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.


  1. Thank you for your review. We have a small band of Aussies following Ballet West as my granddaughter Hannah Fowler attends the school. We are always delighted to receive photos & reviews,it's wonderful the encouragement you give thank you once again.��

    1. Hannah did very well and I shall follow her career with interest. I am very fond of Australia having spent three pleasant holidays there. It has produced many find dancers from Robert Helpmann to Steven McRae. My own teacher trained in Brisbane and she has a wonderful knack of coaxing the best from her pupils.

  2. Thank you very much for your review, reading it made me smile and I intend to show the rest of the school your lovely words - and I'm impressed at your dedication travelling up from West Yorkshire! As I go back home to Leeds every Holiday, I know how long a journey that is!

    Yours sincerely, Andrew Cook

  3. I am so glad you like the review. Everyone did well. I enjoyed your performance in particular, Andrew, and will look out for you in future. I have mentioned the school and company in several other posts. It does good work and I shall support in any way I can. I look forward to reviewing future shows and perhaps taking an adult ballet class if I can contrive to be in Taynuilt when one is taking place. A beautiful spot by the way. I explored the banks of Loch Etive and the surrounding countryside while waiting for the Craignure ferry last summer.