Saturday, 25 February 2017

Happy Birthday Terpsichore! My Best Memories of the Last Four Years

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I started this blog with a review of Ballet West's performance of The Nutcracker at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre on 25 Feb 2013 so Terpsichore is four years old today. Many happy returns, old girl.  Long may you flourish. She has certainly grown a bit since then. When I started her Terpsichore received 269 page views in the whole of February 2013. Admittedly it was a very short month though one in which I wrote 5 articles. This month she has already received 23,222 hits and there are still three more days to run.

I thought I would celebrate Terpsichore's birthday by recalling some of the highlights of the last 4 years. These are events that mean a lot to me though perhaps maybe not so much to you.  It has taken me a long time to compile this list because there have been 887 posts since 2013. Eventually. I drew up a long list of 37 posts. It has been painfully difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out.

Memory #10:  My First Performance

I will get rid of the personal stuff first.  One of the most exciting things that happened to me was to dance on the stage of the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in the studios of Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre before a capacity audience on the 28 June 2014 (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014). My daughter manquée and her son and husband were in the audience. The many weeks of rehearsals, the wait in the wings, the first notes of the music, leaping into the lights and the explosion of applause.  So delicious!  I have danced in a couple of shows since then but nothing beats the first performance. I don't know how we did. Mel reviewed our performance in The Dance DID go on - Northern Ballet Academy Show 2014  29 June 2014 but I think she was too kind.

Memory #9:  Jane Eyre

I have been following Northern Ballet from the day of their first performance.  I can't claim to have been there because I was at university in St Andrews in 1969 but I felt a distinct sense of pride as a Mancunian when I read about them in Dance and Dancers. It was only when I came back to the North in the 1980s that I got a chance to see them regularly. And I think that was their golden age because it was the time when they were directed by Christopher Gable. I was reminded of that time when I saw Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre at the Richmond Theatre in June (see Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre: the best new Ballet from the Company in 20 Years 2 June 2016).

Memory #8:  Miracle in the Gorbals

My favourite work from Northern Ballet is Gillian Lynne's A Simple Man in which Christopher Gable danced with Moira Shearer. Gillian Lynne had danced in Sir Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals during the second world war.  In 2014 she was commissioned to recreate it for the Birmingham Royal Ballet.  I saw it in Sadler's Wells as part of the Shadows of War triple bill and reviewed it in A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2014. Really gripping stuff.  Great performances by César Morales as the Christ-like stranger, Iain Mackay as the minister, Elisha Willis as the prostitute and Delia Matthews as the suicide victim,

Memory #7:  Li Cunxin's La Sylphide

La Sylphide ought to be our national ballet as it is set in Scotland A place rather like Taynuilt I would have thought. First performed in 1832 it is one of the oldest ballets in the repertoire.  It has a lovely score by Løvenskiold. Its plot that is far less spooky than Giselle - indeed, it is timeless as it is based on male inconstancy. It is performed quite frequently on the Continent but how often do we see it here. Scottish Ballet has Sir Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling which Ballet Central is about to take on tour (see Ballet Central returns to Leeds but it's not really the same thing. We had to wait for a company on the other side of the world to bring this work to London (see A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015).

Memory #6: Cuthbertson's Giselle

I have seen some great Giselle's in the last four years by English National Ballet (Mary Skeaping's rather than Akram Khan's), the Royal New Zealand National Ballet and, of course, the Royal Ballet with Natalia Osipova and Lauren Cuthbertson in the title roles.  It was the latter that really spoke to me last year, That is why I chose that great ballerina as my outstanding female dancer of 2016.  I once heard her speak to the London Ballet Circle after which I had the opportunity to tell her how much I admired her work. One can blog away till the cows come home but nothing beats telling an artist to his or her face how much you enjoy his or her performance.

Memory #5: Mukhamedov's Nikiya

Another ballet that ought to be performed much more frequently in England is La Bayadḕre. I love that ballet. I have even tried to learn a little bit of the choreography without much success despite the heroic efforts of my splendid teacher, Jane Tucker, and an enormous effort by me (see La Bayadere Intensive Day 3: No Snakes 17 Aug 2016),  A few weeks ago I was able to visit Amsterdam to see how the ballet should be performed (see Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere 14 Nov 2016). The title role was danced by Sasha Mukhamedov and she was outstanding. I wrote:
"Mukhamedov had danced Nikiya with Daniel Camargo in an extract from La Bayadere at the opening night gala on 7 Sept 2016 (see Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016) and she had impressed me with her grace and sensitivity. She showed those qualities again yesterday and I became an even bigger fan."
Nobody could be happier than I when I learned of her elevation to principal a few weeks later. I wrote in Sasha Mukhamedov's Elevation to Principal 10 Jan 2017 "just as Fonteyn is my Marguerite and Sibley my Titania she will always be my Nikiya."

Memory #4: Sibley with Crisp

And talking of Sibley who is my all time favourite ballerina bar none - even more than Fonteyn, Fracci and Seymour whom I also had the great honour of watching in my youth - I got the chance to hear her speak and recall her triumphs with Clement Crisp on 2 Feb 2014 (see Le jour de gloire est arrivé- Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School 3 Feb 2014), The event was organized by the London Jewish Cultural Centre which later staged a recreation of MacMillan's Le Baiser de la fée in Pavlova;s sitting room (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 June 2014). My mother saw Pavlova dance in Leeds in 1912 and although she must have been a very little girl the impression made by that great dancer never left her and that story has been handed downs to me (see In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic 18 Sept 2013),

Memory #3: Stars of the Future

I like to look forward as well as back which is why I like to see shows by Ballet Central, Manchester City Ballet and Ballet West but possibly the best concentration of young talent in the world is the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company.  I remember when I first saw them for the first time at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam on 24 Nov 2013. I had come to see Michaela DePrince about whom I had already written a lot of articles. When she actually appeared on stage I was overwhelmed. As I wrote at the time: "She is quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while." DePrince has risen through the ranks of the Dutch National Ballet like a rocket and she us already a soloist.

However, DePrince is not the only outstanding young dancer in Amsterdam. Each and every one of Ernst Meisner's recruits is impressive. Cristiano Principato, for instance, shows enormous promise as a choreographer. His compatriot, Emilie Tassinari, combines strength with grace. I have the good fortune to have met some of those artists on a few occasions and  I follow some of them on twitter and Facebook and they are as gracious off-stage as they are on the boards. Last Summer I attended a charity show at Trecate in North West Italy in which Cristiano had recruited several of his chums from Amsterdam as well as contemporaries from Milan and Vienna.  It was a magnificent gala and I got to know several of the artists slightly better (see From Italy with Love 1 Jul 2017).

There are, of course, outstanding young dancers in this country and I saw something very special in Gwenllian Davies's performance as Juliet in Newport last bonfire night (see A Romeo and Juliet for our Times 7  Nov 2016). Her company, Ballet Cymru, is very fortunate to have a whole company of young stars. I saw another sterling performance by Anna Pujol a few weeks later in Ballet Cymru's "Sleeping Beauty Moment". It goes without saying that talent is not confined to Wales. I got the same goosebumps that I had when I first saw Michaela DePrince when I saw Uyu Hiromoto in Ballet West's Swan Lake earlier this month (see Ballet West at the Beacon 13 Feb 2017). Hiromoto is from a school that has trained more than a few Genée medallists and the only British finalist at Lausanne in recent years.

Memory #2: The  Mighty Scots

Scottish Ballet was the first ballet company that I got to know and love and it occupies a special place in my affections. I think it would occupy such a place even if I had got to know Scottish Ballet very recently because its director, Christopher Hampson, is a choreographer I particularly admire. I also admire its dancers of the present as well as those of the recent and more recent past.  Scottish Ballet has contributed by far the greatest proportion of memories to my long list. It is a dilemma to know what to include and what to leave out. Hampson's Hansel & Gretel which I saw in 2013 and 2017? How about Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Streetcar Named Desire?  Pastor's Romeo and Juliet perhaps? Hampson's Cinderella with the magnificent Bethany Kingsley-Garner in the title role.  If I have to make a choice for favourite Scottish ballet I think it must be David Dawson's Swan Lake which I saw in Liverpool (see Empire Blanc: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). Peter Darrell would have been proud of them.

Memory #1: The Bolshoi's Shrew

On a warm August evening in my favourite theatre I experienced something magical in the Bolshoi's performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016). I enjoyed it so much that it was my ballet of the year last year. I wrote in The Terpsichore Titles: Ballet of 2016 30 Dec 2016 I wrote:
"There have been so many fine new ballets this year. The Tempest by David Bintley, David Dawson's Swan Lake, Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari and Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre not to mention shorter works such as Chris Marney's To Begin, Begin, Wayne McGregor's Multiverse and Carbon Life. In any other year I would have chosen any of them as my ballet of the year. But Jean-Christophe Maillot's Taming of the Shrew made a special impression on me and it would have been unjust not to recognize it."
I think that says it all.

I have had a lovely time reminiscing about ballet over the last 4 years. I hope my readers have enjoyed reading about the memories as I have enjoyed writing about them. But there is plenty more to come.  An exclusive interview with Kenny Tindall on Casanova, David Murley's report on Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's workshop at the Barbican, Joanne Goodman on Ballet Black's new season and maybe even a special report from Miami as we have a team member out there.  So come back soon,

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