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!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Something to brighten up your Friday - MurleyDance is coming to the North

I must confess that I found out about MurleyDance only this morning which shows you how much I have to learn about dance; but I am a fast learner and I watched every one of the YouTube clips on the company's video page with mounting pleasure.  How could I have missed such a talented bunch of dancers? My pleasure increased all the more when I found out that one of my favourite dancers had recently joined the company.

According to the "Who we are" page of the company's website MurleyDance is a classical dance company. that "enjoys fusing classical technique with theatricality". Its work is "often described as colourful, full of character, passionate and sometimes comedic".  Well if they live up to the promise of their videos ....... 

The company made its début at The Robin Howard Theatre in 2012 and has performed at the Edinburgh Festival fringe in August of this year.  It is about to start its first tour at Lilian Baylis Studio in Islington on 22 Nov after which it perform at The Lowry on the 29 and 30 Nov and the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Leeds on 1 Dec.  

I shall tell you whether they really are as good as they look after I have seen them but with the accumulation of talent that I mentioned above I have high expectations.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Ballet West's Swan Lake - Dates and Venues 24 Jan to 1 Mar.

Ballet West will be touring Scotland with Swan Lake between 24 Jan and 1 March 2014.  Located very close to Loch Etive (see "Taynuilt - where better to create ballet?" 31 Aug 2013) that company must know a thing or two about water though as Loch Etive is a sea loch I doubt that too many swans are attracted to its surface.

The tour starts in Oban and continues through Musselburgh, Stirling, Dundee, Cumbernauld, Greenock, Dunfermline, Giffnock, Livingston, Pailsley, Dunoon, Inverness and Pitlochry. All good stuff as you can see from the YouTube trailer for a previous tour on the company's website.

Now this is a very good excuse for a visit to Pitlochry - not that I ever need much of an excuse - but I have a question for the management of Ballet West.  When are you coming here?  If you can get to China surely you can delight your public in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ballet Black is still special

You can see the same company perform the same works with many of the same dancers in two different venues and come away feeling that you have seen two different shows.  Why is that?  I think it is because each theatre has a different atmosphere. And each audience interacts differently with the cast.

Yesterday evening I saw Ballet Black's Quadruple Bill at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. Exactly the same show as I had seen at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham 6 months ago (see "Why Ballet Black Is special" 20 May 2013).  And yet it wasn't the same show.  There were different dancers and a very different audience.  The audience in Leeds last night was predominately white, female and middle aged and probably drawn largely from comfortable North Leeds suburbs like Bramhope and Headingley or towns like Harrogate and Ilkley. The sort you see in Bettys who had almost certainly seen and possibly even studied a little ballet before.  The audience in Tottenham was younger, more racially mixed, there were far more young men and from conversations that I overheard in the Blooming Scent and the queue for the loo there were many for whom that performance was their first experience of ballet

Sayaka Ichikawa and José Alves danced Dopamine very differently from the way it had been performed by Sarah Kundi and Jazmon Voss.  Ichikawa is a delicate dancer and her movements are precise.  She revealed detail in Ondviela's choreography that I had missed before.  Alves partnered Ichikawa with equal precision and grace.  The adjective that I scrawled on my cast list was "pretty".  My notes last May contained the nouns "elegance" and "power".

Powerful is an adjective that I would use for Isabela Coracy, one of the company's two new dancers. We saw something of that power in the YouTube clip that I inserted into my article "Ballet Black's New Dancers" on 24 Sept.  She reminded me of dancers of the Soviet era like Maya Plisetskaya and I was not surprised to read in the cast list that she had toured Russia extensively.  She shone in Frutos's The One Played Twice.  This was also our first opportunity to see the company's other new hire, Christopher Renfurm who performed fluently. In that ballet they danced with Damien Johnson and Cira Robinson who are regarded as Ballet Black's stars and were not eclipsed.

The last work before the interval was Robert Binet's Egal, elegantly danced by Kanika Carr and Jacob Wye.  I had seen Carr in that role May but yesterday she was partnered deftly by Jacob Wye.

Christopher Marney's War Letters is a very moving piece and it resonated with the audience in Leeds last night even more than it had done in London.  Possibly because it was danced in poppy season.  Two movements brought many including me close to tears.  The hospital visit to a seriously wounded soldier and the Winter coat.  Beautiful chorepgraphy giving every dancer an opportunity to show what he or she can do.

Though I do miss Kundi and would love to see her dance again I enjoyed yesterday evening's show at least as much as the one in May.  I can't wait until February when I shall see them in their home in Covent Garden.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


I'm going to Pitlochry this weekend to see The Steamie. It was at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre where I first saw Ballet West (see "Ballet West's: 'The Nutcracker'" 25 Feb 2013) and it is good to know that one of Ballet West's students - Genée medallist Natasha Watson - has joined Scottish Ballet and will be dancing in Christopher Hampson's Hansel & Gretel shortly.  I shall follow her career with interest and wish her well.   

The company that she is joining is one that I have followed even before it was Scottish.  It moved to Glasgow shortly after I moved to St Andrews.   I played a small role in bringing it to St Andrews for the first St Andrews Arts Festival.  It performed the day that decimal currency was introduced. How do I remember that? I was on the Festival's organizing committee and did the sums.  It was at Scottish Theatre Ballet that I learned to appreciate ballet - even tempting me to take my first lessons.

Scottish Ballet is one of the partners of Get Scotland Dancing, a project to encourage more people to get active and participate in dance.  As part of the Genée legacy there will be "Get Dancin' Week" between the 19 and 26 January when free dance lessons will be offered to those who have never danced or who last danced a long time ago. Like Northern Ballet and Rambert Scottish Ballet holds classes for those of us who won't see 21 again. Those classes were featured by the BBC in "Silver Swans' taking to the barre later in life for ballet lessons" 18 Oct 2013.

That influence of that video has already spread far beyond Scotland.  A class of seniors in Barnsley who have been inspired by the Silver Swans is looking for a teacher.   I am sure there must be more all around the UK.