Friday, 30 January 2015

Stirling Stuff

Ballet West will dance Romeo and Juliet at the Macrobert Centre in Stirling tonight and tomorrow and with any luck  I will be in the audience tomorrow night to cheer them.  I enjoyed their Swan Lake and  The Nutcracker very much and I have high hopes of this production.

The company has already performed at The Corran Halls in Oban and by all accounts they did very well. The following message appeared on their Facebook page:
"Congratulations to the entire cast of Romeo & Juliet!! Each and every one of you were outstanding! A special well done to the outreach students, you were brilliant! Thank you also to the artistic and admin staff, chaperones, technical crew and wardrobe! Hope you're all ready for tonight's performance!!"
These shows are the only time I get to see Jonathan and Sara-Maria Barton who are accomplished performers as well as teachers at the school. I was very impressed with both of them in Odette's seduction scene last year.

Stirling is in one of our finest cities. Although it has fewer than 50,000 inhabitants it has the feel of a metropolis. It was for a time the capital of Scotland. Like Edinburgh it has an ancient castle built on a volcanic mound and the splendid Church of the Holy Rude where King James VI of Scotland and I of England was crowned. For the last 50 years Stirling has been a university town with a fine research university with the science park and Macrobert Centre.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is discouraging with high winds and driving snow threatened for both sides of the border but Ballet West, like a Michelin restaurant vaut le voyage.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Accessible Dance: Northern Ballet's In Motion

Samantha Carruthers

One of my personal ballet highlights of 2014 was Ballet Cymru's performance of Stuck in the Mud in the streets and on the beaches of Llandudno (see An Explosion of Joy 21 Sep 2014). I was therefore pleased to read Samantha Carruthers's article Accessible Dance at Northern Ballet. She mentioned that she had just undergone a two day training course at Stopgap Dance Company which came just in time for Northern Ballet's In Motion programme.

That programme is for for self propelling wheelchair users and others with mobility issues aged 8 between 19. It is intended to enable them to let their creativity flourish and give them the confidence to move in a way they have never done before. The classes, which are designed to develop pupils' strength, flexibility and creative expression, take place  in Northern Ballet's studios at Quarry Hill. There is a taster class at 13:00 on 22 March. Subsequent classes take place on Sundays between April and July at a cost of £6.50 per pupil per session.

Enquiries should be made to the Learning Team on 0113 220 8000.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The National Dance Awards

The National Dance Awards were announced yesterday and I congratulate all the winners and indeed all the nominees.

I had been rooting quietly for Xander Parish and English National Ballet and am delighted that they had won in their respective categories.

I first saw Xander Parish dance at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School and I have been following his career ever since. I saw him dance the leading role in Romeo and Juliet when his company visited London in the summer.  I also had the pleasure of shaking his hand when he spoke to the London Ballet Circle a few days later.  Not only is he a magnificent dancer he is also a thoroughly nice chap. He signed a birthday card that I bought from Northern Ballet for my ballet teacher's younger daughter. She and her hum (and of course her mum's student) were over the moon. He also made a lot of other people in the audience very happy.

English National Ballet was the first company I ever saw. For kids growing up in London and the Home Counties in the 1960s a trip to the Festival Hall to see The Nutcracker was always a great treat. The company had lovely dancers then such as Peter Schaufuss and Dagmar Kessler and of course it has lovely dancers now. I was lucky enough to see all my favourites in class when they visited Oxford in November. Last year I saw their Coppelia, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet in the Round and Le Corsaire and enjoyed them all.  On a personal note I was delighted that Sarah Kundi, one of the dancers who makes my spirits soar, joined the company.

I had my fingers crossed for Ballet Black, Arthur Pita and Kevin Poeung and am delighted they came so far.

Finally, the Royal Ballet's Giselle with Carlos Acosta and Natalia Osipova in the leading roles was one of my highlights of 2014.  Acosta's outstanding achievement award and Osipova's two awards were richly deserved.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet

It is always a thrill to see Northern Ballet close at hand. I saw them today as my classmates and I filed out of a rehearsal studio that they were about to occupy. Their next production will be Romeo and Juliet which they will dance in Edinburgh between the 26 and 28 Feb 2015 and Leeds between the 4th and 12th March 2015.

This work has been choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. You can get an impression of the work from the YouTube clip above. The synopsis promises a major role for Friar Lawrence who is described as "the vital thread that links the drama from one part to another" in the scenario. According to the website:
"He represents a figure in a trinity, caught between good and evil, tossed between chance and necessity, will and power. A manipulator who is manipulated, he is the story’s primary architect, through whom the tragedy is caused, even as he believes he has given over the key to happiness. Thus he appears from the beginning of Act One to show how much the story of Romeo and Juliet, their deaths as much as their meeting and even their love, owes to chance. He is the agent of the drama which begins in a street in Verona."
I wonder who will dance that role.

Scotland is also being treated to another Romeo and Juliet.   Ballet West are touring Scotland with their version (see Ballet West on the Road 14 Jan 2015). I shall see them at Stirling this Saturday and will review the performance at the weekend. Scottish Ballet performed Pastor's version at Sadler's Wells in May which I  enjoyed very much (Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2014). Now that I am a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet I look forward to more of Pastor's work.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Bradford

National Media Museum
Photo Wikipedia

Last Saturday Bradford City Association Football Club beat Premier League leaders Chelsea by 4 goals to 2, a remarkable achievement for a first division club. But the city has more than just a successful football club to celebrate. It has fine public buildings such as the City Hall, Salt's Mill and St George's Hall, a great cathedral and, more recently, some impressive mosques, famous sons and daughters like the Brontës, Hockney and Delius and some great museums including the National Media Museum.

The National Media Museum is part of the Science Museum Group. It has 7 floors of galleries with permanent exhibitions on photography, television, animation, video games, the internet and optics. It often hosts temporary exhibitions on those topics. It maintains a collection of 3.5 million pieces in its research facility. It has 3 cinemas where it hosts the Bradford International Film Festival. One of those cinemas is named after Cubby Broccoli who made the Bond films. It was to that cinema that Pathe Live transmitted Yuri Grigorovich's production of Swan Lake. That was probably the best venue outside the theatre to see the show because it attracted a mature, appreciative crowd who had seen ballet before.

Pathe Live treats its audience like adults. It has an excellent presenter in Katherina Novikova. Yesterday she interviewed Ludmila Semenyaka who had danced Odette-Odile as well as many of the other great roles and Artemy Belyakov who danced von Rothbart (or "the evil genius" as he is called in Grigorovich's production) in yesterday's performance. It would have been nice to have had an interview with Denis Rodkin who danced Siegfried and Svetlana Zakharova who danced Odette-Odile. However, Rodkin did talk to Ms Novikova in the interval of The Nutcracker transmission so I know what he is likely to have said (see Clara grows up- Grigorovitch's Nutcracker transmitted directly from Moscow 21 Dec 2014). Mercifully Pathe Live does not see the need to project audience tweets during the screening unlike the Royal Opera House's screenings.

Grigorovich's version of Swan Lake is different. As I have noted von Rothbart becomes "the evil genius". The show is compressed into two acts instead of three or four. There is no prologue explaining how Odette became a swan, no gift of a bow, no trip by the lads to the lake to try it out, the lovely divertissements in the royal palace in what is normally Act III are turned into a pitch by the various princesses and the whole episode takes place in Siegfried's imagination so that nobody has to jump into the lake in the last scene. Looking on the positive side there are expanded roles for the jester (danced by Igor Tsvirko) and also for von Rothbart danced by Belyakov.

Now I was brought on Ashton's version for the Royal Ballet  which has been lovingly preserved by English National Ballet (see What Manchester does today 10 Oct 2014) and I have to say that I do prefer that version. I don't take kindly to change for change's sake when it comes to my favourite ballets such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake but that's not to say that I am against innovation. Grigorovich's versions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker do work though not perhaps as fairy tales as much of the magic of those stories is removed from them. 

Overall I enjoyed the performance very much indeed. Tchaikovsky's magnificent score remains which was conducted well by Pavel Sorokin. Above all there was some glorious dancing. Particularly the pas de deux in the seduction scene in the palace. Rodkin and Zakharova are fine artists. His jumps and her fouettés were thrilling. They were both supported well by Tvirko and Belyakov and a splendid corps. Simon Virsaladze's designs did not show up well in the cinema but they may well have been more impressive on the Bolshoi's historic stage.

The last production in this series of transmissions will be Ivan the Terrible on 19 April 2015. That is not a ballet that is well known in this country and I have never seen it. The transmissions that I have enjoyed most have been of ballets that are not performed here regularly such as A Legend of Love, Spartacus and Marco Spada. I look forward to Ivan very much indeed.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

What we can learn from Rihanna

Last week the singer Rihanna saw off an appeal by Top Shop against a decision of the High Court ordering the retailer to stop selling t-shirts reproducing her likeness in a way that suggested that she approved or endorsed Top Shop's products. If you want to understand the legal issues you can read my case notes in my law blog on the original decision in 2013 and the appeal.

"Very interesting" you may say "but what's it to do with ballet?" Well quite a lot actually because if more money is to come into dance and the other performing arts it will have to come from merchandising and endorsements. As I said in Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers 13 March 2013 there is a limit to how much the long suffering British public will pay for the arts whether in the form of ticket prices or subsidies from the Arts Council.

Sports stars and performers in other art forms such as Rihanna have long known that there is a lot of money to be made from advertising, endorsement, merchandizing and sponsorship. As the Court of Appeal noted, Rihanna runs very large merchandizing and endorsement businesses. Over the years has had endorsement deaks with Nike, Gillette, Clinique and LG Mobile. She has also been very active in fashion in her own right and has made considerable efforts to associate herself in the public mind with that industry.

As I noted in my article last year:
"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."
Also, a few dancers are also beginning to exploit their value as brands:
"A few superstars like Carlos Acosta and Darcey Bussell have websites through which they market branded merchandise. Acosta offersclothing 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."
However, much more can be done. You don't have to be the Royal Ballet or Carlos Acosta to make money from advertising, endorsements, merchandising and sponsorship. Every company - even quite small ones has its following - and it is not just ballerinas and premiers danseurs nobles who have fans. Look how I gush over Brill, Coracy, DePrince, Gillespie, Kundi and other favourite artistes as well as the principals of their companies.  And it's not just performers who have brands. So, too do studios, dance schools and even individual teachers.

I made some suggestions as to what companies, theatres, dancers and increasingly individual teachers can do to protect their goodwill in  Branding and Ballet - Ten Top Tips 13 June 2014. The Rihanna case is likely to be discussed at a seminar at St Pancras on the law relating to branding and fashion and luxury goods at which I shall be speaking on 10 Feb 2015. If you want to attend the seminar you can book on-line.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Chelmsford Ballet Company's Cast

Although you can see from the little map in the inset how far I live from Chelmsford I am very proud to be a non-dancing associate member of the Chelmsford Ballet Company. As I said in The Chelmsford Ballet  15 Dec 2013 this is one of the oldest companies in the United Kingdom.  It describes itself aptly as "an amateur company who set professional standards for all [its] work, involving professionals in [its] productions, courses, and other teaching and workshop opportunities." Last year I attended its opening of The Nutcracker  at the Civic Theatre in Chelmsford and I was delighted (see The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmicks but with Love and Joy 20 March 2014).

Between the 18 and 21 March 2015 the company will dance Pineapple Poll by John Cranko (one of my all time favourite choreographers) and Carnival of the Animals by Chris Marney (one of my favourite living choreographers whose work reminds me so much of Cranko's). In its newsletter  the company described Pineapple Poll as follows:
"Poll, a comedy ballet of sailors and their sweethearts, is full of fun – originally choreographed in 1951 by the celebrated John Cranko. Captain Belaye and the HMS Hot Cross Bun arrive in Portsmouth and the sailors head into town for the pretty girls and the local inn. Fun ensues as Poll and the girls, Jasper the pot-boy, sailors, Blanche, her Aunt and Captain Belaye plot to capture their hearts’ desire."
Everyone is familiar with the Dying Swan from Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals but Marney promises a new twist:
"Marney's Carnival of the Animals, a first for the company, is set in a 1930s theatre. The young stage hand falls for a dancer in the corps de ballet of a touring company: humour and romance ensue as he sets about joining the show to win her hand. This piece is accompanied by the beautiful music of Camille Saint Saëns, Poulenc and Strauss."
The company has cast Stephen Quidan and Jasmine Wallis in the principal roles.  According to the newsletter, Quildan graduated from the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and is now with Peter Schaufuss and is an associate with Ballet Black.He will dance Jasper in "Poll" and the starstruck stage hand in "Carnival." Wallis is a dancing member of the company and studying at Central which just happens to be where Chris Marney trained. She will be the dancer in Matney's production.

Last year every performance was sold out and they seem to be going very well this year. If you want to see the performance book your tickets on-line on the Civic Theatre's website.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Cafe 164 to screen "First Position"

After Annemarie's class at Northern Ballet her students slip round the corner for a cup of tea at Café 164 on Duke Street. Their teas are the best I have so far tasted in Leeds though I am told their coffee is even better and their toasted sandwiches are delicious. My favourites are the Moroccan mint and chicken and chorizo  I dance with a remarkable group of ladies all of whom seem to have achieved so much and lived such interesting lives. We chat for hours.

The café is located in Munro House which also contains a gallery. And in this gallery they show films. One of those films is First Position which is where Michaela DePrince came to the public's attention. I've had the pleasure of seeing her dance on two occasions. On the first of those occasions I wrote:
"She is quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while"
(see  The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 26 Nov 2013).

The film will be shown at 19:00 on 2 April 2015 and tickets cost £5. I am looking forward to it very much.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Ballet West on the Road

Ballet West is a ballet school in Taynuilt in the West of Scotland (see Taynuilt - where better to create ballet 31 Aug 2013). It offers a wide range of courses for professionals and the general public. Some of its students have done very well. Natasha Watson, for example, won a bronze at the Genée in 2913 (see Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée 30 Sep 2013) and she is the only British finalist at Prix de Lausanne (see Natasha Watson in Lausanne 15 Nov 2014). Sarah Mortimer, Joseph Graves and Charlotte Eades who trained in Taynuilt are doing very well at Ballet Theatre UK. Andrew Cook who danced in Taynuilt last year is now with the Vienna Festival Ballet. I like Mr Cook because he comes from Yorkshire.

To give its students performance experience, the school has established a company which tours Scotland every Winter. I reviewed its performance of The Nutcracker at Pitlochry in my very first post of the 25 Feb 2013. I also reviewed its performance of Swan Lake at Pitlochry on 1 March 2014. This year I shall catch them in Stirling on 31 Jan 2015. They are completing their tour in style at the Clyde Auditorium on Valentine's Day (see Scottish Ballet and Ballet West 3 Oct 2015).

I am quite a fan of Ballet West but there are two things I would really like them to do. The first is to bring their company to London and perhaps other parts of the UK so that the rest of the country can see how good they are. The other is to stage a performance of La Sylphide. This is a highland story and they are a highland company. It shouldn't be left to Danes and Australians.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Li Cunxin and Ernst Meisner at the London Ballet Circle

As I said in Looking Forward to 2015 - My Choices 29 Dec 2014, the visit of the Queensland Ballet to the Coliseum is likely to be one of the highlights of the coming year. They will dance La Sylphde for which I have already bought my ticket. The company has a remarkable artistic director in Li Cunxin who has excelled not just as a dancer but also as a stockbroker. At the AGM of the the London Ballet Circle last Saturday I learned that he will speak to the Circle on 3 Aug 2015 at The Dining Room, First Floor, Civil Service Club, 13-15 Gt Scotland Yard.

The Circle offers a number of prizes and scholarships to outstanding young dancers (see its Prizes, Scholarships and Donations page). At  the AGM we learned of a new one to the Dutch National Ballet. As I mentioned in Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers 6 Dec 2014 Ernst Meisner, the artistic coordinator of the Junior Company will speak to the Circle this year though a date has to be fixed. The latest indication seems to be July.

The London Ballet Circle's home page asks:
"Would you like to meet the world's leading dancers, choreographers and artistic directors? Then why not join the London Ballet Circle and receive invitations to talks, visits and parties hosted by leading figures in dance?"
Well it's true. Last weekend I met one of my all time favourite ballerinas, the artistic director of the company whose mixed bill I saw no less than 4 times last year, my favourite living British choreographer and one of the outstanding young dancers who make my spirits soar. All this for £12 (£2.50 if under 25) and the thought of helping advance the careers of the next generation of dancers. Here's the link to the membership page.

Postscript 26 Jan 2015

According to Queensland Ballet's Facebook page, today is Li Cunxin's birthday. It happens to fall on Australia day which is the national day of his adopted country. I have just seen the DVD of "Mao's Last Dancer" which was enthralling. I shall now read the book. I look forward to seeing La Sylphide and meeting Li Cunxin in August. In the meantime I wish him a happy birthday and I wish him and all Australian nationals and residents a happy Australia day.

Post Postscript 27 Jan 2015

Yesterday it was Li Cunxin's birthday. Today it is Ernst Meisner's.

Here is what his company said on Facebook:
"Wij feliciteren Ernst Meisner met zijn verjaardag!
Ernst zal samen met Marco de nieuwe samenwerking tussen ISH en Het Nationale Ballet regisseren.
Hou je ogen open voor de updates van komende voorstelling "Narnia" waar deze 2 samen met een geweldige cast twee werelden samenbrengen op een manier die je nog niet hebt gezien!
Happy birthday Ernst!"
The only words of which I can be absolutely certain are the last three but I think the gist of the post is that they congratulate Ernst on his birthday and talk about his collaboration with Marco Gerris of ISH in Narnia, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, That will be performed at the beginning of May and it looks very promising.

Ernst has posted a nice response in English thanking everybody for putting a smile on his face.

I am looking forward to making his acquaintance at his talk to the London Ballet Circle if not before.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Funding the Arts in the North

Palace Theatre, Manchester
Photo Wikipedia

You may have heard a lot of talk from politicians about a "Northern Powerhouse". That may be because there is an election is the offing and the politicians who have had most to sat about the idea - namely the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Deputy Prime Minister - hold Northern seats. But there is a case for growing the North as a counterweight to London in order to rebalance the British economy.

In its report on The Work of Arts Council England of 28 Oct 2014 The Culture, Media and Sport Committee found that:
"London has long received a disproportionate share of arts funding, something which even the Arts Council acknowledges. To a limited extent this reflects London’s position as the capital city and a world cultural centre. However, there remains a clear funding imbalance in favour of London at the expense of tax payers and lottery players in other parts of the country. The Arts Council is well-placed to restore some balance. It must do so with greater urgency if it is to realise its declared ambition to engineer the provision of great art and culture for everyone."
In a response to that report an organization that represents Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield known as "the Core Cities group" acknowledged "the important role played by London as the national cultural capital and the central role of the cultural economy in London’s attractiveness as a place to live, visit and invest" but contended that:
"the Core Cities have a unique role to play as regional cultural capitals and a similar argument in terms of the critical mass of larger-scale venues and producing companies. The substantial cultural offer of the Core Cities plays a lead role in driving economic growth and supporting competitiveness as well as providing a rich cultural environment. This role extends beyond the Core Cities themselves, to the wider city region, the region and surrounding economies. The term ‘Cultural Capital’ is therefore used here in that sense of delivering benefits to a much wider area, not in an exclusive sense."
Alleging that they contributed 28% to national output which was more than London the Core Cities continued as follows:
"[7] The cultural and creative sectors are key drivers of success (including economic diversity, human capital, innovation, quality of place), and growing competition for public and private funds will limit their growth. Sustainable development of the cultural and creative sector in the Core Cities is therefore vital to balanced growth in the wider economy.
[8] For this to be fully realised, it is important that decisions on Government spending recognise this contribution in terms of the economic impacts of cultural spend and how this relates to the wider re-balancing agenda in order to maximise growth dividends for the UK as a whole.
[9] This requires not only mechanisms which fairly reflect the activities of cultural organisations operating in the regions, but new ways of relating spending priorities to growth to take full advantage of culture’s economic contribution.
[10] Whilst the culture and creative sector contribute directly to economic growth, it should also be noted that they have a wider role to play in the Core Cities in strengthening economic competitiveness. A strong cultural economy attracts visitors and investors as well as being a significant provider of broader skills development."
They concluded "that, without a new policy direction agreed between the Core Cities and central government, it is likely that in the short to medium term, the national cultural infrastructure based in the cities and serving their regional economies, is not sustainable and its loss will have wide-ranging impact on the competitiveness of the country."

On the very day that the Core Cities' response to the Committee's report was published, Opera North announced "a new membership scheme for inspired business leaders who recognise and value the role the company plays in making the region an attractive place to live, study, work and invest" (see Business Partners scheme hits the right note ahead of its launch 12 Jan 2015 Yorkshire Business News). It appears that Opera North 25 founding business partners include AQL, Arup, Bartlett Group, Blacks Solicitors, Brewin Dolphin, The Business Desk, Dermalogica, DLA Piper, Evans Property Group, EY, Hainsworth, Hammerson plc, James Hare Ltd, KPMG, Land Securities, Leeds Building Society, Leeds City Council, MAC, Maestro! Tour Management, NJ Geddes Private Jewellery Concierge, One Medical Group, Taste Cuisine, Town Centre Securities, Yorkshire Building Society and Yorkshire Water.

To my mind raising money locally from business and the community is a better way of sponsoring the arts in the North than diverting public funds from artists in London. First, we are a very small country and London is easy to reach from any part of the UK. Nowhere is more than a couple of flying time by air and all the core cities are connected to the capital by motorway and intercity rail services. Secondly, institutions like the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera serve us all. I would much rather see a well funded performance at Covent Garden than more experimental theatre at the local civic. Thirdly, we have excellence in the North and the Midlands (see any my reviews of Northern Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet). Also in Scotland (see  Like meeting an old friend after so many years 4 Jan 2015), Wales (see An Explosion of Joy 21 Sep 2014) and indeed Grantham (see The Happy Prince in Halifax 21 Nov 2014) and Hinckley (The Bedouin of Ballet 12 Dec 2014). Fourthly, we want devolution in skills, transport and economic development and all sorts of other areas so why not in culture?

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Royal Danish Ballet Soloists and Principals in celebration of Bournonville

August Bournonville
Photo Wikipedia

Because ballet was introduced to us by Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes we tend to think of it as an art form that began in renaissance Italy, developed in 18th century France and flourished in 19th century Russia under Marius Petipa. Almost every classical company of any size includes at least some his works or those of his pupil Lev Ivanov in its repertoire. But there is another important tradition, that of the Royal Danish Ballet and its great choreographer August Bournonville. Principals and soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet have performed a selection of extracts from Bournonville's work at The Peacock Theatre off Kingsway on the 9 and 10 Jan  2015.

I saw the show on Friday the 9 Jan 2015 and was thrilled by it. It consisted of the following works:
  • A Folk Tale (pas de sept)
  • Flower Festival in Genzano
  • Jockey Dance
  • La Sylphide (Act II)
  • Conservatoire (pas de trois) and
  • Napoli (Act III).
All of the works were by by Bournonville and save for La Sylphide all were new to me. 

Through this show I was introduced to some remarkable dancers: Gudrun Bojesen who danced the sylph in La Sylphide,  Ulrik Birkkjaer who danced James and Sorella Englund who danced Madge, the witch. The scene that was chosen for the celebration shows James (who is supposed to marry Effie who is a real person) fall in love with the sylph. He is duped by Madge into acquiring a shawl that is poisonous to sylphs as a gift for the sylph. He wraps it around the sylphs body and she immediately expires. One wing falls from the sylph's tutu followed by another. She is carried away by her fellow sylphs. These are two fine virtuoso and one great character role which those dancers performed magnificently. As I have said many times before La Sylphide is my favourite Romantic ballet and I can't see enough of it. I already have my ticket for the performance of the Queensland Ballet in the summer (see Looking Forward to 2015 - My Choices 29 Dec 2014).

The other Bournonville work that is fairly well known in this country is Napoli. According to the programme
"Despite its southerly theme, Napoli has become the 'Danish National Ballet' - the costumes are Italian, but the joie de vivre is Danish, The third act with the pas de six, which is a purely classical composition, and the taratella, inspired by the Italian folk dance, has become the calling card of the Royal Danish Ballet."
This was the bit that we saw with glorious dancing by Susanne Grinder, Amy Watson, Kizzy Matiakis, Femke Slot, Andreas Kaas and Sebastian Haynes.

Haynes was impressive in Jockey Dance. Whenever one reads a biography of Bournonville or a history of ballet one is told that his great contribution was the development of an important role for the male dancer. Jockey Dance, which was Bournonville's last ballet according to the programme, is a great example of that. Two horsemen try to outdo each other in a race. The other was Marcin Kupinski, one of the company's principals. Needless to say he was exquisite.

My only criticism of the evening is that it was not enough. I would have liked to have seen the whole of La Sylphide and Napoli and I would have liked to have seen them on a big stage with scenery and an orchestra. In short I would like to have seen a season of their work at Covent Garden or The Coliseum. It has been 10 years since the company's last visit and I don't propose to wait that long until I see them again. I am getting used to crossing the North Sea to see the Dutch National Ballet and I am now checking out airline schedules for Copenhagen.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Back to Africa

One of my most popular articles when I started this blog was What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013. It was about the classes given by the remarkable Mike Wamaya to kids in one of the poorest and toughest neighbourhoods of Nairobi.

I am returning to the topic again because of a news item on the class on the RAD website. It is headed "Former Faculty of Education student, Amy Shelton, gives a fascinating insight into her personal experiences of teaching ballet to children in Kenya in this month’s edition of Dancing Times," The students are up to date with the new RAD syllabus and as you can see from the film above and those in my earlier post they are as diligent and ambitious as any in the world. I have high hopes that some of  Wamaya's kids will perform one day at Covent Garden and the Met.

What Wamaya has done in Kenya could be repeated elsewhere in Africa including Sierra Leone. That country has already produced Michaela DePrince. It is going through a terrible trial right now just as it did two decades ago when DePrince was born. Sierra Leone survived the civil war and it will survive ebola but, as I said in  Could the Arts not do something about this horrible Scourge 8 Oct 2014,  "Sierra Leone and its neighbours will need massive help in rebuilding their economic, social and cultural institutions when the immediate crisis is over."

A ballet school for Freetown may seem an odd priority for a country that needs to be rebuilt but men's minds and souls need feeding as well as their bellies and dance provides some of that food. We know that from our own experience for it was the Vic-Wells Ballet that kept us going during the Second World War (see David Bintley's Dancing in the Blitz: How World War 2 made British Ballet BBC website) just as it helped generations of Russians survive decades of famine, war and oppression. Look what Wamaya has achieved in Kenya. Why not the same in Kroo Town, Kissy or Kenema?

Further Reading
28 Nov 2014  Michaela DePrince at TEDx Amsterdam

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

First Day Back

Photo Wikipedia

Like a lot of people I took my first ballet class of the New Year yesterday. In balmy LA, @adultbeginner  tweeted:
She also tweeted:

Well, our studio didn't have any power on the ground floor which left us with the options of changing downstairs by the light of our mobiles or  in the loo. I chose the latter. And as for cold ...... LA winters are often warmer than our summers. I know because I live in Yorkshire and went to graduate school in LA. But now I am beginning to sound like the four Yorkshiremen in the Monty Python sketch which Adult Beginner might enjoy because she has a sense of humour very like ours.

We didn't mind. There was still electricity in the smaller studio upstairs. We huddled together by the travelling barre to keep warm. Our class was taken by Fiona Noonan who is a good teacher. And it was a lot of fun.

The day before David Wilson (who is now also in California) had tweeted:
Last year I experienced for the first time the thrill of dancing in public (see The Time of my Life 28 June 2014). There can never be another first time and it took a lot of effort to get to that point. In the weeks leading up to the show I was taking at least one class a day and some days two. That was beginning to take up too much of my time. Also, my passion for dance was boring the pants off my other followers and readers.  I don't think it made me a better dancer and as an economist manquée I should have anticipated that. So this year my aims are more limited. To consolidate on what I already know.

Yesterday's class was ideal for that objective because Fiona took us back to first principles. In his last post David Wilson had suggested a ballet journal (see The Dance Journal – what is it and why should I have one? 14 Dec 2014 Dave Tries Ballet). It seems a very good idea so I got myself one. I made two entries. The first is: "Push the legs back when doing pliés in 2nd and 4th, to hold the back straight and relax the ribs. Then push up from the bottom." Harder said than done but Fiona seemed to think we had all got it right. The other entry is on pirouettes. "Let the leg in retiré lead you round not the arms" and "Push catch with the arms."  I still have a lot of trouble with pirouettes and that is because I can't stay on demi point on one leg for long. Last year Elizabeth Rae got my Northern Ballet class to do tours lents and they really helped (see Elizabeth Rae  7 Oct 2014).

As usual I left the studio on a high. So, too, did other members of the class such as @melonyklein who tweeted that class felt good. Our class included three newbies all of whom said they were coming back. If you took your first class of the New Year yesterday I hope it went well for you too.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Like meeting an old friend after so many years

Scottish Ballet's The Nutcracker Festival Theatre, Edinburgh 3 Jan 2015

I'd been looking forward to seeing Peter Darrell's version of The Nutcracker all year. It's dangerous to set your heart on something that much because high expectations are rarely satisfied. But from the moment Richard Horner raised his hands it was pure delight. Like meeting an old university friend half a century on.

And in a sense that was just what it was. I was introduced to Scottish Ballet by John Steer in 1969 (see Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013). Darrell died in 1987 (Peter Darrell 9 March 2014) and I cannot recall when I last saw one of his ballets. Tonight I was reminded of Darrell's brilliance.  It was one of the reasons I fell in love with Scottish Ballet and why the company continues to occupy a special place in my affections.

Darrell's Nutcracker is of the traditional kind. Clara remains a child unlike the Eagling and Grigorovich versions (see The Nutcracker reference page and my reviews of Cracking! 14 Dec 2013 and Clara grows up- Grigorovitch's Nutcracker transmitted directly from Moscow 21 Dec 2014), She does not morph into the sugar plum. There are no gimmicky balloons, flying boats or expanding Christmas trees. Above all there has been no attempt to shift the location of the ballet from Hoffmann's original location to the banks of the Thames or even The Neva.

But there are some interesting features. In the prologue Drosselmeyer transformed an urchin into a handsome youth. Clara's troublesome little brother Fritz was given a toy rat for Christmas with which he tormented the women folk foretelling the battle between rodents and toy soldiers. The mice are children - girls as well as boys. The struggle was short and sweet and the nutcracker despatched the rat king without any help from Clara. One of the divertissements is a hornpipe reminiscent of Pineapple Poll danced to music that I cannot recall hearing before. Best of all were two great monkeys who parked themselves either side of Clara. They amused the crowd with antics that would not be encouraged in the drawing rooms of Morningside or Bearsden.

My seat was in the centre of the first row with a full view of the orchestra pit. I had never been so close to an orchestra before. I could see every movement of every player which was almost as fascinating as the ballet. I watched them in the "la la" vocals snow flake scene to see whether they had a choir as Festival once did. I thought I saw the woodwind players mouth the tune but I think Horner must have used a previous recording.

As advertised Erik Cavallari danced the nutcracker, Bethany Kingsley-Garner the sugar plum, Owen Thorne Drosselmeyer, Amy Pollock Clara and Remi Anderson as King Rat but Eve Mutso was the snow queen. All danced well but in many ways the biggest stars were the children from Scottish Ballet Associates and the Dance School of Scotland who showed considerable stage presence as well as good technique. Amy Pollok was a great Clara. The other big star was the designer Lez Brotherston who created a gorgeous kingdom of the sweets out of Christmas tree baubles and barricades for the mice out of outsize apple cores, boiled sweets and assorted cheeses.

The day I danced in public David Nixon stood next to me on the landing overlooking the foyer of Northern Ballet. The audience, which consisted largely of proud parents, siblings and friends of the dancers so was less than impartial, erupted in generous applause and emptied out of the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre chirping and chattering. "It's the best sound in the world" said Nixon. "They really enjoyed it". It was the same last night. The auditorium, which was packed to the gunwales, exploded with clapping and we stepped into Nicholson Street on a high. I've reviewed six productions of The Nutcracker since I started this blog and have enjoyed them all but this is the one I like best.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Finding a dance teacher online...

New Year Fireworks
Photo Wikipedia

At a New Year's party last night one of the guests told me that she and her 11 year daughter would like to learn a new style of dance together. She had made enquiries and found plenty of schools where her daughter could learn to dance and a few where she could learn but none where the two of them could learn together.

"Ought to be possible to find somewhere" I replied. "There are so many on-line dance directories and class finders nowadays." Indeed I had actually reviewed one of them in September.

When I started to search for myself I saw her difficulty. There may be a lot of on-line directories and class and teacher finders but they re far from comprehensive. And they tend to report what's there or rather may have been, or even intended to be, there rather than put students in touch with teachers.

I think it must be easier to find a class in London than it is elsewhere because Sadler's Wells and the Arts Council of England operate the London Dance website at This is a massive resource of everything to do with dance in the capital. There is a searchable database of dance classes in every style from Asian to Zumba. I searched for "Ballet" and found 11 pages of listings starting with Academy Performing Arts in Woolwich to the Ysabelle Taylor Ballet School. I have not been able to find anything quite like that London Dance anywhere else in the country though regional dance organizations like North West Dance do provide some of those services.

I reviewed Dancelinks on 6 Sept 2014 and revisited it again this afternoon.  I searched for "Ballet", "Over 18" and "Leeds" and came up with Elev8dance, Headingley Dance Centre, Janina School of Dance, Lara Academy of Dance, Mullen Theatre Studios and Priestley Theatre Dancing School as well as the 5 that the database reported in September so it is obviously getting bigger. As the site does not seem to charge searchers or carry advertising I guess it must charge the studios for registering but I couldn't find out how much.

A site that published its rates is DanceNearYou. It claims to be "the number one class finder" and it charges instructors £15.60 per month and up to 5 studios or teachers £60 per month for a listing. I searched "Any/All" styles and "Leeds" and it came up with "Lindy Fridays" which offers "Social Dancing, Swing Dance Classes". 

I also found DanceWeb UK and Class Finder which have searchable databases. Class Finder seems to be particularly helpful. It reported 11 ballet classes within a 20 mile radius of Leeds and I know that at least one of them is good. Other good places to look are the Royal Academy of Dance, International Dance Teachers Association and the ISTD websites which list their members rather than studios.

If anybody has any other suggestions I shall be pleased to hear from them.