Monday, 30 November 2015

Mata Hari

Mata Hari
Author: Lucien Walery
Source Wikipedia

Both English National Ballet and the New Zealand National Ballet have created works to commemorate the First World War (see Kia Ora! The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Leeds 5 Nov and Lest We Forget 25 Nov 2015), The Netherlands was neutral during the First World War but it lost at least one of its citizens to that conflict.  Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, better known as Mata Hari, was executed by a French firing squad at Vincennes on 15 Oct 1917 after being convicted of espionage in a travesty of a trial in which her counsel was prevented from cross-examining the prosecution witnesses.  On 6 Feb 2016 the Dutch National Ballet will present Ted Brandsen's ballet Mata Hari on her life story.

The company's press manager, Richard Heideman, has described Mata Hari as "one of the most iconic women in Dutch history". His press release continues:

"Mata Hari was born to a well-to-do Frisian family in 1876 as Margaretha Zelle. Following an unhappy marriage, Zelle went to seek adventure in Paris. As the exotic, mysterious Mata Hari, she became one of the most famous dancers of her day. She travelled throughout Europe and had highly placed lovers everywhere, which made her an ideal spy during World War I. She was accused – rightly or wrongly – of being a double agent, and she died in front of a French firing squad in 1917.
Mata Hari was a passionate woman, for whom real life was too restrictive, which is why she was continually creating new images of herself and new guises.
The mysteries that surround her person and her dramatic, controversial death have made Mata Hari a welcome subject for the film industry. Famous actresses like Greta Garbo, Zsa Zsa Gábor, Marlène Dietrich, Jeanne Moreau, Sylvia Kristel and Maruschka Detmers have all played Mata Hari. There have also been stage versions, a television series and a Broadway musical about Mata Hari. She has been immortalised by painters like Isaac Israëls (1916) and John Singer Sargent (1906). And a great many books have been written about her life, ranging from serious biographies to Tomas Ross’ thriller The Tears of Mata Hari."
Brandsen's ballet focuses on Mata Hari's ability to keep ‘reinventing’ herself:
“She underwent many metamorphoses, like a Lady Gaga or Madonna of a hundred years ago”. 
He is particularly moved by her survival instinct and her will to make something of her life no matter what.

Tarik O’Regan has been commissioned to compose the score, The sets will be by Clement & Sanôu, and the costumes by Francois-Noël Cherpin.  If I can get to Amsterdam in February I will review the show.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Manchester's Favourite Ballet Company

Manchester Town Hall
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English National Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, Palace Theatre, 28 Nov 2015

Last night was the 46th anniversary of the first performance by Northern Dance Theatre (later known as Northern Ballet) at the University Theatre in Manchester. Northern Ballet crossed the Pennines many years ago leaving our city without our own major ballet company. Or did it?  I think Manchester has a special relationship with English National Ballet which goes back a very long way. The company gave its first performance at the Opera House on 5 Feb 1951 (see Our History) and it has chosen Manchester for the première of Akram Khan's Giselle on  27 Sept 2016. Last night and on Tuesday English National Ballet pulled out all the stops for us. I don't think I have ever seen English National Ballet dance better since I started following it in 1955.

On Tuesday the company performed Lest we forget (see Lest we Forget 25 Nov 2015). For the rest of the week it has been dancing Nureyev's production of Romeo and Juliet. Yesterday was the first time I had seen that version and I liked it a lot. It has a lot of imaginative and original features some of which, such as the unfolding of Friar Lawrence's cunning plan, seem to have been borrowed from the cinema. It is tense and tight and packed with action. There are lots of colourful touches from the dropping of the black and red cloth in the prologue to the Montagues' flag dance in Act II. There are whole new scenes such as Mercutio's death scene when Romeo and his mates think he is play acting or Juliet's solo with the dagger after Romeo has gone into exile and her parents are trying to force her to marry Paris. The shock when Romeo realizes that Mercutio is dead explains the rush of blood that goaded him to pick up a sword even better than the play. Having said that it is much closer to its source material than either Jean-Christophe Maillot's for Northern Ballet with its focus on Friar Lawrence or Krzysztof Pastor's for Scottish Ballet with its potted history of Italy even though I must add that I liked both versions well enough at the time (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way 8 March 2015 and Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2015).

Though I admired Nureyev's choreography, the orchestration of Prokofiev's magnificent score and Ezio Frigerio's designs it was the dancing that made the evening for me. The casting of Max Westwell and. in particular, Lauretta Summerscales in the title roles was inspired. On her web page she mentions Juliet as the role she would love to dance. The company gave her the chance to dance that role and she grabbed that chance with both hands. I don't think I have ever seen a better Juliet although I have seen some of the world's greatest ballerinas in that role. The quality that she brought to that role was her youth. When playing with her nurse and girl friends in Act I she looked as though she might actually be 13. She grew into a mature woman before our eyes. Westwell was an excellent partner for her.  I can quite see how he became a finalist of the emerging dancer contest. His web page says that Romeo and Juliet is his favourite production too and he also made the most of his opportunity to dance the leading role.

All the cast did well and it is perhaps unfair to single any of them for special praise but Fernando Bufalá was a great Mercutio. He was the life and soul of every party (even the one he gate crashed) and clowning even as he died. Fabian Reimair was a seething Tybalt, Jeanette Kakareka a delightful Rosaline and Daniele Silingardi a decent Paris. He seems to have loved Juliet and would have been quite a catch for almost every other young woman. I felt really sorry that he had to die in the tomb.

But the casting that delighted me most was to see Sarah Kundi as Lady Capulet. I have followed that dancer ever since she danced in Leeds. It was she who led me to Ballet Black and through MurleyDance to Richard Chappell. She is tall and elegant with the most expressive face. An actor as much as a dancer, yesterday's role was perfect for her. It is an important one in Nureyev's production for it is Lady Capulet who forces her daughter to take desperate measurers. How I clapped at the curtain call.  I fear my "brava" roared from the middle of the stalls would have been drowned out by everyone else's applause by the time it reached the stage. Had this show been in London I could have tossed flowers at her. She and everyone on stage would have deserved them.

So farewell to English National Ballet until its next season in our city.  Heartfelt thanks for two magnificent shows. Now that we are to build our fine new £78 million arts centre (see The Factory begins to take Shape 26 Nov 2015) maybe we can tempt it back more often and to stay with us a little longer each time it returns.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Remembering Mandev Sokhi

A Red Kite
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From 18:00 this evening Ballet Cymru will hold a gathering at its studios in Rogerstone to celebrate the life of its dancer and education officer Mandev Sokhi. This event is for "anyone and everyone to come and pay their respects to this wonderful person, who gave such a lot and had so much passion for dance."

As I said in Mandev Sokhi 10 Oct 2015 Mandev was one of my favourite dancers in one of my favourite companies. I particularly admired his performance as the beast in Beauty and the Beast which Mel Wong reviewed for us so aptly in For grown ups who haven't lost touch with their childhoods - Ballet Cymru's Beauty & The Beast 24 June 2014. I am very glad to have made Mandev's acquaintance when the London Ballet Circle visited Rogerstone on 3 Oct 2015 (see Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015).

Mandev will be remembered tonight far beyond Newport and indeed well beyond Wales for he danced wth Ballet Cymru in every part of the United Kingdom. Clearly it will not be possible for all his admirers to make their way to Wales tonight but there are two very good ways in which we can show our appreciation of the man. First, there are still a few tickets left for Ballet Cymru's triple bill in London on the 29 and 30 Nov. I saw it in Newport on 6 Nov 2015 and reviewed it in "The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales" 8 Nov 2015. I am seeing it again on Monday. Another way to remember Mandev is to become a Friend of the company as I did after my visit to its studios last month. You can also make a donation or sponsor one of its productions or activities.  The company has been nominated for a National Dance Award so it is well worth supporting (see Ballet Cymru Am Byth 1 Nov 2015).

Phoenix in Huddersfield

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Mixed Bill, Lawrence Batley Teatre, Huddersfield, 27 Nov 2015

When I reviewed Phoenix's triple bill at The Linbury in The Phoenix Soars Over London on 13 Nov 2015 I promised to focus on Itzik Galili's Until.With/ Out.Enough and Caroline Finn's Bloom as soon as I had seen them in Huddersfield. I made that romise because I was so impressed with Sharon Watson's TearFall that I ran out of space and time to write about anything else. I am unable to keep that promise in its entirety because the first two works in last night's show were not Galili's piece bbut Christopher Bruce's Shift and Shadows

Not that I'm complaining for I am a great admirer of Bruce's work as you can see from my reviews of Rambert's Rooster (see Cock a Doodle Doo - Rambert's Rooster 27 Oct 2015 and Rooster ................ :-) 4 Oct 2014) and Scottish Ballet's Ten Poems (see Bruce Again 6 Oct 2015). Nevertheless it did occur to me to ask the reason for the substitution in a question and answer session with the cast in the Syngenta cellar at the end of the show. I didn't get a chance to ask that question because there were so many others who wanted to quiz the company but it was answered by Tracy Tinker, the tour director, who explained that the company had to dance Galili's piece in London because it had been a joint commission with the Royal Opera House.

The substitution prompted me to buy a new programme at the first interval and I remarked to a lady selling Phoenix merchandise in the foyer that this was a completely new programme. It wasn't entirely new. The other two works, TearFall and Bloom were the same as in the Linbury. 

As on the 12 Nov 2015 I enjoyed TearFall tremendously and appreciated it a little bit more for seeing it twice. It was clear from the Q & A that that piece went down well with the audience. Prentice Whitlow explained his interpretation of the work in response to a question from the floor. One point that I had missed before was that men and women think of tears in an entirely different way and the piece explored that.  Whitlow had introduced the piece with a short monologue and recordings of his voice and someone's (possibly his) weeping recurred at several points of the show.

Finn's Bloom was another work that I got to understand better the second time round though I am still not sure that I have got to the bottom of it.  Perhaps if I describe it you will see why.  It began with a group of dancers on the left hand side of the stage cooing and clucking around a table.  Suddenly one of them screams and Sam Vaherlehto wearing a clown's tragedy mask appears round a microphone. He shifts and shuffles apparently with embarrassment as his audience applauds and looks on. There is a duet - or more properly a dance dialogue - with Whitlow. One of the women in a tutu like skirt dances a solo to a rhyme that seemed to mock medicine. In another scene Vaherlehto gathers the dancers who were stretched on the ground like corpses and assembles them into a pile. The dancer in the tutu makes her way to the centre and lies down about them.  Towards the end Vaherlehto, stripped to his underpants, danced to a song with the chorus "I'm a creep. I'm a wierdo. What the hell am I doing here." Starting with the title Bloom I wondered whether the dancers might be plants or flowers and that the man in the mask was the gardener. I was dying to ask whether or not I was on the right track but sadly didn't get a chance to find out.

Even if it was about flowers Bloom did have disturbing undertones such as the thin line between reality and hallucination, Bruce's Shadows also seemed to be about aberrations of the mind as it started with furniture throwing. I was not the only one to see a connection with depression. The lady sitting next to me in the Q & A was a therapist and she alluded to it in formulating her question.

Shift, however was quite different. I had seen the same dancers dance that work at The Sapphire gala in March and I think they were better second time round. More polished somehow. Dressed in forties costumes with the women in head scarves Gracie Fields style they seemed to represent a production line. I was reminded very much of the munitions workers in Liam Scrlett's No Man's Land which I had seen in Manchester two days earlier (see Lest We Forget 25 Nov 2015). However, Bruce's workers seemed to have a lot more fun that Scareltt's canaries.

The Q & A session was my first chance to see all the dancers together and hear them speak. I had already met Whitlow a few days earlier, I have been following several of the others on twitter and I knew Marie-Astrid Mence from Ballet Black. They are an impressive bunch of artists. Watson explained her selection process which is uber competitive. They were asked how they took up dance. Two of the men explained that they took up dance because their sisters were taking lessons. The others gave various reasons. They were asked by the therapist how they relaxed and we learned from Vaherlehto that they look (or at least he looks) to another art. Photography in his case someone added.  I hope to run a feature on Mence and Whitlow in Terpsichore soon.

This has been a pretty good month for dance and the two shows by Phoenix were among the highlights. Although rooted in Leeds it really is a world class company with dancers from around the world.  I am very proud of them.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Factory begins to take shape

Manchester  Graffiti
Photo Mike Colvin
Source Wikipeda
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In his Autumn statement last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised a £78 million investment in a new arts centre in Manchester to be called "The Factory". I picked it up in my article  Let's bring the Royal Ballet to The Factory Manchester 11 Dec 2015. The Chancellor, whose constituency is in the Manchester city region, repeated his promise yesterday (see George Osborne’s Autumn Statement speech in full 25 Nov 2015 Financial Times).

The Autumn statement coincided with press reports of the appointment of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to design the Factory (see Rem Koolhaas wins Factory design project as Manchester goes Dutch 25 Nov 2015 The Guardian, The Factory: CGIs of Manchester's multi-million pound culture hub  released 25 Nov 2015 Manchester Evening News and OMA wins competition to design huge Manchester arts venue The Factory 25 Nov 2014 De Zeen). Work is to start on the site next year and the building should be finished by 2019.

When completed the Factory will host the Manchester International Festival which featured artists from the Paris Opera Ballet in Wayne McGregor's Tree of Codes this year. Next year it will première Akram Khan's Giselle for English National Ballet. Manchester which is visited regularly by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Northern Ballet as well as smaller companies is probably the biggest audience for dance outside London.

So we now have an audience for dance and we will soon have a major venue for the performing arts in the city. All we need now is a major resident company. As I hinted last year we would welcome the Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet with open arms if it wanted to resume the negotiations for a Northern home which were terminated by the change of government last year.

Or we could build out own. Some of the building blocks are here. We have the Northern Ballet School in Oxford Road which already has its own performing company known as Manchester City Ballet. It will perform Giselle at The Dancehouse between 10 and 12 Dec 2015.  There is also the Centre for Advanced Training in Dance at The Lowry. All we need is to commitment and money.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Lest We Forget

Commemorating World War 1
Photo Andrew Davidson
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

English National Ballet, Lest we Forget Palace Theatre, Manchester, 24 Nov 2015

Yesterday's performance of Lest we Forget in Manchester was superb. It was not an easy watch and for that reason I can't say that I enjoyed it but I was moved by it in a very special way. This was ballet at its best. It showed the unique power of dance to comprehend and find beauty in one of the greatest tragedies of human history. The end of the performance brought some members of the audience to their feet. I guess the only reason why more did not join in was that the audience was emotionally drained by the end.

The performance consisted of Liam Scarlett's No Man's Land, Russell Maliphant's Second Breath and Akram Khan's Dust. That was a shorter programme than the one premièred at the Barbican last year in that it omitted George Williamson's Firebird which I hope to see one day. All three were impressive works but the one that stood out for me was Scarlett's No Man's Land.

I had already seen a recording of Scarlett's Viscera earlier in the month (see Au Revoir but not Adieu 19 Nov 2015) and was keen to compare it to No Man's Land.  The two works could not have been more different. Set to excerpts from Franz Liszt's Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses that had been arranged by Gavin Sutherland No Man's Land was haunting and lyrical. The work remembered not only the men who served in the forces but the women who stayed behind to make the munitions in appalling and sometimes dangerous conditions. The setting for this work was a damaged but still operational building - possibly a factory or maybe a ruin on the front. The women were in simple flowing dresses. The men in green or brownish tunics with steel helmets at one point in the ballet. There was enchanting dancing by Begoña Cao, Junor Souza, Alison McWhinney, Fabian ReimairShiori Kase and Fernando Bufalá.

Maliphant's Second Breath was an opportunity for Tamarin Stott and Joshua McSherry-Gray to shine and they were incandescent in their duet though the supporting dancers were important too. The work was set to a score by Andy Cowton but not easy to absorb. There were pulses of sound that I found quite alarming though that was possibly the composer's idea. There were snatches of barely audible and even less comprehensible speech in the piece followed by a pretty clear rendering of Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night which seemed to be delivered by the author himself. Dark and disturbing this was the work that required most work on the part of the audience.

The most dramatic work of the evening was Khan's Dust. It began with an execution - or possibly the nightmare of an execution for the victim continued to writhe on the ground. There was some impressive human sculpture where the dancers' limbs became waves or possibly a production line. It was Khan's Kaash at the Lowry that prompted me to book for Lest we Froget but this work was very different in that any South Asian influences were much less noticeable to me at an rate. The music for this work was by Jocelyn Pook who also wove speech into her score. There was what seemed to be a phrase of Auld Lang Syne repeating itself on a scratched record. The lead dancers were Erina Takahashi with Reinar and Bufala, This piece won Khan a number of awards last year and its success seems to have led to his commission to create a Giselle. I look forward to it immensely.

The centenary of the First World War inspired the Royal New Zealand Ballet to create Salute, another mixed bill focusing in war. They two of their ballets from that production to Leeds which I reviewed in  Kia Ora! The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Leeds 5 Nov 2015 earlier this month. The Netherlands which was neutral in the conflict is commemorating the war in a different way with Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari who was also a victim of that conflict.

Anyone who thinks that dance is a frivolous, frothy superficial art form incapable of dealing with difficult matters should think again. It is the synthesis of many arts and the whole is almost always greater than the constituent parts.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights in Bradford

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Northern Ballet, Wuthering Heights, Alhambra, Bradford 21 Nov 2015

I inserted a photo of Top Withens near Haworth into my review of Northern Ballet's performance of Wuthering Heights at the Sheffield Lyceum as it is said to be the inspiration for Emily Brontë's novel. Haworth is in the metropolitan district of Bradford and the Alhambra is the nearest theatre to that township. No doubt that is one of the reasons why Northern Ballet premièred David Nixon's ballet in that theatre to less than ecstatic reviews at the time (see Ismene Brown's Lost in the Moors 25 Sept 2002 in the Daily Telegraph and Judith Mackrell's Wuthering Heights 25 Sept 2002 in the Guardian).

The reviews have become somewhat kinder over the years, at least in the local press (see Emma Clayton's Northern Ballet brings Cathy and Heathcliff back home 12 Nov 2015 Telegraph and Argus and Yvette Huddleston's Review: Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights 18 Nov 2015 Yorkshire Post) though not necessarily among balletomanes (see Emma's What we shouldn't try to tame in Balletical). Emma is particularly preceptive in her review, She begins with the observation:
"I could well be alone in my commentary of this ballet. I cannot be representative of the good ladies who rushed to the front of the stage to offer a standing ovationat the close of this performance. Then perhaps this review be considered a response rather than critique – and here is the enigma of Wuthering Heights and the creative challenge of this particular story ballet."
And concludes:
"I know it: I have been unduly harsh on Northern Ballet’s Wuthering Heights – a ballet that may please many, many people. I hope it does. My response is indeed less critical judgement than personal experience. That is the thing with Wuthering Heights and with Heathcliff, who we really shouldn’t try to tame."
A lot of choreographers other than Nixon have tries to tame Wuthering Heights. Cathy Marston has created one for the Berne Ballet which you can see in this YouTube video. Deborah Dunn has created Nocturnes which is said to be based on the novel (see Paula Citron's Cathy and Heathcliff in dance 12 Jan 2011 The Globe and Mail). Kader Belarbu made Hurlevent for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2002 which was reviewed by Patricia Boccadoro for Culture Kiosque 22 April 2002. Although Northern Ballet's version seems to do well enough in the English regions, none of those productions have really taken off.

Like Carmen which I discussed in Au Revoir but not Adieu 19 Nov 2015 Wuthering Heights has been very difficult to transpose into dance and probably for the same reason. Everyone loves Bizet's score and Mérimée, Each has his or her own interpretation of those works which seem to be violated by the choreography even of the calibre or Petit, Alonso or Acosta. It is the same with Brontë:
"The foundations of music, structure, costume, and above all, choreography, bore atone I disagreed with. This was not my Wuthering Heights. They lent to a feeling of romantic melodrama in classical gowns – when everything about Wuthering Heights for me is about being hungry and not having washed for days. Heathcliff – my Heathcliff – is full of dominance, violence and childhood hurt – yet the worst he does in Act I is knock a shuttlecock off play and drum on the table."
My own review of Nixon's work was much kinder than Emma's and I think that is because I am not really a fan of the novel and had no preconceptions for him to knock. I prefer Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Sir Walter Scott and William Makepeace Thackeray to the Brontës any day of the week and if Nixon had made a ballet out of Emma or Persuasion my reaction might well have been the same as Emma's.

All that circumambulation is an introduction to the fact that I was at The Alhambra yesterday for the last performance of the current revival of Wuthering Heights with the same cast that I had seen in Sheffield. That was Northern Ballet's A Team: Tobias Batley as Heathcliff, Martha Leebolt as Cathy, Hironao Takahashi as Edgar, Hannah Bateman as Isabella and Pippa Moore as Ellen. The last performance of a flagship work by the company's stars after a successful provincial tour should have been brilliant and it was certainly OK. Bateman, now perhaps the strongest female dancer in the company, showed her considerable talent and expertise as a dancer and actor as the injured Isabella. It is a complex role that perhaps only she could do well. Takehashi showed his experience and authority in his role. Light, energetic and effervescent, Rachael Gillespie was a delight to watch and she was aptly rewarded in the reverence including a "brava" from me roared from the back of the stalls. Those three dancers made my evening.

Batley and Leeboilt were good too as they always are but their performance lacked fire. It was like watching World Ballet Day or even company class. Old ladies like me who sacrifice their widow's mite for ballet (now increased by 133% - see The Increasing Prince of Friendship 14 Oct 2015) expect to float when we leave the theatre as I did on Friday when I saw Ballet Black (see Ballet Black's Return to Leeds 21 Nov 2015) or on 12 Nov 2015 when I left the Linbury after seeing Phoenix (see The Phoenix Soars Over London 13 Nov 2015). The reason I floated was that Ballet Black and Phoenix danced as though they were inspired as did Bateman, Takehashi and Gillespie yesterday.  I swapped a ticket in the centre of row B of the Stanley and Audrey Burton for yesterday's performance of Ballet Black for one at the side of the top of the auditorium for Friday so that I could see the last performance of Wuthering Heights in Bradford. Had it not been for  Bateman, Takehashi and Gillespie I think I would have regretted the exchange.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Ballet Black return to Leeds

Millennium Square, Leeds
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Ballet Black, Mixed Bill, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds 20 Nov 2015

Ballet Black always do well in Leeds for the reasons I stated in Ballet Black at Home in Leeds 7 Nov 2014. Last night was no exception. They returned with Sayaka Ichikawa, one of their most respected and best loved senior artists after a year's absence, and two outstanding young dancers, Mthuthuzeli November and Joshua Harriette. In a company the size of Ballet Black they are a substantial addition. Judging by their performance yesterday, a good one.

The programme that Ballet Black brought back to Leeds was the same as the one that they had launched at the Linbury (see Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet 17 Feb 2015) and performed in Nottingham (see Exactly My Cup of Tea 27 June 2015). This season in Leeds is likely to be their last performance of those works in the United Kingdom for some time though they are dancing them in Germany on 26 Nov 2015. When we see them again at the Barbican on 18 and 19 March 2016 they will have a new programme of works by Christopher Hampson, Christopher Marney and Arthur Pita.

The evening opened with To Fetch a Pail of Water? by Kit Holder danced by Kanika Carr and Jacob Wye. This is a work that can be sweet and innocent or dark and slightly menacing depending entirely on the cast. Yesterday it was danced sweetly by Carr and Wye. The near capacity crowd loved it as did I. Because I changed my ticket from Saturday to Friday at the last minute in order to see Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights in Bradford I was seated towards the top of the auditorium. That turned out to be an advantage because I caught detail such as the rustling of clothes that I had missed in London and Nottingham when I was close to the stage. The significance of the question mark clicked at last. It is a shame that I won't see the work for a while now that I understand it a little bit better.

Depouillement was our first opportunity to welcome back Ichikawa who was as delightful as ever and see November and Harriette for the first time. Actually I had seen November in May when Ballet Central visited the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre and he had impressed me then (see Dazzled 3 May 2015). He did so again last night from his very first jump. This is a fine work by Will Tuckett and it was danced exquisitely by Damien Johnson, Cira Robinson and Isabela Coracey as well as by Ichikawa, Harriette and November.

Even though I have read and re-read Yeats's short poem since I first saw Mark Bruce's Second Coming in February and have now seen it three times I am still no nearer to understanding it. I think the work has more to do with voodoo and animism than the poem. There are two ritual stabbings with a dagger by the ruler danced by Johnson. The dancers are forced to pass through a hoop - literally kicked through by Carr in one case. In her angel costume with tiny wings Carr can do creepy as well as sweet when she so wishes.  The hoop seems to be the boundary between reality and some fantasy work. On the other side there is some gorgeous dancing to Shostakovich and and a delightful duet by Johnson and Robinson. Yeats writes of
"A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds."
In the ballet the shape has a lion's head and the body of a man and that's the creepiest bit if all. Maybe the ballet is not meant to be understood any more than the poem or even the book of Revelation from which it was inspired. Perhaps we should just relish the beautiful dancing, choreography, the haunting music and Dorothee Brodruck's rich designs.

The stage darkened and the auditorium erupted with applause. Not just polite ballet applause with the occasional "bravo" or "brava" but ululations and stamping. From the back of the theatre it was deafening. I feared for a moment that the seating would collapse from the vibrations. Leeds loves Ballet Black as Sharon Watson acknowledged in the Q & A that followed the performance when she thanked the company for performing in our city. What I did not realize until that Q & A was that Cassa Pancho had drawn inspiration from our own Phoenix Dance Theatre. Ballet Black and Phoenix have much in common. Yet another reason why Leeds loves Ballet Black.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Au Revoir but not Adieu

Embedded pursuant to YouTube's standard licence

I was very tempted to attend the Royal Ballet's mixed programme to see Carlos Acosta's last performance on the main stage of Covent Garden on Thursday night for I was offered a ticket for the grand circle for only £100. The reason I was tempted was that I knew that I would see a little piece of balletic history. But then I would have missed Phoenix Dance Theatre at the Royal Opera House and I knew that that would be good too. Torn though I was I opted for Phoenix (see The Phoenix Soars over London 13 Nov 2015) as they are from Leeds. I see them nearly every time I attend an adult ballet class. Some of these classes even take place in their studios.

One of the reasons why I chose to watch Phoenix in the Linbury was that I knew the mixed bill would be filmed and that I would get a chance to see that film at the Huddersfield Odeon on Sunday, That is what I did. The Royal Opera House HDTV transmissions have just about got it right now. The show was introduced by Fiona Bruce who is an experienced TV presenter. Darcey Bussell interviewed Carlos Acosta and Kevin O'Hare and contributed anecdotes from her experience as a principal dancer. The programme consisted of four ballets: Liam Scarlett's Viscera. Jerome Robbins's Afternoon of a Faun, Tchaikowsky Pas de Deux by Balanchine and Carlos Acosta's Carmen. It was a thrilling programme showing the Royal Ballet at its best.

Ever since I heard Laura Morera's talk to the London Ballet Circle I have wanted to see Viscera (see Laura Morera 25 Aug 2015). Although the work was commissioned by Miami City Ballet it is associated with Morera in this country.  In the cinema transmission Morera was accompanied by Ryoichi Hirano and Marianela NuñezViscera is a spectacular ballet in three movements. It reminds me very much of David Dawson's Empire Noir which I saw in Amsterdam as part of the Dutch National Ballet's Cool Britannia programme earlier in the year  (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015) in that everything except the second movement is done on the double. There were spectacular turns and jumps by in the first and last movements and a delicious duet in the middle with the most delicate lifts and holds. The ballet was set to Lowell Liebermann's First Piano Concerto. You can get a taste of Liebermann's work from this concert performance of the third movement on this YouTube video.

Viscera was followed by an interval which showed an interview of Carlos Acosta by Darcey Bussell over tea. Acosta spoke about his career in England: how he entered ballet largely on his father's insistence, his short time with the English National Ballet where he actually contemplated giving up dance, his audition with the Royal Ballet, his career with the company and the two works that he created for it. Bussell shone as Acosta's interviewer. She coaxed the story from Acosta adding her own reminiscences here and there. This is what she does well.

The next act consisted of Afternoon of a Faun and the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  These are two short works by two of America's best known choreographers.  Robbins's Afternoon  shares the music and title of Nijinsky's L'Après-midi but, as can be seen from archive film of the Nijinsky's work and a video of the Ballett am Rhein's performance of Robbin's, the narratives are quite different.  I am not sure which work I prefer. The Robbins probably makes more sense as it is set in a dance studio with the audience acting as a mirror on the fourth wall. Nobody is dressed in an animal costume or moves like a faun. However, Nijinksky's work for Diaghilev has the rich backcloth by Leon Bakst. Afternoon was danced by Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb. This was the first time I had seen them together and they teamed up well. Balanchine created the Pas de Deux from music that Tchaikovsky wrote originally for Swan Lake. It is a gorgeous work with male and female solos and a thrilling coda. It was danced magnificently by Steven McRae and Iana Salenko.

There followed quite a long interval when I went in search of a hot dog to avoid the tweets and trailers which is the one part of the Royal Opera House's transmission that I wish the House would drop. Towards the end there was a short interview of O'Hare by Bussell in which they discussed World Ballet Day, the career of Carlos Acosta and his latest work Carmen.  Then the curtain rose on the last Act which was Carlos Acosta's Carmen.

Acosta is not the first choreographer to transpose Prosper Mérimée's novella and Bizet's score into ballet. Roland Petit created a version for himself and Zizi Jeanmaire in 1949. So, too, did Alberto Alonso for the Bolshoi and the National Ballet of Cuba with Maya Plisetskaya in the lead  (see Wikipedia's Carmen Suite (Ballet)). Neither of those works has stuck and I am not sure why.  It seems that a full length opera does not translate easily into a one act ballet. Whether Acosta's work fares any better than his compatriot's or Roland Petit's remains to be seen. If it does not, it will not be for want of trying. Acosta threw just about everything bar the kitchen sink into the mix - voice, flamenco, contemporary and a new character called Fate danced by Matthew Golding. Surprisingly, Acosta found no role for Michaela which might have been an interesting one for a ballerina. I have mixed feelings about the work but it was certainly exciting. Acosta danced Don José, Nuñez was Carmen and Federico Bonelli Escamillo. Fiona Kimm sang the fortune teller's role.

Whatever the strengths of the work the audience loved it. As you can see from the above video there was a flower throw. O'Hare made a speech. The whole cast appeared on stage, It must have been one of those memorable evenings that the Royal Opera House does so well. I stayed in the auditorium for as long as the video of the applause continued long after everyone else had left with the ushers glancing pointedly at their watches. I felt that was the least I could do for Acosta who has given me and many others so much pleasure over his long career.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Red Shoes

Publicity Photo for the Red Shoes
 Author Ballerinailina
Source Wikipedia
Creative commons licence

If you are already a balletomane or film buff you will know all about The Red Shoes choreographed by Sir Robert Helpmann and featuring Moira ShearerLudmilla Tchérina and Léonide Massine. If you are not a balletomane you will perhaps begin to understand the condition if you watch the film. You have the chance now and for the next 6 days to watch it on BBC iPlayer. You can also download a short talk on the film by Deborah Bull.

Although the film carries a notice that it is a work of fiction and that any resemblance with individuals living or dead is purely coincidental the parallels between the film character Boris Lermontov and the impresario Sergei Daghilev are overwhelming. Diaghilev introduced the British public as well as much of the rest of the world to the Russian imperial ballet. However, he did much more than that. He surrounded himself with brilliant young artists and composers as  well as dancers from around the world and employed them to create the most dazzling productions. Ballet is not just choreography and dancing. It is the synthesis of many arts - drama, music, painting et cetera - the product of something that is so much greater than its component parts. That is what attracted me to ballet nearly 60 years ago and it is also why I just can't see enough of the stuff.

In her talk Deborah Bull lists so many reasons why one should dislike the film such as the outrageous attitude to women and its outlandish clichés and yet she loves the film as I do. One of the reasons she gives is its authenticity and she mentions a missed step by Moira Shearer which only a dancer would recognize. Certainly that point eluded me until Deborah Bull mentioned it but then I am not a dancer in the way that she is. But I also recognize authenticity in the film from the perspective of the humble theatre goer. Ballet is life for us just as it is for the dancers.

Red Shoes was made 6 months before I was born which makes it a very old film. It contains shots of the old fruit market and the stone staircase up to the amphitheatre and the upper and lower slips that I remember well. The accents are clipped.  Yet this film remains fresh. It is one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. My favourite by a country mile.

Post Script

Deborah Bull talked about authenticity from a dancer's perspective and I alluded far more vaguely to authenticity from the audience's perspective without giving an example. I have just thought of one. Shortly after Pavlova died the theatre in which she was due to perform presented the ballet as scheduled but instead of her a spotlight traced her steps around the stage. For those who were there it must have been one of the most poignant moments of their lives. The gesture was repeated in The Red Shoes after the heroine still in costume and wearing the red shoes threw herself in front of a train.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Phoenix Soars Over London

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Mixed Programme, Linbury Studio Theatre, London 12 Nov 2015

It should never be forgotten that there are two great dance companies at Quarry Hill in Leeds. My beloved Northern Ballet, of course, but also Phoenix Dance Theatre which started in Leeds and remains rooted in that city.  It is entirely fitting that Phoenix's artistic director, Sharon Watson, should chair the committee that will coordinate the city's bid to become the European Capital of Culture for 2023. If anyone can bag that prize it is she.

Yesterday she showed her genius in TearFall as part of Phoenix's Mixed Programme at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House in London. TearFall is a work of art but it also incorporates science. One of the disadvantages of our English, Welsh and Northern Irish Systems (but not so much the Scottish one) is that our schoolchildren are required to focus their studies on three arts or science "A" levels from age 16. The result is that we have educated several generations of science graduates with an incomplete knowledge of history, social sciences, the arts and literature but also several generations of arts graduates with only the scantiest understanding of basic science. C. P. Snow discussed that phenomenon in the Two Cultures as long ago as 1956. As Sharon Watson explains in Rehearsals: Revealed - TearFall - Sharon Watson she collaborated with Professor Sir John Holman of the University of York in creating Tear Fall. There are shots in the video of Sir John in a seminar with the choreographer and dancers and also sitting with them on the floor in a rehearsal studio. The work is supported by the Wellcome Trust which usually funds pharmacology and healthcare. It is great to see that it is also funding the performing arts.

The performance began with a short monologue by Prentice Whitlow on the function and composition of tears. Having began his topic quite clinically he discussed tears as a vehicle for conveying emotion and that, of course, was the topic explored by the dancers. Even without props the choreography would have been sufficiently expressive but Yaron Abulafia's lighting with little bulbs symbolizing individual tears complementing the pearl coloured helium balloons focussed the audience's thoughts (or at least mine) on the things that had caused them pain.  I shed many tears this week having been forced to end a friendship that has lasted for 6 years and it has almost been a bereavement.  Kristian Steffes's music also spoke to me, especially the sound of sobbing.  For so many reasons, I felt TearFall had my name on it and I am very glad that Sharon Watson and her dancers have produced this work and that I saw it when I did.

TearFall was one of three brilliant works and my focus on that work has meant that I have not done sufficient justice to Itzik Galili's Until.WithOut.Enough and Caroline Finn's Bloom. These are two very different works as you can see from Rehearsals: Revealed - Until.With/Out.Enough and Rehearsals: Revealed - Bloom - Caroline Finn and suit different moods.  The first is sombre while the last is comic though not without a bitter sweet twist.  I think Sharon Watson had a reason for inserting her work which deals with pleasant as well as painful emotions between them. I loved the music for both - Gorecki for Galili's work and some very clever lyrics in Bloom.  I shall see this programme in Huddersfield on 26 Nov 2015 and I will focus on them properly then.

Phoenix has never forgotten where and how it started and it works closely with local schools and community groups in Leeds.  If you look at its twitter stream you will see that it has not taken a rest in London. It has led workshops in the capital too. It is the nearest thing we have in Yorkshire to a national treasure.  On the steps leading down to the Linbury we were handed leaflets inviting us to support the company. I urge all my readers to do so.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Royal New Zealand Ballet's Giselle

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Royal New Zealand Ballet. Giselle, Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7 Nov 2015

Last Thursday the Royal New Zealand Ballet showed its prowess with four modern works (see  Kia Ora! The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Leeds 5 Nov 2015). On Saturday it performed Giselle, one of the oldest works in the modern repertoire.

The version that the company danced on Saturday had been staged by its former artistic director, Ethan Stiefel and the former Royal Ballet principal, Johan Kobborg.  They added some original and dramatic touches to the work such as a grieving Albrecht at the beginning and the end and two new characters in a bride who tossed her bouquet to Giselle and her groom who danced an important pas de deux.  Another interesting twist, which may or may not have been coincidental was that Bathilde, who had been cheated by Albrecht, was danced by Abigail Boyle who re-emerged in the second act as Myrtha, the vengeful queen of the wilis. That made me wonder whether Albrecht's treachery had killed Bathilde too.

On Saturday Giselle was danced by Mayu Tanigaito who showed considerable skill in her dancing though perhaos rather less in her acting.  It may well have been a result of the direction but it was hard to detect emotion upon discovering that the boy who had courted her was a cheat.  Tanigaito's coolness and precision in act 1 was just what was needed for act 2. She danced with a rare lightness which when combined with Kendall Smith's skilful lighting really did produce an ethereal impression.

Albrecht was danced by Carlo di Lanno who is with the San Francisco Ballet. He came over very smooth but also very sleazy. Handsome undoubtedly but how any girl could have been taken in by that cove beats me. However, di Lanno can dance and he showed his virtuosity in both acts.  I was particularly impressed by a solo in the first act where he, Hilarion and the bridegroom show what they can do.

As to the other major roles, Paul Matthews was a convincing Hilarion, Abigail Boyle a superb Myrtha and Bronte Kelly and Shane Urton a joyful bride and groom. I should also say a word for Alayna Ng who came over well as a caring rather than a batty mum. Berthe's is not a big role in the ballet but Ng made it an important one.

The ballet was performed to a less than full auditorium which was a pity because the company danced well. I felt they needed a lift so I stood at the reverance and I am glad to say that more than a few people in the stalls followed me.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

"The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales"

Ballet Cymru and Guests, Riverfront Theatre, Newport 6 Nov 2015
Author Gita Mistry
(c) 2015 Gita Mistry: all rights reserved

Ballet Cymru, TIR, Riverfront Theatre, 6 Nov 2015

Towards the end of her performance Cerys Matthews described Ballet Cymru as "the pride of Newport" and a little bit later as "the pride of Wales". The auditorium exploded and rightly so for indeed they are at least that.  Friday night was one of those very rare times in the theatre when something special happens. Something like the moment when Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd stepped on stage to dance Voorbij Gegaan which Rudi van Dantzig had created for Alexandra Radius and Han Ebelaar immediately after the presentation of the Alexandra Radius prize (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015.) Or when Hans van Manen took a bow at the Stadsshouwburg at the Junior Company's opening performance (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). Or when Northern Ballet danced A Midsummer Night's Dream  at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 14 Sept 2013 (see Realizing Another Dream 15 Sept 2013). Or indeed Sir Frederick Ashton's retirement gala on 24 July 1970.

There were many reasons why Friday's performance was special.  The company was at home. In the magnificent Riverfront Theatre in its home town. The company's artistic director, Darius James, is a Newport man and his pride in his city and company is palpable. I watched Darius in the intervals as he greeted well wishers. There is real affection for James and his company in Newport very much as I found in Birmingham for Bintley and his company, or in Glasgow for Scottish Ballet or in Amsterdam for the Dutch National Ballet. Another reason is that the company is like a family - a family still in shock and mourning one of its finest dancers (see Mandev Sokhi 10 Oct 2015). Mandev was never far from our thoughts but  in Marc Brew's Traces Implanted and Matthews's setting of the Rev Eli Jenkins's prayer from Under Milk Wood it was as though he was still centre stage. Yet another reason which Friday was special is that the dancers seemed to be inspired. I have never seen them dance so well. I have rarely seen any company dance as well.

The evening was a triple bill consisting of Catrin Finch's Celtic Concerto. Traces Implanted and Cerys Matthews's TIR. As I got hopelessly lost in the one way system after encountering the notoriously, stroppy taxi driver who charges £50 if you're sick in the back seat in Newport State of Mind  which we were assured by our hotel reception we needed for the "enormous distance" (for a snail) between the Newport Travelodge and the Riverfront Theatre, we missed Celtic Concerto.  But we were in time for Traces Implanted which impressed me even more than Brew's other works and, of course, Matthews's glorious TIR. We also have the perfect excuse to see the triple bill again in another venue.

On his website Brew explains that "Traces Implanted explores the imprints and memories made and the traces left behind".  Gita tells me that she discussed that theme with Brew when she met him after the show. Gita confirmed that the subject matter is death and bereavement, something that we don't wish to mention about every day even though we are confronted with that reality constantly. The dancers must have found it particularly difficult as they had recently been bereaved themselves. But as Brew added, he doesn't always want to create conventional balletic beauty. Although there was beauty in this piece - particularly in the final duet with almost ethereal figures in the soft and subtle lighting - it was a compelling but not a comfortable work to watch.

TIR was quite a different work. Matthews has a lovely voice which is admired everywhere in the UK but when she sings in Welsh to a Welsh audience she is adored. Darius James and Amy Doughty have created dances for some of her best known works. Works that I was relieved to find are almost as well known on this side of Offa's Dyke as on the other. I caught myself clapping to Sospan Fach and rooting for a tissue for Myfanwy. Half concert, half ballet it was a thrilling experience. The company were joined by Daisuke Miura and Emily Pimm-Edwards who had delighted us in Romeo a Juliet (see They're not from Chigwell - they're from a small Welsh Town called Newport 14 May 2013) and Suzy Birchwood who had amazed us in Llandudno (see An Explosion of Joy 21 Sept 2014).

After the show Gita and I were invited to meet the dancers and creative team over drinks and canapés. It was a privilege to shake their hands again - particularly Krystal Lowe's who never fails to move me. I got to meet Jack White the gifted young composer of Cinderella and Stuck in the Mud and many of the the creative and technical team who have worked with the company  though sadly not Matthews on this occasion. Still, I have seen her perform live for the first time and that was more than enough.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Kia Ora! The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Leeds

Royal New Zealand Ballet: "A Passing Cloud", Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 4 Nov 2015

The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa which means the Land of the Long White Cloud which perhaps explains why the name of the Royal New Zealand Ballet's mixed bill was A Passing Cloud. I saw it last night at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. The company played to a packed house which included one of this country's best choreographers as well as a fair number of dancers and dance students. Judging by the whoops and ululations with which each curtain call was greeted I would say that this visit to the UK by New Zealand's dancers is every bit as successful as last month's visit by its rugby players.

The show consisted of four works by the following choreographers:
These are four very different pieces with very different moods each of which tugged on a different emotion in a different way.

Before I saw Aotearoa-New Zealand for myself in 1996 I imagined it as a parallel Britain on the other side of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. They speak our language, play our sports (often much better than we do), live by similar laws and there are odd bits of architecture in Christchurch and Dunedin which reminded me of home but their seasons, climate, terrain and vegetation could not be more different. If you want a crash course in what makes New Zealand special and distinctive you could do worse than attend this ballet.

The first ballet paid tribute to the people who first settled New Zealand. They were Polynesians whose achievements in exploration and navigation were comparable to the Vikings. They settled in Hawaii and Easter Island as well as New Zealand and just about every island in between.  They have a beautiful rhythmic language and haunting music all of which was used by de Frutos in his ballet. But although the music and verse was  Polynesian every jump, step and turn was classical.  Petipa would have recognized it all. Well almost all. This was a happy piece. Lots of primary colours. A great deal of jumping and plenty of joy. The audience loved it and none more than me.  Anatomy formed part of Made to Move when it was first performed two years ago and you can get a taste of it in the first frames of this YouTube video.

The next two works were drawn from Salute which were the company's contribution to New Zealand's World War I commemoration. As the first work drew smiles the next two drew tears, particularly Passchendale  which was about fighting, gas and death. In both ballets the music was provided by the New Zealand Army band who showed tremendous musicality. I wish we could have seen them as we did the works and colliery bands in Mark Baldwin's Dark Arteries last week (see Cock a Doodle Doo - Rambert's Rooster 27 Oct 2015).  Now that I think of it Mark Baldwin comes from the Antipodes, doesn't he.

I was reminded of another Rambert work momentarily in Selon désir in that Foniadakis like Jeyasingh in Terra Incognita had dressed his boys in kilts but that was where the similarity ended.  Selon désir was an explosion of energy. Thrilling to watch it must have been exhausting to dance. This work will form part of the company's Speed of Light  programme in the new year. All I can say is that the folks back home in New Zealand are in for a treat.  Set to Bach's St John's and St Matthew Passions, this work soars. As I had been stranded in Geneva by fog on Monday night I was amused to see that this work like Bruce's Rooster was first shown at the city's Grand Theatre (see Geneva Nutcracker 26 Oct 2015).

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has left Leeds for High Wycombe where I plan to see its Giselle on Saturday. Then Canterbury, the Linbury and Italy. If you get the chance to see these wonderful dancers grab it with both hands.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Ballet Cymru Am Byth

Embedded pursuant to a standard YouTube licence

It is not often that my heart leaps when I see the nominations for the National Dance Awards but it did this time when I read that Ballet Cymru has been nominated for the best independent company award (see Judith Mackrell's National Dance Awards 2015 nominations: ice dance, flamenco and independent companies celebrated 29 Oct 2015 Guardian Dance Blog). I am very fond of that company. Last month I visited them at their studios in Newport (see Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015). Next Friday I will be in Newport for the première of Traces Imprinted, the new work by Marc Brew, which will be performed with TIR and Celtic Concerto.

One of the reasons why I like Ballet Cymru is that they worked with wheelchair dancers and others in Stuck in the Mud. Marc Brew choreographed that work to a score by Jack White who has composed the music for Cinderella which you can hear above. Brew has also created work for Candoco Dance Company which has been nominated for the Outstanding Company award. That is another company that admire. Founded in 1991 it describes itself as "the company of disabled and non-disabled dancers". This is a company with first class productions which also manages to provide first class outreach opportunities for the general public. It is up against English National Ballet, New Adventures and Northern Ballet for that award. Even though I would normally support any of those three companies for that award I am rooting for Candoco on this occasion.

Three of my favourite male dancers, Steven McRae, Vadim Muntagirov and Ed Watson are up for the best male dancer category and I am conflicted because I cannot choose between them as I like them all. I have seen superb performances by all of them this year but the one that touched my heart was Muntagirov's pas de deux from Swan Lake with Daria Klimentova at Northern Ballet's Sapphire gala in Leeds on 14 March 2015 (see Sapphire 15 March 2015). I never thought I would ever see them dance together again and they were the highlight of my evening.

The choice is slightly easier for best female dancer. After seeing her Juliet in the Albert Hall last year it has to be Alina Cojocaru (see Romeo and Juliet in the Round - Saturday 14 June 2014 20 June 2014) though I am also a great fan of Alessandra Ferri and Marianela Nuñez. I am delighted to see Laura Morera in the outstanding female performance category for her role as Lise (see The Best Fille Ever 18 April 2015 and my flat footed attempt to congratulate the ballerina in Laura Morera 25 Aug 2015). I am also pleased for Eve Mutso to be nominated for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire. I saw Luciana Ravizzi dance the role when I saw the ballet (see Scottish Ballet's Sreetcar 2 April 2015) but I have seen Mutso in other works this year and she never fails to delight me.

I would have expected Streetcar to have been nominated for best classical choreography as well as Darius James's Cinderella but what do I know? However, I was delighted to see nominations for David Bintley's The King Dances and William Bracewell's performance in that work. For me the performance of that work to celebrate Bintley's 20th anniversary as artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and its 25th anniversary in Birmingham was was one of the highlights of the year (see In Praise of Bintley 21 June 2015).

I am conscious that I have not mentioned a lot of people who deserve mention. As I come from the North of England I take particular pleasure in Kenneth Tindall's nomination for two categories as well as Northern Ballet's and Tobias Batley's for outstanding company and best male dancer respectively. I congratulate everyone and every company that has been nominated, I thank them all for their work and wish them all well for the future.