Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Anne Maguire

Everyone will be shocked and saddened by the violent death of Anne Maguire.

Nowhere is that shock and sadness experienced more than in this metropolitan county of West Yorkshire. The school at which Mrs Maguire taught is well known in Leeds and most of us here come into contact with persons who have studied there or have some other connection with that establishment.

Yesterday I learned of another connection with Mrs Maguire in that one of her children dances as a soloist with the Royal Ballet.

My sympathy to her and indeed all Mrs Maguire's family, friends and direct connections.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Winter's Tale - Time to eat my Hat

Copyright owner: Consumer Reports
Licence Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International
Source Wikipedia

I am just about to place a couple of hats in the microwave. One is The Winter's Tale which I damned with the faintest of praise in Royal Ballet "The Winter's Tale" 14 April 2014. The other are the Royal Opera House's HDTV transmissions which I described as "good quality hamburger" in Giselle and I was even less polite about Don Quixote. Tonight I floated out of the Huddersfield Odeon after watching the HDTV transmission of The Winter's Tale with a smile from ear to ear.  Act I, which had dragged last time, simply flew for me.  The tension was palpable.  Act II, which had saved the ballet for me the first time I saw it revealed fresh delights. Act III with the triple reconciliation was sublime.

Now this is how I should have felt on 12 April 2014 when I saw the same show in Covent Garden. This is the reason why I think I got it this time but not then.  Act I, the longest of the three Acts, is crucial to the appreciation of this ballet and the key to appreciating that Act are the contortions of Leontes's body and the expressions on his face. These were prominent on screen but I missed them entirely when I was in the House.  It may be that the interviews before the show - particularly the one with Watson - were helpful for they alerted the audience as to what to look out for.  Wheeldon had remarked how Watson could turn his body into the most remarkable shapes to express his anguish and so he did. Those contortions and facial expressions exerted enormous tension.  In the second interval Wheeldon had described his cast as "actors who dance" rather than the converse. Leontes's build up of jealousy and loathing until his explosion of rage exemplifies those qualities magnificently.

Having cracked Leontes's emotions I found myself appreciating the other features of Act I. The complex textures of Joby Talbot's score, Bob Crowley's designs and Natasha Katz's lighting.  I even got to see the bear.  Its muzzle, which was so clear on screen, was just a length of cloth when I saw it live.  I was already looking forward to Act II but I found new detail in the dancing, new rhythms in the score and best of all the expression on Lamb's face when McRae asked her to marry him. I had also liked Act III on 12 April but this time I took in Cuthbertson's final pas de deux with Watson properly. As an expression of love it was simply beautiful.

I noticed from the tweets that I was not the only one who enjoyed the transmission more than the live show. This was a particularly good broadcast, much better than Giselle or Don Quixote.  I think this is a ballet that does work well for cinema but I also think it is a work that needs to be seen more than once to be appreciated properly.

I love the Royal Ballet very much having followed it for nearly 60 years. I love the House more than any other theatre in the world.  I love all the dancers who have ever trod its boards. It is so good to be able to write this review.

Monday, 28 April 2014

For Emma

Lord Street, Southport                                               Source Wikipedia

Sitting next to me in the Atkinson for Ballet Theatre UK's performance of The Little Mermaid on Saturday was a young lady called Emma. She was with several friends from work.

"Wasn't it lovely" she remarked as the applause died away.
"It certainly was" I agreed.
"Do you see a lot of ballet" she asked.
"Quite a few" I replied. "I keep a blog called Terpsichore" I added, writing down the URL on a scrap of paper.
"Oh I am only just getting into ballet,"
"Did you study dance as a child?" I asked,
"Not really" she said. "I would love to do it now but I suppose it is too late".
"It's never too late" said I. "According to the BBC there's a student in Scotland aged 102."
I told her about my classes at Leeds and Huddersfield and adult ballet in general,
"You're so lucky to live near Leeds" replied Emma but I know of nothing like that round here."
"There almost certainly are adult ballet classes in Southport" I countered "and there will certainly be one somewhere in Merseyside."
"Tell you what" I added "if you visit my blog I'll give you a few tips in an article just for you."

So, Emma, this article is for you.

First up, the main dance authority for the UK is the Royal Academy of Dance. Anybody can join as a friend for £19 and get all sorts of benefits and concessions. They have a searchable database of qualified teachers all over England and you can see who works in or near Southport. Another good source of information is North West Dance.    It is then worth googling "ADULT", "BALLET" and "SOUTHPORT" and cross-referencing any dance schools that come up on then search with the RAD teachers and North West Dance activities. When you have found some schools and teachers you like give them a bell or send then an email. See whether any of them will take an absolute beginner and then take it from there.

Second up, don't spend too much money at first. Nobody expects you to wear expensive shoes or dance wear at this stage. Most teachers will let you turn up to your first class in t-shirt and leggings and dance in bare feet. When you get a bit more settled you can invest in a leotard and soft toed shoes. You don't need to worry about pointes at this stage and it may be that you never do. I buy my shoes from Frederick Freeds in London. Would you believe that they still had a record of my size from when I first started dancing? You teacher will tell you all about how to break in a pair of shoes gently.

Next, I would see as much professional ballet on the stage as possible for it is amazing what you can learn from watching dancers.  Ballet Black, one of my very favourite companies, is coming to the Atkinson on  the 22 May. If there are any tickets left go grab yourself one. I will be there. I saw their show in  London in  February and it was outstanding. Birmingham Royal Ballet is coming to The Lowry in September with Beauty and the Beast. English National Ballet is bringing Swan Lake to Liverpool in November. Northern Ballet is coming to Manchester with Cinderella also in November.

If you want to discuss any aspect of ballet you should join BalletcoForum. You will there discover a remarkable lady who lives not too far away from you with an encyclopaedic knowledge and at least as great a passion for ballet as mine. And there are many others there who can guide and encourage you in your appreciation of ballet.  Finally, I am by no means the only blogger. My own favourite is Dave Tries Ballet. He started in his twenties and he is now dancing with stars of English National Ballet.  Follow his journey from his first class to where he is now in just a few short years. You might also learn some maths from him too.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport

Yesterday evening I saw Ballet Theatre UK ("BTUK") dance The Little Mermaid at The Atkinson in Southport. This was the first time I had seen BTUK and my first visit to The Atkinson and i was impressed with both. I left the theatre on a high (as I always expect to do) eager to see more of both.

BTUK is no ordinary company. It has a punishing schedule.  Before coming to Southport it had danced a matinee and evening at Dunstable on the 22 April, an evening show at Tamworth on the 23, a matinee and evening at Keswick on the 24 and an evening at Runcorn on the 26. Today it crosses the Ribble to Blackpool and on 1 May it comes to Rotherham and then on Peterborough on the 2. I counted over 66 different venues throughout the British Isles.  This show has quite elaborate scenery and props and sumptuous costumes. Bearing in mind that the dancers must find time for company classes, rehearsing their next production, eating and drinking, some kind of family and social life as well as travelling, I take my hat off to them. An hour's class alone takes it out of me. Admittedly I am a lot older than the dancers and very new to ballet but a couple of hours on stage is still hard work requiring considerable concentration and stamina even for a young man or woman with years of training.

The company is also remarkable in that it has an extensive repertoire choreographed largely by its artistic director Christopher Moore. These include an Aladdin but not David Bintley's, A Christmas Carol but not Christopher Gable's, an Alice in Wornderland but not Christopher Wheeldon's as well as old favourites such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty.  I googled Christopher Moore but all I could find was the blurb on BTUK's website stating that he had trained at Tring and had danced professionally all over the world in many different productions.  Clearly, the company is ambitious.  It has established a school in Hinckley with Daria Klimentova as its patron and, according to its website, its guest tutor.  In many ways BTUK reminds me of the London Festival Ballet in the 1960s when I first took an interest in ballet.  I think BTUK is going places and I am not just referring to the tour schedule.

Yesterday's performance was lovely. First, it was a good story based closely on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale. In the programme Christopher Moore wrote that on the first day in the studio the company faced two rather large challenges one of which was
"would we use the original ending written by Andersen and used in the book's first edition, or would it be better to have a happier ending similar to the one used by the Walt Disney company in the classic 1989 animated film!"
In the end after much deliberation Moore and the company chose to stick with the original and I think that they were right to do so because it made for a much more interesting story and gave the character of the little mermaid some depth.

Having lost out on one Faustian pact with the sea witch she was offered another. The first agreement allowed her to come on shore with legs but only on condition that she should marry the prince whose life she had saved.  The downside was that she would perish if she failed.  The terms of the other pact were that she could return to the sea as a mermaid if she killed the prince who had rejected her.

Now that presented the mermaid with an interesting moral dilemma.  At least some of the audience would urge her to accept the offer and kill the prince in order to save herself.  Some would say that the prince had it coming for his ingratitude to the one who had rescued him. However, she decided to sacrifice her life in order that he might live. As Hans Christian Andersen tells us that mermaids do not believe in an after life, accepting instant annihilation in order to do the right thing is  even more of a sacrifice than it would be for a human,

Secondly, the ballet had a very good score. I don't know how much of it was original. I recognized the Geordie ditty about a little fishy when the boat comes in as well as some sea shanties from the last night of the proms and an ear worm that was never off Uncle Mac's Children's Favourites in the 1950s but which I can't for the life of me remember/ However, it all fitted together very well indeed and I found myself humming bits of it to myself on the long drive back from Southport.

I have already mentioned the scenery, props and costumes which was yet another aspect of the ballet that I liked.  Comparisons are odious and I have already cut out lots of references to The Winter's Tale but lengths of fabric have far more in common with waves than large land mammals.  After being hauled half way round the kingdom and back one would expect the sea backdrop and the wedding dresses to look a bit tired by now but they were still fresh. And they really wowed the audience.

However, it was the dancing that I really loved.  Now that there is a very remote possibility that I may perform in public at the end of June I am treating every ballet performance as an extra lesson.  In this lesson I learnt a lot about port de bras.  That is the most appealing aspect of Moore's choreography. There was drama as the mermaid painfully discovered her legs and was forcibly accustomed to human ways, How she grimaced and struggled in the bath, especially as the soles of her soles were scrubbed. All that added yet another dimensions to the ballet. How do people born without legs get used to them and begin to walk?

The programme came without a cast list and that was my only grip of the evening. I asked a gentlemen in a BTUK tee shirt who was selling programmes where I could get one.
"Oh we never give them out" he replied.
"But I want to review this show for my blog," said I.   "Can you tell me who danced tonight?"
"Was the mermaid blonde or brunette?" the programmer enquired.
"Brunette, I think but under the lights with all that makeup ......"
"Oh it must have been Sarah" he said.
I looked at my programme and it did indeed look like Sarah Mortimer: but it was not until I returned home and looked up a post on BalletcoForum by someone I know only as Hfbrew that I could be sure.  According to Hfbrew
"Sarah Mortimer as mermaid (the beautiful mermaid on the poster) , Luca Verone as the prince,Jessica Hill as sea witch and Natalie Cawte as princess."
All of them danced well as indeed did the whole cast.

When looking up Sarah Mortimer I noticed that she had trained at Ballet West in Taynuilt near Oban. I know a little bit about the school having seen its pupils and teachers perform "The Nutcracker" and Swan Lake. I have also visited the village in which it is located and rejoiced at its success in the Genée. I was delighted to see that not just Mortimer but also Joseph Mackie-Groves and Charlotte Eades studied at Ballet West. I am delighted that students of that school who are hundreds of miles from Floral Street, Tring, Birmingham, Leeds and even Glasgow are establishing themselves in their careers. I wish them and indeed all the dancers from every other ballet school and company every success.

Finally, I should like to say a word or two about Southport in general and the Atkinson in particular. Southport is a town that I should know better than I do because my father was born there. Apart from two forays to its county court when I was starting out at the Bar and one weekend at a party conference when I was on the committee of the party's lawyers' association I have never had much to do with the town. That is a pity because it has an excellent fish restaurant, the smallest pub in England, a lawnmower museum, an elegant thoroughfare called Lord Street (happily being restored to its Edwardian glory), a dance shop called Centre Stage and a magnificent arts complex all collectively known as "The Atkinson" of which the theatre forms part. The best thing about The Atkinson is that it has pictures and exhibits to admire during the interval as it is an art gallery, museum and library as well as a theatre.

Yesterday the theatre seemed to be packed. There was barely an empty seat in the house. We started at the slightly unusual time of 18:00 which worked out very well.  Dining in time for a 19:30 start really is a little too early for most folk and after 22:00 (always supposing restaurants are open at that time) is a little too late.  An early start meant that the show finished at a reasonable time for supper. It was not too late for young children  - of which there were many - and it allowed me to navigate the somewhat, twisty roads of rural Lancashire in daylight.  Maybe other companies and theatres should try an 18:00 start if they can.

The reason why Hfbrew was able to give me accurate casting for last Saturday is that her son dances with the company. She did not identify him and I won't guess but if he was dancing on Saturday he did very well. I wish him and the others in the company all the best. If he cares to read "For Emma" he will see that I was not the only one who was bowled over by Saturday's show.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Branding and Ballet - Licensing the Brand

In "Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers" 13 March 2014 I argued that more could be done to raise funds and indeed dancers' incomes by harnessing the enormous goodwill enjoyed by companies, theatres and individual dancers. In "Protecting the Brand" 31 March 2014 I counselled companies, theatres and dancers to protect their goodwill by registering their names, logos or other signs as trade marks. In this article I discuss the legal instrument by which the goodwill is monetized. That is to say the licence.

Watch the Spelling
In the UK and most other English speaking countries the noun licence is spelt with a "c" and the very "to license" with an "s".  In the United States, however, both the noun and the verb are spelt with an "s". The distinction between the verb and the noun is a very convenient one but some people including, sadly, even a few lawyers find it confusing and get mixed up.

What is a Licence?
A licence is another word for permit or consent. A familiar example is a TV licence that allows us to watch television. Without such a licence it is unlawful to watch a live broadcast in the UK however it is transmitted. There are also licences that permit us to do something for which we would otherwise be sued like park a car on someone's land. The sort of licences that we are talking about are intellectual property ("IP") licences.

What is IP?
IP is the collective name for the bundle of rights that protect investment in intellectual assets. Intellectual assets are such things as books, goodwill, inventions, performances and software that have been made by creative or inventive people.  Examples of IP rights are patents for inventions, trade marks for the signs by which the public recognize a supplier or his or her products in the market place, copyright for literary and artistic works and rights in performances for the right to film, tape or broadcast an actor, dancer or musician's performance.

What is an IP Licence?
That is a licence to do an act such as sell a product or supply a service under a trade mark or film or broadcast a performance by a dancer that is restricted to the IP owner.  Without such a licence, such a person can be sued by the trade mark owner or dancer.  Licences can be oral or written and they can arise expressly or impliedly. However, most IP licences are in writing and drafted by specialist lawyers.

Types of Licence
Licences can be exclusive, non-exclusive or sole.

Exclusive licences are those in which an IP owner ("the licensor") transfers all his or her rights in the IP including the right to prevent others from exploiting the IP to the person to whom those rights are granted ("the licensee") with the result that the licensee can prevent anyone in the world including the licensor  from exercising those rights. Many agreements to make and sell goods bearing a company's name, logo or coat of arms in a specified location are exclusive licences.

Non-exclusive licences are those in which more than one licensee (and, of course, the licensor) can exercise the rights that are granted but only the licensor can prevent third parties from exercising the rights. Software is usually supplied to end-users under a non-exclusive licence known as a "EULA" (end user's licence agreement").

Sole licences are non-exclusive licences in which the licensor agrees to grant only one licence.

Licensing your IP
Before you enter negotiations for a licence it is a good idea to read the Intellectual Property Office ("IPO")'s booklet on Licensing IP in the IP Health Check series. The IPO has also published a Skeleton Licence or check list of the terms commonly found in licence agreements. The provisions to which you should give particular attention are as follows:

  • What exactly are you licensing and how is the licence to be exercised? For instance, is this to be a non-exclusive licence to print you logo or image on t-shirts and sell those t-shirts in the UK. Do you want your licensee to be able to make other products or export them? If so, how will that affect your agreements with licensees elsewhere? Also, are those foreign licensees allowed to export their goods here in competition with you or your British licensee?
  • Quality Control. You have put a lot of effort into building up a national and international reputation and you don't want it trashed or trivialized. Any goods bearing your name or logo must be made of good quality materials with high standards of workmanship and they must be packaged attractively. But how do you make sure that is done? And what are the consequences if it isn't?
  • Defending and Enforcing the IP? Which party is responsible for the legal fees if a third party infringed the IP or challenges its validity. Legal fees can mount quickly in litigation, particularly in the UK.
  • How are you to be paid? When? Where? In what currency? How can you be sure that the right amount is paid? Do you have the right to audit your licensee's accounts? What happens if he or she does not pay you on time?
  • What happens if your licensee under-performs? Do you have the right to appoint another licensee or even terminate the licence?
  • What happens if your licensee becomes insolvent? Do you really want to be dealing with a liquidator or the licensee's creditors?
  • There are bound to be disputes and differences but how are they to be resolved and under which legal system?
Professional Advice
On all those matters you will need professional advice not just from lawyers but also accountants and maybe patent or trade mark attorneys. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales has a searchable database of their member firms by geography and specialization. So, too, does the Law Society for solicitors, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys and the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys. You can now access the Bar direct and you can consult the Intellectual Property Bar Association for a barrister specializing in IP. The corresponding association for solicitors is the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association.

Further Information
As I said in my previous article 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 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.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

My First Ballet: Coppélia

In staging the "My First Ballet" series English National Ballet and English National Ballet School had two objectives: to introduce children to ballet and to give students and young dancers stage experience. Each year they take a popular ballet and present its essentials with a spoken narrative. This year the company and school chose Coppélia and I took my former ward who is the nearest I have to a daughter together with her 3 year old son, Vladimir, to see it at the Peacock Theatre on 13 April 2014.

We three loved it though perhaps for different reasons. Vladimir pronounced it "awesome". When his mum asked him what he enjoyed most he replied "the jumping". His mum was happy that he was quiet and enthralled. When Dr Coppelius introduced himself as an inventor I launched on a forensic reverie.  Daniel Kraus who danced Dr Coppelius reminded me so much of the hopefuls who patronize my pro bono clinic or attend my Northern inventors' clubs Was putting Coppélia on show an enabling disclosure? I asked myself. From the law of patents my mind wandered to the criminal law. When Franz and his rowdy pals roughed up Dr Coppelius after their stag night and caused hum to drop his key I thought about the distinction between common assault and ABH.  As Swanilda's hen party ransacked he old boy's laboratory I thought of the law of trespass and conspiracy. And when Franz climbed up the ladder I was reminded of R v Collins [1973] QB 100.  "How about a ballet based on the facts in Collins?" I thought to myself. An amorous young man ascending a ladder to a young girl's bedroom clad only in socks.  My pupil master's wife who worked for the Courts Service was in court for the appeal.  She told me she was in stitches throughout the hearing and dropped books on the floor deliberately so that she hide her guffaws from the Lord Justices as she retrieved the reports  Surely Collins is a story screaming for a choreographer.

Why did these thoughts spring to mind? Perhaps it was because I had seen a trial of the marsupial variety in The Winter's Tale the night before (see "Royal Ballet 'The Winter's Tale'" 14 April 2014).  Whereas The Winter's Tale ran on and on and on this version of Coppélia was just the right length. The kids got the story and a proper taste of choreography as well as some excellent dancing.  Michelle Chaviano was a lovely Swanilda. A convincing actor as well as an attractive dancer, her indignation at the sight of Franz (Jordan Bautista) eyeing up the doll (Olivia Lindon) was palpable. All the dancers delighted us, particularly Sophia Elbishlawi, the youngest dancer, who was raised to shoulder height in the last scene and had such a winning smile for us at the end.

I had promised Vlad an ice cream subject to the condition that he would be good.  As he skipped along Long Acre to the gelateria I asked him whether he would like to dance like Franz.  "Oh yes" he replied.  At the very least English National Ballet and the English National Ballet have sparked a love of ballet in the boy. Maybe they have also inspired a dancer. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Royal Ballet "The Winter's Tale"

"Pursued by a Bear"  Royal Ballet "A Winter's Tale" 12 April 2014

I expected so much of The Winter's Tale.  I had been looking forward to it for months. A new work by Christopher Wheeldon based on Shakespeare by a fine choreographer for our national company with a stellar cast. It should have blown me off my feet.  Well I quite liked the show but blown off my feet? I wasn't.

Perhaps my expectations were too high.  Had I thought about it more I would have concluded that Shakespeare is very difficult to set to ballet.  I can think of only two ballets based on Shakespeare that really work. One is Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet and the other is Cranko's Taming of the Shrew (see "Stuttgart Ballet's "Taming of the Shrew" - well worth the Wait"  25 Nov 2013). Northern Ballet's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" also works but only because Nixon has gutted the play and written his own plot based on a post war touring company's train journey to Edinburgh (see "Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sept 2013). Had I thought more about the topic I would have reminded myself that A Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's least performed and least read plays and that is for a reason.  It is best known for the stage direction for Antigonus: "Exit pursued by a bear."  A Winter's Tale is not one of Shakespeare's best works and it is very difficult to get into.

And so it was on Saturday with the ballet.  Now I have to say that I was not in the most receptive frame of mind when I entered the Royal Opera House. I had a horrible journey down to London and I had been working late throughout the previous night. I had skipped breakfast and had only a light lunch.  Consequently I was tired and hungry. Had I not paid a lot of money for my ticket I would have gone straight to bed. Moreover, the reason that I had to work through the night was that I had spent a couple of hours in Huddersfield town hall listening to the Choral's performing one of the most memorable concerts I have ever attended or am ever likely to attend.  It may be that anything after that concert was going to be an anticlimax.

I say all this because Act I left me quite cold. Well perhaps not quite cold because Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson are always exciting and Bob Crawley's designs were impressive, especially the galleon in full sale. But the story was very heavy going and the accompanying music by Joby Talbot did not help.  The ballet is very long.  It starts at 19:30 and ends at 22:30 and the longest bit is Act I which lasts 49 minutes.

Act II is very different.  Set around a gnarled moss covered tree there is a festival with exuberant dancing accompanied by the most infectiously vibrant music.  Perdita danced by Sarah Lamb and Florizel by Stephen McRae fall in love.  They are spied on and discovered by Polixenes, king of Bohemia, who threatens to kill them but they set sail to Sicily with the king of Bohemia in hot pursuit.  Little details like the fact that Bohenia is landlocked don't seem to have bothered Shakespeare or even Wheeldon.   However there is such a thing as poetic licence and this is a case where it applies.  Nevertheless, this is is the best bit of the ballet and that is possibly because it is the part that owes least to Shakespeare.

The final Act like the first is set in Sicily with a chastened Leontes (Watson) visiting the graves of Hermione and their son.  The Act ends with his visiting a statue of Hermione who suddenly springs to life Don Juan style - oh brother - but she, her daughter Perfita and Loeontes reconcile in a most beautiful pas de trois which prompted the lady next to me to fish for a tissue and even I found moving.

So did this ballet live up to expectations? Well not exactly. But it was not bad.  I want to see it again but I want to take a break before I do.  It will be broadcast on HDTV to cinemas around the nation on 28 April.