Monday, 20 November 2017

Tutti Frutti - Phoenix's Over 55 Contemporary Class

Morley Town Hall
Licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Every Monday between 11:00 and 12:15 during the Leeds school term I get to dance to Little Richard with a roomful of other ladies in my age group in  Morley Town Hall. Our teacher is Tanya Richam-Odoi and she is fab. The class is part of the Young at Arts programme which is delivered by Phoenix Dance Theatre. I discussed that programme in Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015.

The class starts with a cup of tea or coffee and a right old natter.  After our caffeine fix, Tanya calls is to order in a circle with some gentle arm swinging, then some finger work,  leg and foot stretching, standing on one leg while rotating the foot on the other leg. Once we have warmed up she teaches us some routines in a contemporary idiom.  Right now we are learning Tutti Frutti which starts with four steps to the front, four to the back, then side steps rather like glissades with side bends, a lot of lunges to the right and left with "She bops to the east" and "she bops to the west". We simulate saxophones and guitars. We do more deep stretching, then another routine and finally a thorough cool down which is like a routine in itself.

Tania takes a personal interest in her students who clearly adore her. They tell her about their aches and pains, their news and there is a lot of hugging, Tania practises something called craniosacral therapy. I could be wrong, but the photo of her home page reminds me of Calgary Beach on the Isle of Mull which brings me to the other reason why I like her. She is very, very, very Scottish which reminds me of my salad days at St Andrews. These were the happiest time of my life. Tanya also reminds me of my first ballet teacher at St Andrews who was also Scottish. She taught me to jump to her clapping which still resound in my brain (never mind what the music is playing) when the teacher tells us to do grands jetés.

The class is open to everyone over 55.  It costs £3 including the tea and biscuits. You can park for free in Morrisons' car park and enter through a ginnel (or wynd) in the left side elevation of the building.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ballet Black post Johnson - Still a good performance but something was missing

Author Jynto
Reproduced with kind permission of the author

Ballet Black Dopamine (You make my levels go silly), Captured, Red Riding Hood 18 Nov 2017 Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre Leeds

If anyone is interested, the photo above is a model of a molecule of dihydroxyphenethylamine or dopamine. It appears above because I can't use a lovely photo of  José Alves and Marie-Astrid Mence in Michael Corder's House of Dreams that I received just after I had published my review of Ballet Black's triple bill in Nottingham and which I had been saving for my review of their performance in Leeds.

I should begin this post by congratulating Damien Johnson on joining the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Washington DC. I wish him every success with that company. Damian was my Outstanding Male Dancer of last year. Ironically, the last time I saw Ballet Black coincided with Damien's tenth anniversary in the company (see All Hail to the Lone Star Dancer 23 June 2017). Had I known in June what I know now, I would have queued at the stage door to shake his hand as he was one of the most exciting dancers on the British stage. He is an American so I suppose it is only right that he will now delight audiences in his native country as he delighted us. I am told by David Murley who attended the Red Riding Hood workshop in February that Damien is a good teacher.  I had several opportunities to attend one of his classes.  I now feel like kicking myself for letting those opportunities slip.

I surmise that one immediate impact of Damien's departure is that the company no longer had a second man for House of Dreams.  It substituted Dopamine (you make my levels go silly) which is a duet. It was danced beautifully by Cira Robinson and José Alves. I had last seen it four years ago when José partnered Sayaka Ichikawa on a previous visit ti Leeds (see Ballet Black is still special 7 Nov 2013). The rest of the programme proceeded as advertised with Martin Lawrance's Captured and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Red Riding Hood.

It was a good performance. Ballet Black retains excellent experienced dancers and has a very promising recruit in Ebony Thomas.  Mthuthuzei November wowed us with his flirtatious virtuosity as he had wowed the Nottingham Playhouse and the London Barbican.  Sayaka was an excellent Red Riding Hood adding a soupcon of fun and naughtiness to her veneer of innocence. Grandma was as funny and dazzling on pointe as ever.  The cast danced their hearts out and they were rewarded with hearty applause.

Yet something was missing and that something was Damien.  Ballet Black has lost some fine dancers in the past such as Sarah Kundi and Kanika Carr who seemed irreplaceable at the time but it always recovered stronger than ever.  The company will no doubt get over the loss of Damian in time but he will be the hardest gap to fill.

This is Ballet Black's last performance in the North. They will appear in Portsmouth on the 21 which seems to be the last stop on their current tour. If you live or happen to be in Hampshire or Sussex on that day I urge you to see them.  They will then work on their 2018 season which will include a revival of Arthur Pita's A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream. The company was recently nominated for the best creative artist in the Black British Entertainment Awards. They have recently achieved National Portfolio funding from the Arts Council England.  They are still a fine company and those like me who wish to support them can do so by subscribing as a Friend.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Always Something Special from English National Ballet: La Sylphide with Song of the Earth

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English National Ballet  La Sylphide. Song of the Earth Palace Theatre, 14 Oct 2017, 19:30

Long before Laverne Meyer set up his Northern Dance Theatre in Manchester, Mancunians had a special affection for English National Ballet. The company, then known as London Festival Ballet, gave its first performance in our city. Every year it returns with something special. Last year, it was the Akram Khan's Giselle.  This year it was La Sylphide with Song of the Earth.

Because it is set in Scotland, I have often argued that it should be our national ballet but very few British companies dance it.  I have seen Danes, Americans, Italians and Australians in kilts but never Scotsmen. The Royal Ballet has a version but they last danced it in 2012 (see La Sylphide on the Royal Opera House website). Scottish Ballet has Sir Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling in its repertoire which was performed brilliantly by Ballet Central last year. One company that would be ideally placed for this ballet is Ballet West which is actually situated in Gurn and Effie country. I have begged Daniel Job to stage this work but for some reason or another, it is just not possible.

To my mind, it is much more satisfying than Giselle.  I prefer Løvenskiold's score to Adam's any day and the idea of the ghosts of spurned maidens dancing their lovers - or indeed any other man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time - to death gives me the heebie-jeebies.  The story in La Sylphide is so much more reasonable even if it does have mythical creatures like sylphs and witches.

The version that English National danced last month was Andersen and Kloborg's version rather than the Peter Schaufuss's which was previously in its repertoire. The Queensland Ballet brought it back to London in 2015 and I reviewed it in A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015. I liked both versions very much but if I had to opt for a favourite it would have to be the Andersen and Kloborg. It has a certain lightness of touch and parts of it such as the fruitless search for the hidden sylph and her cheeky leaps across the stage are even quite funny.

Jurgita Dronina was a perfect sylph. Playful, ethereal, enticing. Easy to see why James was led astray on his wedding day. Isaac Hernández was that wayward James. Magnificent with his jumps and turns but so weak of resolve.  Giorgio Garrett was the scheming Gurn.  Jealous and treacherous, catching Effie of the rebound. I felt glad not to be in her shoes as the wedding procession made its way to the kirk in the final scene. Anjuli Hudson played poor, sweet Effie.

My favourite character in any production of La Sylphide is, of course, Madge. The bag lady turned away from the fire by a mean-spirited James. Her dance with the other witches at the start of Act 2 is chilling and thrilling.  Her's is a dramatic role not easy to perform. Justice was done to it, however, by 
Stina Quagebeur.

A particular pleasure for me was to see Sarah Kundi as Effie's confidante, Anna. Sarah is a dancer that I have admired for many years. She led me to Ballet Black and I have followed her closely at ENB. Even though I have long been one of her fans and also support Chantry Dance and the Chantry School I had never actually met her. As we follow each other on Twitter and Facebook I asked her how she would feel about meeting two of her fans after the show. No problem was the reply so Gita and I, together with Helen McDonough waited for her at the stage door. Gita, who is a champion chef had prepared a little Diwali treat for her.

Often when a fan meets a favourite artist it is something of an anticlimax. But not with Sarah!  She was as charming and gracious in real life as she is delightful to watch on stage. She accepted Gita's gift and chatted about her roles for several minutes until she had to board the coach that was to take the company from the theatre. Helen, who was armed with an autograph book, got several signatures that night including Sarah's. 

Meeting one of my favourite artists went a long way to offsetting my only disappointment of the evening,  For some reason or other the local authority had closed Albert Square for an event but had failed to give adequate warning. The result was gridlock and chaos as we approached the theatre. I managed to drop Gita at the theatre steps minutes before the curtain was due to rise.  I had to park. I had to drive to the top of the multistorey to find a seat which meant that I missed the start of the show. Consequently, I was obliged to watch Song of the Earth on a flickering monitor with crackly sound in a noisy bar. I had chosen that performance expressly to see Tamara Rojo and, sadly, I missed her,

But it was still a great evening and I still have the chance of seeing Song of the Earth at the Coliseum in the New Year.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Tale of Two Onegins

Author Helen McDonough
© 2017 All rights reserved

Helen McDonough

La Scala Ballet Onegin 28 and 29 Sept 2017 La Scala Theatre, Milan 

I travelled to Milan at the end of September to catch 2 performances of Onegin at the Teatro Alla Scala. It is one of my favourite ballets because it has it all – drama, love, tragedy, great music, great choreography. The version being performed by La Scala was the definitive Cranko one, which I do not think can be bettered.

Set to the stunning music of Tchaikovsky, beautifully played by the La Scala Orchestra under the baton of Felix Korobov, the dancers brought the story to life. The two casts I saw were as follows:

28 Sept 2017
29 Sept 2017
Gabriele Corrado
Emanuela Montanari
Alessandra Vassallo
Agnese Di Clemente
Timofej Andrijashenko
Claudio Coviello
Mick Zeni
Riccardo Massimi

The performance of Nuñez as Tatiana was great. She really owns the role of Tatiana. You could see her joy in playing the innocent girl with a crush (or is it love?) for Onegin....Bolle was greeted with lots of applause as he entered the stage looking very elegant in the all-black attire of Onegin. The roles of Olga and Lensky were well played by Vassallo and Andrijashenko although he wobbled a bit with some of his positions to start with but settled down later. One of my favourite parts of Act 1 is the fabulous running leaps across the stage lead by Olga and Lensky followed by the flying corps de ballet. The corps was wonderful on both nights, I found them pretty precise and stayed well in their formations.

In the bedroom pas de deux, Nuñez was fabulous. Bolle performed well considering he is not as young as he was. He managed all the lifts and jumps. Being seated at quite a distance, and even with opera glasses, it was hard really to get their facial expressions. But the drama of the pas de deux came across well. Contrast this to the following night when the younger Corrado brought added lightness to the lifts and jumps and I think I preferred him as Onegin. Montanari is a more mature ballerina and playing the older Tatiana suited her better than the younger girl of the earlier acts. I was left wondering what Corrado and Nuñez would have been like together!

The second cast benefited from having principal dancer Coviello as Lensky. He was far more confident and assured and his technique was much stronger than that of Andrijashenko. I was really impressed with Coviello. Equally impressive was the delightful Agnese Di Clemente who is very young but danced the role of Olga perfectly. I happened to meet her mother and brother at the stage door after the show. Vassallo also danced Olga very well.

The peasant dances and ballroom scenes were beautifully danced by the corps de ballet on both nights and I do wonder if the second performance I saw had “the edge” because they were not dancing with an Etoile? I must praise the male corps dancers for dancing with great gusto in the Act 1 peasant dances, some showing off their party piece jumps which were pretty spectacular!

The final Act 3 pas de deux between Onegin and Tatiana was really good in both performances. Some of the moves that the dancers have to perform at the end of a 3 act ballet were pretty demanding. Tatiana has to get up off the floor straight en pointe then bend backwards and then there is a move where Tatiana is on the floor (again) and gets pulled up by Onegin into flying splits it must be very hard to do this late on in the ballet so all credit to the dancers.

It was definitely good to see a second performance on a successive night because I started to notice choreography I had not noticed before. For example, Olga and Lensky having an animated argument at the back of the ballroom after Onegin has flirted with Olga much to the dismay of Tatiana.

It made a pleasant change to see a different set and costumes for the ballet although the choreography was Cranko’s. The women in the corps de ballet had lovely sparkly evening gowns for the ballroom scenes. Tatiana wears a lovely deep blue velvet dress for the final pas de deux in Act 3, rather than the usual dull purple gown with white lace collar.

On balance. I think the second performance was my favourite though I thoroughly enjoyed both and they were equally good. As I said earlier, I think it would have been very interesting to see Nuñez with Corrado. Nonetheless, both performances ended with rapturous and seemingly endless applause. There were numerous curtain calls on both nights with the dancers coming back 2, 3 even 4 times, even after the lights had come on.

For the first performance, I was seated on the highest tier in La Scala, the Second Gallery, with a front row seat and a great view of the stage. On the second evening, I had a central box seat (a stool actually) but with a very good view too even though there was a person in front of me. I could only afford the box because it was a Scala Aperta night when tickets are 50% off subsidised by the City of Milan and only go on sale one month before the show.   I’d highly recommend giving it a go for the ambience. Scala Aperta nights do not tend to have étoiles but Scala Aperta are still worthwhile.

I was thrilled to meet all the dancers after the shows at the stage door. For me, that really rounds off the experience. All were very happy to sign autographs and have photos taken by the many adoring fans. It was quite a rugby scrum for Bolle!

Monday, 6 November 2017

Ballet Cymru's Shadow Aspct

Carl Jung

Ballet Cymru Shadow Aspect, Riverfront Theatre, Newport, 6 Nov 2017

Though I doubt that either profession would thank me for mentioning it, ballet dancers share a lot more than you would imagine with barristers.  I know one of those professions inside out as I have practised law for 40 years. Ballet I know much less well because I experience it mainly from the stalls. Such insights I have come mainly from reading and the occasional conversation with a dancer or ex-dancer and perhaps on some aspects my adult ballet class.

One of the similarities is that there are gradations of stats. At the Bar, we have silks or Queen's Counsel and in ballet, there are principals (ballerinas and premiers danesurs nobles).  We learn out skills by watching the silks in action if we are lucky enough to be led by an eminent QC. From what they tell me ballet dancers learn by performing with the greats in very much the same way.

Those thoughts crossed my mind on Saturday as I watched Mara Galeazzi dance with Ballet Cymru in Tim Podesta's  in Shadow Aspect at the Riverfront Theatre in Newport. I have always had a lot of time for the extraordinarily gifted young artists of Ballet Cymru but their performance that evening was the best I have ever seen them do.  They were inspired by Galeazzi and they danced like angels but that was not the only miracle I saw.  They energized Galeazzi and she danced in a way that I had never seen her. It was an hour and a half of magic.

According to the programme,  Shadow Aspect referred "to the unconscious aspect of the personality that the conscious mind does not identify in itself. In short, the shadow is the dark side where individuals are defined and bonded by their mutual feelings of isolation." They quoted Carl Jung:
“To know yourself, you must accept your dark side. To deal with others’ dark sides, you must also know your dark side.”
Well, I will take their word for that.  As a no-nonsense Northerner, I didn't look for meaning. Just the pure of the movement.

I should say a word about the score. It was by Jean-Philippe Goude about whom I knew next to nothing before the performance but I was captivated by it and now want to hear everything he has written.  A word too about the designs for which Podesta collaborated with the architect Andy Mero. They were as bare as possible. No backcloth.  At one point just the bricks of the back wall. With Yukiko's costumes and Chris Davies's lighting. their starkness was dramatically effective.

Immediately after the show, the company had to trundle off to London where they repeated the show at Sadler's Wells.  "Thank you for coming!" said Darius James and Amy Doughty as if I was doing Ballet Cymru a favour by grabbing my reviewer's ticket with both hands. "Sorry there's no reception" as if I go to Newport for anything but the dance. Attending that performance was very special and it will be a long time before the memory fades.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Northern Ballet's MacMillan Celebration

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Northern Ballet A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, 7 Oct 2017, 19:30

Kenneth MacMillan died on 29 Oct 1992. On the 25th anniversary of his death, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Yorke Dance Project have joined in a national festival of his work. The focus of this celebration was a special season at Covent Garden to which each of those companies contributed.

Before going to London, Northern Ballet performed three of MacMillan's works at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford between the 5 and 7 Oct 2017:
The company will dance them again in Leeds on 16 and 17 March 2018. 

These were not the jolliest of works for a Saturday night. One ended with a suicide.  Another was about the First World War.  Concerto was abstract but it can hardly be described as a bundle of laughs. MacMillan did create more cheerful ballets such as Elite Syncopations.   It would have been good to have included something like that in the programme.  There may have been some in the audience who had never seen MacMillan's work before.  Those audience members would have gained a better impression of the extent of his genius had some of his lighthearted work been included.

Las Hermanas means Sisters in Spanish and it was based on La casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca which is subtitled Drama de mujeres en los pueblos de España ("Drama about women in rural Spain"). Though set in Andalusia on the eve of the Spanish civil war it was first performed in Argentina just before Juan Domingo Perón came into power. Melancholy runs through this work like the name of a seaside resort through a stick of rock.

As in Lorca's play, there are five sisters who range in age from 20 (Adela) to 39 (Angustias) plus their mother (Bernarda) but, unlike the play, there is a powerful male role for Angustias's fiancé, Pepe. Bernarda is in mourning for her second husband and she insists that her daughters mourn too. They sit at home without companionship as their lives tick by. Pepe enters the home,  He dances first with Angustias but she is tight and tense. Adela is more receptive but she is spotted by one of he sisters who betrays her.  Overcome with shame, Adela hangs herself. 

MacMillan created the work for the Stuttgart Ballet. His cast included Marcia HaydéeBirgit KeilRay Barra and Ruth Papendick who were among the most celebrated dancers of their time.  Appropriately,  Northern Ballet deployed its "A" team. Hannah Bateman was the eldest sister and Javier Torres her fiancé. Minju Kang was the wilful Adla, Pippa Moore the spiteful jealous sister and Victoria Sibson the tyrannical mother. Rachael Gillsepie and Mariana Rodrigues were the fourth and fifth sisters.  

Another impressive feature of this performance was the elaborate set by Nicholas Georgiadis, Georgiadis collaborated with MacMillan on many of his ballets including his Romeo and Juliet which is a masterpiece of theatre design. According to Kenneth MacMillan's website, it was Nicholas Georgiadis, who suggested the balletic possibilities of Lorca’s play.

I would be lying if I said I enjoyed the work. It is chilling, depressing and very dark. But I was very impressed by the dancers, the technicians who recreated and assembled Georgiadis's magnificent designs, the lighting staff and everyone who was involved in the production. Artistically and technically it was one of the best performances by Northern Ballet that I have ever seen.

Concerto was another work that MacMillan created while in Germany. This time it was for the Berlin Opera Ballet. His dancers included Didi Carli, Falco Kapuste, Lynn Seymour, Rudolf Holz and Silvia Kesselheim. Its score is Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2.  The work consists of three movements. The first consists of a leading lady, a leading man and six soloists. The second movement is a pas de deux. The third movement has a leading lady and the corps. According to MacMillan's website, the original performance was danced against a plain background the dancers in tunics of olive and ochre. Northern Ballet's sets and costumes were redesigned by Lady Deborah MacMillan with the dancers in brighter colours.  On 7 Nov 2017 Antoinette Brookes-Daw and Matthew Koon were the leading dancers in the first movement, Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor danced the pas de deux and Dominique Larose was the leading lady of the third movement.

MacMillan created Gloria for the Royal Ballet in 1980 after he had ceased to be its artistic director. It is an elegy to the youth who died or were injured in the first world war. Inspired by Vera Britten's Testament of Youth with music by Poulenc it is a highly emotional, haunting and intensely spiritual work. The males are soldiers (or perhaps spirits of soldiers) clad in khaki and very insubstantial looking helmets. If the men could be taken for ghosts the women are unambiguously ghostlike glad head to foot in white or grey. The dancers rise over a ridge as though clambering out of a trench to charge the enemy lines. On World Ballet Day, David Nixon contrasted the stage of the Alhambra with that of the Royal Opera House where the ridge looked real.  Lorenzo Trosello danced a solo, Mimju Kang and Giuliano Contadini a pas de deux. Sarah Chun, Ashley Dixon, Nichola Gervasi and Sean Bates a pas de quatre and Dreda Blow joined Hannah Bateman, Abigail Prudames and Dominique Larose in a dance for four women.

Sadly, the Alhambra was less than full on 7 Oct 2017 and I think that was because of the programming. While audiences do not expect to be jollied every time they go to the theatre there is only so much doom and gloom a body can take - especially with all the other horrible things that are happening in the world. It would also have been nice to have had a programme. I received a cast list eventually but only after I had hunted down a duty manager.

But these are niggles. Anybody who stayed the course was rewarded by some exquisite dancing. My standing order for another year's sub to the Friends of Northern Ballet went through last week. It is money well spent.