Saturday, 29 April 2017

All that was missing from this Evening's Performance was a Ballet by Marney ......

This evening's performance by Ballet Central of its mixed programme at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre was a triumph and I said so on twitter.

But just one thing was missing - a work by Christopher Marney. Last year we had War Letters (see Images of War: Ballet Central's "War Letters" and other Works 29 April 2016), Scenes from a Wedding the year before that (see Dazzled 3 May 2015) and in 2013 anon (see Central Forward 22 March 2013). But not this year.

So, here is a gift to everyone who attended the show to turn a great evening into a perfect one.  A charming extract from Chris's ballet, The Carnival of the Animals, which he created for the Chelmsford Ballet Company in 2015. In my review of the ballet, A Delight Indeed, 22 March 2015 I explained:
"Marney did not create a new version of The Carnival of the Animals. He made a ballet about a company that was about to dance The Carnival of the Animals. A young stage hand longed to dance - perhaps because of his longing for its principal dancer performed beautifully by Wallis. But when he tried to lift her - dainty though she is - he found that pas de deux work was not quite as easy as it looked. According to Tim Tubbs's programme notes the ballet was set in the 1930s - the heroic early days of the English ballet after Diaghilev had died but before the Second World War when endless touring by the Vic-Wells Ballet won the hearts of the nation to this originally foreign art form. There were a few animals - foxes perhaps - and a yapping lap dog quite invisible to all but the dancers but clearly another dog like Bif which could do ballet (see Woof 12 Oct 2014 to understand the reference) - but the main characters were people. Quildan the stage hand, Wallis his sweetheart and principal dancer and Pettet her mother"
As you probably guessed, the stagehand was Stephen Quidlan and Jasmine Wallis was the dancer.

The person who uploaded the film to Vimeo was Marion Pettett. She is the Chair of the Chelmsford Ballet Company of which Chris is joint patron and I am a non-dancing associate. Marion graciously permitted me to embed the film into this blog and I am enormously grateful to her. I should add that Marion appears in the film clad in red.

I need to spend some time on my write-up in order to do justice to Chris and Ballet Central. It will appear towards the end of the day or maybe tomorrow.

Friday, 28 April 2017

DEL Dance Theatre -

DEL Dance Theatre is a new dance company for young people in York. According to its Facebook page, DEL stands for "Dance", "Education" and "Learning" though it also appears to be the middle name of the company's founder, Hayley Del Harrison. The reason I know that is because the company is appealing for funds on Crowdfunder for a new production of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals which will feature several styles of dance.

I cannot think of a better score for its repertoire. That music, and in particular The Swan, kindled my love for ballet. My mother was lucky enough to see Pavlova dance Fokine's interpretation of that movement (see In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic 15 Sept 2013). I saw a great performance of that work by Elena Glurdjidze in the Gala for Ghana on 4 Feb 2014 and was able to tell that great ballerina how much I enjoyed her performance a few days later (see Elena Glurdjidze - So Lovely, So Gracious 11 Feb 2014). A year afterwards Javier Torres danced Michel Descombey's version in Northern Ballet's Sapphire gala on 15 March 2015. A week later I saw Christopher Marney's beautiful version for Chelmsford Ballet (see A Delight Indeed 22 March 2015).

The company had appealed for £1,500 and has already exceeded that target. The appeal, incidentally, ends at 15:05 today British time so there is still time to contribute if you would care to do so. The aim is to introduce musical theatre to the young people of York, both as patrons and performers.  Ms Harrison explains that:
"Dance theatre not only entertains; it sparks the imagination, provides tools for expression, and increases our ability to empathise."
She adds that though there is a lot of other artistic activity in York there is not much home-grown musical theatre in the city - especially not for children. The company plans to fill that gap offering opportunities not just for the young:
"We are also keen to draw on the talent and skills of so-called ‘mature’ dancers living in the area (these people should be cherished, not side-lined!), and provide opportunities for them to share their experience and knowledge."
And not just for dancers as local artists and musicians are also invited to participate in the project.

Ms Harrison spent her career in the West End and on stage. I plan to review the show when it appears and also to write a longer feature on the company for Terpsichore Yorkshire.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Royal Swedish Ballet

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The company that David Murley saw on 8 April 2017 is the fourth oldest in the world. The Royal Swedish Ballet was founded in 1773 and its ballet masters include some of the greatest names in ballet:
Despite its importance in the history of dance, we do not see much of this company. It last appeared at Sadler's Wells between the 24 and 27 Sept 2014 and its previous appearance before then was in 1995. 

When it came to London in 2014 it brought Mat's Ek's Romeo and Juliet based on a score by Tchaikovsky rather than Prokofiev.  Sadly, I could not get down to London in time to see it for myself but the following YouTube video suggests that I missed something good.

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The ballet that David saw (extracts of which appear above) was The Dream of Swan Lake but the Royal Swedish Ballet seems to have a pretty good traditional Swan Lake in its repertoire.

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There are, of course, other fine companies in Sweden such as The Culberg Ballet which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its foundation this year and the Gothenburg Opera Dance Company about which I shall try to find out more.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Pär Isberg's The Dream of Swan Lake

Royal Swedish Opera House, Stockholm
Photo David Murley
© 2017 David Murley: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright owner

David Murley

Royal Swedish Ballet, The Dream of Swan Lake, 8 April 2017, Matinee, Royal Swedish Opera House

Due to the unfortunate events on Friday the 7 April 2017 in Stockholm city centre, the premiere of The Royal Swedish Ballet’s The Dream of Swan Lake (Kungliga Baletten Drömmen om Svansjön) by Pär Isberg was delayed. Instead, the production was premiered at the Saturday matinee on the 8 April 2017 with a cast change – the intended premiere cast. The performance was dedicated to the victims of Friday’s events.
Stage Royal Swedish Opera Houses
Photo David Murley
(c) 2017 David Murley: all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by David Murley

Not only was I watching a premiere by the Royal Swedish Ballet, but it was also the first time I had seen the company live. Colleagues of mine, whom I respect greatly, have been company members there at different points over the years. In fact, one colleague of mine left the company just last season. Now, I was sat in the breathtaking Swedish Royal Opera House in Stockholm at a point in time during my maiden voyage to the city surrounded by unforgettable events.

Isberg’s The Dream of Swan Lake is evidently a take on the original Swan Lake. The score had been cut and pasted and this initially disorientated me. However, I was receptive and listened and the results were positive and pleasing to the senses. The chopping and changing of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece elegantly encased Isberg’s creation. Parts of the score that were intended as an overture or an opening were now featured in Isberg’s choreography.   The results of quite exciting and captivating.

The shift in score also entails a re-visioning and restaging of the ballet. The Dream of Swan Lake still parallels the traditional tale of Sigfried and Odette/Odile and the manipulative malice of Rothbart. The ballet is set in modern times within a company setting and first takes place in the studio. Fred, the choreographer, (Calum Lowden) holds company auditions and promotes his coveted protégé (Desislava Soteva) to the role
Dream of Swan Lake Running Times
Photo David Murley
(c) 2017 David Murley: all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the copyright owner
of Odette/Odile. Fred then demotes his rival (performed by Vahe Martirosyan) to dancing the role of Rothbart. The dynamic cleverly sets up an undeniable tension which is woven throughout the fabric of Isberg’s vision.

A welcomed flavour to Isberg’s staging was the re-introduction of the once forgotten Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. In Isberg’s creation, the pas de deux is gorgeously danced by Sarah-Jane Brodbeck and Vahe Martirosyan. The style is less classical and more neo-classical in the pas de deux. This proves desirable. Brodbeck brought refinement and effortless power to the pairing while Martiriosyan, staying true to his character delivered toxicity and exactitude. The pas de deux gelled into the production and glimmered like a jewel amongst the other technical treats that were offered that day.

The corps de ballet were well drilled and a pleasure to watch as they adorned, decorated and graced the stage. The dancers also brought to life Jérôme Kaplan’s costume designs. The designs were very vibrant, elegant and eye-catching. The technical prowess of the corps de ballet was rival to that of the principals. It was exciting to watch, and evidently shows the strength and standard of the Royal Swedish Ballet as a company – very much a positive.

Company member, Jenny Nilson, performed the cameo role of the company director. Nilson’s class, undeniable stage presence and glamour were every inch the company director. She appeared youthful yet seasoned and knowledgeable. Nilson danced not only en pointe but also in heeled shoes and owned every costume she wore in her role as company director.  With commanding poise not far off the Queen Mother in the original, Nilson brought a gracious climax to Isberg’s Act III.
The final scene of Isberg’s ballet was personally my favourite – a peek into the backstage/after show world so few get to witness. The techies in their blacks striking costumes and scenery and the dancers scattering about casually disrobing themselves removing their headdresses and hair grips while chatting and wandering back to their dressing rooms. In the background upstage left, Fred and his protégé creating their own scene paralleling Petipa’s original. Beautiful and fulfilling.

Isberg’s The Dream of Swan Lake performs throughout the remainder of April, and also during the months of May and June 2017. Definitely worth seeing.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

CinemaLive's Coppelia

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The Australian Ballet, Coppelia, 12 Dec 2016, Sydney Opera House

Yesterday, I sacrificed my Wednesday evening ballet class at Northern Ballet Academy to see a performance of Coppelia by the Australian Ballet that had been recorded at the Sydney Opera House on 12 Dec 2016. Because of the time difference between Sydney and Leeds I did not expect it to be a live performance. We or the Australian performers and audience would have to get up at some unearthly hour for that to be possible and what would be the point as it would still be images on a screen rather than the interaction between artist and audience which make live performances so precious. Nevertheless, I did expect it to be more like an encore screening of a live performance by say Pathé Live or the Royal Opera House rather than just another ballet film.

The film was distributed by CinemaLive which describes itself on its About Us page as "leading producers and distributors of Event Cinema, reaching thousands of screens worldwide, allowing fans to see world-class music, theatre, opera, arts and other special live events at their local cinema." The company was founded in 2008 and holds a number of industry records including the highest grossing music event at the British and Irish box office which happened to be André Rieu: Christmas with André. Although CinemaLive resisted the temptation to flood the screen with gushing twitter messages and irritating presenters that mar other some of their competitors' transmissions they still have a lot to learn about filming ballet.

The screening started with an aerial view of Sydney with the camera zooming into the Opera House followed by a greeting from Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo who danced Swanilda and Franz in the performance. After a few words from each of them, they turned and walked towards the theatre arm in arm at one point. We saw them again in the interval when the artistic director, David McAllister and others spoke about the importance of Coppelia in the history of the company. McAllister explained that the ballet was the last work that the late Peggy van Praagh had created for the company. One of those who had helped to stage the ballet in 1979 spoke of the applause on the first night with the observation that "they seemed to like it."

Not everyone likes the story of Coppelia but I do, possibly because it is an early essay on the social consequences of robotics and artificial intelligence. Birmingham Royal Ballet has a great Coppelia (see Sensational 6 March 2015) which I am glad to see that it is re-staging at Birmingham and Bristol in June and July (see the company's website). So, too, does English National Ballet (see Coppelia in Oxford 2 Nov 2014). But I think my favourite is Ted Brandsen's where Zwaantje (Swanilde) works in a juice bar, Franz in a gym, Dr Coppelius runs a chain of beauty clinics and Coppelia has to do more than read a book and make a few jerky movements (see Brandsen's Coppelia 12 Dec 2016).

Van Praagh's Coppelia is of the traditional kind set in Galicia with lots of peasant dancing and a pageant staged for the presentation of a new bell. One interesting feature that I noticed in van Praagh's version was that Dr Coppelius possessed some kind of hypnotic power that reduced Franz to his knees in act I. All the rest of the story was there including the listening to the ear of corn for a rattle. The only bit that does not appear in the Australian story is the burgomaster's compensating Dr Coppelius for the wrecking of his laboratory and his invitation to the wedding reception.

Kondo and Guo danced well in the performance, particularly the pas de deux in the last act. I do not recall seeing them in either Cinderella or Swan Lake when the Australian Ballet visited London last year (see Ratmansky's Razzamatazz  24 July 2016 and The Australian Ballet's Swan Lake - Murphy won me over 17 July 2016). The absence of a cast list with more than three names on it (one of the many things CinemaLive has to learn) means that I cannot be sure whom I saw in the recording but I think I recognized Robyn Hendricks who had danced Odette in Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake in Prayer. The Australian Ballet is a magnificent company with an abundance of talent that shone through despite everything yesterday evening.

I have a very soft spot for Australia having spent three glorious holidays there during which time I attended an opera at the Sydney Opera House and a concert at the Melbourne Arts Centre.  There is a great appetite for the arts in Australia and an almost evangelical zeal to bring them to every Bruce and Sheila in the outback as well as the great opera houses of the world. Some of my best teachers have been trained in Australia and an attribute that they have in common is an exceptional eye for detail. There are fine companies in Brisbane and Perth as well as the Australian Ballet. My colleague Amelia Sierevogel is about to start a work placement with the Australian Ballet and the Australian Opera as part of her degree course in costume design at Huddersfield. She has promised us reviews and articles on her adventures on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

KNT's Le Corsaire Workshop and Evening Class Show

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I have been coming to KNT Danceworks's evening classes at the Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester ever since the 28 Aug 2014 (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014). I am very glad to have found KNT as it is now very much a home from home. I have met some delightful people there, both teachers and students, and learned a lot over the last three years.

In addition to regular classes in most types of dance on almost every day of the week, KNT holds special events that I particularly enjoy. These are repertoire intensives with Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet and shows for the evening class students in the auditorium of The Dancehouse.

The latest intensive was Le Corsaire which I mentioned in Le Corsaire Intensive on 2 April 2017. It took place on 15 April 2017. I was unable to attend the workshop but I did see most of the end of workshop show which impressed me greatly.  The above video is just one clip from it. I think you will agree that everyone in the film danced well. Their performance is particularly impressive when one considers that they had only one day to learn the choreography.

The next show will take place on 13 May and I will take part in it. I will appear in the Pre-Intermediate Class performance which will be one of several contributions in many dance styles ranging from African to tap. Our instructor, Karen Sant, has created a lovely piece for us. Students in other classes will present shows too. The Chinese dance is a particular favourite of mine. There is a wonderful atmosphere in the theatre both in the auditorium and behind the scenes on show night. We have a splendid compère who is herself a dancer. To get a flavour of the evening, see Pride of 23 Oct 2016 which also contain links to reviews of other performances.

If any of my readers happens to be in Manchester on 13 May with nothing better to do that day, it would be great to see you. The show has yet to be advertised but it usually starts at 19:00 and costs about £5, The Dancehouse is almost next door to Oxford Road station and a few hundred yards from St Peter's Square Metrolink tram stop. There is a multi-storey car park in the same block as The Dancehouse in Chester Street and there is usually plenty of unrestricted street parking in the vicinity after 18:30.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Claudia Dean Coaching

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I am not at all good at pirouettes so when I find something that helps me I am very happy to pass it on (see A Really Useful Video on Pirouettes 22 Nov 2014 and A Pint for Josh 24 Aug 2015). I think I have found another useful video from Australia.

Claudia Dean, who trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced with the Royal Ballet for several years, operates a coaching service in Brisbane known as Claudia Dean Coaching. Dean had uploaded many of her lessons to YouTube and there are lots of other tips on her YouTube channel.

Brisbane may only be the third most populous city in a middle ranking country but it contributes much to ballet. It hosts the Queensland Ballet and Queensland Ballet Academy. Fiona Noonan, the teacher who recently led me back to ballet, trained there. Although she spent only a few years with the Royal Ballet, Claudia Dean made her mark with the company dancing the role of The Chosen One in The Rite of Spring. A link to a YouTube video of her rehearsing the role with Dame Moniuca remains on the Royal Opera House website.

I should lke to wish all my readers a happy Easter.

Friday, 14 April 2017

MacMillan - A National Celebration

Tulsa Ballet, Elite Syncopations, Standard YouTube Licence

Sir Kenneth MacMillan died on 29 Oct 1992 (see the biographical notes on the Kenneth Macmillan website). To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death, dancers from the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Northern Ballet and the Yorke Dance Project will come together on the stages of the Royal Opera House to celebrate MacMillan’s extraordinary legacy (see Kenneth MacMillan: a National Celebration on the  Royal Opera House website.

On 18 and 19 Oct 2017, dancers from the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet will dance Elite Syncopations which the Kenneth MacMillan website describes as MacMillan at his most playful (see Elite Syncopations on the Kenneth MacMillan website). Extracts from the ballet performed by the Tulsa Ballet appear in the video above. Birmingham Royal Ballet will dance Concerto and Scottish Ballet Le Baiser de la Fée  (see Concerto, Le Baiser de la fée and Elite Syncopations on the Royal Opera House's website and Scottish Ballet dances Stravinsky on Scottish Ballet's). Readers may remember my article on the reconstruction of an extract from Le Baiser de la Fée in Pavlova's drawing room (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 June 2014),

On 24 Oct and 1 Nov 2017 dancers from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet will dance The Judas Tree and Das Lied von der Erde (see The Judas Tree and The Song of the Earth on the Royal Opera House website).  The Royal Ballet will dance The Judas Tree again on 26 and 27 Oct 2017 while Northern Ballet will dance Gloria and dancers from the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet will perform Elite Syncopations (see Gloria, The Judas Tree and Elite Syncopations on the Royal Opera House website).

The Royal Ballet will dance Jeux. a short ballet by Wayne Eagling inspired by MacMillan's recreation of Nijinsky's work at the Clore Studio Upstairs on the 18, 18 and 24 Oct 2017 (see Jeux on the Royal Opera House website).

Also in the Clore Studio Upstairs, dancers from the Yorke Dance Project will dance A Sea of Troubles on 26 and 27 Oct and 1 Nov 2017 (see Sea of Troubles on the Royal Opera House website).

As I noted in What can possibly follow Tindall? Nothing less than MacMillan 13 March 2017, Northern Ballet plans its own tribute to MacMillan by dancing Concerto, Las Hermanas and Gloria in Bradford between 5 and 7 Ocr 2017. The company will also dance that programme in Leeds on 16 and 17 March 2018 (see A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Master Choreographer  on the Northern Ballet website),

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Jewels - The Royal Ballet at its best

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The Royal Ballet, Jewels, transmitted live to cinemas, 11 April 2017, 19:39

I once asked a distinguished panel of dance critics, dancers and the artistic director of Scottish Ballet whether a narrative ballet needed a plot (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). All said no except Tobias Batley who was then a premier dancer at Northern Batley and seemed to have an interesting point to make but did not get the chance to develop it. When I asked that question I had Balanchine's Jewels in mind which actually tells a lot of stories from the history of ballet to the choreographer's life history without actually having a libretto.

Jewels is like a denial of service attack on the senses. Each of the three ballets is a feast in itself. You feel you can only take so much colour, and movement, and music in one evening - but after each act, there is more.  The only experience with which I can compare this ballet is, in fact, my first sight of real jewels. The Crown Jewels on my first trip to London. The impression that the dazzling display of light and colour made on a little five-year-old from the North in post-war Britain was very much the same as the concatenation of dancers in green, red and white create whenever I see Balanchine's masterpiece.

On Sunday I remarked that I had seen the Bolshoi at its best (see A Hero of our Time 10 April 2017). Yesterday, audiences around the world saw the Royal Ballet at its best. The company fielded Beatriz Stix-BrunellValeri HristovLaura MoreraRyoichi HiranoEmma MaguireHelen Crawford and James Hay in Emeralds.  As readers know, I am one humongous fan of Morera whose hand I once had the good fortune to shake (see Laura Morera  25 Aug 2015). She always delights me but yesterday she raised my admiration to a new level.

More favourites in Rubies Sarah LambSteven McRae and Melissa Hamilton. If Emeralds was lyrical, Rubies was spectacular. One gorgeous explosion of movement after another culminating in McRae's exit in chaînés. A dynamo harnessed to McRae at that moment could have powered a fair size town. Rubies is the shortest work in the three ballets but it is the one I like best, possibly because of Stravinsky's Capriccio possibly just the New World razmataz. The energy. The fun.

Diamonds, the white act, is sublime. An homage to Petipa. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares were majestic. Stix-Brunnell and Hay returned to join them together with Claire CalvertTierney HeapYasmine NaghdiNicol EdmondsFernando Montaño and Valentino Zucchetti. Not all Petipa's ballets end well but some of them do. Think of The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and all your other favourites rolled into one and combine it with Tchaikowsky's Polish symphony and you understand why I compared the overpowering of the senses to the overwhelming of a website by millions of messages.

I should also say something about the presentation. I was very impressed with Kristen McNally. I warmed to her the moment she opened her mouth. Proud, elegant, knowledgeable, amusing and above all, Northern. I do hope the Royal Opera House enlists her services again. It was also good to see Darcey Bussell as it always is but this time she was there in her capacity as a great ballerina escorting a member of the original cast to the jeweller's shop that inspired Balanchine. A beautiful dancer surrounded by beautiful things. That is how I like to think of her. It would be good to see more of her in scenes like that.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Mabgate Mill Revisited

As the transmission of the Royal's Ballet's performance of Jewels will clash with my usual class at KNT I attended Dance Studio Leeds's improvers class last night instead. I had previously written about it in  Dance Studio Leeds Beginners' Ballet Class on 22 Oct 2015 and Another Class at Dance Studio Leeds 18 July 2016.

Quite a few changes seem to have occurred since my last class at these studios the most important of which is that Dance Studio Leeds has acquired more space.  We danced in a rather more spacious studio where there was definitely room to swing a cat or possibly even a young leopard if one were so cruel or imprudent. More importantly, there was more than enough space to get airborne in the last exercise of the evening.

Yesterday's class was taken by Katie Geddes who had taught me last year. I am used to her teaching and respond to it well. There's a quality in her voice that encourages me to dig deep even when muscles begins to ache and I feel I can go no further. We did all the usual barre exercises: pliés, tendus, glissés, fondus, ronds de jambe, developpés, grands battements and échappés facing the barre.

We put away the travelling barres and after another glissés exercise in the centre we practised an expressive port de bras and then an enchainment involving a chassé, attitude and a rather tricky turn. I did not find it at all easy though I am sure everyone else did and I was definitely flagging towards the end of the class, but Katie rehearsed us several times until she was satisfied that we had taken it as far as we could.

The last exercise was jumping which I like. We started with simple sautés in first and second, then échappés and changements and finally petits jetés. We continued with glissades and jetés.  Finally, grands jetés across the studio. The bit I like best.

There were several new faces in class last night but also some familiar ones including a member of my evening class at Northern Ballet. It is a very friendly studio and I was made very welcome. I wish I could attend this class more frequently.

The studios are located in Mabgate Mill just outside Leeds town centre. Classes still cost £6.50. Some parking space has been sacrificed for boxes containing flower beds in the centre of the mill courtyard but it is still easy to park in the evenings. All other details are on the Terpsichore Yorkshire page

Product Review #2: Capezio 27" Stirrup Legwarmers

© 2017 Wendy McDermott: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the copyright owner

Wendy McDermott

I read an article recently via Twitter entitled Listening to your Body” ( Its focus was on the development of the dancer’s body with age.  However, there were points within that article that could apply to most of us, whether dancing professionally or enthusiastically attending a class at a local dance studio. The awareness of the difference between static and dynamic stretching is one example as are the importance of proper nutrition and rest. 
The article went on to say that, as we go through our forties, tissues don’t retain water as they used to (and therefore require more rest, stretching and strengthening). In our 50s and onwards our tissues become thinner and weaker. Warming up, therefore, is crucial. 

I’ve been to classes where warming of the body precedes barre and others that go straight into pliés etc (can this be considered warm up?). The aforementioned article reads: 
“...the older dancer must be steadfast about warming up [to]...allow that muscle to get as juicy as possible and to be able to contract and expand within its limits”. 
There are garments aplenty which help dancers keep their bodies and muscles warm. Hopefully, some of you have read my short review on the Essential Legwarmers (see Wendy McDermott Product Review: Leg Warmers 10 March 2017).

Here I review of the Capezio 27” Stirrup Legwarmers. I ordered them in Wolf Grey. The colour looks fairly true to that provided by the colour swatch on the website but the actual product is much darker in colour. Hopefully, you can see that in the above photograph.

The length was adequate, the ribbed knit stretching naturally as I pulled them on. The legwarmers are made from 44% viscose, 28% polyester and 28% nylon, which gave them a smooth, soft feel. I have only worn them over tights but I am confident that if worn over bare legs they would not itch at all. They are neatly finished at all opening points with no raw edges and the elastic ‘hidden’ within the knit.

For some time I had been considering buying this longer style but I had two main concerns:– 
  • The first was that they would slip down; 
  • The second was that the elastic would be too tight around the thigh. 
I had asked several fellow dancers if their leggings fell down during class. All of them said theirs did so I had no high expectations that mine would defy gravity. They didn’t. What I can say though is that, despite the expectation they did not fall below the knee. They took me through barre to grand allegro and also floor work (some of you might be familiar with the RAD grade 7 ‘Study in Stillness and Gravity'). By the end, I was pleasantly surprised. 

Nor were they too tight around the top of the thigh, which I was glad of, but wonder whether this ‘comfortable fit’ would prove detrimental after several wears and washes. I have now worn them three times and washed them once. After the latter, they’ve neatly returned to their original state, though likewise, it’s too soon to tell for how long this will remain. 

All in all, I can say I’m very satisfied with my purchase and, given the dangers of not keeping ‘older’ muscles warm and flexible, I consider them to be another essential part of my dance wardrobe and shall be wearing them at Jane Tucker's forthcoming intensive one day workshop at KNT Danceworks (see Le Corsaire Intensive 2 April 2017).  Maybe I shall see some of you there.

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Hero of our Time

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Bolshoi Ballet A Hero for our Time streamed from Moscow, 9 April 2017

I could not help wondering whether I was letting my love of ballet get the better of me as I drove for nearly an hour to the nearest cinema to show the Bolshoi's A Hero of our Time on the first really good day of the year, especially as the forecast for the rest of the week is nothing to write home about. But I am very glad I did because this was one of the best live screenings that I have ever seen. It was the Bolshoi Ballet at its very best.

One of the reasons why I trekked to the Pictureville cinema at the Science + Media Museum in Bradford is that I read Lermontov's short stories in translation when I was at school. It was just after I had made the acquaintance of Leon Bakst and other late 19th and early 20th century artists who in turn led me to Diaghilev and eventually to ballet. I had read Princess Mary with particular attention because the death of Grushnitsky in a duel with Pechorin foretold the manner of the author's own death. Lermontov was only 26 when he died. He had published A Hero of our Time the year before his death and it was already in a second edition in his lifetime. Think what he might have achieved and he lived as long as Tolstoy.

A young man's novellas need to be interpreted by a young composer and that is precisely what we got with Ilya Demutsky's score. Demutsky speaks English well having studied in San Francisco and he discussed his work in that language with the presenter Katya Novikova in the interval. He told her that this was his first full-length ballet which makes it all the more remarkable. Novikova had noticed that he opened each ballet with a single instrument on stage: a clarinet for Bela, a cello for Taman and a cor anglais for Princess Mary. Demutsky explained that was to set the atmosphere. For instance, Lermontov had described Taman as "the nastiest little hole of all the seaports of Russia". Demutsky spoke how he had expressed that nastiness in his music.

Lermontov's book is a collection of novellas or long short stories centring around the adventures of Pechorin, a young army officer, who makes his way through the Caucasus mountains which were then the frontier of the Russian empire. The choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, has taken three of those stories, Bela, Taman and Princess Mary. Rather than repeat the plot word for word I shall leave it to my readers to consult the excellent introduction on the "About Performance" and synopsis pages on the Bolshoi's website.

As Pechorin appears in all three ballets, it would have been asking far too much of one dancer to perform that role through the whole show. Especially as there were was a lot of jumping to be done, The role was therefore split between Igor Svirko in Bela, Artem Ovchanrenko in Taman and Ruslan Skvortsov in Princess Mary. Readers will remember that Skvortsov impressed me particularly for his performance as Siegfried in Swan Lake when the company visited London last year.

The Bolshoi fielded three of their best leading ladies with Olga Smirnova dancing the beautiful, tragic Bela,  Yekaterina Shipulina the enticing and ultimately treacherous Undine and the magnificent Svetlana Zakharova as Mary. All three ballerinas were impressive but Zakharova showed her genius in one prolonged camera shot immediately after a duel where her face expressed her complex emotions more completely than any poem or novel. I have never seen this in a dancer before and rarely in an actor, Truly an artiste sans pareil.

There were several other memorable performances in Princess Mary. Denis Savin as the unhappy Grushnitsky. How my heart leapt out to him as he flinched from aiming at his friend Pechorin who seemed to have no qualms in dispatching Grushnitsky. Why is duelling so prominent in Russian literature? There is another in Pushkin's Onegin. Duelling is homicide no less. Kristina Kretova was a compelling Vera. Yet another victim of Pechorin. Finally, the wheelchair dancers deserve a cheer. They are every bit as polished and graceful as the rest of the cast.

I should say a word for the set designer Kirill Serebrennikov and the lighting designer Simon Donger. The conjuring up of ripples of water on the backdrop in Taman impressed me particularly. So, too, of course, did the sanitorium in Princess Mary.  

I am not sure when the Bolshoi will return to Covent Garen but I hope that they will bring A Hero of our Time when they do.

Saturday, 8 April 2017


Lauren CuthbertsobRoyal Ballet Jewels Royal Opera House
Photo Helen McDonough
© 2017 Helen McDonough, all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the author

Helen McDonough

The Royal Ballet, Jewels, Royal Opera House, 1 April 2017, 14:00

Last Saturday I went to ROH to see the matinee of Jewels. It was wonderful I really enjoyed it and I came away ever grateful to Mr B for looking in that window at Van Cleef & Arpels in New York 50 years ago and being inspired to create this ballet - one of my all time favourites!

Photo Helen McDonough
© 2017 Helen McDonough, all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the author

Emeralds was beautiful I really love that piece for its elegant dancing and the gorgeous Faure score which I find so calming. Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball were the main couple and danced like it was second nature to them and not their debut! I thought Yasmine was really beautiful. Itizar Mendizabal did the other lead with the clock-work like arm and leg moves - she was nice but Leanne Benjamin, whom I saw years ago, is the one to get those moves spot on. I really enjoyed watching the corps with all the patterns and intricate weaving in and out that Balanchine so loves.
Photo Helen McDonough
© 2017 Helen McDonough, all rights reservedReproduced with kind permission of the author

In Rubies we had Tierney Heap as the "Tall Girl" - she was very good. The couple was danced by Alexander Campbell and Akane Takada. They were all great. It is such a fun piece and at one point though Tierney ran out of music! She was still dancing but the orchestra had finished the music - Pavel Sorokin conducting perhaps did not have his eye quite on the dancers?! Alexander Campbell had a lot of fun especially where he danced with the male corps being chased by them - he was not quite as fast as Steven McRae with the spins but that is Steven's speciality I think! Akane Takada was a surprise choice for me in Rubies as I thought Emeralds might be more "her". However, she danced beautifully as she always does.

Diamonds on this occasion was my favourite piece it was just stunning. I was mesmerised by it. Lauren Cuthbertson and Vadim Muntagirov danced the lead couple and their grand PDD was just fabulous. The brush of hands, very light touches and regal elegance of their dance was just gorgeous to watch. Vadim has really matured since I last saw him in a major performance and his command of the stage has grown. He did some amazing tours en l'air in a large circle and landed so softly from all his jumps. His partnering of Lauren was always very considerate - a real "danseur noble" as they say! It was such a refreshing change for me to see these 2 dance Diamonds as previously I always seem to have seen Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares who are good, but I needed a change and yesterday I got it in spades. The corps de ballet were great in Diamonds and the choreography was so wonderful to watch with its complex patterns - all best seen from above as per my seat. It is a credit to all the dancers and repetiteurs that the patterns worked so well - squares, lines, crisscrossing over, circles you name it it is in there - what a genius Mr B was! Then the finale with the crescendo of music was just spine tingling and really left me wanting more. 

For some reason, there was no "red run" at the end of any piece which was a pity, but the applause was enthusiastic for all three pieces. I shall be going to the cinema relay next week to see the main cast, but I would really love to see this cast again, I was so impressed. If you can get a ticket I would highly recommend seeing this run of Jewels as The Royal Ballet seem to be on really good form with lots of the younger dancers coming up and doing really well. The future looks very bright at ROH at the moment!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Dance! Dance! Dance!

Ripon Cathedral
Author wfmillar
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

Ripon Dance Academy  Dance! Dance! Dance! Ripon Grammar School, 2 April 2017, 18:30 

Today's New York Times features a charming 360 degree video of children in New York auditioning for the School of American Ballet. Almost every one of those children will have been taught pliés and tendus at a local dance school. We saw Sergei Polunin's first teacher in Dancer on 3 March 2017. Local dance schools are very important and deserve to be supported by those who value dance. That is one of the reasons why I drove half way across Yorkshire to see the annual show of the Ripon Dance Academy in the assembly hall of Ripon Grammar School last Sunday.

The performance took place in the assembly hall of Ripon Grammar School whose old boys include Richard Hammond and Bruce Oldfield. Not perhaps the best venue because it was pretty full by the time I arrived a good 20 minutes before the curtain rose and as all the seats were on the same level it was impossible to see the dancers' feet. I took an aisle seat about 2 two-thirds of the way back from the stage which enabled me to see the dancers on the periphery of the stage who tended to be the younger or least experienced ones but not those taking the leading roles who took centre stage.

The show was organized in three parts called "acts" and between each act there was an interval that allowed the audience to stretch to stretch one's legs. The show was compered by a gentleman whose name I have been unable to find in the programme. He had mentioned something about refreshments in the intervals which had apparently earned him the displeasure of his wife for none were on offer. I don't think anyone minded for it was a fine evening and it was relief enough to stand and walk around the auditorium, foyer and forecourt.

Act 1 started with a modern jazz routine called One Short Day. It was followed by "What is this feeling?" from Wicked. The singers whom I believe to have been Amelia Noakes and Sofia Robinson had pleasant voices and good stage presence. Children in the preparatory and primary ballet classes danced the Ugly Duckling to Danny Kaye's vocals and Cinderella though not to Prokofiev. In this they were led by an adult whom I guess to have been one of their instructors. The choreography seemed to incorporate some of the exercises that they would have learned in class which they seemed to remember well. Next was a tap routine by the youngsters, Everything Old is New Again. 

My favourite piece in the first act was Five Guys Named Moe who turned out to be four girls, Amelia Dodds, Matilda O'Brien, Shannon O'Brien and Gaby Simmonds and one guy, Elliot Hutchinson. All danced well but I was particularly impressed by Eliot who seemed to show real promise though he has got to learn to smile a bit. Indeed, all the dancers have got to smile. Only my colleague, Amelia Sierevogel, seemed to be enjoying herself but she is an undergraduate whereas most of the others were teenagers or young children.

The preparatory and primary tap dancers performed the Mickey Mouse March delightfully in their Minnie Mouse costumes. They earned some of the loudest applause of the evening. The show group rounded off the first act with extracts from Mary Poppins.

The whole of the second act was given over to extracts from Coppelia though a version that did not seem to have a Franz or Swanhilda. Eliot, however, danced Dr Coppelius, a role which required him to do so lifting as well as some awkward assemblés and chaînés. Four scenes were danced - the flower scene, the presentation of the doll, the girls' trespass in Coppelius's workshop while he is in the pub and a finale. Students of all levels performed in this act and they were all good.

Act three started with another musical, Join the Circus, by the Show Group. Elliot plus the girls in the grade 4, 5 and intermediate classes danced an Egyptian Ballet. I had hoped we might get a rare performance of The Pharaoh's Daughter by Petipa but it turned out to be from Nixon's Cleopatra. Or at least it was  Schönberg's music. I am not sure about the choreography. The boys (who were in the minority in this cast) danced a vigorous Mission Impossible. More freestyle from the seniors in Lose My Breath. Then Fame from the grade 4 tap dancers, Trolls by the preparatory, primary and grade 1 modern students in delightful costumes with some impressively spiky headgear, Music by the grades 2, 3 and 4 modern jazz students and a reverence by the entire cast.

The cast was rewarded by enthusiastic applause. The principal, Carole Cundale, gave a short speech thanking all who had participated in the show including some of her classmates from some of her own childhood classes who had trekked up from London. Everyone got a goody bag of some kind. The compere and technicians were shiny's blue and the women's were multicoloured.

I noticed in the programme that Amelia Sierevogel had assisted Cundale with the costume design. They deserve special credit for the costumes were splendid. Delightful dirndls and flowing skirts for Coppelia which must have been such fun to wear and the lovely trolls and Minnie Mouse outfits for the younger children. Everything in the production worked well. All who took part whether cast, front of house or back stage did a great job and deserve congratulations.

As she is about to go to Australia for her placement as part of her degree course I waited for Amelia to appear. I commended her on her performance and also on the costumes. She introduced me to her teacher, Laura Murphy, who told me that the Academy was not yet 4 years old but had already placed students in vocational schools.

It seems well supported by the community. Ripon is not a big place yet the fair size auditorium was pretty full, I am not sure that I saw any stars of the future but we certainly saw some very promising children and young people who had obviously worked hard and had been trained well. I hope those kids and their instructors will be encouraged in their endeavours by this review. Above all I hope they learn to smile.

Sunday, 2 April 2017


Standard YouTube Licence

Between now and Easter Sunday the Dutch National Ballet are dancing John  Cranko's Onegin.  We already have an excellent review from Remco van Grevenstein (see Dutch National Ballet's Onegin 31 March 2017). The Royal Ballet danced Onegin just over two years ago and I reviewed the performance in Onegin: the most enjoyable performance that I have seen at the House since Sibley and Dowell 21 Feb 2015.

This work is conventionally regarded as Cranko's best ballet - though I have a personal preference for The Taming of the Shrew (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).  As I noted in that article:
"He was one of the great choreographers of all time. Born in South Africa in 1927 he choreographer Pineapple Poll in 1951 when he was only 23. In 1961 he was placed in charge of the Stuttgart Ballet when only 34. There he created great full length ballets such as Onegin, Carmen and, of course. Shrew. Sadly he died on the way back from New York at the early age of 45. Think what he would have achieved had he survived."
Happily I see the influence of Cranko in two modern choreographers whether they are conscious of it or not. One of them is Christopher Marney.  The other is Ernst Meisner of the Dutch National Ballet. They are both young men. I think they can achieve in their careers what Cranko would have done in his had he lived,

Le Corsaire Intensive

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One of the grandest ballets in the classical cannon but least performed here is Le Corsaire. Originally choreographed by Joseph Mazilier to a score by Adolphe Adam for the Ballet of the Paris Imperial Opera House in 1856 it was extensively revised by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Russian Ballet in St Petersburg. All the versions that are danced today in Russia and elsewhere derive from Petipa's revival. The ballet is in the repertoires of a number of companies including that of the English National Ballet. I saw it in the Palace Theatre on 14 Feb 2014 (see English National Ballet's Le Corsaire - a Valentine's Day Treat 16 Feb 2014).

As you can see from the synopsis on the Bolshoi's website it is a thrilling action-packed story based loosely on Lord Byron's poem. There are some great roles for the leads Conrad and Medora as well as the treacherous Birbanto and Gulnare, the beautiful slave girl. If there was any ballet the repertoire of which I would love to learn it would be this one. And there is an opportunity to do just that on15 April 2017 when Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy will present a full day intensive workshop in the studios of the Dancehouse Theatre on  Oxford Road in Manchester for KNT.

This will be Jane's fifth repertoire intensive. I have attended all the previous ones and I can't recommend them too highly, For an idea of what to expect, see my report of The Nutcracker intensive last October in Sugar Plum for an Hour 30 Oct 2016. The day starts with gentle floor exercises on Pilates mats, gears up with a 90-minute class which is exactly like Jane's Wednesday evening class in Leeds which is, to say the least, challenging. Then wall to wall rehearsals with an hour's break for lunch concluding with a show before our principal, Karen Sant at about 16:00, Now, however fit you may think you are, I guarantee that you will leave the Dancehouse knackered. Knackered but happy because you will have achieved a lot.

The fee for the intensive is £60 and places are filling up like nobody/s business. To book your place call Karen on 07783 103 037, send her an email on or contact her through Facebook.

If you are lucky enough to get in I am as jealous as hell because I have to take a raincheck this Easter. I have not seen my family in London for yonks and my grandson manquḗ, Vlad the Lad, is growing like mushrooms on steroids. This Easter we shall be celebrating Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve, Vlad's birthday, my birthday and mothers' day plus Easter all rolled into one. I can't leave them hanging around on their tod all day while I pretend to be Gulnare on one their precious visits.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Bajadera where tech meets ballet

Photo Eakdgyth
Source Wikipedia
Creative Cinnibs Licence

Forget phone apps like Dutch National Ballet's Bounden (see Bounden - Something that appeals to my Interests in Technology and Dance 17 Dec 2013). Virtual reality ballet is old hat (see Pacific Northwest Ballet experiments with Virtual Reality 27 March 2017). To see the real potential of technology and ballet you need to visit Leeds or San Diego next Spring to see the world's first simultaneous performance of the same ballet from two venues 6,000 miles apart.

How can that be possible?

"Simple!" Smiles Bharatnatyam Bhatti, Chief Technical Officer, of Silicon Valley startup Pygmalion Pixels. "We project a lifelike image of a dancer onto the stage of a theatre here in Californa and the identical picture at the same time onto the stage of a theatre over there in Leeds, England."

Bhatti, originally from Hyderabad developed an interest in ballet while researching for his PhD on 3D imaging technology at Stanford.  "Did you know that there is actually a ballet set near my hometown" he added. "I think it is called La Bayadere, or something like that."

The technology involves taking multiple pictures of real, live, dancers and somehow running them through some special software which feeds apparatus that projects 3D images onto the stage.  The software allows a choreographer to get the images to do superhuman feats like 12-foot jumps or 128 fouettés.

Bhatti had heard that there were two premier dancers from Leeds in Southern California, Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt, and invited them to take part in his project.  "Toby was really impressed when I showed hm a lifelike image of himself effortlessly doing any number of tours en l'air."

Toby and Martha told their former artistic director, David Nixon, about this technology and he came on board from the start. "David has created a whole new ballet based on that ballet I was telling you about but set somewhere here out west," said Bhatti. "I think he is calling it Bajadera which I've googled and turns out to be some sort of candy from Croatia but it sounds kinda Spanish like Baja California."

The story goes that Solly, a deputy sheriff, has just shot some desperadoes at a showdown in Tombstone. He loves Nikki,  a dancing girl in the Last Trump Saloon but the sheriff, Mr Gamzatti, has other ideas. His daughter is in love with Solly and has persuaded her father to make Solly an offer that he just can't refuse  - if you get my meaning. Adding to the complexity, the town's preacher has the hots for Nikki but she is just not interested in hm. Naturally, Nikki is not too happy about Solly's forthcoming marriage and attacks Miss Gamzatti with a knife. She says nothing at the time but vows to get her own back by planting a rattlesnake in a bouquet of flowers.

The wedding goes ahead in the Last Trump Saloon. The festivities begin with Donald, an orange coloured robot performing a jerky dance. Nikki is bitten by the snake. The preacher offers her serum that can save her life but she refuses it indicating that life without Solly just isn't worth living.  Just before Solly and Miss Gamzatti exchange vows the town is hit by an earthquake and the saloon is destroyed.

Solly chews on some magic mushroom and sees 246 computer generated images of Nikki descending a ramp doing tendus and arabesques.  There are solos by three of those images and finally Solly imagines himself dancing with Nikki again. In his narcotic induced stupor, Solly allows himself to be bitten by the rattlesnake that had been disturned by the earthquake and finds himself soaring into the afterlife looking for Nikki.

"So what do you think?" asked Bhatti. "Worlds fail me" I reply. "Toi, toi and chookas to everyone involved. Just let me know when it is all over."