Sunday, 28 December 2014

My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014

Choosing  highlights from 2014 has not been easy. I have seen a lot of ballet over the last year and have even danced in one (see The Time of my Life 28 June 2014). I've seen several of the world's most famous companies and many of the world's most acclaimed dancers. I've taken class from some wonderful teachers some of whom have danced principal roles. I've seen some of the great names of ballet at events organized by the London Jewish Cultural Centre and the London Ballet Centre. As it is impossible to compare these experiences objectively I have used just one criterion. What experiences in ballet have given me most pleasure in 2014?

I have to start with Ballet Black because I saw their triple bill no less than four times last year. It consisted of three works: Limbo by Martin Lawrence, Two of a Kind by Christopher Marney, and A Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Pita. I loved them all but my favourite was the Marney. Marney is a choreographer I particularly admire (see my appreciation Christopher Marney 15 March 2014). I was thrilled to meet him when he spoke to London Ballet Circle and again at the premier of Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Harlow in October. I saw Ballet Black perform those works in London, Southport where I was lucky enough to meet Cassa Pancho and several of her dancers for the first time,  Nottingham and Leeds. They got better and better each time so it was their last performance at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds that I enjoyed the most. That was the first of my personal ballet highlights of 2014.

The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre was the venue in which my over 55 class danced as part of the end of year show. To dance on the same stage as some of my favourite artists was a terrific experience. Literally the time of my life but I doubt if it was for anyone else so I shan't count that. Instead I shall mention Northern Ballet's mixed bill which consisted of Lubovitch's Concerto 622, van Manen's Concertante and Kenneth Tindall's The Architect. I am a fan of all those choreographers, particularly Hans van Manen who is one of the resident choreographers of the Dutch National Ballet of which I am now a Friend.  But it was Tindall's The Architect that thrilled me most that day. A few days earlier I had contributed to an appeal by Hannah Bateman to raise funds on Kickstarter to film The Architect which I supported  (see They Made It!  20 June 2014). It was a great pleasure to meet Bateman and Tindall at the 10th anniversary gala for the CAT gala. 

Tindall like Marney trained at Central. Another talented young choreographer from that school is Paul Chantry who is one of the founders and artistic directors of Chantry Dance Company. I owe them and in particular their dance director Gail Gordon a personal debt of gratitude for coaxing me onto stage at Lincoln Drill Hall on 9 May 2014 (see Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance 10 May 2014) for that was the first time I had danced in public. Without that experience I would never have have put my name forward for the Northern Ballet Academy end of year show. That day was memorable in several other respects. I met Mel Wong and two other talented young dancers. I helped make and dance in a ballet which is now on Vimeo. I saw a great performance of Sandman by Paul Chantry and his wife Rae Piper. But best of all I got to know Chantry Dance Company which does great educational and outreach work as well as great shows (see Chantry Dance - Making Connections 30 Aug 2014).

Another company that does great outreach work as well as great shows is Ballet Cymru which has a close connection with the London Ballet Circle. In June I saw their Beauty and the Beast in Lincoln which was a great show but an even better show was Stuck in the Mud which they performed on the streets and by the beach of Llndudno in collaboration with Gloucestershire Dance. Ballet Cymru has some wonderful dancers and it was a great pleasure to see them again but it was the contribution of the Gloucestershire dancers that impressed me on that occasion. It was my first experience of accessible dance and I immediately saw its value for an audience. Instead of overcoming disability the dancers add a new dimension to dance. Seeing that performance and later meeting the choreographer Marc Brew was definitely a highlight of 2014.

Marc Brew works in Glasgow which is the home of Scottish Ballet, the first ballet company that I got to know and love (see Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013). Last year I saw two great performances by that company, Romeo and Juliet in May which promoted me to become a Friend of the company and The Crucible with Ten Poems in October. If I allowed a company more than one highlight they would be five and six from last year. I anticipate that Peter Darrell's The Nutcracker which I shall see next week will be one of the highlights of 2015.  As I have to chose one from Scottish Ballet it has to be Krzysztof Pastor's Romeo and Juliet.

Two other performances of Romeo and Juliet were highlights for me in 2014, First, the Mariinsky's at Covent Garden with Xander Parish in the leading role. I was lucky enough to meet Xander Parish when he spoke to the London Ballet Circle a few days after the show. My ballet teacher's daughter's birthday fell just a few days afterwards. I presented him with two cards - one from the Royal Ballet's shop and the other from Northern Ballet's and he paid us the compliment of choosing the Northern Ballet one.

The other Romeo and Juliet that thrilled me was English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet in the round at the Albert Hall. The principal roles were danced by Friedemann Vogel and Alina Cojocaru. It was a bittersweet moment for me because I feared that would be the last time I would see Sarah Kundi whom I have followed ever since she was with Northern Ballet. I was overjoyed to learn that she had been recruited by English National Ballet (see Saved for the Nation 17 July 2014). In November I saw her and my other favourite dancers from the company in company class (see Coppelia in Oxford  2 Nov 2014), Kundi is not just a fine dancer but also an entertaining blogger and I strongly recommend her notes on tour.

For a while Kundi danced with MurleyDance and it was she who drew that company to my attention. I saw their triple bill in Leeds on 1 Dec 2013. Although I had come to see Kundi I was impressed by the other dancers and David Murley's choreography. I saw the company again in October when they danced Hail Britannia 28 Oct 2014. They had evolved tremendously.  It was almost a different company.  I liked all the works but my favourite was Anaish Parmar's Shaadi.  That was about an Indian wedding and I loved the way the choreographer combined east and west. There was Indian music but also I'm getting married in the Morning. There were wonderful jumps and pointe work.

I mentioned van Manen and Pastor above. They are two of the reasons why I have become a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet. A third is the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company who came to London in May. I had already seen them in Amsterdam and they were even better at the Linbury.  As before there were superb performances by Michaela DePrince and Sho Yamada and my favourite ballet of the show was Ernst Meisner's Saltarello. I have featured the Junior Company earlier this month and I am looking forward to seeing them again in their opening show in Amsterdam on 6 Feb 2015.

I saw the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden twice last year as well as several HDTV transmissions in the cinema. Because they are the gold standard I expect a lot from them and my reviews have been a little more critical than those of other companies.  It goes without saying that two of the best performances of the year by a country mile were Giselle in January and The Winter's Tale. As I have to choose one show from each company it has to be Giselle  with Carlos Acosta and Natalia Osipova. I think that is because I already knew Giselle and although I find Act II superstitious and creepy it contains the most sublime choreography I know. Although I was a trifle disappointed when I first saw Winter's Tale I got to appreciate it when I saw it in the cinema and on TV on Christmas day and I now like it very much indeed.

My favourite ballet of 2014 was Gillian Lynne's re-creation of Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals for Birmingham Royal Ballet which I was at Sadler's Wells in October. I had seen Helpmann dance with Frederick Ashton in Cinderella and he also presented the gala to Sir Frederick which I saw when I first became interested in ballet. Miracle in the Gorbals broke new ground in many ways just as its almost exact contemporary Appalachian Spring did in the USA. Even though Lynne's production was a re-creation rather than a revival its performance was something of a miracle in itself and a joy to behold.

Post Script

What will be my ballet highlights for 2015? Here are some of my suggestions: Looking Forward to 2015 - My Choices 29 Dec 2014.

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