Thursday, 27 February 2014

A Treat For Us Old Ladies

In my post on Northern Ballet's open day on the 15 Feb 2014 I wrote how I had intended to spend an hour at Quarry Hill out of loyalty for Northern Ballet as a Friend of the Company but ended up spending the whole day there rooted to my seat watching a succession of brilliant teachers pass on their art to the students of the Northern Ballet Academy. One of those teachers was Cara O'Shea and I wrote:
"She is another wonderful teacher and again I could see that the kids were devoted to her. I would have loved to have been taught by her."
Well little did I suspect that less than 2 weeks after writing those words I would actually be taught by Cara.

Our usual teacher, Annemarie Donoghue, was unable to teach us today so Cara took us instead.  We were a large class with several new students at least one of whom I recognized from the taster class at the open day. We warmed up in the usual way walking, exercising our arms, skipping and jogging and finding our posture. There were some slight differences in the barre exercises but generally they followed very much the same pattern as Annemarie's class.

However we did learn some new things of which perhaps the most important was to imagine a story for each exercise and to act that story rather than just perform the exercise. Cara told us that she gets the kids to do that and a typical story is "I am imagining throwing a rotten tomato at my brother." Poor brother! However, the technique really worked for me. Having seen Ballet Black yesterday I visualized myself as Titania approaching Bottom in Arthur Pita's A Dream within a Midsummer Night's Dream. I concentrated on that instead of worrying about whether I was properly stacked and, you know what, I was able to balance when I lifted my back foot inro the air without even thinking about it.

We picked up lots of other useful tips such as imagining holding a mirror when doing the port de bras so that we would look into our hands as our arms unfurl and we had some real fun with the jumps though I must confess that I got a bit muddled  at that point.  The hour passed far too quickly and we left to the changing room chattering and giggling like teenagers.

I was very tempted to bunk off class today. really struggled to come in this morning. I had a really hard day in London before I went to Covent Garden with a meeting at Middlesex University and a drive into Central London to pick up a heavy banker's box of papers from chambers as well as helping some of the juniors in our IP team. I then went to see Ballet Black which was of course uplifting but anything but relaxing. A quick supper with my former ward who is the nearest I have to a daughter at the Masala Zone  And then the long trek North through umpteen roadworks and speed restrictons on the M1, howling gales and driving rain. I was utterly zonked by the time I made it back at 03:45 this morning.

But I am so glad I forced myself to make that effort.

After the class I texted a friend with a daughter in Cara's class at The Academy. She told me that her daughter adores Cara to which I replied "so did we." The years simply rolled away. We old ladies were young, energetic and happy today.

Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury 26 Feb 2014

Salvador Dali - danced by Christopher
 in Arthur Pita's "Dream within
A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Source Wikipedia

I have already said that Ballet Black are special (see "Why Ballet Black Is special" 20 May 2013 and "Ballet Black is still special" 7 Nov 2013). Well yesterday at the Linbury they were extra special.  They presented three new works:
  • Limbo by Martin Lawrence
  • Two of a Kind by Christopher Marney, and
  • A Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Pita.
Each of those works was exquisite and drew out a different quality in the company: Limbo its virtuosity, Two of a Kind its fluency and elegance and A Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream its theatricality and sense of fun. I had listed the company's performances at Bernie Grant and the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre as highlights of last year (see Anniversary Post 25 Feb 2014). Last night's performance was even better than those shows.

Writing in the programme Lawrence explained that Limbo is "a speculative idea about the afterlife of a human being dying in 'original sin' without being assigned to the hell of the damned." He explained that this work was "not a narrative but a deep feeling of striving for one's life ... surviving it or leaving this world for another.

Dedicating this work to the memory of his late grandmother, Annie Lawrence, the choreographer added:
"The notion of death and whether there is life after death played a big part in the process of making this piece. When someone is dying you do not want them to go. You hope that they will be around forever."
And then he speculated
"If someone is in Limbo can they also be brought back to life?"
With costumes designed by Rebecca Hayes and lighting by David Plater the dancers,  Jose Alves, Jacob Wye and Cira Robinson, gave the impression of flickering embers. Obviously it was not intended to be comfortable to watch. Similarly Hindemith's Sonata for Solo Voila (1922) Op 25 No 1 was not supposed to be easy to listen to.  The interaction between the dancers was combative.  Each of them was grim faced. But the choreography gave each dancer an opportunity to display his or her virtuosity. Altogether, a very moving and compelling work.

The mood of Two of a Kind was very different. In place of combat there was love. Flowing and lyrical this work was a joy to watch. At various points I was reminded of War Letters by the same choreographer that I loved so much last year.  This recollection was bolstered by the costumes that had been designed by Yukiko Tsukamoto - simple almost military uniforms for the men (Damien Johnson and Christopher Renfurn) and gorgeous full skirted dresses in vivid fabrics for the women (Kanika Carr and Sayaka Ichikawa). Combining Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence String Sextet in D minor and Adagio cantabile e con moto in D major with Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess Chris Marney chose a delightful score. Having been scoured emotionally by the first work we were soothed by the balm of the second.  As the curtain fell the audience departed for the bar happy and chattering.

There must be something about Midsummer Night's Dream that brings out the best in a choreographer. Something special happened in Leeds on the 14 Sept 2013 ("Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sept 2013) and something of the same kind happened in The Linbury last night.

The ballet starts with three couples - Titania and Oberon (Robinson and Johnson), Demetrius and Helena (Alves and Ichikawa) and Lysander and Hermia (Wye and Carr) - dancing to Handel. The women are in classical tutus Titania and Obseron wearing blue sashes to show their status with a crown for Titania. Suddenly the music changes to Malambo and everyone is in dappled light. In comes Puck (Isabela Coracy) dressed as a boy scout scattering star dust first on the dancers and then on the first 4 rows of the audience including me. Coracy's casting as Puck was a surprise and a delight.  A surprise because she is a powerful athletic dancer (see "Ballet Black's New Dancers" 24 Sept 2013). To see Coracy as a talented character artist was something as a revelation.

Although Pita had written in the programme that his ballet was not at all faithful to Shakspeare he seemed to follow the story far more closely than Nixon did in his Dream.  Spells are cast over the lovers, Titania and Bottom and there is a charming pas de deux of Robinson and Alves with ass's ears to the sound of Streisland's Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered.  The only bit of the ballet that I could not quite fathom was the role of Salvador Dali danced by Renfurn. Nevertheless if Nixon can have the Flying Scotsman in his ballet Pita was at least as entitled to have Dali in his.  After a downpour in a tropical rain forest and a variety of songs the score reverted to Handel and the first scene resumed.

Visual designs were by Jean-Marc Puissant and sound designs by Andrew Holdsworth and Frank Moon. Lighting was provided again by David Plater.  If anyone wants an impression of the ballet John Ross has exhibited some lovely photos on his website.

The entire season at the Linbury has been sold out for some time but Ballet Black are taking this new programme on tour (see "Ballet Black's Tour" 22 Fb 2014).  If you live anywhere near Cambridge, Guildford, Exeter, Southport or Nottingham you really should see them.

Further Reading

17 Feb 2015  "Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet" - a review of the 2015 mixed bill
10 Feb 2015  John  Ross Ballet Black: triple bill, London, February 2015 BalletcoForum
7 Nov 2014  "Ballet Black at Home in Leeds"
12 Oct 2014  "Woof"
17 Sept 2014 "My T-shirt says it all"
3 July 2914 "Best Ever - Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse"
9 March 2014 "David Lister's Post on Ballet Black"
23 May 2014 "What could be more thrilling than a Ride on a Roller Coaster? A performance by Ballet Black!"
7 March 2014 David Lister "Ballet Black is a wonderful company. But it's a shame on the arts that it still exists" Independent Voices
2 March 2014   Luke Jennings  "Ballet Black review – old-school charm, new-age wit" Guardian
27 Feb 2014  Zoe Anderson  "Ballet Black, A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream, dance review" Independent

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Anniversary Post

I started this blog a year ago today with a review of Ballet West's performance of The Nutcracker in Pitlochry. That was one of the highlights of the year and I am looking forward to returning to Pitlochry on Saturday for their Swan Lake. Last August I spent a very pleasant afternoon in Taynuilt on the way to Oban to catch the ferry to Mull (see "Taynuilt - where better to create ballet?" 31 Aug 2013). No wonder one of the students at the ballet school attached to the company won a medal in the Genée.

Here are some of the other highlights in no particular order:

1.  Dutch National Ballet Junior Company

I was in the Staddshouwburg in Amsterdam on the 24 Nov 2013 when Ernst Meisner's amazing young dancers began their tour of the Netherlands. I had come to the Netherlands to see Michaela DePrince. She was magnificent with Sho Yamade in the pas de deux from Diana and Actaeon. But in the same performance I saw the others and they were all as beautiful. It was a wonderful night. The crowd went wild. Every single member of the audience rose to his or her feet. One of the very few occasions in my life that has happened.  The Junior Company are coming to the Linbury on 28 and 29 May 2014. If tickets are still available - go!

2.  MurleyDance

Much the same thing happened a week later. I had come to Leeds to see Sarah Kundi who is one of my favourite dancers. On a particularly terrible day in May I drew solace from watching her dance "Dépouillement". But then I saw all the other wonderful dancers of MurleyDance.  I can't wait to see them all again in their Spring tour.

3.  Ballet Black

I was so sad when Kundi left Ballet Black. I had loved her performances in "Dopamine (you make my levels go silly)" and Chris Marney's "War Letters" when I saw the company at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham.  But just look whom Ballet Black have recruited now!

I shall see Isabela Coracy together with all my other favourites, including Cira Robinson, Sayaka Ichikawa, Damien Johnson and Joseph Alves, at the Linbury tomorrow (see "Ballet Black's Tour" 22 Feb 2014). Yippee!

4.    Scottish Ballet  Hansel and Gretel

Scottish Ballet was my first love  (see "Scottish Ballet" 20 Dec 2013).  It is still one of my favourite companies.  Christopher Hampson's Hansel and Gretel which I saw in Glasgow just before Christmas was outstanding (see "Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel" 23 Dec 2013).  Hampson reworked the story masterfully involving the public in the process with writing competitions, forest tours and many other events.   I first got to know the company when Peter Darrell was its artistic director and Elaine McDonald was his ballerina. I am looking forward to seeing Scottish Ballet again in Romeo and Juliet in May.

5.   Antoinette Sibley

There were great ballerinas in the early 1970s when I first took an interest in ballet - Fracci, Seymour and, of course, Foteyn. But my favourite was (and remains) Antoinette Sibley. I saw Dame Antoinette at the Royal Ballet School in conversation with Clement Crisp earlier this month (see "Le jour de gloire est arrive - Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School" 3 Feb 2014).  Here is a clip of the great ballerina in Manon.

6.   Gala for Ghana

That same afternoon, thanks to the good people of BallertcoForum, I got to get a ticket to see Edward Watson, Lauren Cuthbertson and other great dancers at the Royal College of Music in a  Gala for Ghana. That evening I saw the wonderful Elena Glurdjidze dance The Dying Swan thus fulfilling a lifelong ambition that had been sparked by my mother's account of Pavolva to see a modern ballerina perform it on the stage. Glurdjidze is another dancer whom I greatly admire. There were many other memorable performances that evening including Ashton's Rhapsody pas de deux by Yuhui Choe and Valentino Zucchetti, Volver, Volver by Watson, Avant La Haine by Camille Bracher and Thomas Whitehead but the work that stands out in my memory is Requiem Pie Jesu by Lauren Cuthbertson.

7.    Northern Ballet, Midsummer Night's Dream

Something remarkable happened at West Yorkshire Playhouse on 14 Sept 2013 when Yorkshire Ballet danced David Nixon's Midsummer Night's Dream (see "Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sept 2013). This was one of only three occasions that I have witnessed a standing ovation  in the ballet. Somehow the chemistry was right. A lovely, intimate theatre.  An inspired cast who gave that little bit extra. A receptive crowd.

8.  Northern Ballet's Open Day

I had not intended to stay long at Northern Ballet's open day on the 15 Feb 2014 but I sat transfixed by a succession of the Academy wonderful teachers: Yoko Ichino, Cara O'Shea, Chris Hinton-Lewis and my own teacher, Annemarie Donoghue. I learned more about ballet in one afternoon from watching them than from reading a shelf of books or a week of performances.  A few weeks earlier Dame Antoinette had spoken fondly about Tamara Karsavina who had been her teacher.  Watching Yoko Ichino lovingly pass on her skills and knowledge to the young dancers of the Academy reminded me of Dame Antoinette's words. I love the Academy. I was already a Friend of the Company but today I have become a Friend of the Academy as well.

9.   Birmingham Royal Ballet, Prince of the Pagodas

I was so excited about the first performance in the UK of the Prince of the Pagodas at The Lowry on the 30 Jan 2014 that I had to write the review that very night. Great choreography, great sets, great score and great dancing  (see "Lear with a Happy Ending - Birmingham Royal Ballet's Prince of the Pagodas 30 Jan 2014" 31 Jan 2014). The Birmingham Royal Ballet brought two other great works to Salford - Aladdin on 28 Feb 2013 and The Sleeping Beauty on the 29 Sept 2014 - but Pagodas was my favourite.

10.  Royal Ballet. Giselle

The Royal Ballet is the gold standard and Giselle is in the repertoire of all the world's great companies. I have seen many of the world's finest ballerinas dance Giselle - Fracci, Sibley, Fonteyn and now Osipova. I have also seen many great Albrechts including Nureyev at the height of his career but I don't think I have ever seen anyone dance the role better than Carlos Acosta on the 18 Jan 2014 (see "Giselle - Royal Ballet 18 Jan 2014"  20 Jan 2014).

Monday, 24 February 2014

Chelmsford Ballet's Nutcracker - Not Long Now!

I have already mentioned the Chelmsford Ballet's Nutcracker which opens at the Civic Theatre on the 19 March 2014 ("The Chelmsford Ballet" 15 Dec 2014). Well now I have some casting news.

Richard Bermange will dance the cavalier. Since graduating from Central School of Ballet, Bermange has worked with English National Ballet, K-Ballet, Tokyo, Tivoli Ballet, Copenhagen, Peter Schaufuss Ballet and The National Ballet of Ireland. He has danced many solo and principal roles in Napoli, Cinderella After the Ball, Romeo and Juliet, Schehezarade, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker and choreographed Virus for the Cloud Dance Festival in 2011.

Michael Budd will dance King Mouse. He is an Essex lad who studied at The Royal Ballet School. Budd has danced with many leading companies including Matthew Bourne, the Vienna Festival Ballet where he was a principal and the English National Ballet at the Royal Albert Hall.

Emma Lister of the National Ballet of Ireland will dance The Sugar Plum Fairy.  Born in Canada and trained at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Lister has danced ballet in the round in the Royal Albert Hall with the English National Ballet as well as more exotic locations such as AlaskaBermuda - and now Chelmsford.

The opening performance on the 19 March 2014 will be in aid of PARC Essex. According to its website
"PARC exists to provide support to families who have a child or children with any type of additional need from a very early stage. We have a range of children on our books including those with speech and language difficulties, autistic spectrum, epilepsy and those with physical and learning difficulties."
There will be a collection on the day so if you are coming - and as a proud associate non-dancing member of the company I certainly shall be  - do dig deep.  PARC seems a very worthwhile cause.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Tours en l'air - a Really Useful Resource

The CN Tower Toronto   Source Wikipedia

Tours en L'air is a specialist travel service based in Toronto which us one of my favourite cities in North America. According to its website:
"Tours en l'air organizes ballet-themed escorted holidays to see the best companies perform great ballets in beautiful places."
It is run by a lady who describes herself as "a highly knowledgeable balletomane" (I can attest to that) who has enjoyed hundreds of performances in over 20 cities around the world.  She speaks English, French, and German, and is a Travel Industry Council of Ontario certified Travel Counsellor. She teaches ballet appreciation and arranges group ballet outings in Toronto. Twitter: @thewordlady.

There are two reasons for consulting this website.  First and most obviously to take a tour somewhere or if you are in or near Toronto at the right time a ballet appreciation course or outing.  The other reason is that it contains lots of useful information such as a pretty comprehensive spreadsheet of forthcoming and recent performances in "What's on in Ballet" to "Travel Tips for Ballet Lovers" with titbits about hotels and other local information including links to other resources.

I have often contemplated taking one of the tours to Russia and other places advertised from time to time in About the House but I have always been deterred either by the cost or time constraints. I see a lot of ballet as you can tell from the Reviews page of my blog. I do a lot of travelling for work (mainly in the UK but sometimes abroad) and I take at least one or two weeks holiday a year when I try to pack in as much theatre as possible. In the past I have made my own arrangements which was time consuming (particularly in the days before the internet) and although I do not buy from touts or even concierges I am pretty sure that I have paid over the odds. So it is good to know of a service that makes all the arrangements and perhaps even supplies travelling companions with whom one can discuss a show as theatre going has been a solitary exercise since the death of my spouse.

Although many of the tours are in North America (which is exactly where I would want to go because that is where many of my favourite companies are to be found) it also arranges trips here including one for Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet with day trips to Blenheim and the Cotswolds. In big red letters the site promises
"You can join in from anywhere in the world."
So one day I will take a tour en l'air and I shall let you know how I get on.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Ballet Black's Tour

Linbury Theatre  Source Wikipedia
Ballet Black are on the move again with new works by Christopher Marney, Martin Lawrence and Arthur Pita. They are at the Linbury between the 25 Feb and the 4 March 2014. Then they go to Cambridge, Guidford, Southport, Exeter and Nottingham. Their performances at the Linbury have been sold out for some time but you can still catch them at the other venues and they are well worth any journey. I shall be in the Linbury on 26 Feb 2014 and in Southport on 22 May. I just can't see enough of Ballet Black.

Last year I saw them at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in May (see
"Why Ballet Black Is special" 20 May 2013) and the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds ("Ballet Black is still special" 7 Nov 2013). They now have recruited  two exciting new dancers, including Isabela Coracy from Brazil who is already one of my favourites (see "Ballet Black's New Dancers" 24 Sep 2013) joining Cira Robinson, Sayaka Ichikawa, Damien Johnson and Joseph Alves on my list of very special dancers.

Although I admire Ballet Black for its work I also admire the company's founder and artistic director, Cassa Pancho, for her vision. On 6 Oct 2013 she wrote a very thoughtful article on the company's Facebook page which I discussed in "Ballet Black: 'we don't talk about stuff, we just do it'." Through their performances in all parts of the UK and beyond (they have just returned from a very successful tour of Bermuda) and through their school Pancho and Ballet Black have accomplished some wonderful things.

Friday, 21 February 2014

No Excuses! If the Dancers in Big Ballet can do it so can I

St George's Hall, Bradford       Source Wikipedia

I was very suspicious of Channel4's Big Ballet for many reasons. First, I am not a fan of reality TV. I have never watched an episode of "Big Brother". I have watched the odd episode of "The Apprentice" but I get very cross at the bitchiness particularly when members of the losing team turn on each other. I have tried to watch "Dragons' Den" but am infuriated at the arrogance of the investors. The second reason I was suspicious is that I live in Yorkshire and I have seen far too many shows that take the mickey out of my county. I also dance for fun even though I am the wrong shape and size and have not the slightest natural aptitude.  The idea of gathering a bunch of plus size dancers to dance Swan Lake  struck me as the modern equivalent of watching the lunatics at Bedlam.

Nevertheless, I did watch highlights of the show on Channel4oD and was pleasantly surprised. Now this was not great ballet. The choreography was very simple. There was just one lift and nobody danced on pointe but it was not a shambles either. Far from it. When one considers the time available for training and rehearsal the dancers and their teachers, Wayne Sleep and Monica Loughman, did very well indeed.  Indeed, I drew some inspiration from them for myself. Until I saw the video I had blamed my wobbliness in arabesque and my very unsteady pirouettes on being the wrong shape and size but lo and behold folk who are even less well proportioned than me were getting arabesques and pirouettes right before my very eyes.  So I have no excuses.  I must just work harder.

The ballet was performed in St George's Hall in Bradford which is really a concert hall. I have seen opera there but never ballet.  That usually takes place at The Alhambra a few hundred yards away. The Halle and other visiting orchestras perform there and when they appear they seem very tightly packed together. How the dancers managed to move on a stage of that size beats me. If only for that they deserve a medal.

The story of Swan Lake was tweaked a little. Scene 1 was set in a New York art gallery in the 1920s which was fine except that I could not quite see the advantage of that setting since all the other scenes seemed to follow the story. There were some very clever adaptations of the music - the cygnets for example was used in part of the dance of Siegfried and Odile to underscore their intimacy as I think Sleep said in the preceding programme. I also liked the divertissements - particularly the Neapolitan dance - different choreography from when Sleep used to dance it but still good to watch.  All the artists did well but I particularly liked the men, AJ who danced Siegfried and Raj who was Rothbart.

The programme received a lot of help from Northern Ballet.  The dancers rehearsed in Quarry Hill, the music was provided by the Northern Ballet Sinfornia and David Nixon was in the audience. That is one of the good things about Northern Ballet. They cultivate excellence like every other company but they bring ballet to everyone: not just to elderly hippopotamuses like me but also to folk who have far greater challenges to overcome than simply being the wrong age, shape and size and bereft of any obvious talent.  When everything is taken into account I am very proud of my beloved Northern Ballet for facilitating this project and even more proud of my fellow Yorkshire folk who danced before a live audience and cameras on very little training. It has motivated me to work that much harder when Northern Ballet Academy reopens after its half term break.

Post Script
21 Feb 2013  Northern Ballet has just published s press release on its contribution to the series entitled  "The door is always open with Northern Ballet Big Ballet may have seen their last curtain call but the stage door is always open with Northern Ballet".

Related Articles
7 Sep 2013 "Adult Ballet Classes" on adult ballet classes throughout the UK
12 Sep 2013 "Realizing a Dream" on Northern Ballet  Academy's over 55 class
6 Dec 2013 "It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class"
12 Feb 2014 "Migrating Swans - Dance Classes for the Over 50s in the North"
18 Feb 2014 "Northern Ballet Open Day" on the Academy and its teachers in acton

And for a little bit of background on Monica Loughman see "Ballet in Ireland" 8 Feb 2014

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Good Show - Bristol Russians' Cinderella in Stockport

Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Cinderella, Plaxa Stockport, 16 Feb 2014
Photo  Wikipedia

On 31 Aug 2012 a little lad from Mottram called Reuben Graham died at Frenchay Hospital  in Bristol. While they were in Bristol Reuben's family were housed in a CLIC Sargent Home from Home, After his death the family appealed for funds to establish a similar residence in North West England in Reuben;s memory, To raise money for the appeal the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company visited Stockport to dance Cinderella at the Plaza on 16 Feb 2014.

According to its website the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company was formed by Chika Temma and Yury Demakov in September 2011 to offer talented dancers from Bristol and the South West between the ages of 14 and 19 and opportunity to work with world class dancers.  Temma and Demakov studied at the Kirov (now Mariinsky) and Bolshoi ballet schools respectively and have established the Bristol Russian Ballet School to teach ballet in the Russian tradition. I am not sure how the Russian tradition differs from other countries' traditions but I hope to find out.

At her talk to the London Ballet Circle on the 11 Feb 2014 Elena Glurdjidze said that she had met Chika Temma in St Petersburg and that they had become friends (see "Elena Glurdjidze - So Lovely, So Gracious" 11 Feb 2014). She spoke warmly about Temma's school in Bristol and also about the appeal in Reuben Graham's memory in North West England,  As I said in my earlier post,
"My admiration for Glurdjidze increased all the more. She is not simply a great dancer. She is also a lovely human being."
 Glurdjidze is the Patron of the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet and she wrote in the programme about her pride and delight in her connection with the School and at dancing Cinderella "in this very special performance" which was her first experience of dancing with youngsters.  I should add that she has already given classes to the Bristol students which I mentioned in my previous article and she will be teaching at an iintensive course at the School between 13 and 17 April 2014.

The School does not just teach teenagers,  Adult ballet classes are also available and one of the students on the adult ballet course is David Wilson who keeps the Dave Tries Ballet blog (see "Fantastic New Blog: Dave Tries Ballet" 28 Sept 2013).  As I said in that article
"Dave reminds me of myself 40 years ago. I had my first ballet lesson at about the same age when I was an undergraduate. I also went to graduate school in the United States (UCLA in my case). And I got into ballet for very similar reasons to Dave (see "Why I'm Trying Ballet" 4 Aug 2011)."
When I wrote that post I thought Dave was still in America for I added that if he ever came  back to England I should love to meet him.

I got the opportunity to meet Dave on 16 Feb 2014 because he was in the show. He danced two roles, the dancing master in the first scene with the ugly sisters, and the king at the ball. These were both demanding roles both dramatically and technically and at one point he had to lift the ballerina and deliver her into the hands of Arionel Vargas who danced the Prince. In fact Dave had to lift several dancers including the wicked stepmother who was danced by Demakov. Had Dave started his ballet career at the age of 5 and studied at a leading ballet school his performance would have been commendable. When one considers that he started only a few years ago at graduate school it is all the more remarkable. It says a lot for him and also for his teachers on both sides of the Atlantic. His training is set out in detail in his blog and it makes fascinating and for me at any rate inspiring reading.

I have seen a lot of versions of Cinderella in my time most recently David Nixon's at The Grand (see "Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph!" 27 Dec 2013). I think my all time favourite is the first one I saw at the Royal Ballet with Sir Fred Ashton and Sir Robert Helpmann dancing the ugly sisters in the early 1970s. The production that I saw on Sunday was very close to that version in that it retained the Prokofiev score and the fairy godmother was a woman danced delightfully by Leanne Shears unlike Nixon's and it wasn't set in wartime London unlike Matthew Bourne's.

There was also some quite delightful touches.  In the first scene Cinderella is given extra work to do by the stepmother and sisters including picking up the contents of a bowl that are discharged on stage. At that point a group of mice appear who pick up those contents and present them to the ballerina. The mice were danced by pupils of the Sara England School of Dance and the smile on the face of Elena Glurdjidze as she accepted them was delightful.

Another scene that I liked which I do not remember in the anyone else's version were the dances of the Spanish and Indian Princesses as the Prince and his attendants scour the town looking for the owner of the glass slipper.  The Spanish princess was danced beautifully by Ellie Wilson who is now at the Rambert School. I hope we shall see a lot more of her.  Also to be congratulated were Miriam Bennett, Celeste Lewis-Williams and Christina Lojo who represented the Indian princess.  The reason there were three of them was that the princess had 6 arms like Kali. Not an easy feet to accomplish on stage and they executed it brilliantly.

Of course, the top of the bill were Glurdjidze and Vargas and they glowed. When I filed past Glurdjidze on 11 Feb 2014 I told Glurdkidze that I would be in the audience on Sunday to which she replied that she would give her very best for that performance. She was as good as her word. Two weeks earlier I had seen her in The Dying Swan at The Gala for Ghana. She had been beautiful then and wonderful on Sunday night. Vargas, of course, is a magnificent dancer and a great favourite of the crowds as Conrad in Le Corsaire. He gave a thrilling performance.

Everyone on the stage on Sunday did well: the sisters, Caitlin Anstis and Paige Pulin, who were anything but ugly but showed their potential as character dancers, the fairies (Georgia Smart, Sarah Sigley, Abigail Baker and Miriam Bennett), Time (Andrea Santato), the Minister (William Griffin) the fairy attendants and the pupils of Denton Community College and Ashton Sixth Form College who danced in the ballroom scenes.

As I had seen previously seen plenty of empty seats at the Lowry and Palace when the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Rambert have been in town I feared that the Bristol Russians might not get a good audience even with Glurdjidze and Vargas on the bill. While they did not quite fill the Plaza I was pleased to see that they did not do badly. It is very important to support companies like the Bristol Russians and also Chelmsford Ballet in Essex and Ballet West in the Scottish Highlands because they bring ballet to new audiences and give the dancers and teachers of the future. I was delighted to meet in the interval a correspondent of the Dancing Times.  He was a very pleasant gentlemen who shared my admiration for Glurdjidze. It is good to know that at least part of the dancing establishment, which can be so infuriatingly snooty with its private language and in jokes, takes an interest in initiatives like the Bristol Russian Ballet.

I did get to meet Dave after the show making an exception to my usual practice of never going to the stage door however good the performance because the artists need their space too. We did not have long to talk because a coach was waiting with its engine running to take him and his wonderful companions back to the West Country.  And I am glad to say that the Reuben Retreat project is well on target. Before the show Mrs Graham mounted the stage to say that the appeal had raised most of the funds it needs and had already found a property and begun to deliver counselling services.  So well done her.  If you want to contribute to the Reuben project you can do so through Virgin Money Giving.  If you want to support the Russians in Bristol keep checking the "Support Us" page of their website.

Further Reading

22 Feb 2014  David Wilson who danced the king and dancing master has written a fascinating account of the performance from the perspective of a dancer in his blog (see David Wilson "Cinderella – performance time!" 22 Feb 2013 Dave Tries Ballet).
16 Feb 2016  Mrs Graham has also added a very touching note about the performance on the Reuben's Retreat blog (see "16 Feb – Days like today offer us sunshine and rainbows").

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Northern Ballet Open Day

I very nearly gave Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre Open House a miss this year because it clashed with the last day of English National Ballet's Le Corsaire in Manchester. Tamara Rojo and Matthew Golding were billed for the matinee and Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the evening. I was even more tempted when I learned that Klimentová and Muntagirov were to leave the company and this would probably be the last opportunity to see them together. As I was busy the rest of the week and do not like to see the same ballet back to back or even in the same season with different cases it was either Friday or Saturday for me and I chose Friday. Thank goodness I did for if I had gone to Manchester on Saturday I would have missed something very special.

The Open Day consisted of a series of rehearsals, classes, talks, tours and family activities. As I had done the tour before (see "The Things I do for my Art: Northern Ballet's Breakfast Meeting" 23 Sept 2013) and seen plenty of rehearsals I did not expect to stay very long. To be quite honest I had intended simply to put in an appearance out of loyalty to the company and then scarper.  The only objectives I had set myself were to meet Phil Garnett (Phill up North) and Dolly Williams who run the company's website and social media because we follow each other on twitter. The day before I had given Phil a piece of my mind for sloppy coding because Northern Ballet's Valentine's Day Quiz had landed me with that twerp Lysander when I should clearly have had Oberon or Octavian (though it could have been worse as I might have ended up with Bottom - Eeyore!).

I managed to meet both Phil and Dolly.  Phil is an even bigger ballet fan than me and we talked about the history of the company and our favourite works.  I met Dolly almost as soon as I arrived on the face painting stand. She was wearing a wolf's mask and asked me whether I wanted to dress up as something. As she had a lot of kids around her I left her to entertain them.  On  the same floor as Dolly there was a gallery overlooking one of the studios on the floor below. I recognized Yoko Ichino and stood mesmerized as she took a class. Although I could not hear nothing from the studio below it was clear that something remarkable was going on.  I went downstairs and slipped into the class.

The previous Monday I had heard Elena Glurdjidze talk about her teachers at the Vaganova Academy (see "Elena Glurdjidze - So Lovely, So Gracious" 11 Feb 2014) and on 2 Feb 2914 I heard Dame Antoinette Sibley speak  affectionately about hers ("Le jour de gloire est arrive - Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School" 4 Feb 2014). Ichino had danced with some of the world's leading companies and something of her art is preserved on these YouTube clips of Don Quixote and Le Corsaire. She is now head of the Northern Ballet Academy and Ballet Mistress of the company. Watching Ichino at work enabled me to witness the great tradition of the art being passed on from ballerina to student much as de Valois passed it on to the young Fonteyn, Preobrajenska to Tallchief and Karsavina to Sibley

Dressed simply in trousers and a long cardigan as in the photo on Northern Ballet's website Ichino commanded that class with great authority.  She spoke softly.  Indeed she said very little but her gestures communicated much.  Her class consisted of senior boys in the front row and two larger groups of girls of different ages behind them. Though my attention was focused on Ichino I did glance occasionally at her students.  I could tell from their expressions that they adored their teacher and she them. I marvelled at their physique: slender, muscular, sleek like race horses or greyhounds.  It was exhilarating to watch those magnificent young artists and athletes run powerfully around the studio at the end of their session.

Ichino was followed in the studio by Cara O'Shea who taught two groups of junior boys. Her style was very different from Ichino's but equally effective. She has a mellifluous voice which she used as an instrument to coax the best from her pupils. "You've always wanted as audience" she said referring tot us. "Well now you have an audience and if they like you they may clap you." The children, who were already working hard, gave us their very best. They did indeed delight us and how we clapped.  She is another wonderful teacher and again I could see that the kids were devoted to her.  I would have loved to have been taught by her. In a way she did teach me for I think I learned more about ballet on Saturday from watching the teachers at work that I could from a score of performances or a pile of books,

After she had finished teaching the boys I followed Cara O'Shea to the next studio where she was taking a mixed class of boys and girls through a recording of an excerpt from Don Quixote. This was more like a rehearsal. After a while the class was joined by the boys I had seen earlier in the day with Ichino. They practised a different piece and were joined eventually by Chris Hinton-Lewis who had taught me when I had missed my usual class owing to a tree on the A1 (see "It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class" 6 Dec 2013). He has yet another teaching style but one to which the boys readily responded.

Far from wondering what I could find to do in Quarry Hill I was riveted to my seat for nearly three hours watching those wonderful teachers.  I left just before 16:00 because my own teacher Annemarie Donoghue was due to teach a taster class for the over 55 age group. That is the class that I take every Thursday and I love it. I had thought of registering for the taster class earlier in the week but decided against it as I had doubted that I would still be at Quarry Hill by 16:00 and in any case I would have taken up a place that someone else could have used.  Although she had less than half her usual time Annemarie took the taster class (which included a gentleman from Cambridge) through everything that she does on a Thursday from finding ones posture, the warm up, barre work and a simple centre exercises. Her students had a great time and I got to speak to one of them: a lady who had studied ballet as a child and was keen to take it up again. We went down in the lift together stopping at reception so that she could register.

I have often heard dancers and choreographers speak of their companies as a family.  Despite being a long standing fan of Northern Ballet and more recently a Friend and student I had always regarded myself as an outsider.  On Saturday I felt for the first time that I was part of the family.  A very distant relation, of course, but still a member.

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Coster gets his Answer - the Royal Ballet School's Open Classes

Covent Garden   Source Wikipedia

Do you remember the conversation between the coster and the porter about the new open ballet classes at the Royal Ballet School?  The coster got really excited about those classes but he doubted that they were the likes of him or even  me:
"Cor! Wouldn't it be great to do one of them classes. Always fancied lifting a ballerina. But I suppose you've got to be Carlos Acosta or Lauren Cuthbertson to get in there. They do say you need "previous experience" after all. What do you reckon that means?"
The porter couldn't help him so he had a little word with me and I sent a little email on his (and indeed my) behalf. Here is what I asked:
"I would love to take Paul Lewis's classes but I am uncertain as to what is meant by the phrase "some previous experience of ballet." To be more precise I would like to know whether my "previous experience" comes anywhere near Mr Lewis's required entry standard.
I never studied ballet as a child but I did take some classes when I was an undergraduate at St Andrews between 1970 and 1972. I took up ballet again last year and spent one day a week in a mixed age, mixed ability class in Huddersfield. These classes were supplemented by Northern Ballet's weekly classes for students aged over 55. I am very keen and I work hard but I am rather elderly (65 tomorrow) and I am certainly not as strong as I used to be. I wobble like a jelly in arabesque and I cannot always get pirouettes from 4th or pose pirouettes right though I try. I live in the Yorkshire but I work in London could contrive to be in London every Wednesday except the 19 if I were good enough and if there were space on the course."
Here is the School's reply:
"Thank you for your enquiry about our Adult Ballet Open Class. We hope the information below answers your questions and look forward to seeing you in class.
Description of the class: this is an inspiring recreational class, accompanied by a musician, set at a General level for adults with some previous experience of ballet. Paul works hard to ensure that participants of all abilities enjoy and benefit from the class.
Day and time: Wednesdays, 7.00 – 8.30 pm.
Venue: Upper School, 46 Floral Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DA. Doors open from 6.30 pm.
This term’s dates: Wednesday 12 February – Wednesday 2 April (including half term – Weds 19 February). Easter holiday: Weds 9 & 16 April
Teacher: Paul Lewis, RBS 1st Year Boys’ teacher.
Cost: £10 per class, payable to the teacher on the evening (this will be payable via our website soon, but not yet). This is currently a drop-in class with a maximum of 30 in the class. This is a new initiative and we thank you for your patience while we set up online booking. Until then, please call our Enquiries team on 0207 836 8899 on Wednesdays after 11 am to book your place for the evening class."
Now the words "Paul works hard to ensure that participants of all abilities enjoy and benefit from the class" seem very hopeful and suggest that they would let me in and that I could learn something but I have been warned by some knowledgeable folks on BalletcoForum not to get my hopes raised.

Post Script

There is an interesting account of what happened at Paul Lewis's class of the 19 Feb 2014 by Michelle Richer in the "Doing Dance" thread of the BalletcoForum.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

English National Ballet's Le Corsaire - a Valentine's Day Treat

Standard YouTube Licence

In the programme, Tamara Rojo noted that Le Corsaire is such an important work that it is strange that no British company has ever owned a production. She added
"The great thing about having a work that no one else has is that you can really make it your own. This is going to be Le Corsaire for the United Kingdom."
The ballet was not entirely unknown to British audiences. The Bolshoi's version was broadcast live in 2012 and I watched it at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Based on Lord Byron's The Corsair the ballet tells how Conrad, a corsair or privateer in love with Medora, a beautiful Greek woman in Turkish captivity, rescues her from a fate worse than death and takes her back to his den with other beauty including other captives. Conrad's lieutenant, Birbnanto, becomes dissatisfied with the distribution of the booty especially after Conrad promises to give it all to Medora especially after Medora persuades Conrad to liberate the other captives. He makes two attempts to mutiny the second od which results in the recapture of Medora. Conrad comes looking for Medora and rescues her a second time. Sailing away the corsair's barque is caught in the sort of storm that has been battering our coasts for the last few months and sinks. Conrad and Medora (or at least their spirits) survive and they fade away in each other's arms. 

This story provides juicy roles not only for the principals who dance Conrad and Medora but also for Birbanto, Ali (Conrad's sidekick), Lankendem (the governor of the city) and Gulnare, a young slave girl who is left behind in captivity. There is also a great character role for the fat old pasha who can't wait to get his hands on a pretty slave girl.

The production that I saw yesterday was commissioned from Anna-Marie Holmes who had staged the work for the wonderful Boston Ballet which visited us briefly this summer (see "Boston Ballet: 'High as a flag on the Fourth of July!'" 7 July 2013). Homes's production was itself based on a revival of the work by Konstantin Sergeyev, the artistic director of what was then called the Kirov Ballet and is now once more the Mariinsky. The work that Sergeyev revived was choreographed by Marius Petipa to a score by Adam though with contributions from a number of other composers including Delibes and Minkus.

The work had its première in Milton Keynes on 17 Oct 2013 since when it has been staged in Southampton, Oxford, Bristol and London. Manchester is the last stop of its tour although it is going to Spain for a few days in April. The advantage of seeing a show at the end of a tour is that the company will have accumulated a lot of experience so the performance should be very polished.  Le Corsaire had had a very good run in London both from the critics and audiences. I therefore had very high expectations when I braved the elements on Valentine's day.

I was not disappointed. Conrad was danced by Zdenek Konvalina who danced with enormous energy and grace. He was partnered by Fernanda Oliveira as Medora. She was delightful.  Sweet and imploring when begging for the slave girls' freedom in Act II, fierce when cornered by Birbanto indignant when denouncing him to Conrad and very exciting to watch, particularly in the spectacular dances with Conrad and Ali in Act II.   Fabian Reimair projected slyness and malice as Birbanto.  Ken Saruhashi, who danced Lankendem, is an impressive young man with ambitions to dance Siegfried, Albrecht and Basilio, I am sure we shall see a lot of him. Michael Coleman, the fat old pasha (the archetypical dirty old man) had the audience chuckling as he vibrated after acquiring Medora. But the loudest applause on Friday went to Shiori Kase who danced Gulnare and Yonah Acosta who danced Ali.

When I mentioned that the crowd had gone wild for Acosta on BalletcoForum one of the ballet buffs replied:
"Not to take anything away from Yonah Acosta, of course, but ENB's Corsaire audiences have all gone wild for Ali, whoever has been dancing the role!"
I can understand why that would be the case. Ali has some spectacular jumps that would raise a cheer whoever danced that character. But I was impressed by this young man and I am sure we shall all see a lot more of him.

The same is true of Gulnare's role which is danced by an up and coming young dancer. Michaela dePrince (a Sierra Leonean dancer currently with Ernst Meisner's Junior Company whom I just can't see enough of) performed it for the Joburg Ballet when she was just 16 or 17. As with Ali's role the choreography certainly helps for there is a delightful flower dance in the pasha's garden. Shiori Kase danced it beautifully. All the audience could do after that scene was purr.

But there was yet another star and that was Bob Ringwood's designs.  Though overlooked by some, the sets, costumes and lighting can be as important to the success of a ballet as the dancing and the score.  The opening scene of old Istanbul wowed us before a step was danced.  The view of the sea from the pirates' cave took our breath away. The storm (so reminiscent of the news reels last week) made us shiver.  The costumes were sumptuous, particularly the pasha's outfit complete with paunch.  The multicoloured skirts in the opening scene were delicious. They must have been such fun to wear.

I do not know why this ballet has not been performed more often but  now that it is the repertoire I am sure it will become one of English National Ballet staples. Valentine's day happens to be my birthday and I cannot think of a better way of celebrating it.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

"Wouldn't it be loverly" - Royal Ballet School Open Classes

Porter This song is set in Covent Garden a tomato's throw from 46 Floral Street.  

Coster That's the Royal Ballet School, in'it?  So.......

Porter The most famous ballet school in the country if not the world

Coster So ..............

Porter Where some of the finest dancers in the world have trained.

Coster So?  'Aven't got all day.

Porter And some of the world's best teachers teach.

Coster S'pose so.

Porter And now it's open to the public.

Coster Cor blimey! Stone the crows!  You mean anyone can take a class there?

Porter That's what it says on the website. New Adult Open Ballet Class: "inspiring recreational classes with piano accompaniment aimed at people with some previous experience of ballet."

Coster  Who's the geezer what's teaching this course?

Porter   Paul Lewis.

Coster Didn't 'e use to dance with Northern Ballet Theatre? Down in M-a-a-a-a-n-chesta?

Porter  Yeah 'cept it's in Leeds and calls itself Northern Ballet nowadays.

Coster   Where's Leeds?

Porter   Dunno. Somewhere near Bradford I've 'eard.  Manchester way. North of Birmingham.

Coster When do these classes run?

Porter  Wednesdays between 12 Feb and 2 April between 19:00 and 18:30.

Coster And 'ow much do they charge? 

Porter  £10 per class.  Less than a round of drinks in the Nag's 'Ead.  And you don't get cirrhosis of the liver. neither.

Coster  Is that some kind of dance move?  A bit like a tour en l'air on steroids.

Porter   Err  not exactly. 

Coster Cor! Wouldn't it be great to do one of them classes.  Always fancied lifting a ballerina.  But I suppose you've got to be Carlos Acosta or Lauren Cuthbertson to get in there. They do say you need "previous experience" after all.   What do you reckon that means?

Porter Dunno, But you can always give 'em a bell on  0207 836 8899 or email 'em on

Coster  Probably not for the likes of us or 'er what's written this dialogue. What's er name?  Terps something or other,

Porter  Probably. But we can still dream can't we.

Coster  Wouldn't it be loverly though.

Porter Loverly!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Migrating Swans - Dance Classes for the Over 50s in the North

Whooper swans which migrate from Northern Europe Source Wikipedia

I mentioned Scottish Ballet's outreach programme for senior citizens in "Scotland" on the 6 Nov 2013. The programme came to the attention Emma Ailes of the BBC who published the video and article "'Silver Swans' taking to the barre later in life for ballet lessons". The name "Silver Swans" seems to have stuck and there is now a similar programme in the North of England.

According to the RAD Silver Swan workshops offer a specially designed morning programme for the mature dancer. They includes "a gentle ballet class alongside the opportunity to socialise with other like-minded people, as well as providing the chance to experience another dance genre". They are aimed at the over 50s who either already enjoy ballet and want to improve and develop their interest in dance or for those wanting to start dancing again after a break. The classes can also accommodate complete beginners for whom this may be their first experience of dance. These workshops take place at
  • St Peters Community Centre in Haslingden, 
  • Richmond Dance Centre and 
  • Heatherlea Dance Studio in Glossop. 
Further information can be obtained from Louise Wilkie  of the RAD.

Northern Ballet already runs wonderful beginners and intermediate classes for the Over 55s in Leeds which I reviewed in "Realizing a Dream" on the 12 Sept 2013. Prospective students can attend a taster class as well as many other events at Northern Ballet's Open House at Quarry Hill on the 15 Feb 2014.

I have written a little bit more about adult ballet (including a clip of the class that I attend) in "Adult Ballet Classes" on 7 Sept 2013. Reviews of all the classes that I have attended are indexed at "Adult Ballet Class Reviews".

You can get some good tips from the Doing Dance section of the BalletcoForum website, particularly the "Simply Adult Ballet" and the "So, You Want to Learn to Dance? - but....uh...I'm an adult...." threads. Some of the contributors are dance teachers from all parts of the world.  One from San Diego California is particularly  helpful.

Blogs on learning ballet as an adult that I enjoy are

  • Adult Beginner a young mum in Los Angeles with an infectious sense of humour;
  • Dave Tries Ballet  a young man who started ballet as a graduate student in the USA a few years ago who progressed to the point that he can now appear on the same stage as Elena Glurdjudze and Arionel Vargas; and
  • Pointe till you Drop a lady from Helsinki called Johanna who has also made a lot of progress.
I am sure you will find your own favourites.

Post Script

I emailed Ms. Wilkie for further information just before I went to sleep and I have just received the following reply from her together with an application form and flyer which is impressive in itself.  Here is the material part of her reply:

"Royal Academy of Dance Silver Swans events are specially designed mornings including two classes for the over 50’s led by RAD teachers taking place in March 2014. For some, these mornings will be an opportunity to try out dance for the very first time. Others in attendance may have danced in the past and want to rekindle their interest. For those who have previously experienced ballet and want to further their interest, the workshop includes a second class in which participants will be introduced to another dance genre for example tap or jazz.
Recently featured on BBC News, these classes are aimed at the mature dancer and include gentle ballet and non-ballet classes that will get your whole body moving to music. The workshops, which include both classes, costs £10 to attend and take place at the below venues.
Tuesday 4 March
Manchester Road Methodist Church, Haslingden
Ballet & Jazz (teacher Charlotte Omerod)
Saturday 8 March
Richmond Dance Centre, North Yorkshire
Ballet & Jazz (teacher Maureen Mundell)
Wednesday 26 March
Heatherlea Dance Studio, Glossop
Ballet & Tap (teacher Joanne Craven)
10.00-11.00 Ballet class
11.00-11.30 Cakes and coffee
11.30-12.30 Non-ballet class
Anyone over 50 who is either new to dance or is keen to re-join, or wishes develop an existing interest can attend. The mornings all include the essential social aspect where participants can meet new like-minded people, enjoy refreshments and hopefully make plans to get ‘back to the barre’ at the next available dance class or RAD event."
I have inserted a link to the locations on Google maps

I think this is a wonderful initiative. The scheme in Scotland which I mentioned above seems to have worked very well. I shall certainly try to participate though the timings and locations are inconvenient. The nearest centre to me is Glossop but I work very long hours and I already do ballercise and core on Wednesday afternoons and ballet on Wednesday evenings at Huddersfield University (see "Team Hud Adult Ballet Class" 22 Jan 2014 and "For those who may be interested ........" 25 Jan 2014).  I have to remind myself that I am a barrister not a ballet dancer.  The Saturday class would be ideal but Richmond Dance Centre is nearly 80 miles from my home and and between 90 minutes and 2 hours drive away. 

Nevertheless. I will try to find a way and will report back here as to what happens.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Elena Glurdjidze - So Lovely, So Gracious

I have just nipped down to London and back to see Elena Glurdjidze. On the train back to Luton Parkway to pick up my car I tweeted:
"@DaveTriesBallet I have just seen and spoken to Elena Glurdjidze at @BalletCircle. So lovely and so gracious. Looking forward to Cinderella"
For those of you who don't already know, @DaveTriesBallet keeps the Dave Tries Ballet blog of which I am a great fan (see "Fantastic New Blog: Dave Tries Ballet" 28 Sep 2013). One reason I tweeted Dave about the talk is that he is a member of the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company which will dance Cinderella this Sunday at 16:00 at the Stockport Plaza to raise funds for Reuben's Retreat. Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas will be the guest principals (see "Remember Reuben - and see Vargas, Glurdjidze and Dave"  14 Jan 2014). Glurdjidze referred to Reuben's Retreat as a wonderful charity which indeed it is,

The other reason I tweeted Dave is that he alerted me to Glurdjidze's dancing The Dying Swan in the Gala for Ghana. I had intended to give this event a miss but I changed my mind after learning that Dying Swan was to be performed. As I said "In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic" 18 Sept 2013 my mother saw Pavlova dance the Dying Swan at The Grand in Leeds when my mother was a small girl and it made such an impression on her that I resolved to see a modern ballerina dance it one day. Last week at the Royal College of Music I fulfilled that resolution. I think Glurdjidze made on me a similar impression to the one that Pavlova had made upon my mother all those years ago (see "Gala for Ghana" 4 Feb 2014).

The meeting took place in the dining room of the Civil Service Club which is a few hundred yards from Charing Cross station.  I arrived just before the meeting was due to start.  I did not count the audience but there were about 7 or 8 rows of chairs of about 20 each and not many empty seats.  The room was big enough to require a public address system. Glurdjidze sat at a table with an interviewer facing the audience. She was dressed very simply but elegantly.

The speaker and interviewer were introduced by our chair, Susan Dalgetty-Ezra.  Speaking softly but very clearly from the table our guest answered questions put to her by the interviewer. 

She said that she had been born in Georgia. Her father was a scientist.  Though talented in  other ways, none of her family was in ballet. She was sent to a performing arts school where she took up ballet. She showed such promise that her teachers directed her to the Vaganova Ballet Academy where so many great dancers and choreographers were trained. Baller school was not easy.  Discipline was strict and classes were demanding.  Everything was in Russian which was a new language for her. She had to board.  She missed her family and her family missed her.  She said that she cried every night for the first few weeks at the school.

Nevertheless, she survived and graduated into one of the new companies that were established by former dancers of the Kirov after the fall of communism.  She came to the notice of the English National Ballet who recruited her as a principal in 2002. She said that at that time she spoke very little English and that even now she makes a few errors.  One of her personal ambitions is to perfect her knowledge of our language. I have to say that if she still makes errors I did not spot any last night. I could not help reflecting after hearing Eric  Pickles's performance in the House of Commons on the drive back home that Elena Glurdjidze could teach our Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government a thing or two in that regard.

While in London Elena Glurdjidze met her husband, also a dancer and also a Georgian. They have a 9 year old son who is very bright with a good voice and shows talent in many directions.  They are not pushing him into ballet though, of course, he could not have a better start in that career if that is what he wanted to do.

Glurdjidze talked about her roles. She has, of course, performed all the classics, Odette-Odile, Giselle, Juliet and so on.  She said she had never danced in Le Corsaire and would like to perform in that ballet.  She will be dancing just one matinee with Vargas in Romeo and Juliet at the Albert Hall in June.  As for the long term she hopes to teach dance and it was then that she mentioned her work with the Bristol Russian Ballet School.

The meeting was then opened to the floor, Remembering an earlier tweet from Dave that his teacher had trained with Glurdjidzke I asked her to say a little more about her connection with the Bristol School and her performance in Stockport on Sunday. She spoke about her friendship with the founder of that school from the days when they were both at the Vaganova Academy, about the impressive work that her friend was doing, about the request to dance in a charity show and commended the cause  The clip that is embedded in this post is a rehearsal for that ballet.  My admiration for Glurdjidze increased all the more. She is not simply a great dancer. She is also a lovely human being.

Others asked her about her pointe shoes; about the differences between the regime in the Royal Ballet School and the Vaganova Academy; whether she had considered choreography and her plans for the future including the performance at the Albert Hall that I mentioned above; how she returned to work after giving birth; the national dance companies in Georgia and lots of other matters that I cannot now remember.  

After we had asked her everything that could reasonably be asked of her our Chair presented her with a gift from the Circle.  However, she stayed for a few minutes to talk to her fans, sign programmes and pose for photographs.  Forming an orderly queue we each had a few words with her.  A gentleman in front of me said that he was a schoolmaster and he could tell that she had much to give her pupils.  That reminded me of Clement Crisp's conversation with Dame Antoinette Sibley and I told her about Dame Antoinette's affection for her teachers and her advice on teaching (see "Le jour de gloire est arrive - Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School"  3 Feb 2014).  Glurdjidze replied that Sibley had taught her a lot particularly about the role of Manon which, of course, was created for Sibley.  When it came to my turn I told Glurdjidze how I had longed to see Dying Swan ever since I had heard about Pavlova in Leeds and how I had been moved by her performance. I added that I was looking forward to Cinderella this Sunday. Glurdjidze accepted everybody's compliments including mine with grace.

As soon as I could get a signal on the train to Luton I texted my teacher who, like Glurdjidze, leaned ballet in a sunnier clime and cheers me up and motivates me with her antipodean enthusiasm: 
"Oh Jane xXxX I can imagine how special the moment was sXsX ur  lucky woman to be given such as opportunty"
And indeed I am although any member of the public could have shared my good fortune by turning up at the Civil Service Club yesterday.  If you missed Glurdjidze you can still catch Tamara Rojo on the 3 March, Ruth Brill on the 24th and Peter Wright on the 14th April.  Ruth Brill has already tweeted that she is looking forward to her talk.

The Circle hopes to increase its membership outside London and our Chair sent me North with a stash of brochures which I am going to take to every class, every ballet and every ballet related event that I attend outside London until I have got rid of them all. So be warned.  Incidentally one can join the London Ballet Circle through its website. I would urge you to do so even if you can't get to London because the Circle supports financially young dancers from all parts of the nation with scholarships to events throughout the land including in particular the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School.

I shall give the last words about Glurdjidze to Dave. His response to my tweet was
"@nipclaw @BalletCircle So glad to hear! Was so sad to miss the talk. She's truly the loveliest dancer to rehearse with."
About her teaching, he added that although he could not take her class because of injury
"I still learned so much watching her teach class in the summer. And was amazing to see her coach the girls in the Raymonda Act III variation! Got goosebumps seeing her demonstrate even the simplest moves - sheer perfection!"
I can understand that. I got goosebumps watching her last week and I expect to get more when I see her, Vargas and Dave in Cinderella this Sunday.