Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Cock a Doodle Doo - Rambert's Rooster

Embedded under the standard YouTube licence

The Alhambra, Bradford, Rambert, 23 Oct 2015

It is often said that dance companies struggle to fill theatres outside London with new or less known works (see Arts Council England’s analysis of its investment in large-scale opera and ballet) but it all depends on the content. Rambert had no difficulty whatsoever in filling The Alhambra last Friday with Mark Baldwin's Dark Arteries, Shobana Jeyasingh’s Terra Incognita and Christopher Bruce's Rooster.

Dark Arteries opened with a brass band on stage. I don't suppose I was the only member of the audience to expect a march or hymn but that is not what we got. The music began softly and built up steadily. Lots of percussion and staccato. Girls in long blue dresses entered followed by the men also in blue. Complex, frenetic movements accompanying Gavin Higgins's score. The bandsmen were not the Rambert's regular musicians but Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band.  There were three moods in the dancing, Two lively ones at the beginning and end with some intricate duets in the middle. Performed by figures in red the duets were soft and poignant. Only later when I read the commentary on Rambert's website did I realize that Dark Arteries had been inspired by the miners' strike. I remember the strike as though it were yesterday. It is hard to think it occurred over half a lifetime ago.

Earlier in the year I saw Shobana Jeyasingh's  La Bayadère - The Ninth Life at the Linbury.  That work blended contemporary and Indian classical dance to a score by Gabriel Prokoviev.  Terra Incognita was another  collaboration by the same choreographer and composer. It also seemed to include what to my untrained eye were Indian dance movements. But it had quite a different feel to La Bayadère - The Ninth Life and perhaps it was intended as an antithesis.  La Bayadère - The Ninth Life focussed  on the arrival of Indian dancers in Paris and the sensation that they created in Europe which led in time to the Indian themed ballet. The title Terra Incognita (unexplored territory) suggests exploration. Maybe the arrival of Europeans in Asia and the far greater and more disruptive impact that they made on the recipient culture.

Visually the work was dramatic. Both men and women were in kilts - the men in mauve and the women in orangey brown.  In my notebook I wrote "cats' eyes" which I think must relate to a scene change where there were reflections in the backdrop and the reminiscently feline dancing. I also wrote down "Dane Hurst". I can't remember why he impressed me more that day than he usually does but he did. That is not to say that the other dancers were not impressive for they were. Readers can get a flavour of Terra Incognita from this YouTube clip.

The triple bill was called Rooster - the title of the last of the works - and that was the treat of the show. This is a lovely period piece full of nostalgia for people like me (and looking around the theatre the bulk of the audience who grew up in the sixties). I remember those primary coloured shirts and jackets and mini-dresses. The piece starts with Little Red Rooster with the boys moving proudly like, well, the cock of the roost. It then proceeded to Lady Jane and the other Stones classics. I last saw Rooster at The Lowry just over a year ago and loved it then (see Rooster ................ :-) 4 Oct 2014). I think I enjoyed it even more last Friday. The work has been in Rambert's repertoire for over 20 years but it was not created for that company. Bruce choreographed it for the Geneva Grand Theatre Ballet which I mentioned last Sunday (see Geneva Nutcracker 25 Oct 2015).

On the 7 Nov 2015 Hannah Rudd will lead a workshop on Ruby Tuesday which is easily the most lyrical of the dances in the piece. Imagine dancing in that long, red dress! The workshiop takes place on the stage of Sadler's Wells Theatre between 10:00 and 12:00 and is open to intermediate to advanced dancers aged 16 or over. If only I were good enough!  For those who are good enough to take part, here is the link to the booking page. The cost is £15. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Dance Food I - Healthy Happy Chips!

Every time I attend a talk given by a dancer, choreographer or artistic director I try to find out what he or she likes to eat. The reason for my interest is that dancers do a lot of jumping, turning and lifts. They have to get their energy from somewhere so they must eat. But they also have to think about their bodies so they have to be careful.

I cook but I also like to dance. I enjoy watching dance but I want my dancers to eat. To encourage them I shall try to contribute an occasional article on food for dancers. I am starting with chips. Happy healthy chips. I think Xander and Demelza Parish, Brandon Lawrence, Thomas WhiteheadDominic North and David Bintley and Abigail Prudames who also come from God's own county might appreciate these.

Last night I fancied some chips but not from the fish and chip shop (or "chippy" as we call it in Yorkshire). So I made my healthy, happy chips at home. Here is my recipe that I'd like to share with you.

These chips are made from 1llb (500g) of potatoes and just 2 teaspoons of oil. 

For my recipe you need to peel the skins off or give them a good scrub as I have done. I like mine fairly chunky but I will leave that up to you. I would recommend a floury potatoes that enables a softer centre and and a crispier skin. Varieties I suggest are Maris Piper and King Edward varieties. 

So, you will need:

  • 500g gm of potatoes  or sweet potatoes which give an even slower release of energy
  • 10 ml of vegetable oil
  • Salt and vinegar to taste or  spices if you prefer.

  1. Heat the oven and the baking tray to at 200C 
  2. Prepare the potatoes into chips or wedges
  3. Place them in a bowl and pour over the oil, using your hand to coat them evenly and then sprinkle over a little salt.
  4. Place them on the hot baking tray and spread them out evenly. 
  5. Cook for  for 25 mins. 
  6. Open the oven once half way through cooking  and give them a turn. 
  7. As soon as they are golden and crispy on the outside and soft in the middle they are ready. 

You can eat  them as they are but, if you want that chip shop style  feeling, wrap the chips in cat paper or grease proof paper and place them back in the oven for 5 mins (switched off) . Sprinkle some more salt and vinegar. 

Alternatively try this spice combination to jazz up those spuds and have them with spicy mayo for which you will need a large dollop of good low fat mayonnaise. Mix in a pinch of smoked paprika, salt and pepper, crushed roasted cumin and coriander seeds and small pinch of nutmeg and glove and touch of cardamom.


PS. Did you know: Did you know that potatoes contain a little of most of the macro and micro nutrients.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Geneva Nutcracker

View of the Foyer of the Grand Theatre of Geneva
Author Moumou82
Source Wikipedia

Every year at this time of the year I go to Geneva for a meeting of domain name dispute resolution panellists at the head office of the World Intellectual Property Organization, the UN specialist agency for intellectual property. Accordingly this is when I think about ballet in Switzerland. As I wrote two years ago, there is a lot going on in Switzerland but, sadly, never when I am there for a meeting.

Geneva has a magnificent opera house a few streets from the Rhone known as the  Grand Théâtre de Genève. Opened in 1876 it is said to have the largest stage in Switzerland. Dance has been staged at the theatre since the beginning of the last century. Isadora Duncan and Vaslav Nijinsky danced there as did the Ballets Russes. However, it was not until 1962, when it re-opened after substantial rebuilding works following a disastrous fire, that the theatre established its own resident ballet company.  It now has over 20 dancers under artistic director Philippe Cohen.  Though classically trained they can dance neo-classical and contemporary works as well as the classics.  Each year they offer two new works as well as revivals from their repertoire and workshops.

Last year the company commissioned the Belgian choreographer, Jeroen Verbruggen, to create a new version of The Nutcracker and I am sure you will agree when you see this video clip that it is unlike any Nutcracker that you have ever seen in your life. I would just love to see it. The production has been revived this year and it will be performed at the Grande Théâtre between the 21 and 29 Nov 2015. The costumes look amazing!  Particularly that spiky red headdress.  The video Avant le lever de rideau - Casse-Noisette - Les ateliers shows how those costumes were designed and made and there are interviews with the creative team and dancers in Avant le lever de rideau - Casse-Noisette - Le Ballet.

The Geneva Ballet seem to do a lot of touring, some of it very long distance. They have just come back from Brazil and are about to go to France, Italy and China.  Unfortunately, the nearest they are coming to England is Caen where they will dance Tristan and Isolde, Salue pour le monde, Lux and Glory.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

1984 Second Time Round

Embedded pursuant to a standard YouTube licence

Northern Ballet, 1984, Palace Theatre, Manchester, 17 Oct 2015, 19:30

As I had expected, I liked Northern Ballet's 1984 very much more the second time around. There are two reasons for that. The first is that I knew what to look out for having seen the show in Leeds on 11 Sept 2015 (see My First Impressions of 1984 12 Sept 2915). The second is that Isaac Lee-Baker and Dreda Blow came very close to my picture of Winston Smith and Julia.

There is only so much that the senses can absorb when one attends the theatre.  The first time I saw the show I concentrated on the plot in order to understand the ballet rather than the sound and movement through which the story was expressed.  There was a lot of movement in this ballet - the choreography, of course, but also spectacular electronic displays on a massive "telescreen". Knowing the sequence of the ballet I was better able to appreciate Jonathan Watkins's choreographyAndrzej Goulding's telescreen, Simon Daw's sets and costumes, Alex Baranowski's score and some exquisite dancing.

Lee-Baker as Smith and Blow as Julia were perfect casting in my recollection of Orwell's novel. Smith is a young chap, very impressionable and somewhat naive - the sort who might have been turned by Stalin had he worked in the Foreign Office in the late 1940s rather than the Ministry of Truth in 1984. Such a role requires a young dancer but one with considerable ability. A role tailor made for Lee-Baker who had triumphed as Friar Lawrence in Maillot's Romeo and Juliet earlier in the year (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way 8 March 2015) and as Wilson in Gatsby last year (see Northern Ballet at its best: The Great Gatsby in Bradford 16 Nov 2014).

As I recall the novel, Julia is a temptress and I intend it as a compliment when I say that Blow was a very sexy lady. She is another dancer that I began to appreciate for the first time in Romeo and Juliet.  When I saw her as Juliet I wrote:
"Casting Blow for the role was an inspiration. She was a perfect Juliet. Playful and feisty. Loving but conflicted. Brave but fearful. Blow is elevated to my pantheon of favourites."
Julia is a very different role from Juliet but Blow was an excellent choice. She is perhaps Northern's best actor. She was sultry. She was seductive. She was my idea of Julia.

The third leading character in Watkins's ballet is O'Brien, the senior apparatchik who tricks Smith and Julia into dropping their guard and then betrays them. Javier Torres danced that role in September and he was excellent. He saved that show for me on that occasion.  Last Saturday it was Ashley Dixon who was a very different O'Brien but no less convincing. He projected menace and oiliness even in the privacy of his apartment when entertaining his young quaries with a silent telescreen.

It was good to see some of my favourites in the company - Hiranao Takehashi as Charrington, Jeremy Curnier as O'Brien's assistant, Victoria Sibson as the lead female prole and Rachael GillespieAbigail Prudames and Mlindi Kulashe who danced in the crowd scenes as party faithful and proles but still shone - as did all in the cast last Saturday night.

Orwell's satire is not an obvious choice for a ballet. In the Q & A that followed the show in Leeds on 11 Sept 2015 Watkins was asked why he had chosen that work as the subject of a ballet. 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."
As you can see from the synopsis Watkins followed Orwell pretty faithfully. The sets, costumes, music, choreography, dancing came together beautifully. I don't think that this will ever be one of my favourite ballets but it it one that I now understand, appreciate and recommend.

The company will perform 1984 today in Sheffield for one last time in the North before they take it to the rest of the country. I had hoped to see it in Sheffield with Giuliano Contadini and Antoinette Brooks-Daw in the leading roles but they were dancing on the nights when Jane Tucker teaches the improvers and I was due to see Rambert at The Alhambra. Perhaps I can catch that cast at Sadler's Wells in May. Londoners tend to like Northern Ballet perhaps even more than we Mancunians and I am sure they will enjoy this show.

Friday, 23 October 2015

This is why I love the Dutch National Ballet so much

Embedded pursuant to the standard YouTube licence

I mentioned the Dutch National Ballet's production of Giselle yesterday (see Dutch National Ballet's Giselle 22 Oct 2015). They have now published this wonderful animation. It is in Dutch but I doubt whether any foreigner will have any trouble following it.

I love the facial expressions - particularly those of the wilis.  A combination of malice and purpose. We all know jobs worths who look and behave like them.  Also, just look at the jealousy on Hilarion's face.  Normally I can't help feeling sorry for Hilarion, especially as one of my favourite people in ballet once danced that role. Hilarion lost the girl to some toff from a Scots baronial castle. Then it was Hilarion rather than the two-timing toff who broke Giselle's heart who was driven to his death.  But I have no sympathy for the cartoon Hilarion. He reminds me of Will Grundy from The Archers who is also a gamekeeper.

This is not the first brilliant innovation from the Dutch National Ballet.  They inspired and helped to develop and market a video game called Bounden recently (see Bounden - Something that appeals to my Interests in Technology and Dance 17 Dec 2013). Companies on this side of the North Sea could learn a lot from our good friends in Amsterdam.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Dance Studio Leeds Beginners' Ballet Class

Embedded under a standard YouTube Licence

This video for Dance Studio Leeds shows every style of dance except ballet but the Dance Studio Leeds actually does offer adult ballet. Katie teaches beginners on Monday morning and evening and Nathalie  the advanced class on Friday evenings.  As I  am trying to compile a guide to all the adult ballet classes in and around Holmfirth I turned up to Katie's evening class last Monday.

Dance Studio Leeds is in Mill 6 of a converted mill complex just north of Leeds city centre known as Mabgate Mills. It is not very far from Quarry Hill but it is not easy to find at night. I circumnavigated the block twice before I found the entrance to a courtyard surrounded by 19th century buildings.  One of the advantages of that studio is that you can park in the courtyard free of charge whereas you have to fork out at least £2 to park anywhere else in central Leeds between 18:00 and 22:00.

The studios are on the first floor and compared to many other dance studios that I have visited in my time it is the lap of luxury. It is bright, well decorated and comfortably furnished and there is more than enough room to swing a cheetah never mind a cat in the changing room. My friend, Beverley, who attends the advanced class on Friday tells me that there is complimentary tea and coffee on offer but I did not discover that on Monday.

I arrived at the Studios after listening to The Archers in my motor and sat down on an easy chair near one of the studios. A dance class was taking place and students seemed to be having a lot of fun.  A lady entered shortly the waiting area afterwards and asked me whether I was waiting for ballet. I said I was and she asked me whether this was my first class.  I replied that it was but I added that I had done two years ballet with Northern Ballet's Over 55 class and that I had also had a lot of classes with a teacher in Huddersfield who had danced with the Queensland Ballet. The lady welcomed me to the class, showed me the changing area and told me that our fellow students were a very friendly, welcoming group which I found out to be the case.

Katie arrived a few minutes later and introduced herself to me and some other new students. She asked me whether I had done any ballet before and I said that I had.  At 19:45 we entered the studio and took our places by the barre. The room had a mirror at front and was very well lit and ventilated. It was also quite warm which was hardly surprising given the energy that must have been discharged in the dance class. There was room for 3 on each side of each travelling barre. Katie placed me and the other newbies between experienced students.

We started with a gentle warm-up facing the barre followed by pliés and tendus.  We skipped glissés but I soon found out why. Katie got us to do échappés facing the barre which of course incorporate that movement. Katie had several other exercises which were new to me including a fondu combined with a plié which I found very difficult. Katie had a word for everybody - encouragement here, a correction there - almost like a private lesson.

We had a few minutes to catch our breath and take a swig of water and then we started on the adagio. Katie concentrated on arms movements first and then some simple steps and turns. The movement was quite lovely.

Pirouettes followed for which Katie divided us into three groups.  One group which included me practised our retirés en plat. Another group did the same exercise on demi. A few of us tried full turns.  As we found our balance and got more confidence we tried complete turns. Even I managed one or two.

The next session included jumps of various kinds - simple sautés to start, then échappés and changements - then a variation if the temps levés in groups of three and finally a hop on one leg with the other extended.  As you can imagine I got into one hell of a pickle.

Before we knew it it was 21:30. The class was advertised to end at 21:15 but Katie gave us an extra 15 minutes because we were enjoying ourselves so much.  At the end of the class she gave us a very thorough cool down. Almost as through as the ones that Jane Tucker gave us at the end of a day's dancing in The Swan Lake intensive. There was no reverance as such because we were on the floor but Katie wished us all a very pleasant evening and we clapped her enthusiastically. I thanked Katie for the class as I always do, She was pleased I enjoyed it and invited me to come again which I  certainly will.

There were a lot of pluses about this class. Obviously a good teacher and a very civilized environment, easy parking and a friendly crowd. The only minuses were that the rooms were not very large - two temps levés  and we were almost across the studio - there was no pianist and we had to use travelling barres. Minor niggles really.

I wouldn't dare risk the advanced class but Beverley says that's good too, There is a good spread of classes and I shall try some of the other genres by and by.

Dutch National Ballet's Giselle

The Dutch National Ballet have just released a trailer for their production of Giselle on YouTube and it looks very special indeed. The season opened last Tuesday with Anna Tsygankova in the title role with Maia Makhateli, Anna Ol and Igone de Jongh also dancing that part.  The trailer shows some interesting choreography,

The show has received some very favourable reviews  from Theaterkrant and Noordhollands Dagblad.

The production will tour the major Dutch cities before returning to Amsterdam on 12 Nov 2015 for another two performances.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Increasing Cost of Friendship

On Saturday 10 Oct 2015 I discussed public funding for ballet (see How Arts Council England supports Dance 10 Oct 2015).  I mentioned Arts Council England’s analysis of its investment inlarge-scale opera and ballet in which the Arts Council announced on page 7 that it will reduce the total funding to the major opera ballet companies by 7.3% in real terms, and shrink their share of national portfolio funding to 21%.  I was, however, pleased to see on the next page that the Arts Council gave Northern Ballet a planning figure of £3.1 million from 2015-16, an increase of £550,000 per annum on its core grant.

By coincidence I received a letter from Mark Skipper DL (well, actually 2 because one was addressed to "Miss Jane Lambert" and the other to "Ms Jane Lambert") thanking me for my commitment to Northern Ballet over the years and expressing his extreme gratitude and that of David Nixon for my past and ongoing generosity.  In the next paragraph Mr Skipper mentioned the numerous cuts and budget constraints that the arts sector (though happily not Northern Ballet) has faced over the years as well as competition from touring musicals from London and abroad.  He concluded
"To preserve a sustainable future for Northern Ballet, we have to become less reliant on Arts Council funding."
Now as an old fashioned liberal I have always been uncomfortable about asking our beer drinking, football supporting fellow citizens to support my passion for ballet which I have to acknowledge is a minority interest.  As Jeremy Bentham put it:
"Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry."
I therefore applaud any initiative to reduce dependence on Arts Council England.

However, it comes as a cost for Mr Skipper's letters announced that the Friends' subscription (though not the Patrons') will rise.  For most Friends the increase is from £50 to £70 a year but for pensioners who have until now contributed £30 per year it is a whopping 133.3% as they can no longer subscribe at a concessionary rate. A price rise that contrasts with negative inflation across the board in the UK.

Now there is no question of my not supporting Northern Ballet. I have done so in one form or another ever since 1985 when I returned to the North. I do so not because I am Northern, still less because I want to attend open rehearsals or receive the other benefits advertised on the Friends and Patrons page but because I love ballet. By the same token I am also a Friend of Covent Garden even though I hardly ever get to the Royal Opera House, Scottish Ballet even though I am not a Scot and the Dutch National Ballet even though I am a Brit.  I will continue to make an annual gift to Northern Ballet and the Northern Ballet Academy to the extent that I have done in the past even if I cease to remain  a formal Friend.

The reason why I may cease to remain a formal Friend is that there are a lot of companies such as Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet that deserve my support and don't yet get it. There are also bodies like The Ballet Association, The Vic-Wells Association and Dance UK which I really should support. Similarly there are schools and students the length and breadth of the country and elsewhere who need help.  The problem with subscription hikes of this kind is that it forces us to make hard choices.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Bolshoi does the Business - Giselle streamed from Moscow

The Bolshoi Theatre
Author Theeler
Creative Commons licence 
Source Wikipedia

Bolshhoi Ballet, Giselle, 11 Oct 2015

Just as the Americans excel in films and we in state pageantry the Russians excel in ballet. There are other countries that do very well including ourselves as World Ballet Day reminded us but the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky are masters of the art as yesterday's live transmission of Giselle from Moscow showed. I have seen a lot of performances of that ballet in my time and I am set to see at least two more before the end of the year but, despite a couple of hiccups that I barely noticed at the time and of which I had to be reminded, yesterday's performance from my perspective was about as good as they get.

The title role was danced  by Svetlana Zakharova who was as expressive in her acting as she was impressive in her dancing. I am not the most emotional person but I was close to tears several times in the show. The first time was when she plucked the petals and found the cad loved her not. The second was when she clutched her chest. The third time as she felt the material of Bathilde's garment and her girlish joy at receiving a gift from the grand lady. Tears actually formed in the sword scene. Even though I have serious problems with Act II of the ballet for the reasons I tried to explain in Reflections on Giselle 29 Jan 2014 I was enthralled by Zakharova's dancing from the moment she emerged from her grave to the second she handed a flower to Albrecht as she went down.

The perfect partner for Zakharova was Sergei Polunin. I have not seen much of him on stage since he left the Royal Ballet - I think the last time was at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School Gala in September 2013 - but he has never failed to amaze me with his athleticism. Can that man jump! His turns and jumps as he danced for the wilis were breathtaking. However, he can also act and he almost persuaded me with his contrition in Act II.  I can see why Giselle begged Myrtha to spare his life even though I would not have bothered.

The other star ballerina was the magnificent Ekaterina Shipulina. A strikingly beautiful woman and a fine dancer she was a perfect queen of the wilis. In the interval she was asked about the coolness with which she despatched Hilarion (called "Hans" in this production for some reason and danced well by Denis Savin) and would have done the same to Albrecht had it not been for Giselle's intercession by Katerina Novikova. The answer was that she is a spirit and that is her character.

There were two other performances that deserve mention and that is the peasant pas de deux by Daria Khokhlova and Igor Tsvirko in Act I. I had admired Tsvirko in Swan Lake earlier this year, as the jester in Legend of Love and as Pepinelli in Marco Spada and it was great to see him again. Both dancers executed that piece magnificently.

One of the advantages of watching ballet in the cinema is that viewers get to see the Bolshoi stage which seems as cavernous as an aircraft hanger. The disadvantage is that you see the backcloth which looked a bit dowdy compared to Thurrock's scenery as did the costumed.  But overall the performance was excellent. I  am looking forward to seeing Jewels next month.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Giselle in Moscow, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, High Wycombe and Manchester

Dutch National Ballet's Giselle

This afternoon at 16:00 the Bolshoi Ballet's Giselle will be transmitted to cinemas across the United Kingdom and many other countries (see Live Performances streamed from the Bolshoi and Covent Garden 20 Sept 2015). I shall watch it at the National Media Museum in Bradford but I believe it will be shown by the Odeon, Cineworld and most of the other nationwide chains. It should be a very good performance. Svetlana Zakharova dances Giselle, Sergei Polunin Alnrecht, Denis Savin Hans (aka Hilarion) and Yekaterina Shipulina as the queen of the wilis. I shall review the show tomorrow.

Much closer to home the Dutch National Ballet is staging Giselle in Amsterdan between 13 Oct and 15 Nov. Tsygankova, Makhateli, de Jongh, Wotmeyer and Shesterikovare in the cast together with many other of my favourite dancers. That will be good too.

Another Giselle will come to us from New Zealand.  Adult Beginner wrote a great review of that ballet when the Royal New Zealand Ballet visited Los Angeles last year (see Giselle 8 Feb 2015 Adult Beginner). The company will dance that ballet in Edinburgh between 27 and 31 Oct and High Wycombe between 6 and 7 Nov where I shall see it.

Finally, our very own Manchester City Ballet (the performing company of Northern Ballet School) will dance Giselle at the Dancehouse between 10 and 12 Dec 2015. Tickets are on sale on Ticketline.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Mandev Sokhi

Mandev Sokhi and Krystal Lowe in Llandudno
(c) Jane Elizabeth Lambert 2014

One of my favourite dancers was Mandev Sokhi. He danced with Ballet Cymru, one of my favourite companies. Last week I visited Ballet Cymru's rehearsal studios at Rogerstone with the London Ballet Circle and met him and his fellow dancers for the first time. Imagine my thrill at shaking his hand.

Earlier today I saw this notice on Ballet Cymru's website:
"It is with huge sadness that Ballet Cymru has to announce the sudden death of dancer and Education Officer, Mandev Sokhi. Our love, thoughts and prayers go out to Mandev’s family and his wife Iselin. If anybody, especially any of our Associates or anybody involved in our Education Programme needs any help or support during this difficult time please contact us or come in and see us."
Memories of Mandev flooded back. Last week I saw him dance in the company class at the end of which Darius James invited each of the dancers to do his or her party piece. Mandev impressed us all with his turn. After class Mandev was one of the prince's friends in a rehearsal of Cinderella, a production that I had seen in Lincoln earlier this year (see Ballet Cymru's Cinderella 15 June 2015). Last year I photographed Mandev with Krystal Lowe at Llandudno in Stuck in the Mud (see an Explosion of Joy 21 Sept 2014).

However, I remember him best for his performance in the title role in Beauty and the Beast last year.  Mel reviewed that show for this blog and this is what she wrote about him in For grown ups who haven't lost touch with their childhoods - Ballet Cymru's Beauty & The Beast 24 June 2014:
"A cacophony of noise announced the arrival of the Beast onto the stage, and it was a Beast unlike any I had ever seen before. Brilliantly brought to life by Mandev Sokhi (who managed to convey a sense of pathos despite his alien form), this creature was literally skin and bone. I applaud Ballet Cymru for creating a truly physically repellent character that was at times reminiscent of Max Shreck's Count Orlok and Harrison Birtwistle's Minotaur. Sokhi's Beast carried a great burden, shaking, stumbling and contorting his way across the stage during the introductory scenes before re-coiling into an insectoid like form when faced with the purity and honesty of Lydia Arnoux's Beauty. As a fellow dancer I couldn't help but admire Sokhi's stamina and dance talent when, after his unveiling as a handsome prince, he bounded into a serious of bravura steps and pas de deux. This was no mean feat after bending over double for 75% of the production, especially when partnering the petite Arnoux."
It was a magnificent performance.

As I noted in  Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015 Ballet Cymru is still a small and tightly knit company. Almost a family. This will hit them hard.  I offer my most sincere and deepest sympathies to everyone in the company, to all Mandev's other friends and acquaintances but, above all, to his wife (who is also a dancer) and family.

How Arts Council England supports Dance

Ballet Rambert performing "Peter and the Wolf" at a wartime aircraft factory
Author Ministry of Information
Source Imperial War Museum
Reproduced under Imperial War Museum Non-Commercial Licence

In Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II Made British Ballet David Bintley explained how how the Second World War was the making of British ballet. In that programme Bintley focussed on the work of Ninette de Valois and the Sadler's Wells Ballet which is understandable as he is artistic director of one of its successor companies but it should never be forgotten that the Ballet Rambert also contributed considerably to maintaining morale by visiting military installations and factories as the above photograph shows (see Our History on the Rambert Dance website).

Even though we faced invasion, nightly bombing and scarcities of all kinds the preservation and promotion of the arts were considered sufficiently important for the wartime government to establish the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts in 1940.  Under the chairmanship of the economist Lord Keynes, the Council supported performances by dancers and other artists throughout the second world war. According to Arts Council England's website, the Council funded 46 companies in 1945 (see John Maynard Keynes and English Ballet 3 March 2013).

The Council changed its name to the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1946 and continued to support the arts in peacetime until 1994 when it was replaced by Arts Council England and its counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Arts Council England was established by a royal charter dated 30 March 1994 which has been renewed and amended several times.  It receives money from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the National Lottery which it invests in accordance with its framework agreement of 29 Oct 2012. Between 2015 and 2018, we will distribute £1.1 billion from the government and some £700 million from the National Lottery to the performing arts. Its funding programme is  summarized in the YouTube video Arts Council England - Our funding ecology and explained in detail in Great Art and Culture for Everyone its strategic framework for 2010 to 2020. The bulk of the Arts Council's funding goes to national portfolio organizations and major partner museums and a spreadsheet which can be downloaded from this page shows the distribution to those organizations and museums.

Approximately 22% of national portfolio funding goes to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Opera North, the Royal Opera House and the Welsh National Opera. Arts Council England has published an analysis of its investment in large-scale opera and ballet (see Arts Council England’s analysis of its investment in large-scale opera and ballet Briefing and Outline). The ostensible purpose of that analysis is
"to understand how these organisations could best be served by likely future levels of investment ..... to be sure that investment decisions would represent best value for public funds, in order to address the needs of the companies and to meet the expectations of audiences."
The paper acknowledges that opera and ballet bring together large numbers of skilled artists, technicians and craftspeople which make a significant contribution to the economy. The Arts Council found that audiences for large and mid-scale ballet increased between 2008 and 2012 while those for large and mid-scale opera decreased during the same period and that new audiences for ballet were developed by works for children and live streaming to cinemas.

The Arts Council reported tensions between companies and theatres:
"In general, the companies are frustrated by what they see as a lack of support from venues for their attempts to broaden their repertoire, the refusal to share detailed audience data and the imposition of booking fees and restoration levies. The venues for their part often feel that the companies regard certain weeks to be ‘theirs by right’, do not value the venues’ expertise in selling tickets, and do not consult over repertoire, prices and education programmes."
The paper considered that there was "considerable scope to build audiences for the full range of opera and ballet repertoire" which can be achieved by venues and touring companies working more closely and effectively together. Arts Council England stated that it will  expect companies and venues to agree ambitious audience targets. There is scope for companies to pay more attention to the role that repertoire plays in attracting audiences but at the same time theatres must recognize that all parties have an interest in developing audiences for less familiar work. Funding is to be conditional upon such co-operation and if theatres are not prepared to co-operate the companies will be encouraged to find alternative venues.

Arts Council England recommended an overall decrease in funding for opera and ballet by 7.3% reducing their share of national portfolio investment from 22% to 21% although Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet will actually get an increase. All the opera and ballet companies will be required to plan for live screenings and the Royal Opera House is expected to work with other companies to make the most of opportunities presented through digital broadcasts. The inclusion of Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet and Scottish Ballet in World Ballet Day may be an early manifestation of that policy.

Another general recommendation was for "dance hubs" to be developed in Birmingham and Leeds.  In its recommendation to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Arts Council England said:
"We are proposing that, in addition, we ask the company to work with the City of Birmingham, Dance Xchange, the Hippodrome and other interested parties to make Birmingham into a regional dance centre, building a broad dance culture in the City, capable of increasing audiences and attracting and retaining talent in the city."
The Arts Council also believe that
"Leeds has the potential to become a major regional dance centre. We suggested that Northern Ballet should work with Phoenix, Leeds City Council, Yorkshire Dance and others to explore how they might work collaboratively to build a broad dance culture in Leeds, capable of increasing audiences and attracting and retaining talent in the city."
All good stuff though it should not be forgotten that a major city does not need a big ballet company to be a dance hub as Manchester proves with the Northern Ballet School, Dancehouse theatre, KNT, the Lowry and the Palace theatres not to mention the Chancellor's announcement of a £78 million investment in the Factory (see Let's bring the Royal Ballet to The Factory Manchester 11 Dec 2014).

This is the first of a series of articles that I plan to write about public funding for dance in the UK. In future articles I hope to discuss funding in other parts of the UK and guidance on applying for funding from Arts Council England and other bodies.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Welcome back to London, Michaela DePrince

Michaela DePrince
Photo Angela Sterling
Copyrught The Dutch National Ballet 2013
All rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of Dutch National Ballet

Yesterday Michaela DePrince, coryphée with the Dutch National Ballet, opened the Women in the World Summit. According to Cynthia Allum the performance was a great success (see Allum Michaela DePrince stuns crowd with rousing performance at the women of the world conference 8 Oct 2015). There are some good pictures of the performance at the end of the article.

The Women of the World summit  claims to be "the premier showcase for women of impact—and for the men who champion them". It got its start in 2008 as an offshoot of The Daily Beast. The summit is intended to provide a forum for "activists, artists, CEOs, peacemakers, entrepreneurs, and firebrand dissidents who have saved or enriched lives and shattered glass ceilings in every sector." This year it us taking place in London between the 8 and 9 Oct 2015. Speakers include Meryl Streep, Nicola Sturgeon MSP and Lady Amos.  The agenda can be downloaded here.

Michaela DePrince is a very welcome visitor to our shores. She was here in July with the National Ballet when they danced Cinderella and she gave a master class at Danceworks (see Michaela's Masterclass 8 July 2015). I bumped into her as I was leaving the opening gala of the Amsterdam ballet season last month and was quite charmed by her. In The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 July 2015 I wrote:
"I left the Stopera thinking how that exceptionally talented young dancer was as gracious off stage as she is magnificent upon it."
I have written a number of articles about DePrince in this blog and if anyone is interested they will find links to them here.

I would love to hear her speak. If anyone from the committee of the London Ballet Circle or Danceworks reads this article they may like to consider inviting her as a speaker on one of her future trips to London. I think DePrince would fill the meeting room to capacity.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

More from World Ballet Day - Akram Khan's Dust

Footage from World Ballet Day, English National Ballet's rehearsal of Akram Khan's Dust, Embedded under YouTube standard licence

Having been bowled over by Kaash on Tuesday night (see Akram Khan's Kaash - contemporary meets Indian classical 7 Oct 2015) I am keen to see more of Akram Khan's work. I shall get my chance when English National Ballet perform Dust as part of Lest We Forget triple bill in Manchester on 24 Nov 2015. I got a taster of the work this morning when I watched the above clip from World Ballet Day. The dancers are Erina Takahashi and James Streeter.

It will be interesting to compare Lest We Forget with the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Dear Horizon by Andrew Simmons and Paschendale by Neil Ieremia which also commemorate the First World War. These will be performed in Leeds as part of  The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud programme on 3 and 4 Nov 2015,

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Akram Khan's Kaash - contemporary meets Indian classical

Akram Khan Company, Kaash, The Lowry, 6 Oct 2015

Watching the Akram Khan Company's Kaash is one of the most exhilarating theatrical experiences I know. Its dancers can contort their bodies into almost unimaginable shapes and they can move around the stage like bats out of hell.  For 50 minutes I was totally absorbed with the sounds and movement. Alternating periods of sound and silence. Corresponding stillness and explosions of energy on stage.

The performance starts with a Sung Hoon Kim alone on stage. He stands with his back to the audience in silence with the house lights on. Then darkness as the other dancers enter. The men are stripped to the waste in what appear to be black chiffon trousers. The women are also in black with tunics over leggings their costumes reminding me of shakwar kameez. They performed before a backdrop consisting of a black rectangle framed in red. The score consisted of percussion, fragments of speech including phrases in English, something that resembled the roar of an aircraft engine which was almost deafening followed by blessed silence. It was during the silences that the most delicate movements occurred. There were delicate hand movements which I surmised to be derived from or at least inspired by Kathak dance.  The performance ended as suddenly as it began with the lights suddenly cut and the stage in silence. Then wild applause and ululations.

According to the Lowry's website Kaash means "if only" in Hindi and that was reflected with such muffled phrases as "if only I had bought two instead of one" whispered on stage. Apparently
“Hindu Gods, black holes, Indian time cycles, tablas, creation and destruction” were the starting points for this work ........ Khan’s quest to build bridges between the worlds of contemporary dance and the Indian classical dance form Kathak."
Almost certainly I lost many of those allusions viewing the work from an Anglo-Saxon perspective.

The dancers were Kristina AlleyneSade Alleyne, Sung Hoon Kim, Nicola Monaco and Sarah Cerneaux. The score was by Nitin Sawhney, the set by Anish Kapoor and the costumes by Kimie Nakano.  The show is at The Lowry for one more day. If you can get to Salford this evening then perhaps you should.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Working my way through World Ballet Day footage: Part 1 The Bangarra Dance Theatre

Rock Paintings, Kimberley, Western Australia
Author TimJN1
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

I am slowly working my way through the footage of World Ballet Day and I am still only on Australia. However one of the delights that I have already encountered is the Bangarra Dance Theatre which is introduced by one of its dancers, Tara Bower. The company describes itself as "an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander organisation and one ofAustralia’s leading performing arts companies." It consists of 16 dancers and according to the video each and every one of them shares an indigenous Australian or Torres Islander heritage.

The company was formed just over 25 years ago and is directed by Stephen Page. According to its website the company's dance technique is "forged from over 40,000 years of culture, infused with contemporary movement." Although based in Sydney it remains close to the Aboriginal communities from whom its material is drawn.

The slot given to Bangarra on World Ballet Day was not long. Just enough time to show a class, a trip to the country, a dancer stretching by the sea shore, a rehearsal, part of a performance and snippets from the company's tour to Turkey and Paris. The film shows the dancers in a magnificent modern auditorium in Istanbul and then in a special performance in the Australian embassy in Paris.

As they have been to Paris it occurred to me that they had probably been to London so I googled Sadler's Well and Bangarra. I found that they were here in 2008 with the Australian Ballet with whom they danced a version of Rite of Spring called Rites. The film is very impressive and I really wish I had seen those dancers on stage. In her commentary Tara Bower says that the dancers are trained in several styles including jazz and contemporary and of course ballet. In fact the class shows the dancers performing the traditional barre exercises.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Ballet Cymru at Home

The Riverfront Theatre, Newport
Photo  Gif absarnt
Creative Commons Licence
Source Wikipedia

After the State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet earlier this year I exchanged a few words with The Herald's dance critic Mary Brennan, Brennan had spoken very warmly of Peter Darrell whom I greatly admired and once had the honour of meeting. Darrell was artistic director of what was then Western Theatre Ballet and it was he who took the company to Glasgow shortly after I went up to St Andrews. "He gave us our national dance company" Brennan enthused. "But at the expense of the West Country and South Wales" I replied. Being a native Mancunian I know how it stung when Northern Ballet crossed the Pennines even though it never affected me personally as Leeds is no further away from my home than Manchester. The departure of Northern Ballet diminished our city even though we still have Northern Ballet School, The Lowry and Manchester City Ballet.

Well, South Wales and the West Country have had to wait a very long time but they now have a first class ballet company again in Ballet Cymru. Actually the company has existed  for nearly 30 years but it is now receiving the recognition and funding that it needs to go places. It is still quite small. It reminds me very much of Scottish Theatre Ballet when I first knew it. Although James is very different from Darrell he has similar drive and similar sense of vision. Nearly half a century ago I envisaged Scottish Theatre Ballet as it is now - one of the world's great companies. I have the same feeling about Ballet Cymru and I hope that I live long enough to see it

On Saturday 3 Oct 2015 I joined the London Ballet Circle's visit to Ballet Cymru's premises in Newport. In order not to pre-empt the official write up I will say that we met James, Amy Doughty, Patricia Vallis and Mike Holden as well as the dancers. We watched the company class and a rehearsal of Cinderella. We toured the company's building which is on an industrial estate in Rogestone a few miles to the north west of the city centre.  Darius James told us about the history of the company and his plans for the future which are very ambitious indeed.

The London Ballet Centre's transactions are subject to a a regime very similar to the Chatham House rule so I can't say too much about what was said and done during our visit. I will however mention two things that I knew already. The first is that there is now a magnificent theatre in Newport for the company to showcase its work. That is the Riverfront arts centre on the banks of the Usk. The second is that the company provides great opportunities to local dancers.  It runs workshops, intensives and associates programmes in conjunction with the Royal Ballet and the RAD. On the 18 Oct it is hosting a "Creative Spaces" event in conjunction with the RAD and on the 30 Oct a Junior Associate Experience Day for the Royal Ballet School. It also offers body conditioning and ballet classes to the general public every Monday for a very reasonable fee. Details of these outreach programmes can be obtained from the education officer Mandev Sokhi on mandevsokhi@welshballet.co.uk.

Newport lies at the heart of the Great Western Cities with a combined population of 2.5 million and a GVA of £58 billion. This is South Wales and the West's answer to the Northern Powerhouse. The initiative aims to improve transport links and attract investment to the region.  If it succeeds it will greatly expand Ballet Cymru's market. It will also provide opportunities for attracting sponsorship and funding of other kinds. After the visit I toured some of the city's landmarks and did a little shopping in a local supermarket. I got the impression that things are beginning to buzz around the Severn estuary.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Phoenix at Home

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Phoenix@Home, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 1 Oct 2015

Although I missed most of World Ballet Day on Thursday because I had to work Phoenix Dance Theatre's showcase Phoenix@Home more than made up for it. The audience at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre was treated to a glorious programme of dance:  Melt Document and Mapping - very different but somehow complementary works by Sharon WatsonUri Ivgi and Johan Greben and Darshan Singh Bhuller. All three works were impressive and I appreciated them all.

The most joyful of the works was Melt. It was dance in three dimensions. Dancers formed patterns on the stage. Then they were hoisted up on ropes from which they swooped and twirled and turned. The programme notes mentions elements colliding and  the choreographer talks about ice and fire from which I surmises the title Melt is derived. I saw only harmony and fluidity. If there were collisions they were controlled. The work is hauntingly beautiful not least because of the music chosen for the work: "We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues" by Wild Beasts from their 2009 album ‘Two Dancers‘. Watson, the company's artistic director, created Melt for the company's Reflected programme in 2011.

Whereas Melt suggested fluidity and joy Document conveyed restriction and violence. I was reminded of Plato's cave.  Other members of the audience thought of gassed or shell shocked soldiers or refugees landing at Lampedusa.  You can see what I mean from the trailer here and the video in which the choreographers discuss their work here. There is very little movement as the piece begins. Staccato movements to the throbbing percussion which persists with occasional overtones for the length of the show. Their hands appeared to be shackled. But they broke free flaying their limbs in all directions. There were duets but these were more like duels. In the second of the two videos Ivgi and Greben say that they are a team who draw strength from their differences. Ivgi is Israeli and Greben is Dutch.  They also speak of their collaboration with Tom Parkinson who wrote the score. An impressive but very disturbing piece of theatre.

Mapping was created by a former artistic director of the company and it is a lot of fun. Ballet Central had included it in their touring programme two years ago (see Central Forward  25 March 2013). Bhuller projects the movements of the dancers onto a screen and deploys a tiny vehicle with a blue light to follow the dancers like a dog.  By his projection technique he creates the illusion of improbable shapes and movements. I tried to relate all that to mapping and thought of the Google earth vehicle and Mercator projection which distort the shapes and sizes of continents and oceans. "Was there an analogy there?" I wondered. According to the programme notes Mapping was inspired by the choreographer's father's journey to the west.

Each work in the programme was received with thundering applause and the end was greeted with ululation and foot stamping. A Phoenix audience seem to show their appreciation in a completely different way from a Northern Ballet one which may be because it tends to be younger and more diverse. Perhaps that is because they get a lot more than dance with Phoenix.  Yesterday the company held a conference called MindBody which included contributions from the well known cricketer Mike Brearley. Last year there was a similar conference on Dance and Civil Rights.

Phoenix is not a big company but it is an important one. I suspect that is largely due to the drive and vision of the company's artistic director. I have seen her at many dance events but also on the panel of the Creative Industries Federation's roadshow in June (see The Creative Industries Road Show comes to Leeds 1 June 2015). It came as no surprise to me that she is chairing Leeds's European capital of culture bid for 2023. However, a dance company also has to have dancers and Phoenix has some fine ones. One familiar face that I am pleased to welcome to Leeds is Marie-Astrid Mence whom I know from ballet black. I look forward to seeing more of her.

Friday, 2 October 2015

A Review of our Performance at Morley Town Hall

Morley Town Hall
Photo Steve Partridge
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

A Feast of Music and Dance by Older Performers, Saturday, 26 Sept 2015, Morley Town Hall

Last Saturday I danced at Morley Town Hall with members of my over 55 class at Northern Ballet. I wrote about the experience in Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015. Our classmate Inger Huddleston was in the audience and she chatted with us after the show, During our conversation I asked her whether she would care to review our performance for Terpsichore. She kindly agreed to see what she could do.

On the 30 Sept 2015 I received this lovely email from Inger.  I think you will agree that she came up trumps.
"Dear Jane,
Following your background coverage on Terpsicore blog, I rather hesitate to write a review of Northern Ballet over 55's contribution to the Feast of Music and Dance having been in the early rehearsals, but not having taken part in either performance - the End Of Term Show at Northern Ballet or The Young at Arts showcase.
The technical steps you have already described, in your review of the day at Morley, so my contribution is more personal.
Having started in the 1990s (actually at Yorkshire Dance) very late in life, having done no ballet as a child I know how difficult the first years are, but you have to start somewhere!
I have kept going since then in the Academy classes either Open or over 55, and observing and sketching at open rehearsals as a Friend of Northern Ballet. It's a constant fascination, how choreography constantly changes, no two steps are really the same - whether professional dancers or amateurs - attending company class or amateur classes, dancers have to be prepared for the unpredictable and adapt.
With regard to performances, changes in cast, choreography and staging, lighting and costume, and music, to name but some, everyone must keep all this in mind, with patience and remain very alert!
As I see it, this was one of the greatest challenges for seven lovely, very contrasting classical dancers on this occasion. To be this adaptable seemed quite remarkable. Adapting to "theatre in the round" instead of proscenium, close proximity of audience, different group dynamics and situation was a big ask, for teacher Annemarie and the cast.
Each gave an individual performance, yet the work showed what a wonderfully supportive and inclusive group this is.
The Lullaby by Lulaby music, was interpreted so well, with rests, sways, dreamlike pauses, rocking, through Annemarie Donaghue's brilliant choreography. This would have been a challenge for any professional classical dancer, though there may have been some such in the group. I thought the enjoyment given and received quite wonderful. Lovely smiles (yours in particular) showed confidence and relaxation, surely the purpose of a lullaby.
The audience was very involved, and gave a much appreciative ovation.
I just thought I owed it to you to send something by way of thanks to you and all for a most enjoyable time.
Good Luck, and keep dancing!
Kind Regards,
This is one of the most generous reviews that has ever appeared in this blog:
"I thought the enjoyment given and received quite wonderful. Lovely smiles (yours in particular) showed confidence and relaxation, surely the purpose of a lullaby.  The audience was very involved, and gave a much appreciative ovation."
I think Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova would have been purring at praise like that. In my case just a little bit too flattering perhaps,  But we all did our best and we certainly enjoyed ourselves.

The important point about our class and our show is that it is never too late to dance and no dancer is ever too old to take part in a show.