Sunday, 26 April 2015

No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet

In an Explosion of Joy 21 Sept 2015 I wrote:
"If a dancer contracts an illness or suffers an injury that confines him to a wheelchair then it is the end of his career is it not. Not necessarily. Yesterday I saw a dancer in pointe shoes - I think it was Suzie Birchwood but if I am mistaken I apologize - as beautiful and graceful as any, approach a stage in a wheelchair. She was lifted onto the stage and danced. She thrilled us - not as one who had overcome a disability - but as a dancer. She delighted us with her port de bras, her battements, her pointe work but most of all with her expression of joy."
Last night I was lucky enough to meet that wonderful dancer after she had performed with such stars as Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin in Marc Brew's Exalt at The Tramway.

This was a new work commissioned for dancers of Scottish Ballet, the accessible dance company Indepen-Dance 4 and, of course, Birchwood. The names of the dancers appeared on the cast list in strict alphabetical order without any indication of their company or rank. So good were Kelly McCartney, Hayley Earlham, Adam Sloan and Neil Price of Indepen-Dance (and of course Birchwood) that it was not easy to tell who was with which company. That appears to have been the idea for the notes in the cast list state:
"Drawing on each of the dancers' diverse experience skills and disciplines, Brew explores whether combined knowledge can exalt into movement greater than the sum of its parts, that challenges the concept of what a dancer is, who can dance and how we can create dance."
Well, clearly combined knowledge can exalt into movement greater than the sum of its parts because the performance was thrilling.  Nils Frahm's music, haunting and lilting, was interpreted skilfully by Brew. There were complex and difficult movements, especially around each of the four ladders on stage, but these elided into a continuous flow. The audience loved it for the applause at the end of the show was deafening.

I also loved Brew's thinking for ballet is for everyone not just an elite. It belongs to those with disabilities as well as those who have been trained at White Lodge and Floral Street. It belongs to those of all ages and all body shapes and sizes.  I would add that it also belongs to those of all races and cultures.  Coincidentally, the previous evening I had attended a talk in Cirencester by the restaurant critic Jay Rayner where he had comprehensively dissed some well known restaurants with pretentious menus and nonsensical jargon such as "concepts behind menus". It seems to me that such eateries get away with it because of snobbery and there is just as much snobbery in the performing arts as there is in eating.

After the show Brew told me that he had recently been appointed as a choreographer to Ballet Cymru. That is excellent news both for him and the company. It is also good news for audiences in the southern part of the UK who may see a bit more of his work.

Exalt was the first part of a double bill.  The second was Hans van Manen's 5 Tangos.  I have been a van Manen fan for as long as I have been following ballet and I love his work but I enjoyed 5 Tangos more than any of his works that I had seen before. I have been to Buenos Aires on two occasions twice and have been fascinated by the tango which is far more than a social dance style. It is a genre of music and indeed poetry as well as dance as I mentioned in my review of Scottish Ballet's Streetcar earlier this month. Van Manen paid faithful homage to that art form using music by the Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla.  The dancers - the women clad in red and black and the men in black - executed his choreography with flair. They were led by Luciana Ravizzi who had danced Blanche at Sadlier's Wells. She is a Porteña, proud and elegant and yesterday she was magnificent.  Clearly, the Glaswegians treasure her.  She received three enormous bouquets at the end of the show.

I should say a word about the Glasgow audience. Even though I am a Friend of the company yesterday was the first time I had visited Scottish Ballet's home at The Tramway. There was a buzz in the auditorium and the bar that I have felt only in London in the United Kingdom. Evidently, Scottish Ballet has cultivated an audience that understands and appreciates dance and expresses its appreciation with the same enthusiasm. The Tramway is a fine venue with galleries, film screenings and all sorts of other live performances. The auditorium appears to be at least twice as big as the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre at Quarry Hill. It is easy to reach being next door to a railway station. There is plenty of street parking nearby and Glasgow Corporation (unlike Leeds Metropolitan District Council) is not mean enough to charge on Saturday and Sunday evenings.  A whole new meaning to "No Mean City".

Scottish Ballet traces its origins (as does Northern Ballet) to Western Theatre Ballet in Bristol. I first got to know it when it moved to Scotland in 1969. It is great to see how it has flourished into the United Kingdom's other world class ballet company. By working as equals with Marc Brew and Indepen-Dance Scottish Ballet  has (n my eyes at least) added to its glory.

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