Thursday, 31 May 2018

Ballet Central in Leeds

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Wendy McDermott

Ballet Central  2018 Tour 29 April 2018, 19:30 Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

It’s been a turbulent time for Ballet Central since their unimaginable announcement via social media that their tour vehicle and its contents had been stolen. The vehicle contained everything from their production equipment to over 100 unique handmade costumes. Being able to see the tour and how much work had gone into making this a professional production then to hear of their plight was pretty shocking. Since then those that follow Ballet Central will know that much of what was stolen had been retrieved and also, thanks to the generosity of many they’ve managed to raise several thousands to help pay for replacements.

I saw Ballet central perform, for the first time I might add, at the Stanley & Audrey Burton theatre in Leeds.

The show was made up of five pieces in two Acts: ‘Black Swan’ by Jenna Lee, ‘Far’ by Wayne McGregor,Valley of Shadows’ by Kenneth MacMillan, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by Matthew Bourne and finally ‘Cinderella’ by Christopher Gable.

I think it’s fair to say that many will know of Swan Lake even if never having had the pleasure of seeing it. What Jenna Lee gave us in Black Swan was something very different, yet still referencing the classical ballet loved by so many with Tchaikovsky’s music and the beautiful swans (who looked marvellous in their black tutus). The mood was much darker, echoing the film The Black Swan. In this version however, it was not the ballerina that experienced the hallucinations, it was the Prince, confused and a little disoriented by what he was experiencing. Ayca Anil danced the principal role. Her technique seemed solid, the développés clean with extensions reaching the heights that we see in professional ballet companies of today. I thought her ports de bras were lovely, as were the swans' dancing in the corps, with their elegant swan arms, and I thought the acting of her character expressed the sultriness befitting of a temptress.

The second piece in the programme was a complete contrast of contemporary choreography. At times there was so much happening on the stage between the 10 dancers I didn’t know who to watch however there were dancers that stood out with their stage presence alone. As with most, if not all art, it’s subjective; contemporary is not a style that I personally favour, however if its premise is to showcase the movement of body and mind in fusion then this choreography does that. The Guardian (Luke Jennings to be precise) wrote of the piece when it appeared on stage:
“Muse too intently on notions of embodiment and you stop seeing the living bodies in front of you. They're the story, ultimately.”
It was a challenging piece for young dancers but on comparing clips from the original, they all performed with confidence and flare, speed and agility given that these students are on the cusp of their professional careers, potentially joining companies with both classical and contemporary repertoire, they need to be able to show their depth and breadth of skill in both styles. This choice of piece allowed them to do just that. There were three dancers that, for me anyway, particularly shone. Again, it was as much about their stage presence as their technique and quality of movement. Luckily one of those dancers has their photograph in the programme so easy to identify.

Act I closed with Valley of Shadows by MacMillan. Yet another personally unknown piece, though reading the synopsis it has very sad and dark undertones, the programme describing it as “the fate of an Italian Jewish family under fascism, Nazi occupation and the horrors of the death camps.”
Being a cast of four, the spotlight was on all the dancers. The cast had the fantastic fortune of being coached by Alessandra Ferri and Guy Niblett, who were original cast members when it was first performed at Covent Garden in March 1983. What a luxury for these dance students to inherit the experience and knowledge of these dancers to have it passed down to them. We had already seen Ayca Anil in the opening excerpt so her performance was assured, this time it allowed the male dancers the chance to show off their skills, in particular their partnering skills and they all performed with aplomb.

After the interval of 20 minutes, Act II opened with an excerpt of The Sleeping Beauty (Fairies Prologue). Gone were the tutus of the classic work, instead we saw costumes worthy of comic superheroes, of beautiful colour and imagination. It was a showcase indeed for the six dancers on stage and each deserved and duly received acknowledging applause from the audience, appreciative of the individual performances. Even the Princess Aurora as a baby in her cradle received applause in her own right as the crying baby which only added to the characterisation, humour and lightness of the whole piece.

The finale of the night was Christopher Gable's Cinderella and the audience were treated to a 30 minute shortened piece of this well known fairy tale. Despite the story depicting the ill treatment of Cinderella by her step mother and children, the performance felt just as much a celebration and in some ways echoed the journey that a dancer takes throughout their student life. The celebratory dance by the cast of apple pickers and wedding guests was light, airy and quite joyous to watch. In particular the green colour in the costumes reflecting the fresh apples that they had harvested that day expressed the emotion and worked well on stage, as if to say that the whole cast had now come of age in their early training careers and ready to advance into professional performers and spread their wings far and wide. Both the young and older Cinderella were emotive and expressive and i’m sure they, and all the touring company of 2018 will have careers to be proud of.

I’d like to give a mention to Rishan Benjamin and Harris Beattie as my own personal ones to follow in the future. There was another young woman in Far that unfortunately i’m unsure of her name. Looking at the cast list it was possibly Hikari Eumura (but perhaps Ballet Central would like to confirm?).

Finally, congratulations to all the performers and all those behind the scenes for making a thoroughly enjoyable evening of dance theatre.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Remarkable Stuff - St Andrews University Dance Club Videos

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According to The Guardian's University League Table for 2019, St. Andrews lies # 3 in the nation. A mere 2.8 points behind the leader, Cambridge, 0.2 of a point behind Oxford which is #2 and almost 10 points clear of Loughborough which is #4.  Now I know that there are other league tables and in any case one should never believe everything one reads in newspapers but there is no denying that St Andrews is what Americans would call "a good school". It is not easy to get into St Andrews and students have to work very hard once they are there.

It is all the more remarkable that many of those students find time to dance between handing in essays or laboratory work. "Ballet," as the wise teacher who led me back to ballet once said, "is a jealous mistress who is out to see you fail". Dancers have to put in the hours to see that they don't.

I danced when I was at St Andrews. In fact I was one of the founder members and first secretary of "Dance Soc" as we used to call it.  I danced then for the same reason that I dance now.  It helped relieve the pressure of a heavy workload. Then it was essays.  Now it is pleadings, opinions and court work. I don't think I could have endured the pressures then without my weekly class with Sally Marshall in the Athletics Union on the North Haugh and I certainly couldn't do so now without my Tuesday evening classess with Karen Sant in Manchester or my Wednesdays with Jane Tucker in Leeds.

Last month I returned to St Andrews to watch the Dance Club's 50th anniversary gala.  I was impressed by all the pieces but there were several that were particularly interesting.  They included the intermediate ballet class's combination of ballet and Bollywood.  In my review, St Andrews University Dance Club's 50th Anniversary Gala 5 May 2018 I wrote:
"I should add that I loved all the ballets and, in particular. Ailsa Robertson's setting of Colour of Love to the Bollywood film song Gerua. It was an ingenious juxtaposition of two art very different art forms that worked brilliantly."
Colour of Love has been uploaded to the Dance Club's YouTube channel together with videos of much of the rest of the show. If, like me, you had never heard of Highland Fusion before then take a look at "From Here On In" It is very beautiful.  Not a bagpipe in earshot nor a tartan in sight and just look at those gorgeous costumes. There is a lot of other good stuff up there "so feast your eyes" as they say in Australia where Fiona, the teacher who led me back to ballet, learned her skills.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary (more or less) of its formation, the Dance Club procured these anniversary t-shirts two of which arrived through the post a few days ago. They were a gift from my friend, a distinguished Scottish lawyer, who also attended the anniversary show.  I wore one of them proudly to Move It at the Dancehouse in Manchester on 19 May 2018 which I mentioned in The Importance of Performance 20 May 2018 and the other at Ballet West's Showcase in Stirling on Sunday.

Dance was not formally on the curriculum when I was at St Andrews but it was certainly one of the most useful things that I learned there.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Ballet West Showcase 2018

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Ballet West Showcase 27 May 2018 19:30 Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling

Each winter for the last 5 years I have come to Scotland to see a performance of a full-length classical ballet by Ballet West.  On Sunday I returned to Scotland for Ballet West's 2018 Showcase.

The Showcase took the form of a gala consisting of 18 separate works divided into two parts or "acts".   Each act began with an extract from a classical ballet and included a solo and original choreography by the school's teachers, Natasha Watson, Indra Reinholde and Martin FentonBallet West performed the Showcase at the Conran Halls in Oban on 19 May 2018 and the Macobert Arts Centre at Stirling University on 27 May 2018.

The first act opened with the grand pas de deux from Paquita which I had seen in rehearsal on my visit to Taynuilt on 30 April 2019.  The full work is not performed very often in the United Kingdom but the pas de deux is seen more frequently in competitions and galas. As in the rehearsal Paquita was danced by Uyu Hiromoto and Lucien by Joseph Wright. I admire both dancers but especially Hiromoto. As I wrote in Ballet West at the Beacon 13 Feb 2017 which was the first time I saw her, Hiromoto has a certain quality that is difficult to pin down but I spotted it in Xander Parish and Michalea DePrince. She danced delightfully on Sunday. In her dancing I saw not just a talented and accomplished student but Paquita herself. Congratulations to Wright for his partnering and also to the soloists and corps de ballet who accompanied them.

The solo for the first act was the victim's dance from The Rite of Spring.  It was performed by Francesca Rees who is still in her first year at Ballet West. The sharp, angular, movements to Stravinaky's throbbing score still manage to shock after 105 years.  It cannot be an easy work to perform even for an experienced dancer and it must be particularly challenging for one so young. Rees responded to that challenge splendidly. She is clearly someone to watch and I shall look out for her on next year's winter tour.

Watson contributed no less than five works to the the first act   They ranged from Symphony No 3 which was reflective to Who Lights the Sun which was playful.  The contrast in mood was the difference between a deep, dark, pool and a fountain.  Until last night the only work by Watson that I had seen was the piece that she had prepared for Oscar Ward and Uyu Hiromoto in the BBC Young Dancer Competition. Having seen her several times in principal roles and having blogged about her achievements in Lausanne and at the Genée even before I saw her I knew that she was an outstanding dancer. Now I see that she is at least as talented as a dance maker.  The nation's - indeed the world's - artistic directors, impresarios, angels and others who commission dance would do well to take note.

Hey Now by Martin Fenton was in complete contrast to everything that had gone before. The programme stated that the music was by "London Generation" but I wonder whether that should have been "London Grammar". Be that as it may it was a pleasure to watch. The girls wore jeans and trainers with their hair in pony tails. They danced freely and vivaciously. It was the first time I had seen them like that.  I was delighted.

One of most interesting works of the first act was Indra Reinholde's November to Max Richter's music. This was a fluent classical piece for third year dancers.  Reinholde's A Mid-Autumn Night's Dream appeared to be an intriguing study of the unfulfilled aspirations. It consisted of a soloist with one group dancing reality and the other dreams. With layer upon layer of meaning I need to see it again and probably several times to understand it properly.

The first act finished with Sarajevo, a piece that Watson had made for the company's Glasgow Associates to Max Richter's score.  A deeply moving piece that those excellent young students performed brilliantly.

The second act opened with the scene from La Sylphide in which James abandons Effie and follows the sylph. The work is performed regularly overseas but rarely in the UK which is odd as it is set in Scotland. We may see more of it in future as it has been staged recently by English National Ballet and Sir Matthew Bourne has produced Highland Fling for Scottish Ballet which is based on  La Sylphide. Dylan Waddell, whom I knew from MurleyDance and Ballet Cymru, danced James and Sarah Nolan was the sylph.  Nolan performed her role charmingly.  I think hers will be yet another name to watch.  Waddell partnered her sensitively enabling her to shine. In what I believe to be a variation to Bournonville's choreography, the ballet mistress, Olga Savienko, created roles for the sylphs which they performed delightfully.

Watching a Scottish company perform that beautiful work just south of the Highland line gave me considerable personal satisfaction. As long ago as August 2013 I wrote in Taynuilt - where better to create ballet: 
"I don't know whether Ballet West has ever thought of staging La Sylphide but they might because Taynuilt is Gurn and Effie territory."
Well now they have and I am over the moon.

The solo for the second act was From Within by Hortense Malaval who is in the second year.  It had been created for her by Watson.  A very different work from the Rite of Spring but probably no less challenging. Malaval displayed not only considerable virtuosity but also the power to possess a stage and command an audience.  The audience warmed to her and rewarded her with thunderous applause.

The solo was followed by three more works by Reinholde: Light and Ash, A Song of Sorrow and Pride and, my favourite of her works, Symphony No 41.   The last work was created for the young women who had welcomed me to their class on 30 April 2018. They were my team.  They had a difficult score.  Late Mozart to me sounds a little like Beethoven and that's what I thought it was. I remembered one of the pundits at Northern Ballet's symposium on narrative ballet on the alleged impossibility of dancing to Beethoven yet here were these splendid young dancers doing just that. Or at least interpreting music that was equally difficult. Clad in flowing blue garments that must have been a delight to wear, they were clearly having fun. They danced with verve and my heart danced with them. They finished the piece on their backs as the lights cut. Bravissime! I clapped and clapped until my palms were raw.

A work that reminded me of van Manen's In the Future was Watson/s Pocket Calculator.  Just listen to the words "I'm the operator of the pocket calcuulator". Watson spun those works in a generally fun slightly disconcerting work that showed yet another side of her immense creativity. The song also began the finale that drew the audience into the show. They clapped rhythmically to the music breaking into deafening applause as each wave of artists appeared to take their bow. Again, I clapped enthusiastically and shouted "brave, brave" for the women in blue.

I had seen the winter shows. I had even visited the school, watched and indeed attended one of its classes. But it was only on Sunday that I fully appreciated how good it was.  In that Showcase  the school showed the strength and depth of the artistic education that it offers.  Had I any aptitude for dance and an ambition to go on stage, I should have loved to have studied there.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Powerhouse Ballet - What comes next

Kirklees Leisure Centre
© 2018 Jane Elizabeth Lambert: all rights reserved

At about 3 pm today. a group of dancers will meet in the studio shown in the photograph above to begin a 90 minute class with Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy. I have no idea how big that group will be. Some 20 people have registered for the class but several have had to drop out. On the other hand, I have received at least one intimation through twitter from a dancer who has not yet registered that she is looking forward to meeting everybody. All I would say is that if you want to come and have not yet registered is please let me know as soon as possible so that I can ask the staff at reception to let you in.

The class will take place at the Kirklees Leisure Centre at Spring Grove Street, Huddersfield, HD1 4BP which is just to the west of the Castlegate ring road. It is just down the hill from junction 24 on the M62 with oodles of onsite parking at 70p per hour and a short walk from the bus and railway stations for those who will use public transport.

There will be a short meeting after the class to decide whether we want to form a company and to elect a small steering committee to draw up a business plan and constitution. Several of the people who have had to drop out have stressed that they still want to form a company. Several others who can't be here today have said the same. We have even had messages of support from Mel Wong and David Hotchkiss in Hungary. I think we have enough support to plan for our next activity.

It is important to keep the momentum. Chelmsford Ballet holds company classes with a different teacher on the first Sunday of every month. Cara O'Shea, who once danced Princess Aurora for the the Chelmsford Ballet, gave her old company a very good class a few years ago. We need to do the same. Jane Tucker has very kindly agreed in principle to give us another class as have a number of other teachers.

As many of us have progressed from beginners to improvers and beyond without mastering all the basics and have acquired bad habits I have asked Karen Sant of KNT to arrange a day long ballet boot camp to iron some of these out (see Ballet Boot Camp Pilot 9 May 2018 Powerhouse Ballet). As it is likely to take a little more than a day for folks like me I have discussed the possibility of residential courses with Gillian Barton in Scotland and Terence Etheridge in Cornwall.

Chelmsford arranges all sorts of other events throughout the year such as workshops, an annual coach trip to London to see a show, a performance with the Brentwood Choral Society at Christmas and a children's workshop called "Let's make a ballet" in the Autumn. As workshops and summer schools require time off work I was thinking that we may as well hold them in places where we might well go on holiday such as Taynuilt and Truro. I was also thinking of inviting artistic directors of visiting companies, choreographers, dancers and musicians to dinner meetings where we talk to them over a glass of wine or coffee after a light supper. If I can persuade them to sit down with us, Christopher Marney, Yoko Ichino, Cira Robinson and Koen Kessels are high on my list. Finally, I hope we can persuade Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance Theatre and visiting companies to arrange special events with us where we can explore the choreography and maybe meet their dancers, creatives and technicians.

I emphasize that we need artists, craftsmen and women, designers, managers, musicians and technicians as well as dancers. If you would like to help us in any capacity even if you live outside the North, do get in touch.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Scarlett's Swan Lake

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Royal Ballet  Swan Lake Royal Opera House 22 May 2018 19:30

The curtain fell for the last time at about 22:35 yesterday and it is now 03:22 on Wednesday. Since then I have travelled 180 miles by rail and another 32 by road. I have read the programme from cover to cover.  Yet I cannot sleep because I am still excited about Liam Scarlett's new production of Swan Lake.

There are hardly any gimmicks in this production.  There are no new characters.  The story is unchanged:
"Prince Siegfried chances upon a flock of swans while out hunting. When one of the swans turns into a beautiful woman, Odette, he is enraptured. But she is under a spell that holds her captive, allowing her to regain her human form only at night.
The evil spirit Von Rothbart, arbiter of Odette’s curse, disguises his daughter Odile as Odette to trick Siegfried into breaking his vow of love. Fooled, Siegfried declares his love for Odile, and so dooms Odette to suffer under the curse forever (see the Royal Opera House's website).
Yet there was still innovation (see How choreographer Liam Scarlett is reimagining Swan Lake on the Royal Opera House's site).

There are, of course, John Macfarlane's brilliant new designs which I shall discuss later. For me the most striking innovation was the elevation of Baron von Rothbart from scary cape waving sorcerer on a rock to a an even more menacing scheming court insider reminding me just a little bit of President Putin.  Although he appears in the prologue the baron's first intervention in the story is as the queen's adviser.  It is obvious that he exerts considerable influence over her.  The idea that the prince should marry may even have been his idea.  He throws his weight around when he is alone with the prince. He reminds Siegfried of his mother's command to choose a bride. When Siegfried is about to leave the stage with his crossbow, von Rothbart gestures to him to put it down.  This enhanced role for the baron affects the dynamic of the story and in my view makes it much more realistic.  Particularly the third act when von Rothbart promotes his daughter as a possible royal bride.

A character who is so crucial to the story requires an artist who is as much as actor as he is a dancer and Bennet Gartside performed that role exquisitely.  As I could spare the time (and money) for only one performance of the new Swan Lake I chose last night in order to see Federico Bonelli and Lauren Cuthbertson.  They are two of my favourite dancers at the Royal Ballet.  When I saw them in Giselle three years ago they quite took my breath away (see Cuthbertson's Giselle 3 April 2016). It was on the strength of that performance that I chose Cuthbertson as my ballerina of 2016 (see The Terpsichore Titles: Outstanding Female Dancer of 2016 29 Dec 2016). Bonelli was on stage yesterday and he was as gallant and dashing as ever but sadly Cuthbertson was indisposed. Just before the start Kevin O'Hare came on stage to announce that she had been injured and invited us to join him in wishing her well which I, for one, certainly do. He also announced that Akane Takada. who took Cuthbertson's place, had danced Odette-Odile for the first time the previous Saturday. All I can say is that she was enchanting. While I hope to see Cuthbertson in that role soon I was not in the least disappointed by the casting change.

There were many other dancers who impressed me last night but this already over-long review would become as turgid as a telephone directory were I to include them all.  But James Hay stood out for me as the prince's mate Benno. Not quite as big a role in Scarlett's Swan Lake as in David Dawson's but the character does not appear in many productions.  Perhaps because I have tried to learn the cygnets' dance (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 1 16 Aug 2015) I feel a special sense of fellowship with whoever dances on it on stage.  I therefore gave Elizabeth Harrod, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Romany Pajdak and Leticia Stock who performed that piece an extra loud clap prompting an old fashioned look from the lady next to me as if to say "What's so special about them?" It  would have taken me far too long to tell her.  I also liked the Neapolitan dance. Anna Rose O'Sullivan and Paul Kay were lively and sparky. They performed that divertissement in the way that Wayne Sleep and Jennifer Penney used to do.

This was a ballet in which every artist performed well. Especially the corps who were magnificent.  Not every man shared that view. On the stairs up to the Paul Hamlyn Bar in the first interval a pinstriped gent was holding forth that the boys were alright but the girls seemed somewhat under-rehearsed.  I was amazed by that criticism. "What had he seen that I had missed?" I wondered.  For me it was pure delight from beginning to end.  The lady who was with the opinionated gent didn't agree. She urged him to stop it and she struck him more than once with her rolled-up cast list.

Having said that it was a very funny audience last night. Nobody joined me in clapping the principals when they first appeared. Hardly anybody applauded Takada as she was approaching her 32nd fouetté. Folk were leaving Florida style even before the first curtain call   "It was only 22:30" I thought to myself, "If I can get home to Yorkshire tonight surely there must be trains to Penge." The dancers and musicians gave us there all and they deserved better from the crowd. Ballet Black got a well-deserved standing ovation in Nottingham last week as did Teac Damsa for their Swan Lake in Manchester. "What is it with stuffy old London?" I mused.  Those artists deserved a flower throw and when the flower market was next door they would have got it.

I promised to say a word about Macfarlane's designs. Well, they are good.  The backdrop of swirling waters for the prologue gave way to the palace gardens for act 1. Seamlessly they morphed into a lakeside with a full moon for act 2. The ballroom scene with its throne was magnificent. However, the most dramatic setting of all was the lakeside at the end. A monochrome landscape dominated by a rock. Those scene changes required ingenious lighting design and David Finn delivered it.  The costumes were magnificent particularly Siegfried and Benno's and the uniforms for the men.

Scarlett shows that you don't need bikes on stage, male swans, new characters or even a new libretto to rejuvenate Swan Lake.  His work is already pretty close to my favourite Swan Lake though I would hate to have to choose between it and David Dawson's. They are both excellent with their rspective strengths.  I loved Anthony Dowell's Swan Lake but I think we were ready for this change.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Grimm - an Interesting Collaboration

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One of the highlights of the Dutch National Ballet's opening night gala in 2015 was an extract from Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which was performed by Ernst Meisner's Junior Company and Marco Gerris's ISH Dance Collective. In The Best Evening I have ever spent in the Ballet 13 Sept 2015 I wrote:
"When we returned to the auditorium images of falling snow were projected on to the stage. Before the house lights dimmed two dancers dressed as lions were in the auditorium. Then I recognized some of the beautiful young dancers from the Junior Company on stage. The beat was compelling. The dance an amalgam of ballet and hip hop. It was Narnia, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Ernst Mesiner and Marco Gerris. A collaboration between the Junior Company and ISH Dance Collective. That was the highlight of the show for me. When Ernst visited the London Ballet Circle he mentioned the possibility of bringing it to the UK. It would be wonderful if that were ever to happen. Particularly if it could be brought to Leeds or Manchester."
Last month I was lucky enough to meet Marco Gerris after the Junior Company's fifth anniversary show. I told him how much I had enjoyed the extract of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe that I had seen at the gala. I mentioned my review including including the last sentence.

Marco asked about Leeds and Manchester so I told him about  Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance Theatre, the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, the Centre for Advanced Training and the Arts Council's plans to make Leeds a centre of excellence for dance.  I also mentioned The Lowry and its CAT, Northern Ballet School, Manchester City Ballet, our theatres and our city's links with English National Ballet,  I hope to have planted a seed that may one day lead to our seeing Marco's work in this country. I am aware that the Dutch National Ballet has been in touch with the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre but nothing has come of it so far.

Unfortunately, we are unlikely ever to see Narnia again. Apparently, the company was unable to obtain the rights it needed to re-stage Narnia (see Narnia becomes Grimm).  However, Ernst and Marco have created a new ballet called Grimm which is touring the Netherlands with great success.  According to the Dutch National Ballet's website:
"GRIMM is about two boys who find themselves in a fantasy world, where they meet Red Riding Hood and the wolf, the seven dwarves, Rapunzel, Snow White, the witch, Cinderella and other fairytale characters in succession. They get mixed up in exciting adventures, in which all sorts of elements from well-known fairytales are jumbled up in a lively parade of fairytale characters. As in all fairytales, a big role is played by love and jealousy, friendship, tyranny, intrigues and the battle between good and evil."
There is a British connection in that the score was contributed by  Scanner (Robin Rimbaud).  Unfortunately, the tour ends this week so I will be unable to see the collaboration this time but I will certainly catch future ones.

Although it has nothing whatsoever to do with ballet, I should mention that the BBC has started to broadcast a series of three programmes by Misha Glennie called The Invention of the NetherlandsThe first episode was about the low countries' early history and the Dutch Republic's war of independence against Spain.  It jolted me into thinking just how little I know of the country.  I have made scores of visits to Amsterdam over the years for business or pleasure but save for a weekend in Rotterdam with a lawyer friend who drove me around South Holland including Oudewater where, as in Pendle, they had witch trials I had never been anywhere else.

I was reminded by the programme of the Netherlands' diversity.  In Frisia, for example, the locals speak a language that is even closer to English than Dutch. In Baarle-Nassau in Brabant there are pockets of Belgium that are surrounded by Dutch territory (some just a few square yards in size) and in some places pockets of the Netherlands within Belgian enclaves on Dutch soil.  I think this may be the year for a coach or motoring holiday of one of our nearest neighbours.

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Royal Ballet's Elizabeth at the Barbican: Where were her flowers?

The Royal Ballet’s revival of Will Tuckett’s Elizabeth at the Barbican theatre starred Zenaida Yanowsky as Queen Elizabeth I and (her brother) Yury Yanowsky as her five suitors. A strong performance by both dancers was accompanied by Martin Yates’ score, which blended period and modern music performed by cellist Raphael Wallfisch and baritone Julien Van Mellaerts, and Alastair Middleton’s script read and performed by Samantha Bond, Sonya Cullingford and Katie Deacon.

The plot is a biography of Queen Elizabeth I portrayed through scenes of her personal and romantic life. The commentary, which blends contemporary texts and letters, including from the Queen and her suitors, has a refrain that tells us that Elizabeth loved little dogs, chess and dancing, and gives a detailed account of her last few days. The story takes us through five of Elizabeth’s relationships at different times of her life, continually emphasising how her commitment to her role and responsibility as monarch meant she did not feel she could also be a wife. However, it was interesting that despite depicting Elizabeth repeatedly prioritising her role as England’s Virgin Queen over several potential marriage opportunities, the script made only passing reference to the history and politics of the era that must have contributed to this decision. For example, I do not recall mention of the Spanish Armada, which historians have highlighted as her finest hour. To some extent it was ironic to see a strong female leader characterised by her love life, which by her own choice was unfulfilling and unfulfilled. 

Having said that, it was an entertaining piece of theatre, with Zenaida Yanowsky portraying Elizabeth at different stages of her life with strength and sensitivity in scenes that were predominantly descriptive reportage rather than depicting actual events – although there were a few amusing acting cameos too. 

Physically, as other reviews have said, Yanowsky was a fantastic casting, with her pale, delicate colouring perfectly suiting Fay Fullerton’s shimmering costumes, and her long, supple legs accentuating Tuckett’s lyrical choreography. Her performance of the aging queen was particularly strong. Yanowsky is a recently retired principal with The Royal Ballet, and a striking, exquisite dancer. I could see from the front of the stalls that the years have clearly taken a toll on her feet and her presentation of the decline of a beautiful, powerful woman was intensely moving.

Yury Yanowsky’s excellent interpretation of the witty and technically demanding choreography fitted the Elizabethan themes, readings and music perfectly and the unique characteristics of each suitor kept the audience smiling. 

It was the final show of a four-day run at the Barbican theatre and it received a standing ovation, which Zenaida Yanowsky responded to with a short speech paying tribute to Tuckett, as well as the musicians and cast. I saw it with friends from my ballet class, and as amateur dancers we appreciated the demanding nature of the role and were sorry not to see her receive a similar tribute. “Where were her flowers?” asked one friend. I wondered too. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Importance of Performance

I posted those words to Facebook just before we appeared on stage to give readers who have never danced in public some idea of the thrill of doing so.   Possibly the  anticipation of the performance is even more delicious that the performance itself.  It is during those moments that the adrenaline begins to flow and a thousand thoughts slip in and out of the brain.   We danced our piece.  I don't think there were too many disasters. At least nobody shouted at us to get off or booed.  We detected no flying tomatoes or rotten eggs. Or if any were thrown the aim of the person throwing such missile would have been worse than our dancing. We even got a clap at the end.

I didn't see any of the show because we were the third act of the second part but I did see the dress rehearsal and was very impressed.  Particularly good this year were the repertoire class which presented their own original ballet entitled Pirates of the Caribbean choreographed by their instructor, Josh Moss.  I do not yet have a clip of yesterday's performance of Pirates but here in a video of their entry into the kingdom of the shades in October 2016 which I reviewed in Pride.   This film shows how good they are:

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That performance is all the more impressive when you consider that all the dancers have busy lives and  meet only for a few minutes on Wednesday evenings.  As usual, the Chinese dancers delighted me and the advanced ballet, intermediate and pointe classes thrilled me.

My Facebook post elicited a whole tas de merde, a "chookas" and several invitations to "break a leg" but also the following comment: "Sadly, I don't get to do an annual show, despite attending two schools."  The student who posted that response was right to be sad because performance is so important to ballet education.  As I said in my review of Hype Dance's Annual Show:
"Performances are important to dance education because ballet and kindred styles of dance developed in the theatre and are intended for an audience. The experience of appearing before a living, breathing (and paying) audience is delicious. I well remember the charge of excitement I felt in my first show which I tried to describe in The Time of My Life 28 June 2014. Every dance student from toddler to pensioner can and should feel that charge no matter how inexperienced or incompetent he or she may be. Most get that opportunity because almost every dance school worth its salt offers its students a chance to take part in its annual show. Training and rehearsing for that show is what distinguishes dance classes from dreary keep fit."
A flippant answer might be "Go find yourself another ballet school", but that would not be very helpful. I happen to know that one of the schools to which the dancer refers is rated as one the best in the country - at least for highly talented young students with the ambition and ability to make a career in dance.  Also, that school is not the only fine ballet school not to offer its adult dance students a chance to perform on stage.   Northern Ballet Academy did the same a couple of years ago which is why I spend at least one evening a week in Manchester even though there are outstanding teachers in Leeds and the Academy's timetabling is much more convenient

In Essex, Cornwall and other parts of the country, an opportunity to perform in public is offered by local amateur ballet companies.  I think we need something like that in the North,  That is why I hope we can launch Powerhouse Ballet.  However, everything depends on whether we can get a reasonable turnout (in both senses of the word) at Jane Tucker's class in Huddersfield on Saturday.

If you want to come but have not already registered, now is your chance.  This will be great class:

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Teac Damsa's "Swan Lake" - it may not have been Ballet or even entirely Dance but it was great Theatre

Teac Damsa and Michael Keegan-Dolan Swan Lake (Loch na hEala) 18 May 2018 20:00 Lowry

It didn't start promisingly.  A bare stage.  A handful of musicians clutching their instruments. A chap in a tuque smoking a fag.  A slightly flabby bespectacled middle aged gent in his underpants with a rope round his neck like a leash walking in circles and bleating occasionally. A lady in a wheelchair.

The house lights went down and sinister looking types in wide brimmed hats circled the semi-naked gent.  After performing a ritual dance one of them tugged at the rope. The bleating quickened.   They brought him to the floor, splashed water over him whipped him with towels but then they clad him in shirt and trousers. They led him to a chair with a microphone in the centre of the stage and sat him down.

"I won't say another word until I have a cup of tea" announced the man in the chair. Someone poured him a cup and handed it to him.  The man in the chair asked for a cigarette and that was provided too.  He began to tell his story and the man in the tuque and the lady in the wheelchair approached the front of the stage. From that point the story of Swan Lake emerged.  My impatience and scepticism evaporated and I became absorbed.

The man in the tuque was the Siegfried of the tale though he was called Jimmy in this story. He was disorientated and depressed because he had lost his father and was about to lose his home where his family had lived for 300 years.  He lived in the house with his disabled mother.  It was his 36th birthday and she wanted him to find a nice girl and settle down. Instead of a crossbow she gave him his father's old shot gun. By now, gentle reader, you should be seeing parallels with the ballet. The parallels were not exact because the tale was set in modern Ireland but it was much closer to Petipa than David Nixon, Graeme Murphy or Sir Matthew Bourne.

The swans were four young girls who had been students at the local girls's secondary school.   One of them,  Fionnuala, had been ravaged by her parish priest who had also been the girls' divinity master and chaplain.  Fionnuala's sisters caught him flagrante delicto.  "If any of you breath a word of any of this", he threatened, "you will be turned into a filthy animal," That is what seems to have happened to the girls for they disappeared from home and were never seen again.

Jimmy went down to the lough with his gun one night with a view to shooting himself.  Just as he was about to squeeze the trigger a swan swooped down and distracted him. A duet ensued between Jimmy and the Swan which was as tender as Petipa's.

Jimmy's mum threw a party for his birthday and invited every unattached girl in the neighbourhood plus the lecherous priest.  The priest dragged a a big cardboard box onto the stage which contained a swan with black feathers that looked just like Fionnuala or the swan that had saved Jimmy's life at the lough.  Jimmy tried to approach her but was repelled.  He became distracted and retired to his home with his gun.  A local councillor visited him.  Jimmy appeared brandishing the gun.  The councillor panicked and complained to the police.  Firearms officers arrived at Jimmy's house.  They ordered an unarmed Jimmy to place his hands above his head.  When he failed to comply they shot him.

In the last scene the dancers tossed swans' down into the air.  One of them  menacingly swung a bin liner full of the stuff before emptying its contents over the front rows of the stalls.  Clearly the audience loved the show for nearly everyone rose to their feet.  Indeed, I loved it.  Mancunians stand up for all sorts of shows for which I would never rise like Akram Khan's Giselle but they were right about Teac Damsa's Swan Lake.  It may not have been ballet.  It was not even all dance.  But it was great theatre.

After the show the audience were invited to a dimly lit bar behind the stage that I never knew existed.  It was furnished with cushions, easy chairs and lip-shaped balloons.  Soft drinks were on sale for a pound and alcohol was not much more expensive.  Three members of the band - a violinist, cellist and an electric viola player - serenaded us with traditional Irish music.  At one point, a guest cellist called Mary joined the band on stage to sing a song about sorting socks.  Many companies hold Q & A after the show which I always attend out of respect for the dancers.   It is probably a mistake because it breaks a spell. I think audiences much prefer to remember the artists under the lights with makeup.  Yesterday's after show concert was so pleasant.  It will always remind me of this show.

Teac Damsa are at the Lowry for one more night.  As I am in Move It! at The Dancehouse tonight (see Our Turn to Impress 16 May 2018) I can hardly recommend a rival show but if you get the chance to see this show anywhere else but the Lowry tonight you really must watch it.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Ballet West's Showcase

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In Ballet Black's Standing Ovation at the Nottingham Playhouse 17 May 2018 I mentioned that Ballet Black are coming to Scotland.  They are not the only ones.  I shall return on 27 May to see Ballet West's Showcase at the Macrobert Arts Centre at Stirling University.

The event is described as follows:
"This show is the culmination of the Ballet West students' year and the final assessment for the BA (Hons) in Dance students (awarded by the Open University). It demonstrates the breadth of experience the dancers have gained in classical ballet, modern ballet and contemporary and presents new works created for the students by Belgian choreographer Daniel Job. Degree courses at Ballet West combine training in technical dance skills with genuine performing experiences required by dancers working today."
The students will perform extracts from Paquita in Stirling.  The video shows a rehearsal in a studio that looks very much like the one in which I attended class on 30 April 2018 (see Visiting Taynuilt 4 May 2018).  Immediately after class I was allowed to watch Jonathan Barton coach Joseph Wright and Uyu Hiramoto in the grand pas de deux.  It was looking good even then and I am looking forward to the performance very much indeed.

One of the reasons for my last visit to Scotland was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the St Andrews University Dance Club t-shirt of which I was one of the founder members (see St Andrews University Dance Club's 50th Anniversary Gala 5 May 2018). The Club has commissioned some commemorative t-shirts to celebrate its first half century and one of my friends and university contemporaries was kind enough to send me one earlier today. The panel on the left shows my trying it on and the panel to the right is the back of the same t-shirt.

The other reason for my visit was to see Scottish Ballet's Highland Fling in Oban.  Their newsletter reports:
"The company is back in Glasgow after a whirlwind tour of Highland Fling in Shetland, Orkney, Oban and Stornoway and our hearts are full."
I love that expression "our hearts are full".  It a beautiful phrase which I shall try to remember and use in my own writing. It also reminds me of all the good things I associate with Scotland - some material like the beauty of the countryside but much more the intangible.  In their Dancer's Tour Diary  Scottish Ballet recount some of the places they visited and things they did on tour.  In this hilarious video they challenge their non-Scottish dancers to repeat some Scottish phrases like "braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht" and "Lang may yer lum reek". 

Our West Riding argot can be pretty impenetrable.  I wonder how much of it our Gavin has picked up while he has been with Northern Ballet. Happen a'll ask him next time I meet l'lad.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Ballet Black's Standing Ovation at the Nottingham Playhouse

Anish Kapoor's Sky Mirror outside Nottingham Playhouse
Author  Superhasn
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Ballet Black  Double Bill (The Suit and A Dream within a Midsummer Night's Dream) 16 May 2018 19:30 Nottingham Playhouse

Ballet Black received a well deserved standing ovation last night.  Such appreciation is commonplace in many parts of the world but not in this country - at least not outside political party conferences.  There were whoops and cheers from the audience as well as claps.  Ballet Black are obviously doing something right.

Yesterday's performance was very polished.  As I said in my review of the company's performance  at the Barbican, I had been worried that Damian Johnson might be irreplaceable but José Alves has performed the male lead roles in both The Suit and A Dream within A Midsummer Night's Dream admirably.  Like Johnson he dances with authority but he does so in his own way and just as impressively.

I particularly admired his performance as Philemon in The Suit.  Returning home to pick up his briefcase he finds his wife in bed with Simon. His countenance is like a book. First the disbelief.  "Is this actually happening?" The the shock as he collapses to the floor. The surge of anger that leads to the cruel humiliation of Matilda.  The role of Philemon was created for Alves and it is hard to imagine anyone else dancing it as well.

The wife was danced by Cira Robinson who is truly a ballerina in the traditional sense  and I think this is her finest role.  It would be impertinent of me to compliment her on her virtuosity or her dramatic skills for, as I say, she is a ballerina.  What do I mean by that?  The best way of putting it is that in most performances the artists portray their character but a truly fine artist - a ballerina - can become that character.  And so it was last night as Tilly was pushed beyond endurance.  My body shook as that beautiful woman in a simple blue dress convulsed and then hung still. Tears were welling up uncontrollably even though I knew she would snap back smiling and full or life for the curtsy just seconds away.

Seeing The Suit for a second time I noticed some interesting touches that I had missed before like dancers representing mirrors, wash basins or items of furniture.  By focusing on details such as old lady crossing the street and bumping into passers by, Marston seemed to conjure a crowd.  Mthuthuzeli November danced Simon, the owner of the suit. The rest of the company danced the chorus, commuters and passers by.

The Suit was a chilling but compelling work that left our emotions raw.  Pita's Dream applied the balm.  Yesterday must have been the sixth or maybe seventh time that I had seen that work and it never fails to charm me.   I always find something new.   Whereas The Suit focuses on Philemon and Tilly, everyone has an important role in Dream.  Robinson was Titania, of course, and Alves became Obron. Isabela Coracy amused us as Puck in her scouts uniform and green beard liberally scattering her glitter and dragging dancers by their legs around the stage. Sayaka Ichikawa and Marie-Astrid Mence charmed us as Helena and Hermia. Their Demetrius and Lysander were November and Ebony Thomas. Grunting and swaggering small wonder the girls preferred each other. November also played the one role that Shakespeare never envisaged, namely Salvador Dali in the quest for his missing moustache.

Ballet Black are about to visit Scotland where I took my first ballet class and was introduced to what is now Scottish Ballet.  One of their venues is Dundee Repertory Theatre which is just 12 miles from St Andrews where there is a Dance Club of over 100 members that I helped to found nearly 50 years ago (see St Andrews University Dance Club's 50th Anniversary Gala 5 May 2018). Should any of those students still be in town on 6 June 2018 I strongly recommend their crossing the Tay to see this show.

Fifty years after that first class at St Andrews, I attended class with the undergraduates of Ballet West (see Visiting Taynuilt 4 May 2018). A few days before my visit Scottish Ballet held a workshop at Taynuilt when they visited Oban to dance Highland Fling. Taynuilt is quite a trek from any of the venues where Ballet Black are to perform but I do hope that at least a few of the excellent young men and women I met last month can make it to Dundee, Inverness or Glasgow.

My next opportunity to see Ballet Black will be on 19 Nov when they will return to The Lowry.  They can expect a very warm welcome there

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Our Turn to Impress

Last Saturday Hype Dance Company showed what it could do in its annual show and very good it was too, Next Saturday is the Dancehouse's opportunity to impress.  Classes in different styles take place at the Dancehouse theatre's studios almost every day of the week. Many of those classes are given by KNT Danceworks which I have attended since August 2014. At least once a year, members of those classes show off what they have learned in Move It.

Move It! is described as "a dance show choreographed and performed by members of our various evening and weekend classes, giving them a rare chance to work with our professional technical team on one of the largest stages in Manchester."  It is also great fun.  I have taken part in two of those shows in January 2016  and May 2017 and also watched two more. I described one of those shows as "Better than Eurovision", In the other, my niece Shola nearly stole the show (see Pride 23 Oct 2016).

This year there are 21 different pieces ranging from ballet to belly dancing. The Chinese dancers are always worth watching. They move gracefully in gorgeous costumes.  I am in the Pre-Intermediate Class which should come on stage just after the interval. We have put a lot of hard work  into this show. Last night, for example, we had two rehearsals in the studio, a walk though, and two more rehearsals on stage and staggered onto Oxford Road at 21:00.

Move It! is fun not only for dancers but also for the audience. It is more like a party than a performance.  There is a well-stocked bar which opens before the show and stays open long afterwards.  There is a Tesco across the road and a Saisnbury's a few minutes walk away if you fancy some nibbles and more fast food restaurants and cheap eateries than just about anywhere else in Manchester. The NCP car park at Chester Street is literally round the corner and Oxford Road station 2 minutes away.  If you want to stay the night in the area, there is a Holiday Inn Express almost next door and an Ibis a few minutes away.

So come along and support us.  You can book tickets online or by calling 0161 237 9753 or 0161 237 1413.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Chelmsford Ballet Update

River Chelmer
Author Roy Gray
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Folk in the rest of the UK tend to be very unkind about Essex even though there is much to admire in that county. For a start it possesses some beautiful countryside as you can see from the photo of the River Chelmer from which Chelmsford derives its name. Also, it has one of the nation's oldest ballet companies of which I am proud to say I am a non-dancing associate member.

In order to graduate from associate to dancing member one has to be accepted at an audition which takes place once a year.  Those who are accepted are considered for the annual show in March as well as special events and workshops.

This year's auditions will take place on 24 June 2018. There are three classes of membership and the criteria are as follows:
Age 13 years on 1st September in the year of the audition and holding a Grade 2 Ballet certificate (or above) or be working at an equivalent level.
Age 13 years on 1st September in the year of the audition – Female dancers should be working “en pointe”.
Age 10 years and not more than 12 on 1st September in the year of the audition and holding a Grade 2 Ballet certificate (or above) or be working at an equivalent level."
Those who are accepted for any grade of membership are expected to show a reasonable degree of commitment to the company.  Obviously I can't do all that from Holmfirth but I would have applied for general dancer membership like a shot had I lived in Essex. Those who can make the grade and offer the required level of commitment should apply by completing and lodging this application form before 10 June.

If you are accepted at the audition you qualify for all sorts of fun things like workshops with Ballet Central and Sir Matthew Bourne's company, New Adventures.   Ballet Central's took place on 22 April and was aptly described in the notice to members as a "perfect after show treat." You can say that again. I am green with envy.

Chelmsford's joint patron is none other than Chris Marney who was a magnificent Count Lilac in Bourne's production of The Sleeping Beauty and is now Artistic Director of Ballet CentralThe dancers from Chelmsford Ballet have an opportunity "to sample innovative and exciting repertoire and work on story telling and characterisation in dance" on Sunday 8 July 2018. The blurb from Chelmsford (appropriately on a lilac background) states:
"This is an amazing chance to participate in a workshop specifically tailored for the Chelmsford Ballet Company, which will allow all grades of dancing members an opportunity to understand the process of narrative dance and to work on characterisation."
Finally a note to my fellow Northerners. We could do this sort of thing if we ever get Powerhouse Ballet off the ground.  In the short term Karen Sant has offered us a day's intensive training in Manchester, Ballet West a week in Scotland and Terence Etheridge a fantastic experience in Cornwall. We have got Northern Ballet and Phoenix on our doorstep. They would almost certainly be willing to help. We have excellent links with all the other leading companies in the UK and even beyond.

But in order to get off the ground we need a full class of dancers in Huddersfield on Saturday 26 May 2018 at 15:00 You have the opportunity of a FREE 90-minute class with Jane Tucker, one of the best teachers in the business, for which you would have to pay £7 plus a £5 registration fee in Leeds or £15 in Manchester. Opportunities live this do not grow on trees.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Chantry Dance 2018 Tour

Chantry Dance Company's 'DRACULA - Welcome to D's' (trailer) from Chantry Dance Company on Vimeo.

Four years ago almost to the day Mel Wong and I drove to Lincoln where we took part in Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance It was a memorable day for me because it was the first time that I had danced in public and on film and it gave me the chutzpah to put my name down for Northern Ballet Academy's end of year show (see The Time of My Life 26 June 2014). It was also the first time I met Mel.  I remember how our conversation took off like a rocket from the moment she entered my car and continued in that way throughout the day.

In those days the Chantry Dance Company was a very small and a very new operation.  It has grown over the years staging its first full length ballet last year and offering three year diploma courses in ballet and contemporary dance as well as well as associate programmes, workshops, intensives and outreach events through its School of Contemporary and Balletic Arts.  Dominic North, Clemmie Sveaas and Sarah Kundi are now patrons of that school.

Last year, Rae Piper and Paul Chantry of Chantry Dance built up their audience by visiting in advance several of the venues at which they were to perform and giving a talk with demonstrations about an aspect of the show that they were about to dance. I covered their visit to Halifax in More than "Dancing Bananas": Chantry Dance's Demystification of Contemporary Dance 30 June 2017 as well as their show (see The Sandman in Halifax 28 June 2017).

This year Paul Chantry and Rae Piper are creating a new work around Bram Stoker's DraculaFor some reason or other Dracula attracts choreographers like wasps to a honey pot.  I have seen and reviewed David Nixon's for Northern Ballet (see Dracula 14 Sep 2014) and an extract from Michael Pink and Christoper Gable's which was performed by Ballet Central last year (see Triumphant 1 May 2017). I am also aware of Mark Bruce's Dracula and Ben Stevenson's for Houston Ballet (see the 1987 - 2003 Archive Page on the company's website) and I believe there are many more. It is not a topic that would attract me were I a choreographer as the story gives me the creeps but that is no doubt the creator's intention.  Chantry Dance are performing their new work it in Grantham, Halifax, Worcester, Sale, Stamford, Andover, Lincoln, Horsham and Greenwhich between 21 Sept and 14 Oct 2018.

The company are preparing the ground as they did last year with a talk entitled Day in the Life of a Dancer.   The strap line is "How do they do that" which is a question that Chantry and Piper propose to answer while giving some insight into a dancer's say:
"Learn what it takes to become a dancer, how they maintain fitness, strength and flexibility, and how they rehearse.  Rae and Paul are among the UK’s finest dancers and West End choreographers whose work includes David Walliams’ OLIVIER NOMINATED GANGSTA GRANNY."
They will be at The Waterside in Sale on 27 June and The Victoria in Halifax on 6 July 2018. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. Chantry and Piper will also visit Stamford, Horsham, Andover and Grantham.

I will mention the talk and the show to anyone who turns up to Powerhouse Ballet's first class at Huddersfield on 26 May 2018.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Hype Dance's Annual Show

Hype Dance  Annual Show Library Theatre, Sheffield, 12 My 2018 19:45

Performances are important to dance education because ballet and kindred styles of dance developed in the theatre and are intended for an audience.  The experience of appearing before a living, breathing (and paying) audience is delicious. I well remember the charge of excitement I felt in my first show which I tried to describe in The Time of My Life 28 June 2014.  Every dance student from toddler to pensioner can and should feel that charge no matter how inexperienced or incompetent he or she may be.  Most get that opportunity because almost every dance school worth its salt offers its students a chance to take part in its annual show.  Training and rehearsing for that show is what distinguishes dance classes from dreary keep fit.

Hype Dance Company is a dance school in Sheffield to which I was introduced in 2014 by Mel Wong. Mel and I had met through BalletcoForum when Mel appealed for a teacher to stand in for her regular instructor who was about to take maternity leave. I suggested mine in Huddersfield and I mentioned the vacancy to her though I think she had already learned of it from another source. However, my teacher got the job and I followed her down to Sheffield where I attended my first class at Hype (see More than just Hype - Beginners and Improvers Classes in Sheffield 14 May 2014).  In that post I wrote:
"I have not met the other teachers but judging by the standard I found at Hype they must be good. I have no hesitation in recommending that dance school."
I later took classes with Emily Talks and Anna Olejnicki who directs the school and attended Hype's open air Frightnight show on the Moor.  I am glad to say that those other teachers and the school fully met my expectations.

Yesterday was Hype Dance's annual show at the Library Theatre in Sheffield. The Library is one of three theatres around Tudor Square which must place it in contention for one of the most theatre concentrated districts in England. The Library is an intimate auditorium seating 260 sprctators attached to the Central Library which is literally next door to The Lyceum.  Hype has so many students and runs so many classes that it had to stage the show in multiple sessions.  The kids and young people performed in the afternoon while the adult dance students performed in the evening.  I attended the evening show.

Some 19 pieces were presented ranging from ballet to pole dance.  I was impressed by all the performances.  The ballet included some tricky pointe work by two soloists who impressed me with their precision and polish, a charming character dance from the RAD class and excellent contributions from the advanced, improvers and beginners' classes.  I had shadowed the beginners' class in their rehearsal a few weeks ago and was impressed by it then but it was even better on stage.  It was raised to a new level by a soloist who suddenly appeared and wowed us.  A brilliant touch by Anna who had choreographed that piece.

Hype's jazz classes are particularly strong.  All the dancers are impressive but I have to say a special word for the solitary male who showed great strength and virtuosity.  As in most dance schools there are far more women at Hype than men, but all the men who took part in yesterday's show distinguished themselves.  One showed particular wit and courage by taking part in SHE Heels mastering impossibly towering footwear with the grace of any of the girls    The pole dancer was described as a guest in the programme.  I know no more about her but she amazed me with her strength and grace particularly when she was suspended by her legs her luxuriant hair cascading about her.  Contemporary, tap. street and all the other artists performed well too.

The jazz class led us into the finale each of the dancers showing off his or her party piece. Each of the other classes followed them onto stage to mounting applause. Finally the teachers with Anna acknowledging the cheers.  She appeared as proud as Punch and had every right to be.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Richard Chappell Dance to perform in Leeds

TS Eliot
Author Lady Ottoline Morrell.
Source Wikipedia 

For many years I have been begging Richard Chappell to bring one of his shows to the North and he has finally relented.  His company, Richard Chappell Dance, will perform at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds on 6 June 2018.

I first came across Richard's work in 2014 when he was still a student at the Rambert School.  He had been commissioned by David Murley to create Wayward Kinship on the relationship between Thomas Becket and his king - a topic that TS Elliot explored in Murder in the Cathedral and Jean Anouilh in Becket.  In MurleyDance's Autumn Tour 28 Oct 2014 I wrote:
"Chappell's Wayward Kinship was a complete change of mood. Like Gilian Lynne's A Miracle in the Gorbals which I had seen earlier in the day it considered the struggle of the temporal against the spiritual. It explored the friendship between Henry and Becket and its transition into hate with the eventual ridding of the turbulent priest. The knights who carried out the king's bidding were women and all the more sinister for that. The ballet ended with Becket nearing his cross triumphant in death. A remarkable work for any choreographer but all the more impressive for a 19 year old who has only just completed his training at Rambert. No doubt we shall see a lot of Richard Chappell in the years to come."
As Richard and I live and work at opposite ends of England it has mot been easy to catch his shows but David Murley was able to cover one of his performances at Chissenhale Dance Space (see Murley on Chappell 1 March 2015).

Richanrd's show,  At the End We Begin, is described in Northern Ballet's newsletter as "a dynamic and compelling programme". It appears to be another work inspired by T.S. Eliot.   This time it is Four Quartets. According to the company's website the piece takes four individuals "from a place of being lost to a state of empowerment and acceptance, where they have found their own voice by journeying through Eliot's text." The dramaturgy is by Neus Gil Cortes.  Samuel Hall has composed a new score for the work with cello, piano and electronics.  Hannah Taylor has designed the costumes.  The work has already been performed in Oxford, Exeter and Doncaster and will proceed to Frome, Dundee, Newcastle and Falmouth later in the year.

With any luck this will be the first of many visits to Leeds.  Richard writes:
"I love Leeds as a city and it's vibrant dance scene, and if we can sell well for the performance in the coming month, then this could really help me in developing a more regular creative presence in the city in the future."
I wish Richard a successful tour and hope he will include Manchester and other venues in the North West in his tours one day.