Sunday, 26 June 2016

Reacting to Brexit

Like a lot of my compatriots I am very disappointed by last Thursday's vote. The referendum was quite unnecessary. It was a Machiavellian tactic on the part of the Prime Minister that went disastrously wrong. A lot of people have already been hurt by Brexit and a very great many more will suffer in future including some of those who voted "Leave". It is a massive self-inflicted wound which will take years if not decades to heal.

But we are where we are. Our fellow citizens have voted to leave the EU and we have to live with that vote. Some have already said that they regret it. Very many more may do so very soon.  The petition for another referendum stands at over 3 million and the number of signatories is increasing like the meter of a taxicab. Nevertheless, even though the referendum may not be binding in law any attempt by Parliament to ignore or reverse the result in the short term may make a very bad situation even worse.

However, that does not mean that we have to take the defeat lying down. Nothing is irreversible in politics and I think a new European consensus can be built up in time.  It may take many years - possibly decades - but I am confident that we will rejoin the European project one day and when we do we shall be far more committed to it than ever we were between 1973 and the present.

Until that happens we do not have to abandon our internationalist or European ideals. Thursday's vote did not alter geography, repeal the laws of economics, blot out our history, change our language or rewrite our literature. We are and have been since the days of Julius Caesar if not earlier part of a common European culture. We may live on a small island but England is as much part of Europe as any of our continental neighbours.

Even though political and economic links may loosen for a season there is no reason why our cultural and personal links with our fellow European should weaken too. On the contrary we should strengthen them. Tomorrow I fly to Italy to watch some of the most talented young dancers from the Dutch National Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Vienna State Ballet and JAS Arts Ballet perform works by Marius Petipa, Ted Brandsen, Ernst Meisner and the talented young Italian dancer and choreographer Cristiano Principato.  I am  already a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet and an occasional visitor to Amsterdam. I shall be a frequent visitor to that city and also to the other cities in the remaining EU member where I have made friends and connections such as Budapest which I visited two months ago.

This is a very bad time but it is not the end of the world. We must stop moaning about it and start rebuilding now.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Hindle at the Hague

I have had a lot of good teachers since I took up ballet three years ago and I am grateful to them all but I really must say a special word about Mark Hundle. 

Mark teaches at KNT in Manchester. Although I have taken only a few of his classes  I have learned a lot from him.  Mark has pretty high standards and an eye for detail.  As I said when I introduced him to Ballet Black's Senior Artist Damien Johnson last Sunday, he corrects me mercilessly. Damien thought that was a good thing and he is right. I now make a point of holding my arms properly in second and not poking my left elbow upwards when doing a forward port de bras.

Yesterday Karen Sant posted the following on her Facebook page:

I'm FINALLY allowed to share this AMAZING, WONDERFUL news.... Mark Hindle has got into THE LION KING!!!!! ARGH SO PROUD  Well done Mark

I'm proud of him too.

Mark will perform at the Fortis Circustheater at The Hague from the 23 Oct 2016.  I have already see him in two performances: a pas de deux with Karen which included an awkward fish dive (see It could easily have gone pear shaped ...... but instead it was a howling success 19 June 2016) and in Dick Whittington in Liverpool on Boxing Day (see A Liverpudlian Whittington 27 Dec 2015).

I am sure all my readers will join me in wishing him well.

The Leeds CAT End of Term Show

I mentioned the Centres for Advanced Training in Dance ("CAT") in The Lowry CAT on 27 May 2016. As I said in that post there is also a CAT in Leeds where advanced training is offered to  by the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and Northern Ballet. As a Friend of the Academy of Northern Ballet I have been invited to the end of year show for 2016 this afternoon which I look forward to seeing very much.

The show will take place in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre at 15:00 and 19:30. In previous years the over 55 ballet class and other classes have performed in that show and I took part in those performances (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014 and My Second Ballet 5 July 2015). Timetabling arrangements at Northern Ballet have prevented our rehearsing to take part in this year's show.

Not a lot of details have been given about this afternoon's show but as the CAT programme aims to attract and develop the talents of some of the best young dancers from Leeds and surrounding districts it should be a very good show indeed.

Friday, 24 June 2016

KNT's Summer Ballet Intensive

Here's something to take our minds off the result of the referendum.  Karen Sant of KNT Danceworks has posted the following notice to her Facebook page:

Okay... time for me to get things planned for this year's summer intensives.
Each intensive will go on for 3 days and will be taught by the lovely Jane Tucker who knows us quite well by now!
A few questions for you:
What dates suit you?
Beginners: 15th - 17th August or 18th - 20th August?
Advanced: 15th - 17th August or 18th - 20th August?
What repertoire would you like to learn?
The intensives will be held at The Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester.
The prices are £200 for one summer intensive (3 days) or £350 for two summer intensives (6 days). There is a £50 non refundable deposit included in the price to secure your place.
Our past summer school have been great fun so I hope to see you there Thanks,
I attended Jane's Swan Lake intensive last year and her Romeo and Juliet intensive in April and enjoyed them both thoroughly (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 1 18 Aug 2015, Day 2 19 Aug 2016 and Day 3 20 Aug 2016 and Romeo and Juliet 9 April 2016). So far there have been two votes for La Bayadere, and one each for Jewels, Don Q and The Sleeping Beauty.

If you want to attend, call Karen on 07783 103037 or contact her through Facebook.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Terpsichore votes "Remain"

Jean-Marc Nattier

Tomorrow I will vote "Remain" and one of the reasons why I shall do so is that I care about the arts and creative industries in general and the performing arts and ballet in particular.

The case for Remain was made eloquently by members of the Creative Industries Federation in their briefing note Why is EU membership so important for the health of UK’s arts, creative industries and cultural education?  It was echoed  in Ismene Brown's article The Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells explain how Brexit will hurt dance 13 June 2016 and supported by Jessica Duchen's I'm IN, and here's why you should be too 25 May 2016 JDCMB which I mentioned in my own article Should we stay or should we go? 30 May 2016.

Much of the steam for the Leave campaign has been generated by concern about immigration. There is some outright xenophobia in that sentiment but I believe that it is mainly a worry about shortages of housing, healthcare, education and other public services which could be overcome with proper planning and resourcing.

For the arts, free movement of labour is essential.  Let me give just one example. Earlier this month the Scottish Ballet delighted audiences throughout Scotland and the North of England with David Dawson's Swan Lake (see Empire Blanche: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). Dawson was born in London and trained at Tring Park and the Royal Ballet School but he has spent much of his career with the Dutch National Ballet where he is now an associate artists. He is not the only Brit there. The company's artistic director is Matthew Rowe who is another Londoner (in fact as there is a reference to him in the latest issue of The Pauline he may even have attended my old school).

Conversely many of Scottish Ballet's finest dancers come from France: Constance Deverney recently promoted to principal, Sophie Martin, Marge Hendrick, and Laura Joffre to name just a few. The same is true of our other leading companies. Where would the Royal Ballet be without Laura Morera or Federico Bonelli? The Birmingham Royal Ballet without Koen Kessels?  English National Ballet without Tamara Rojo or Alina Cojocaru?

There are dancers from the EU also in our splendid regional companies like Giuliano Contadini and Kevin Poeung with Northern Ballet and Allegra Vianello and Andrea Battagia with Ballet Cymru. I could go on.

Those artists delight us. Let's continue to make them feel welcome tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Birmingham Royal Ballet performs my favourite ballet at last

Birmingham Royal Ballet
(c) John Lambert 2016: all rights reserved

Birmingham Royal Ballet, The Taming of the Shrew. Birmingham Hippodrome, 18 June 2016

John Cranko created some of his most best known works including The Taming of the Shrew for the Stuttgart Ballet but he trained at Sadler's Wells School and started his career at the Sadler's Wells Ballet part of which is now the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Despite its shared connection with Cranko it was only on the 16 June 2016 (some 47 years after the premiere in Germany) that the Birmingham Royal Ballet was able to stage this work in this country.

For me that is a matter of regret because Cranko appeals to me more than any other choreographer and The Taming of the Shrew is the work that I love most. Even more than The Prince of the Pagodas, Onegin and Pineapple Poll. So if anybody were to ask me which is my favourite ballet I would have to say that it is this one.  I first learned about the work in Dance and Dancers in 1969 and have longed to see it ever since (see Cranko's "Taming of the Shrew": Now's our chance to see one of the Ballets everyone should see before they die 21 Sept 2013). I got my chance on 23 Nov 2013 when the Stuttgart Ballet visited London (see Stuttgart Ballet's "Taming of the Shrew" - well worth the Wait 25 Nov 2013).

I think the reason I love the ballet so much is that I love the play and the reason I love the play is that I love paradox. I began to appreciate the paradox upon seeing snippets of Meryl Streep's performance as Katherina in New York City many years ago (see Kiss me Petrucchio (1981) Meryl Streep and Raul Julia - A Documentary from 1981 on YouTube). I never saw that show but I do remember her explaining the work in a feminist context. I am also enjoying the serialization of Anne Tyler's The Vinegar Girl on Radio 4 just now. In her programme note, Pas de Dukes, Katherine Barber who runs Tours en l'Air (see Tours en l'Air a Really Useful Resource  23 Feb 2014) draws parallels with Romeo and Juliet:
"But The Taming of the Shrew is in many ways the 'anti-Romeo and Juliet.'  Silly (with an inspired silliness and comic. It mirrors its solemn and tragic sibling sometimes scene for scene: a tender wedding with the wise Friar Lawrence becomes a farcical free-for-all with a cartoonish priest; bridesmaids who are an ironic harbinger of death in the one are chased around by a baulky and belligerent bride with a limp lily in the other; a pas de trois depicting exuberant high spirits of young men in Verona becomes a vaudeville trio of Chaplinesque buffoons in Padua. Both ballets end in tears, though in one they are tears of sorrow and the other tears of laughter."
An interesting idea and one that had not occurred to me before though I caution against drawing too many parallels because all love stories and the ballets derived from them share at least some of those elements.

Although the Birmingham Royal Ballet uses Cranko's choreography and Kurt-Heinz Stolze's score the designs are different. Elisabeth Dalton designed the sets and costumes for Stuttgart (see her obituary in The Stage) while Susan Benson designed Birmingham's. One the whole I think I preferred Benson's as they gave an even greater freshness and touch of joy to the Birmingham production. In a post to BalletcoForum Barber suggested that Birmingham Royal Ballet had used the National Ballet of Canada's costumes and it is certainly the case that Benson contributed the designs to the Canadian production (see The National Ballet's Ballet Notes for its 2007 season which incidentally also publishes Barber's article sub nom The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare in Motion).

The reason I took notice of the ballet in 1969 is that Cranko deployed a stellar cast:
The dancers in Saturday's matinee were pretty impressive too. 

Kate was danced by Elisha Willis. I count myself as one of her biggest fans and I had been led to believe by a clipping in the Birmingham Mail that Saturday's would be her last performance (see Roz Laws Birmingham Royal Ballet star Elisha Willis on ditching dancing for stitching 14 June 2016). I have since learned that she will dance at least one more show in Bristol. I shall miss Willis and I wish her all the best for the future. 

Willis was partnered brilliantly by Iain Mackay. Jenna Roberts was a sweet but not too sugary Bianca while Brandon Lawrence was her Lucentio. I also enjoyed Rory Mackay's performance as Gremio (particularly his wooing of Bianco and his discomfiture by Kate), Chi Cao's as Hortensio and Delia Matthews's and Angela Paul's as their wives and Jonathan Payn's as Baptista. However, I should say a special word for Valentin Oloyyannikov who doubled as the publican and priest. He is a great character dancer and his characterization of the cleric was nothing short of brilliant.

The play has inspired Jean-Christophe Maillot to create another version of The Taming of the Shrew for the Bolshoi which was screened to British audiences in  January (see Competition for Cranko: The Bolshoi's Taming of the Shrew streamed from Moscow 25 Jan 2016). I enjoyed the screening very much and I look forward to seeing it live when the Bolshoi bring it to Covent Garden.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Ballet Black made my Manchester Day

The Lowry
Author: Rob Chafer
Source: Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence 

Ballet Black, Triple Bill, The Quays Theatre, 19 June 2016

I am not sure whether the timing was deliberate but Ballet Black visited us on Manchester Day which celebrates "the creativity and diversity of Manchester ...... where communities can celebrate pride in our city and show what makes them feel uniquely Mancunian [and where] communities, artists and businesses can work together to create something truly special for Manchester" (see the Manchester Day Parade 2016 video on YouTube). Whether or not they were aware of yesterday's significance they could not have come on a better day for Ballet Black, like my beloved birthplace, is hugely creative, its repertoire could not be more diverse and, as I have said more than once, Ballet Black, like Manchester, is special (see Why Ballet Black is Special 20 May 2013 and Ballet Black is still special 7 Nov 2013).

The audience at The Quays sampled that diverse repertoire last night with Arthur Pita's Cristaux. Christopher Marney's To Begin, Begin and Christopher Hampson's Storyville.  Two of Ballet Black's best loved works while I have been following them are Pita's A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream from their 2014 season and Marney's War Letters from 2013. Storyville is another favourite with audiences from the 2012 season which I saw the first time last night. Hampson together with Ernst Meisner was my choreographer of the year last year and Marney is my favourite living British choreographer. Pita is another firm favourite. Those chaps have never put a foot wrong in my eyes. I expected a super evening and that's exactly what I got.

Cristaux opened with Cira Robinson on pointe in a sparkly tutu gyrating to the tinkling rhythm of Drumming Part III  by Steve Reich. She was joined by Mthuthuzeli November in blue and white. Though the steps seemed simple the pace was fast and frenetic and the effect quite mesmerizing. In the programme notes Pita said that he was inspired by the title to Balanchine's Le Palais de Cristal even though it is thought that the title was not intended to be descriptive. "I personally love the title Le Palais de Cristal", wrote Pita, "as it paints such a beautiful image." So he started thinking about crystals and how we can be mesmerized by their simplicity and beauty. "The reflective light that radiates from crystals is so magical and enchanting" he added. "I wanted to capture this feeling." It led him to "a place in which one is not dead or alive, asleep or awake, but somehow being led or seduced by a glimmering light." A mysterious but strangely exciting work.

Marney's To Begin, Begin  was also mysterious but in a very different way. Sayaka Ichikawa appeared as though on stilts draped on an enormous canopy of blue.  In the programme notes Marney explains:
"In To Begin, Begin, you see first a woman walking under a wave, a floating blue silk, waiting to be found by her soul-mate, who descends from above." 
Other dancers follow: Kanika Carr Jacob Wye, Isabela Coracy, Damien Johnson and Joshua Harriet. Marney continues that as the soul-mate finds the woman he witnesses other other relationships but his instincts lead him back to where he belongs. Marney says his inspiration for the piece came from watching an animation that had been made to some music by Dustin O'Halloran for an animation that he had written for the Sophie Coppola film Marie Antoinette. Like all Marney's work it was lyrical and moving.

Storyville was the story of Lulu White, a brothel keeper in the Storyville district of New Orleans, danced by Ichikawa and one of her girls called Nola (danced by Robinson), which appears to be an acronym for New Orleans Louisiana. The ballet charts the course of Nola's short unhappy life from her arrival as an innocent newcomer to the big city to her death a few years later. It is uncannily like Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire which Hampson's company tuned into a very striking ballet last year (see Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015). I can't help wondering whether there is any connection between Hampson's creation and his company's creation. Nola was danced by Robinson. On stage she seemed so fragile and so vulnerable. It was clear how this story would end. If only I could reach out and rescue her. Lulu's henchman, Mack, the epitome of evil. Lulu and Mack appeared in Nola's dreams or hallucinations as symbols of death. Carr and Coracy were bar girls and November and Wye as their guests. Nola's only hope of salvation was the sailor, Johnson, but not even he could divert her from her path to destruction. Not a pretty work at all but an absorbing and important one.

Before the show we learned from the stage manager that a case containing the programmes and some of the props was missing. I met Cira Robinson and asked what had gone missing. She mentioned her headdress and a chandelier from Cristaux which can be seen in these in Dave Morgan's photo on BalletcoForum. The missing items did not diminish the audience's enjoyment one little bit. However, it would be a great excuse to see the show again in Nottingham next Wednesday or in Leeds in the Autumn.

I do hope Ballet Black enjoyed their visit to Greater Manchester. It was great to see them in our area again and I do hope they come back soon. Perhaps even on Manchester Day again. Maybe they could even be part of it.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

It could easily have gone pear shaped ...........

Water colour 1893
Author:  US Department of Agriculture
Source  Wikipedia

Yesterday the dance classes that meet in the Dancehouse theatre's studios were due to present their summer show in the main auditorium (see Showcase and Move It at the Dancehouse 8 June 2016). Unfortunately a problem arose on Friday which our principal teacher, Karen Sant, explained in her Facebook page:
"As some of you may know, part of the ceiling in the theatre has come down so the auditorium at The Dancehouse is not safe to use. Myself and some very lovely ladies have been ringing places all morning trying to find another theatre that will have us but no one can at such short notice. There was an option to do next week (but I know that some of you aren't available) or postpone it to September (I said we can do another show by September!). I have asked Dave (theatre manager) if we can have a studio showing and he said it's fine as long as 1 - I know I'll be charged full rate for the studio - between £100 - £150 p/h, 2 - only 50 dancers allowed, 3 - 1 guest per dancer, 4 - it's okay with Richard (studio manager). I'm currently waiting for them to speak to each other to get the go ahead but I wanted to keep you in the loop."
She then asked the dancers:  "Would you be up for a studio performance tomorrow?"

Karen took a poll of each of the KNT dance classes which produced the following result:
"Okay so I've had to make a decision. Not everyone has voted but I can't leave it any longer. The majority have voted for studio performance tomorrow and show next week. However I've received lots of messages saying they can't do tomorrow and also lots saying they'd prefer to perfect the dances for September. SO studio performance tomorrow is going ahead! I will get another poll going for you to decide on show next week or show in September but tomorrow is currently the most important thing to deal with so I'm going to concentrate on that."
Not all the pieces could be accommodated in the studio but the class that I usually attend was one of those that could.

I would loved to have taken part in the show but I could not do so for a number of reasons one of which was that it clashed with the Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance in Birmingham of John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew between 16 and 18 June 2016. Now Cranko is my all time favourite choreographer and The Taming of the Shrew is my very favourite of his works.  I have only managed to see once before in more than thalf a century of serous ballet going. Now wild horses were not going to keep me from seeing that show, especially as Elisha Willis was due to make her farewell appearance in the matinee performance (see Roz Law Birmingham Royal Ballet star Elisha Willis on ditching dancing for stitching 14 June 2016 Birmingham Mail).

The advertised performance was due to start at 19:30 which would have given me just enough time to catch the start of the show if I caught the 17:31 train from Birmingham. However, during the drinks interval in Birmingham I received a text from Karen stating that the studio performance would start at 19:00 and only a few of the pieces would go ahead.

As soon as the reverence was over I sauteed up the stairs, ran towards New Street which is hidden in a department store, dashed down the stairs and made a grand jete through the doors of the train just as they were about to close. We were packed like sardines and it was standing room only to Stafford but I aspire to be a dancer so I wasn't going to worry about that. I repeated my sautes and jetes and running in Manchester and arrived at the Dancehouse a few minutes after the show had started.

According to Karen the pieces that went ahead were as follows:
"Ailsa's pieces:
Beginner Ballet
Advanced Jazz
Josh's pieces:
Intermediate Ballet
Karen's pieces:
Pre Intermediate Ballet
Advanced Ballet"
I arrived just in time for the Dance of the Flowers from The Nutcracker.  All my friends were in lovely white costumes with flowers and they danced the piece so beautifully it nearly made my cry. I could not help but rise to my feet which I very rarely do even for the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.

The next piece was a duet by my teachers Karen Samt and Mark Hindle. "Are these really my teachers?" I thought. "They are so good."  It should not have come as a surprise because I attend their classes regularly but one rarely sees one's teacher as a performer and when one does it is a revelation. I am told by those who have reached that stage that pas de deux work is very tricky for both partners: the man because he has to apply considerable strength in a controlled fashion, the woman also has to be strong, both have to keep smiling and appear relaxed; and, of course, there has to be perfect confidence between them. There were some difficult bits in the piece that Mark and Karen had chosen including a fish dive. I was so impressed by them and I am so lucky to be taught by them.

The next piece was contemporary to the music of Paint it Black.  The dancers appeared in black leotards, leggings and face masks. They were energetic and exciting.  The audience picked up on the energy and became absorbed in the dance. I've only attempted a couple of contemporary classes and not continued with that genre because I just can't recover gracefully from the floor in anything like the time required, There was some very daunting floor work and some difficult turns. Again, I felt compelled to rise after the performance.

My favourite bit of the whole show was my class.  Their piece included all the exercises that we had learned in class such as temps leves, arabesques and soutenus which were executed with precision and grace.  However, there was one move that we don't learn every day and that was where Simon Garner and Tyson Collins had to lift one of the girls - I think it was Katie but I may be wrong because my eyes were on the boys as I was so amazed by them. The dance finished in a lovely coming together and presentation to the audience. Oh I was so proud of those folks. Earlier in the day I had clapped my hands raw and roared myself hoarse for Elisha Willis. I did the same for my classmates. I couldn't stop myself.

The last class was advanced ballet and that was the most accomplished and polished. There were a lot of jumps and some difficult fast turns.  The dancers wore claret coloured shifts which flowed and rippled with their movements.  Collectively they projected grace and beauty and some individuals displayed considerable virtuosity.  They richly deserved their applause at the end.

I must have missed one of the performances as I arrived just after 19:00 and was told by the reception staff that I had missed the first 10 minutes.   Simon Garner's Facebook page shows several dancers in white shirts and bow ties. It must have been their piece.   I am so sorry to have missed their show,  If it is to be repeated next week or September I look forward to seeing it then.

Of the four shows that I have seen at The Dancehouse I enjoyed this the most. The dancers threw themselves into the show and I think they excelled themselves.  In the bar afterwards several told me they were conscious of that and that they wanted to put on a particularly good show to make up for their disappointment at not performing in the theatre. Also in the bar I learned that it was Katie Daly's birthday and that must go at least part of the way to explaining why she danced so well.   I hope she had a lovely day. I certainly had a great evening.

Author Retron
Source Wikipedia
Licensed by the Author

....... but instead it was a howling success. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Ballet West in Malaysia

Performance at the Penang Performing Arts Centre
(c) Ballet West, 2016, all rights reserved
Licensed by kind permission of the company

While Ballet West's alumni Natasha Watson and Andrew McFarlane have been dancing with the English National Ballet in Swan Lake in the Round at the Royal Albert Hall, teachers and students of Ballet West have been holding three days of intensive workshops at Direct Academia International in Penang in North West Malaysia. The party was led by Gillian Barton, Ballet West's Principal, and Jonathan Barton who is Vice-Principal of the School and the principal male dancer of its performing company. Also in the party were Martin Fenton who teaches contemporary, jazz and hip-hop (see the staff page of the Ballet West website) and their students Uyo Hiromoto and Oscar Ward.

Some 150 young dancers from all parts of Malaysia and the Republic of Singapore took part in the workshops. The workshops finished with a performance at the Penang Performing Arts Centre on 12 June 2016. Gillian Barton, who saw the show, remarked:
"The performance was spectacular. Oscar and Uyu ..... performed superbly. I could hardly believe that Jonathan and Martin had only worked with the students for one day plus a few rehearsals. It was such a polished performance. No other teachers could have done better.”
The workshops provided an opportunity to audition prospective students for Ballet West. Two students from Singapore are already there and five others from Malaysia have attended short courses.

Any students from Malaysia or Singapore who find their way to Taynuilt will get an opportunity to obtain performance experience by dancing in one of the full length classical ballets which the performance company stages at various auditoriums around Scotland each year. In 2017 the company will dance Swan Lake at the following venues on the following dates:
  • Stirling, Macrobert 20 and 21 January
  • Helensburgh, Tower Digital Arts Centre 27 January 
  • Paisley, Paisley Town Hall 28 January 
  • Oban, Corran Halls 9 February 
  • Glasgow, SECC 11 February 
  • Greenock, Beacon Arts Centre 12 February 
  • Livingston, Howden Park Centre 16 February 
  • Edinburgh, EICC, 18 February.
Ballet West last performed that ballet in 2014 and I saw it in Pitlochry on 1 March 2013 (see Swan Loch - Ballet West's Swan Lake, Pitlochry 1 March 2014 3 March 2014). It was a beautiful production with an Odette and an Odile danced by the same person, a Siegfried, cygnets, Legnani's  32 fouettés, all the usual divertissements and not a single bike to be seen. 

It is probably too late for Ballet West to do anything about it for the coming tour but maybe they could consider adding The Dancehouse in Manchester or the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds to their touring schedule in future years. After all, Isaac Bowry who came from Manchester and Andrew Cook who came from Leeds contributed considerably to their 2014 production. If they can make it to Penang they can surely find their way to the North of England.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Tell Tale Steps 2

Standard YouTube Licence

Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Northern Ballet, Tell Tale Steps 2, 16 June 2016

I really must congratulate the panel and choreographers on last night's Tell Tale Steps 2. As you can see from the above recording, the discussion was focused and instructive and each of the choreographers' offerings was original and interesting.  As readers can see what happened for themselves I shall not describe the content. Merely my thoughts on it.

The panel discussion was chaired well and all the panellists made a valuable contribution.  Though there were no opportunities for asking questions the panel did discuss the one topic I wanted to raise, namely the reinterpretation of existing ballets (see To Boldly Go - Northern Ballet's Sleeping Beauty Tale 16 July 2016). Geraldine Morris who danced with the Royal Ballet between 1963 and 1971 said that ballets evolve constantly and that there wasn't much left of Petipa or even Ivanov by the time she performed Swan Lake. I found that surprising because we all have our favourite bits which in my case are the cygnets, Legnani's 32 fouettés and the divertissements and, in particular, the Neapolitan dance but I defer to her vastly superior knowledge of the subject. Also, having looked up the history of the ballet I find that these were post Petipa. Mary Brennan gave a good example of a ballet that had changed (albeit in a different context) when she spoke about Mats Ek's Giselle the second Act of which is set in a psychiatric hospital (see Giselle - Mats Ek on YouTube).

Something new that I learned about Giselle from Dr Morris is that William Thomas Moncrieff staged a melodrama at the Theatre Royal Sadler's Wells entitled Giselle or The Phantom Night Dancers based on Gauthier's story withing weeks of the ballet's premiere in Paris. A rare example of drama taking its lead from the dance instead of the other way round.

The panel discussion was good in another way. In all the years I have been following Northern Ballet I have hardly exchanged more than 2 sentences with David Nixon. Last night I heard more of substance from him than in all the previous years put together. He spoke about his art and inspiration and, in particular, about his performance of Siegfried where Nixon portrayed the prince as a young man which was something of an innovation. I couldn't help reflecting that that is exactly what David Dawson had done in his Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet which I saw two weeks ago (see Empire Blanche: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). I haven't liked everything that Nixon has created. I am not a big fan of his Swan Lake or his Beauty and The Beast but I really warmed to the man last night. Mary Brennan said that she would take his Midsummer Night's Dream together with Mat's Ek's Giselle to her desert island (see Realizing Another Dream 15 Sept 2013). While I am not sure I would go that far. Nixon's Midsummer Night's Dream is certainly one of my favourite works.

I enjoyed all the choreographers' works. They were asked expressly not to offer complete works for the purpose of the lab which is understandable but I do hope that they don't leave their creations in limbo for each of them deserves to be staged.  The most polished and most dramatic of the works was Charlotte Edmonds's which is hardly surprising as she is already a highly respected choreographer. There was drama too in Carlos Pons Guerra's Birds and some brilliant characterisation with the avian head movements. My favourite work was Morgann Runacre-Temple's "New Coat" with some brilliant miming.

Particularly pleasing was to see the work of two of Northern Ballet's most experienced dancers, Tobias Batley and Lucia Solari. This was the first time I had seen Batley's work and I hope it won't be the last. I especially liked his first solo based, I think, on Charles Trenet's Boum Boum but his Lady Godiva was good too.  Solari showed considerable promise too with her ballet based on the life of Lili Elbe, the first trans-woman to undergo a form of gender reassignment surgery. From my perspective this subject matter was a little too close to the bone for as I said when I reviewed Gwyn Emberton's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress in MurleyDance Triple Bill 2 Dec 2013 which also dealt with transsexuality, gender identity disorder is certainly not a bundle of laughs. Also, the condition is nothing like the depiction in The Danish Girl. Having said that there was some excellent choreography in which I think I detected more than a hint of influence from Demis Volpi's Little Monsters.

I was really impressed by the dancers' enthusiasm for the project. Some of the company's most experienced members, such as Martha Leebolt, Hironao Takahashi and Giuloano Cortadini, played leading roles in the various pieces and contributed greatly to  their success.  Last night was an altogether higher plane to last year's effort. Well done all round!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

To Boldly Go - Northern Ballet's Sleeping Beauty Tale

If I get a chance to ask a question at tonight's Tell Tale Steps #2  I shall ask the panel which includes Northern Ballet's artistic director, David Nixon, about reinterpreting well known ballets. The thought occurred to me while writing about Akram Khan's Gisellebut Nixon can talk about the subject too as he reinterpreted Swan Lake and created a completely different version of The Sleeping Beauty which he called A Sleeping Beauty Tale.

That ballet was described as "A Sleeping Beauty Tale for the twenty-first century…"   According to Northern Ballet's website:
"Aurora's birth brings a fragile peace between two neighbouring planets. When the peace is shattered on her wedding day, the only man to truly love her must undertake a life-threatening quest to prevent beauty being lost forever."
It was a full length ballet with a running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes. Nixon used Tchaikovsky's music arranged by John Longstaff. Sets and costumes were designed by Jéerôme Kaplan, lighting by Olivier Oudiou and Nixon collaborated with Patricia Doyle on the libretto.

The production opened in Leeds in February 2007 and went on to Nottingham and Woking later that year. I don't think it has ever been revived.   I have googled for reviews but have been able to find only two: Charles Hutchinson's in The Press (see Review: A Sleeping Beauty Tale, Northern Ballet Theatre, Leeds Grand Theatre, until March 3 28 Feb 2007 and Luke Jenings's in The Guardian May the Froth be with You 4 March 2007.

More Details About Tell Tale Steps

Charlotte Edmonds's Fuse, one of tonight's choreographers
Photo Michel Schnater
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet
All rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the company

In Tell Tale Steps #2  30 May 2016 I mentioned the panel discussion and performance that will take place at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds tonight (see Northern Ballet's website Choreographic Lab Sharing).   The company has now published a few more details on its website.

The members of the panel will include:

  • "David Nixon OBE: Northern Ballet Artistic Director, choreographer and former dancer;
  • Kenneth Tindall: Choreographer, 2015 Choreographic Lab participant and former Northern Ballet dancer;
  • Dr Geraldine Morris: Reader in Dance at Roehampton University, specialist in the work of Frederick Ashton and former Royal Ballet dancer;
  • Mary Brennan: Dance critic and writer;
  • Chair Jane Hackett: Choreographic Lab Curator; Artistic Programmer and Producer, Sadler's Wells."
I hope the chair will invite questions and interventions from the public this year. Last year Mike Dixon asked for questions in the closing minutes of the 1 hour and 45 minute discussion. I asked one question and Gita the other. There wasn't time for any more (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015).

I missed last year's performances because I had to zoom down to Brum for the 25th anniversary celebrations of Birmingham Royal Ballet's move from London and David Bintley's 20th anniversary as the company's artistic director (see In Praise of Bintley 21 June 2015) but Gita stayed and she told me all about it. If it follows last year's format there will be some dancing followed by some chat.

I have a modest proposal for Northern Ballet's management if (as I hope they do) they run another Tell Tale Steps next year and that is to invite Darius James or Amy Doughty from Ballet Cymru to the discussion. In my humble opinion that great little company stages some of the best narrative work I have ever seen and they do it on a very low budget and with limited numbers. There is a precedent. Last year Northern Ballet invited Christopher Hampson who, together with Ernst Meisner, was my choreographer of the year last year (see Highlights of 2015 29 Dec 2015). Hampson made the best contribution to last year's panel discussion and I think James or Doughty would also have something of value to say.

I will give a full report on tonight's events after tomorrow.  If you can't make it to the event Northern Ballet has promised to screen it over its YouTube channel.   You can get a taster now from Tell Tale Steps 2, Choreographic Lab 2016.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Akram Khan's Giselle

Standard YouTube Licence

All being well I shall be in the audience for the premiere of Akram Khan's Giselle on 27 Sept 2016. This is billed as "a new interpretation" of Giselle which is one of my favourite ballets and the one of the world's most popular. I have not taken too kindly to  most "new interpretations" of Swan Lake which is my other favourite and the other classical ballet that is at least as popular as Giselle so why am I so excited about Akram Khan's Giselle?

One reason for my excitement is that I don't really like the story of Giselle as it stands.   In my Reflections on Giselle 28 Jan 2014 I wrote that the reason I have a problem with Giselle is the story.  Not so much Act I which, as I said in my note, could have come from The Archers but Act II , I continued:

"because Giselle is buried in unconsecrated ground where her spirit joins those of other women who have been seduced and die before their wedding day. They have it in for men and if any man is unfortunate enough to stray across their path as the gamekeeper did they kill him (though having said that I have seen one performance, though I cannot remember which company, where the gamekeeper survives and the curtain falls on his shaking hands with the playboy). That is a pretty unpleasant as well as fantastic story and offends my sensibilities ....."
My strategy for coping with Act II is to put the narrative out of my mind and to treat that part of the work as a purely abstract work like Act II of Balanchine's Jewels.

English National Ballet are not giving anything away about Akram Khan's creation.   They have posted a synopsis page on their website but all it contains are a series of quotations.   There is a film and some photos but they could have come from lots of rehearsals.  We know that Adam's score is to be used but we are told that the score has been adapted and that there will be some additional music by Ben Frost. We also know that Akram Khan is working with Ruth Little, the dramaturg who collaborated with Jonathan Watkins on 1984.

One clue that I do have comes from Simon Garner who dances with me at KNT.   Simon recently exhibited a mixed media work which included some sound effects at London Scottish House in Manchester (see Images of Giselle 20 May 2016). Someone from ENB visited the exhibition and saw the work and sent a message that he had parts of the ballet were not unlike his work.

Akram Khan's Giselle will start in Manchester and will tour Bristol and Southampton before ending in Sadler's Wells in November.  I should add that the company will also dance Mary Skeeping's Giselle at the Coliseum in January.