Saturday, 28 February 2015

London Ballet Circle's Guests

Ernst Meisner
Photo Robin DePuy
(c) Dutch National Ballet 2014
Reproduced with kind permission of the Dutch 
National Ballet

One event that I am not going to miss come hell or high water or even a brief to the Court of Justice of the European Union is the visit by Ernst Meisner of the Dutch National Ballet to the London Ballet Circle at The Dining Room, 1st Floor, Civil Service Club, 13-15 Great Scotland Yard, SW1 on 20 July 2015 at 19:30.

I have written a lot about Ernst and earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting him in Amsterdam; but here is some more information about him, some of which I didn't know:
"After winning the Eurovision competition (no, not the song contest!) Ernst gained a place at The Royal Ballet Upper School then joined the company in 2000. After 10 happy years with The Royal Ballet dancing soloist roles Ernst put together a gala show for Kent County Council in Dartford, an experience he much enjoyed. He later got the chance to participate in the Rural Retreat for future leaders and got the opportunity to shadow Ted Brandsen, artistic director of Dutch National Ballet. Ernst left Covent Garden in 2010 and danced several seasons with Dutch National Ballet and when the company decided, two years ago, to set up a Junior Company, Ernst was appointed its Artistic Co-ordinator. He now choreographs works not just for the Junior Company but also for the main company.
Ernst, who also teaches at the Amsterdam International Summer School, has been inspired by LBC's work with student dancers and has very generously given us a two week scholarship to the Amsterdam International Summer School to award to a talented young dancer. We record our gratitude to Ernst and his colleagues for their kindness and greatly look forward to our evening with him and to hearing more about his work and life in dance."
I admire Ernst Meisner most for his choreography. Embers which was danced by Thomas van Damme and Nancy Burer on 6 Feb 2015 is a real gem (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 6 Feb 2015). There is a video of the pas de deux in Amsterdam Central Station which is beautiful until someone announces a train departure over the tannoy or perhaps a late departure of an incoming service, leaves on the line, the wrong sort of snow or even a cow on the line in the closing seconds of the ballet just as they would at Waterloo. Ernst's Junior Company are dancing at the Linbury in June. Don't miss them!

Another must see event will be the talk by David Bintley, artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who comes from Huddersfield.  I'm coming all the way from Huddersfield to see Mr Bintley too.  It was after all his company's Miracle in the Gorbals which was my favourite ballet in 2014 (see My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014 28 Dec 2014) and it has some of my favourite dancers. He is speaking at the same venue on 11 May 2015 at 19:30.

There are also talks by Li-Cunxin on 2 Aug 2015 and Sir Peter Wright on 13 April 2015 at the same time and in the same place.

Two trips I would love to make if I lived in London are to Chelmsford Ballet's rehearsal of Pineapple Poll and Carnival of the Animals at CYGAMS HQ Recreation Ground, Meteor Way, Chelmsford CM1 2RL on 8 March 2015 between 10:15 and 12:30 and to Central School of Ballet at 10 Herbal Hill, Clerkenwell Road, EC1 on 19 May 2015, 13.45 for 14:00. Central is where Kenneth Tindall and Chris Marney trained as well as Paul Chantry and Sarah Kundi so it is very special for me.

But the best reason for supporting London Ballet Circle is the help that it gives young dancers and I can do no better than quote the treasurer:
"The Circle has made four visits to various ballet schools for both rehearsals and performances, and also the annual visit to the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, a visit to the ROH workshop at Purfleet and one to Ballet Rambert. It has made donations to the schools for general purposes and has also provided scholarships for two students to attend The Yorkshire Ballet Summer School and one to attend the Ballet Cymru Summer School. The Circle also continues to award the De Valois and Broderick Prizes to students of The Royal Ballet School. This year was the first year the Sir Peter Wright Prize was awarded to a student at Elmhurst School.

The total of all the above mentioned was £6155.00, scholarships amounting to £2930.00 and donations, following members’ visits, to £3225.00 (English National Ballet School, Rambert, Central School of Ballet, Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, Ballet Cymru, Dance Teachers’ Benevolent Fund following the visit to the ROH workshop at Purfleet)."
The Circle's beneficiaries have included Xander Parish and his sister Demelza, two of Yorkshire's finest, so it is not just a London institution.


Not all my mates are balletomanes. I have a Helvetic friend in Golcar who is into cats, Dr Who, politics, mobile phones, brisk walks in the country, English literature, German conversation, cheese, meat free cooking  - you name it she knows about it - a real polymath - just about everything except ballet. So imagine my joy and surprise when she identified a ballet that she would like to see.

That ballet is 1984 by Jonathan Watkins to a score by Alex Baronowski which Northern Ballet will dance in  Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield this Autumn. I can't tell you much about it. Here is a quote from Northern Ballet's website:


"Winston Smith lives in a world of absolute conformity, his every action is scrutinized by Big Brother. However, when Winston meets Julia he dares to rebel by falling in love.
Based on George Orwell's masterpiece and created by Guest Choreographer and former Royal Ballet dancer Jonathan Watkins, 1984 will change the way you think about ballet.
With a brand new score from Tony nominated Composer Alex Baranowski played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, see this iconic classic reimagined for a modern audience.
Tickets for the World Première at West Yorkshire Playhouse are on sale from Friday 27 February by calling 0113 213 7700."
I am eager to learn about the casting.

Who will dance Winston Smith? Poeung perhaps? Or maybe Broadbent or Bates.  Or possibly Watkins will bring on some of the younger talents like McCaig.

And who will be Julia?  My choice would be Bateman or Gillespie.

Tindall would have been an obvious choice for O'Brien but he will leave the company on 2 May 2015 (see Kenneth Tindall 28 Feb 2015).

Northern Ballet promises that "1984 will change the way you think about ballet". It has already done that with someone I know.

Kenneth Tindall

The latest newsletter for the Friends of Northern Ballet contained glorious news of the Sapphire Gala of the 14 March in which Sarah Lamb of the Royal Ballet and Xander Parish of the Mariinsky Ballet and many of the world's greatest stars will perform. But it also contained a headline that made me root for a tissue - just for a second - before I also raised a smile. The headline was "Kenneth Tindall is retiring" and that was the bit that made me sad for he is one of my favourite dancers but my sadness was tempered with the words "award-winning Kenneth is moving on to a career as a Freelance Choreographer after gaining recognition for his work with Northern Ballet and other artists."

I have written a lot about Tindall in this blog.  Watching The Architect last year was one of My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014 28 Dec 2014. Mel Wong and I reviewed that work in Kenneth Tindall - The Architect of Ballet 21 June 2014 and A Wonderful Evening - Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill 21 June 2014 23 June 2014 and we both supported Stephen Lally's film of the work (see They Made It 20 June 2014),  Wong also wrote an interesting feature on Tindall entitled Kenneth Tindall’s Brave New World 3 Sept 2014 in her own publication. There will be another chance to see The Architect as part of the Mixed Programme at The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds between 6 to 9 May 2015 and The Linbury Studio Theatre in London between 12 and 14 May 2015.

The Architect is the third of Tindall's ballets that I have enjoyed.  I mentioned his Bitter Earth briefly in my post on the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala at Sadler's Wells (see More Things I do for my Art - Autumn Gala of Dance and Song 30 Sept 2013) and I reviewed Luminous Jun-cture in Angelic - Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill 9 June 2013.

According to the Friends' newsletter Tindall's last appearance with Northern Ballet will be as Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights at Milton Keynes  on 2 May 2015. No doubt the M1 will no doubt have to carry particularly heavy traffic from the North that day.

That will not be the last time that Tindall will be mentioned in this blog. He has an international following which was brought home to me when I visited Amsterdam earlier this month (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015). His name came up whenever I mentioned Northern Ballet or Leeds at the party after the show.  Perhaps not so surprising for a choreographer who has already won a fistful of awards and nominations. He is still a young man and his career - though meteoric - has only just begun. I look forward to great things.

Further Reading
Paul Szabo   INTERVIEW: Kenneth Tindall - Designing The Architect 12 June 2014 The Gay UK

Friday, 27 February 2015

My First Contemporary Dance Class

A dancer performing a contemporary
dance piece
Photo Wikipedia
I have enjoyed watching contemporary dance on stage for almost as long as I have enjoyed ballet but yesterday was the first time I took a full contemporary dance class. Even though I have to say that I woke up this morning as stiff as a board I enjoyed the experience tremendously and I look forward to my next class.

My teacher yesterday was Ailsa Baker who has already taught me some ballet (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014). My only other experience of contemporary dance had been half an hour or so at Liverpool town hall on 8 Sept 2014 which was also with KNT (see It's not every Class that you can use Lord Canning's Eyes for Spotting 9 Sept 2014).

The class started off with pliés and balances as in ballet though we did not use the barre but then we had our first floor exercise. I had done quite a bit of that sort of work with Fiona Noonan in ballercise as well as some private lessons that she gave me a year or so ago so it was not a complete shock but I did find myself using muscles that had been left undisturbed for far too long.

After the exercises Ailsa taught us a routine which seemed to go step, step, step, arms in open fifth, a lunge to the right, step, step, step, arms up in open fifth again, a lunge to the left, step, step and then something like a rond de jambe and grand battement followed by a run back across the studio. We then rose on demi with our arms outstretched. Then something called step hop which was nothing like the temps levé that I had done in the Over 55 class in Leeds earlier in the day followed by run, run and leap on the other foot which was vaguely like a grand jeté, run, run and another step hop, run, run and a turn in the air, then run, run along the side of the studio with step hops and leaps back and finally a run to the centre. So far so good but then this poor old lady ran out of steam. The next move was a jump from a lunge to the floor followed by a roll to the knees, arms up a couple of times, then getting up, a couple of turns rather like chaînés, then another roll and up, a turn and yet another roll and run. It was those rolls which defeated me. Getting down was easy enough but springing up again was the killer.

We marked the routine a couple of times as a class first without and then with music.  Then we divided into groups. My group had lots of good dancers plus me and although I started off OK I am sorry to say that I let my group down by losing my balance after the third roll.  But nobody seemed to mind too much and I wasn't hurt.

I may be wrong but I think that these rolls are something that would improve with practice and the more times I take this class the better I shall become. It is definitely harder than ballet but I have never been one to duck a challenge. There was a time when I found ballet impossible whereas now it is only very, very, very, very difficult.

I really enjoyed that class. As I have said several times before, Ailsa is a great teacher who clearly loves to dance and extracts the last ounce of effort from her students by communicating to us her love of dance. I enjoy her ballet classes too for that same reason. I would love to do more with her but it is not easy for me to get to her classes as I usually take a class in Leeds on Thursday mornings.  "Nobody pays you to be a ballerina, Miss" my clerk never tires of reminding me (right now nobody is paying me much to be a barrister though I seem to be working every hour God sends) but after a gruelling day in court on Tuesday and after the disappointment of missing Fiona's Wednesday class after driving all the way to Huddersfield I felt justified in taking a second class yesterday. But, as I say, I woke up this morning stiff as the proverbial. Nemesis for Terpsichore perhaps?

Post Script

Just want to say that after the class my friend and I repaired to Panchos Burritos which is literally just round the corner from the Danchouse and Northern Ballet School. There we had two enormous burritos - one in the bowl and the other in a wrap plus a Fentimans mandarin and Seville orange jigger and a half litre of mineral water for £11.82. I had acquired a taste for Mexican food when I was a graduate student at UCLA in the early 1970s which was more or less the first time I saw contemporary dance. For many years Mexican food was almost impossible to find in this country and hardly worth eating when it was found. I am happy to say that Pancho cooks a mean burrito - as good as any I have consumed in Southern California. So - as jumping up and down and rolling about on the floor is bound to work up an appetite - Pancho's is the place to satisfy it.  That was another reason why yesterday was a very special evening.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Our Three Hundredth Post - Now we are a Team

For the last two years I have been running Terpsichore on my own though I have had great contributions from Joanna Goodman, Mel Wong and, most recently, Peter Groves. Now I have a partner in the blog and other activities that we are about to launch under the Terpsichore sign. The well known chef - Gita Mistry whom the distinguished food critic Jay Rayner described as "The greatest Indian cook in Britain."

Gita is not quite a newcomer to this blog. Inspired by his performance as Wilson in The Great Gatsby she created the most humongous pavlova in honour of Isaac  Lee-Baker which I mentioned in Food and Ballet 20 Nov 2014.

But Gita also loves dance. Watching it and doing it. She has danced for years years in different styles  She has done  bharat natyamkathakalidandiya rass  and an old Gujarati style of folk dancing called garba.  Between the ages of 9 and 13 she performed contemporary dance at on the stage in Bradford.  A few years ago she performed in a Bollywood musical at the West Yorkshire Playhouse which ran for 30 nights. Other styles she has enjoys include latino, salsa and even the can-can, Most recently she has taken up ballet and had classes from Annemarie Donoghue and Ailsa Baker.

In the next few months we shall run a series of talks in Leeds and Manchester with dancers, choreographers, teachers and others on the lines of those in London run by Danceworks and the London Ballet Circle. We shall invite top speakers from Northern Ballet, Phoenix and visiting companies. Wherever possible, we shall try to offer some Gita Mistry goodies at those events.

Now that there are two of us there will be a lot more contributions to this blog, Facebook group and twitter streams. There will be just as much ballet but also posts on Indian, street and jazz.

There may be posts on food. Cheryl of Ballet News offers cup cakes to her dancers.  Gita can offer those and a whole heap more.

If you want to get stared why not try these scrummy delights: Mushroom Bajias

(Serves 4)
14 tbsp gram flour
3 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp green rocket chilli
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried coriander
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
A pinch chilli powder
2 tsp ground nut oil
150ml luke warm water
750g whole medium sized chestnut or button
Ground nut for oil for deep frying
Grate the ginger and finely chop the green chilli.
Prepare the mushrooms by cutting the larger ones in half and keeping the smaller ones whole. Wipe them clean and
avoid soaking them in water as this will make the mushrooms limp.
1. In a bowl, sieve the gram flour and add the ginger and green chilli. Add a little water and using your hand beat
the mixture to form a paste, making sure to avoid lumps. Mix in some more water and continue to beat.
2. Once you have a smooth thick paste consistency, add the dry spices, 2 tsp oil and salt, and beat. Cover and leave
the batter somewhere warm for 1 hour.
3. Approximately half-fill a heavy bottom Lowu or a heavy bottom wok with groundnut oil, and heat.
4. Take the batter and add a little more water to loosen the mixture to form a batter consistency. Mix in the fresh
coriander leaves.
5. (Test the oil by dropping a little batter into the oil if it rises to the top within a few
seconds and becomes crispy then its ready.) Dunk the mushrooms into the batter and
then place them in the hot oil. Give them a few seconds then frequently turn them until
crispy and golden brown, drain off the excess oil. Serve while still hot and crispy.


Onegin: the most enjoyable performance that I have seen at the House since Sibley and Dowell

When I was young I practically lived at Covent Garden. I was a Young Friend which meant that I got lots of ticket vouchers. I saw all the greats - Antoinette Sibley, Anthony Dowell, Merle Park, David Wall, Lynn Seymour, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn - and on two occasions Robert Helpmann and Fred Ashton. I loved the House with its all pervading smell of mouldering vegetation. The flunkies who presented enormous bouquets to the ballerinas. The littering of the floor with cut flowers thrown by zealous members of the audience. And above all the ballets. Particularly those that are not performed so much nowadays such as Monotones, Jazz Calendar and, above all, Enigma Variations with Sibley as the adorable Dorabella.

I went to graduate school in America and while I was away the fruit and veg market moved to Nine Elms. When I came back the smell of vegetables that had lingered for a while began to disperse.  Fewer and fewer people threw flowers onto the stage. Then at the end of the 1990s the House closed for renovation. When it re-opened everything had changed. Though I admired Bull, Bussell and Guillem I never took to them in the way I did to Sibley, Seymour and Fonteyn. Though the Royal Ballet's performances were as polished as ever they somehow lacked charm. I fell out of love with the Royal Ballet and Covent Garden and transferred my affection to other companies like Northern Ballet, Scottish Ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and most recently the Dutch National Ballet.

Until last Monday night. That night I saw something wonderful. Cranko's Onegin danced by Matthew Golding in the title role, Natalia Osipova as Tatiana, Matthew Ball as Lensky and Bennet Gartside as Prince Gremin. It was quite simply the most enjoyable performance by the Royal Ballet that I had seen since the days of  Sibley and Dowell. It was like meeting an old friend after an absence of years. I also found for the first time something to like in the renovated House. I discovered the terrace next to the amphitheatre bar where I sipped my coffee while reflecting on what I had witnessed in the first act. That terrace did not exist before the renovation. Even though it was wet and chilly last Monday night it was great to step out above the street lamps and pedestrians.

But the main reason I enjoyed the evening so much was that the choreography was by Cranko - my favourite choreographer of all time. Much more than Macmillan.  Even more than van Manen and Ashton. Cranko understood and interpreted music in a way that produces a fluency that is instantly recognizable but hard to describe. I see similar fluency in the work of two young choreographers of the present, Ernst Meisner in the Netherlands and our own Christopher Marney. He was also a great story teller with a sense of humour. All of those qualities are visible in my favourite Cranko work, The Taming of the Shrew. There will be more Cranko next month when the Chelmsford Ballet dance Pineapple Poll (see Chelmsford Ballet Company's Cast 31 Jan 2015).

Another reason why I enjoyed the evening was Osipova. I had admired her virtuosity when I saw her in Giselle last year and she displayed it again on Monday night, But she also showed her dramatic power. The ripping of Onegin's letter was thrilling. How the theatre erupted as the curtain fell around her as she stood proud in the centre of the stage at the end of the last act. Though this is the first season that Osipova has danced in Cranko's ballet she understood her character well. As she explains in the video above she had read Pushkin many times and learned a little more about the characters each time she read the story. Also, as a Russian, Pushkin is special to her.

Osipova was matched by Golding. Steely, amoral and ultimately foolish but somehow sexy - a bit like Austen's Darcy but without his good points. He breaks a young girl's heart on the day she should be happy. Then he shoots the inoffensive Lensky in a duel somehow getting away scot free.  Simply to be sent on his way by a married woman in the last act for such a first class blighter seems like getting off lightly to me.

For those who do not know the ballet there is a short synopsis on the Royal Opera House's website. Go to the Wikipedia entry on the book and the Ballet Bag's feature for more.  There are important roles for Onegin's friend Lensky and her eventual husband, Gremin. There is also some exciting dancing for the corps - particularly for the women who exited the garden in the first act with exuberant jetés on the arms of their partners. There is so much to absorb in this ballet - Rose's rich designs, Stolze's setting of Tchaikovsky's music - it is a work of which one can never tire.  Although pricey the programme with its notes on the choreography, music, Onegin's character and Cranko is invaluable in helping me absorb, digest and comprehend this multi-layered ballet.

The ballet is nearing the end of its run but there are still two more shows on the 27 Feb 2015 for which tickets are still available. If you can get to one of those performances then go

Other Reviews

Zoe Anderson Onegin, Royal Opera House, review: Vadim Muntagirov lifts this revival of John Cranko’s overwrought ballet 26 Jan 2015 The Independent
Debra Craine  Onegin at the Royal Opera House, London WC2 27 Jan 2015 The Times
Judith Mackrell Onegin review – riveting Osipova takes Royal Ballet to the brink of ragged hysteria 2 Feb 2015 The Guardian
Laura Thompson Onegin, Royal Ballet, review: 'an assured crowd-pleaser' 25 Jan 2015 The Telegraph

Friday, 20 February 2015

My Learned Friend at The Bolshoi

Peter Groves

Peter Groves is one of my instructing solicitors. He is also my friend. Like me he specializes in intellectual property (patents, copyrights, trade marks, registered and unregistered designs and the like). Like me he has a life outside the law. Whereas I exercise with pliés, tendus and ronds de jambe he runs. His practice takes him to Russia from time to time. Last Friday he was at the Bolshoi where he saw Spartacus. At my request he reviewed the performance. He tells me that it is his first ballet review. I do hope that it is not his last because I find it very interesting.
"I have to admit to being only an occasional ballet-goer, but a full-time music lover: so when my old friend Victor suggested that on my next flying visit (Friday evening to Sunday evening) to Moscow we might attend a performance of Spartacus at the Bolshoi Theatre it was the venue rather than the spectacle or the music that attracted me. Surely Khatchaturian was the worst sort of Soviet composer, kowtowing to party diktat, a pygmy beside Shostakovich: I had somehow inadvertently forgotten The Onedin Line (though I deliberately, for Shostakovich’s sake, put the theme music to Midsomer Murders out of mind).
Actually I find I did Khatchaturian a great disservice. Although as secretary of the Composers’ Union he was an establishment figure, he had more than his fair share of criticism, being denounced along with Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others as ‘formalist’. The more I visit Moscow, and the more I learn about Russian history, the more I realise that under whatever political system they lived most people just tried to get on with their lives, doing the best job they could under the circumstances. Put like that, was life here ever much different?
Reasoning that Mr Putin’s Ukrainian adventures meant that there would probably be no more affordable opportunity to go to the Bolshoi I agreed to the suggestion. The rouble has recently dipped below one penny, about half the rate I am accustomed to paying, so the estimated 12,000 roubles that a ticket agency would charge, though certainly substantial, was not prohibitive, and in the end it came out at a bit more than half that anyway. I could have put up with the worst excesses of officially approved Soviet music and ballet for the pleasure of a few hours in such an iconic building.
I have enjoyed several evenings out in Moscow with Victor in the past, and there was a precedent for his announcement that our tickets were not actually for adjacent seats. He gave me the ticket for the box in the dress circle, or “beletage”, a few doors along from the former Imperial (now, I was told, Putin’s) box, keeping for himself the seat in the highest balcony. Then we repaired to the buffet - Russian being a language of borrowed words - and there, naturally, we drank shampanskoye (Russian champagne) which is more than just a borrowed word. To be precise, it was Abrau-Durso, a protected geographical indication,  Victor told me, adding as he often does when we discuss intellectual property, that he had registered it himself. And very pleasant it was, though perhaps not the best form of refreshment to take after a long day travelling with an evening’s ballet to come.
Only one of the eight seats in the box was occupied when I took mine. That by a gentleman with suspiciously dark glasses who insisted I join him in the front row of three chairs. My assigned back-row chair was of a height more usually associated with bars, permitting a clear view over the other people in the box. His English being on a par with my Russian («Я профессор Российской академии правосудия»), it was with some difficulty that I ascertained that he was from Moldova. He was in town for a conference, and his delegate badge told me that it was a gathering of paediatricians. (Only as I write several days later do I realise that the Russian word for ‘doctor’, врач , is part of my limited vocabulary). Inevitably a party of three with tickets entitling them to the front seats then arrived: my new Moldovan friend had no better right to sit in one of them than I did. But the newcomers were very nice about it, and one of them spoke pretty good English, which was a bonus: I had apprehended an evening like one I spent at a concert at the Moscow Conservatory a few years ago, where a couple of ladies in the next seats valiantly tried to engage me in conversation.
The neo-classical Bolshoi theatre was restored to its former Imperial glory (with the addition of lifts, another loan-word) in 2011. It displays such opulence as to make the events of 1917 seem not just understandable but rather inevitable. The enormous curtains, for example, could have been woven from gold thread. And when they opened they revealed the most enormous stage, which seemed to go back for a hundred yards, in front of which a huge orchestra pit offered plenty of room for the 70-piece orchestra (two harps) and eventually, after Spartacus had met his gory end, even a choir.
Which makes me think: if Khatchaturian’s purpose in choosing the story was to satisfy Soviet artistic policy requirements, why this one? Oh, revolting slaves casting off their chains, that much makes sense. Spartacus has the Roman imperialists on the back foot, but his magnanimity towards Crassus backfires. Ending with the proletarian hero impaled on the imperialists’ spears struck me as off-message.

Grigorovich’s choreography dates from 1968, and this was the 307th performance of that production:. Other reviews I have read (such as this one of the same production, and most of the same soloists, from the New York Times, or this from the New York Observer, describing the production as “ghastly”) suggest that it shows. I might best describe a lot of it as clunky, although the principals - Denis Rodkin as Spartacus, Vladislav Lantratov as Crassus, Anna Nikulina as Phrygia and Maria Alexandrova as Aegina - seemed excellent and performed some extraordinary moves."
Rodkin, Lantratov, Nikulina and Alexandrova - Peter saw some of the Bolshoi's best artists. I am very jealous of him. I have yet to visit Russia but I have seen Spartacus on HDTV (see Spartacus - streamed live to Wakefield 21 Oct 2013). Nikulina danced Phrygia in that performance and to the best of my recollection she danced it very well.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet

There are nights in the theatre when  magic happens. Several things come together. A receptive audience, The last night of a successful run.  An intimate auditorium. Whether consciously or not the dancers pull out all the stops and give the performances of their lives. That happened last Saturday in The Linbury when Ballet Black danced brilliantly. I have never seen them perform better. Though they always dance well, it is possible that I will never again see them dance as well as they did on Saturday night. As I tweeted after the show:
The performance opened with Jacob Wye and Kanika Carr as Jack and Jill in Kit Holder's "To Fetch a Pail of Water". Except there was no pail and no water.  As the choreographer wrote in the programme:
"I am intrigued by why Jack and Jill are said to have gone up the hill - surely not to look for water?"
They fell perhaps but not physically. Coyly dressed as 1950s teenagers - Carr in a tartan skirt like an American co-ed - this was a sweet story (well I thought so though Holder refers to a dark coded meaning in his notes) - of lost innocence. It was an interesting choice of music: Mother McKnight, Nostalgic Oblong and Skyward Bruise Descent by Clark.

The next piece was Depouillement by Will Tuckett. It was a YouTube video of an earlier version of  that work which had attracted me to Ballet Black long before I saw them on the stage (see Ballet Black's Appeal 13 March 2013). The piece I saw on Saturday seemed to be different from the one that I knew from YouTube but no less beautiful. Damien Johnson and Cira Robinson who had danced Depouillement in 2009 are thanked by Tuckett for teaching the work to Jose Alves and Isabella Coracy and Christopher Renfurm and Marie-Astrid Mence. Alves, Coracy and Renfurm were already high in my pantheon of dancers and they have risen even higher in my esteem after Saturday's performance but the it was the performance of Mence that most surprised and delighted me. I suppose I had continued to think of her as Anna in Dogs don't do Ballet but she is a strong and expressive classical dancer. I should not have been so surprised as I had seen her on YouTube but I have every right to be delighted.

After Despouillement there was an interval. "Aren't they wonderful" I said to Joshua Royal whom I had seen with MurleyDance. He agreed. The audience was happy and chattering. David Nixon had taught me to recognize what he called "the best sound in the world" (see the last paragraph of Like meeting an old friend after so many years 4 Jan 2015).

For me the best part of the show was Mark Bruce's Second Coming. This is a complex, mysterious and beautiful work with many layers on meaning that I have not a hope of understanding upon a first viewing. I am sure I will understand it better after I have seen it a few times on tour. My initial impression was that of an initiation ritual of some magical rite perhaps from Brazil, or maybe New Orleans or even Haiti. Carr brandished a hoop through which each of the dancers passed - some, apparently. not altogether willingly. There was a powerful and slightly disturbing dance of a man in a lion's mask In a Q&A in the programme notes Mark Bruce writes:
"I read the Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (1855-1939) and it speaks of a creature with a man's head and a lion's body coming out of the desert."
There was a lovely bit where Damien Johnson bearing a mandolin seemed to be dancing just for me. I was sitting in the first seat in the front row and our eyes seemed to meet though I didn't think that was possible as I couldn't make out faces in the audience on the one occasion I was on the stage (sse The Time of my Life 28 June 2014). Strangely it was for he told me so when the audience met the cast in the bar of the Linbury after the show.

There was a pas de deux to Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor which had me reaching or a tissue. Partly it was the memory of Jacqueline du Pré but mainly it was the fluidity and delicacy of Cira Robinson's dancing. She is a wonderful dancer. A true ballerina in the strict sense of the word. I exchanged a few words with her too after the show and she is as gracious off the stage as she is when dancing. There were some spectacular turns and jumps which must have been fun to dance, I suggested.  "Yes, so dramatic and different from everything else we have dome before" came the reply.

The company is taking a break for a few days. The American dancers are going home and I believe that at least some of the English dancers are visiting America. They will be back in Leeds on the 18 and 19 April with Dogs don'r do Ballet where they are now part of our ballet family (see Ballet Black at Home in Leeds 7 Nov 2014). Though they have not yet announced details of their tour on their website they will doubtless take this mixed bill on tour. When they do, be sure to see it.

Further Reading
10 Feb 2015    John Ross, Ballet Black Triple Bill, London, Feb 2015 BalletcoForum
27 Feb 2014  Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury 26 Feb 201

Friday, 13 February 2015

"We are the Junior Company"

In The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2014 I wrote:
"[The Junior Company] are a very attractive group of young people. Their performances begin with a group photo projected onto a screen that suddenly springs to life. "We are young"says one. "We are international" says another. ""We are fun"says a third. "We are the Junior Company"they say in unison to tinkles of laughter. How can anyone not be charmed by such beautiful and vivacious young people?"
Well here's that clip. I ask again: How can anybody not be charmed by them.

Ed Watson: more than just an outstanding dancer - a really good bloke

Ed Watson signing a calendar after his talk
Photo Jane Lambert
(c) 2015 Jane Elizabeth Lambert, all rights reserved

On Tuesday evening I listened to Edward Watson in conversation at Danceworks. He is a principal of the Royal Ballet and ipso facto an outstanding dancer but he across across as a very likeable young man. He showed a sense of humour. He answered questions directly and thoroughly. He rewarded his fans (of which I am one) by signing their autograph books and calendars, posing for photos or (as in my case) shaking hands.

Watson explained that he started dancing to keep his sister company. Their studio was what his interviewer called a "rinky dink school in Bromley". From there he progressed to the Royal Ballet Associates though not without setbacks for he failed his RAD Grade 1. However, that did not prevent his progressing to White Lodge. His talent was recognized and anyway the school wanted more boys.

White Lodge is a boarding school and he was not particularly happy there for his first two years. His teachers included Pauline Wadsworth, Linda Goss and the late Anatoly Grigoriev who taught him "the heavy stuff". Watson said that nothing came easy to him and that it took some time to "grow into his body". Ballet wasn't a vocation in the early years - just something that he liked to do. From White Lodge he progressed to the Upper School and from there to the Royal Ballet. On being asked what his parents thought about his training he replied that he did not believe that they gave any thought to it at all. He was one of 4 and his parents encouraged all their children to pursue whatever career they wanted.

Watson's first solo role was in Kenneth MacMillan's The Judas Tree just before the Royal Opera House closed for refurbishment. That was a strange time for the Royal Ballet as it performed at different venues throughout London. It was around that time that he was given his first principal role in My Brother My Sisters, another MacMillan ballet.  It was also approximately when he started to work with Wayne McGregor who had been introduced to the Royal Ballet through Deborah Bull's Artists Development Initiative. Shortly afterwards Watson was promoted to soloist.

At this point the interviewer observed that "people don't realize how technical you have to be to Romeo, Manon etcetera." Watson replied that it was not that he was not classical it was just that he did not do classical. He could not, for example, imagine himself dancing in Swan Lake.  The interviewer noted that some of the music to which Watson dances is difficult. Watson explained that he recognized sound adding "something settles to sound" and though it might sound weird it was an "atmospheric thing". He gave The Rite of Spring as an example where things look as they sound.   Watson's big moment came when he was cast as Romeo. As it is a physically demanding role he hired Hugh Craig as a personal trainer to increase his strength and stamina.

In 2011 Watson danced in Arthur Pita's "The Metamorphosis" which is based on a work by Kafka. Pita spend a week reading Kafka in order to discover the characters.

Watson was asked about the choreographers he has worked or will be working with. He mentioned Wayne McGreogor, Wendy Whelan, Arlene Philips, Arthur Pita and Christopher Wheeldon. He has engagements at The Linbury and in New York City.

At that point questions were invited from the floor.

A gentleman asked Watson to describe his daily routine. He replied that a typical day might consist of class for 10:30 to 12:00, rehearsals from 12:00 to 17:30 and then perhaps a show. However, his routine did vary. Sometimes he would do pilates, for example.

I asked him how he felt when manipulating his face and body in all the shapes depicting jealousy in Act I of The Winters Tale. "Not easy at first" was the reply but he eventually got used to them.

Another gentleman said that he had been told by Watson's teacher that he was the most outstanding choreographer of his year. "Not true" was the reply. Everybody had to study choreography at the Royal Ballet School but he had no ambitions in choreography.

He was asked how he prepared for a role. He replied that he did a lot of work when he was asked to dance Mayerling.  He travelled to Vienna and visited the graves. He read voraciously and watched every performance he could.

He had been described as a "dance actor". He disavowed the description. "Straight acting is difficult" he said. "I'm a dancer and not an actor." Someone suggested he might train for the stage. He agreed that was a possibility.

Someone asked whether there was a role he still wanted to dance. "Not really" he replied. He had danced just about every role he had wanted to perform.

Another asked about personal setbacks. He mentioned injuring himself in The Song of the Earth and falling flat on his face in Giselle.

He was asked whether there were any dancers who had inspired him when he was young. He replied that he had never seen a ballet before he joined the Royal Ballet School.  He was impressed by Anthony Dowell and Wayne Eagling. The interviewer interjected that the role of male dancers had evolved tremendously over the years. Watson agreed adding that they can now be anything.  Young dancers nowadays are much less patient than his generation had been. They had a lot of enthusiasm and energy which was on balance a good thing.

The interviewer asked what he hopes to do when he retires from full time dancing. He had no plans beyond staying in the profession. Coaching was one possibility. Being a ballet master was another.

He was asked whether he got on well with the other principals and to the surprise of at least some of the audience he said he did. He shared a dressing room with Thiago Soares but it was rare for them to use it at the same time.

On being asked whether he wanted to say anything at the end of the interview he simply thanked everybody for coming,

Lesley Osman proposed a vote of thanks and we all clapped enthusiastically.

Almost everyone in the audience formed a queue to shake his hand. He had a kind word for each of us. Some of his fans asked him to sign autograph albums. Others asked him to pose for photos. He accepted the adulation with enormous grace. I thought to myself as I started my long drive back to Yorkshire: "what a really good bloke,"

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet

Thomas van Damme and Nancy Burer in Embers
Photo Michel Schnater
(c) 2015 Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

On 24 Nov 2013 I attended the first night of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's tour of the Netherlands (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 (25 Nov 2013)). I had come to Amsterdam to see Michaela DePrince as I had heard of her appearance in the documentary First Position and her performance as Gulnare  in the South African Mzansi Ballet's production of Le Corsaire. 

Through coming to watch her I discovered the Junior Company and was charmed by them. They are a very attractive group of young people. Their performances begin with a group photo projected onto a screen that suddenly springs to life. "We are young"says one. "We are international" says another. ""We are fun"says a third. "We are the Junior Company"they say in unison to tinkles of laughter. How can anyone not be charmed by such beautiful and vivacious young people?

The Junior Company's performance of  24 Nov 2013 was one of the most memorable I had ever experienced in the theatre. It was rewarded by a standing ovation which does not happen very often outside political party conferences. I doubted that I would ever see a performance like that one ever again.- but I was wrong, The opening night of the Junior Company's 2015 tour on 6 Feb 2015 at the same theatre won another standing ovation. In my judgment that opening night was even better than the last one.

Before the show there was a short speech by Ted Brandsen, the Dutch National Ballet's Artistic Director. As it was in Dutch which is a language that I have not yet mastered I could make out only a few words but it seemed to tell the origins of the Junior Company, its achievements to date (one of which was its successful visit to the Linbury last year) and an appeal for continued public support. At a reception after the performance I was told by several guests, including the wife of the gentleman in charge of fund raising and also by one of the retired principal dancers, that there is nothing like our Arts Council of England in the Netherlands and that ballet has to rely on box office receipts and individual and corporate donations albeit that one of the largest of those corporate donors is the local authority. If that is the case, the achievement of the Dutch National Ballet in attaining and maintaining the highest artistic standards is all the more remarkable.

The show that the Junior Company are taking on tour is called Ballet Classics and Modern Masters. It is described aptly on the Company's website as "a journey through dance history from the classics to new works created especially for the Junior Company" which
"begins with excerpts from famous classical ballets like Swan Lake and Napoli, which are followed by works by resident choreographer Hans van Manen (Visions Fugitives) and Embers by artistic coordinator Ernst Meisner. Furthermore dancer/choreographer Milena Sidorova presents her work Full Moon. The evening closes with spectacular new works by the young talented Spaniard Juanjo Arques (Surfacing) and Canadian choreographer Robert Binet (Blink)."
As in the last show each ballet is introduced by a short film of the dancers in rehearsal. That is an excellent way of presenting the work to an audience that is not used to ballet. It may not be necessary in Amsterdam and certainly not in London where audiences see a lot of ballet but this show is playing in towns and cities all over the Netherlands where audiences see much less dance. That same technique was used very effectively by Peter Brinson with Ballet for All which helped to create a new audience for dance in the United Kingdom between 1964 and 1979. Raising interest in dance seems to be part of the mission of the Dutch National Ballet too which it has advanced in a variety of ways including, most ingeniously, Boundena new dance app for mobile phones which Ernst Meisner and his dancers helped to develop.

Napoli: Riho Sakamoto, Veronika Verterich, Emilie Tassinari,
Yuanyuan Zhang
Photo Michel Schnater
(c) 2015 Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company
The first work of the evening was the pas de six divertissement from Napoli. I had seen the principals and soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet perform some scenes from that ballet at The Peacock on 9 Jan 2015 so they are fresh in my memory. As I said last month we don't see anything like as much as we should of Bournonville in the UK and I love that ballet. Although it is set in Southern Italy the Danes have adopted it as their own just as we have done with La Fille mal gardéeIt is a colourful, exuberant work with sparkling dancing to a catchy score. The dancers on Friday were Riho SakamotoVeronika VerterichEmilie TassinariYuanyuan ZhangCristiano Principato and Martin ten Kortenaar. I don't think I have ever seen a happier performance of Napoli.

The next work was Embers by Ernst Meisner. I have not yet seen much of Meisner's choreography but everything that I have seen I have liked enormously. His Saltarello was the highlight of last year's show and this performance of Embers by Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme to the haunting music of Max Richter was my favourite this year. Quite simply, it is one of the most beautiful ballets I have ever seen. Its beauty had me close to tears. Like that of our own Christopher Marney, Meisner's work reminds me very much of Cranko's who is my all time favourite choreographer. London audiences have been reminded of Cranko's genius by the Royal Ballet's production of Onegin which I shall see on 16 Feb - my 66th birthday present from I to me. Sadly Cranko died very young but happily we now have Meisner and I just can't get enough of his work.

Next up was the first pas de deux by Siegfried and Odette in Swan Lake danced beautifully by ten Kortenaar and Zhang. The version that the Dutch dance is by Rudi van Dantzig. I've seen this ballet many times and  thought I knew it well but I learned a lot from the video of the rehearsal. "If you position yourself you will naturally turn"  said Igone de Jongh to Zhang. "You don't need to make yourself turn". Then later "You don't want to leave..... but you leave." No doubt compelled by Rothbart's spell. I understood not only the mechanics of the choreography but also the emotion of the piece so much more.
Bart Engelen, Full Moon
Photo Michel Schnater
(c) 2015 Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Milena Siderova's Full Moon was such fun. The music to Romeo and Juliet boomed across the auditorium but there was no sword fight, crowd scene or bedroom pas de deux. Just Bart Engelen clutching a cushion. Engelen is a beautiful young man. Tall and muscular, blond and slender. He contorted himself into all kinds of shapes as Ed Watson did in the first act of Winter's Tale. "This pillow has such a force" explained Siderova in the film. "You can't let it go". I wondered why the company had placed this work immediately after Swan Lake and then it dawned on me. Siegfied saw Odette by moonlight and she was also under a force, namely Siegfried's spell that she could not let go. And why Romeo and Juliet? Well it is a good tune but perhaps the lovers were sent to their by a force that they could not let go.

The first part of the show was rounded off by Hans van Manen's Visions Fugitives. He is one of the all time greats in ballet and I have admired his work for for as long as I can remember. This was the first time this work had been danced by the National Ballet. It was classic van Manen. A gorgeous score also by Prokofiev. Stripy costumes for each pair of dancers in different shades of blue. Wonderful architectural shapes.  Flowing choreography. Beautiful dancing by Burer, Verterich, van Damme, Zhang, ten Kortenaar and Ryosuke Morimoto. Here and there a touch of humour. The crowd loved it as did I. And when he was coaxed on to stage to take a bow the applause exploded. 

I was dazzled by the part one. Most of the audience beetled off to the bars or the loos but I needed space and time to take in all that I had seen. I found my phone and tweeted: "The English language does not contain enough superlatives".

There was more good stuff in part two. Robet Binet's "Surfacing" which was also commissioned for the show. "Get closer. Closer. Closer, Smile more, That's nice" said Binet on the film to his dancers, Sakimoto, Principato, Burer and the company's very latest recruit Antonio Martinez. "Chassé as though you were skating." As Meisner reminds me of Cranko so Binet reminded me of van Manen. More interesting group shapes. The same fluidity. Similar pairing of dancers in costume as well as style. And even the same sort of touches of humour. The audience seemed to recognize the likeness and acknowledged him with the same thunderous applause as they had given van Manen when Binet came out to take his bow. This was the first time I have seen Binet's work and I can't wait to see more.

The last work Blink by Juanjo Arques was pure delight, In a way it encapsulated everything we had seen that evening. The exuberance of Napoli. The fluidity of the Meisner, van Manen and Binet. The touches of humour along the way. His music was also by Richter, His dancers were Verterich, Sakamoto, ten Kortenaar, Morimoto and Engelen. I talked to him about the ballet at the reception after the show. He explained that there was so much misery in the world right now with terrorism, war, austerity and more. We need a bit of levity. He is a charming man kissing me three times on our introduction and again when we said goodbye. "Because I am Spanish" he explained. Spanish he may be but he has danced with the English National Ballet and he knows what we Brits like. This is a work that is sure to appeal to us when we see it at The Linbury in June.

I saw the show as the guest of the company and they treated me royally. They gave me a seat in the stalls in the middle of the 12th row (more or less where I had been last time) which is probably the best place in the auditorium to see a show. That was kind of them but the invitation to attend the party after the show was even kinder. I met the dancers all of whom are beautiful. Some strikingly so. I owned up to writing their profiles in December. I met Ted Brandsen and Ernst Meisner and personally conveyed good wishes from David Nixon and Mark Skipper of Northern Ballet on the off-chance that I might see them. I met Bart Engelen's mum and told her how I admired her son's work - compliments that they both accepted graciously. 

I also got a chance to meet the press officer, Richard Heideman, who had helped me so much with my feature on the Company. Yesterday he sent me all the photos of the performance, three of which I have used today. As this is unlikely to be my last review of those works I expect to use them all. My thanks to him and everyone at the Dutch National Ballet who made my trip to Amsterdam so memorable.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Junior Company's New Season

Last year I was lucky enough to see the opening night of the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company at the Stadsshouwburg in Amsterdam (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). Tomorrow is the opening night of their new season in the same theatre and I hope to be in the audience tomorrow to cheer them.

This year's programme seems at least as good as last year's. It begins with excerpts from Swan Lake and Napoli, (yum) and is followed by works by Hans van Manen (Visions Fugitives) and Embers by Ernst Meisner. Next comes Milena Sidorova's Full Moon. The evening closes with spectacular new works by Juanjo Arques (Blink) and Robert Binet (Surfacing).

Tomorrow's opening is followed by a tour of the Netherlands and in June they are coming back to London as part of Sprinboard.  As a foretaste of their visit enjoy the pas de deux of Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme at Amsterdam Central Station last month.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Chantry Dance Company's Tour

One of my personal ballet highlights of last year was dancing in one of Chantry Dance Company's workshops in Lincoln. the workshop was followed by a performance of Sandman and Dream Dance by Paul Chantry and Rae Piper where I saw just how good that husband and wife team were. I followed them to Grantham for Chasing the Eclipse and Halifax for The Happy Prince on their Autumn tour. I also attended their associates' show at Sadler's Wells, a networking event and one of their summer school presentations. I have also got to know Paul and Rae better through following them on twitter and Facebook. I like what they stand for and I admire their erudition.

The company has just announced its 2015 tour which will take in Grantham, Halifax, London and Worcester and present two new ballets: a work based on the life and loves of Vincent Van Gogh which will pursue the man behind the self-portrait, yearning for affection, balancing genius with madness and Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Other than that the associates will have a chance to dance in those shows I know very little about them but as soon  as I have more information I will pass it on.

Chantry Dance has also mentioned new open modern, pre-associate and associate classes in Grantham. The modern classes will be given by Gail Gordon who has choreographed shows in the West End. There will also be an Easter Musical Theatre Workshop in Grantham on 10 Feb 2015. Mel, who attended last year's summer school, tweeted that Gail's jazz class demanding but also a lot of fun.

Finally, this company which is much more than a dance troupe, is recruiting a fund raiser "who is passionate about seeing the type of work [they] do develop, and believes keenly in the company's work and mission." They are looking for "friendly, personable and genuine people who want to be part of our charity's work and become a valued member of the CDC team." If you think that you fit the description send an email with your CV to explaining:
1) why you are suitable for the post
2) your relevant experience
3) what you find attractive about working with CDC
4) why you wish to see CDC develop further.
I wish all candidates who apply for the post the very best of luck. It sounds a super job for the right person.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

If ever I came back to London .............

................. I think I'd spend a lot of my time in Danceworks. I doubt if I'd ever get any work done. My long suffering clerk would suck his teeth and lament "We see less of you now than when you were in Yorkshire, Miss."

Because there is so much happening at that studio.

First, there is a talk by Ed Watson on 10 Feb 2015 between 19:15 and 20:45. I'm also giving a talk that earlier day (though on a very different topic at a different venue) but I shall be in town so will be able to hear him. Tickets are now sold out but there is a waiting list. Here is a link to the Royal Ballet's YouTube clip on The Winter's Tale where he discusses his role as Leontes.

Secondly, there is a new absolute beginners class for adults between 17 March and 6 May 2015 with Franziska Rosenzweig which covers the following:
  • Posture and placement work
  • Improve core strength
  • Basic steps
  • Turning
  • Footwork combination
  • Improve muscle tone in a long lean elegant way
  • Improve flexibility, all while dancing!
  • Barre work with basic easy to follow exercises to focus on correct technique
  • Centre practice, including:
  • Port de Bras
  • Adagio
  • Waltz
  • Preparation for Pirouettes
  • Allegro
The full course costs £129.50.

For advanced dancers, the same teacher is running a 5 week repertoire course on the solo in La Esmeralda

Thirdly, there are 7 new classes at Danceworks: pilates, strala yoga, Latin, contemporary and more.

You can book tickets for Made in Dagenham at The Adelphi for £25 through Danceworks website. That's a bargain even by North Country standards.

Akram Khan is also running a 2 day workshop in April.

The full timetable is here.

Probably just as well that I live 200 miles away.

Post Script

5 Feb 2015   Yesterday I found myself at a networking event in Upper Grosvenor Street which is not much more than an few grands jetés away from Balderton Street so I moseyed on over to pay Danceworks a visit. There were some very nice people of the front desk who invited me to take a peep at the classes. There seemed to be street, jazz and some kind of stretching exercises while I was there. They all seemed a lot if fun. Had I brought my shoes and leotard I would definitely have joined in. Had I not had a train to catch I would have bought myself a Danceworks t-shirt and leggings from Selfridges and danced in bare feet. I am looking forward to returning on the 10 Feb to see Ed Watson and to taking my first class on Sunday 15 Feb.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Ballet West: - You Can't Argue With Success

A year ago a debate took place in  one of the on-line forums to which I subscribe as to whether Ballet West was a good place to study. If I remember rightly it was started by a lady whose daughter had turned down a place at Tring for one at Ballet West. Now Tring is an excellent school. At least one of the dancers who makes my spirits soar trained there. But I can quite understand why that student preferred Tayhnuilt.

First, Ballet West has a good track record. Look at the Competitions and Awards page of its website. Its graduand Natasha Watson is the only British finalist in this year's Prix de Lausanne (see Natasha Watson in Lausanne 15 Nov 2013). She also won a bronze medal in the Genée (see Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée 30 Sept 2013). Natasha Watson was not the first Ballet West student to do well in the Genée. The website mentions 9 others including Jonathan and Sara-Maria Barton who now teach at the school. It is also worth considering the performances of some of its recent graduates. Several of them have joined Ballet Theatre UK including Sarah Mortimer whom I admired in The Little Mermaid (see Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport 27 Apr 2014.

I surmise that much of the credit for the school's success must go to its founder and artistic director Gillian Barton. I introduced myself to her briefly last Saturday before Romeo and Juliet. She was charming and elegant and although we had only the briefest of chats she showed concern and generosity. I was very scruffy having just arrived from Yorkshire after a tedious drive without an opportunity to change or even apply makeup while she was so smart. She put me at my ease immediately. She asked whether I had tickets and a programme and when I said that I had both she offered to refund me. She also offered me a free tee shirt and it took a  lot of persistence on my part to decline those refunds and persuade her that I wanted the merchandise because I wanted to support the school and its students. She eventually accepted my payment for the tee-shirt and donation to the school with grace. Now  if I were a young lad or lass away from home for the first time and feeling rather homesick I would have been cheered up by her immediately. It seems a genuinely happy community. When the school wished Natasha Watson well at Lausanne on Facebook there were literally hundreds of "likes" and comments within hours.

A third reason for going to Ballet West is that Taynuilt is in one of the most beautiful parts of our nation. I explored it the summer before last while waiting for the Craignure ferry (see Taynuilt - where better to create ballet? 31 Aug 2013). It is on the edge of a sea loch and at the foot of a magnificent mountain. Surroundings like that are bound to inspire young men and women with an artistic temperament. Now Taynuilt is a lot further from London than Tring but the United Kingdom is not a large country and we have pretty good roads and railways. With Skype and other VoIP services it is now possible to talk face to face to parents, siblings and friends by video more or less any time. Also Taynuilt is not the back of beyond. Oban is only a few miles away. It has all the amenities of a fair size town including supermarkets, cinema and performing arts auditorium and one of the best fish and chip shops outside Lancashire. Taynuilt is linked to Glasgow by rail where there are fast rail connections to the rest of the country and an international airport with direct flights to the rest of the world.

Ballet is a performing art and as I found from my own very limited experience that there is a whale of a difference between exercising in a studio or even rehearsing in a theatre and stepping out on to a stage before a paying audience (see The Time of my Life 28 June 2014).  The annual tour of Scotland gives the students including the associates and possibly some of the outreach students a chance to dance in public, Now that is valuable and not every school does that. Some of the best performances that I have seen have been by schools. I loved Ballet Central's programme in 2013 and Northern Ballet School's The Nutcracker before Christmas. Now watching a ballet school is not the same as watching Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Symphonia in Symphony Hall but in its own way and on its own terms it can be just as enjoyable. I get a thrill from seeing some of the potential stars of the future which is why I am flying out to Amsterdam on Friday to see Ernst Meisner's Junior Company.

Finally, Ballet West may be a small school but it has a massive footprint with its associate and outreach classes and summer school. To the most talented students it offers degree and HND courses but it also runs associate courses for aspiring professionals in Glasgow and Edinburgh which includes opportunities for kids as young as 8 and outreach classes for everyone. One of my ambitions is to take one of Gillian Barton's classes if ever I am in Taynuilt on a Thursday evening. Judging by the achievements of her students I am sure I would relish the experience and learn a lot from her.

So if I were a parent of a young boy or girl who showed promise at ballet I would happily encourage him or her to consider Taynuilt as a place to learn the art. I don't have massive resources but one of them is this blog in which I am happy to promote Ballet West and its pupils.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Ballet West's Romeo and Juliet

Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, 31 Jan 2015

I've seen three performances by Ballet West: The Nutcracker in 2013, Swan Lake last March and now Romeo and Juliet. The other two were good but this is the best by far. This is a very ambitious production with a big cast including some very young children. It would have been a credit to a full time performing company. As most of the dancers are students Ballet West's achievement is all the more remarkable.

Several factors made this production special.  Excellent choreography by Daniel Job: dramatic and with plenty of detail that is often missed by other productions. Great sets by Ryan Davies and Sara-Maria Barton. A well trained and coordinated corps where even the children performed like pros. Sparkling dancing not only from the principals Jonathan and Sara-Maria Barton but also from the soloists Owen Morris as Tybalt, Andremaria Battaglia as Paris, Miranda Hamill as the nurse, Isaac Bowry as Lord Capulet, Kathrine Blyth as his wife, Andrew Cook as Prince Escalus and Karen Terry as Friar Lawrence.

This is a ballet that demands not only great virtuosity from the principals with no less than 4 major pas de deux (the ball, the balcony, the bedroom and the crypt) but also great drama. Juliet grows up literally overnight. A playful adolescent teasing her nurse in the first Act. A woman who knows her mind and is capable of taking enormous risks in defiance of her father in the next. Romeo - passionate in love but also in fury. Drama also from the soloists. Katherine Blyth's grief at her son's death. Her anger on seeing his killer. Her performance gripped the audience - or at any rate it gripped me. Bowry who I had previously seen as Drosselmeyer and Rothbart showed he can act as well as dance. So too could Cook whom I had also admired very much last year.

Because the cast is large and the sets were elaborate the show needed a big stage. The Macrobert is not a small auditorium but it did not do justice to the show. This production has already toured China where it was no doubt danced in bigger auditoria. Probably the best place to see this show is the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow where the tour concludes on Valentine's day. This will be a memorable performance and if you live in Glasgow or anywhere near it you really should try to be there.

In the programme the company's founder and artistic Gillian Barton wrote how it started from humble beginnings in 1991 and how it has achieved great things with tours of China, finalists and medallists in important competitions and graduates in several major companies. Tonight I met Gillian Barton for the first time. Others including one of the members of my class at Northern Ballet had spoken very highly of that lady and I can quite see why.

Further Reading

4 Fev 2015 Kenneth Speirs Brother and sister look ahead to Romeo and Juliet performance in Paisley Daily Record
2 Feb 2015 Kelly Apter Ballet review: Romeo and Juliet, Stirling The Scotsman