Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Year of the Swans: My Review of 2016

Standard YouTube Licence

In 2016 I saw no less than five versions of Swan Lake, three of Romeo and Juliet, and two each of Giselle, The Taming of the Shrew, The Sleeping Beauty and Coppelia as well as Makarova's La Bayadere and Ratmansky's Cinderella.  I saw new full-length ballets by David Bintley, Ted Brandsen and Cathy Marston.   I took another look at Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale and David Nixon's  Beauty and the Beast and found that I liked them rather better second time round.   I attended performances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the National Ballet of China and NDT2 as well as shows by Ballet Black, Phoenix Dance Theatre and Rambert.  I attended the Dutch National Ballet's gala for the new ballet season in Amsterdam, Ballet Cymru's debut in the Wales Millennium Centre, one of the first performances of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's tour and a brilliant charity gala by some of the world's best young dancers in Italy. I saw Matthew Bourne's transposition of The Red Shoes to the stage. I watched fine student performances by Ballet West and Northern Ballet School.

The performances of Swan Lake that I liked best were English National Ballet's Swan Lake in the Round at the Royal Albert Hall on 12 June 2016 (see Swan Lake in the Round 13 June 2016) and David Dawson's for Scottish Ballet in Liverpool on 3 June 2016 (see Empire Blanche: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). The one I liked least was Nixon's for Northern Ballet, mainly for its libretto and changes to the score, though there was some excellent dancing by the cast (see Up the Swannee  17 March 2016). I had not expected much of Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake for the Australian Ballet and was pleasantly surprised (see The Australian Ballet's Swan Lake - Murphy won me over 17 July 2016). On the other hand, I was less than overwhelmed by the Bolshoi's despite the virtuosity of Anna Nikulina as Odette-Odile and Ruslan Skvortsov as Siegfried, possibly because I had arrived at Covent Garden confidently expecting it to be best in class (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). Again, changes to the libretto including the quite unnecessary anonymization of Siegfried as "the prince" and Rothbart as "the evil genius" and the rather dowdy designs disappointed me.

The three productions of Romeo and Juliet that I saw last year were by the Birmingham Royal Ballet (see  A Good Outcome from an Unhappy Event - Singleton's Fine Performance 6 March 2016), Northern Ballet (see Romeo and Juliet after the Shrew 15 Oct 2016) and Ballet Cymru (see A Romeo and Juliet for our Times 7 Nov 2016) and I liked them all. I suppose the winner on points was Birmingham Royal Ballet simply because that company is so powerful in every department and at every level but the most memorable was Ballet Cymru's largely for the remarkable performance of Gwenllian Davies. I wrote in my review:
"One of the reasons why I loved the show so much was Gwenllian Davies's remarkable performance as Juliet. Davies is in her first year with the company and this is her first job. Consequently, she is barely older than Shakespeare's Juliet. As I told her after the show, I have seen some of the world's greatest dancers in the role including Lynn Seymour and more recently Alina Cojocaru and Viktoria Tereshkina, but never have I seen a more convincing Juliet. Davies danced with passion and energy and, for a while, I saw in that talented young artist what Shakespeare must have imagined."
Every so often one spots a dancer with what I call the wow factor. Michaela DePrince had it when I first saw her in Amsterdam in 2013 and described her as "quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while" (see  The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). Davies has the wow factor too.

As Cranko is my favourite choreographer of all time and The Taming of the Shrew is my favourite of his ballets I had expected the Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of that work to be one of the highlights of the year (see Looking Forward to 2016 30 Dec 2016). It was indeed one of those highlights but, to my great surprise and delight, I found a version that I like even more. That was Jean-Christophe's for the Bolshoi (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016). I was in the Royal Opera House for the premiere of that production in the United Kingdom and wrote:
"The Bolshoi Ballet has always been respected in this country but until last night I don't think it has ever been loved. There are many reasons for that, not least the fact that the company was seen as an instrument of Soviet soft power during the cold war coming to London as it did in the year the tanks rolled into Budapest. That may have changed with the London premiere of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew for the audience really warmed to the show. Standing ovations are quite rare in the Royal Opera House but when Maillot appeared to take a bow several members of the audience (including yours truly) felt compelled to rise."
If I was slightly disappointed by the Bolshoi's Swan Lake that company more than made up for my disappointment with Shrew. There were brilliant performances by Ekaterina Krysanova as Kate, Vladislav Lantratov as Petrucchio. Olga Smirnova as Bianca, Artemy Belyakov as Kate and Bianca's father and Georgy Gusev as Grumio.

I think I saw the best Giselle ever in April with Cuthbertson in the title role and Bonelli as her Albrecht (see Cuthbertson's Giselle 3 April 2016). I wrote:
"I am not a newbie when it comes to ballet. I have seen Giselle many times by several different companies with some of the world's greatest ballerinas in the title role. The best compliment that I can pay to Cuthbertson is that she unlocked the ballet for me much in the way that Ulanova appears to have done for Sir Peter. Yesterday I saw not a ballerina dancing Giselle but Giselle herself and for the first time I really understood the ballet which has far more substance than I had previously supposed."
I had been expecting something special from English National Ballet when I attended the premiere of Akram Khan's Giselle and although the production was not without its merits it simply did not live up to its hype (see Akram Khan's Giselle 28 Sept 2016)

In April the Hungarian Ballet staged Sir Peter Wright's version of The Sleeping Beauty which I remember mainly for the charming performance as the white cat by the young Canadian dancer Danielle Gould (see Sir Peter Wright's The Sleeping Beauty in Budapest 23 April 2016). She impressed me so much that I interviewed her a few weeks later (see Meet Danielle Gould of the Hungarian National Ballet 5 June 2016). I might add that I saw the Chelmsford Ballet's Beauty in March and liked that too (see A Real Beauty: Chelmsford Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty 25 March 2016).

On 11 Dec 2016 I saw Ted Brandsen's Coppelia which in the running for my ballet of the year with two other HNB candidates, Brandsen's Mata Hari and Makarova's La Bayadere. Having seen David Nixon's Swan Lake and Akram Khan's Giselle I approached the Music Theatre somewhat gingerly. I wrote:
"I am usually pretty scathing about updates of well-loved ballets as readers of this blog well know. I don't like bikes on stage in Swan Lake. I bristle at shillelagh-wielding wilis. As I said in Manchester City Ballet's Coppelia 10 Dec 2016, Coppelia already addresses contemporary themes like coming to terms with artificial intelligence, low-level youth crime and elder abuse so why update it? With all these thoughts in mind, I was a little apprehensive as I entered the Music Theatre auditorium yesterday afternoon. I need not have been. Brandsen had made some changes to the story and he had set the scene int the present, but those changes were changes for a reason rather than change for change sake."
It turned out to be excellent and I recommended it as the best Christmas show within easy travelling distance of most parts of the British Isles.  Immediately before I flew to Amsterdam I was reminded of the traditional version by Manchester City Ballet's performances on the 9 and 10 Dec 2016 (see Manchester City Ballet's Coppelia 10 Dec 2016).

Brandsen's Mata Hari was quite different.  It was a study of the life of the Dutch adventurer and exotic dancer who was executed for espionage after a travesty of a trial in 1917 (see Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016). Brandsen cast Anna Tsygankova as Mata Hari and she danced that role magnificently. I wrote:
"As Anna Tsygankova stood alone on stage for her curtain call after last night's performance of Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari every single person in the Amsterdam Music Theatre or Stopera rose as one. She would have got a similar standing ovation anywhere - even snooty old London - for her portrayal of the life of the tragic adventurer and dancer (Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod) was compelling It is not often that one sees theatre like that in any medium and I think the sounds and images of that performance will remain with me for the rest of my life."
There were also strong performances by Artur Shesterikov, Casey Herd, Roman Artyushkin and other members of the cast. Brandsen commissioned Tariq O'Reagan to compose a beautiful and haunting score, Clement & Sanôu to design the sets and Francois-Noël Cherpin to create the costumes.

Immediately after watching La Bayadere I wrote in Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere 14 Nov 2016:
"There were gasps, sighs and murmurs from members of the audience as the image of Nikiya appeared momentarily before a disconsolate Solor. Nobody tried to shush them. They could not help themselves. The scene was just so beautiful. I've seen a lot of ballet in my time but I can't (for the moment at any rate) think of a more beautiful production than the Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere."
That production was created by Natalia Makarova who had created that work for American Ballet Theatre and staged it for the Royal Ballet. Solor was danced by Josef Varga and Nikiya by Sasha Mukhamedov.

The new full-length ballets that impressed me most were Brandsen's Mata Hari, Maillot's Taming of the Shrew, Dawson's Swan Lake, Bintley's The Tempest and Marston's Jane Eyre. I have already discussed the first three above. The Tempest appeared not long after Akram Khan's Giselle and was somewhat overshadowed by it which is a shame because I found Bintley's a stronger and much more satisfying work (see The Tempest  9 Oct 2016). Immediately after seeing it, I wrote:
"I think it is my favourite work by David Bintley so far. In fact, I can't remember a time when I was as excited as I am now about a new British full length ballet since the days of Sir Frederick Ashton."
I described Bintley's choreography as "sparkling" and there were strong performances by Iain Mackay as Prospero, Jenna Roberts as Miranda, Joseph Caley as Ferdinand. Mathias Dingman as Ariel and Tyrone Singleton as Caliban. It was perhaps no more than was to be expected of a company that I have already described as "powerful in every department and at every level" but it was still impressive.

The new work that I was most glad to see was Martson's Jane Eyre for Nothern Ballet (see Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre: the best new Ballet from the Company in 20 Years 2 June 2016). As I said in my Tribute to Moira Shearer 25 Dec 2016 I started to attend the performances of the company now known as Northern Ballet in its golden age and Marston's work reminded me of those days:

"With one enormous break between 2004 and 2011 I have been following Northern Ballet ever since I returned to the North in 1985. The company has given us some lovely ballets over the years - Cinderella, A Christmas Carol, A Simple Man and, more recently, Madame Butterfly and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In my humble, rustic and simplistic opinion the company's golden age was 20 years ago. At least I thought so until this evening for tonight I saw them perform Jane Eyre at Richmond. I was reminded of their glory days which I never thought I would see again."
Northern Ballet lost some of its costumes in a flood and two of its "premier" or principal dancers took leave of absence this year. It launched its new season with Wuthering Heights and Maillot's Romeo and Juliet which it had last run in 2015 and has revived Beauty and the Beast which I liked somewhat better second time round (see Much Less Beastly - Indeed Rather Beautiful 18 Dec 2016). It may be that Northern Ballet will have a better year next year with three new full-length ballets. I certainly hope so.

Other highlights of the year were the visits by NDT2 (see NDT2 at the Lowry 24 April 2016 and Prickling - NDT2 in Bradford 1 May 2016), Alvin Ailey (see Alvin Ailey in Bradford 29 Sept 2016 and Alvin Ailey in Bradford 8 Oct 2016) and The National Ballet of China (see The Peony Pavillion 27 Nov 2016). I enjoyed Wayne McGrgor's triple bill, particularly his Carbon Life when I saw it at the Royal Opera House on the 17 Nov 2016, Ballet Black's programme which included new work by Christopher Marney and Arthur Pita as well as Christopher Hampson's Storyville (see Ballet Black made my Manchester Day 20 June 2016, Never Better: Ballet Black in Leeds 16 Oct 2016 and Ballet Black in Doncaster 3 Nov 2016 and David Murley's review Ballet Black at the Barbican 22 March 2016), Ballet Cymru's debut at the Wales Millennium Centre (see Ballet Cymru's "Sleeping Beauty Moment" 5 Dec 2016), the Dutch National Ballet's Gala, the Junior Company's Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart Theatre in Amsterdam, an impressive gala by that company's Cristiano Principato in his hometown of Trecate (see From Italy with Love 1 July 2016), Sir Matthew Bourne's staging of The Red Shoes (see Red Shoes Bourne Again 3 Dec 2016 and The Red Shoes Second Time Round 4 Dec 2016), Phoenix Dance Theatre's 35th anniversary tour with a brilliant piece  by Late  Flatt (see Phoenix's 35th Anniversary Tour 28 Feb 2916) and Rambert's 90th (see Red Hot Rambert 1 Oct 2016).

With so much excellence it was difficult for us to select a ballet of the year, choreographer of the year, male dancer of the year et cetera but we had to try. I listed by nominations in November (see The Terpsichore Nominations 5 Nov 2016). Tomorrow I announce my first set of awards for young male and female dancers, choreographer of the year and so on,

No comments:

Post a Comment