Friday, 31 January 2014

Lear with a Happy Ending - Birmingham Royal Ballet's Prince of the Pagodas 30 Jan 2014

Prince of the Pagodas  The Lowry, 30 Jan 2014

I have just returned from watching the first performance in the UK of David Bintley's Prince of the Pagodas. When I get back from a show at this time of night I usually make straight for bed and leave the review till at least the morning. But this performance was so good that a review won't wait until morning. I am so excited about it that I will not be able to sleep until I have written it out of my system.

The Prince of the Pagodas is not a new ballet. It was created by John Cranko in 1957, a choreographer for whom I have a particularly high regard (see "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) and has been revised by Kenneth MacMillan and Monica Mason. Bintley created the work that we saw last night for the National Ballet of Japan  in 2011.  He has now brought his work home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet. 

As you can see from the synopses of the National Ballet of Japan and the Birmingham Royal Ballet the story is based very loosely on King Lear. Bintley has made a number of modifications to the plot that distance it still further from Lear in that he substitutes a wicked stepmother for a wicked sister and the Cordelia character is called not Rose but Sakura which means Cherry Blossom. But the essentials from Lear of an ill used and ailing father and a devoted but alienated daughter are retained by Bintley.

Both the Japanese and Birmingham synopses omit important details.  Immediately before the curtain rose Tzu-Chao Chou sat in the centre of the stage.  He danced the jester or fool and was the link for each stage of the story from the welcome of the conductor to the rostrum to attending and supporting the imprisoned emperor in his confinement. A remarkable character artist  he brought humour to the ballet.  The kings of the cardinal points were dressed respectively as Uncle Sam, a Russian, a Zulu and something else which I am still trying to ascertain from the company's website, the "Creating Pagodas" blog and programme. Possibly a Pacific islander or a native American  Each bought a gift representing his culture: an elephant tusk from the African, a miniature oil well from the Russian, a cache of guns from the American and a long pipe from the fourth cardinal point.  Those characters appeared again as demons in red as Princess Sakura and her brother, the salamander, passed through fire on their escape from their wicked stepmother.

There is a lot of material in this ballet to which a review of a few paragraphs will never do justice so I shall focus on the essentials. First, Benjamin Britten's score has been the subject of more than a little criticism (see, for example, Judith Macrkrell's review of the Mason production in The Guardian of 6 June 2012).  I found it majestic, complex, delicate and varied.  I particularly enjoyed the gamelan sequences. I loved it all and would gladly listen to it again and again. I can see why Britten's music would be difficult to choreograph but I think Bintley has found the way.  The audience's attention was retained through a very complex story by some quite spectacular dancing from the entry of the four kings to a fight scene in the last act where the princess and the salamander rescue their father and send the wicked empress packing. Last but by no means least were Rae Smith's sumptuous designs - glorious backdrops of Mount Fuji, swirling elements and a salamander - and costumes with everything from sea horses to kimonos. I can't remember such a visual feast in any theatrical performance.

Bintley demanded a lot from his dancers but all were equal to the challenge: Joseph Caley and Momoko Hirata who danced the salamander and Sakura, Elisha Willis the wicked stepmother and Rory MacKay the emperor. Each of the four kings was splendid - Mathias Dingman as king of the north, Chi Cao the king of the east, James Barton king of the west and my favourite, Tyrone Singleton king of the south.

In the programme there is an article by Paul Arrowsmith entitled "Transforming and Unloved Prince". It notes that the ballet has never been popular with British audiences even though it was created and revised by a succession of great choreographers and considers why.  I think this version will be the one that sticks.  It certainly deserves to do so and I hope it will.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Reflections on Giselle

Adèle Dumilâtre (1821-1909) as Myrtha, Source Wikipedia

The performances of Giselle with Carlos Acosta and Natalia Osipova that I saw at Covent Garden on the 18 Jan and in the cinema on the 27 Jan were outstanding and will take their place in my memory alongside magnificent performances that I saw over 40 years ago by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell and Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn. However, I always feel uneasy after seeing Giselle - not just this performance but any. I hear my father's reproaches that time once lost can never be recovered,

The reason I have a problem with Giselle is the story. It is not that it is a silly story.  Compared to Swan Lake and The Nutcracker it makes perfect sense. An impressionable young girl who has a steady relationship with the village gamekeeper is seduced by a playboy aristocrat in disguise who is already engaged to another woman. She shows him off to her mother and her friends and she is crowned queen of the wine pageant.  The aristocrat's connections visit the village and he is exposed as a philanderer by the gamekeeper.  Betrayed and humiliated the girl loses her reason and goes into a frenzy in which she either dies or kills herself.  So far so good.  The story could have come out of The Archers and I would not be surprised if something like it has not been run at some stage over the last 60 years.

But then the plot loses me because Giselle is buried in unconsecrated ground where her spirit joins those of other women who have been seduced and die before their wedding day. They have it in for men and if any man is unfortunate enough to stray across their path as the gamekeeper did they kill him (though having said that I have seen one performance, though I cannot remember which company, where the gamekeeper survives and the curtain falls on his shaking hands with the playboy).  That is a pretty unpleasant as well as fantastic story and offends my sensibilities as a Quaker as well as an aesthete.

Interestingly I see from the programme notes that Peter Wright had similar reservations about the story when asked to stage Giselle and it is only in the last day or so that I find that he was also brought up as a Quaker. You see the idea of burying in a forest a young woman who has died of a broken heart or even killed herself  appals us and the idea of hateful and vengeful forest spirits is .... well let's not go there.  All this is of course a product of romanticism which produced great art but it also had a dark side which degenerated into nationalism, racism and, ultimately, fascism.

Of course all this was wonderful material for the Soviet authorities.  Look at what used to happen in older superstitious times and count yourselves lucky that you now live in a modern socialist state that has no place for the likes of Albrecht. No wonder Giselle remained in the the repertoires of both the Kirov and Bolshoi and was indeed developed by them.

Yet Adam's music is so beautiful and the choreography of the second act is so compelling that I can't keep away from Giselle. I am ashamed to say it but it is my favourite ballet,  And I leave the theatre after a good performance like the one on the 18 Jan damming the waves of tears. How do I sit through it despising myself for harbouring those emotions yet unable to walk away?  The solution - and it is one that partially works for me any may not for anyone else - is to put the story out of my mind.  To absorb the music and dancing as pure abstraction as though they were the work of Balanchine.

Further Reading

Adult Beginner  Giselle  8 Feb 2014  A very interesting and perceptive view of a performance of the Royal New Zealand Ballet by a blogger from Los Angeles.

See the wonderful Flashmob video of the second act of Giselle danced by the Dutch National Ballet in a Beijing shopping centre ("Now you can see why I am such a fan of the Dutch National Ballet" 8 Dec 2014).

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Good Quality Hamburger at the Very Least - Giselle streamed from Covent Garden 27 Jan 2014

Hamburger      Source Wikipedia

In "For those who may be interested ........"  25 Jan 2014 I warned that "an HDTV transmission bears about as much resemblance to the theatrical experience as hamburger does to fillet steak".  The Royal Ballet's Giselle was the third transmission that I have seen this year and it was by far the best. I left the Huddersfield Odeon in a much better humour than I did in October when I watched Don Quixote (see "¡Por favor! Don Quixote streamed to Huddersfield" 17 Oct 2013). I think that is because I learned quite a lot about the ballet yesterday.

The reason I learned so much was that I had already seen this production with almost the same cast on 18 Jan 2014 (see "Giselle - Royal Ballet 18 Jan 2014" 20 Jan 2014). Seeing the same work on a big screen is a bit like watching an action replay in sport.  You see the catch or try on the field but not quite how it happened.  The action replay enables spectators to see how the fielder positioned himself or how the ball passed to the forward who edged over the line.   In very much the same way the broadcast enabled me to appreciate some of the subtleties of the ballet such as the disappointment on Myrtha's face and the relief on Giselle's as the bell tolls 4 and Albrecht escapes.

In my review of the performance of the 18 Jan 2014 I commented on Acosta's presence and Ospiova's virtuosity as an actor as well as a dancer.  Those qualities shone through yesterday too. However, I had not realized just how strikingly beautiful Ospiova is until I saw the footage of her interview and rehearsals before the broadcast.  My admiration for her has soared even higher. I also paid more attention to the other dancers such as Thomas Whitehead who danced Hilarion with grace. Before the show I tweeted
"Heads up for fellow Yorkshire person Thomas Whitehead who dances Hilarion in #ROHgiselle tonight. You lost the lass and died. Not fair!"
To my great surprise the House twitter feed "favorited" (sic) that tweet.

Now for the criticism. Although yesterday's was the best broadcast from Covent Garden so far it still fell short of the Bolshoi's. Their works are presented by Katerina Novikova, an accomplished presenter who is at home in three languages. Last night's ballet was introduced by Darcey Bussell who is a ballerina and not a presenter. While it was lovely to see her and hear her experience of dancing Giselle there were lots of missed opportunities. For instance, interviews with Sir Peter Wright and Kevin O'Hare were compressed into one question each from members of the public. One of those questions from Dave of the Dave Tries Ballet was very interesting. If only there had been time for Sir Peter to develop his answer.

Instead the focus was on the story of the second act and the wicked wilis who have it in for all men.  I really don't think it is necessary to tell the story because the choreography is sufficient in itself. The best way to appreciate the second act of Giselle is the same way as one enjoys Balanchine as pure abstract dance without a story.

A big difference between the Royal Ballet's transmissions and the Bolshoi's is the former's use of twitter. The Royal Ballet suggests a hash-tag and invites the public to tweet where they are from and what they think of the ballet. I am not sure why they do that. You can't say much about a ballet in 140 characters especially after you have identified your cinema so the result is gush.  Superlatives upon the superficial.  Too much attention is given to those voces populorum. That is probably why we did not hear from the conductor or designer at all and why so little time was given to Sir Peter.  Maybe a chance to explore the topic raised by Dave will arise when Sir Peter speaks to the London Ballet Circle on the 14 April.

But the main reason for coming to the cinema yesterday was to see the dancing and hear the music and they were as exquisite on camera as they were on stage.  I think I now know how to use HDTV  to best advantage: see the same production on the stage and in the cinema.  Having seen how well that worked for Giselle I will do the same for Christopher Wheeldon's Winter's Tale. As I said before, HDTV is to a live performance what hamburger is to fillet steak but yesterday's was like a very good hamburger, the sort we used to get at The Great American Disaster.  If you are too young to remember the GAD read Will Self's "A burger with a side order of smugness" 27 Jan 2011 The New Statesman,

Saturday, 25 January 2014

For those who may be interested ........

Anna Pavlova as Giselle Source Wikipedia

Last week I saw and reviewed an exquisite production of Giselle at the Royal Opera House (see "Giselle - Royal Ballet 18 Jan 2014" 20 Jan 2018). On Monday 27 Jan 2914 cinema audiences around the world will get the chance to see the same principals in the same production streamed live from Covent Garden. Details of the transmission are to be found on the Royal Opera House's website. One of the cinema chains showing the broadcast in the UK will be Odeon and you check out your local flicks here.

Now a word of warning! Watching an HDTV transmission is not the same as being in the Royal Opera House for the reasons I set out in "¡Por favor! Don Quixote streamed to Huddersfield" 17 Oct 2013. As I said in that article an HDTV transmission bears about as much resemblance to the theatrical experience as hamburger does to fillet steak but it does have a number of advantages such as convenience, economy and the opportunity in some transmissions actually to get some input from those who have created the production. The Royal Ballet transmissions are nothing like as good as the Bolshoi's (see my reviews of Jewels 22 Jan 2014 and Spartacus 21 Oct 2013) let alone the Met's from New York which are by far the best; but I still recommend the Royal Ballet's highly and I hope to be at the Huddersfleld Odeon at 19:00 on Monday.

On the subject of Huddersfield I reviewed Fiona Noonan's ballet classes in "Team Hud Adult Ballet Class" 22 Jan 2014. Well Fiona also teaches ballercise which is a combination of pilates, ballet and aerobics in the same dance studio at Student Central on the university campus at 16:45 on Fridays. It was Fiona's ballercise classes at my local gym in Honley that brought me back into ballet. I started them when I was at the lowest possible ebb a few weeks after losing my spouse to motor neurone disease and 6 months after some life changing surgery of my own. I am not exaggerating in saying that they were the start of a new lease of life for me. If you do ballet or even if you don't but want to have a lot of fun with some great kids then check out this class. Don't be put off by the first 5 letters in ballercise. No experience is necessary.

Finally I was told by a lady on BalletcoForum that I had "an interesting mindset" which I interpreted as a gentle reprimand for my remark:
"This class was just what I needed. My confidence had taken a knock a week or two ago when I fell flat on my face trying to do posés pirouettes that I had not really mastered and I was starting to ask myself whether at age 65 I wasn't getting a little bit too old for this ballet malarkey."
This lady is very, very keen and doubtless very, very good at ballet and she told me that falls are to be expected in ballet and the only thing to do is to get back onto one's feet and do the exercise again. She added that any teacher who counsels otherwise is not doing her job. Well as it happened I did get on my feet and I carried on even though I was quite shaken and I still have the grazes, scratches and bruises. I learned that lesson the better part of a century ago when learning to ride a bike and I don't need a ballet teacher to repeat that lesson now.

However, I also got a real bollocking for taking unnecessary risks from many of those who know me best and have my best interests at heart who pointed out that I am a barrister and not a ballet dancer and I am very lucky to do the job I do. They are also right. Even if I had started to study ballet at the right age and even if I had the talent to make a career on the stage I would still have chosen the law over ballet. I am so fortunate never to have to retire from a job I love. I also love ballet as a recreation both as a theatre goer and as an over mature student but it is only a recreation and I have to keep a sense of proportion.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Team Hud Adult Ballet Class

Our local university is The Times Higher Education University of the Year. The university's website notes:
"The award comes at an exciting time at the University with its new Student Central building due to open in early January. The new building will form a central hub, home to the Students’ Union and support services plus a state-of-the-art sports centre and gym which includes an eight court sports hall, two squash courts and two dance studios as well as a gym kitted out with Technogym Artis technology."
I tried out one of the dance studios at 18:30 this evening when I attended the first adult ballet class given by Fiona Noonan. I have mentioned Fiona before because she also teaches at The Base Studios in Huddersfield.

Today's class consisted of about 20, all women, most of whom were quite young. Although the class is open to the public I guess that at least half the pupils were undergraduates. For many of us it was our first lesson.  

We started with pliés, then tendus followed by glissés, ronds de jambe, fondus and développés at the barre and then some centre work which included chassés and posés pirouettes. Finally, we finished with stretches. 

This class was just what I needed. My confidence had taken a knock a week or two ago when I fell flat on my face trying to do posés pirouettes that I had not really mastered and I was starting to ask myself whether at age 65 I wasn't getting a little bit too old for this ballet malarkey. One day my body will say "no" and I think that is likely to come sooner rather than later but until it does I am going to pack in as many classes as I can. The London Ballet Circle shared a poster on its Facebook page from Étude Ballet Boutique with the words "Money can't buy you happiness but it can buy you ballet classes which are kind of the same thing," Oh how true.

The class meets every Wednesday during term between 18:30 and 19:30 in the Student Central Building which is opposite Sainsburys. There is plenty of street parking at that time. For those using public transport the university is perhaps 5 minutes walk from the bus station and slightly further from the railway station. Classes cost £5 per hour.

Post Script

Fiona sent me the following text last night after reading the review:
"u forgot to mention how fabulous I am ....... hee hee xxx,"
Actually that is quite an omission because a good teacher is everything when learning ballet and in my very limited experience Fiona is one of the best.

Well, I say limited, but when I think of it I have had regular ballet classes from three teachers, occasional classes from another two and of course lots of teaching in other subjects from classical Greek to COBOL programming.  The test of a good teacher is whether he or she can stretch his or her pupils to their limits of and Fiona certainly did that.  We did a lot of exercises which do not come easily and we all made a reasonable stab at them. Best of all we left the class chattering and happy. 

Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds - "Jewels" streamed from Moscow

I am something of a fan of the Bolshoi's HDTV broadcasts as readers will recall from my review of Spartacus. They are the next best thing to seeing ballet on stage. In one important respect they are actually better because their engaging presenter Katerina Novikova interviews people like Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi's artistic director, and Merrill Ashley, the US ballerina who helped the Bolshoi stage Jewels.

Ballet goers have seen a lot of Jewels lately. The Bolshoi brought it to London a few months ago (see  Luke Jennings's review in The Observer 18 Aug 2013) and the Royal Ballet has just staged its own version  as an alternative to all those Nutcrackers that appear over Christmas. Choreographed by George Balanchine for the New York City Ballet the work consists of three acts each of which could stand as a ballet in its own right.

The programme notes say that the ballet was inspired by the beauty of the gem stones at the jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels though the Wikipedia entry quotes Balanchine as saying that "The ballet had nothing to do with jewels. The dancers are just dressed like jewels." And so they are: 
  • green in the first act to symbolize emeralds the women in romantic tutus dancing to a Fauré score;
  • red in the second to symbolize rubies the cast dressed as for a Broadway musical dancing to Stravinsky; and
  • white in the third to symbolize diamonds the women in classical tutus dancing to Tchaikovsky.
According to the presenter there was to have been a fourth act where the dancers were to be in blue to represent sapphires but that never came off. A pity though it would have made for quite a long ballet.

Ms Novikova also said that each of those gems or colours was to represent a city that was important to Balanchine and its associated dance tradition. Emeralds were to represent Paris and the romantic ballet as well as wine and perfume and some of the other good things in life; Rubies New York with its razzmatazz and all that jazz; and Diamonds were to stand for St Petersburg and the classical ballet. 

There was a bit of criticism in the press and also in BalletcoForum of the first and second acts but everyone seems to have liked Diamonds and I certainly did.  That act reminded me of Serenade which Balanchine had created over 30 years earlier and which Boston Ballet had performed in London on 4 July 2013 (see 
Boston Ballet: "High as a flag on the Fourth of July!" 7 July 2013). But I liked the lot particularly Emeralds which reminded me of the exquisite Giselle I had seen the night before ("Giselle - Royal Ballet 18 Jan 2014").

The Bolshoi has helpfully published a cast list so that you can see who did what on Sunday. I liked all of the dancers and it would be unfair for me to single any of them out for special praise.  Ms, Novikova did tell one of the principals (I won't say which for the reasons I have just given) that her performance was "stunning" and it was so good to see her smile as she accepted the compliment. The truth is that they were all stunning and although I have my favourites I can give no good reason for my choice.

The next HDTV transmission from Moscow will be Ratmansky's Lost Illusions on the 2 Feb 2014 which alas clashes with Sibley and Crisp at the Royal Ballet School and wild horses will not drag me from another chance to glimpse Antoinette Sibley, my favourite ballerina of all time.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Giselle - Royal Ballet 18 Jan 2014

Why do we still watch Giselle?  Except for the occasional performance of La Sylphide and La Péri we don't see much of the romantic ballets of the 1830s and 1840s probably because we no longer believe in ghoulies, ghosties and lang-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. So why is it that Giselle with its wilis has remained so popular and is in the repertoire of just about every major ballet company in the world?

I think it is because the ballet still has a lot to to say to us not about wilis or prince charming in reverse but about human relationships, shock and the imaginings of a deluded mind. Arguably it has a feminist message though  I doubt that was ever in the minds of Perrot, Grisi or the audiences around the world who have filled the theatres night after night ever since it was first performed. Modern theatre goers do know what it is like to build up one's hopes unreasonably, to see them dashed suddenly, to suffer public humiliation crushingly and in a few cases extreme cases illnesses that can lead to self harm,

Everything is hunky dory for Giselle.  She's the prettiest girl in her village.  She attracts the hunky new kid with style who is so much more fun than nerdy old Hilarion who is in with her mum for slipping her the occasional rabbit or partridge. There she is - queen of some kind of harvest pageant the envy of all her friends - and then Hilarion spoils it all by exposing Albrecht as a two timer.  Suddenly from queen of the pageant she is a laughing stock. No wonder she goes out of her mind. And her mum yapping on about the spirits of girls who die before their wedding day can't have helped.

Giselle's mad scene is the key to the ballet which forms the link between the merry making and flirting of the first part of the first act and the world of the wilis of the second.  It takes a ballerina with extraordinary dramatic powers as well as great virtuosity to do it well. And she needs a credible partner with similar powers to accompany her. I have seen many versions of Giselle by many companies but I can only recall a couple of performances when I have been entirely satisfied. One of those performances was by Fonteyn with Nureyev and another by Sibley with Dowell. A third was last last Saturday night. Natalia Osipova who danced Giselle in the evening performance at the Royal Opera House on 18 Jan 2013 with Carlos Acosta has those powers. As for her partner, I would go so far as to say that Acosta, who dominates a stage like no other dancer, was the best Albrecht that I have ever seen, and that includes Nureyev.

Also impressive were Thomas Whitehead who danced Hilarion, Deidre Chapman Giselle's mum, Christina Arestis Albrecht's girlfriend, Hikaru Kobayashi queen of the wilis and Elizabeth Harrod one of her attendants. I have been following Harrod ever since I first saw her at a Yorkshire Ballet Summer School Gala and it is great to see how well she is coming on.  I loved everything about Peter Wright's production and also John Macfarlane's designs.

I used to go to the Royal Opera House frequently until it was refurbished.  I got out of the habit when it was closed for those works and I have only been back since though I kept up my membership of the Friends of Covent Garden for most of that time.  It must be over 30 years since I was last in the amphitheatre and how that has changed with its swanky bars and restaurants.  On the whole I welcome those changes but I do miss the old House with its stench of veg, the cut flowers tossed by the audience from the boxes, the liveried footmen and the ritual of the ballerina choosing her choicest bloom for her partner.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

If you see no other ballet this year this is the one you must see - Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Linbury 28-29 May 2014

On 4 April 2013 I posted a short article on Michaela dePrince while she was still in the United States. I wrote:
"I can't wait to see her in  England".
A few months later I noticed that she had come a lot closer to England by joining the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet. I made a special trip to Amsterdam on the 24 November 2013 to see the company at the Stadsshowburg. I was bowled over by the performance as was the rest of the audience.  It went wild for the company. Not just for dePrince - though she was magnificent - but for the other 11 members and their artistic director Ernst Meisner who have produced something remarkable.  Now at last they are coming to the Linbury on the 28 and 29 May.

If you have never seen ballet before this is the show you should see first.  If you are not charmed by these wonderful young dancers then nothing will charm you.  If you only see one show this year this is the one you should see.  Tickets range from £7 to £20 and students are entitled to concessions.  You can book on-line or by calling 020 7304 4000.

I would have raved about dePrince had she come from Singapore or Suriname but I have a special regard for her because she does come from Sierra Leone. I was married to a Sierra Leonean for 28 years and I have travelled around that beautiful country. A lot of Sierra Leoneans live in London. I shall be bringing at least two of them, my sister in law and my daughter manquée, on the 29. I have told them about Amsterdam and also about dePrince's story which brought tears to their eyes. Sadness but also enormous pride.

Last week, attention was focused on Nigeria as Jim O'Neill has identified it as a future economic giant but I have seen comparable innovation and creativity in Freetown and indeed among the Sierra Leonean diaspora here.  That tiny country does not get a very good press in England when it is noticed at all but it should. It has produced writers like Aminatta Forna, composers like John Akar and now a beautiful dancer. I am sure there are plenty more where they came from not to mention the scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, business leaders and others who will draw their inspiration and confidence from those artists.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Remember Reuben - and see Vargas, Glurdjidze and Dave

There can't be many more distressing things in life than losing a child. And especially not one like little Reuben Graham who looks like the bonniest little fellow one could every hope to meet. Reuben died quite suddenly of a brain tumour which was detected while on holiday in Devon.  The lad received emergency treatment in Bristol and while he was there his family were lodged in a CLIC Sergeant Home from Home. In memory of Reuben the family wish to "provide a retreat in the North West of England countryside that will relieve the distress of families and their close friends who have suffered the bereavement of a child or have a child suffering from a life limiting or life threatening illness."

Although Reuben died in Bristol he came from Mottram which is just across the Pennines from me.  On 16 Feb 2014 Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company will visit our neck of the woods to dance Cinderella. Now as I tweeted earlier Reuben's Retreat is such a good cause that I would gladly watch Dot and Albert Shufflebottom perform the hokey cokey in the car park of the Tipsy Ferret in Rawtenstall but the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company promises rather more than that. They have arranged for Elena Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas of the English National Ballet to dance with them. Not only that but Dave of the Dave Tries Ballet blog will also be dancing.  If you have not dipped into Dave Tries Ballet yet you should because it is the best ballet blog by a country mile. Dave announced yesterday that his blog had attracted a million hits which does not surprise me at all.

The ballet will be performed at the The Plaza, Mersey Square, Stockport, Cheshire. SK1 1SP at 16:00 on 16 Feb 2014.  Tickets cost £15 plus a £1.50 booking fee which is a bargain compared to what you would pay in The Coliseum or even The Lowry or Palace to see Glurdjidze and Vargas. You can buy tickets by telephone or on-line. The number of the box office is 0161 477 7779. I would advise you to book in person if you are in walking distance of the Plaza or by telephone if you are not. The problem of booking on-line is that the box office charges you a whopping £2 for postage which I for one would rather give to the charity.

I have booked my ticket and if you run into me in the theatre bar you can buy me a drink for my birthday.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

New Connections - London Ballet Circle, Chelmsford Ballet and BalletcoForum

Hieronymus Bosch: Garden of Earthly Delights     Source Wikipedia

I have just returned from the London Ballet Circle's annual general meeting and party.  Although I had been a member of the Circle when I was an undergraduate and I rejoined it a few months ago this was the first event I have been able to attend.   It's a long way to London and I set off with a degree of trepidation because those of us who follow ballet are either incredibly sweet or crashing bores.  An evening with the former is delightful.   A couple of hours of the latter brings to mind Sartre's Huis Clos.

I am glad to say that I found only the sweet type last night.  The Circle's Chair, Susan Dalgetty-Ezra, and her husband, with whom I chatted yesterday, are particularly delightful. So, too, is their webmaster, Istvan Lengyel.   Also Audrey Allen who edits the Newsletter. Alas, I did not meet the lady who keeps the Facebook page and twitter feed with whom I had already exchanged pleasantries. Although I had come a long way I had certainly not come the furthest distance. I met a delightful gentleman from Ilkley who was connected with the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School.

You can see from the Newsletter that the Circle has a very full programme of events:
  • Patricia Linton on the 20 Jan
  • Elena Glurdjidze on 10 Feb
  • Tamara Rojo on 3 March
  • Ruth Brill on 24 March, and
  • Peter Wright on 14 April.
Most of the Circle's events take place from 19:30 at The Dining Room, Civil Service Club, 13-15 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HJ and are open to the public for a small additional entrance fee. The annual subscription, which has recently increased by 50% is still only £12 which I for one regard as a bargain.  It does excellent work to support young dancers, including the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School which is particularly dear to my heart.  So please join.

One of the great and the good at the Circle's party was Doreen Wells who is now the Marchioness of Londonderry. I had last seen her when she danced with the Royal Ballet's touring company (which is now Birmingham Royal Ballet) nearly 40 years ago.  She was a magnificent ballerina then and she remains radiantly beautiful now.  It was good to see her again when she drew the raffle.

Doreen Wells is one of the patrons of the Chelmsford Ballet Company which I have also joined as an associate member  The subscription is another snip at £13 per year.   I have yet to meet any of the members but I have exchanged tweets and emails with some of them and they are all definitely of the sweet kind. Apart from the satisfaction of promoting a good cause there seem to be two main benefits of associateship membership. News of their shows the next one of which is The Nutcracker at Chelmsford Civic Theatre between the 19 and 22 March. Secondly, if you are good enough (Grade 6 or above) the company classes taught by people like Sandra Madgwick of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

And that brings me on to my last new connection because I mentioned those classes in BalletcoForum. This is a free on-line discussion forum on such topics as recent performances and dance education.   I joined just before Christmas and have picked up quite a few interesting titbits of information ranging from a ballet based on Pushkin's The Fountain of Bakhchisarai to how to pivot in arabesque.   One service that Istvan Lengyel of the Ballet Circle recommended yesterday is a ticket exchange for when a show is sold out.  I have not tried it but I am sure it is useful.  As I had about 10 months of reviews of ballets and ballet classes in this blog I had contributed quite a lot by writing a summary in the forum and linking to the relevant article here. However, they have recently changed their rules to prevent such references. As I do not have time to write two lots of copy and as I do not intend to neglect this blog I may not be able to contribute quite so much in future. However, it costs nothing to join and there are some good conversations so I still recommend the forum.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Frohes neues Jahr

Musikverein Vienna    Source Wikipedia

Like the Scots, we Mancunians make (or at least did make) a fuss of New Year. My family kept the tradition of "letting in the New Year" even in suburban Surrey where I lived from the age of 6 until I went away to St Andrews for university and to Los Angeles for graduate school. Indeed I have kept up the tradition even in those exotic places where they have their own ways of celebrating the New Year. The head of the household (so long as he has or had black hair) slips out at 23:55 on 31 Dec with a gift wrapped slice of bread and lump of coal symbolizing a hope for food and warmth in the coming winter and returns at about 00:02 on 1 Jan to be greeted by mother with a slice of Christmas cake, a mince pie and a glass of sherry.

I love New Year even more - or rather very much more - than Christmas with its tarnished tinsel, moulting pine needles, re-cycled turkey, bad temper, insincerity and utter extravagance. I celebrate it quietly with family or friends. I have tried the American way with a party, the Scots way with wall to wall whisky, the London way freezing for fireworks, even the Sierra Leonean way with a watch night service followed by wild rejoicing "Happy new year me no die-o, Tell God tenke for life" but I like the Mancunian way best.

Before the New Year is even out of nappies there is the New Year's Day concert from the Musikverein in Vienna. It is one of the few television programmes I endeavour not to miss. I hope one day to attend the concert in person. I was actually a guest at a function in the Musikverein when the City Council invited the International Bar Association for which the Austrian post office actually issued a special stamp. And as a balletomane the best part of the whole concert is the dancing.

We tend to overlook Austria's contribution to ballet but it is not insignificant. Ludwig Minkus, the composer of the score for Don Quixote came from Vienna and indeed died there in 1917. There is Lichine's delightful Graduation Ball to the music of Johann Strauss which used to be part of Festival's repertoire but has sadly been dropped. There are the dancers of the Vienna State Ballet which include our very own James Stephens of Huddersfield. As I said in my review of The Choral's Messiah we dance as well as sing in Huddersfield and we have David Bintley to prove it. Indeed, I think a little bit of our Huddersfield music may be played occasionally to the 12 dance superstars of the future.

This year the State Ballet performed three dances, two from the Liechtenstein Palace and a waltz from the Musikverein itself. Much of the attention this year was on Vivienne Westwood's costumes for the dancers - very Graduation Ball and very La Syulphide - but I think Ashley Page's choreography deserved a cheer. I particularly liked his arrangement of Lanner's Die Romantiker and the Blue Danube. I was distracted from the choreography for Delibes's Sylvia by the tartan which did not seem to relate to the ballet at all.

Before writing this post I read Dave Tries Ballet's Goals for 2014 and had a few reflections of my own. Whereas Dave looks forward I have looked back at some of the many delights of the year.

Sarah Kundi's Depouillage which led me to the magnificent Ballet Black and from there to MurleyDance with its talented dancers. I can't watch Kundi without tears welling up though, having said that, I am an equally passionate fan of the other 5 dancers.

Much the same thing happened with the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet. Because I was married to a Sierra Leonean for nearly 28 years I was intrigued to learn about Michaela dePrince and was thrilled by what I saw of her virtuosity on YouTube. But seeing her on film was nothing compared to seeing her on stage. She is quite the most exciting dancer I have seen in years. And she is one of 12 outstanding talents.   I love them all.

Other highlights of the year? I saw the Stuttgart Ballet dance Taming of the Shrew at last, a ballet that I have wanted to see for the last 44 years.  I rekindled my love for Scottish Ballet through watching Hansel and Gretel.  I experienced something remarkable at the West Yorkshire Playhouse when my beloved Northern Ballet danced A Midsummer Night's Dream. And I saw Nixon's Cinderella less than a week ago which was a triumph.

I have seen a lot of ballet in 2013 and I look forward to some more this year. I am looking forward in particular to seeing Antoinette Sibley again at the Royal Ballet School on 2 Feb.

At the end of the concert in Vienna the conductor and orchestra wish the world "Frohes neues Jahr" and that gentle readers is my wish to all of you.