Monday, 31 March 2014

Marco Spada Streamed From Moscow

Joseph Mazilier, choreographer of Marco Spada  Source Wikipedia

Pathé Live's HDTV transmissions from the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Bolshoi Theatre are the next best thing to a seat in the stalls and in some ways better because you gain insight into the production through interviews with the artists and the creative team. I wish I could say the same about the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season but I can't. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the broadcasts of Don Quixote and Giselle and I preferred to watch The Chelmsford Ballet dance The Nutcracker on the night that The Sleeping Beauty was transmitted.

There are a number of reasons why Pathé Live's transmissions are better than the Royal Opera House's. The first is that they use their cameras more intelligently with shots of the full stage for much of the action with close ups only of the solos and pas de deux upon which spectators in the auditorium would wish to focus. Secondly, they employ a personable and knowledgeable presenter in Katerina Novikova, Darcey Bussell is a wonderful dancer and I admire her greatly but she is no presenter. Her quotation from Balanchine and interview with Sir Peter Wright when she introduced Giselle were distinctly laboured, Thirdly, Ms Novikova interviewed David Hallberg who danced the title role and the choreographer Pierre Lacotte. I love Lacotte's story of how Nureyev tore off a bit of the table cloth and promised to make himself for all the rehearsals if Lacotte would only give him the title role. Fourthly, Pathé Live dispenses with the live twitter feed of gushing but often ill-informed superlatives that I find distinctly irritating. Finally, I enjoyed the shots of the foyer during the interval, particularly of the little girl practising her turns oblivious of her international audience and the svelte young lady waving at the camera as she was making her call who was only too aware of it. I also liked the glimpse of the stage after the curtain fell when the cast clapped Hallberg and Evgenia Ovbraztsova and the two principals were peeked between the folds before taking a final bow.

So, Covent Garden, look and learn. This is how HDTV ought to be done.  There is nothing wrong with the dancing, choreography, music or designs in London. Bring the artists to the camera and tell us more about the production.  Let the audience feel as though it is actually in one of the greatest opera houses of the world.

Turning now to the production, Marco Spada or the Bandit's Daughter is not a new work. It was first performed at the Paris Opera in 1857 and was apparently very successful but it is not a work that is performed very often today. It was choreographed originally by Joseph Mazilier (who is perhaps better known for Paquita and Le Corsaire) to a score by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber.  The ballet was revived for the Rome opera house by the French choreographer Pierre Lacotte. Yesterday Lacotte recounted the story of how he and Nureyev were at a restaurant when the discussion turned to Lacotte's work. Nureyev asked Lacotte what he was doing and Lacotte replied that he was working on a new version of Marco Spada. Nureyev had not heard of the work and asked Lacotte for the story. After Lacotte told him the plot Nureyev exclaimed that that was the role for him and that he really wanted it. Lacotte protested that was impossible because Nureyev had engagements all over the world.  At that point wrote out and signed the pledge that I have mentioned above. I have been giving some thought as to whether the promise would have been enforceable and I think it would. At least in England and other common law countries.  After all the promise to cast Nureyev there and then would have been sufficient consideration. Not a bad scenario to give to first year law students.

Spada was danced by Hallberg who reminds me a little of Nureyev. He is a powerful young man and thrilling to watch. i have never seen him live on stage and I am going to make a point of seeing him whether in London, New York or Moscow. Ovbraztsova is delightful. Sweet and light but with considerable power and energy. She is someone else I really must see. Other major roles were danced by Olga Sminova (the Marchioness Sampietri), Semyon Chudin (Prince Frederici) and Igor Tsvirko (Count Pepinelli). In the first interval Ms Novikova asked Lacotte what were the biggest problems for the Russian dancers in adapting to one of the French classics and he replied speed, precision and detail. Well there was nothing loose or slow about any of yesterday's dancers from the corps upwards.

Unusually, Lacotte had designed the sets and costumes as well as the choreography. They were sumptuous and impressive. I left Wakefield Cineworld feeling that I had actually seen a ballet rather than a reflection of one. Maybe not the fillet steak upon which the lucky people in the Bolshoi feasted but definitely better than the high quality hamburger dished up at the Huddersfield Odeon in January.

Protecting the Brand

The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office

In "Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers" 13 March 2014 I argued that if dancers are adequately to be paid and companies and theatres properly to be funded they should learn from sport and indeed the other performing arts and tap the potentially enormous sums that could be released from harnessing their goodwill. In order to do that they need to protect that goodwill. The best way of doing that is by registering the names, logos and other signs under which they are recognized by their audiences as trade marks. As I said in my previous article I made a search of the UK Intellectual Property Office trade mark database and was surprised to find how few dancers or even ballet companies and theatres had taken that step.

What is a Trade Mark?
The UK Intellectual Property Office defines a trade mark as
"a sign which can distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors ........... It can be for example words, logos or a combination of both."
It can be an actual name like "W H Smith", an invented name like "Microsoft" or indeed a logo such as the three red arrows against a black background in the shape of a triangle of the National Westminster Bank.  It can be just about anything that can be the recorded on paper or other medium. In ballet English National Ballet's white stripe against a red background and the words ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET are good examples.

Protection of a Mark without Registration
You can have a trade mark whether you register it or not and there is a limited degree of legal protection for trade marks in the UK and many other countries under a doctrine that we call "passing off" and other countries "unfair competition" ("concurrence déloyale"). In England and Wales (and similarly in Scotland, Northern Ireland and most other English speaking countries) this doctrine has been developed by the judges in a series of decisions over many years. Essentially, it means that you cannot offer your goods or services under a name, logo or other sign that is the same as or similar to that of another trader. If you do, even inadvertently, that trader can sue you for an injunction (order by a judge to do or refrain from doing something upon threat of punishment if you disobey), damages (compensation) and other remedies. To win such an action the complainant must show that he or she is recognized in the market by his name or other sign, that you have misled his or her customers or potential customers by using a similar sign and that he or she has suffered as a result.

Trade Mark Registration
The trouble with passing off is that it takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money to prove those three things. Moreover the doctrine will not help a new or very small business that has not yet established itself in the market. To avoid those difficulties the UK and most other countries provide a service by which businesses can register their names, logos or other signs and the goods or services for which they use or intend to use those signs with a national or supra-national registry. The registry for the United Kingdom is part of the Intellectual Property Office in Newport (also the home town of Ballet Cymru) but businesses can if they so wish register their mark for the whole of the European Union at the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market ("OHIM") in Spain. By registering a mark the registered you can prevent anyone else from using the same mark in relation to the same goods or services, the same or similar mark in relation to the same or similar goods or services where by reason of the similarity there is a likelihood of confusion including association with yourself. Registration avoids the need to prove reputation, misrepresentation and damage as is required for an action for passing off.

Why bother to register?
If you have a trade mark you have something to license. A registered trade mark is much more manageable, tangible and substantial than a right merely to sue for passing off. Registration makes it much easier to negotiate deals with major clothing, stationery, toys and games, food and drink and other manufacturers and distributors of those products and thus gain royalties on sales of branded products as a result of such deals. Registration also makes it easier to control the quality of such products because you can insert conditions on materials and workmanship into the contract. A trade mark registration will make it easier to prevent cyber-squatters from registering domain names that incorporate your mark under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy or Nominet Dispute Resolution Service. If you do have to go to court to prevent others from supplying goods or services that incorporates your mark it is considerably easier and cheaper to do that if you have registered your mark.

What Sort of Sign can I register?
The first thing you need is a trade mark that is capable of registration. S.1 (1) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 defines a "trade mark" as
"any sign capable of being represented graphically which is capable of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings."
Although this is a British statute it implements an EU directive which has to comply with a number of international agreements so there are broadly similar requirements at OHIM and in most other countries. The sign has to be capable of distinguishing your goods or services from those of others. Clearly you can't register "ballet" or "dance" simpliciter because those are activities that everyone in the dance world perform but you can usually register the name of a nation, town or other region for a ballet company associated with that town. Similarly there are some national emblems that you need permission to use. Her Majesty allows the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet to use the royal coat of arms but nobody else has that right.

Secondly, you can't register a trade mark that someone else already uses or is about to use for the same or similar goods or services. As there are many registered marks some of which you are unlikely to have heard of it is always a good idea to carry out a search of prior registrations and applications. You can do some of that work yourself but it is always better to commission a search by a specialist librarian or other professional.

As unregistered marks do not show up on a search it is also sensible to scour the internet and specialist magazines and publications to see whether anyone else is using the same or similar sign as an unregistered mark.

How to register your Mark
As there is a lot of help on the "Applying for a trade mark page" on the Intellectual Property Office website I won't go into too much detail here. You will find all the information you need on the articles linked to that page. There are a few extra points that I would stress. The first is that although there is nothing to prevent you from applying for a mark yourself and plenty of people do it is probably more cost effective and certainly safer to instruct a trade mark agent (also known as "trade mark attorneys"). They will carry out the necessary searches, draft the application in the correct way, deal with queries from the examiners and generally shepherd your application through to grant. They will charge only a few hundred pound extra for their services. Trade Mark agents (like patent agents) and regulated by the Intellectual Property Regulation Board ("IPReg") so if you have a problem with your agent IPReg will investigate it and if necessary correct it. If you do not know any agents you can find one through IPReg's "Find an attorney" page. Secondly, you must be sure that you will use the mark in respect of the goods or services for which you register it within 5 years or you could lose it. Thirdly, there are a lot of sharks who prey on unrepresented applicants demanding money for listing and other services that you don't need and often never get. Be on your guard. The Intellectual Property Office gives loads of warnings about those practices but it is amazing how many businesses fall for this trick.

How much does it cost?
It depends on how many goods or service you want to register, whether you use an agent, what extras you need and whether your application is opposed. Goods and services are grouped in classes and you can register your mark in any number of them. The basic cost for a UK mark is £170 which includes one class and £50 for each additional class. Agents usually charge a few hundred pounds for preparing and filing the application.  They would probably advise you to commission a search which will be another £100. If your application is opposed you will have to spend a lot of money on legal representation if you want to fight though you may get some of that back. Once you get your mark I would recommend your subscribing to a watch service which looks our for applications that are similar to your registration so you can challenge it in good time. Unless you have plenty of money I would also advise you to take out IP litigation insurance so that you can afford to take an infringer to court.

Further Information
I am making this information available to the ballet world pro bono as a thank you for all the pleasure dancers, companies, theatres and schools have given me throughout my life. I have offered to give a free half day seminar on IP relating to dance to Middlesex University which has a very successful dance programme in its performing arts department. I have already lectured on IP in the law school and I hold an IP clinic there once a month. If my offer is accepted I will ask for the University to admit dancers, administrators and others to the seminar free of charge. In the meantime I will answer any questions that anyone has by phone or email. My number is 020 7404 5252 and you can contact me through my contact form, twitter, Linkedin, G+. Facebook or Xing.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Guys of the Golden West

Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson in The Girl of the Golden West  Source Wikipedia

We owe a lot to the West Country. Both Northern Ballet and Scottish Ballet trace their origins to Elizabeth West's Western Theatre Ballet in Bristol. Sadly there is no longer a resident professional ballet company in Bristol but that does not mean that there is no ballet in that city. One of the Golden Guys of the West is Dave Wilson who keeps the best ballet blog that I have come across so far (see "Fantastic New Blog: Dave Tries Ballet" 28 Sep5 2013).

Dave is a member of the the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company which danced Cinderella in Stockport last month (see "Good Show - Bristol Russians' Cinderella in Stockport" 19 Feb 2014). The company is dancing the same ballet again at The Playhouse in Weston Super Mare on 4 May 2014 at 16:00 with Elena Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas as guest principals. I shall be in the audience again on that occasion and I shall review the performance for this blog. Glurdjidze is not only the company's guest artist she is also the Bristol Russian Ballet School's patron and she will take some of the school's master classes. The school is run, incidentally, by Chika Temma who trained with Glurdjidze at the Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg and Yury Denakov who trained at the Boshoi. All of those great dancers and teachers are Golden Guys.

Other Golden Guys are Duchy Ballet whose existence I discovered only yesterday. This evening and yesterday they were performing The Mousehole Cat & Other Ballets at The Hall for Cornwall in Truro. Roberta Marquez of the Royal Ballet appeared as a guest artist. According to the company's website Duchy Ballet was formed to celebrate the opening of The Hall for Cornwall with the aim was of establishing a youth ballet company for Cornwall providing the opportunity to train, rehearse and perform within a professional setting.  The company's choreographer is Terry Etheridge who was a guest choreographer of the Chelmsford Ballet Company some years ago and inspired and taught Andrew Potter who danced Drosselmeyer in that company's recent production of The Nutcracker (see "The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmmicks but with Love and Joy" 20 March 2014). Potter acknowledged his debt to Etheridge on twetter this morning:
"Mr Etheridge, Found me, taught me and inspired me."
Having seen Potter's performance I congratulate Etheridge on a very good job. I really wish I could have been in Truro to support this production. I will be present at their next performance.

That brings me on to the last Golden Guy though of the North rather than the West. Chris Hinton-Lewis, who had the Herculean labour of trying to teach me last year, is running in the London Marathon on the 13 April 2014 to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Please do sponsor him.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Northern Ballet's Cleopatra in Sheffield

There are some ballets that have to be seen more than once to be appreciated fully. David Nixon's Cleopatra is one of them. I saw it in The Grand in Leeds on 6 March 2014 and reviewed it in  "Cleopatra - Northern Ballet, The Grand, Leeds 6 March 2014" on the 7 March 2014. Although I was impressed I was not bowled over as I was by Cinderella on boxing day (see "Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph!" 27 Dec 2013) or by Birmingham Royal Ballet's Prince of the Pagodas earlier this year (see "Lear with a Happy Ending - Birmingham Royal Ballet's Prince of the Pagodas 30 Jan 2014" 31 Jan 2014). I wrote: "This is a ballet that has to be seen more than once and probably many times to be appreciated fully."

Well, yesterday I saw Cleopatra again and enjoyed it so much more. I don't know whether that was because I had seen the ballet quite recently and knew what to look for or whether it was because I was more comfortable in the Sheffield Lyceum than I had been in Leeds and could concentrate on the performance. 

The Lyceum is in my humble opinion the best large theatre in Yorkshire allowing plenty of leg room, a good view of the stage from just about every point in the auditorium, spacious bar areas, efficient and courteous staff, ample parking across the road and plenty of reasonably priced eateries within walking distance. So much better than The Grand in every way. Why Northern Ballet does not make more use of The Lyceum - indeed why it dies not appoint it as its flagship theatre - beats me. For much of the day I have been asking on twitter and BalletcoForum why there isn't more ballet in Sheffield (a city region of 1.9 million and within an hour's drive of several million more) and I have yet to receive a convincing answer. As a Mancunian exile living in "Summer Wine Country"  with no axe to grind in Yorkshire rivalries I'd say that as a city Sheffield knocks Leeds into a cocked hat; but as I sport the red rose in inter-Pennine rivalries what do I know.

Anyway returning to the show, it was interesting to compare last night's cast with those who appeared on the 6 March 2014. On that occasion I saw Martha Leebolt for whom the role of Cleopatra had been created. Last night it was Michela Paolacci who interpreted the role quite differently. Now Cleopatra is not a nice lady. She marries and then murders her brother in his bath and she despatches Mark Antony with a chilling sauté but, whereas Leebolt's Cleo was as hard as nails, I somehow warmed to Paolacci's. I could imagine her defence counsel's plea of mitigation - a single mum, coming from a dysfunctional home, a victim of circumstances - all that sort of thing. For me the highpoint of the ballet is the confrontation of the fair Octavia danced brilliantly by Pippa Moore with Cleopatra over Mark Antony (Ashley Dixon). Octavia represents everything Western and decent while Cleopatra is sultry, sexy and degenerate. Of the other roles, Jospeph Taylor (who has only been with the company for a couple of years) was a great Wadjet, Hironeo Takahashi a convincing Caesar and Matthew Topliss (another recent recruit) a suitably imperious Octavian.

The cast three weeks ago was the company's first team. Last night provided an opportunity for Northern Ballet's promising newcomers, but yesterday's show was not in any way second rate. All danced well and all deserve to be commended. Even though I now know the ballet quite well I should still like to see it again. Too bad it is not to be staged outside Yorkshire this year. I do hope the company revives it again soon.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

National Ballet of Canada

Celia Franca. 1921 - 2007, Founder of the National Ballet of
Canada , Source  Wikipedia

This post was inspired by Susan Dalgetty Ezra, Chair of the London Ballet Circle, my fellow blogger Katherine Barber, David Nixon, artistic director of Northern Ballet and, most importantly, Yoko Ichino, ballet mistress of Northern Ballet and associate director of the Northern Ballet Academy whom I admired so much when I saw her teach at the company's open day.

Susan, who has just returned from Toronto, told me about the National Ballet of Canada's production of Cranko's Onegin that she saw on Wednesday night. In my reply I mentioned that company's connections with Northern Ballet through Nixon and Ichino. Susan responded by reminding me that Celia Franca, the founder of the National Ballet came from the UK "not only to start the company but to show Dame Ninette de Valois that she could do it. And she did!" Katherine Barber, whose blog and travel service Tours en l'Air I featured in "Tours en l'air - a Really Useful Resource" 23 Feb 2013 lives in Toronto and her blog contains lots of news about performances and ballet related events in that city . Nixon and Ichino, of course, made their names at the National Ballet before they came to us. I might add for completeness that Nixon was not Northern Ballet's first Canadian connection because its founder, Laverne Meyer, was born in that country.

Having danced at Sadler's Wells last year (see Judith Mackrell "National Ballet of Canada: Romeo and Juliet – review" 18 April 2013 The Guardian) London audiences are familiar with the National Ballet and like them. It is the overseas company that resembles most closely the Royal Ballet with its excellent school and in in its repertoire which has many works by Ashton. Its artistic director Karen Kain danced with the Festival Ballet which is now the English National Ballet.  The National Ballet of Canada was not the first ballet company in Canada. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet was founded over a decade earlier. But it was the first company to recruit from and perform in all parts of that vast country.

In addition to the official links through Nixon and Ichino there seem to be informal links between Leeds and Toronto. In recent visits to Quarry Hill for my over 55 ballet class I have noticed young people with North American accents wearing National Ballet sportswear. It is very good to see them here.

Related Articles

Northern Ballet Open Day 18 Feb 2014
Ballet Education 1 March 2014
Tours en l'air - a Really Useful Resource

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmicks but with Love and Joy

Chelmsford Ballet Company The Nutcracker Chelmsford Civic Theatre
19 March 2014

I had very high expectations of The Chelmsford Ballet Company's performance of The Nutcracker. As I noted in The Chelmsford Ballet 16 Dec 2013
"An amateur company with patrons like Christopher Marney, choreographer of the wonderful War Letters for Ballet Black, and the great ballerina, Doreen Wells, invites attention. On the home page of their website the Chelmsford Ballet Company describes itself as "an amateur company who set professional standards for all [its] work, involving professionals in [its] productions, courses, and other teaching and workshop opportunities." According to the history page it traces its history back to 1947 which makes it older than English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet."
I had fresh cause to admire the company when I learned that Cara O'Shea, the wonderful teacher I had seen at Northern Ballet's Open Day and who also taught me a few days later, had danced for the Company as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. None of that had quite prepared me for yesterday which was one of the happiest evenings that I have ever spent at the ballet.

There were so many reasons why I enjoyed this performance. First, it kept faithfully to the story that we all know and love.  No gimmicks like balloon trips or regal rodents clinging to the gondola into Act II. Set firmly in Mitteleuropa rather than the banks of the Thames, the Christmas party taking place at the Stahlbaums and not the Edwards and Clara remained a little girl throughout the show and did not morph into Sugar Plum. Secondly, this was a production in which every age group and both genders were well represented. I had expected to see only teenagers (mainly girls) and while there were certainly plenty of them the cast also included prominent members of Chelmsford society. Thirdly. they had a wonderful audience who knew when and where to clap. How they yelled when they saw something they liked. And how they roared at the end of the performance. Chelmsford knows that it has something special in its city and it supports the company magnificently. The theatre was packed. 

As I mentioned in "Chelmsford Ballet's Nutcracker - Not Long Now!" 24 Feb 2014 the company had engaged Richard Bermange to dance the Cavalier, Emma Lister Sugar Plum and Michael Budd, the Mouse King as guest artists.  They all danced well but I particularly admired Lister for her solo in the final pas de deux. With the possible exception of the overture the music for that dance is the best known part of the score and this ballet has more memorable tunes than just about any other. She executed it impressively. Bermange partnered Lister well and Budd was a Putin of a mouse king if not a Stalin. Really, really scary.

Amelia Wallis, who danced Clara, was delightful. Not only can she dance well but she can also act. Clara is on stage for almost the whole ballet which must require considerable stamina and concentration. Wallis did not flag or drop her smile for a second.  Clearly she has talent and I am sure we shall all see more of her. Also talented is Morgan Wren who danced Fritz, Clara's pesky brother, the Nutcracker and the Chinese divertissement. He has presence. Other dancers who caught my eye were Jessica Wilson who danced one of the Harlequins, the Spanish dance and the dance of the flowers, Jasmine Bailey, the other Harlequin, the principal snowflake and leader of the dance of the flowers and Megan MacKatchie, also in the Spanish dance.  Andrew Potter was a magnificent Drosselmeyer, Marion Pettet. Frau Stahlbaum, ever the gracious host - I loved the way she reprimanded a naughty boy tousling his hair - Stan Rose the sporting grandfather and Elizabeth Baker his wife.

But there was far more than just great dancing.  Ingenious sets and costumes, clever lighting and a last but not least a beautifully designed and printed illustrated programme. Altogether it was a triumph for the artistic director Annette Potter.

The show continues until the 22 March and there will be a video of Saturday's performance of which I shall certainly buy a copy. I came down from Yorkshire to see this show and I would say it was well worth the effort. We Yorkshire folk are quite sparing in our praise - particularly of Southerners. If we say something is good you can be sure it is bloody marvellous. If you live anywhere in East Anglia, Greater London or the home counties do yourselves a favour and see this show.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Christopher Marney

I have seen quite a lot of Christopher Marney since I started this blog and I have reviewed his work in several articles. The quality of his work that I most admire, both as a dancer and as a choreographer, is his sensitivity to music. He is as sensitive to sound and as accurate as an oscilloscope but unlike that lifeless instrument he translates sound into the most beautiful movement. It was Marney's dancing as Count Lilac - powerful and vital - that saved Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty for me last year. It was his choreography that I admired so much in Ballet Black and Ballet Central's mixed bills.

Though still a young man Marney has packed a lot of experience into his career - Balletboyz, Gothenberg, Biaritz, Berne, Japan to list just a few of his engagements.  As Jessica Wilson observed in "Christopher Marney: Dancer, Choreographer, Dance Extraordinaire!" 8 July 2013 Dance Direct he is a "man of many talents."  According to that article Marney he started to choreograph in Gothenberg.  In an interview that he gave for Ballet Central's blog ("Backstage with choreographer Christopher Marney" 26 Feb 2013) he explained how he was encouraged by the keen dancers and great theatre.

Ballet Central asked Marney to describe his style. He replied that it was "narrative" explaining how he loves to create a piece around a strong plot, particularly with a contemporary theme so that the audience can be drawn in emotionally.  He added:
"A narrative also gives an awful lot of scope for different movement and opportunities to play with the audience’s humour. Even without an obvious storyline, there has to be an intention, an emotive purpose to every movement."
That is certainly true and it came out particularly well in War Letters where Marney explored every emotion that emerges in war anchoring his work to readings from contemporary letters to and from the front and the voice of Alvar Lidell. Incidentally, in this 100th anniversary year of the start of the First World War, Marney's ballet remembers the contribution of the millions of servicemen from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia in both world wars that is not yet properly acknowledged (see "Africa's forgotten wartime heroes"  14 Aug 2009).

However. as I said before it is his interpretation of music which is the quality that I most admire. Some call that musicality. Others lyricism.  For me, without the benefit of a thorough education in music or dance, I would say that Marney brings out in the movements of his dancers -particularly Kanika Carr Sayaka Ichikawa of Ballet Black - the several qualities of the music. I noted that particularly in Two of a Kind set to Tchaikovsky and Ravel - the last of Marney's works that I have seen and the one I like best so far.

In her interview with Marney, Jessica Wilson asked "What is the best part about dance?" He replied:
"I think the best part is when it touches someone and a person can be moved or made to feel something by what they are witnessing. It is amazing how that cycle continues to inspire generations."
Well with Two of a Kind and War Letters Marney has certainly touched me. I could tell from the reaction of the audiences in London and Leeds that I was not the only one.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers

Degas, Class                                                           Source Wikipedia

On 20 Nov 2013 The New York Times published an article by Michael Cooper and Roslyn Sulcas entitled "Ballet Dancers as Brands". The opening sentence was as follows
"A wave of international ballet stars are increasingly leaping from company to company, creating their own brands and becoming more like world-traveling conductors and opera stars."
Alina Cojocaru was quoted as saying:
"Ballet careers are relatively short and require years of training that pose the risk of injury, yet the world’s top dancers earn far less money than their counterparts elsewhere in show business."
Less money? Well according to Cooper and Sulcas only three dancers at American Ballet Theatre earned more than US$190,000 and  the étoiles at the Paris Opera earn on average, around US$125,000 a year. Now bearing in mind how long it takes to become a principal and how few dancers actually reach the top that is not a lot of money. It may allow a reasonably comfortable standard of living for a few years while the dancer is at the peak of his or her career but it does not allow him or her to plan, save and invest for a comfortable retirement or other priorities like private education for his or her children.

What to do about it? Well I don't think dancers can expect very much more from  their companies. The arts in the United Kingdom at any rate rely on grants, ticket receipts and corporate and individual sponsorship for their income. Can that be increased? A bit perhaps but not by much.  There is a limit to what the public will pay whether as taxpayer or theatre goer. Especially in hard times.

So is there anything else that can be done? Well perhaps. As the Bailey's Nutcracker commercial showed last Christmas ballet can sell. Maybe advertising, merchandising and endorsement. A few companies are already making a little extra money from advertising. The Royal Opera House shop offers a wide range of merchandise bearing the Royal Ballet name and crest such as books, calendars, greeting cards, t-shirts and videos. Other companies sell t-shirts. A website called Balletgifts, which appears to be based in New Cross. markets various items of clothing and other merchandise for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky. Many companies hire out rooms in their studios or their orchestras. Most also have schemes by which businesses and individuals can become friends or patrons of a company or sponsor individual productions or dancers.

What about individual dancers? A few superstars like Carlos Acosta and Darcey Bussell have websites through which they market branded merchandise. Acosta offers clothing and posters and advertises his book with links to Amazon and Waterstones. Bussell markets a range of children's dancewear, books and games and DVDs from her site. But not every principal of the Royal Ballet does that and a few do not even have websites or social media accounts. I think more could be done in that regard by other dancers because many ballet goers are loyal almost to the point of obsession referring to artists whom they hardly know and in most cases have never met or are ever likely to meet by their first names. Ballet tickets are not cheap yet some fans see the same work albeit with different casts in the same season. Moreover the audience for ballet and thus the fan base will expand massively with HDTV broadcasts to cinemas around the world.

If companies or dancers want to exploit such goodwill they have to protect and manage it in the way that sports stars and indeed other entertainers do. Company names and indeed the names of individual dancers are valuable assets and should be protected by trade mark registration. Last night I made a number of searches on the Intellectual Property Office databases and was surprised to find that not every major company in the United Kingdom let alone every dancer had registered their names and logos as trade marks. They really do need good advice on IP and licensing strategy and no doubt tax planning and pension advice as well.  If there is sufficient interest from dancers and their companies to discuss these issues I would be very happy to organize one and speak for free as my gift to those who have given me so much pleasure in the past.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Elaine McDonald in her own Words

Spurred by this video from yesterday's New York Times  I have begun to de-clutter my library. Books are such beautiful things that I hate to throw them out even when they are hopelessly out of date. As I tweeted yesterday throwing out my Terrell on the Patents Act 1949, my Kerly on the Trade Marks Act 1938 and my Copinger on the Copyright Act 1956 feels like a betrayal. A bit like putting one's grandmother into a retirement home. But then the video from New York is a terrible reminder of the alternative. So I held my nose and got on with the job.

But then I came across this treasure: "The World of Ballet" edited by Anne Geraghty which was published by Collins in 1970. It is an anthology of articles with contributions from Arnold Heskell, Clement Crisp, Rudolf Nureyev and many others. I would have bought it from the Ballet Bookshop in Cecil Court which has sadly disappeared.

The reason I would have bought it is that it contains a chapter by Elaine McDonald entitled "A Dancer's Life". As I mentioned in my articles on Peter Darrell on 9 March 2014 and Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013 McDonald was Darrell's ballerina. Indeed, as Lord Brown acknowledged in McDonald, R (on the application of) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea [2011] PTSR 1266, (2011) 14 CCL Rep 341, [2011] UKSC 33, [2011] 4 All ER 881, (2011) 121 BMLR 164 she became the prima ballerina of Scottish Ballet. That was the first company that I got to know and McDonald was the first ballerina that I admired and in a way loved. And indeed still do.

McDonald came from Scarborough and had her first ballet lessons in the Queen of Watering Places. When she was 11 she won a competition organized by the Royal Academy of Dance (of which I became a Friend this morning) and Girl (a magazine for girls that was published between 1951 and 1964) for a ballet scholarship in Leeds. No doubt encouraged by this win she decided to make her career in ballet. She auditioned for and was accepted by the Royal Ballet School which would then have been in Baron's Court, just opposite the Cromwell Road from my old school. The Royal Ballet School's premises had enormous plate glass windows that stretched the full height of the front elevation. We tried so hard to hit a cricket ball through those windows - a feat that would have required the strength and prowess of Colin Cowdrey or Ken Barrington as the ball would have had to clear not only the boundary but a 9 foot terra cotta wall and a 6 lane dual carriageway to hit those windows.  It was never accomplished in the 5 years I was there and now both schools have moved - we to Barnes and the Royal Ballet School to Floral Street.

Returning to McDonald's story, her first appearance on the stage was in a pantomime produced by Cyril Fletcher where she and other girls danced puppets, children, flowers and princesses. Not long afterwards she auditioned for the London Ballet under Walter Gore, One of her first performances was as a member of the hunting party in Giselle and she tells how the long, heavy, velvet dress eased her into her role. She describes how she prepared for that first role, how she adjusted her hair and applied her make-up, how the performance seemed to go well - until she received a note from the ballet master on how her dancing could improve. After Giselle she danced the Prelude in Les Sylphides. Regrettably the company fell into difficulties and had to be disbanded.

After a spell at the Palladium she joined the Western Theatre Ballet. She wrote
"I did not know much about the company, but I had heard and read that it was young, vital and very forward -looking."
She added
"When I joined the Western Theatre Ballet it was considered one of the most modern companies in Britain, Not because the basic steps were different - we sill use the steps I have known since I was a child. But because the stories which some of our ballets tell are stories of everyday life. Our repertoire is very varied. It includes La Ventana, one of the very first classical ballets to be performed, Mods and Rockers '63 danced to the music of The Beatles, with such tunes as "She Loves You".
At the time she wrote that chapter Elaine McDonald was a soloist with the company. Her first principal role was in Beauty and the Beast which Darrell choreographed to a specially commissioned score by Thea Musgrave. She refers to that work in the last paragraph of that chapter. I saw that work shortly after it had been premièred in London at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh.

There are some lovely photos of McDonald as a little girl in one of her first stage appearances, another of her wearing a tutu in arabesque at age 9 and yet another with Kenn Wells and Peter Cazalet in Ephemeron. Cazalet, incidentally, was a talented cartoonist and the book contains lots of his drawings some of which are very funny indeed.

As I said in my article on Darrell it was good to see McDonald again and particularly good to see her smile. She has not been well and she and I are nearly 45 years older than we were when she wrote that chapter and I bought that book but when she smiled on television I saw only that powerful yet dainty young dancer who captivated audiences all those years ago.

Further Reading

Feb 2000  Elaine McDonald Feb 2000 Legend Ballet Magazine

Sunday, 9 March 2014

David Lister's Post on Ballet Black

I had intended to leave ballet alone this week. After all I have seen quite a lot of it lately - Ballet West's Swan Lake on 1 March, Matthew Bourne's on the 4th and Northern Ballet's Cleopatra on the 6th - and I have also written about Peter Darrell today. But I really must respond to David Lister's article "Ballet Black is a wonderful company. But it's a shame on the arts that it still exists"  7 March 2014 Independent Voices.

In that article Mr Lister wrote:
"Ballet Black has been delighting crowds and critics at the Royal Opera House this week. The company, founded in 2001 to create opportunities for dancers of black and Asian descent, has, according to our critic’s review, “never looked better”. They are good, so good that I want to pay them the ultimate and richly deserved accolade – they should be abolished."
He continued that Ballet Black's website states 
“Our ultimate goal is to see a fundamental change in the number of black and Asian dancers in mainstream ballet companies, making Ballet Black wonderfully unnecessary.”
And concluded
"Well, I’d say that after the reviews that this week’s performances achieved, it already is wonderfully unnecessary. If there is evidence that the big companies really are not recruiting talented black and Asian dancers, then it is imperative that we are given the evidence, and that the heads of these mainstream, and indeed national, companies are forced to explain themselves in public. The danger is that Ballet Black, understandably delighted with public and critical reaction, will strive less to make themselves unnecessary."
It is clear that Mr Lister abhors racism like all right thinking people. His article is no doubt written with the best of intentions but he is wrong. Ballet Black has never been more necessary than now. Not because black or South Asian dancers cannot get into other ballet companies as, clearly, they can and do. But because Ballet Black is claiming an art form that began in the courts of renaissance Italy and developed in imperial Russia for all cultures including (but by no means exclusively) kids from Bradford, Brixton and Moss Side.

The company is doing that in two ways. First, by bringing new audiences to the ballet.  I have seen Ballet Black three times at the Linbury, Leeds and Tottenham.  At the Linbury and Leeds there were perhaps a few more folk of African or South Asian heritage in the audience than one might see for a performance by the Royal Ballet or Northern Ballet but it was very much the same ballet going crowd. At the Bernie Grant Arts Centre there were very many more folk of African and South Asian heritage and from some of the conversations that I overheard in the queue for the loo and in the Blooming Scent Café it seems that it was for many their first experience of ballet. I might add that Ballet Black brings ballet not just to districts like Tottenham where there are many people of African and South Asian heritage but to places like Exeter, Southport and Guildford where there and relatively few.

The second way in which Ballet Black is claiming ballet for all cultures is through its school. That school like every other good ballet school in the UK is open to kids of all races, cultures and nationalities but it is clear from the photo on the website that a high proportion of its children are of African and Afro-Caribbean heritage. Why do such kids not audition for White Lodge, Elmhurst, the Northern Ballet Academy or some of the other fine schools of the country? Well some of them do but without dancers like Cira Robinson and Isabela Coracy to show those children and their parents that it is possible for folk who look like them to achieve excellence in ballet not to mention the inspiration of the wonderful Cassa Pancho they would do so in far fewer numbers.

I can testify from my own experience how important that is. Although I am white I was married to a Sierra Leonean for 28 years. During the vicious civil war we looked after a young Sierra Leonean girl who was fortunate enough to be born in London and could therefore take refuge in this country. That young girl is the nearest I have to a daughter and her 3 year old child is the nearest I have to a grandson. I love both of them to bits. The boy has a beautifully expressive face and in his play he has shown signs that suggest that he may have a talent for ballet. I suggested to his mum that we ought to take him to a ballet teacher. She replied by asking me whether ballet was really for Africans. I might add that she had already seen quite a lot of ballet by companies like the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet and loves the art. I answered her by taking her to the performance of Ballet Black that I reviewed on the 26 Feb. Having seen Ballet Black she has agreed to let me take the little boy to the Peacock on 13 April to see My First Ballet: Coppélia. If he likes the show she will let me take her boy to a mini-mover or baby ballet class and we shall see how he gets on from there.

For most of this article I have justified Ballet Black for their role in generating new audiences and education but there is an artistic reason why the company will never be wonderfully unnecessary. There are some ballets that people of African heritage can do particularly well either because the are based on African or Afro-Caribbean music or legend or simply because of features of their physique or countenance. That is why companies like Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theatre of Harlem continue to thrive in the USA. That is why there will always be a need for a company like Ballet Black in this country.

Related Articles

6 Oct 2013  "Ballet Black: 'we don't talk about stuff, we just do it.'"
12 Mar 2013  "Ballet Black's Appeal"

Peter Darrell

Peter Darrell        Source Wikipedia
Readers in the UK will be aware that the BBC is broadcasting a ballet season on channels BBC 2 and BBC 4. It has already shown Darcey's Ballet Heroines (a history of ballet through the great ballerinas) and David Bintley's Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II made British Ballet. The latest offering is on Peter Darrell (ArtWorks Scotland: Peter Darrell Scotland's Dance Pioneer).

For me this last show has been the most poignant because Scottish Ballet was the first company that I got to know and love (see "Scottish Ballet" 20 Dec 2013) and Darrell was the first choreographer I admired. Although I lived in Surrey I studied at St Andrews. Except for Christmas, Easter and the first month of the long vacations when I used up all my Young Friend's vouchers at the Royal Opera House, the only ballet that I could see when my local authority grant and vacation earnings provided the means to see shows and take lessons was Scottish Ballet.

In that show I saw some of the dancers who had delighted me in the late 1960s and early 1970s, particularly Elaine McDonald who was Darrell's ballerina. It was lovely to see her smile as she recalled some of her work with Darrell. Also lovely were the clips of some of Darrell's ballets such as Mods and Rockers, House Party, The Nutcracker and Cheri and the shots of a reunion of Darrell's dancers who had been assembled for the programme.

When I wrote my previous article in December I came across the website of the Peter Darrell Trust which was formed in 1994, to safeguard Darrell's heritage and to promote his work and his ideals. This is a wonderful resource full of materials on Darrell's life, his work and the recollections of his contemporaries. One of the most moving contributions comes from the critic Clement Crisp. Another from Laverne Meyer, founder of Northern Ballet, who danced for Darrell in Bristol and continued to work with him after Darrell moved to Glasgow. Through Meyer Northern Ballet can also trace its origins to Bristol.

One of the things that I learned from the ArtWorks programme was Darrell's influence on Matthew Bourne. Bourne explained that he had seen Darrell's Swan Lake on one of Scottish Ballet's London seasons and had been entranced with it. Having seen  Bourne's Swan Lake last Tuesday ("Swan Lads - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Bradford Alhambra 4 March 2014" 5 March 2014) it was fresh in my memory and I could see the connections.

The programme lamented that we don't see much of Darrell's work nowadays which is true but then how much do we see of his contemporary Cranko in England? And we only see a fraction of the works of Ashton and MacMillan. Every company has to strike a balance between its heritage and the present. It has to encourage its current choreographers and provide new works for its audience as well as preserve the best of the old. Scottish Ballet's present artistic director, Christopher Hampson, acknowledged the company's debt to Darrell on the ArtWorks programme. He has pledged to stage Darrell's work from time to time.  I am delighted to see that the company will present Darrell's The Nutcracker later this year

Friday, 7 March 2014

Cleopatra - Northern Ballet, The Grand, Leeds 6 March 2014

Bust of Cleopatra. Altes Museum, Berlin            Source Wikipedia

To create a ballet set in Ptolemaic Egypt at the time that Rome transitioned from republic to empire covering such momentous events as the assassination of Julius Caesar and the battle of Actium and featuring such important figures from history and literature as Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Augustus and Cleopatra was quite a challenge. Ashton never tried anything like that. Neither did Macmillan though he did tackle historical events in Anastasia and Mayerling. Nor, indeed, did any of the great choreographers of the imperial or soviet eras. The nearest I can think of is Spartacus which was set in the servile wars. David Nixon and Northern Ballet accepted that challenge and I think that they succeeded. I left the theatre quite dazed. Something that rarely happens to me and never before in ballet.  The normal laudatory adjectives - even superlatives - will not do justice to this work so this will be a factual, possibly even clinical, review.

The first thing that impressed me was that an enormous amount of work had been done not just by Nixon but also by the other members of the creative team and indeed Martha Leebolt who danced Cleopatra and for whom the role was created. In the programme she wrote that she had prepared for the ballet by reading lots of books, watching the film and everything on TV that she could find. She took in anything and everything because she was aware that even the smallest detail strengthens a character and makes it more realistic. This is a fascinating period of classical history that has interested me since the age of 7 and I know it well. I actually studied it formally for my A levels in Latin and Roman history and informally before and since. I have visited the temples and seen the artefacts of Hellenistic Egypt in the great museums around the world. Even though a ballet does not have to be a historical document it is clear that considerable trouble was taken to get the history and the artistic details right.

For those who have yet to see the ballet the story and the characters are set out on the company's website. The score, specially composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, can be downloaded from Amazon or i-tunes or heard by Spotify subscribers through the music page. The stage designs were spectacular and ingenious transporting the audience seamlessly from Wadjet's temple to Ptolemy's palace,  a vessel in full sail, the streets and senate of Rome and back to Egypt. Equally impressive were the costumes from Cleopatra's regalia to the deities of ancient Egypt who appeared in the last scene as Cleopatra's spirit entered the afterlife.

The choreography covered two murders, riots and commotion, a great battle, love scenes of Cleopatra with Ptolemy, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, Cleopatra's confrontation with Octavia and her worship of Wadjet and much more. I cannot begin to describe it all.  There is only so much that the senses can absorb but there are sequences that stick particularly in my memory such as the opening and closing scenes of Cleopatra and Wadjet and the battle of wills between Cleopatra and Octavia.

A stellar cast danced last night.  On stage with Martha Leebolt were her handmaidens Charmian and Iris danced  by Pippa Moore and Antoinette Brooks-Daw, three of the company's best. The other strong female role was Octavia performed by Hannah Bateman yet another star. For me, Octavia's encounter with Cleopatra in which both dancers showed their considerable acting skills was the high point of the evening. As for the men, there were impressive performances by Kenneth Tindall as Wadget, Javier Torres as Caesar and Tobias Batley as Mark Antony.  Everyone danced well from principals downwards.

This is a ballet that has to be seen more than once and probably many times to be appreciated fully. It is to be performed only in two theatres, The Grand in Leeds until 15 March and then The Lyceum in Sheffield between the 25 and 29 March 2014. We have had to wait since 2011 for the return of this work. Goodness knows how long we shall have to wait to see it again.

Post Script

7 March 2914  Reinforcing my impression that David Nixon had done an extraordinary amount of background research, Dolly Williams has displayed some of the costume designs in Cleopatra Fashion Fix. She mentions that David Nixon contributed to these drawings in collaboration with Christopher  Giles. I particularly like the headgear of Apis who was one of the gods who greeted Cleopatra's spirit in the last scene together with Anubis and one other whose identity I struggle to remember.

Further Reading

21 March 2014 Lauren Godfrey "Why I love Cleopatra"
7 March 2014  "Hail the queen of ballets" Derbyshire Times

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Swan Lads - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Bradford Alhambra 4 March 2014

The swans in Matthew Bourne's 2005 Tour     Source Wikipedia

Last night I saw Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at the Bradford Alhambra. It was great entertainment: gripping drama, humour, spectacular choreography and powerful dancing. It is easy to see why this production won so many awards and ran and ran on Broadway and in the West End. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

When I reviewed Bourne's Sleeping Beauty on 6 April 2013 I asked "Why can't I be nicer to Matthew Bourne?" Well, this time I think I can. That does not mean to say that I don't have reservations about his work.  As I said last year:
"I have mixed feelings about Matthew Bourne. He has won so many awards. His ballets are dramatic. His choreography spectacular. I have seen Cinderella and Nutcracker as well as Sleeping Beauty. Two of those performances were at the Alhambra and the third was at the Wells. On each occasion the crowd went wild. And the crowd is part of the ballet. And yet...... The trouble is that one can sometimes be too clever by half and Matthew Bourne is very, very clever. He knows how to raise a laugh from the audience with the puppet baby Aurora. And then to make them shiver as she climbs the curtain. Brilliant! But is it ballet?"
Bourne's Swan Lake was even less like conventional ballet than his Sleeping Beauty with no tutus (except in a spoof romantic ballet with monsters and an axe-wielding maiden), hardly any (if any) dancing on pointe and no great ballerina roles but if ballet can be defined as dance drama there was plenty of that.

For those who have not yet seen the work there is a good synopsis in Wikipedia.  The fairy tale about a handsome prince falling in love with a princess under the spell of a wicked magician is jettisoned.  In its place is inserted a study of an insecure and unstable individual who is heir to his country's throne but cannot quite live up to the responsibilities for which he is being groomed. He is briefly distracted by a brassy, flashy blonde who makes a thorough nuisance of herself in the royal box during the performance of the absurd ballet and later snubs him when he shows up in his underwear in the Swank (Swan + K get it?) bar. His mother, the queen, (a Volumnia type who places public duty before everything including her son) denies him any signs of affection.  Haunted by nightmares of menacing swans who first show him love and then molest him he eventually flips.  He produces a pistol, shoots at everybody in sight, is committed to a secure hospital where he receives something like convulsive electric shock treatment and after more nightmare images of molesting swans he eventually dies. With its corgi on wheels it was the best propaganda for republicanism since the days of Cromwell. It is perhaps no coincidence that the ballet was first staged in 1995 just a few years after so called annus horibilis.

According to a notice board in the foyer of the theatre, the prince was danced by Liam Mower, the swan by Chris Trenfield, the queen by Saranne Curtin and the brassy flashy blonde by Anjali Mehra. I am not sure how accurate that was because the photos in the programme seem a little different from the faces I saw on stage (albeit from a distance and some height) and there was no cast list but whoever danced those roles last night did an excellent job. Growing up as I did in Molesey by the Thames I have no illusions about swans. Nasty hissing brutes that chased small dogs and indeed small boys they had far more in common with Matthew Bourne's boys in feathery breeches than with the sweet teenage girls of Ballet West last Saturday (see "Swan Loch - Ballet West's Swan Lake, Pitlochry 1 March 2014" 3 March 2014) or even Wayne Sleep's in his Big Ballet (see  "No Excuses! If the Dancers in Big Ballet can do it so can I" 21 Feb 2014).

There were two other stars of this ballet, Lez Brotherston who designed the sets and costumed. I was amazed how he transformed the prince's bed into a balcony from where the prince and queen acknowledged the cheers of the adoring crowds. Gently teasing the Bradford audience he dressed the brassy, flashy blonde in a pink dress that was very similar to several outfits that I spotted in the theatre bar. Clearly the blonde was cast as a "Brat-ford" lass. It is no wonder that she raised a massive cheer when she took her bow. The other star creative was Rick Fisher who arranged the lighting. The enormous shadows of the clinicians in the hospital and the swans in the last two scenes were striking and frightening.

There was so much in this ballet that I liked - the way Bourne reworked some of the familiar old tunes like the music to the 32 fouettés and the divertissements, the kiss that the prince gave to a bag lady who had come to feed the swans as the curtain fell on Act II - I am so glad I can be nicer to Matthew Bourne. He deserves some praise.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Swan Loch - Ballet West's Swan Lake, Pitlochry 1 March 2014

Ballet West is a ballet school in Taynuilt a few miles from Oban. It seems to be a good school because its students did very well in last year's Genée (see "Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée" 30 Sept 2013). Every year Ballet West produces a full length ballet which it performs around Scotland (see "Ballet West's Swan Lake - Dates and Venues 24 Jan to 1 Mar" 7 Nov 2013). Those performances benefit the students by giving them valuable stage experience but also members of the public who might not otherwise get to see ballet. Last year Ballet West danced The Nutcracker which I reviewed in the first post of this blog (see "Ballet West's "The Nutcracker" 26 Feb 2013). This year it did Swan Lake and I watched the last performance of its tour in Pitlochry on Saturday, 1 March 2014.

I enjoyed that performance very much. In watching Ballet West, a reviewer has to bear in mind that it is primarily a school. Consequently the main roles have to be danced by its teachers, Jonathan Barton and Sara-Maria Smith, and most of the other roles are performed by students some of whom seem to be quite young. The troupe has to dance to recorded music which limits the opportunities for acknowledging applause and makes no allowances for the the styles and capabilities of individual dancers. Similarly. the small stages of some of the auditoriums will limit the scenery and props that can be used. Also audiences must vary considerably. Last year the company danced to a rather larger and more appreciative audience at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. On Saturday the house was much less full, there was applause in a number of wrong places, silence where applause would have been justified and even some pantomime style booing (thankfully drowned out by cheers) when Rothbart took his bow even though Isaac Bowry had danced that role very well. When all those factors are taken into consideration it was a very good evening indeed.

Swan Lake is quite a long ballet and demands much from the principals especially in the third act when Siegried is deceived by Odile. In particular, there are Legnani's 32 fouettés which is the probably the best known part of the choreography.  They require considerable stamina, concentration and skill and not every dancer is up to the test. When that test came I was counting and I am glad to report that Smith passed with flying colours. I should add that Barton danced his part of that pas de deux with equal virtuosity.

Another good strong male dancer was Andrew Cook who danced the pas de trois in Act 1 impressively with Daniella Brown and Helen Foskett. He seemed somewhat more mature than the other dancers and I have been scouring the programme and googling his name (so far unsuccessfully) for some background information.  Brown and Foskett also danced well and they appeared again with Ally Barnes and Yolanda Magashi as the little swans, another difficulty bit of choreography which they performed successfully. Other female dancers who particularly impressed me were Claire Rice and Hannah Fowler. I liked Rice's part in the mazurka very much. Another divertissement that I enjoyed was the Neapolitan dance which was danced by Duncan Saul (a guest artist) and Yolanda Magashi.  In the 1970s that role was danced by Wayne Sleep, The Neapolitan dance was a great favourite of the crowds and it was probably the foundation of his career.  Saul's performance reminded me a little of Sleep's all those years ago.  But my favourite dancer this year as last was Isaac Bowry who danced Rothbart. A very talented young man showing promise as a character artist I shall follow his career with considerable interest.  Although I have singled out a few names I must stress that all danced well and I commend them all.

The programme announced that Ballet West will be celebrating its 25th anniversary and that it is looking for 25 Scottish patrons to raise its profile as a centre of excellence for ballet in Scotland. Why just Scottish and why not a centre of excellence for ballet simpliciter? I have travelled from Yorkshire which is a 640 mile round trip to see the show and I am aware of at least one of Ballet West's admirers who had come from London. They have a lot of goodwill outside Scotland and it would be good to see them in the rest of the country.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Ballet Education

Students at Northern Ballet Academy Source Northern Ballet

Returning home just before midnight from a very long day that began with a breakfast meeting at Daresbury and continued with a meeting in the Wirral, telephone conferences with new clients and a dash to Hereford and back I returned home to the a pile of bills and other unwelcome correspondence. But there was one item of mail than I did enjoy reading and that was a letter from David Nixon welcoming me as a Friend of the Northern Ballet Academy. I was already a Friend of the Company but I modified my membership by paying a very modest £25 to support the Academy. I decided to do that at the first opportunity after seeing the wonderful teachers and students at Northern Ballet's open day on 15 Feb 2014.

In his letter Mr Nixon wrote about investing in the future of the students who are of course the future of the company and, indeed, ballet in this country. Mr, Nixon did not need to thank me because such investment is in my interests as it is in the interests of every theatre goer. If and in so far as I was acting altruistically I would add that I achieved my ambition of qualifying for the English Bar thanks to the generosity of other much more substantial benefactors to my school, universities and Inn. I am glad of an opportunity to do the same albeit on a very modest scale for some of today's kids.

I have another opportunity to support ballet education this evening in Pitlochry when I see Ballet West in their last performance of Swan Lake this season. This is the company that is attached to what is clearly a very good ballet school set on the shores of Loch Etive which I explored in August ("Taynuilt - where better to create ballet?" 31 Aug 2013). Shortly after I wrote that article one of Ballet West's students won a medal in The Genée (see "Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée" 30 Sept 2013) and was recruited by Scottish Ballet. The company danced The Nutcracker very well last year and I am relishing the chance of seeing them again.

Finally, today is St David's Day. Ballet Cymru who danced a beautiful Romeo a Juliet in Kendal is another company that does great educational work. I should like to wish them and all dancers, performers, musicians, teachers and theatre goers in Wales well on their national day.

Further Reading
9 March 2014    "Teacher who watched her step with Nureyev"  Yorkshire Post