Sunday, 31 December 2017

Class Review - Adam Pudney Wednesday Night Beginners at Pineapple

Beginners' Ballet:  Adam Pudney, 8 Nov 2017 Pineapple  

One of my favourite dance teachers is Adam Pudney. He teaches at Danceworks and Pineapple.  I have had only three classes with him but these have been some of the most useful ever (see Pineapple 20 Nov 2013 and (Another Slice of Pineapple 12 July 2015). If I lived in London I would be one of his regulars.

The last time I attended one of Adam's classes was on 8 Nov 2017. I had travelled to London to do what I had expected to be a stinker of a case that turned out rather well.  As I had expected the case to go into a second day I had allowed myself an extra day in the Great Wen. Finding that I did not need it I had time to scurry off to 7 Langley Street for the beginners' class with Adam.

Every time I have attended Adam's class I have had to climb up from the basement to the very top of the building. I don't know whether Adam teaches in any other studio but that is where I have always found him.  Climbing those stairs is almost a workout in itself.  Unlike my teachers in Leeds who start off with a walk round the studio, followed by arm stretches, followed by a run (and in Jane Tucker's case a sudden change of direction), followed by jumping facing in, jumping facing out, jumping jacks and stretches in accordance with the Ichino method, Adam does not make us do any of that, but we are more than ready for the first exercise by the time we arrive.

Adam focuses on detail and he spends a fair proportion of the class getting the basics right.  The video, Ballet Tutorial: Port de Bras with Adam Pudney on the Pineapple YouTube channel shows just what his classes are like.  I was led back to ballet by Adam's compatriot, Fiona, over four years ago and although I am not exactly the right shape or size for ballet I was sure that I had picked up something. Too right I had.  The first 20 minutes with Adam showed me exactly how many bad habits I had fallen into each of which he pointed out with enormous courtesy and corrected with equal assiduity.

Once Adam was satisfied that we had mastered the basics (at least for the time being) he proceeded to some barre exercises. More bad news for me.  My pliés were terrible and my tendus not much better and as for my glissés and ronds de jambe, the less said the better.  But we finished the barre and then proceeded to a difficult but very beautiful enchainement in the centre.  There was time for pirouettes.  Mine are appalling but I think I could actually get them right if I could take Adam's class regularly because he breaks the exercise down into elements that even I can understand. Those who take to them easily are annoyingly well-coordinated types who just do not appreciate the metal effort of rising onto demi, bending the legs, positioning the arms and spotting all at the same time. Though I doubt that he ever had a problem with doing all that at the same time, Adam is sympathetic. He understands that some of us do.  And he really helps us to get it.

The class was over far in an hour.  That was far too soon.  I was just getting into my stride when Adam called us into the centre for cool down and reverence.   Classes in Pineapple are quite a bit more expensive than in the North because you have to take out temporary membership of the studio but they are worth the extra.  It was well over two years since my last trip to Pineapple.  I hope I do not have to wait quite so long for the next one.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Rambert in Bradford -

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Rambert   Triple Bill:A Linha Curva, Ghost Dances and Goat, 16 Nov 2017 Alhambra

 One of the most memorable shows that I attended in 2017 was Rambert's triple bill at the Alhambra which I saw on Friday 16 Nov.  The company presented three works:
Three very different works and it seemed to me that all had a loose connection with Latin America.

My favourite work of the evening was A Linha Curva.  I had seen it at The Lowry the year before (see Red Hot Rambert 1 Oct 2016).  I loved it then:
"Rambert's party piece on Thursday was A Linha Curva. The stage consisted of percussionists in a box above the dancers. The work began with chants by male dancers in gigantic, reflective metallic collars which was answered by calls and screeches from the women. The stage exploded into a carnival of movement fuelled by the relentless beat of the musicians. The effect was quite hypnotic and the performers' vitality and vivacity were infectious."
I loved it even more the second time round for its colour and energy. I loved the chanting, the screeching and the rhythm. Such a contrast to the other two works which, while beautiful, were much more sobering.

Christopher Bruce created Ghost Dances in 1981 when Leopoldo Galtieri held power in Argentina and Augusto Pinochet.  Both used death squads to remove political opponents.  Spooks who visited opponents in the middle of the night and spirited their victims away.  The faceless skeletons moving to panpipes could easily represent them at one level.  At another level, they could represent the spirits of the dead  in the belief systems of the Andean tribes that had been transposed only imperfectly into the religion of the Conquistadors.   At either level it was a very disturbing work reminding audiences of their mortality and vulnerability.  But at the same time it was also eerily beautiful with elegant jumps. I should like to see it again - but not in a hurry.

The last work was also disturbing.  The "goat" in this piece had two legs not four.  The human goat was chosen for much the same purpose as a scapegoat.  Duke explained in the programme notes:
“In the village where I was brought up there was a tradition on New Year’s Eve of writing on a piece of paper two things you wanted to rid yourself of – it could be something bad that had happened to you, or something bad that you had done. The pieces of paper were placed inside a can which was tied to the tail of a goat. The goat was supposed to disappear over the horizon and take our sins with it. Usually it ran for five seconds or so then stopped to eat some grass. Some years it came running back towards us…” 
There was a lot going on in this work. A running commentary from one of the dancers and dialogue from others. Some dance, of course, and a lot of singing on stage.  According to Ben Duke's YouTube clip, rehearsals started immediately after the London Bridge terror outrage. It is in thus a commentary on the role of art in the politics of the times.

Not exactly a laugh a minute but life is brief for all and insecure for many and it does no harm occasionally to be reminded of that.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Paris Opera Ballet's Don Quixote

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Opera National de Paris  Don Quixote Opera Bastille 25 Dec 2017, 19:30

Although Don Quixote is not one of my favourite Petipa ballets it does have some spectacular choreography. Similarly, while I greatly prefer his score to La Bayadère, Minkus's score has some lovely tunes including the Queen of the Dryads's solo and the rumbustious final pas de deux.  Also, Don Quixote makes a change from The Nutcracker which the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Scottish Ballet are all serving up for Christmas at home.

I had only seen the Paris Opera ballet once before in the Palais Garnier some 45 tears ago. I remember a grand défilé by the ballet students. I was told by my companion, Pamela (who had some to Paris to study with Madame Preobrajenska at the Salle Wacker) that the students were referred to disparagingly as les petits rats.  The stage seemed massive. Much bigger than Covent Garden's.  However, I can't remember anything else about the show which means that it could not have impressed me very much.  My second experience of the company came last night when it performed Don Quixote at the Opera Bastille.  I can safely say that I won't forget that show in a hurry.

Spectacular choreography needs virtuoso dancers and Isabella Boylston is a virtuoso par excellence.  She launches into grands jetes almost as soon as she appears on stage and hers seemed as graceful and effortless as any I have seen before. She danced Kitri who ends the show with spectacular fouettés.  I have seen plenty of those from lots of Odiles but the excitement that Boylston generated with hers at the Bastille last night could not have been exceeded by Legnani herself.

Boylston was partnered by Mathieu Ganio who was magnificent. He danced Don Basilio in which I had previously seen Carlos Acosta. Though I greatly admired Acosta in that role, Ganio surpassed him both as a soloist with the spectacular jumping and turns in his final solo and in the way that he helped Boylston to shine. That is the sort of partnership of which legends are made like Sibley's with Dowell.  Whether it can develop and flourish with Ganio in Paris and Boylston in New York is anybody's guess but if I ran the Paris Opera Ballet or American Ballet Theatre I would do my best to make sure it did.

We saw lots of other excellent performances last night: Erwan Le Roux as Sancho Panza, Fanny Gorse  as the street dancer, Amandine Albisson as the queen of the Dryads and Yann Chailloux as Don Quixote himself. Everyone was impressive not least the corps de ballet which was one of the most polished and disciplined that I have been fortunate enough to see.

With costumes  by Elena Rivkina and sets by Alexandre Beliaev the production was gorgeous. The Opera Bastille was designed as an ideal venue for ballet and although it lacks the charm of Covent Garden or the majesty of the Garnier it is probably one of the best places in the world to see a full length ballet by a major company. 

I sat towards the back of the stalls and enjoyed a perfect view.  The theatre has been designed to ensure easy access and egress.  If you want a drink you enter a cordon where you wait your turn.  No ostentatious waving of bank notes or sharp elbowing here. Having paid about £10 less for seats in the stalls than I was charged by Covent Garden for the back amphitheatre I was ready to sing the Bastille's praises .................  until I was stung for €5 for a tonic water and €12 for a programme (albeit a very thick and informative programme much of it in English).  Like a budget airline the essentials are cheap enough and if that's all you want well all well and good. But if you want any extras - even a postcard from the well stocked theatre shop - caveat emptor.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Degas, Dance, Drawing

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Musée d'Orsay, "Degas, Danse, Dessin" 28 Nov 2017 to 25 Feb 2018, Paris

Edgar Degas died on 27 Sept 2017. To mark the centenary of his death, the Musée d'Orsay has assembled many of his most famous works in an exhibition called Degas, Danse, Dessin. It  has run from 28 Nov 2017 and will continue until 25 Feb 2018. The name comes from the title of an appreciation of Degas's studies of dancers by Paul Valéry.  It has been translated into English under the title Degas, Dance, Drawing.

Many of Degas's most famous works are there including The Ballet Class, The Orchestra Pit and The Dress Rehearsal. The work that first caught my eye was Degas's La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze AnsI had seen it before but never looked at it closely. It depicts a young ballet student standing in 4th position with her hands clasped behind her back performing a rather uncomfortable exercise that has been taught to me. The figure is almost lifelike. It has hair tied back with a ribbon and wears a tunic, skirt and ballet shoes just like a modern student. The most realistic feature of the sculpture (if that is what it can be called) is the expression of concentration and perhaps just a little discomfort on the statue's face. I wear that expression at some point in almost every class I attend and I have seen that expression on all my fellow students too.

There were other sculptures of dancers in bronze on display and I looked at them with fresh eyes too.  One was doing a tendu, another an arabesque, yet another a penché and so on. These are exercises that every ballet student and, no doubt, every dancer attempts in almost every class.  Looking at some of the figures I noticed imperfections.  At first those imperfections irritated me rather like the podgy figures in his paintings who look nothing like the highly toned athletes who appear on stage today. But then it dawned on me. Degas was not idolizing the dancers on stage any more than he was idolizing laundry workers in Les RepasseusesHe was studying women (and it seems to be all women) doing hard physical work. So very different from the wives or daughters of princes, merchants and aristocrats who are rather better represented in the world's art galleries.

The exhibition was themed on Valéry's book which is not well known even in France. It was published in 1937 some 20 years after the artist's death. Fragments of the author's notes were on display next to the artist's sketches some of which I attempted to read.  I was very tired on Saturday morning having had very little sleep the night before and there was only so much of Valéry's observations that I could take in. it is probably advisable to read the book and make multiple visits to appreciate the exhibition fully.

A thought that struck me after visiting the show is that there are hardly any men in his ballet paintings and sculptures.  There is a ballet master in the ballet class and there are men in the orchestra pit but none on stage.  Male dancers were regarded less highly than now in the late 19th century but they would have been around to dance such roles as Albrecht and James.  Degas seems to have ignored them completely and one has to ask "why?" 

Degas was around when Diaghilev brought his Ballets Russes to Paris in 1909. They caused a sensation at the time.  Other artists working in France such as Matisse and Picasso actually worked for the company. Degas seems to have shown no interest in the Russians and they showed no interest in him.  Again, the question has to be asked "why?".

This had been my first visit to the Musée d'Orsay. It is a converted railway station just like GMex in Manchester (see the History of the Museum pagon the museum's website). It is a work of art in itself, particularly the murals in the restaurant. It has a massive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, sculpture and design including the biggest collection of Van Gogh's that I have seen outside Amsterdam.  I visited as many of the collections as I could but its sheer scale defeated me.

If you plan to visit the exhibition try to read the book first. Don't expect an idolization of the ballet.  On the contrary, if like me you are an adult ballet student you may be reminded uncomfortably of yourself.  Finally, if you don't like his dancers, remember that Degas also painted horses. Indeed, he seems to have been kinder to them than he was to women.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Windrush Studio Sharing

Phoenix Dance Theatre Windrush – Movement of the People,  Quarry Hill, 15 Dec 2017, 15:30

On 22 June 1948 the MV Empire Windrush, a former German troopship, sailed into Tilbury docks with just under 500 passengers from Jamaica. Those travellers came to London to fill a temporary labour shortage as the United Kingdom recovered from the Second World War. The voyage symbolizes a movement of peoples of enormous economic, cultural and political significance both for those taking and for the communities in which they settled.  Other travellers came to the UK from other Caribbean islands and other parts of the Commonwealth. There were also similar movements from the Caribbean to Canada, from the rural south of the USA to the industrial north, from the overseas possessions of other European powers to France, the Netherlands, Portugal and many other countries.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the voyage of the Empire Windrush, Sharon Watson is creating a new dance piece entitled Windrush: Movement of the People which will be premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse on 7 Feb 2018. I was lucky enough to see a preview of the work on 28 Sept 2017 (see Phoenix - A Double Celebration 14 Oct 2017). Last Friday at a sharing of work in Phoenix's studios I was shown some more.  It was not an easy watch and I did not expect it to be.  As I noted in October the first part of the work was harrowing enough as it showed the separation of families". As we know what happened after those travellers arrived - Notting Hill, Smethwick and Enoch Powell - I expected the second part to be emotionally harrowing. But I did not expect it to hit me as hard as it did. Tears welled up to the words "You called and we came". The artists who had been so full of exuberance in the first act appeared almost ghost like as they experienced the greyness and cold of post-war Britain.

At least some of those tears were generated by memories of my late spouse who came from Sierra Leone.  My father in law, an Anglican minister. and my mother in law. a nurse, had come to this country about the time of the voyage of the Windrush.  My spouse was brought up by aunties and cousins in Freetown and remembers a land of abundance, sunshine and love. In 1955 my father and mother in law sent for their child. At first the voyage was delightful but as the ship entered the Western Approaches everything became dark and cold. Not even the sight of my father and mother in law at Liverpool docks comforted the child.  Eventually the child adapted to life in the United Kingdom, read law and was called to the Bar which is how we met. We had a marriage that lasted nearly 27 years which was strong enough to withstand racism, all the travails of practice and even my gender dysphoria. Only motor neuron disease broke us up in 2010.

Sharon Watson's genius was to say something to me but at the sharing of work I realized that I was not the only one with memories to share and perhaps tears to shed.  The daughter of the captain of the Windrush was at the sharing. So, too, was one of the passengers, a magnificent gentleman who must have been in or close to his 90s who rose ramrod straight to acknowledge his welcome. Sharon Watson's family were in the audience as were others who had made their home in Leeds and contributed so much to the city.

Even though the work is still not quite finished, Windrush is already a success.  After opening in Leeds it will tour the country visiting Keswick, Cheltenham, Doncaster, Leicester, London and Newcastle as well as a quick crossing to Aachen for the Schrittmacher Festival.   I left details of this work with the Dutch National Ballet when I visited them on Sunday.  Aachen is only 125 miles from Amsterdam and there is a motorway and fast train all the way.  A trip to the show and back is doable without an overnight stay.  I would certainly urge them as well as my compatriots in the rest of Britain to see this mighty work

KNT Nutcracker Intensive

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Since August 2015 KNT Danceworks has offered adult ballet students an opportunity to learn some of the choreography of the world's great ballets in one or three-day intensive workshops. I find them extremely useful in that they have enhanced my appreciation of Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadère. The Nutcracker and Coppelia, they have afforded some insight into the life of a dancer which has greatly increased my already high respect for them and they have provided an incentive for me to stick at my Tuesday evening classes with Karen Sant in Manchester and Wednesday evening classes with Jane Tucker in Leeds or find an alternative class when I can't make one of those classes.

Here's what happens. We assemble in the students' canteen at the studios of the Dancehouse Theatre in Oxford Road. They are actually the studios of Northern Ballet School where many of my favourite teachers in Leeds as well as Manchester trained. The Dancehouse, for those who don't know Manchester, is located on Oxford Road where the city's two universities, the Royal Northern College of Music and its major teaching hospitals are to be found. Also, it is almost opposite the Palace Theatre which is one of two venues in Manchester for visiting ballet companies. Sometimes these companies actually hold their classes in the same studios. The theatre is 100 yards from Oxford Road station and there is an NCP car park literally round the corner in Chester Street offering a special rate for motorists on Saturdays between 09:00 and 17:00.

At about 10:00 Karen leads us up one of the rehearsal studios where we meet our instructor. For most of those intensives our Instructor has been Jane Tucker who is my regular teachers in Leeds. However, last Saturday our intensive was taken by Martin Dutton who had taken us for class earlier in the year (see Dutton at the Dancehouse 20 Feb 2017) while Jane took the more advanced students.

I regret to say that I joined the class after it had started (partly because I had to attend to some papers before I could leave and partly because road conditions over the tops were less than optimal) so I am unable to say how the class started but Jane usually begins with floor exercises for which we are instructed to bring Pilates mats. I joined the class in the warm up exercises at the barre so I think I must have received a full class.

One of the differences that I have noted between male teachers and female ones is that a male teacher is far more ready to spot faults such as arms in the wrong place in second and they are not afraid to correct them. I appreciate that.  It costs me a lot to attend class - not so much for the tuition which is only a few pounds but in travelling time from Holmfirth which effectively writes off 6 hours of the day - and I like to think that I leave the studio at the end of the session a better dancer than I was when I arrived.  Of course, I quickly learned that ballet doesn't work like that. "Ballet is a tough task mistress who is out to break you" said Fiona, the teacher who led me back to ballet after a gap of 40 something years. Well, when someone says something like that to me I am determined to prove them wrong.

Anyway, Martin put us through our paces with a very brisk barre teaching us some of the steps we would need for The Nutcracker in the centre.  We cooled down with some floor exercises and prepared for  the repertoire class. Martin had chosen two dances for us: Sugar Plum and the snowflake dance at the end of Act I just before the choir comes in to sing "La, la, la, la, la"; "La, la, la, la, la"; "la, la, la, la, la"; "la, lally, lee, la, la, la" or something to that effect.  We put a lot of work into Sugar Plum and by the end of afternoon all of us had picked up at least some of it.   At the end of the class we show off what we have learned to Karen and she or one of the other teachers films us. The video displayed above is from last year's intensive when Jane was our instructor but I think you can get a general idea of what it is possible to learn in a day.

For the snowflakes dance I was given the role of first snowflake. My job was to run onto stage, present with my arms in fifth, do a pas de chat with a smile, turn, do an arabesque and scarper.  I have no idea whether I got it right. Whenever I see a video of my dancing I am reminded of a performing bear who is a full 2 second behind everyone else but nobody threw rotten eggs or shouted at me so I carried on. I re-entered later with two other snowflakes with arms in open fifth on demi-pointe and we danced to the back of the stage where we turned and presented.

Jane had advised us in the first intensive to take a hot bath followed by a cold shower.  It usually works but this time it just gave me a cold.  I was as stiff as a board when I woke up at 03:30 to catch the 07:30 flight from Ringway to Schiphol but the prospect of seeing The Sleeping Beauty by one of the world's great companies somehow kept me going. For my review of that performance, see The Dutch National Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty" - I have waited nearly 50 years for this show 20 Dec 2017.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Dutch National Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty" - I have waited nearly 50 years for this show

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The Dutch National Ballet The Sleeping Beauty, Stopera, Amsterdam 17 Dec 2017, 14:00

It's funny how some performances stand out in one's memory over the years.  The performance of The Sleeping Beauty by the Royal Ballet on 22 July 1972 was one of those. Dame Margot Fonteyn danced Aurora and Rudolf Nureyev Florimund.  It was a glorious evening and I saw the show when I was at a high point of my life, shortly after graduating from St Andrews and just before I was due to take up a scholarship to UCLA.

I've seen many excellent performances of The Sleeping Beauty since then by Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Hungarian National Ballet and lots of other companies including the Royal Ballet. None has come close to that show on 22 July 1972. It was for me the gold standard. At least not until last Sunday. Now, over 46 years after that remarkable performance by Fonteyn and Nureyev, I have seen its peer.

The matinee that I attended on Sunday afternoon had been staged by Sir Peter Wright, It is a production that I had seen several times before and know very well, Although the music, choreography and designs appeared to be the same as those I had seen before, Sunday's show had a freshness, an energy, a je ne sais quoi that somehow distinguished it from all previous performances of that ballet since 1972. The reason why it was so good is that HNB is one of the world's great companies and very special as Sir Peter noted in a YouTube clip to promote a previous revival (see Sir Peter Wright has wonderful words for the company (Dutch National Ballet) HNB 6 Dec 2010). In fact, when a gentleman in the seat next to me asked how it compared with London I replied that for my money HNB was the best company in Europe if not the world.

HNB has some brilliant dancers. Aurelia was danced on Sunday by Maia Makhateli. Although she trained in Georgia and the USA she seemed to dance very much in the English way displaying a pleasing line and considerable virtuosity but without exaggeration or gratuitous theatricality. Her rose adage was superb and readers can see her performing it in Maia Makhateli Sleeping Beauty Rose Adagio 28 Oct 2016 YouTube. It is the best I can remember. I should add that Ms Makhateli is as charming off stage as she is impressive on it for when I asked her to sign a card to my contributor, Helen McDonough, in a signing session after the show she knew exactly to whom I was referring.

Ms Makhateli was partnered gallantly by Daniel Camargo. He is a very powerful but also very graceful dancer and he can also project emotion and feeling as well as any voice actor. In those regards he reminds me very much of Nureyev at the same age.  Sunday's performance was the first time I had seen him in a major role and I was impressed,  His rise to principal in Stuttgart over just a few years was meteoric. Although he is still quite young, he has already achieved a lot.  His potential must be considerable.

As Perrault's tale is essentially a struggle between good and evil, the most important characters are perhaps the lilac fairy and Carabosse.  Erica Horwood was a delightful lilac fairy but the prima ballerina, Igone de Jongh, was the best Carabosse I have ever seen, Both appeared with their attendants and Carabossse's were particularly creepy. The other fairies, Jessica Xuan, Suzanna Kaic, Yuanyuan Zhang, Naira Agvannean, Aya Okumura and Maria Chugai, danced exquisitely There were strong solo performances in the final act. I particularly liked Young Gyu Choi's and his partner Suzanna Kaic as the bluebirds and Clotilde Tran-Phat and Daniel Montero Real as the white cat and Puss'n Boots. Everyone in the cast danced well but this overlong review would resemble a telephone directory if I gave every artist the credit he or she deserves.

The Stopera's enormous stage displayed Philip Prowse's gorgeous costume and set designs to optimum advantage.

It was thrilling to sit in centre of the second row of the stalls just a few feet behind the celebrated conductor Boris Gruzin. It was tantamount to being in the orchestra pit. Indeed, it was almost like being on stage.

The Sleeping Beauty will run to New Year's Day but, sadly, almost every performance is fully booked. However, Birmingham Royal Ballet's version, also produced by Sir Peter Wright and also very good, is about to go on tour.  It will visit Southampton between 31 Jan and 3 Feb, Birmingham between 13 and 24 Feb, Greater Manchester between 28 Feb and 3 March, Cardiff between 14 and 17 March and Plymouth between 21 and 24 March.

Finally, I must apologize to readers for the long and embarrassing delay since my last post in November. I have made made copious notes of Rambert's Ghost Dances at the Alhambra, Northern Ballet's The Little Mermaid in Sheffield, Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker in Birmingham and the Russian State Ballet and Opera House's Romeo and Juliet in Harrogate not to forget the preview of Sharon Watson's Windrush, cinema relays of the Bolshoi's Le Corsaire and the Royal Ballet's Alice in Wonderland and The Nutcracker, Martin Dutton's inspiring Nutcracker intensive, great classes at Pineapple and Huddersfield and the Arts Council's seminar on grant applications. I will try to get these out to you by the end of the year.