Sunday, 31 May 2015

Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Quatrain, Matryoshka, Beauty and the Beasrm Swan Lake, Facade, Wycombe Swan

Last Wednesday I saw the programme for Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour in Shrewsbury (see  Vaut le Voyage - Birmingham Royal Ballet in Shrewsbury 28 May 2015). Yesterday I saw the programme for its Southern Tour at the Wycombe Swan Theatre in High Wycombe. This was also a mixed bill which offered new work as well as old favourites but unlike the programme for the North the southern programme included extracts from two of the company's full length ballets, Beauty and the Beast and Swan Lake.

As I said in It Takes Three To Tango 19 May 2015 I had been attracted by new ballets from Kit Holder and Ruth Brill. I had recently seen and enjoyed two other works by Holder and also two ballets based on the music of the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. I have always admired Brill as a dancer and I knew of her interest in choreography from a talk that she gave last year but I had never seen any of her ballets. I had expected much from both choreographers and I am glad to say that my expectations in each case were greatly exceeded.

Even though the music for Holder's Quatrain was by Piazzolla it was very different from 5 Tangos and Fatal Kiss. There was no red and black or sultry tango dancing. In fact, nothing specifically Argentinian at all.  In so far as it reminded me of anything at all it was Ashton's Symphonic Variations with its simple costumes and geometric patterns on the backdrop. In the case of Quatrain the backdrop can best be described as four converging planes which made me think of strips of graphene for some reason or other on a dark blue background.  These were echoed in the dancers' costumes which were the same colour though the patterns were a different geometric design.

The choreography was fascinating with some unusual movements such as the men appearing to sit on the women while they were on all fours as though they were settees, the women appearing to rest on the backs of the men as they adopted the same position moments later and one of the women flexing her toe in the face of a man.  You can see what I mean from the video that I have embedded above.

Karla Doorbar, Momoko HirataCéline Gittens and Yoaqian Shang danced the female roles and Jonathan Caguioa, Jamie Bond, Yasuo Atsuji and Mathias Dingman the male ones. A very strong cast for a very demanding ballet.  The work was in four movements no doubt representing the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires which was the title of the score but the ballet also owed more than a little to Vivaldi which was acknowledged in the quotation at the very end of the work.

In a talk that she gave with Jonathan Payn in the theatre's Oak Room just before the show, Brill explained that Matryoshka (the title of her ballet) is the name given for the Russian dolls that fit inside one another. She had chosen Shostakovich's Waltz No 2  which conjured up images of swirling crinolines and beaux in evening dress. Crinolines don't come cheap and obscure the dancers' legs and feet. She stripped her costumes down to essentials which were red crinoline frames against white petticoats for the women and black trousers, shirts and red cummerbunds for the men.

The choice of music and designs was inspired. They gave great scope for Brill's choreography with her serious jumps for the men and fetching and feminine gestures and movements for the women. Having danced to another work of Shostakovich's on the one and so far only occasion that I have been inflicted on the public I can say from personal experience that his music is fun to perform. Certainly, Brill's dancers - Laura DayMiki Mizutani, Lewis Turner, Caguioa and Yaoqian Shand in the Polka and Vallentin Olovyannikov, Rory Mackay and Gittens in the Waltz - looked like they were having fun. Brill said that she had created the ballet earlier this year expecting it to be a one off.  That would have been a pity. I am so glad that David Bintley chose to include it in the Southern programme. I am sure that Matryoshka will become a popular item in the company's repertoire.

The next work in the programme was a Bintley ballet - Beauty and the Beast which I saw at The Lowry last September (see Bintley's Beauty 1 Oct 2014). The scene that the company had selected was the pas de deux when Belle first meets The Beast towards the end of Act I. Doorbar was Balle and Atsuji The Beast. They danced beautifully and the crowd loved them.

Beauty was followed by the pas de quatre from Act I of Swan Lake. Although the original choreography was by Petipa there has been a lot of input from Bintley and his predecessor as Artistic Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Sir Peter Wright.  In that scene Siegfried (danced by Tyrone Singleton) is pondering his new responsibilities now that he has come of age which includes finding a princess to marry. His companion Benno (Dingman) tries to distract him by introducing two courtesans (Angela Paul and Laura Purkiss). This scene links Siegfried's birthday celebrations and his swan hunt where he meets Odette and it contains some real pyrotechnics with lots of jumps for Benno and some tricky turns and pointe work for the courtesans.  Despite their charms Siegfried is not in the mood for womanizing though he is up for shooting a few swans with the new bow that his mother had given him for his birthday. No ballet company can go far wrong with Swan Lake. Everyone knows and loves the music. There is nothing like a few fouettés and tours en l'air to delight an audience.

The last part of the programme was Façade, Frederick Ashton's ballet based on William Walton's setting of Edith Sitwell's nonsense poems. This is another favourite. It was first performed in 1931 by Ninette de Valois's Vic-Wells Ballet, the precursor of both the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet. It is a very funny, whimsical  work with colliding highland dancers, a saucy milkmaid and even a tango to make up for the one that I had expected but didn't find in Quatrain. Turner, Day and Doorbar danced Scottish Rhapsody. Brill was the milkmaid in Yodelling (charming and cheeky in pigtails and dirndl) with Joshua Lee, Jared Hinton and I think Mackay though the programme said Edivaldo Souza da Silva. Hirata danced the Polka. Payn and Caguioa danced a hilarious foxtrot with Jade Heuson and Purkiss. Lorena Agramonte, Alys Shee and Yaoqian Shang danced the Waltz with Mimi Hagihara and hung around for Bond and Dingman in striped blazers and boaters to perform the Popular Song. Finally Paul and Mackay danced the Tango Pasodoble to strains of Beside the Seaside.  A few minutes after the curtain fell the audience heard a muffled cheer from the stage. I don't know whether we were supposed to hear it but we did and it amused us and delighted us all the more.

I have already mentioned the talk before the show. I find such talks very useful though I rarely manage to attend them. Payn and Brill introduced themselves and told us how they came into dancing and summarized their careers to date. Then they talked about the show.  Brill also told us how she had created Matryoshka. Though I try not to have favourites we balletomanes just can't help ourselves. I do delight in watching her dance because she loves to dance. I suppose all dancers who reach that standard must do so but she radiates her joy even more than most. I have had the pleasure of meeting her briefly off stage through the London Ballet Circle on two occasions and can report that she is as graceful with her public off stage as she is delightful as a dancer.

It was good also to hear Payn. He too delighted me on stage last night. He explained that he was standing in for Holder who had done similar talks in the other venues. Holder asked to be excused last night because yesterday was the Cup Final and he is an Aston Villa supporter. I hope he is not too disappointed with the result. His team did very well just to reach Wembley. If it is any comfort to him he delighted a lot of folk in High Wycombe last night.

I should say a word about the theatre. It is situated on the edge of the town centre with its own car park which operates an ingenious number plate recognition system.  Motorists don't need to pay and display or even pick up a ticket. The registration number is stored in the computer and you key in that number into a touch screen terminal when you leave. The computer calculates the charge which you pay in coins. Alternatively, you can pay on-line. I do wish other car parks operated that system. There is a restaurant and bar with very helpful staff and managers, They served up cranachan - one of my favourite puddings - which I last savoured with Michelle Hynes of Inksters at a restaurant in Merchant City in Glasgow in 2010. I like this theatre very much and I look forward to returning in the Autumn to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Giselle.

When I reviewed the Birmingham Royal Ballet's show in Shrewsbury I mentioned my own connections with Shropshire. On the long drive south I listed to Peter Day's Saturday Classics. Imagine my delight when Day chose John Betjamen's A Shropshire Lad.

I have now seen both the Northern and Southern programmes of the Birmingham Royal Ballet this month and I enjoyed them both enormously.  I have even attended a talk by David Binttey,  I look forward to his Carmina Burana and The King Dances in Birmingham on 20 June 2015.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Over 50s Ballet Classes at Danceworks

For the last two years I have been taking Annemarie Donoghue's classes for the Over 55s at Northern Ballet in Leeds. I love those classes and I have written a lot of articles about them. You will find links to those articles in We're in the Paper 15 April 2015. I am therefore delighted to read in Danceworks' June newsletter that that studio is to start similar classes in London (see Over 50s Ballet Classes at Danceworks)

Under "Benefits of Ballet" Danceworks claims:
"There is no age barrier to learn to dance and the long-term flexibility benefits of ballet are excellent. Ballet classes will help to:
  • Develop and maintain your flexibility. The combination of strength and flexibility is what keeps a body healthier and stronger for longer, and more resilient to injury.
  • Work both your body and your mind. The physical and mental challenges of ballet can improve vitality
  • Gain confidence in your body You will feel more supple and poised
  • Learn musicality Ballet is practised in harmony with music. You will learn to draw energy from it, count it and live.
  • Feel a new energy and forget your problems in a relaxed and quiet environment."
I can attest from my own experience that each and every one of those claims is true.

Danceworks is holding a free taster class on 14 July between 18:00 and 19:30.  The website states:
"These classes aim to teach what a regular class would, but at a pace more suited to older dancers, in a private studio in our Mayfair location a few minutes from Bond Street tube."
They sound exactly like my classes in Leeds.  All I would add is that very few concessions are made or indeed required for age. I take classes with young people in Huddersfield, Manchester and Sheffield and these are no more demanding than the classes for the Over 55s. I should also say that several of the members of my Over 55 class could give any of the teenagers and twenty or thirty somethings a run for their money. A number of members of my class are older than me but they are as slim as any supermodel and as sleek as any greyhound and are delightful to watch.

If you want to book a place on the course email  You will find Danceworks at 16 Balderton Street, Mayfair, London W1K 6TN. Balderton Street is on the Southern side of Oxford Street which is almost opposite Selfridges.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Ballet Black Back in Nottingham

I embedded this film of Ballet Black in My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014 because they are a particularly beautiful company. I have also met some of them and they are delightful people. Last year they came to the Nottingham Playhouse where they were magnificent (see Best Ever - Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse 3 July 2014. They are returning to that theatre on the the 26 June 2015 for one night only.

Ballet Black are bringing two new works to Nottingham as well as one old favourite. The new works are Kit Holder's To Fetch A Pail of Water and Mark Bruce's Second Coming. The old favourite is Will Tuckett's Depouillement. I saw the show at The Linbury in February and loved it (see Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet 17 Feb 2015).

Since that show I have seen Holder's Hopper danced by Ballet Central and I have become quite a fan of that choreographer   Indeed. one of the reasons I am traipsing down to High Wycombe and back tomorrow is to see his Quatrain (see It takes Three to Tango 19 May 2015).

I am not sure when Ballet Black will next be in the North so this may be our only chance to see the triple bill this year. You can access the Playhouse's box office by clicking this link.

More Clips from KNT Danceworks

In Better than Eurovision 24 May 2015 I wrote:
"But once again it was the ballet that delighted me. ....... The evening was rounded off with the advanced ballet class who were delightful. They wore lovely flowing dresses which emphasised their elegance."
I make no apologies for mentioning the show again because that dance was so lovely that I am sure you would like to see it. I have embedded a film of the advanced ballet class above.

I also mentioned the pointe class's Putting on the Ritz.   You can see their dance on YouTube too.

In my review I embedded a film from last year's show which shows three of the teachers at KNT Danceworks: Karen Sant, Ailsa Baker and Josh Moss. I wrote about my first class with Ailsa in Manchester in So Proud of Manchester on 29 Aug 2014 and my class in Liverpool with Karen in It's not every Class that you can use Lord Canning's Eyes for Spotting 9 Sept 2014. Yesterday I had my first class with Josh and I enjoyed that too. There was the usual barre (pliés, tendus, glissés, fondus and grands battements), a lovely port de bras, chaînés, various jumps. glissades, chassés and temps levés. As this will be my only class this week  I made the most of it. I met several of the cast in Move It and I told them how much I liked the show.

It will be some weeks before I can return to KNT because term begins in Leeds on Tuesday and our Over 55 class has a show to rehearse.  Once that show is over Leeds takes a break for a couple of months. During that vacation  I plan to take at least one class a week from Karen, Ailsa or Josh,

A Post Script from New Zealand

In The All Blacks of the Art World are coming to Leeds I wrote that the Royal New Zealand Ballet will visit the UK in the Autumn and they are bringing two of their works to this country: Giselle which they are dancing in Edinburgh, High Wycombe and Canterbury and a mixed bill entitled The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud which they will perform at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds and the Linbury in Covent Garden.

The mixed bill will contain several ballets from Salute which opened in Wellington on 22 May and is now in Christchurch on the second leg of the company's tour of New Zealand. @tweeting_nik who lives in New Zealand kindly brought the following video by the Royal New Zealand Ballet to my attention:

Check out some footage of our premiere in Wellington and make sure you get your tickets
Posted by Royal New Zealand Ballet on Wednesday, 27 May 2015
She also kindly offered to identify the individual works shown in the clip which offer I gratefully accepted:
Clearly, we in this country are in for a treat. I am grateful to the company for publishing this clip and providing an embed code and to @tweeting_nik for her commentary.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Vaut le Voyage - Birmingham Royal Ballet in Shrewsbury

Theatre Severn Shrewsbury
Photo Jane Lambert
All rights reserved

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Les Rendezvous, Kin and Elite Syncopations, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury 27 May 2015

Last Wednesday I went to York to see Birmingham Royal Ballet's triple bill (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in York 21 May 2015). I had expected to see Ashton's Les Rendezvous, MacMillan's Elite Syncopations and Kin a new ballet by Alexander Whitley. I saw Les Rendezvous and Elite Syncopations but, sadly, not Kin because Delia Mathews who was due to dance the leading female role in that ballet had sustained an injury in Les Rendezvous and it was not possible to stage the work without her. As it was Kin that I had most wanted to see I resolved to see the work in another theatre at another time.

I caught up with the company last night at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury which is one of the most beautiful theatres I have ever seen.  Only the Festival Theatre at Pitlochry beats it in my humble opinion and that is only because I prefer hills to towns.  It is right up there with the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, the Lowry, the Liverpool Playhouse, the Stephen Joseph in Scarborough and Covent Garden in my pantheon of favourite venues. As you can see from the photo it is built on the banks of the River Severn. It is a very new building with every modern facility for the performers and audience.  I explored it before and after the show and found a main auditorium on three levels, a second, smaller auditorium, a restaurant area and several bars.  It is next door to a massive car park the use of which the council (like metropolitan Westminster and Camden but unlike provincial York and Leeds) does not charge after 18:00.  The glass panels which you can see in the picture command awesome views of the town.  As I booked late I had to choose between side or back seats in the stalls and circle or front and centre seats in the upper circle. I chose the latter as I have good eyesight and I found it afforded a magnificent view of the stage but (unlike the amphitheatre in the House) it was still close enough to make out the dancers' features and the expressions on their faces.

Kin was well worth the 200 mile return journey which took three hours each way. It began with a low, almost inaudible, hum like an electric motor which I think must have been a cello as the curtain began slowly to rise. The stage was dimly lit and I could just about make out a solitary female dancer dressed in black. As she began to move I think I recognized Yijing Zhang. She then danced the most beautiful solo. Had it been poetry of words rather than dance I would have described as elegiac. The other dancers entered also in black. The music changed to a persistent throbbing. I wrote a lot of notes on my cast list not all of which I can decipher now as I had to scribble in the dark. I can just about make out "gyrations" and "chaînés".  I remember the most hauntingly beautiful pas de deux by Yijing Zhang and William Bracewell. I also remember some great turns by the males towards the end. This morning, I can also make out the noun "virtuosity."

I apologize for the superficiality of this description but yesterday was the first time I had seen a very beautiful, multi-layered work which I think will require more than one viewing to appreciate properly. Marion Tait referred to the work's beauty when she had to announce its cancellation last week. I seem to remember that she also used the adjective "special". If she did she was right. The music was by Phil Kline and I think this was the first time I had heard his work. It is not a pretty score but it sets the mood perfectly and it allowed plenty of scope for interpretation. The set (very plain with just two features) and the austere black costumes were by Jean-Marc Puissant. The lighting which cleverly matched the atmospheric score was by Peter Teigen. Whitley assembled those elements ingeniously.

As I had arrived at York last week flustered because my satnav had led my companion on a circuitous tour of the city's traffic jams before I decided to ditch it and follow my memory, bothered because I had no small change for the meter and I couldn't find my phone and uncomfortable because I had to run in heels from Clifford's Tower to the Grand Opera House and then had to run a gauntlet of glares as I scurried to my seat as the house lights dimmed I didn't take Les Rendezvous in properly. My recollection of the performance was of course marred by Mathews's slip though I barely noticed it at the time because she was back on her feet instantly. This time I savoured the ballet like a fine Mondavi wine. I followed its patterns and its intricacies. I see that I wrote the words "Rubik's cube" on my cast list. I marvelled at the choreography though my heart missed a beat as the orchestra played the bit where Mathews fell. It is not an easy piece to perform as it was created for Markova and Idzikowsky and it is associated in my mind with Fonteyn and Helpmann. Yesterday the woman in yellow was danced by Yijing Zhang and the woman in mauve (I am referring to the colour of the spots on their dresses) by Elisha Willis. Both were lovely. Brandon Lawrence was also there and he stood out again as he did last week. The role that Lawrence danced in York, however, was danced by Bracewell and he was also magnificent.

I also relished seeing Elite Syncopations again. It may be because I was in the gallery but the stage in Shrewsbury seemed bigger than the one in York. Certainly the dancers seemed to more more fluently and the orchestra looked more comfortable. The show was as delightful as ever with all my favourite bits. Arancha Baselga, Samara Downs and Yijing Zhang danced The Cascades, Downs her sexy, sultry Calliope Rag, Baselga and Fergus Campbell The Golden Hours and Yvette Knight a delightful Stoptime Rag, Yijing Zhang and Tzu-Chao Chou were hilarious in The Alaskan Rag. Lawrence and Knight were magnificent in the Bethena Concert Waltz. Once again Chi Cao thrilled us with his jumps. It was over far too soon. The crowd loved it. We clapped and cheered until our hands were sore and our throats were sore.

As I had a long journey back to Yorkshire I lingered for a while. There was an exhibition of drawings and water colours of landscapes of South Shropshire. I picked up a leaflet which I now find is a flyer for a firm of solicitors offering such services as business crime, debt recovery and family matters so I can tell you nothing about the artist. I know and love that part of the county for I spent the first few months of my life at Much Wenlock in a cottage miles from anywhere without gas, electricity and running water. I might have been a Salopian like Houseman - except that he was  born in Worcestershire despite the title of his best known work. I owe the happy accident of being born in the greatest city in the nation. Bintley as a Northerner should know that the second city is London and not Birmingham as he claims in the programme. My mother insisted on returning to Manchester because there was no way she was giving birth in that cottage.

I may have made my first and so far only appearance in the movies in Much Wenlock. The town was the location for the shooting of Gone to Earth with Jennifer Jones in the leading role. Everyone in the town was recruited as extras. I once saw the film on telly and there is a shot of a baby in a pram. Of course, I have no personal recollection but my mother told me that she received a visit from her brother who had motored down from Bramhope for the day. My uncle was bemused by the town in Victorian dress. His first words to my mother were:
"Eeeh lass! Why have you come to live here? I had heard they were a bit backward in these parts but I didn't think they were that far behind the times."
If any of my readers has not yet seen Shropshire with the Wrekin and Long Mynd he or she should do so because it is one of the loveliest counties in the whole United Kingdom. "England! thy beauties are tame and domestic" did you say? The poet would not have said that had he visited Shropshire.

All of which is a digression. Birmingham Royal Ballet were as good as ever. I look forward to catching the southern tour in High Wycombe on Saturday and The King Dances in Birmingham on 20 June 2015.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Didn't they do well!

On Sunday I reviewed Move It (KNT Danceworks evening class show) at the Dancehouse in Better than Eurovision. In my review I wrote:
"My main interest was, of course, in the ballet. Both classes did well. Both had challenging choreography with music that I would not have found easy to dance to. .......... The beginners had some tricky temps levés which they executed well. I am very proud to have done class with them and I have to congratulate Ailsa and Karen on a very creditable show."
Karen has uploaded videos of the show to YouTube. I want you to see the film of the Beginners' Ballet class show because they are the people with whom I dance when I go to Manchester.

This would not have been an easy piece to dance. You can see what I mean by the tricky temps levés. Seeing the piece a second time I am even more impressed with those folks and think that they have really done well.

I only hope that I can do as well when I dance in the Over 55 class contribution  to the Northern Ballet Academy end of year show on 4 July 2015 (see Not just Americans who will celebrate the 4th July this year 23 April 2015),

A Chance to see Kathakali

A close-up of a Kathakali artist
Author Prathyush Thomas
Source Wikipedia

According to Yorkshire Dance the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company will perform Hima Sundari at Kala Sangam arts centre in Bradford on Sunday 7 June 2015 at 14:00.  Hima Sundari is described as the Kathakali version of Snow White. It is a story about "a young Princess, Hima Sundari who wins the heart of a Prince, but her evil stepmother, who is also the Queen, being jealous of Hima Sundari’s beauty and grace destroys her. Hima Sundari is eventually revived by the dedicated love of the Prince to prove that love conquers evil."

Kathakali is an art form that began in Kerala in the South of India. It is characterized by stylized movement and gestures, percussive music and elaborate costumes and make up with men playing both male and female parts. There is a good introductory video on the company's website with supplementary information on the site's Background page.

The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company was founded in 1987 and has toured the UK extensively to introduce Kathakali to the British public.  There is a timeline on the History page. In addition to its performances the company holds workshops and demonstrations on every aspect of the art form to folk of all cultures, ages and backgrounds. The video Workshops for all ages and abilities  shows classes for performing arts students in Lincoln, primary school pupils in the Scilly Islands, secondary school children in London and senior citizens in a community centre.

Kala Sangam describes itself as "a leading south Asian and collaborative arts organisation based at the Kala Sangam Arts Centre in Bradford."   There is an introduction to its work in the video Kala Sangam - South Asian Arts Centre, UK and the About Kala Sangam page of the centre's website. Kala Sangam is in St Peter' s House at 1 Forster Square in the city centre. It is close to the railway and bus stations and there is usually plenty of street parking on Sunday afternoons. Tickets cost £7.50 (£5.00 concessions) and can be booked through the centre's website.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Not Long Now

The 12 wonderful young dancers of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company will be here in just over a week. I saw them in Amsterdam on 6 Feb 2015 and they were excellent. They will perform at the Linbury on 5 and 6 June 2015.   You can get an idea of what to expect from my review The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015, the video that I have embedded above and their video We are the Junior Company.  

Last December I ran a feature on the Company (see Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers 6 Dec 2014).  In Ernst Meisner’s Work with the Dutch National Ballet 2 Dec 2014 Ernst Meisner explained
“It has been a wish of Artistic Director Ted Brandsen for a long time to have a Junior Company to bridge the gap between school and company. While Christopher Powney was Director at the National Ballet Academy and placing the school on the international map, it seemed the right time to start such a young group. I was involved in setting the Junior Company up and it has been great to have the chance to develop the way we like this venture to go together with Ted and Christopher (now Jean-Yves Esquerre) during the years. We had a great start last year, with seven of the first group actually having joined the main company now."
He continued:
"Of course it is great to have the connection with the main company and this is also hugely important, as our young dancers also work with the main company in the large productions. This year they are part of Swan Lake and Cinderella. Apart from that they perform their own program in which they dance soloist roles and get a lot of experience. It gives our ballet masters, artistic staff and Ted Brandsen a chance to see the young dancers tackle bigger roles and give them a lot of stage experience which they wouldn’t get if they had just been in the corps de ballet. It was great seeing the dancers grow during the season and see how they gained confidence!”
I replied that “I noticed a considerable difference between the Junior Company’s opening night in November 2013 and their performance at the Linbury in May 2014 after they had spent several months touring the Netherlands and Spain.”

Since I saw them in February the dancers will have had 4 months to mature, to get used to working with each other and to hone their technique. They have toured the Netherlands with the show that they will perform in London. Members of the Junior Company just collaborated with ISH to create Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where hip hop meets ballet.  Several have danced with the main company.  Some have even danced with the company abroad. We can expect great things of them when they come to London.

According to the Royal Opera House's website there are still a few tickets for sale for both nights. You can access the site by clicking this link.  Ernst Meisner be the London Ballet Circle's guest on 20 July 2015 so there will be a chance to discuss this project and show with him in person.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The All Blacks of the Art World are coming to Leeds

On the 3 and 4 Nov 2015 the Royal New Zealand Ballet will dance in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. A visit by a national ballet company is a great compliment to Yorkshire especially as the dancers are coming to Leeds before touring High Wycombe, Canterbury and London.

The New Zealanders are bringing two works to this country:
  • Giselle which the inimitable Adult Beginner reviewed in This is what happens when you don’t read the plot synopsis 3 Feb 2014 and Giselle 8 Feb 2014 when they visited Los Angeles last year; and
  • The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud, a mixed bill consisting of Javier de Frutos's ballet of that name, Andonis Foniadakis's Selon Desir and Neil Ieremia's Passchendaele.
The last of those works is to mark the centenary of the First Word War and New Zealand's participation in that conflict and honours the mant New Zealand troops who fell in Passchendaele. The company has performed that ballet with the band of the New Zealand army as part of Salute a tribute to that nation's war dead.

The company will dance Giselle in Wycombe and Canterbury and The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud in Leeds and London. I don't know whether it is a coincidence but the Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa which translates literally as the "land of the long white cloud".

I visited that beautiful country in February 1992 and travelled everywhere from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the South. I saw a great performance of The Mikado in the Aotoa Centre in Auckland. Equally remarkable was the sight of two young women meeting on a pedestrian crossing in Wellington Street Auckland and two lines of traffic at 18:00 at the height of the rush hour waiting patiently for them to finish their conversation. Not a single motorist hooted his horn. I do hope the New Zealand dancers don't try to do that in Wellington Street in Leeds. Our motorists just wouldn't understand.

I am no expert on rugby but I believe that the All Blacks are one of the best national sides in the world.  If the Royal New Zealand Ballet aspires to be the All Blacks of the art world I think we are in for a treat.

Post Script

@tweeting_nik who lives in New Zealand has just tweeted
I responded to her tweet as follows:

Nik has just pointed out that the mixed bill will also include "Dear Horizon" which has recently been premièred in  New Zealand.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Better than Eurovision

KNT Danceworks, Move It, The Dancehouse, Manchester 23 May 2015

I crossed the Pennines last August to take KNT Danceworks's Complete Beginners' Ballet class when Northern Ballet Academy was on vacation and Hype and Team Hud were taking a short break. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and wrote about it in So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class. I liked it so much that I returned on the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of the following week. As KNT were promoting classes in Liverpool I attended short classes with Karen Sant in ballet, jazz and contemporary in the splendour of the ballroom of Liverpool Town Hall (see It's not every Class that you can use Lord Canning's Eyes for Spotting 9 Sept 2014).

Because my over 55 classes at Northern Ballet in Leeds take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays and my classes with Fiona Noonan in Sheffield and Huddersfield are on Mondays and Wednesdays I have not been a regular in Manchester but I have continued to come whenever possible. I have also brought two of my friends from Yorkshire. Gita also liked Ailsa Baker's Complete Beginners' class and wrote about her experience in Coming Back to Ballet 12 March 2015. She and I also took a contemporary class with Ailsa which we both enjoyed (see My First Contemporary Dance Class 27 Feb 2015).

The reason we like KNT Danceworks so much is that they have some really good teachers. I have already mentioned Ailsa and Karen but I have also enjoyed class with other instructors whom I cannot name.  You will see some of my teachers in the above YouTube clip from last year's show and I think you will be impressed. They attract a good crowd of students of different ages and abilities all of whom are keen to learn. I like them a lot so when they put on a show called Move It at The Dancehouse team Terpsichore came to watch them.

You might have thought that KNT would have struggled to fill the auditorium on the night that the Eurovision Song Contest was on telly and Ballet Theatre UK were in Tameside  but far from it. There was a good crowd in a happy, clappy mood. Unlike the usual audience at the Grand or Palace there were folk of all ages, all races and both genders. A pretty representative sample of the population of Manchester I should say.

"Good evening" said a lady who later did a brilliant belly dance. The crowd mumbled. "Good evening" she repeated to a slightly louder response. "How are you?" The response became a murmur. "Do you like dancing?" A moderate "Yes".  "Do you know somebody in the show?" A much louder "yes". "So your job is to support them". That was answered with some serious applause. So she read out the acts that were to appear in the first half: intermediate ballet, tap, belly dancing, beginners' ballet, hula, African rhythm, contemporary, Chinese and contemporary.

All those acts were good and some were outstanding. My main interest was, of course, in the ballet. Both classes did well. Both had challenging choreography with music that I would not have found easy to dance to. The intermediate ballet cast were dressed as cats and slid across the floor. Two or three even ran off stage and into the audience. The beginners had some tricky temps levés which they executed well.  I am very proud to have done class with them and I have to congratulate Ailsa and Karen on a very creditable show.

Of the other acts I loved the African rhythm trio and the Chinese dancers. The Chinese, all women most but not all of whom appeared to be of Chinese heritage, wore beautiful costumes. They seemed to have a very wide repertoire for they were on stage longer than most of the other acts. I particularly liked a dance in which they waved and trailed long scarves. But I liked every part of the show - the contemporary, belly dancing, hula solo, jazz and contemporary.

After a short interval our compère reappeared but this time in a glamorous, shimmering costume. She introduced the remaining acts one of which was herself.  "We teachers like to dance as well" she explained. When she came on stage a few minutes later she was thrilling. I have not seen enough belly dancing to make comparisons but she seemed pretty good to me.  She deservedly got a deafening round of applause.

So, too, did the African dance trio who amazed us with their virtuosity. The man in the middle particularly with his cart wheels and hand and head stands. Their enthusiasm was infectious. First they got us clapping to the beat of the drums, then they got is waving and swaying our arms in time with them. They invited the audience to join them and one young woman did so. She was brilliant. I don't know whether she had rehearsed with the trio or whether she had picked up the dance on stage but she was a delight to watch.

There was one other star of the evening. A young woman of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage who danced with one of the advanced classes. I don't know her name but my guess is that she must be a teacher because she was very good. You can tell from her face that she loves to dance. She is vivacious and she can make her body do the most amazing things. She also got us clapping and moving in our seats.

There were also impressive performances by the hula dancers some of whom could rotate their hoops around one leg while balancing on the other.  There were some excellent jumps in the contemporary,  But once again it was the ballet that delighted me. The pointe class dazzled with "Putting on the Ritz" each of them with a tie round her neck which made for impressive turns.  The evening was rounded off with the advanced ballet class who were delightful. They wore lovely flowing dresses which emphasised their elegance.

I have to say a word for the technicians of the Dancehouse particularly the person in charge of the lighting. There were no props except for such things as the Chinese dancers' scarves and the pointe class's canes but there were plenty of changes of scene and mood and they were all accomplished with sound and lighting.

This week I have seen some great performances in York and Doncaster by Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet and I left both theatres on a high. They are of course world class companies and one would expect them to be good. Last night I saw part-time dancers like myself - but I left The Dancehouse on no less a high.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The King Dances

Between the 17 and 20 June 2015 Birmingham Royal Ballet will dance David Bintley's latest ballet, The King Dances at the Birmingham Hippodrome. It will be part of a double bill to celebrate Bintley's 20 tears as the company's artistic director. The other ballet will be Carmina Burana which Bintley created in 1995.

According to the company's website:
"In 1653 the 14-year-old Louis XIV of France danced the role of Apollo the sun god in Le Ballet de la nuit, and earned himself forever the soubriquet the Sun King. In The King Dances, David Bintley re-imagines the very beginnings of ballet, when men were quite literally, the kings of dance."
The dance is also imagined in Gérard Corbiau's film Le Roi danse an extract of which appears above.

Le Ballet de la nuit was the subject of the 6th Annual Oxford Dance Symposium which took place at New College on 21 April 2004.  Papers of that symposium have been compiled and edited by Michael Burden and Jennifer Thorp and published under the title Ballet De La Nuit by Pendragon Press (see  The book appears to be out of print but the following abstracts can be viewed on New College's website:
Although Jennifer Thorp says in her abstract that no choreography from the actual Ballet de la Nuit survives we do know that its purpose was to impress. 

The image of the young Louis dressed in gold as Apollo rising through the stage was intended to be an allegory of the political and religious doctrine of the divine right of kings. To understand why it was asserted in 1653 it should be remembered that France's neighbour to the North was a republic or Commonwealth having executed its own king in 1649 and France was just emerging from its own civil wars known as the Frondes in which royal authority had been challenged by the commons (le fronde parlementaire) and nobility (le fronde des nobles). Because of its concentration of music, colour, drama and movement ballet has long been seen as an instrument of state power which perhaps explains why France acquired a royal ballet in 1689 - the year of the glorious revolution in England and Wales - while England had to wait under 1956 for the equivalent institution.

There was however another style of ballet in France known as the comédie-ballet which appears in several Molière plays. In Le Malade Imaginaire the hypochondriac Argan is admitted as a medical man in a song and dance routine to the following chorus of bad Latin and worse French:
"Vivat, vivat, vivat, vivat, cent fois vivat,
Novus doctor, qui tam bene parlat!
Mille, mille annis, et manget et bibat,
Et seignet et tuat!"*
Now that is something I would really like to see on stage. I wonder whether any choreographer will rise to the challenge.

* Long live, long live, long live, long live, 100 times long live the new doctor who speaks so well. May he eat and drink for a thousand, thousand years. May he prescribe and kill."

Friday, 22 May 2015

Nixon's Masterpiece

Northern Ballet, Madame Butterfly with Perpetuum Mobile, CAST Doncaster, 21 May 2015

Yesterday Northern Ballet began a nationwide tour of venues that it has not visited before or not visited for some time. In the programme David Nixon, the company's artistic director, wrote:
"I am excited that you are joining us for a new tour, an initiative inspired to make quality dance available to more people an to expand the creativity and diversity of Northern Ballet's programming,"
The tour opened at CAST in Doncaster, a £22 million municipal theatre that opened in 2013 (Ian Youngs £22m Cast theatre opens in Doncaster 6 Sept 2013 BBC website). It will go on to Blackpool, Liverpool Playhouse, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Richmond, Bromley, Stoke, Aylesbury and Hull.

The choice of Doncaster as the starting point for the tour is interesting. Planning for the tour must have begun well before the general election. It may or may not be relevant that the town is represented in Parliament by Mesdames Rosie Winterton and Caroline Flint and by Mr Ed Miliband. Had the election gone the way that the opinion polls and many Labour Party strategists predicted Northern Ballet would have been performing in the town of the Prime Minister and two Cabinet Ministers. Some very influential people would have been in the audience. Some kind of event appears to have taken place yesterday because I met Lauren Godfrey, the company's communications manager, in the foyer clutching a bunch of programmes that were not for sale and I spotted Mark Skipper, the company's chief executive, near her.

Spending £20 million on a theatre at a time of austerity when local authorities have been cutting back on all sorts of services might seem extravagant to some. I have to say that my heart sank when I first saw the theatre from the street leading from the Civic Quarter car park. It looked as though it belonged in a different era and perhaps even a different country. I don't like the architecture one little bit. Its style is monumental and bombastic. It would not have looked out of place in 1960s Harlow or indeed the German Democratic Republic. However, I do like the theatre. The seats in the main auditorium are comfortable with plenty of leg room. Everyone has a good view of the stage. Provision is made for late comers. I paid £16 for my ticket in row I of the stalls not counting my donation to the theatre and a 50p booking fee. I was served a soft drink in the interval without queuing at the price I would expect to pay in a pub or café by a very pleasant barman and found a choice of unoccupied tables. It is a few hundred yards from the car park where I paid £2 for an evening's parking. I could have come by train from more or less anywhere on the British mainland as the mainline railway station is nearby. I could even have arrived by air because Doncaster has an international airport.

The Council justifies its £20 million expenditure as part of a regeneration package for the town that has lost much of its heavy industry.  I am no fan of public funding for the arts but the performing arts are one of the things that make life worth living. If such expenditure retains the brightest and best of Doncaster's inhabitants and perhaps even attracts wealth creators from elsewhere to the town I am all for it. Certainly there were signs that that might be happening for the theatre was packed. Even allowing for the possibility that some of the seats were occupied by those attending a shindig that was impressive. It was an appreciative crowd that knew when and where to clap. They clearly liked the show for several rose to their feet at the curtain call.

The company deserved a standing ovation because I don't think I have ever seen it dance better and I have seen some pretty good shows in the past (for example, see Realizing Another Dream 15 Sept 2013, Angelic - Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill 9 June 2013 and Sapphire 15 March 2015). The evening began with Christopher Hampson's Perpetuum Mobile which would have been enough for me had there been nothing else to see. I am a great admirer of Hampson's work and can't see enough of it. That ballet had delighted me when I saw it as part of the Mixed Programme on the 9 May 2015 and it was, if anything, even better this time round. I loved the leaps and elegant turns but most of all I enjoyed Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley's pas de deux. However, the main offering of the evening was David Nixon's Madame Butterfly. I had not seen it before and it took my breath away. I have seen a fair selection of Nixon's work and in my humble opinion Madame Butterfly is his masterpiece.

The ballet follows the story of Puccini's opera fairly closely. Like the opera it addresses some big issues like racism, clash of cultures, the oppression of women etc. When you think about it, Madame Butterfly has quite a lot in common with Giselle though unlike that ballet there is no happy ending in Madame Butterfly even beyond the grave. It is a powerful, brutal story in which no punches are pulled. The final scene of Cio-Cio alone on stage, desolate, plunging the sword into her body is one of the most affecting I have ever seen in the theatre not just in ballet but in any of the performing arts. 

Cio-Cio San was performed by Pippa Moore, a beautiful dancer whom I already admired greatly. Yesterday she soared even higher in my esteem and affection. How she delighted us with her ecstatic jumps as she anticipated the return of her husband. How she mimicked his salutes and handshakes much to the amusement of Suzuki danced by Luisa Rocco. How she punished Goro (Matthew Koon) with nicks from her fan for his temerity in presenting another suitor. How we suffered with her at her final betrayal when she was forced to confront Kate Pinkerton (Lucia Solari) after the cowardly Lieutenant had disappeared unable to face her.

Pinkerton was danced by Kelley McKinlay, a guest artist from Canada. He performed that role well. Dashing and swaggering in the opening scenes as he wooed Cio-Cio but faltering and weak in the last as he left it to his wife to snatch their son from her. Kevin Poeung and Isaac Lee-Baker were Pinkerton's brother officers, lads on the town in a foreign port having the time of their lives. Ashley Dixon danced Sharpless, the consul with a conscience. Hironeo Takahashi danced the menacing Shinto priest Bonze and the hapless suitor Yamadori.

John Logstaff's orchestration  of Puccini's music was very successful. All the well known and well loved tunes were there. The score was opened and closed with what I assume to be traditional Japanese music. The voice that accompanied Cio-Cio's preparation for her ritual suicide was haunting and chilling but also strangely beautiful. The set designs - particularly the massive orb and the icons - were impressive as was Alistair West's lighting.

Other Reviews

Vera Liber   Madame Butterfly with Perpetuum Mobile British Theatre Guide

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Birmingham Royal Ballet in York

Grand Opera House, York, 20 May 2015

This month the Birmingham Royal Ballet split in two. One part is touring York, Nottingham, Durham and Shrewsbury ("the Northern tour"). The other Truro, Poole, Cheltenham and High Wycombe ("the Southern tour"). The Northern tour is dancing Les Rendezvous, Kin and Elite Syncopations which I believe the Southern tour danced last year. I caught the Northern tour at the Grand Opera House in York yesterday.

I had been to the Grand Opera House once before. My late spouse and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary by watching the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala there on the 29 July 2007. I remember that evening for all sorts of reasons. I had already started a course of endocrinology that was already changing my appearance. I was about to change my name and dress under clinical supervision which was likely to add all sorts of complexities to our marriage. My late spouse was already tiring and faltering for no apparent reason. Symptoms of an illness that was eventually diagnosed as motor neurone disease. It was a lovely evening which we knew would be our last as a conventional couple. We had intended to continue celebrating the anniversary come even after I had changed my name and status. What we did not know was that it would be our last anniversary celebration ever.

I did not keep this blog in 2007 but I have located a review of the gala by Charles Hutchinson which appeared in The Press on 31 July 2007. It was the first time I saw Xander and Demelza Parish and they stick in my memory because their performance in Christopher Hampson's Echoes was outstanding. I expected them both to go far but I did not expect that the next time I would see Xander would be in the title role of Romeo and Juliet with the Mariinsky at Covent Garden (see Reet Gradely: Romeo and Juliet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House 29 July 2014 31 July 2014). There were many other stars that night such as Warne Sleep, Lauren Cuthbertson, Marianella Núñez, Samara Downs and of course Marguerite Porter.  It was altogether a wonderful evening.

I saw the delightful Downs again last night dancing the Calliope rag sexily and sultrily in Kenneth MacMillan's Elite Syncopations. We had also expected to see her in Alexander Whitley's Kin but sadly that was not to be. Towards the end of the first and as it happened only interval Marion Tait squeezed through the curtains and welcomed us to the show. "If only that was all I had to say", she continued, but alas we learned that Delia Mathews had sustained an injury in Les Rendezvous and had to be rushed to hospital. As she was to be the lead female dancer in Kin it could not be performed without her. So the stage had to be set for Elite Syncopations which Tait said that she knew we would enjoy.

Had such an announcement been made at a rock concert, football match or some other entertainment the audience would have taken it badly but ballet is different. We know that every performance is subject to the artist's availability, that injury is a constant worry for dancers and that sometimes there have to be cast changes or even cancellations. Throughout the auditorium there was a surge of sympathy for Mathews. Ballet is like a family even for the audience and everyone was concerned for her as we would be concerned for a family member. We couldn't help noticing the incident which came towards the end of the ballet but it was over in a trice. Brave lady and pro that she is, she picked herself up in a trice and continued to dance gracefully off stage even though she must have been in considerable pain. Although Tait said the injury was serious I was relieved to learn from a manager that it was muscular and there was no damage to a tendon. There is every hope that she will make a full recovery. Like everyone who was in the theatre I send her my love and wish her well.

While the evening was shorter than I had expected it was every bit as good as I had hoped for. Ahston's Les Rendezvous to Auber's music as arranged and orchestrated by Constant Lambert was delightful. Sadly no programmes were on sale last night because someone had sent the wrong ones to York but I had seen the ballet before and knew that it was one of Ashton's first works. According to Wikipedia it was first performed by the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1933. The costumes and the backdrop had a period feel and I thought they must have been the original designs until I read that they had been created by Anthony Ward. I loved the women's dresses with large polka dots and the men's blazers in different colours. Quite like the Stewards enclosure at Henley. Mathews danced beautifully in Les Rendezvous as indeed did everyone. But if I have to single out anyone it has to be Brandon Lawrence, a Bradford lad who clearly relished his return to God's own county. He danced proudly and magisterially. There was no doubt that he was glad to be back on home turf.

Though they must have been concerned for their colleague the dancers and orchestra gave Elite Syncopations their all. For those who have not seen it,this ballet was created by Kenneth MacMillan a few years after he had succeeded Ashton as principal choreographer at Covent Garden. The music is by Scott Joplin and it is delivered by the musicians on stage. Each of the dancers does a turn. I have already mentioned Downs's Calliope which everyone loved but there were more delights: Reiina Fuchigami and Oliver Till in The Golden Hours, Yvette Knight's Stoptime Rag, James Barton and Yijing Zhang in The Alaskan Rag, Chi Cao's exuberant Friday Night and the whole cast's joyful entry and exit.

Like the 2007 gala I shall remember yesterday as an evening of great ballet. The company had a good audience. There was thunderous applause at the end including some serious amphitheatre style whooping from a gent in one of the rows behind me. York has an opera house that is grand in more than name only.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


Yesterday ArtStreaming TV transmitted English National Ballet School's annual choreographic competition over the internet to computers, tablets, mobile devices and TVs around the world. I was able to see glimpses of the transmission but not nearly as much as I should have liked as I had other commitments last night.

Gavin McCaig. who trained at English National Ballet School and now dances with Northern Ballet tweeted
" will you get to tune in Jane? fantastic pioneers with this incredible live streaming idea!"
And he's right. It is an impressive technology and an inspired way of disseminating dance to the world. English National Ballet School is to be congratulated for its part in this transmission.

The founder and executive producer of ArtStreamingTV is Andre Portasio who also trained at English National Ballet School and danced with the English National Ballet.  As you can see from his web page, he has an impressive set of credentials and has enjoyed a distinguished career on the stage and off it. 

English National Ballet School's website refers to A day in the life of English National Ballet School. It was watched live by over 6,000 people across 23 countries and afterwards by another 15,000 on demand. The video shows various classes starting with barre, pas de deux, body conditioning, jumps and choreography and includes interviews with Tamarra Rojo, George Williamson who created Dawn Dances for the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company and of course Samira Saidi, Director of Dance at the School.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

It takes Three to Tango

The most fascinating country I have ever visited is Argentina. I have made two visits there and travelled from Iguazu Falls in the North to Tierra del Fuego in the South, the Tigre delta to Mount Aconcagua and from the simple Welsh settlement in Dolavon to Alpine Bariloche. On each of my visits I have learned to love the tango and, in particular, the music of Astor Piazzolla.

In the last few weeks I have seen two ballets that have been set to Piazzolla's music.  Scottish Ballet performed van Manen's 5 Tangos and Northern Ballet Daniel de Andrade's Fatal Kiss.  Here's what I wrote about 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."
See  No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015. I reviewed Fatal Kiss in Between Friends - Northern Ballet's Mixed Programme 10 May 2015 and Sapphire 15 March 2015.

Now there is a chance to see another ballet set to Piazzolla's music. Kit Holder has choreographed Quatrain for Birmingham Royal Ballet to Piazzolla's The Four Season's of Buenos Aires. Holder is an impressive talent. I first noticed him in Ballet Black's To Fetch a Pail of Water (see Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet 17 Feb 2015) and I was bowled over by Hopper which he created for Ballet Central (see Dazzled 3 May 2015).

Holder is not the only promising young choreographer from Birmingham Royal Ballet. Ruth Brill who enchants me with her dancing has choreographed Matryoshka to music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Last year my over 55 class danced to music by the same composer and it was lovely. Matryoshka was created last year for Symphony Hall and it won a lot of compliments. I very much look forward to seeing it too.

Birmingham Royal Ballet are dancing those works as part of their southern tour which starts tomorrow in Truro and is zigzagging its way through the South West taking in Poole, Cheltenham and Wycombe. I'm traipsing down to Bucks for the show next week. I shall also see the northern tour in York tomorrow. Should be good.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Margot Fonteyn

Bronze statute of Dame Margot Fonteyn
Photograph by Ian Yarham,
Commons Attribution Share-alike licence 2.0
Source Wikipedia

Peggy Hookham was born this day in Reigate exactly 96 years ago. She is of course better known as Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, prima ballerina assoluta and probably one pf the greatest dancers of all time. I won't attempt a biography. There are plenty around as well as her own autobiography. For those who want to research her life and career the Wikipedia article provides a good starting point.

I shall confine myself to some personal memories. Although I saw her on television many times as I was growing up I did not see her on stage until I went to university. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s when she was entering her fifties. One of the roles that I saw her dance was Juliet in Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet from which a remarkable film was made. You can still see on YouTube. I saw her in most of the other great classical roles as I was a Young Friend of Covent Garden and practically lived at the House in the Christmas, Easter and first part of the Summer vacations between 1969 and 1972.

My last memory of Fonteyn was not on the stage but in the Great Hall of Lincoln's Inn. She had been invited to dine with the benchers on Grand Day. This is an occasion when prominent individuals in public life visit the Inn. Usually the benchers and their guests enter and leave the hall in silence. After their name is read out they are greeted with a bow which they usually reciprocate. But when Dame Margot left the Hall there was an explosion of applause as though she had danced Odette-Odile. Her smile will remain with me to my dying day.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

There's more to Harpenden than Thameslink

I've discovered that the easiest and cheapest way to London is to drive to Luton Parkway which takes just over two and a half hours from Dodworth (the "w" is not pronounced  by the locals and they glare at you if try to do so) where I join the M1. I park in the multistorey for £2.50 so long as I arrive after 17:00. Then I make my way into town by Thameslink which takes me to Farringdon that is close to the Wells and within walking distance of the House and Coli for £10 return. "Easy peasy lemon squeezy" as they say. So much more convenient than East Midlands Trains from Sheffield or Virgin from Donny.

Just past Parkway there is a station called Harpenden. For a long time I thought that was all there was to Harpenden but on Friday I learned that there is also The Harpenden Summer Dance School. Not only that but one of the teachers is Hfbrew (Helen Brewer) who tells me who is dancing in Ballet Theatre UK's performances. Without her help I could never review that company's shows because BTUK does not publish cast lists and the chap who sells the programmes never knows who is dancing.

According to its home page The Harpenden Summer Dance School "is primarily a week long dance course that takes place every August during the week prior to the Bank Holiday." Apparently it is suitable for keen dance students of all levels and its ethos is to provide top quality dance training during the summer break in a friendly and informal atmosphere. I have already said that Helen is, one of the teachers. The others are Mary Schon and Richard Reynard. All three have impressive credentials.  There are classes in ballet, jazz and musical theatre at junior, senior and advanced levels as well as coaching for the more advanced students.

Fees start at £12 for a single class with discounts for second and subsequent classes on the same day. A weekly pass costs £150 which is not bad for the Home Counties, the land of milk and honey, where everybody drives a Bentley and the average mortgage is bigger than the GDP of several UN member states.So if you are interested you can download the application form here. The school has a really pretty logo (or device marks as we sad old fossils call such things) and a t-shirt emblazoned with that design will set you back £12.

If you want to learn more about this course you can call Helen on 07818 448400 or send her an email.