Tuesday, 29 September 2015


Van Gogh "Sunflowers"
Source Wikipedia
Reproduced under GNU free documentation licence

On 27 Sept 2015 Chantry Dance performed Duology, their double bill at the Square Chapel in Halifax. Gita and I had already seen their rehearsal of Vincent - a stranger to himself when we visited their rehearsal studios earlier in the month and knew what to expect (see Chantry Dance's Vincent - Rarely have I been more excited by a New Ballet 4 Sept 2015). Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, however, was completely new.

I enjoyed both works but I think that the Nachtmusik was the better of the two. Ostensibly it was a tussle between Paul Chantry, Rae Pipler and David Beer for space on a settee that could seat three at a pinch but comfortably only two. Of course as two of the contestants were men competing for the attention of the female it developed into something of a love triangle. It was very cleverly choreographed by Chantry and Piper to Mozart's famous music and executed beautifully by the three.

Vincent which followed after the interval was an opportunity for the company's recruits, Rebecca Scanlon and Sorel de Paula Hanika, as well as some of their associates to shine. They were a credit to the company. I was particularly impressed by the appearance of their ghostly faces from behind a glass screen at the back of the stage. Beer, dressed in black, was a disturbing presence. Did he represent death or madness? Piper and Chantry were powerful and their last duet was particularly moving. The production was impressive even in rehearsal. It was magnificent on Saturday night.

After the show the company stayed on stage to answer questions from the audience. Helen Gavaghan asked whether the choreographers had read much about van Gogh before they started to create the ballet and learned that they had read loads. In particular, they had read the artist's letters to his brother. Someone else asked about the creative process, whether the music came first and how they developed the story.  Gita commented on the enormous progress the company had made since their last visit to Halifax. I asked them about their school (see If only I were young again - Chantry School of Contemporary and Balletic Arts 27 July 2014).

It was a good evening. My only disappointment was that the Square Chapel was nowhere near full. I knew that they had a full house in Grantham and Woolwich and a good turnout in Birmingham. Piper said that we had been a lovely audience and that the company hoped to return to Halifax but I can't help wondering whether they might do better at some other venues such as the Studio in Bradford or even the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Leeds where there is already an audience for contemporary ballet. Halifax is at the very extremity of the Leeds City Region, it is not as easy to reach by public transport as Bradford or Leeds and not everybody has heard of the Square Chapel. I think most of the Square Chapel audience would travel to Leeds to see Chantry Dance again. I do not know how many of the crowd who regularly turn out in mass for Phoenix or Rambert would trek out west however good the show.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley

On 4 July 2015 I danced again at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in the Northern Ballet Academy's end of year show (see My Second Ballet 5 July 2015). Gita reviewed our performance in Northern Ballet Academy's End of Year Show 9 July 2015. Last Saturday we took out show on tour and danced in A Feast of Music and Dance by Older Performers at Morley.

We contributed to a lunch time cabaret organized by LEAF partners (Yorkshire Dance, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance, Leeds Grand Theatre and City Varieties and Opera North) at Morley Town Hall. The cabaret was part of a project known as Young at Arts which is itself part of a 6 year programme called Time to Shine that will bring the arts to older audiences in community centres, health centres, care homes, shopping centres and leisure centres so that they can get creative, active and connected. The Time to Shine programme is funded by the Big Lottery's Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better scheme to reduce social isolation of 200,000 older people.

The cabaret took place in the basement of the Town Hall between 11:30 and 13:00. For those who are not from these parts, Morley is a town of about 44,000 people a few miles south of Leeds. Although it forms part of the metropolitan district of Leeds for local government purposes it remains a distinct community in its own right with its own mayor and town council who meet in their own town hall. We were asked to meet Selina McGonagle, Northern Ballet's director of learning at the town hall at 11:30. I reported to Selina at the appointed time and found most of our troupe already seated around a table which had been reserved for us. That table was one of several that had been arranged around a wooden dance floor. A screen had been erected just behind the stage and there were also trestle tables with sandwiches and cake and tea and coffee urns in a corner of the room.  The room was already quite full by the time I arrived. Almost all those who were present appeared to be aged 55 and many much older. They seemed to be a representative cross-section of the population of Morley.

As we needed to warm up someone found a corridor with handrails just outside the room where the event was to take place.  It was not ideal because it was on a slope and very narrow but we each did out own barre exercises. I started in the way that I had been shown by most of my teachers and faced the rail in first position. I did three tendus to the front with my right food rotating my toes on the third, three to the side and three to the right, repeating the exercise with my left and then reversing with a plié and a rise on demi pointe after each set. I then did a set of demi and full  pliés in each of the five positions with side bends in second and fourth and a back bend in third, followed by more tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, développés, cloches, grands battements and finally the very deep stretches on the barre that Karen Sant had originally taught me at KNT and which Jane Tucker had refined in the Swan Lake intensive. In the corner of my eye I could see that most of my classmates were doing the same.

Selina called us back form a film from a dance group from Canberra called "The Golds" who seemed to be very similar to us. They were also aged 55 or over and their number included folk who had danced or taught dance to quite a high level as well as several individuals like me who had taken up dancing in the last year or so. I subsequently learned that Gold is an acronym for Growing Old Disgracefully and that it is "an exciting dance class for movers and non movers over 55 years with a focus on fitness, mobility and creativity." That class was originally part of a performance project for over 55s in early 2011, in association with the National Library of Australia and Belconnen Arts Centre, and supported by the ACT Government under the ACT Health Promotion Grants Program.

I had actually visited Canberra on the way to an International Bar Association conference in Sydney and had spent a very pleasant weekend touring the city and its environs. My late spouse and I visited the Houses of Parliament and saw one of the earliest copies of Magna Carta. We heard part of an appeal to the High Court of Australia which is the federal supreme court of the country and were surprised to find the judges who were sitting en banc in American style gowns which reminded us of night shirts rather than the sort of robes that our judges wore at that time. We patronized a restaurant called The Republic where the local politicians, lobbyists, journalists and others are said to hang out. We marvelled at the local bird life which made one hell of a racket at nightfall and somewhere spotted a family of kangaroos. We explored the mountainous countryside nearby. It was very beautiful but also very cold and actually snowed quite heavily in the hills and briefly even in the city while we were there.

The Golds did not dance at the lunch but they did answer questions from the audience. Unfortunately I had to miss the Q and A in order to rehearse.  We were then called back for lunch after which we changed into our costumes. I think the Feeling Good Theatre Company and a group from Yorkshire Dance did a turn or showed a film but we missed them because we had to get into costume. Then it was us. We were nearly forgotten by the compère who was about to close the show but her co-presenter reminded her that we were still to dance.

We entered the dance floor, took up our positions and danced.  We raised our right arms in sequence, then our left and tuned in out sets. We swayed back and forth and turned. Then we did a couru in demi flapping our arms like swans. Half of us them did balancés and pas de bourrées while the other half prepared to jump. We ran back to allow them to do their glissades. Then a dancer from stage left followed with a balancé and a temps levés while two if us did the same from the other side. We took up our final positions in a semicircle lifting an arm in sequence and then finally a post de bras to right and left. I think it went very well except that my hand bashed the hand of another dancer as we were both turning which was entirely my fault. We had to change our choreography a little as we had a much smaller stage, fewer dancers and were dancing in the round but we remembered the changes and executed them well. We received very generous applause from the audience. An elderly lady in a hijab congratulated me and told me how much she and her companion had enjoyed the show. She said that it was her first taste of ballet and that she hoped to see more ballet in future. As the object of the exercise is to bring the performing arts to members of the public who do not attend the theatre regularly I chalked that up as a success.

After the show I introduced myself to some of the Golds. I suggested challenging them to a cricket match but they had to prepare for their next engagements in Bradford and Vienna and I am not sure that everyone in our class would have been up for a game. One of the Golds asked me how long I had been dancing. I replied that I had been with the Northern Ballet Academy over 55 class for two years but that I had also had a year from an excellent teacher from Brisbane and had also benefited from classes from Adam at Pineapple and Sarah at KNT who were also Australian. The Golds positively purred at that answer.

Selina thanked us for performing. So did the compère and her staff. Most importantly our teacher Annemarie seemed genuinely pleased with us. I enjoyed the afternoon enormously and hope we can do something like that again very soon.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake at the Lowry

Reproduced under standard YouTube licence

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Swan Lake, The Lowry 24 Sept 2015

I like a traditional Swan Lake. The productions by David Nixon, Christopher Moore and Matthew Bourne are all quite admirable in their way but I want my swans to be girls, the same ballerina to dance Odette and Odile with 32 fouettés in act III and the action to take place somewhere in Central Europe rather than the United States. Peter Wright's production for the Birmingham Royal Ballet was of the traditional kind and it was one of the best I have ever seen.

Even though it followed tradition Sir Peter did add some original touches which I think worked quite well. During the overture the curtain lifted on a funeral cortège for Siegfried's father. Suddenly the 21 year old has to assume state responsibilities including marriage to a princess who will bear children to continue the royal line. The weight of those responsibilities come home to him as he dances alone towards the end of the first act. Such a Siegrfied meeds to be a young, sensitive dancer and that role was danced exquisitely by Joseph Caley.

Such a Siegried also needs a very special Swan Queen. A fragile and vulnerable Odette and a wily and wilful Odile. Such roles are not always combined well. Some ballerinas soar as swans but are utterly unconvincing seductresses. For other it is the other way round. On Thursday night Momoko Hirarata excelled in both. Her solo in the pas de deux in the third act with all those turns was breathtaking. How could any prince resist her even if he had been aware that she was Rothbart's daughter.

I was delighted to see Celine Gittens as the Polish princess who is one of my favourites in the company. Ruth Brill, another favourite was also there as one of Siegrfied's attendants. Valentin Olovyannikov made a formidable Rothbart and Matthias Dingman a faithful Benno.

I should say a word for Philip Prowse's designs which were magnificent  I was particularly impressed with the lakeside scene with the moonlight reflected by the ripples on the surface. It was a beautiful romantic setting enchanting but also slightly forbidding.

Having attended KNT's summer intensive last month I took a particular interest in the dances that I had learned. I relived every temps levé and arabesque of the swans, the pas de chats and changements of the cygnets, my feeble attempts to pirouette and turn in the air in Siegfried's solo and the stately czardas.  That course enhanced my appreciation of the ballet a hundred thousand times. I wish I could do a similar workshop for every ballet I see.

In the first interval I met Janet McNulty in the temporary bar area. She was as enthralled by the performance as much as I had been. She had already seen Gittens and Tyrone Singleton the night before for which I really envy her.  I wish I could have seen the other casts but I was also performing today and had to rehearse for my show. However I love this production and was well satisfied with Thursday night's show. I hope to see it again with the other casts at one of the other venues this season,

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Isn't it great when you find a teacher with whom you just click

Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova in Swan Lake
Dutch National Ballet Gala 8 Sept 2015
Photo Angela Sterling
(c) Dutch National Ballet 2015 All rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

You are probably wondering why I am writing about a ballet teacher under a photograph of the great Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova in Swan Lake. You will find the answer in my review of the Dutch National Ballet's gala of 8 Sept 2015:
"The first half of the evening was rounded off gloriously by Golding and Tsygankova's pas de deux from the black Act of Swan Lake. That was thrilling although I couldn't help thinking of my own shortcomings when I tried to learn Siegfried's solo at KNT's ballet intensive last month (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 3 20 Aug 2015). They were as magnificent in Swan Lake as they had been in Cinderella on 8 July 2015 (see Wheeldon's Cinderella 13 July 2015)."
The teacher who taught us Siegfried's dance as well as the cygnets, the Hungarian dance and the entry of the swans was Jane Tucker and she teaches the adult ballet improvers' class on Wednesday evenings at Northern Ballet.

The reason I mention Jane today is that Birmingham Royal Ballet are at The Lowry this week and tonight I shall see the whole ballet with Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley in the title roles. Another favourite, Céline Gittens, is in the show too. I admire all the other artists in the cast too. We should be in for a treat tonight. chukkas and toi-toi to all and indeed to all the other casts who will perform at The Lowry. I shall be looking out for the dances that I was taught with particular interest. That Swan Lake intensive has given me insight into the ballet that I could bir have gained in any other way.

When I was learning Latin in the early 1960s I had a classics master called Smith. Mr Smith was terrifying. If he caught you yawning in his class he would make you run  round the Big Side (the playing field that ran alongside the Talgarth Road opposite the Royal Ballet School and later LAMDA as it happens) in full school uniform. He was also an officer in the corps and if you dared to yawn in his class on Monday when we all turned up in cadet uniform you found yourself running round Big Side with a heavy pack. But I was devoted to Smith because he aspired to excellence and coaxed the very best out of his pupils. He taught me that my classics lessons were not just exercises with particles of sound but the gateway to brilliant civilizations whose treasures are still accessible with just a modicum of effort.

Fifty years on I have found another teacher like that. She is not in the least bit terrifying and the only time she makes you run found anything is in warm up.  But she has the same aspiration to excellence and she coaxes the best out of her pupils in exactly the same way as Smith. Obviously none of us will ever dance like Golding or Tsygankova or the excellent dancers of the Birmingham Royal Ballet whom I shall see tonight but with any luck we will all dance better than we did last week. I feel pretty sure that I do.

To be fair all the teachers of Northern Ballet are good and I learn something valuable from each of them. I also have a brilliant teacher at Team Hud to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude for leading me back into ballet. I shall never forget Adam at Pineapple who has only taught me twice but has taught me a lot or the wonderful teachers at KNT, Ailsa, Josh, Karen, Mark and Sarah. But there are some teachers with whom pupils just click. Last week I was stuck with a turn. Jane talked me through it and turned with me. Last night  I saw her do the same with others:  a young classmate doing a particularly awkward jump and re-inspiring an older classmate who had danced with one of our great national companies in her youth but has now been weakened by disease and the passing of years. It was this coaxing of the best from everyone that reminded me so much of Smith and it is why I am equally devoted to her.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Romeo and Juliet in the Cinema - the Royal Opera House gets it right

Embedded pursuant to the standard YouTube licence

In the past I have been rather critical of the Royal Opera House's live ballet transmissions to cinemas. In The Royal Ballet's Swan Lake - that's more like it 25 March 2015 I wrote:
"I have not been too kind about HDTV transmissions of the Royal Ballet's performances from Covent Garden ("¡Por favor! Don Quixote streamed to Huddersfield" 13 Oct 2013, Good Quality Hamburger at the Very Least - Giselle streamed from Covent Garden 27 Jan 2014" and "Manon Encore at the Huddersfield Odeon" 20 Oct 2014) though I recanted slightly over The Winter's Tale ("The Winter's Tale - Time to eat my Hat" 29 April 2014). In general I have much preferred Pathe-Live's transmissions from Moscow."
March's Swan Lake was much better and yesterday's Romeo and Juliet was just right. It was as good as anything that has been transmitted from Moscow and I congratulate Ross MacGibbon and his team on the screening.

A large part of the reason for last night's success was the engagement of Ore Oduba. He is a skilled TV presenter in a way that Darcey Bussell is not. He has an easy manner and conveyed the sense of excitement and occasion of the man on the Clapham smartphone so much better than the stream of gushing tweets that had irritated me so much on previous occasions.   Oduba also freed up Bussell for some important interviews.  There were some interesting contributions from Lady MacMillan and Donald MacLeary whom I saw last year at the London Jewish Cultural Centre (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 June 2015). I was also impressed by the interview with Garbiel Prokofiev who wrote the music for Shobana Jeyasingh's La Bayadère - the Ninth Life (see La Bayadère - The Ninth Life 29 March 2015). I also enjoyed the conversations with Koen Kessels and Kevin O'Hare as well as the snippets form Steven McRae, Sarah Lamb and others.

The great advantage of live transmissions is that you get to see the detail of the ballet from the close ups. These include facial expressions such as the shame on the faces of Romeo and his mates when they are ticked for brawling off by Escalus, the parties' disdain when they are forced to reconcile, Tybalt's permanent sneer and the vengeful grief of Lady Capulet. Cinema audiences also got a chance to examine the props such as Juliet's poppet in Act I and the vial of liquid that would suspend her animation which she approached with such enormous trepidation. The close ups also allowed me to concentrate on important parts of the choreography such as the courous en pointe as Juliet recoils from Paris the significance of which I had never appreciated on all the occasions that I have seen it on stage.

McRae and Lamb were magnificent in the title roles. I have always liked them in every ballet in which I have seen them perform. A special word of praise is due to Gary Avis who is another of my favourites. He danced Tybalt and was excellent.  All were good -  especially Alexander Campbell as Mercutio, Ryoichi Hirano as Paris, Elizabeth McGorian as Lady Capulet, Genesia Rosato as the nurse, Alastair Marriott as Friar Lawrence and Bennet Gatside as Escalus. It was also great to see Nicholas Georgiadis's rich designs again. They are as awesome now as they were when I first saw that ballet four and a half decades ago.

Romeo and Juliet is not a short ballet but seldom has an evening passed so quickly. Finally, although I promoted the screening in Centenary Square (see Ballet for Everybody in Centenary Square 4 June 2015) I actually saw it in the Pictureville cinema at the National Media Museum a few hundred yards away. There may well have been a party atmosphere in the Square and other big screens up and down the country and you can get in for free but it was a bit chilly on the first night of Autumn, the seats are hard and the screen and audio leave a lot to be desired.  I like my comfort at my time of life and the Museum with its bar, restaurant and convenient parking is one of the most civilized venues I know anywhere in the world.


Alison Penfold who lives in London drew my attention to the fact that the big screen in Centenary Square was out of action on Tuesday night.   In response to my post:
"There was a quite a lot of price variation in Bradford where there was a big screen in Centenary Square and folk could see the show for free."
She wrote:
"Except they couldn't: I believe there was some problem and the screening was cancelled?"
That was news to me and I was only a few hundred yards from Centenary Square. It turns out that Alison was right. The Royal Opera House tweeted
It is  a great shame that that happened. Bradford has many different communities and cultures and Tuesday would have been a great opportunity to introduce ballet to folk who would never otherwise see it.

Further Information

See Live Performances from the Bolshoi and Covent Garden 20 Sept 2015

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Live Performances streamed from the Bolshoi and Covent Garden

This is the latest list of live ballet transmissions by the Royal Ballet and Bolshoi from Covent Garden and Moscow that I have been able to compile. There will be two Giselles to compare and two Nutcrackers. There will be new work from Carlos Acosta (Carmen) and Liam Scarlett (Frankenstein) and new productions of The Lady of the Camelias, The Taming of the Shrew and Don Quixote from Russia. 

22 Sept
Royal Ballet
27 Sept
11 Oct

8 Nov

11 Nov
Royal Ballet

6 Dec

16 Dec
Royal Ballet

20 Dec

24 Jan

26 Jan
Royal Ballet

13 Mar

6 Apr
Royal Ballet

10 Apr

18 May
Royal Ballet

If I get any more information I shall let you know.

Last Updated 29 Sept 2015

Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

On 17 Sept 2015 Northern Ballet announced that it had commissioned Cathy Marston to create a new ballet called Jane Eyre based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë to a score by Philip Feeney. The ballet is to be premièred on 19 May 2016 at CAST in Doncaster where I saw Madame Butterfly earlier this year (see Nixon's Masterpiece 22 May 2015). It will also be performed in Richmond upon Thames, Aylesbury, Wolverhampton, Stoke on Trent and Leicester over subsequent days.

Marston was the artistic director of the Bern Ballet between 2007 and 2013 where she created a large number of new works.  One of them is Wuthering Heights which is rather different from David Nixon's version (see Wuthering Heights 19 March 2015).  Marston, like Brontë, was born in the North but she was brought up in Cambridge and London and spent most of her adult life in Switzerland.  She speaks about her life and her work in this video.

For Wuthering Heights Marston commissioned a score from Dave Maric. For her other work by a Brontë sister she will collaborate with a composer who has already written many scores for Northern Ballet (see Cinderella, Dracula and Christopher Gable's Cinderella).  I have had the pleasure of watching him play for Ballet Central when they have visited The Lowry and Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatres (see Central Forward 25 March 2013 and Dazzled 3 May 2015). The set designer is Patrick Kinmonth and the lighting engineer is Al West.  They will have a field day staging the fire.

No casting has been announced yet. I guess Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt must be favourites for Jane and Mr Rochester. Blow and Bateman are also obvious alternates for Jane and maybe Takahashi for Rochester. I can only speculate who will be unfortunate enough to dance poor, mad Mrs Rochester. I can see a nice role for one of the younger dancers in  Helen and two horrible ones in Aunt Reed and the Rev Brocklehurst.  If you have not yet read Jane Eyre you can download it for free in several versions from Project Gutenberg.

Although I think Northern Ballet has quite enough ballets based on GCSE set texts as it is I am looking forward to this work, At the symposium on narrative dance earlier this year David Nixon said that the company was best known for that type of ballet.  Marston describes herself as
"a choreographer, who joins the artistic dots and creates form for stories, emotions and ideas. She gives new perspectives to old narratives; opens original ideas to new audiences and crafts unexpected matches between classical and contemporary art forms."
Elsewhere she adds:
"During her six year tenure in Switzerland directing the Bern Ballett, her British ‘respect for the playwright’ became influenced by the ideas of German theatre and ‘Director’s Theatre’, resulting in her unique, hybrid signature. Lending new perspectives to old narratives in her version of Chekov’s Three Sisters, or in her historically-inspired Witch-hunt: both are danced-stories stripped back to their essence and displaying high quality technique and unflinching expressive integrity."
Let's hope she remembers that the audiences the company is likely to find in Doncaster and the other mid-size venues will not be like those she found in Bern and that most of them will have very fixed ideas about Jane Eyre.

Alexandra Radius Prize 2015

Maia Makhateli and Alexandra Radius
Photo Angela Sterling
(c) Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved

When I was growing up and taking an interest in ballet for the first time Alexandra Radius was the best known dancer from the Netherlands of her generation. She was often featured in the British press together with her husband Han Ebbelaar. I saw them once on one of their visits to London.  Radius was a beautiful dancer in both classical and modern roles as you can see form these YouTube videos of her in Swan Lake and Twilight and Sleeping Beauty with her husband. The last video shows Radius and Ebbelaar as they are today discussing the exception al talent of Michaela DePrince.  Radius's contribution to the development of the Dutch National Ballet is acknowledged in the history page of the company's website.

Another acknowledgement of Radius's contribution is the Alexandra Radius prize which is awarded to the most outstanding dancer of the year. Recent winners have included Anu Viheriäranta in 2010, Matthew Golding in 2011, Casey Herd in 2012, Remi Wörtmeyer in 2013 and Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández in 2914.

This year's winner was Maia Makhateli who has two connections with this country. She is the sister of David Makhateli who was a principal with the Royal Ballet between 2007 and 2012. She danced with the Birmingham Royal Ballet though she found our climate uncongenial.  Makhateli was presented with the prize by Radius herself at the opening gala of the 2015-2016 ballet season on 8 Sept 2015 (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015). I was there when she received her award and I saw her dance in van Manen's Two Pieces for Het and Balanchine's Jewels later in the evening.

To appreciate that lovely dancer and her art see the Dutch National Ballet's video on her:

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Back to Class in Leeds and Moscow

Tomorrow is my first ballet class of the new academic year. Although this video was taken some years ago before I joined the class, most of the students are still there as is our teacher, Annemarie, and our pianist.

This year there are Improvers' classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and they last slightly longer than in previous years (see the timetable), Term actually started last week but I missed the first class in order to attend the Dutch National Ballet gala in Amsterdam (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015).

Although I missed class last week because I was travelling and the week before because of work I have been able to keep training for most of the summer. I have managed to attend classes most weeks at KNT in Manchester which take place in the studios of Northern Ballet School and Team Hud at the University of Huddersfield. I also attended Jane Tucker's Swan Lake intensive at KNT on 17, 18 and 19 Aug which was my summer holiday this year as well as her vacation classes at Northern Ballet. I even managed to get to London to take another class with Adam Pudney at Pineapple (see Another Slice of Pineapple 12 July 2015).

Tomorrow we are rehearsing for another performance of Lullaby at Morley Town Hall on 26 Sept 2015 (see One Last Chance to Shine 11 Aug 2015). This is advertised as A Feast of Music and Dance by Older Performers which is targeted at audiences aged 55+. If you want to see us click here to book on-line.

Finally, although it has nothing to do with us, I found this lovely video of a beginners' adult ballet class in Moscow. Don't the girls look happy? What is it about ballet that has that effect on us?


Monday, 14 September 2015

Watkins on 1984

The world in 1984
Author MichaelsProgramming
Source: Wikipedia

After Northern Ballet's performance of 1984 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Friday Jonathan Watkins agreed to answer questions from members of the audience.  The session took place in the Quarry auditorium where the ballet had been informed.

I had read up about Watkins earlier in the year because I liked his A Northern Trilogy and seen a number of videos in which he had appeared on YouTube. I was aware that he came from South Yorkshire, that he had trained at the Royal Ballet School and that he had danced with the Royal Ballet between 2003 and 2013. It occurred to me that Ernst Meisner, one of my favourite choreographers, would have been one of his contemporaries.

The session was opened by a lady whose name I forget but who I believe must have been Selina McGonagle for she introduced herself as Northern Ballet's Director of Learning. As she was chairing the session she reserved the right to ask the first question which was on how the concept of the ballet had changed since her first discussion with Watkins about the ballet several months ago. Watkins replied that there had been change largely to reflect the input of the dancers whom he praised very highly and the other members of the creative team. I got the impression that he had an outline in his mind but the ballet had developed organically.

As the chair had warned us that we had time for only 3 or 4 questions I stuck my hand up next.  As I said in My First Impressions of 1984 12 Sept 2015 the ballet had a very retro feel and I asked him whether that was intentional. I am not sure whether he asked for amplification or whether I volunteered it but I was thinking specifically of Miracle in the Gorbals and Job. Watkins knew Job but not Miracle even though it had been re-staged recently by Gillian Lynne.  He replied that that had not been his intention but he had been exposed to many influences through his training at the Royal Ballet School and his work in the company. If he was influenced  by anything it was the cinema. He mentioned several films that he admired including Kes which he had translated into dance and the Lego Movie. Indeed he mentioned the Lego Movie several times in different contexts in the Q & A.

The next question was on why Watkins had chosen 1984  and whether he had any other works in the pipeline. He replied that he had read the book as a teenager and had been affected by it. He had contemplated how it could be translated into dance for some time. The same had happened with the Ken Loach film Kes which he first saw about the same time. That film resonated with him because it was set in the area in which he had spent his childhood. Last year he had the chance of stage it for The Crucible in Sheffield. By staging Kes and 1984 he had achieved two longstanding ambitions. He did have other projects in mind but he did not want to announce what they were for the time being.

A lady behind me congratulated him on his love scenes which she described as "erotic". He acknowledged her praise and remarked that those are scenes that many people like best.

He was asked about his collaboration with the composer and whether he specified the music he needed. He confirmed that that was the way he worked.  He described the music as "a character in itself."

A gentleman congratulated him on his use of colour.  Watkins replied how the colours of the party members and proles had been chosen. They started with brown and developed into orangey reds.

A lady with a North American accent who was there with her daughter mentioned her daughter's amazement that the story had been told without a spoken word. I couldn't help reflecting that was the whole point of ballet and indeed all dance drama.  Watkins accepted that praise graciously.

He was asked several detailed questions about the transposition of the story and the characters from the book, why there were no children in the ballet and how he had maintained the tension of the story in the ballet. The last question prompted him to ask whether the audience felt he had maintained tension and he was told that he had.

All in all I found Watkins a very likeable chap with a good sense of humour. Because my senses were still overwhelmed by the marvellous gala I had seen in Amsterdam three days earlier (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 July 2015) I probably didn't do justice to his work. Indeed it is unlikely that I would have done justice to anybody's work. Maybe I should have stayed away until Amsterdam had worn off but then I would have missed this Q & A with Watkins.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet

The Dutch National Ballet Grand Défilé
Angela Sterling
(c) 2015 Dutch National Ballet
All rights reserved

Dutch National Ballet Gala 2015, Stopera, Amsterdam, 8 Sept 2015

Last Tuesday I attended the opening gala of the 2015-2016 Amsterdam ballet season.  It was the best night I have ever spent at the ballet. I have been to some great galas in my time including Northern Ballet's 45th anniversary celebration earlier this year (see Sapphire  15 March 2015) and Sir Frederick Ashton's retirement on 24 July 1970 but this was the best ever. I still feel as though I am floating several feet off the ground from the experience. Goodness knows when I will come down to earth.

The gala took place at the Stopera which is also known as the Music Theatre in Amsterdam. That building stands on the banks of the River Amstel and one of the city's canals. It has a white marble façade that is impressive by day and magical when floodlit at night. It houses a massive auditorium with two tiers of seats and an enormous stage. Every tier has a terrace overlooking the river. The terrace is an excellent place to reflect on the previous act on a warm summer evening.

I had been to the Stopera in June to see Cool Britannia (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015) and was impressed with it then. On Tuesday it was even more grand because everyone in the audience (including me) had been invited to a party after the show. Almost all the gents were in black tie and the majority of the ladies were in long evening dress. I have been to special performances at the Paris Opera, Lincoln Center and, of course, Covent Garden as well as many other theatres in the UK but nowhere  had I such such elegance, such glitter, such chic.

Upon our arrival we were offered drinks: champagne or some other bubbly, red and white wine, soft drinks and whatever happened to be behind the bar. Knowing that I had to wake at the crack of dawn for my return flight to be followed by a long day's work I grabbed a glass of sparkling mineral water and opened my purse to pay for it. "Don't worry" said the barman "it's on the house tonight." Another little treat that does not happen very often at home was a free programme. It was in Dutch but although that language's rules of pronunciation defeat most English speakers (including me) the written language is sufficiently like English and German for most Anglophones to get the gist without too much difficulty.

Just before 19:30 a gong summoned us to our seats. I was in the stalls (zaal) just 9 rows from the stage so my view was excellent. The auditorium was packed. I did not see a single empty seat. The house lights dimmed and an electronic notice board above the stage announced the first work. It was the Grand Défilé danced by the Dutch National Ballet, the Junior Company and the students of the National Ballet Academy to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty. The piece had been choreographed by the company's Artistic Director Ted Brandsen and its Welsh ballet mistress, Judy Maelor Thomas. The conductor. Matthew Rowe who was born in London, readied the orchestra.  The curtain rose. The music started. A row of little children in leotards marched on stage to thunderous applause. They were followed by rows of increasingly older children, then the dancers of the Junior Company, the company's  élèves (or apprentices as we might call them), the corps, the coryphées, grands subjets (junior soloists), soloists and finally the principals. The ballerinas partnered by their premiers danseurs nobles. All the women in the company were in gorgeous white tutus. The men were in black. Each rank of dancers took their place on stage until the spectacular formation depicted above had been achieved. All the company's stars were there including its guest artist Matthew Golding. Rarely if ever have I seen such an array of balletic talent on stage at the any one time.

The curtain fell and on to the stage walked Ted Brandsen. As his web page notes:
"Under the directorship of Ted Brandsen (1959, Kortenhoef, the Netherlands) the Dutch National Ballet has made enormous progress. In 2013, for instance, the New York Times ranked the company in the top five dance institutions in the world that presented new productions, and De Süddeutsche Zeitung ranked the group in the top three in the world."
I was fortunate enough to meet him at the reception which followed the opening night of the Junior Company's tour of the Netherlands in February (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015), Brandsen began his talk in Dutch but then switched to English to welcome the many members of the audience from overseas. He spoke of the history of the company and its great achievements in recent years. All that had been accomplished in the last 70 years as there was no balletic tradition in the Netherlands before that time.

I reflected on our own slightly longer ballet history which began with the visits of the Ballets Russes before the first world war, the work of Adeline Genée, Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois, the formation of the Ballet Club and The Camargo Society and the wartime tour of the Netherlands by the Vic-Wells Ballet just before the German invasion which nearly ended in disaster.

My reflection was interrupted by Brandsen's introducing the great ballerina Alexandra Radius. She was one of the great stars of my youth and I remember seeing her in London. A short video showed her dancing various roles. Brandsen reminded us of her enormous contribution to the company. Then she entered the stage. A strikingly beautiful and elegant woman.  Brandsen explained that an award known as the Alexandra Radius prize had been established in her honour for the most outstanding dancer of the year. It had been won by Matthew Golding in 2011, Igone de Jongh in 2003, Casey Herd in 2012 and Anna Tsygankova in 2007. This year's winner was Maia Makhateli who had once danced with the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Impressively as she was born in Georgia and has spent much of her life in English speaking countries she delivered her acceptance speech in what appeared to me to be fluent Dutch. A film showed her dancing the great ballerina roles.

In honour of Alexandra Radius the first pas de deux of the evening was Voorbij Gegaan which I understand to mean Gone Forever. That piece had been choreographed by Rudi van Dantzig for Radius and her husband Han Ebelaar. On Tuesday it was danced by de Jongh and Herd. That was the first time I had seen de Jongh dance and she was wonderful. So, too, was her partner. I savoured every single step, turn and lift as I would a fine claret.

Next came Anna Ol and Semyon Velichko. Those dancers have only just joined the company so this was a first opportunity to see them not only for me but for most of the audience. They danced the final pas de deux between Solor and Nikiya in the kingdom of the shades from the last act of La Bayadère. Having seen Denis Rodkin and Irina Kolesnikova in that role at the Coliseum on 23 Aug 2015 the choreography and music were fresh in my memory (see Blown Away - St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere 24 Aug 2015). The Dutch version had been choreographed by Natalia Makarova and Minkus's music had been arranged by John Lanchberry.

That beautiful pas de deux was followed by Juanjo Arques's Rewind danced by Suzanna Kaic and Vito Mazzeo to music by Gorecki. Arques had created Blink for the Junior Company which had been a great success in both Amsterdam and London (see Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015). I made his acquaintance at the reception that followed the first night of the Junior Company's tour and have followed his career very closely ever since. Arques took a bow after the performance of his work and it was great to see him.

A work from the English choreographer David Dawson came next. I had admired greatly his Empire Noir in Cool Britannia and had been looking forward to On the Nature of Daylight danced by Sasha Mukhamedov and James Stout to the music of Max Richter. I felt a surge of patriotic pride in this largely British line-up. It was very different from Empire Noir but no less enjoyable. Dawson has spent much of his career in Amsterdam and is now an associate artist of the company.  It would be good to see more of his work at home.

Next came Two Pieces for Het choreographed by the great Hans van Manen for Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer to music by Erkki-Sven Tüür and Arvo Pärt. These were composers I had not heard before. The performance was received enthusiastically.  

The first half of the evening was rounded off gloriously by Golding and Tsygankova's pas de deux from the black Act of Swan Lake. That was thrilling although I couldn't help thinking of my own shortcomings when I tried to learn Siegfried's solo at KNT's ballet intensive last month (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 3 20 Aug 2015). They were as magnificent in Swan Lake as they had been in Cinderella on 8 July 2015 (see Wheeldon's Cinderella 13 July 2015). Apparently it is not the done thing in Amsterdam to clap until Legnani's  32 fouettés are completed. I started clapping when I would in London and quickly stopped after attracting stares.

There were more free drinks and tempting chocolates on every table in the interval.  I bought my daughter manquée (otherwise known as Vlad's mum) a Michaela DePrince T-shirt. As I think I have mentioned more than once in this publication I was married to a Sierra Leonean for nearly 28 years and we gave refuge to a young woman from Freetown in 1990. She later read economics at Cambridge, married a splendid chap from Ghana and they now have a little boy known as Vlad-the-Lad. She is the nearest I have to a daughter and she has been a great comfort to me in the 5 years since my late spouse died. Like many Sierra Leoneans she takes enormous pride in the achievements of Michaela DePrince. When she heard I was going to Amsterdam she asked me whether I might meet DePrince. "It's very unlikely" I told her. "There will be so many people at the party and I am sure Ms DePrince will be surrounded by well wishers. But I can try to get you a Michaela T-shirt."  Before the gong sounded I met two acquaintances from England: Alison Potts (immediate past chair of the London Ballet Circle and Helen McDonough from the Wirral who contributes under the moniker DonQ Fan.

When we returned to the auditorium images of falling snow were projected on to the stage. Before the house lights dimmed two dancers dressed as lions were in the auditorium. Then I recognized some of the beautiful young dancers from the Junior Company on stage. The beat was compelling. The dance an amalgam of ballet and hip hop. It was Narnia, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Ernst Mesiner and Marco Gerris. A collaboration between the Junior Company and ISH Dance Collective. That was the highlight of the show for me. When Ernst visited the London Ballet Circle he mentioned the possibility of bringing it to the UK. It would be wonderful if that were ever to happen. Particularly if it could be brought to Leeds or Manchester.

One of the works for which Radius is remembered is Le Corsaire and we were reminded of her artistry in that role by a short film. In her honour the final pas de deux from that ballet was danced by Qian Liu and Young Gyu Choi.  This is a beautiful ballet that I have seen only once on stage and once on an HDTV transmission from Moscow. The pas de deux was executed exquisitely.

It was followed by John Neumeier's La Dame aux  Camélias danced by de Jongh and Marijn Rademaker. Although very different I could not help thinking of Ashton's Marguerite and Armand danced by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev which had also been inspired by the Dumas novel. Neumeier had used Chopin whereas Ashton had chosen Liszt but Neumeier's work was equally beautiful.

Next came Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov in the Diamonds pas de deux from Balanchine's Jewels. This is one of my very favourite ballets. Shesterikov had impressed me tremendously in Empire Noir and I admired him even more after seeing him in a piece that I knew well. As for Makhateli it was pretty clear why she had won the Radius prize this year. They were both magnificent.

The finale was Wheeldon's Concerto Concordia which I had admired so much in Cool Britannia. Tsygankova and Jozef Varga danced one couple as they had last time but the other couple were Nadia Ynowsky and Wörtmeyer. This was almost the only time that we saw members of the company other than principals and soloists and it was good to see the ensemble. The performance at the gala was even better than in Cool Britannia and the applause was deafening.

The party that followed seemed like a continuation of the ballet except that it was one in which the audience participated in the dancing. Literally for there was a disco on the ground floor of the Stopera. I joined in hoping to be partnered by Golding, Herd or Shesterikov. How many others can say that they have danced at the Amsterdam Music Theatre in the presence of members of the Dutch National Ballet? Throughout the night there was a steady flow of soft drinks, coffee and every kind of alcohol, all sorts of tasty nibbles. Although I missed Ernst Mesiner, Richard Heideman and most of the young dancers I had met in February I did meet Ted Brandsen and Juanjo Arques and I was flattered that they recognized and remembered me.

I told Brandsen that the evening excelled even Ashton's retirement gala. I am not sure that he believed me but it is true for the simple reason that the company had invited their public to their party. That is what makes the Dutch National Ballet great. It is why it is loved so much in the Netherlands and beyond. Ballet in that country does not seem to carry the elitism, exclusivity or snobbery that is to be found here. It is enjoyed by all. Every ethnic group seemed to be represented in the audience in roughly the proportions that they constitute the Netherlands population as a whole. Companies in this country could learn much from the Dutch National Ballet.

As I had been warned that the tubes stop at 01:00 in Amsterdam I left the party at 00:30. I had changed from evening dress into denim and was on my way out when I spotted Michaela DePrince.
"Excuse me" I blurted out, "are you Ms. DePrince?"
"Yes" she replied "and you are?"
I told her my name and that I had written about her in Terpsichore. I also mentioned my connection with Sierra Leone.
"You probably saved that young woman's life" she replied.
I don't think that was ever the case because Vlad's mum came from Freetown which suffered only briefly at the hands of the RUF and indeed her parents and siblings escaped to Nigeria during the occupation but it was so sweet of her to say so. As I was rushing for my tube and the party was still young our conversation was very brief but it was like the icing on a cake. I left the Stopera thinking how that exceptionally talented young dancer was as gracious off stage as she is magnificent upon it.

Now dear readers if you have persevered so far you will know why I am still on a high. I have learned one very important lesson from it.  As Voltaire said:
"Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du bien."
Three days after the gala I attended Northern Ballet's 1984 at West Yorkshire Playhouse. I went there because the company is always at its best in The Quarry. I knew the performance would be good and indeed it was but I just couldn't appreciate it.  I think any performance by any company would have been an anticlimax after that gala. Next time I attend an event like the Dutch gala I will leave at least a week before I see any other ballet. I owe that to the dance maker and artists.