Thursday, 29 September 2016

Ernst Meisner's New Recruits

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Every year the Dutch National Ballet scours the world for twelve of its most promising young dancers and invites them to Amsterdam for an intensive programme of training and performances. The artistic coordinator of that programme is Ernst Meisner who is well known to, and well liked by, British audiences (see Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers 6 Dec 2014). Many of his dancers have been recruited into the Dutch National Ballet and other leading companies and their careers have taken off like rockets. Michaela DePrince, for example, joined the Junior Company in 2013 and is already a grand sujet. Cristiano Principato joined the programme a year later and has contributed work to New Moves (see Palagio  4 June 2016).

Ernst has now recruited new dancers for the Junior Company which includes Hannah Williams who was born in Ashford. Hannah trained in the United States and the Netherlands which no doubt explains her transatlantic accent but that will not prevent ballet goers in the country from wishing her, and all the other members of the Junior Company, all the best.

Every year the company tours the Netherlands and occasionally one or two theatres abroad. Before the Linbury closed for renovation they danced two shows here each year.  I am desperately racking my brains trying to find the best way of tempting them back. The first opportunity to see the new dancers will be at the Meervaart Theatre in Amsterdam in Juniors Go Dutch on 18 and 19 Feb 2017. Tickets start at 15 euros and the theatre is only 23 minutes from Schiphol airport by the 69 bus. There are cheap and convenient flights from Southend, Manchester and just about every other corner of the UK. Despite the post-Brexit nose dive of sterling Amsterdam is still a lot cheaper than London and there is plenty to do apart from watching ballet when you get there (see Three Days in Amsterdam 12 Sept 2016).

Alvin Ailey in Bradford

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Mixed Bill, Bradford Alhambra, 28 Sept 2016

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre visited Bradford on 27 and 28 Sept 2016 on the latest stage of its international tour which will take it to major cities in the UK as well as Lausanne and Copenhagen on the continent. The company performed four pieces of their repertoire in Bradford: Exodus, Night Creature, After the Rain Pas de Deux and Revelations. I saw the company last night. It was a magnificent performance which was received enthusiastically by the crowd.

Alvin Ailey founded Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in 1958.  He contributed nearly 80 works to that company before he died in 1989. I was introduced to his work by American Ballet Theatre which danced The River when when ABT visited London in the early 1970s. I have been an admirer ever since. In creating his work Ailey drew on all sorts of dance and musical traditions that flourished in the United States in his time including ballet and modern dance. "What I like" he is reported as saying "is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers, especially for the inner kinds of things." The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre continues that approach which was reflected in yesterday's programme that included a classical pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon and hip hop by Rennie Harris as well as two of Ailey's best known works.

The evening began with Exodus which was an explosion of sound and movement. It continued after a short interval with Ailey's Night Creature which he created to the music of Duke Ellington in 1974 for television and launched on stage the following year. A graceful work with swirling couples, jazz rhythms, balletic steps, gorgeous costumes - classic Ailey. The lights dimmed for a few minutes before Sarah Daley and Jamar Roberts performed After the Rain pas de Deux which was my favourite work of the evening. A classical piece with soaring lifts by two beautiful and well matched dancers to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel. Wheeldon created the work in 2005 for an evening to honour Balanchine but had I been asked to guess the choreographer I would have attributed it to Balanchine himself. The show finished with Revelations  which like the first work is inspired by African-American spirituals. It consists of 10 separate works each created on a different spiritual. I liked them all but Sinner Man danced by Jeroboam Bozeman, Sean Aaaron Carmon and Renaldo Maurice impressed me particularly. Even though the Alhambra was less than full the applause was deafening. The dancers were cheered back for an encore which they delivered exuberantly.

As there is so much dance in the North this Autumn I had planned to see the company only once but I can't possibly leave it at that. They will be at the Lowry very soon where they will perform a different programme. As soon as this review is published I will be on the blower for tickets. The company's next stops will be Nottingham, Cardiff, Salford, Southampton, Canterbury and Edinburgh. Whatever else you see this year you must not miss Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Akram Khan's Giselle

I wanted to like Akram Khan's Giselle for English National Ballet so much. I love that company having followed it for ever since I was first taken to the Festival Hall to see The Nutcracker as a child some 60 years ago. As I said in Manchester's Favourite Ballet Company 29 Nov 2015 the company danced its first ballet in Manchester on 5 Feb 1951 and I am mindful of the compliment that ENB has paid my native city by premiering an important new work there. I am glad that virtually the entire audience (or so it seemed from my position in the centre stalls) was able to give it a standing ovation - though I was not one of those who stood.

Now I have to choose my words very carefully for I don't want to condemn a work that has much merit with faint praise.  There was some exciting, energetic and in the final duet between Giselle and Albrecht, quite beautiful dancing. Vicenzo Lamagna wrote, and Gavin Sutherland orchestrated, an interesting score with frequent allusions to Adolphe Adam's. Equally interesting were Tim Yip's designs. Two of my favourite dancers, Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernández, danced Giselle and Albtrcht and there were other favourites in other roles. The dancers worked hard contorting their bodies in unusual shapes and positions. The courou on pointe by Stina Quagebeur, who danced Myrtha, and the corps at the beginning of Act II must have been exhausting and for some excruciating.

I am glad I saw the work. I hope to see it again and perhaps pick up some of the nuances that my companion (who is of Gujarati heritage) appreciated but which passed me by. I recommend it. It was a good show - though not a great one - and it certainly was not one that swept me to my feet in the way that Brandsen did with Mata Hari (see Brandsen's Masterpirce 14 Feb 2016), Maillot with his Shrew  (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016), Dawson with his Swan Lake  (see Dawson's Swan Lake comes to Liverpool  29 May 2016) or Meisner with his No Time Before Time (see Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016) earlier this year.

To understand my critique of this work it is worth looking at The Story on the special website that ENB has created for this ballet. At first sight it is Gautier's libretto with a modern twist - perhaps closer to that version than the Dance Theatre of Harlem's Creole Giselle and certainly Mats Ek's for the Paris Opera - but it does not unfold that way. In Gauthier's libretto, which is explained so beautifully in the following Dutch language

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animation, the story builds. The audience can understand Hilarion's hostility towards Albrecht which is the only reason why he has to die. In Ruth Little's version that hostility is taken as read. The scene opens in the factory with Albrecht seeking out Giselle. Hardly any of the cues - the hiding of the sword, the picking of the petals, Giselle's heart tremor and so on - remain.  Surprisingly there is still the dance of the vignerons where Giselle playfully runs from Albrecht as the dancers wheel round stage but it seems to serve no obvious purpose in Little's version.  It is the absence of those cues that prompts my companion's question "Why does Hilarion have to die in act II?" As she said, he has done nothing wrong. Or at least he was not half as bad as Albrecht who seduced Giselle and then abandoned her for Bathilde. In Gautier's libretto there is a logic. In Little's it seems so unfair.

As I wrote in Reflections on Giselle 29 Jan 2014 I have problems with the second act. I have to treat it as though it were an abstract work by Balanchine in order to sit through it. In reworking Giselle the creative team had a golden opportunity to ditch the superstition as Ek did by settling act II in a psychiatric hospital. Had they done something like that it might have strengthened the show but they kept it spooky. However. Khan's choreography for act II was quite different.  Instead of those mesmerizing arabesques as the corps crosses the stage the girls couroured on pointe for what for them must have seemed ages. Instead of forcing their victims to dance themselves to death through exhaustion the wilis dispatched them with sticks to the accompaniment of grinding and crackly noises.  Instead of facing the whole company of wilis Giselle had only to fend off Myrtha who stood scowling with her stick as Giselle danced with Albrecht for the last time.

That final duet was for me the most beautiful part of the ballet and also the most impressive. At one point Hernandez held Cojocaru by the legs and she seemed to revolve in the hold in a most amazing fashion. That last dance is what I most want to see again. With some ballets it is only a single pas de deux that survives in a company's repertoire and perhaps that will be the case with this duet.

My companion and I discussed the sticks on the drive home. "Were they supposed to be tasers?" I asked myself. Whether intended or not they were the only allusion to the Sub-Continent that registered with me for they reminded me of the sticks carried in a Punjabi folk dance that I had seen at a Bhangra festival in Huddersfield Town Hall some years ago. My companion, who is fortunate enough to have grown up in two cultures, told me that there was so much more in the rhythms of the music and the dancers' steps.

My all abiding impression of the work was unremitting darkness. Dark in two senses. Every scene was very dimly lit. So dark that I could not recognize the faces of the dancers until the reverence. I had been looking out for Sarah Kundi who is one of my favourites - but I never saw her until that curtain call. However, my companion recognized Sarah from her movements that were quite different from those of the other dancers - perhaps because of her heritage, my companion suggested. Even darker than the lighting, however. was the story for it was one of constant grind. At least in the traditional Giselle there are some happy bits such as the crowning of Giselle as harvest queen. There was nothing like than in Khan's. Just a morose folk dance for the landlords who were heralded by blasts that sounded like factory sirens or perhaps fog horns. Very intense and just a little depressing.

How does Giselle compare to Khan's other work?  I regret that I have not seen much of it but of the works that I have seen I much prefer Ka'ash (see Akram Khan's Kaash - contemporary meets Indian classical 7 Oct 2015) and indeed Dust which was the highlight of last year's triple bill (see Lest we forget 25 Nov 2015).  However, as my friend said "Giselle is a work in progress that can only improve." She did get up to applaud at the end of the show and shouted "Go on Akram!" Maybe in time I shall be able to do the same.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Cassa Pancho is coming to the London Ballet Circle

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Tomorrow at 19:30 Cassa Pancho, the London Ballet Circle's most recently appointed Vice-President will address members of the Circle and their quests at the Civil Service Club, 13-15 Great Scotland Yard, London, SW1A 2HJ. Cassa is, of course, the founder artistic director of Ballet Black and although I try hard not to have favourites when it comes to ballet and contemporary dance companies it is hard not to have  particularly soft spot for the company.

Tomorrow will not be the first time that I will have travelled long distances to see them. I have even sacrificed an all expenses paid trip to Paris to see them dance in Leeds. There are a few other companies for which I would do the same, such as Scottish Ballet, Ballet Cymru and, of course, the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company but I wouldn't do it for them all. No way José!

And talking of José , what better news to read in Ballet Black Friends Newsletter than that  José Alves and Marie Astrid Mence are about to rejoin the company. They are both fine artists and I admire them both. I first saw Marie Astrid as Anna in Dogs Don't Do Ballet (see Woof 12 Oct 2014) and I have been lucky enough to see her dance over the last few months with Phoenix which is another company I like a lot.

I have seen quite a lot of Ballet Black over the last few months: two performances of Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Sale (see As Fresh as Ever: Ballet Black's Dogs Don't Do Ballet in Sale 7 May 2016 and I never tire of Dogs Don't Do Ballet 8 May 2016), the triple bill at the Lowry (see Ballet Black made my Manchester Day 20 June 2016) and a special Friends' event (see Ballet Black's First Friends' Event: A Rehearsal with Chris Marney 14 July 2016). They are about to set off on their Autumn tour which will include Leeds and Doncaster (see Performances on Ballet Black's website). I for one will be in the audience for both shows.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Toer van Schayk's "Episodes van Fragmenten"

Toer van Scayk wearing the Medal of the Order of Orange-Nassau
Photo Juri Hiensch
(c) 2016 Dutch National Balle
Licensed by kind permission of Richard Heideman

Dutch National Ballet, Episodes van Fragmenten, Stopera, 7 Sept 2016

The gala of the 7 Sept 2016 which I described in Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016 was a double celebration (Dubbel Feest) of the careers of the great ballerina Igone de Jongh and the great artist, choreographer, dancer and designer Toer van Schayk.

Van Schayk is perhaps the nearest we have in the modern age to a renaissance man and that is how he is described by Richard Heideman, press manager of the Dutch National Ballet in a press release to announce his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Orange Nassau (an order of chivalry in the Netherlands roughly equivalent to our OBE). He was presented with that honour by Mariette Bussemaker the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science on stage on the first night of Dutch Masters which celebrates three giants of Dutch Ballet, Rudi van Dantzig, Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk. The Minster described van Schayk as follows:
“Toer van Schaijk is multi-talented. Dancer and choreographer. Costume and set designer. Harpsichord builder and sculptor. Painter and also inventor of his own notation method for choreography. You cannot sum him up under one heading, and that makes him a wonderful, unique person.”
Dutch Masters includes van Schayk's latest ballet  Episodes van Fragmenten which was premiered at the opening night gala on the 7 Sept 2016. This is a particularly beautiful pas de deux as you can see from the following YouTube clip:

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Although there are only two dancers there are on stage two other artists on stage, namely a violinist and a pianist whom van Schayk regards as equally important. For that reason, he describes the work as actually a pas de quatre.  

The dancers at the gala were Young Gyu Choi and Qian Liu who also appear in the YouTube clip. Here are some photos by Altin Kaftira for you to enjoy. Please note that in each case copyright in the photographs belongs to the Dutch National Ballet which has kindly licensed me to reproduce the same. The company has not granted anyone else permission to copy the following pictures and neither do I.

The ballet is set to the music of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Extase.  It traces the relationship between the man and woman with different emotions. .

As well as choreographing and staging the work van Schayk also designed the costumes. Not surprising for he is a multi-talented artist. As Richard Heideman says in his press release; 
"he choreographs, paints, sculpts and designs scenery and costumes. In everything he does, he shows a craftsmanship, precision and eye for detail that seems almost to belong to another era. He has worked with Dutch National Ballet for over fifty years. Van Schayk began his dancing career with the Nederlands Ballet, stopped dancing to train as a sculptor, but returned to dance on stage again in 1965. He stood out for his expressive and moving interpretations and, from 1971, for the ballets he created, in which you can often discern the visual artist because of their plastic quality. He has created around forty ballets in total, including the full-length The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (in collaboration with Wayne Eagling). This ballet is still regularly presented by Dutch National Ballet, as are his designs for Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle."
Van Schayk celebrates his 80th birthday at the end of this month. I am sure all my readers will join me in congratulating him and wishing him well.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Ballet in Cornwall

The peninsula in the far south west of our island is a magical land that I know well. I am told that I took my first steps on the sands at St, Ives where my parents lived when my father taught at Redruth. They returned to Cornwall for a few years while I as at St Andrews. During that time my address in St Austell was one of the remotest in the student directory. I have also spent many holidays and weekends in the duchy particularly in Looe and its environs.

"I can't believe that I am in England" remarked my friend on her first trip to Cornwall to which I replied "You are not." Administratively it may be part of England but it has an identity that is quite distinct despite centuries of emigration to the Americas, Antipodes, other parts of the British Isles and the rest of the world and a massive influx of migrants and visitors from every part of the world over the last 100 years or so. That identity is based largely on culture with a strong literary and musical tradition inspired by a rich folklore with its tales of mermaids and pixies.

Drama and dance are part of that tradition including the famous passion plays and furry danceDuchy Ballet, Cornwall's national ballet company, has drawn on that tradition from time to time with such works as The Mousehole Cat and The Mermaid of Zennor (see the Productions page of the Duchy Ballet website). Some of those works were created or staged by Terence Etheridge who has enjoyed a distinctive career as a dancer and choreographer with some of the world's leading companies including the London Festival Ballet which is now known as the English National Ballet.

According to Kay Jones, the artistic director of Duchy Ballet, the company started because
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many children and indeed adults in Cornwall had never seen a full length classical ballet. Thanks largely to Jones, Etheridge and their collaborators that lacuna has now been filled.The company performs a full length work at the Hall for Cornwall every year which gives young Cornish dancers valuable stage experience. Some of those young people have been accepted by the Royal Ballet School, the Rambert School, Northern Ballet School and other well known ballet schools (see the "Springboard" column of the About page on the Duchy Ballet website).

According to the company's Facebook page, its next performance will be The Sleeping Beauty which it will dance on 17 and 18 March 2017. Somehow Team Terpsichore will get a reviewer to that show for Duchy Ballet is just the sort of initiative that this website and its associated blogs are keen to support.  The company seems to have created an audience for dance for the Hall for Cornwall is visited regularly by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Rambert and other companies. Also, Plymouth, whose hinterland includes much of South East Cornwall, has always been visited by the leading national touring companies.

Of course, most of those who study ballet have careers or ambitions that lie outside the stage and it is good to see that there are many ballet schools in Cornwall some of which offer classes to adults (see the Dance Schools page of Duchy Ballet). The dance agency for Cornwall is Dance and Theatre Cornwall and Plymouth Dance is the dance agency for Plymouth and surrounding districts.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Dutch Nationl Ballet Gala - Le Grand Défilé

Le Grand Défilé
Photo Michel Schnater
(C) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: All rights reserved
Licensed by kind permission of Richard Heideman

Dutch National Ballet, Gala, Stopera, 7 Sept 2016 

Nothing gives a better impression of the strength of the Dutch National Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet Academy than the Grand Défilé or big parade that begins the gala that opens the Amsterdam ballet season. As the curtain rises the first year students of the Academy present themselves to the audience. The girls are in light blue leotards and the boys in white t-shirts. They give way to the second year and so on until the Junior Company appear. They in turn give way to the élèves who are succeeded by the corps  and each and every other rank in the company until the ballerinas and premiers danseurs nobles.  All to the strains of the polonaise from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty.

Compared to the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and the Mariinsky the Dutch National Ballet is very new. It will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year. But it has achieved much in its 69 years as the timeline on the company's website indicates. In his speech at last year's gala Ted Brandsen remarked that there had been no balletic tradition in the Netherlands before 1947 (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015). The Dutch can and do take enormous pride in those achievements.

Of course, like all great companies the Dutch National Ballet is international. Artists of many nationalities have contributed to its success including some from our country. Wayne Eagling was the company's artistic director between 1991 and 2003. David Dawson is one of its associate artists. Matthew Rowe is, its director of music and principal conductor. Judy Maelor Thomas, who assisted Ted Brandsen with the choreography of the Grand Défilé, is the company's ballet mistress. More than a few of the dancers trained at the Royal Ballet School including its great ballerina, Igone de Jongh and the artistic coordinator of the Junior Company, Ernst Meisner.

The links between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom go back a very long way. David Bintley mentions the tour of the Vic-Wells Ballet to the Netherlands on the eve of the German invasion in Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II made British Ballet. The links are not all one way. Meisner, for example, was a very popular dancer at the Royal Ballet. He continues to contribute to British ballet through the New English Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet School summer programme. According to Bintley, the flower throw which I had always regarded as a quintessentially English tradition was invented by the Dutch who showered the Vic-Wells dancers with flowers on their visit in 1940.

The company's press officer, Richard Heideman, has sent me some lovely pictures of the gala of which this is only the first. My next post will be on the extract from La Bayadere.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Virtual Reality in Ballet

HTC's marketing director wearing his company's equipment
Author: Maurizio Pesce
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The Dutch National Ballet presented Night Fall with considerable publicity at the end of last month (see Dutch National Ballet presents the first virtual reality ballet in the word on the company's website). I was very excited and watched it on YouTube and my mobile phone (see Looking forward to the Gala and trying to get the Night Fall Video to work 31 Aug 2016). I could see from YouTube that it was a beautiful ballet in which some of my favourite dancers had been cast but the sensation of being on stage with the dancers completely eluded me. I tweeted something to that effect and the company replied with the suggestion that I should visit the VR Cinema while in Amsterdam which I did (see Three Days in Amsterdam 12 Sept 2016).

There I could see what the film was supposed to do though the film did not achieve its task because it was blurred and no amount of adjustment with the focus wheel could improve the picture.  More guidance on how the technology is supposed to work is to be found in Dutch National Ballet's video How to create a ballet in virtual reality.

The film was discussed on the BalletcoForum website (see Dutch National Ballet Presents First Virtual Reality Ballet In The World where reaction was less than favourable, Trog wrote:
"Perhaps this is a peek into the future? I for one, hope that it isn't."
zxDaveM added:
"oh my (very) giddiest of giddy aunts! Not for me either"
Janet McNulty agreed:
"Definitely not one for me ... retreats to a darkened room and lies down to recover from the thought!"
Melody was no more flattering and observed:
"Somehow when something like this turned up, it's sort of inevitable that it'd be the Dutch National Ballet"
John Mallinson wrote about virtual orchestras and a Bjork installation at Somerset House.

As a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet I leap to its defence to say that this was an experiment. I congratulate the company for its boldness and innovation. It may not have worked for everyone - indeed it did not really work for me - but that does not mean that it should not have been tried. Secondly, in answer to Melody's observation about my beloved Het I should add that HNB is not the only company to be experimenting with this technology.  At the end of last year our own Royal Ballet published The Nutcracker in 360 degrees which has received 121,333 hits and the comments on the Royal Opera House's page have been favourable. One DaveM described it as "fun" and another commentator called Timmie wrote:
"Thank you. As a ballet lover and a gadget lover I love it! How about some 3-D ballet…"
I think the reason why the Royal Ballet's video worked so well is that it was not ballet as such  There were scenes from The Nutcracker, a class and rehearsal and a focus on one of the dancers but it was more documentary than ballet. Night Fall  was ballet and ballet is designed to be seen in the theatre and not from the stage. In so far as I experienced VR at all when I saw the film in Amsterdam I felt that I was getting in the way, That feeling was reinforced by the violinist's stare at the end of his piece. It was as if he was saying "What on earth are you doing on our stage? Kindly get back to your seat at once."

However, there are occasions when one does need to feel as though one is on stage and one occurred to me only last night when I attended Sara Horner's class at Dance Studio Leeds. Sara was rehearsing the class for a show which will take place at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds next month. She asked us to film her on our mobiles and then she filmed us on hers. Spacing and positioning is an issue that is still to be resolved. VR would have been a great tool had it been available to her and we can see something of its potential in the shots of the class in the Royal Ballet's film.

There are other applications too such as dance education.I have never really mastered pirouettes to the enormous exasperation and acute despair of all my teachers. I think a VR shot of how it is supposed to be done followed by one of how I don't do it would assist me tremendously. Marketing is another application and the number of hits that the Royal Ballet film has received shows its effectiveness there.

So I think HNB (like the Royal Ballet) has to be congratulated and encouraged and I hope that everyone involved in this project takes the technology further,

Monday, 12 September 2016

Three Days in Amsterdam

Cristiano Principato with the author
(c) 2016 Gita Mistry: all rights reserved
Reproduced by kind permission of the copyright owner

Although the opening night gala for the Dutch National Ballet was my main reason for coming to Amsterdam (see Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016) it was not the only thing that I did there.

Immediately after the show there was a party at the Stopera where I met some of the outstanding young dancers I featured in Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers 6 Dec 2014). Many of them have been inducted into the main company while others have joined the Stuttgart and Hungarian and Norwegian national ballets.  One of the most promising is Cristiano Principato from Novara in Northern Italy who is making his mark as a choreographer as well as a dancer. Also, he has already demonstrated his potential as an artistic director by staging the Gala for Alessia in June which I covered in From Italy with Love on 1 July 2016. Two of his works were performed in that show including Palagio which the Dutch National Ballet danced in its New Moves programme.

Eight of Cristiano's colleagues from the Junior Company appeared in Night Fall which is described as the first virtual reality ballet in the world. They included Lisanne Kottenhagen and Emilie Tassinari whom I featured in 2014 as well as Nancy Burer whose performance in Embers I described as one of the most beautiful that I had ever seen in The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015 and Priscylla Gallo, Clara Superfine, Melissa Chapski, Hannah Williams and Belle Beasley whom I saw in Ballet Bubbles on 14 Feb 2016. Each and every one of those young dancers is special and I cherish them dearly.  In Night Fall, those eight young dancers supported the magnificent Anna Tsygankova who had danced Cinderella brilliantly at the Coliseum last year (see Wheeldon's Cinderella 13 July 2015) and Artur Shesterikov who received the Alexandra Radius prize at the gala.

I had tried to follow the instructions on the How Can I Watch the Night Fall page of the Dutch National Ballet's website but did not get very far (see Looking forward to the Gala and trying to get the Night Fall Video to work 31 Aug 2016). In response to that blog post the company advised my companion and me to try the Virtual Reality cinema next to Amsterdam Central Station which we did. Had I seen Night Fall on the stage I would have loved it. As a ballet it could not be faulted. However, as a technology, virtual reality still has a way to go.

The VR Cinema turned out not to be a cinema at all in the conventional sense but a bar with some side rooms equipped with a number of revolving chairs to which vizor like goggles and headsets were attached. Patrons were invited to don those items and relax in the chairs. As I had to remove my headset several times I noticed the heads of my fellow patrons lolling around like babies and gyrating in their chairs like dynamos. We were behind a plate glass picture window in full view of the public. No doubt a source of considerably amusement to the neighbourhood.

We were charged 12.50 euros each for a choice of films each of which lasted about 30 minutes. Drinks were expensive too and the cinema would only take cards for payment. I chose "Documentaries" which featured polar bears in the Arctic, a French artist who made a massive tableau of a chap with a John Cleese style silly walk and a trendy couple in he media making excuses to a fake TV crew for not taking care of a Syrian refugee after they had gone on record as saying that the migration crisis was everybody's problem and not just the authorities'. I had all sorts of problems with my goggles. First, they took a long time to start. When they did start they offered me the "Scary" programme and not "Documentaries" which I had ordered. Half way through the show the film cut out altogether. When it restarted the picture was so blurred that I could not recognize any of the dancers even though I know them all very well. Altogether, a bit of a swizz.

Having said that I do think there is a place for VR in ballet which I shall probably discuss in another blog post and there are better technologies.  While waiting for me to finish my video, my colleague was invited to try the goggles of a VR equipment supplier. She found the quality of that company's product (which happened to be British) to be greatly superior.

One of the delights of Amsterdam are the free lunch time concerts that are given in the small auditorium of the Concertgebouw most Wednesdays.  We were treated to a programme of Ravel, Piazzolla and Milhaud by the Colori Ensemble on 7 Sept. My favourite was Piazzolla's Verano porteno which was a percussion solo by Arjan Jongsma.  Tickets are distributed at 11:30 on a first come first served basis and there was already a bit of a queue by 10:40 when we arrived.  The auditorium can hold about 440 persons.

We did a lot in those three days without getting round to the Rijksmuseum or indeed any of the other art galleries. There is so much to see in Amsterdam and the Night Watch should still be there the next time we call.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

At last we have a Synopsis for Giselle Re-imagined. Oh Boy! Do we have a Synopsis!

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Akram Khan's Giselle will open in Manchester on 27 Sept though there will be previews on the 23 and 24.

English National Ballet and the Palace Theatre have published the synopsis. It is much closer to the traditional story than I had feared but it is still very different.  Post industrial utopia or rather Dystopia rather than the Vosges or Rhineland. The score by Vincenzo Lamagna is said to follow Adam but the soundtrack to the videos sounds quite different to me.

It will open with Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez in the leading roles.  Hernandez was with the Dutch National Ballet where he won the Alexandra Radius prize. I last saw Cojocaru in Romeo and Juliet in the round on 14 July 2014.

The English National Ballet has a special website for Akram Khan's Giselle and a huge programme of events in Manchester and around the country. Several of the best take place on the 18 September.

Though I feel the same kind of trepidation as I would if an old friend were to undergo surgery I know that Tamara Rojo loves Giselle at least as much as I do and knows it so much better.

So I trust her to keep faith with it and her great company and save our dear friend.   I really do.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Northern Ballet's "Wuthering Heights" at the West Yorkshire Playhouse - about as good as it can get

Emily Btonte
Artist Bramwell Brinte
Source Wikipedia

Northern Ballet Wuthering Heights West Yorkshire Playhouse, 9 Sept 2016

It was only upon a last minute impulse that I decided to check West Yorkshire Playhouse's website to see whether they had any tickets left for the law few performances of Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights. Saturday evening appeared to be sold out but there were still a few seats for yesterday evening and today's matinee. As I have not attended class or even worked out in the gym for over a week I wanted to leave this afternoon free for Lucy's class at KNT if I finish my tasks in time to make it to Manchester by 15:00 or a 90 minute session in the local gym at the very least.

The reason I had not bought a ticket before is that I had intended to give Wuthering Heights a miss this year. I had seen the ballet in Sheffield and Bradford last year where I had been somewhat less than overwhelmed (see Wuthering Heights 19 March 2015 and Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights in Bradford 22 Nov 2015). The Brontës are not among my favourite novelists, All their books seem dark and miserable to me. Except perhaps for Shirley and Villette, they are very heavy going. I much prefer Jane Austen. Her works are set in rather more agreeable places with generally more pleasant characters than the maungy folk who tend to populate the heaths of the rapidly industrializing West Riding.  Also I had been awake since 05:00 British time in order to catch my flight home from Amsterdam. There I had seen the best of one of the world's best ballet companies at their opening night gala in their magnificent auditorium. As the best is said to be the enemy of the good, I feared that experience would spoil me for anything else for weeks to come as it had last year when I saw 1984 for the first time (see My First Impressions of 1984 12 Sept 2015).

It was Janet McNulty's excellent review, Northern Ballet's "Wuthering Heights" at the West Yorkshire Playhouse 9 Sept 2016, that changed my mind and I am glad that it did because I enjoyed last night's performance.  I think there are two reasons why I enjoyed it so much.

The first is that it too place in the best possible auditorium for a performance of this ballet. The Quarry Theatre with 750 seats arranged as an amphitheatre is designed for drama and Wuthering Heights is nothing if not dramatic. In some ways it is more play than ballet. The West Yorkshire Playhouse is only yards away from Northern Ballet's premises on St Cecilia Street and the crowd who attend its performances there are fanatically loyal. Judging by snippets of conversation that I overheard it seemed that many members of the audience were also in the Brontë Society. The result was a receptive audience that must have given the dancers a lift. Also, their enthusiasm was infectious

The second reason why I enjoyed last night's show so much was the cast.  The website had advertised Dreda Blow, Javier Torres. Ayami Miyata, Kevin Poeung, Nicola Gervasi and Rachael Gillespie. The cast that we got was Antoinette Brookes-Daw as Cathy and Ashley Dixon as Heathcliff with Jenny Hackwell and Matthew Topliss dancing their younger selves. Matthew Koon was Edgar Linton and Pippa Moore, his sister Isabella. It was the first time that I had been them in those roles and they seemed fresh and energetic. I was particularly impressed by Brookes-Daw who was the best Cathy that I have seen to date. Dixon, too, was a perfect partner for her. It was also good to see Moore, the company's only female premier dancer (principal), in a substantial role.

There are many intense moments in the ballet such as the wedding where Heathcliff, who has somehow made his fortune, shows up unexpectedly. Heathcliff and Cathy forget their surroundings which is cleverly reflected in the score with changes of theme and choreography with the entry and exit of the wedding guests. Another scene that depicts the mean side of Heathcliff is the humiliation of Isabella when she returns Heathclkiff's riding whip. There are bits of the ballet that don't work quite so well such as the nervous maid with her tinkling tea tray or the Christmas card scene at the end with Heathcliff and his younger self and Cathy playing in the snow. However that is a matter of taste. The guffaws around the auditorium showed that the tea tray scene was appreciated by many.

After the show Gavin McCaig and Kiara Flavin kindly stayed behind to answer questions from members of the audience.

I was  gratified to learn that I was not the only one to find Wuthering Heights heavy going. McGaig said that he opened the book and put it down after the first chapter. He picked it up and put it down again several times before he got to the end.  He persevered because he felt he owed it to his audiences to understand the stories and emotions the were experiencing in dance. By contrast Flavin had listed Wuthering Heights as one of her favourite heart-wrenchers on her web page.

I was surprised to learn that Northern Ballet no longer record most of their ballets in choreology. Flavin described Benesch notation as "archaic" and said they relied on videos. As a lawyer it prompted me to wonder whether their choreography was legally protected since s.3 (2) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provided:
"Copyright does not subsist in a literary, dramatic or musical work unless and until it is recorded, in writing or otherwise; and references in this Part to the time at which such a work is made are to the time at which it is so recorded."
It is of course arguable that the words "or otherwise" connote film but there is yet to be a decision on the point,  Personally, if I were a choreographer or company I would not want to risk it, Especially if I was supported by sponsorship money.

I was sorry to learn that 1984  had not been a sell out everywhere. McCaig said that it had done well in Leeds, London and Edinburgh but there were more than a few empty seats in other cities.

Each dancer was asked how he or she came to Northern Ballet. Flavin said she had heard of the company as a 15 year old ballet student in Canada and she liked the sound of them. McCaig expressed his pleasure at finding a job immediately after finishing ballet school. The competition was intense, he explained, with the 5 major ballet schools and other conservatories training lots of dancers every year. It is particularly hard to get a job in the UK so if a dancer is offered a job with any company in this country he or she grabs it with both hands.

McCaig chatted with me for a few minutes after the Q & A. I had featured him in Meet Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet on 3 Sept 2016 and it is good to see him doing well. He is a splendid chap as well as a fine dancer and I wish him all the best.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Northern Ballet's "Wuthering Heights" at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

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Northern Ballet, Wuthering Heights, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds 6 Sep 2016

Guest Contributor  Janet McNulty

The West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP) has always been a special performance space for Northern Ballet since their first season there in the early noughties. Most of the productions performed there have been created there and only A Midsummer Night's Dream has toured extensively to the Company's more usual theatres.

Wuthering Heights is a first for the Company as it is a main stage production transferring to the much more intimate space of the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Since the news was first announced I, and many other fans, have been waiting eagerly to see how this ballet favourite would transfer to WYP.

Well the wait was finally over last night when Northern Ballet opened a short season of Wuthering Heights at the WYP. There was a lovely sense of anticipation as the house lights went down...

I was not disappointed. Wuthering Heights looked every bit as wonderful as I expected it to in this terrific theatre. The orchestra was hidden away behind the set but their playing of the score, under the baton of John Pryce-Jones was splendid. The positioning of the orchestra also meant that the audience was very close to the action and we were able to take in every tiny gesture of the dancers.

Opening night was led by Dreda Blow as Cathy and Javier Torres as Heathcliff. Dreda was a wild Cathy, adoring Heathcliff from the start but also being swayed by the riches of Thrushcross Grange. She was totally hemmed in to her marriage to Edgar (exquisitely danced and acted by Nicola Gervasi). Javier was everything we would expect from Heathcliff - darkly brooding and very passionate in his feelings towards Cathy. One of my favourite moments of this work is the red duet when we have seen a subdued dance between Cathy and Edgar who cannot express their feelings to each other and as they part Heathcliff bursts into the garden. Their duet is exciting and passionate and last night I forgot to breathe!

We were very privileged to see Rachael Gillespie make her debut as Isabella last night - she was just exquisite. She was a total innocent abroad and it was easy to see how she fell for Heathcliff's rough charm.

The ballet starts with Mr Earnshaw bringing the foundling Heathcliff into his house and shows young Cathy's growing attraction to him as Hindley becomes neglected and embittered. Kevin Poeung and Ayami Miyata portrayed the young loves incredibly expressively. Kevin's facial expressions were subtle and a joy to behold. Giuliano Contadini gave a very nuanced performance as Hindley from enthusiastic young boy to embittered sadist and sad drunk. Victoria Sibson and Hiro Takahashi brought all their experience to the roles of devoted Ellen and the devout Joseph. I particularly noticed Victoria's devastation during Cathy's death scene.

One of the joys of watching Northern Ballet is to glance around the stage and see how involved all the dancers are, no matter how small their roles and last night was no exception.

It really was a terrific start to Northern Ballet's Autumn season!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence

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The first time I saw the video of Ernst Meisner's No Time Before Time was in the Prix de Lausanne finals. I fell in love with it there and then.  When I saw it live for the first time in Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart Theatre on my birthday on Valentine's day it was the best present anyone could possibly receive. I expressed my appreciation in Thank You Ernst a few days later. Ernst Meisner is an extraordinary choreographer. His Saltarello had been the highlight of the Junior Company's Stadsshouwburg show of 24 Nov 2013. The performance of Embers by Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme to the haunting music of Max Richter was my favourite of the following year.  I described it my review as quite simply one of the most beautiful ballets I have ever seen. Well, No Time Before Time is Ernst's best work yet.

In Ernst Meisner’s Work with the Dutch National Ballet 2 Dec 2014 I remarked that although Ernst was a Dutch national who trained at the National Ballet Academy of Amsterdam before coming to London we still like to think of him as one of our own and English audiences have a great deal of affection for him. After he left our shores for the Dutch National Ballet, I thought I would never see him dance again. Yesterday I saw him on stage together with Floor ElmersJuanjo Arques, Rachel Beaujean, Marijn Rademaker, James StoutAlexander Zhembrovskyy and, of course, Vito Mazzeo and Igone de Jongh in an extract from van Manen's Kammerballett to celebrate de Jongh's 20th anniversary with the company.

I was led to the Dutch National Ballet by Michaela DePrince who entered the Junior Company in 2013 and is already a grand sujet  at age 21. Because I was married to a Sierra Leonean for more than 27 years I took an interest in her career before she joined the company (see Michaela DePrince 4 April 2013). When I saw her on stage for the first time I described her as "quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while." When I met her briefly at last year's gala "I left the Stopera thinking how that exceptionally talented young dancer was as gracious off stage as she is magnificent upon it." Michaela DePrince was as magnificent and exciting as ever yesterday in Balanchine's Tarantella Pas de Beux which she danced passionately with Remi Wörtmeyer. The applause was deafening. "They really love her" remarked my companion, We really do.

Earlier DePrince had been one of the dancers in the grand pas d'action from La Bayadere.  Having recently learned some of the choreography from Jane Tucker I took a particular interest in that work. Sasha Mukhamedov danced Nikiya and Daniel Camargo was Solor. It was a tantalizing taster for this Autumn's production which I look forward to seeing in full on 13 Nov 2016.

One of my favourite full length ballets so far this year  has been Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari which I reviewed in Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016. Yesterday was my chance to see the magnificent Anna Tsygankova in the title role again. She was partnered gallantly by Artur Shesterikov.  It was another opportunity to hear Tariq O'Reagan's beautiful score.

These were the highlights of the evening for me but there was so much more:

  • the Grand Defile or parade of the company and students of the National Ballet Academy starting with the first year students in light blue leotards and finishing with the principals;
  • the final pas de deux from Sir Peter Wright's Sleeping Beauty with Anna Ol  as Aurelia and Jozef Varga as the prince; 
  • Sinatra favourites with Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding in Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite;
  • the premiere of Remi Wörtmeyer's Penumbra with Anna Ol and Artur Shesterikov, and 
  • the final pas de deux from Balanchine's Theme and Variations with Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga in the leading roles.
The evening celebrated not only Igone de Jongh's 20 years with the company but Toer van Schayk's long and distinguished career as dancer, choreographer and designer. Qian Liu and Young Gyu Choi danced in the world premiere of van Schayk's ballet Episodes van Fragmenten after showing a short film of his life and career.

As happened last year, the performance was followed by a party which was still going strong well after we left to catch the last tube to Central Station at which the stars mingled with us lesser mortals. I was particularly glad to meet some of the young dancers from last year's Junior Company who are now soaring in the company, their mentor Ernst Meisner and Esther Protzman, the wonderful teacher who inspired so many of the company's finest dancers. I have written many times about the importance of a great teacher and I know a little  about it because have been inspired by mine.

I described last year's gala as The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet. Could last year's excellence be exceeded? The answer is an emphatic "yes". Was yesterday's performance perfection?  I will tell you next year.