Sunday, 12 October 2014


The day I danced in public I presented the nearest I have to a grandson with a copy of Anna Kemp's Dogs don't do Ballet. A few weeks earlier I had actually met the extraordinarily gifted young choreographer, Christopher Marney, and scolded myself for not thinking of asking him to sign that book because Cassa Pancho had told me that Ballet Black had commissioned Marney to base a ballet on that book a few weeks before the official announcement. Ironically I met two other choreographers, David Nixon and Kenneth Tindall, the day after I had performed and I could have asked either of them to sign something else for little Vladimir but it wouldn't have been the same. Anyway, yesterday the first performances of Dogs don't do ballet took place in Harlow and I was there with three year old Vlad to see the show.

The ballet is for children aged 3 or over so the acid test is: "what did a 3 year old child think of the show?" Well Vlad the Lad liked it.  In his short life he has seen no less than three ballets if you count the Northern Ballet Academy's end of term show (and I think you must because there were some good performances in that show which more than made up for my poor efforts) and he liked them all. But he particularly liked Dogs don't do Ballet for he sat through the whole 50 minutes quite entranced. He's an active boy and to hold his attention for all that time says a lot about the show. So guys, you passed the Vlad test.

So what did this 65 year old think of it?  I loved it. Though it was a children's ballet there was plenty to appeal to grown ups. For instance, the ballet teacher, Miss Polly, swigging from her hip flask and sleeping through her students' barre exercises.  She was danced by Christopher Renfurm who has blossomed as a character dancer. He is a good Slvador Dali but a brilliant ballet teacher. Though I am glad to say that none of my ballet teachers is anything like Miss Polly, Renfurm fitted the popular stereotype of a ballet teacher to a tee. The expression of delight on Anna's face changing to embarrassment upon her first kiss was another moment to savour. Marie Astrid Mence, Ballet Black's latest recruit, was an adorable Anna. The study of canine behaviour by Cira Robinson - so familiar to anyone who has ever kept a dog - was yet another delight. There was Bif's whining, her friendly slathering over Miss Polly, the playfulness with which she toyed with a tutu and her pas de deux with a dalmatian. Just like a real dog - in fact, just like Harvey*.

As I said in my appreciation of Christopher Marney the quality that distinguishes him from other choreographers is his remarkable sensitivity to music. This was reflected in the construction of the score - Ketèlbey, Baranowski, Strauss, plenty of Tchaikovsky and above all Fauré's Dolly Suite - and of course the interpretation of that score. The movements that he created were extraordinary - particularly those that required Robinson, Kanika Carr and JoséAlves to dance on all fours. Also the barre exercises - the foundering "Kanikova" -  with a French horn over her head - and of course Bif's pas de deux. I was already quite a Marney fan before I saw that ballet and my admiration for his work is now even greater.

All the dancers seemed to have fun - Isabela Coracy as the coquettish Felicia with her poodle (Carr) and her pink mobile. Jacob Wye as the bashful TJ, Damian Johnson as the kindly dad - and it showed in their wit and exuberance.   Gary Harris's costumes - particularly Robinson's dog suit and Miss Polly's hats and shawls - were inspired. So, too, was James Lewis's set and of course David Plater's lighting.   I ought to say a word about the programme which was unusually cheap but also very informative and came with a set of crayons for colouring Bif in her tutu.  I now know which dancer keeps a pet and what it is. Although I have only met a few of them briefly on one occasion I feel I now know them.  I am looking forward to seeing them all in Leeds on 6 Nov 2014.

This show is moving on to Bournemouth on the 19 and Exeter on the 21 Oct and finally to Winchester on 29 Nov. If you live anywhere near those towns - or even if you don't - do go and see it.  Yesterday, Chris Marney's dad asked me how many miles I had driven for the show. The answer is 520 and the ballet was well worth every inch of the journey.

Post Script
I am starting a resource page on that company at Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury 26 Feb 2014 27 Feb 2014

There are some lovely pictures of Dogs don't do Ballet on Ballet Black's Facebook page.

*The pet dog of one of my ballet teachers

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