 9 March 2013) Jenny Gilbert opined:
"There should be no need for a company called Ballet Black, just as there should be no need for all-female political party shortlists. But there is, and for two reasons: to offer a platform for classically trained dancers of colour, particularly women, conspicuously absent from Britain's big ballet companies; and to provide role models for a rising generation of talented kids. But in the 12 years of Ballet Black's existence, it has found itself a third raison d'être. It's hard to think of another small company that even comes close to its turnover of new work."
I can think of a fourth reason and that is that there are some works that black dancers can do better than anyone else. I realized that when I first saw Dance Theatre of Harlem in London many years ago.

I have yet to see Ballet Black on the stage but I fell in love with the company just by watching this film of  Depouillage by Jade Hale-Christifi and Sarah Kundi on YouTube: Ballet Black, an associate company of the Royal Opera House, has just finished a successful season at the Linbury with a quadruple bill by Robert Binet, Ludovic Ondiviela, Javier de Frutos and Christopher Marney. The company is now taking the show on tour to Bracknell, Cambridge, Exeter and the Bernie Grant Centre in Tottenham. It has a school in Shepherd's Bush where the children are lucky enough to be taught by Cassa Pancho, the founder and artistic director of the company.

It is sad that the appearance of Tyrone Singleton and Celine Gittens in Swan Lake made news not just for their virtuosity which is self-evident but for their ethnicity (see "Birmingham Royal Ballet to make history" ITV website 4 Oct 2012) but that will change as the kids from Harlem, Shepherd's Bush and indeed Nairobi  come on stream.

Ballet Black is hoping to raise £60,000 for its 2012/13 season to help it  continue to support

  • its brilliant and inspiring dancers, 
  • its new choreographic work, and 
  • its junior school and associate programmes, where it will develop the dancers of tomorrow.   

Apparently it costs £350,000 a year to run Ballet Black and any donation of WHATEVER size can make a difference to the future of the company, whether it's £1 or £1000. The company emphasizes that any support we the great British public can offer will be greatly welcomed.

Contributions can be made through Ballet Black's Just Giving web page.  Please dig deep.

Related Posts
"'Dépouillement' - another beautiful Pas de Deux by Kundi and Christofi" 22 May 2013

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Happy Mothers' Day

YouTube Lady Feli  "Song 4 Mama"

Today is Mothering Sunday which we celebrate as Mothers' Day in the United Kingdom though other countries celebrate a similar festival on different days.  Those who love ballet owe a special debt to mothers because it is they who do the driving, dry the tears, give the encouragement, launder the leotards, pay for the lessons, put up with the tantrums, sooth the pain, suffer the disappointment and very occasionally bask in the reflected glory.  It is usually necessary to start young to reach the highest levels in this art.   That art requires a lot of dedication, determination and sacrifice not just by the students who are often very young children but also by their families and especially their mothers.

Of course there are some mums who can be a thundering nuisance as Judith Woods pointed out in her article  "Pushy Parents to a Pointe" (Telegraph 21 Jan 2011). However, pushy parents are not confined to ballet or indeed the arts.  My father, who taught economics, often complained of parents who sought to realize their ambitions through their less than abundantly talented offspring - and I'm not altogether convinced that my teachers would not have been justified in making a similar complaint of him.

Pushiness in parents can sometimes be a good thing.   If a child has talent at anything from archery to zoology it is the parents and in particular the mothers who spot it first.  It is not always good enough to rely on the schools to let the talent rise because society as a whole shun tall poppies and rejoices at their fall.  So a round of applause to ballet mums, and indeed mums everywhere.   Happy Mothers' Day. 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

More on Ballet West

Just before I set off for Leeds to see The Great Gatsby the postman delivered a large white envelope from Ballet West. One of my very few criticisms of their performance of The Nutcracker at Pitlochry was the lack of a programme. Inside that envelope to my enormous delight was a programme.

Inside the programme was a compliments slip from the company's administrator and admissions officer, Leanne Irwin, with the following message:
"Many thanks for the lovely review! We think it's amazing you travelled such a long distance to see us perform! We hope to see you at our next show."
I was so pleased that I called them immediately to thank them. The lady who answered the phone thanked me again for the review and told me that they were so happy that they printed it out and posted it on a notice board by their rehearsal studio. I am grateful that people read my blog and the thought that the company were happy with it was a bonus.  Dancers have brought me and millions of other members of the public around the world considerable pleasure.  It is gratifying occasionally to be able to return the favour.

Now that I have the programme I can tell you so much more about the company.   It is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity. It is directed by its founder, Gillian Barton.   Jonathan Barton is the company's senior principal dancer (which some companies would call premier danseur noble) and I am told that Sara-Maria Smith, its other senior principal dancer or ballerina is his sister.   It will be remembered that it was Mr. Barton and Mrs. Smith who danced at Pitlochry. The choreography that I admired so much 2 weeks ago was adapted by its guest chorus master Daniel Job.   I still can't tell you who designed the sets or arranged the lighting but the costumes were by Anne and Vicky Horn.

Much of the programme is about the work of the school which claims with some justification to be a Centre of Excellence. Its students have done well in all sorts of national and international competitions and many have found their way in to major ballet companies around the world.   As well as its full time courses it holds
  • holiday schools for particularly gifted students in July, 
  • monthly classes for aspiring professionals in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth, and
  • outreach classes for kids and adults at various centres around the Highlands and Islands.
Ballet West's patron is the comedian Billy Connolly.   "I know ballet isn't something that people associate with me" wrote Connolly in the foreword, "and they're always surprised .when they see me in the audience, but I've loved ballet for a long, long tine ever since my daughter took me to see "Cinderella" in London." He adds that he went under protest and has been a "ballet convert ever since."   We know the feeling, Mr. Connolly. That has happened to us too.

In the inside of the back cover is the headline "Can you help Ballet West?"   Suggested ways include:
  • Helping students with tuition costs;
  • Becoming a patron or sponsor;
  • Joining the mailing list for information about future events. and
  • Making a donation.
If you are interested in doing any of those things please contact
Ballet West
Ichrachan House
PA35 1HP
Tel 01866 822641
The same page indicates that they are planning to tour the rest of the UK and that was confirmed by the lady I phoned on Thursday.   The next show is planned for March 2014 or thereabouts and this time they hope to dance in London and perhaps a few other big cities in  England.

9 March 2013
I have just added Gillian Barton's adult ballet class to the "Where to learn" page and the "Adult Ballet" side panel.

Ballet West also have a Facebook page with some great video and photos.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Life follows Art: the Great Gatsby

It was poignant watching The Great Gatsby the day that Vicky Pryce was found guilty of perverting the course of justice.   This was a tragedy that Scott Fitzgerland might well have written: the precipitate end of two stellar careers, marital infidelity, passion, revenge, even a motor car driven far too fast - happily no deaths but public disgrace which for many is as bad as death if not worse.

I had an inkling that this would be something special before the show.   There was Ballet News's report of the London preview on the 20 and 21 Feb, a glowing report from someone - herself a dancer - who had seen parts of the show and these words of the lady who sold me my programme: "My high point was Cleopatra but this has exceeded it."   I was not disappointed.  Gatsby is in my very humble opinion David Nixon's best work so far and arguably the company's.

The plot of The Great Gatsby is well known. Those who have not read the novel are likely to have seen the film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow which Nixon refers to in his foreword to the programme:
"This beautifully written novel first captured my imagination when I was at high school. It was coincidentally the same year the movie with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow premièred and I fell in love with this mysterious man, his unrelenting passion and obsession with re-capturing his one true love."
The ballet sticks pretty closely to the story which results in 16 scenes from opulent Long Island holiday homes to a petrol station just outside New York City.   Those scene changes were accomplished effectively by Jerome Kaplan.   This being a touring company his backdrops were necessarily economical and some almost symbolic;   but time and place were evoked by the costumes which were sumptuous.

The Great Gatsby was set in the jazz age and that required at least some jazz in the score. An art form that began life in the formality of the 17th century French court does not always sit easily with a style of music that sprang from improvisation and syncopation.  Jazz Calendar, one of the first ballets I ever saw and still one of my favourites, married the two effortlessly. The composer of the score for that ballet was Richard Rodney Bennett - then a 32 year old in the early years of a brilliant career whose work Ashton interpreted brilliantly - and it was the same Bennett whose music we heared last night - sadly, as Bennett died last year. There were bits of Jazz Calendar, namely Friday's Child and Wednesday's Child, in the score this evening.   There was other music - symphonic, tango and a brilliant percussion sequence representing the conflict in Daisy's head between Gatsby and Buchanan - blended seamlessly with the popular music of the time.

Gatsby lost Daisy when he went to war.   Nixon conjured flashback by a young Gatsby and Daisy danced tonight by Michela Paolacci and Jeremy Curnier - and sinister looking men in black hats and overcoats to represent Gatsby's unsavoury past.   He introduced the main characters in a prologue - Nick Carraway danced by Giuliano Contadini, Sporty Jordan - Hannah Bateman - Myrtle Wilson (Victoria Sibson) who oozed sex almost to the point of eroticism in a pas de deux with Tom Buchanan (Kenneth Tindall) after he had struck her in public and her hapless husband George (Benjamin Mitchell) and of course Daisy Buchanan (Martha Leebolt) and Gatsby (Tobias Batley).

There is one juvenile role in this ballet, Pammy Buchanan who makes three separate  entrances which is quite a lot for a 7 year old.   Tonight it was danced by Caitlin Noonan whom I had previously seen in Ondine last autumn and as one of the mice in The Nutcracker before Christmas. Francis Xavier is reputed to have said "Give me a boy at 7 and I will show you the man." I don't know whether it is true and it is true whether it works for girls - and one doesn't want to tempt fate - but what can be said with certainty is that this girl has presence.  Also, she loves her art; and I have that on the best possible authority.   Just possibly we have seen a star in the making.

This ballet has been shown first in Leeds and will move on to Sheffield, Edinburgh, Hull, Belfast, Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Norwich and London between now and May.   If you live anywhere near those cities or even if you don't it is as they say of the top restaurants in the Guide Rouge "vaut le voyage" - beaucoup fois.   Now at last I can take to my bed.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The trouble with evening classes .....

Every Wednesday between 19:30 and 20:30 I do a ballercise class at Phoenix Squash & Fitness Club in Honley, near Huddersfield.   It's a great class with a great teacher, Fiona Noonan, who also teaches my adult ballet class at the The Base Studios.   But there is a problem.   By the time the class ends I don't feel like cooking a full meal let alone eating it.   But I don't want to eat too much before it starts.   So what should I do.   Here are some suggestions from Maegan Woodin whom I introduced last week ("Learning Ballet as an Adult: Maegan Woodin's Top Tips" 27 Feb 2013).

Sunday, 3 March 2013

What can be achieved by a good teacher

I was looking for material on the general election in Kenya and I came across the above clip.  

In  many ways the kids in this class have had the worst possible start in life but in one very important respect they could not have had a better one.   Look at the teacher, Mike Wamaya.  He is good.  I googled for some more information on Mike and I found an even better clip from CNN and this article in The Daily Nation.  These films show what can be achieved from the discipline not only in the studio but also in the class room and in life generally.   Something that I and most readers of this blog in many walks of life are likely to have found out for ourselves.

The charity that employs Mike Wamaya is Anno's Africa "a UK based charity that offers an alternative, arts education to orphans and vulnerable children in some of Africa’s most desperately deprived city slums."   It was set up in memory of Anno Birkin a writer and musician who died just before his 21st birthday.   It is supported by some of the biggest names in the arts.

Who knows whether any of the children in the clips will find their way on to the stage or even to the audience of the Royal Opera House or the Met but they will certainly live fuller lives as a result of their exposure to their art.   

Incidentally, ballet is just one of the many activities of this charity as you can see from the promo.    If ever there was a cause worth supporting it is this one.   There are many ways you can contribute to its work.   Whichever way you choose I hope you will do so generously.

John Maynard Keynes and English Ballet

When I watched the Birmingham Royal Ballet dance Aladdin last Thursday (see "Birmingham Royal Ballet's Aladdin" Terpsiechore 1 Mar 2013) I could not help reflecting that the Birmingham Royal Ballet and indeed its sister company at Covent Garden might never have come into existence had it not been for the influence and indeed benevolence of John Maynard Keynes in the early years of English ballet. Sadly, there is no acknowledgement of Keynes's contribution on the history page of the Birmingham Royal Ballet's website or in its accompanying chronology.

Although his ideas fell temporarily out of fashion when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister he is still regarded as one of this country's greatest economist.    When I started to read economics at St Andrews in 1968 his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was my text book. Unlike many academic economists he put his knowledge to practical use amassing an enormous personal fortune from shrewd investment on the Stock Exchange.  Much of that wealth he gave away and one of the principal beneficiaries of his bounty were the dance troupes that eventually blossomed into the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Probably even more important than his personal generosity was the influence that he exerted through his membership of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts ("CEMA") and its successor the Arts Council of Great Britain of which he was the founding chair.   The arts in general and ballet in particular were important for sustaining civilian morale during the Second World War and post war austerity.   Keynes understood the importance of ballet and ensured that the Royal Opera House and Sadlers Wells received all the resources that they needed.   The reopening of Covent Garden with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty in 1946 was a glittering affair.   A great contrast to the greyness of the time.

However, Keynes had another connection with the ballet and that was his marriage to the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Lopokova was one of the members of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, a great artistic enterprise that brought together not just the dancers of Imperial Russia but also outstanding painters and composers. After the revolution those artists had to tour and it was through touring that a market for ballet was developed in the United States and Britain.  It was upon one of those tours that Lopokova came to London where Keynes saw her dance in The Sleeping Beauty.

According to Alison Light
"Keynes met Lopokova when she was on the verge of becoming a cult figure. Her final frenzied cancan with Massine, which transformed her from an inert doll into a bacchante, sent her fans crazy; they stood on their seats, clapping and chanting her name. It wasn’t long before ‘Lydia’ dolls were being sold. The British press loved her because she was more like the girl next door than an exotic Slav; she was a ‘London sparrow’ with an ‘exquisite plebeian beauty’. Lopokova was a fan of the music hall and her childlike, wistful face could imbue a role with Chaplinesque dignity and pathos. Nor was she above a bit of clowning. When her knickers slithered to the floor as she danced the lead in Les Sylphides – the most poetic of ballets – she threw them into the wings with a flourish (she used other such ‘accidents’ to play to the gallery). In 1921, hoping to bring in the crowds, Diaghilev staged a lavish version of The Sleeping Beauty. The production flopped. The critics felt it was a retrograde step and London’s postwar audiences were too jaded for romance. Except for Keynes. He sat every night in the stalls, enchanted by Lydia as the Lilac Fairy casting spells over the cradle.(Lady Talky London Review of Books, 18 Dec 2008).
They married in 1925 and Lopokova (later Lady Keynes) survived him until her death at the grand old age of 88 in 1981.  No choreographer has ever made a ballet of Keynes's life to the best of my knowledge and belief but perhaps one should.

Post Script 6 March 2014

Although the Birmingham Royal Ballet did not mention Lord Keynes's contribution to ballet in the United Kingdom in its programme its artistic director David Bintley very properly acknowledged it in Dancing in the Blitz: How World War 2 Made British Ballet which was broadcast by BBC 4 on Tuesday 4 March 2014 at 01:20. This remarkable programme is available on the BBC i-player for the next few days.

Bintley also mentions the performance of The Sleeping Beauty at Covent Garden on the 20 Feb 1946 which I discussed in "The Sleeping Beauty - a Review and why the Ballet is important" 29 Sep 2013.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Base Studios, Huddersfield

"Huddersfield is not as famous in the world of classical dance as St Petersburg, Paris or London," observes the Birmingham Royal Ballet's website, "but it was the birthplace of David Bintley - one of the most consistent and significant forces in British ballet."   But the birthplace of the Director of one of the world's great ballet companies is not our town's only contribution to dance.

I am not referring to the photograph above which is the town's railway station and not an opera house even though its splendid portico bears more than a passing resemblance to the Bolshoi Theatre but to The Base Studios at 3 New Street where I render my very humble homage to Terpsichore's muse every Tuesday at 20:00 trying the bottomless patience of the adult ballet teacher Fiona Noonan

Fortunately, The Base has much better students than me even in the adult ballet class and in its Youth Dance Academy which I mentioned in one of my other blogs ("Huddersfield Youth Dance Academy Auditions 26 Jan 2013" IP Yorkshire 18 Jan 2013), it is nurturing some quite remarkable talent.   

Other activities that may well produce another Bintley include Heavy Arts  the resident youth production company which provides students with the opportunity to work with professional artists to create full-scale youth musical productions. Students for the Heavy Arts programme are taught in three groups:  Juniors (ages 5-8), Intermediates (ages 9-12) and Seniors (ages 13+).  I am told by Matt Slater, the Base's General Manager, that one of the programme's Juniors will be in tonight's première of Northern Ballet's "The Great Gatsby" in Leeds.  This remarkably talented child has already performed recently in two of Nixon's other works.   

Of course, ballet is not the only type of dance to be taught at The Base Studios.   There's a great list of other styles on The Base's Dance Classes page and it is ever expanding.   I can't keep up with it which is why I have invited Matt to become an author of this blog and I am even more delighted to say that he has accepted. So there is at last one contributor to this blog who knows what he is talking about.

Finally, Terpsichore is not the only Muse that Huddersfield honours.  It is also the home of the Choral which claims not without justification to be the UK's leading choral society "producing a unique and thrilling full-bodied ‘Huddersfield Sound’ from over 200 voices."  The University has a great music school which hosts the famous Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival every autumn. There is an excellent art gallery and the Lawrence Batley repertory theatre 

This Pennine town which is my adopted home is not as large as St. Petersburg, Paris or London but it is no worse a place than any of those metropoles for producing and refining exceptional talent.

9 Mar 2013  The Base Studio's Facebook page with great pictures of Sean, Fun Fridays, the rehearsal studio and my wonderful teacher.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Aladdin

The Lowry, Manchester, 28 Feb 2013

It is not every day that a new ballet is premièred.  Between the end of February and the beginning of March 2013 there will have been two:
I hope to see The Great Gatsby in Leeds on 7 March 2013 and I shall review it as soon as possible afterwards. Yesterday evening I saw Aladdin at the Lowry in Salford, near Manchester.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of the world's great ballet companies.  Founded by Ninette de Valois the company was and remains the Royal Ballet touring troupe.   It adopted its present name in 1990 when it moved from Sadlers Wells to the Birmingham Hippodrome.   It is directed by David Bintley who choreographed Aladdin.

Aladdin is one of the stories in One Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights which are rarely read to children nowadays. Most of us in the United Kingdom will have been taken to a pantomime by the name of Aladdin which is about as far removed from the original story as a value burger is from a cow.   I remember being taken to The London Paladium or some other West End theatre in the late 1950s or early 1960s where the principal characters - Aladdin, Widow Twankey (his mother) and Wishee Washee (his brother) -ran a Chinese laundry. There was very little of that in Bintley's work.   It was far closer to Andrew Lang's compilation which was to be expected given the production's funding from the Houston Ballet Foundation and its original creation for the National Ballet of Japan.

Having said that there were certainly members of last night's audience who thought they were at a pantomime which manifested itself in an initial booing of Iain Mackay who danced The Mahgrib (or wicked magician) magnificently though those boos were quickly transformed into well deserved applause. More annoying, there was an intolerable level of coming and going, shuffling in the seats, unwrapping of sweets and even illicit photography  which required more than a little concentration to blot out.

Fortunately, the brilliance of the work did blot out those distractions.   Bird's sets and Blane's costumes were captivating.  You can get some idea of that brilliance from the Creating Aladdin website - the hustle and bustle of a Chinese street, the stalactites and stalagmites of the cave that glowed in different colours as the scene progressed, Aladdin's home, the Sultan's palace, Aladdin's castle after his marriage to the Princess Badr and Morocco.

However, it is the choreography, music and the artistry of the dancers that generate magic for audiences and for me and my companion it all worked wonderfully.   Having developed my love of ballet while Frederick Ashton was the Royal Ballet's choreographer I am very hard to please.   But pleased I was.   The pas de deux that Bintley created for Aladdin and the Princess danced yesterday by Jamie Bond and Jenna Roberts reminded me a lot of Ashton.   So did the powerful roles for the djinn (Matthias Dingman), Mahgrib and Sultan (Rory Mackay).   Also, the sweet role for Aladdin's mother danced delightfully by Marion Tait - no Widow Twankey she.   Other lovely touches - and very familiar to Manchester with our famous Chinese quarter - were the lion and dragon dances.   It is probably unfair to single out any of the other dancers because all excelled but I was impressed particularly by Céline Gittens who danced Diamond.   Finally, Davis's score with its oriental allusions was perfect for Bintley's choreography.

This show will stay at The Lowry until tomorrow after which it will move to Plymouth, Sunderland and the Coliseum.   If you are near any of those venues - or even if you are not - you should try to see this work.   I think it will become an audience favourite along with the 19th century classics which very few modern works do.