Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Delight Indeed

On Wednesday Leanne Shipp tweeted
She was so right. Any company would have been proud of yesterday's double bill.  As it was performed largely by dancers who do not yet make their living from dance it was all the more remarkable.

Note my terminology. I did not say "amateur" deliberately. There was nothing amateurish about the show. Everything was polished. Not just the dancing (which was perhaps not so surprising since several members of the cast were either at, had been to, or were on their way to, top ballet schools) but the direction, stage management, sets, costumes, lighting - even the glossy programmes. All the more impressive when it is considered that the production was completed in a year on a limited budget and much of the set painting and costume making would have been done by the members themselves.

There were two one act ballets yesterday evening - Annette Potter's Pineapple Poll based on John Cranko's choreography and a new ballet by Christopher Marney called Carnival of the Animals. The works complemented each other perfectly for Marney has much in common with Cranko. Pineapple Poll was created early in Cranko's career and while Marney has created a string of successful ballets for Ballet Black, Ballet Central and others it has to to be remembered that he is still a very young man (see Christopher Marney 16 March 2014). If, as I fervently hope, he lives to a ripe old age and his career maintains its present trajectory Carnival will be regarded as an "early Marney". I can foresee school and university teachers yet unborn setting essay questions like "Pineapple Poll and Carnival - compare and contrast" to the grandchildren of yesterday's corps de ballet.

For those who do not know the Cranko ballet there is a good synopsis in Wikipedia. There are five key roles: Pineapple Poll, Jasper the pot boy, Captain Belaye, Blanche his bride and her aunt, Mrs Dimple. Jasper falls in love with Poll but she has eyes only for the captain. She steals on board his ship with her friends to attract his attention but he has eyes only for Blanche and she is so disappointed when the captain leads Blanche and Mrs Dimple on board HMS Hot Cross Bun. However when Jasper enlists as a midshipman Poll finally takes an interest in him and the ballet ends happily with Mrs Dimple representing Britannia. With music selected and arranged from the works of Sir Arthur Sullivan it was a great patriotic romp.

Captain Belaye was portrayed majestically by Andrew Potter. Readers of last year's review of The Nutcracker will remember that he was Drosselmeyer. Jasper was danced by Stephen Quildan whom Jessica Wilson has interviewed recently in Dance Direct (see Stephen Quildan – Educating Experiences 13 March 2015). He displayed great virtuosity - I couldn't help clapping one particularly difficult jump even though I shouldn't have done - but also he expressed loving, longing, disappointment and despair so eloquently. Scarlett Mann was a delightful Poll - coquettish, determined, devious but still delightful whether selling trinkets on the quayside or marshalling the crew of the Hot Cross Bun. Also attractive was Megan McLatchie as Blanche. However, for me the star of the show was Marion Pettet as Mrs Dimple - and Britannia. Last year she was Frau Stahlbaum. A wonderful actor as well as an accomplished dancer and a great chair of the Chelmsford Ballet Company.

The Carnival of the Animals was written by Saint-Saëns which is best known for The Swan. That piece upon which Fokine created The Dying Swan for Anna Pavlova never fails to move me even when I hear it on a DVD player or over the radio. There are many reasons for that - some personal - to which I alluded in my review of Northern Ballet's Sapphire gala last week (see Sapphire 16 March 2015). Last Saturday Javier Torres presented a new interpretation of Saint-Saëns's music and last night we got another. A pas de deux between Quildan and Jasmine Wallis which was also lovely. Typical Marney.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Marney did not create a new version of The Carnival of the Animals. He made a ballet about a company that was about to dance The Carnival of the Animals. A young stage hand longed to dance - perhaps because of his longing for its principal dancer performed beautifully by Wallis. But when he tried to lift her - dainty though she is - he found that pas de deux work was not quite as easy as it looked. According to Tim Tubbs's programme notes the ballet was set in the 1930s - the heroic early days of the English ballet after Diaghilev had died but before the Second World War when endless touring by the Vic-Wells Ballet won the hearts of the nation to this originally foreign art form. There were a few animals - foxes perhaps - and a yapping lap dog quite invisible to all but the dancers but clearly another dog like Bif which could do ballet (see Woof 12 Oct 2014 to understand the reference) - but the main characters were people. Quildan the stage hand, Wallis his sweetheart and principal dancer and Pettet her mother.

Again, Pettet stole the show for me as the bossy, fussy but affectionate mother but she was not the only star. Quildan with a foot in a bucket one moment and fumbling the ballerina the next - showed that he can amuse an audience as well as amaze it. Wallis was an adorable ballerina. Everybody in that show danced well. Jessica Wilson (the blogger who interviewed Wilson and danced Harlequin last year) and Jenni Stafford as the ballerina's friends, Georgia Otley and Amelia Wallis (Clara in last year's show) as playful school kids, Hannah Cotgrove, McLatchie again and Carly Parry as the domestics and Mann, April Goulding and Darci Willsher as the company's dancers. It must have been such a thrill for them to work with a dancer of the calibre of Marney and one which each and every one of them richly deserved.

I loved The Nutcracker but this double bill was even better. "What are you doing next year?" I asked Marion Pettet when I congratulated her after the show. "Not sure" was the answer. I suggested La Sylphide at first because ir is a ballet in a British setting which should be danced by a British company. But then I remembered their wonderful young women dancers (some of whom I have mentioned above) which is the company's strength. Wouldn't they be splendid in the entry of the shades in La Bayadère?

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