Saturday, 30 June 2018


Author Steve F
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Gary Clarke Company Wasteland 29 June 2018 14:00 CAST in Doncaster

Following the success of Coal which explored the "darker underbelly of the mining industry unearthing the true nature and body wrecking demands of a working class industry now almost forgotten", the Gary Clarke Company is producing a sequel to that work called Wasteland which considers what happened to the coal mining areas of Yorkshire and their communities after the  miners strike of 1984 to 1985. They presented a preview of the show to the CAST in Doncaster yesterday.

The preview consisted of an 80 minute sharing of the work that had been done so far plus a 30 minute question and answer session with Gary Clarke.  The audience who stayed for the Q & A included a row of local schoolchildren, former miners, dancers, musicians, journalists, theatre directors and ordinary members of the public such as me.  Clarke told the audience that the work was very much a work in progress.  Members of the audience were given a feedback form and Clarke took note of the audience's suggestions for improving the show.

Because I was a bit lethargic after my 300 mile trek to Birmingham and back the night before as a result of which I set off for the theatre later than I had attended and congestion on the M62 and A1 I regret to say that I missed the very start of the show.  Gita who arrived a few minutes before me told me that the show opened with a male voice choir and a brass band.  I would love to have heard that for many member of the audience remarked that it was lovely.  I did in fact catch a bit of the music because a trombonist and one or two other musicians were playing in the sitting room of a former miner's home.  The characters in the room were the former miner, his wife and their boy.  The piece focused on what had happened to them and other miners' families in the 30 or so years since the miners' strike of 1984 and 1985.

It was not a very happy story.  There seemed to be a fight between the former miner (Alistair Goldsmith) and his son (Tom Davis Dunn) and at one point another between the miner and his wife (TC Howard). To underscore the point that there was not much else for miners and their offspring to do after the mining industry closed down, much of the action centred on a rave which was eventually broken up by the police.  There was a point when the dancers appeared carrying riot shields painted with smiley faces. There was a lot of very loud metallic sounding music of the kind I can vaguely remember from the era.

The dancers who portrayed the ravers were very impressive. Gary Clarke told Gita that they had been professionally trained in ballet and contemporary dance and some had actually been ravers.  The male dancers were Robert Anderson and Jake Evans and the women were Elena Thomas Voilquin and Emily Thompson Smith.  Some of the dances they perform were very energetic and lasted for quite a time.  An impressive display of stamina and discipline.

There were tragic scenes where the boy lost his money on a horse. There was a poignant scene of his clutching the television.  Somehow we got Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture  and an eclectic collection of other music.  It nevertheless seemed to fit together and whether intended or not the last scene gave an impression of optimism.

Clarke choreographed the show and his dramaturg was Lou Cope. Steven Roberts was the music director. Ryan Dawson Laight designed sets and costumes.  Lighting and projection was by Charles Webber.

Gary Clarke told Gita that the work should be ready to tour next year or the year after and that it was still in embryo.  The audience seemed to like it,  It is supported by the Arts Council and the programme featured the logos of some important venues and companies.  I will report back when I show opens formally.  

Friday, 29 June 2018

MacMillan's Masterpiece

Romeo and Juliet web trailer from Birmingham Royal Ballet on Vimeo.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Romeo and Juliet 28 June 2018, 19:30 Birmingham Hippodrome

We have seen a lot of work by Sir Kenneth MacMillan over the last year or so to mark the 25th anniversary of his death. Everybody has his or her favourite work by that great man.  Mine is Romeo and Juliet.  It is about 50 years since I first saw that ballet at the Royal Opera House and I was captivated by it.  I have two abiding memories of that performance: Georgiadis's designs and Lynn Seymour's dancing.  I cannot for the life of me remember who partnered Seymour on that occasion.  It might have been Donald MacLeary, It may even have been Rudolf Nureyev. I certainly saw Nureyev with Fonteyn in that ballet - at least in film when I was a graduate student in Los Angeles if not on stage as I remember how much I preferred Seymour's dancing.

The reason I remember Seymour but not her partner is that MacMillan's ballet is a study of Juliet or rather her overnight transition from childhood to womanhood. Other choreographers have focused on different aspects of the story: Krzysztof Pastor on power or rather the power struggle between Capulets and Montagues reflecting the battle between left and right in modern Italian history (see Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2014) while Jean-Christophe Maillot explores the role of Friar Lawrence (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way 8 March 2015).  Romeo does not change or at least not in the same way and nothing like as much as as Juliet which is why I can always remember who danced Juliet in MacMillan's ballet but seldom her Romeo.

Because of MacMillan's focus on Juliet's transition I can't help comparing the ballerina who dances that role with Seymour. I have never seen a performance that has impressed me as much as Seymour's over the last 50 years but some have come close. Last night's exquisite performance by Celine Gittens came closest of all.  She taught me new things about the ballet.  Her realization of her womanhood as she tossed aside her toy. The look that she gives Romeo before they dance a step. No doubt that is part of the choreography but somehow I had missed them all the other times that I have seen the work.  In Gittens I saw Juliet rather than a representation of Juliet.  Just as I had with Seymour all those years before.

Another dancer who impressed me particularly last night was Ruth Brill.  She was the nurse. Not a big role  perhaps but a pivotal one.  She accompanies Juliet through every stage of the story.  A bighearted woman full of love.  She is ragged mercilessly by Juliet in the nursery and outrageously by the Montagues in the town square as she tries to deliver Juliet's note to Romeo. She prepares Juliet for her first ball. She witnesses her wedding. She tries to intercede with Juliet's parents when they force her to marry Paris. She discovers Juliet's lifeless body on the morning of what was supposed to be her wedding day.  She kneels beside her in the Capulet family crypt in the very last scene. Though very little of her face was visible under her veil I watched her eyes convey indignation as she was molested in the market place and then a frisson of delight as Romeo pecked her cheek after he had read Juliet's note.

Tall and athletic Brandon Lawrence was as worthy a Romeo as any I had seen in that role.  His duel with Tybalt was as thrilling as his dance with the seemingly lifeless Juliet in the crypt was chilling.  Valentin Olovyannikov was a haughty, headstrong Tybalt just as Shakespeare had portrayed him. Lachlan Monaghan was a gallant Mercutio stabbed in the back after he has every reason to believe his fight with Tybalt was over. It is always hard to hold back tears as he strums his sword as if it were a musical instrument and it was particularly hard last night. Samara Downs was a formidable Lady Capulet from the first icy curtsy at Escalus's command to the explosion of rage at the sign of her slain son. Alice Shee was a charming Rosaline. How many lives would have been saved had Romeo not given up on her.

There was so much to like in that performance.  There is the dance by Juliet's friends at the Capulets' party as she plucks the strings.  There is the mandolin dance  by the men in fuzzy costumes.  There was Paul Andrews's sets and costumes even though I think I prefer Georgiadis's which remind me so much of the work of Leon Bakst. There was the magnificent Maestro Kessels who won perhaps even more generous applause than he would otherwise have received after the second interval when the result of the Belgium match would have been known.

It was a long, hot drive to Biirmingham with congestion on the M1 and A52 forcing me to detour via Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield and an even worse drive back with the A38 (M) hors de combat and a massive tailback on the M6.  After delivering my friend to her home I crawled into my bed at 02:55 this morning. But last night's show was worth it.  Like the first time I saw Lynn Seymour I think I shall remember this performance for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Powerhouse Ballet's Leeds Company Class

I am delighted to announce that Powerhouse's Ballet's July class will be given by Annemarie Donoghue of Northern Ballet on Saturday 28 July 2018 at 14:00 in Studio 1 at Dance Studio Leeds in Mill 6 of the historic Mabgate Mills on Macaulay Street.  As before I shall pay for the teacher and studio hire.  All you have to do is register and turn up.

Annemarie was my first teacher at Northern Ballet and I have attended more classes with her than I have with any other teacher.  I described my first class with her in Realizing a Dream 12 Sept 2013. While she appears to have endless patience and good humour her classes are anything but easy.  She pushes her students hard, expects the very best from them and consistently draws out the best.  You can see her in action in  this YouTube video of her over 55 class at Northern Ballet.

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As its name suggests, Mabgate Mills is located in Mabgate, an interesting quarter of Leeds with a rich industrial heritage.  There are several listed and historic buildings in the neighbourhood including the Mills themselves.  The studios are half a mile from Northern Ballet and a little over a mile from Leeds railway station.  The 42 run bus runs from Infirmary Street nearthe station to Lincoln Green Road which is close to the Mills.  There is free parking in the Mill yard on Saturdays.

We still have space on the June class in Manchester.  It will be given by Mark Hindle of KNT Danceworks between 13:30 and 15:00 on Saturday 30 June 2018.  There is no charge but you must register in advance.  You can do so by clicking the button below.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Polarity and Proximity

Polarity & Proximity website trailer from Birmingham Royal Ballet on Vimeo.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Polarity and Proximity 23 June 2018, 14:30, Birmingham Hippodrome

Yesterday I saw the Birmingham Royal Ballet at its best.  It performed a triple bill consisting of Alexander Whitley's Kin, George Williamson's Embrace and Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room.  I had seen Kin before (see Vaut le Voyage - Birmingham Royal Ballet in Shrewsbury 25 May 2015) but not the other two.  I had, however, seen Williamson's Dawn Dances which the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company danced in their very first show in Amsterdam (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013) and later in London (see  And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden 30 May 2014).

When I first saw Kin in Shrewsbury.   I wrote:
"Kin was well worth the 200 mile return journey which took three hours each way. It began with a low, almost inaudible, hum like an electric motor which I think must have been a cello as the curtain began slowly to rise. The stage was dimly lit and I could just about make out a solitary female dancer dressed in black. As she began to move I think I recognized Yijing Zhang. She then danced the most beautiful solo. Had it been poetry of words rather than dance I would have described as elegiac. The other dancers entered also in black. The music changed to a persistent throbbing. I wrote a lot of notes on my cast list not all of which I can decipher now as I had to scribble in the dark. I can just about make out "gyrations" and "chaînés". I remember the most hauntingly beautiful pas de deux by Yijing Zhang and William Bracewell. I also remember some great turns by the males towards the end. This morning, I can also make out the noun "virtuosity." 
I apologize for the superficiality of this description but yesterday was the first time I had seen a very beautiful, multi-layered work which I think will require more than one viewing to appreciate properly. Marion Tait referred to the work's beauty when she had to announce its cancellation last week. I seem to remember that she also used the adjective "special". If she did she was right. The music was by Phil Kline and I think this was the first time I had heard his work. It is not a pretty score but it sets the mood perfectly and it allowed plenty of scope for interpretation. The set (very plain with just two features) and the austere black costumes were by Jean-Marc Puissant. The lighting which cleverly matched the atmospheric score was by Peter Teigen. Whitley assembled those elements ingeniously."

I can't really add to that. There were, of course, different dancers. Tyrone Singleton was the male lead and Jenna Roberts the female. They were supported by Reina Fuchigami, Yvette Knight, Alys Shee, Tsu-Chao-Chu, Max Maslen, Lachlan Monaghan and Edivaldo Souza da Silva. I am a big fan of Singleton and was glad to see him in the lead role. Physically powerful but also sensitive he was ideally cast.  Kin is a short but intense work.  A good start to the programme.  

The ballet that brought me to Birmingham was Williamson's Embrace.  This is the first of a series of new works commissioned under the Ballet Now programme. This is a joint venture between the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Sadler's Wells to "support two commissions each year, helping a total of six artists – one choreographer, composer and designer for each commission. They will create work that will premiere at either BRB or Sadler's Wells in London" for each of the next 5 years. As Ted Brandsen and Cassa Pancho are on the commissioning committee and as Juanjo Arques is another of the first choreographers to be commissioned, I take a personal interest in the project.

In the programme, Williamson writes:
"I think everyone knows what it feels like to be an outsider at some point and for any young people, our path doesn't always feel the simplest or easiest. Growing up can be frightening. Equally, I think everyone also knows what it is to have friends support you in your worries and anxieties. I want people to come away understanding what it feels like to be "other" but also to accept and embrace it in a positive way, hence the title." 
A note on the cast sheet added :
"Embrace tells the story of one man's journey towards understanding and acceptance. Unable to recognize himself in the swirling masses that surround him. It takes the kindness of one and the love pf another for him to let go of who he thought he'd be and embrace who he really is." 
The work has three lead characters and what I would like to call a chorus.  No less that 4 artists dance the subject of the ballet, namely "He", "Self One", "Self Two" and "Self Three."  The other leads are "She" and "Him". The chorus (my terminology borrowed from Cathy Marston after The Suit and  Jane Eyre) are called "Them".

Brandon Lawrence dances "He" and the curtain rises with him lying in an enclosed space.  Lawrence is obviously different in the sense that he is the only member of the cast of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage but that is probably coincidental for the character he dances is different also in sexual orientation and takes some stick for that from "Them".  One pushes him around but most avoid him.  He finds support from "Him", that is to say Max  Maslen and "She" Yvette Knight.

It was only after seeing the ballet that I began to understand the roles of the first, second and third selves, Lachlan Monaghan, Haoliang Fen and Aitor Gaelnde.  With the benefit of ex post facto ratiocination I think they represented the selves They ordain for He.  At a superficial level most will remember the tender duets between Lawrence and Maslen.  Rare examples of same sex love on the stage. There are also conventional duets with Knight

Williamson created this work to a specially commissioned score by Sarah Kirkland Snider who is best known for her orchestral and chamber music. Although the music for Embrace is not buzzing in my head in the same way as Philip Glass's, I thought it was appropriate.  I was however even more impressed with Madeleine Girling's set and costume designs.  In particular, I liked her windows which reminded me of a multistory building - prompting the thought that He might be driven to crash through of them - and the translucent trousers and skirts.

The last work of the afternoon was the most exhilarating, the most exuberant, the most energetic and hence the most fun. Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room to Glass's score had us tapping our feet and almost dancing in the aisles. The curtain rose on Maureya Labowitz and Jade Heusen in what appear to be striped pyjamas. They are joined by the boys, Galende, Monaghan and Gus Payne. Off go Lenowitz and Hausen and on come Roberts and Lawrence.  It is more like a party than a ballet. The pyjamas give way to red tops and striped bottoms and vice versa, then red leotards and dressed with the men bear chested with belts of red around their trousers. Every possible jump, or turn you have ever seen was performed to crescendos of incessant music.  Fouettés followed by tours en l'air.  Though the theatre was less than full the applause was deafening.  Everyone seemed to leave the theatre with a bounce.

I had a great day in Birmingham yesterday which started with my friend Sarah Lambert meeting my train who introduced me to two of her dancing chums in the Bacchus bar. One of them, Charlotte, is  an accomplished theatre and live event designer and technician from Sheffield.  I told them about Powerhouse Ballet and invited them to class.  They in turn told me about their work with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and they invited me back to their show in two weeks time.

Birmingham is a long way from Holmfirth and takes almost the same time and costs nearly as much as a trip to London. A long way and a very long day. But yesterday was well worth the trek and looking around the auditorium I found that I was not the only Northerner to have made the trip.


The following remark has given rise to a mini-twitter storm:
"Brandon Lawrence dances "He" and the curtain rises with him lying in an enclosed space.  Lawrence is obviously different in the sense that he is the only member of the cast of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage but that is probably coincidental for the character he dances is different also in sexual orientation and takes some stick for that from "Them".  One pushes him around but most avoid him.  He finds support from "Him", that is to say Max  Maslen and "She" Yvette Knight."
I am not going to resile from those words but I shall explain them.  Early in the ballet "He" is jostled by a member of the chorus.  If you see an incident on the street where a person of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage is being jostled then you would draw only one conclusion.  On seeing jostling on the stage I drew that same conclusion.  Now remember that this ballet is about being an outsider and self-acceptance.  It is clear from the programme notes and indeed the choreography as the ballet unfolds that there is another different reason why He is an outsider. Even though it was  serendipitous it does not mean that a reaction on seeing what appears to be a theatrical representation of racial abuse should be discarded.  On the contrary it added to my appreciation of the ballet.

I do not see any basis upon which the above words could have been construed as an inference that Lawrence was cast as He otherwise than for his artistic qualities.  Any such suggestion is arrant nonsense.  Lawrence is an outstanding artist as I have acknowledged in all previous reviews.  No dancer becomes a soloist in one of the world's great ballet companies unless he or she is outstanding.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Newyddion Gorau drwy'r dydd! Ballet Cymru are coming to Leeds

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The bit of the headline in Welsh means "Best news all day,"

Ballet Cymru are coming to Leeds on 29 November 2018 to perform A Child's Christmas in WalesIt is another collaboration between Cerys Matthews, Darius James and Amy Doughty  The last time those three worked together they produced TIR .   This is one of my all time favourite ballets as you can see from my reviews The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales 8 Nov 2015 and Ballet Cymru in London 1 Dec 2015.

James and Doughty are not the first choreographers to translate Dylan Thomas's poetry into dance.  Christopher Bruce created Ten Poems for Scottish Ballet in 2014 to mark the centenary of the poet's birth.  I reviewed the work in Bruce Again on 6 Oct 2014.

This may be Ballet Cymru's first visit to Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre but Darius James is no stranger as he danced with Northern Ballet when it was called Northern Ballet Theatre.  It will be good to welcome him back.  I hope that this is the first of many visits.

Tickets for this show are already on sale and are likely to go like hot cakes.  This link will take you to the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre website.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Congratulations to Sarah Kundi

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Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a very big fan of Sarah Kundi.  Sarah led me to Ballet Black and later to MurleyDance. For a while I feared that she would leave the country (see Bye Bye and All the Best 10 June 2014) and was overjoyed when I found that she was saved for the nation for she had been offered a job with English National Ballet.

Although she spent the last four years as an artist of the company she has performed some important roles.  One that impressed me particularly was as Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet (see Manchester's Favourite Ballet Company 29 Nov 2015),  I wrote:
"But the casting that delighted me most was to see Sarah Kundi as Lady Capulet. I have followed that dancer ever since she danced in Leeds. It was she who led me to Ballet Black and through MurleyDance to Richard Chappell. She is tall and elegant with the most expressive face. An actor as much as a dancer, yesterday's role was perfect for her. It is an important one in Nureyev's production for it is Lady Capulet who forces her daughter to take desperate measures. How I clapped at the curtain call. I fear my "brava" roared from the middle of the stalls would have been drowned out by everyone else's applause by the time it reached the stage. Had this show been in London I could have tossed flowers at her."
On the last occasion that English National Ballet performed in Manchester  Gita Mistry, Helen McDonough and I actually met Sarah.  It was just after she had danced Effie's confidante, Anna, in La Sylphide (see Always Something Special from English National Ballet: La Sylphide with Song of the Earth 18 Nov 2017). As the performance was just before Daiwali, Gita had made her a little sweet for the festival.

It was therefore a particular pleasure to read in Promotions and new dancers joining the Company for the 2018-19 season on ENB's website that Sarah had been promoted to first artist for the new season.  I am sure that all the contributors to Terpsichore will join me in congratulating Sarah and wishing her well.   I will definitely be in the audience at the Opera House when the company returns to Manchester in October with Manon and at the Empire when it dances Swan Lake in NovemberIn fact, maybe one of those shows could be Powerhouse Ballet's first outing

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Powerhouse Ballet's Training Programme

Following the success of its first class in Huddersfield on 26 May 2018 (see We have a company 27 May 2018) Powerhouse Ballet plans to hold classes on 30 June in Manchester, 28 July in Leeds, the 22 Sept in Liverpool and 27 Oct 2018 either in Huddersfield or Sheffield.

We have a very strong team of teachers from KNT Danceworks, the Northern Ballet Academy and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

For the future we plan a residential courses in a pleasant part of the country with distinguished guest teachers where we can concentrate on technique and repertoire and occasional workshops with visiting companies. I have already approached the artistic director of one company with such a suggestion,

As ballet is an art we shall offer training for the mind and soul as well as the body.  We shall therefore take a leaf out of the London Ballet Circle's book by inviting distinguished choreographers, dancers, teachers, critics and others who are either based in or visiting the North to give a talk to our members and other dance enthusiasts over a glass of wine.  These will be open to the general public as well as dancers. I hope that the first talk will be in September and that our guest will be a very big name indeed.

I hope we shall be able to host occasional outings to the Lowry, Alhambra and other theatres in the region and in time maybe even to Covent Garden, the Paris Opera or Stopera or to see our favourite dancers and maybe even meet some of the great names from whom we can derive inspiration.

However, one step at a time.  And we will take our next step with Mark Hindle who is an  excellent teacher in Studio 3 of the Manchester Dancehouse at 10a Oxford Road on Saturday 30 June at 13:30. The Dancehouse could not be easier to reach as it has an NCP multistory car park next door and is just a few hundred yards from  Oxford Road station which is on the Leeds to Liverpool mainline. Several bus routes run down Oxford Road and it is a short walk from the nearest tram stop.

I shall pay for Mark and the studio hire so the class is free to you but you must register in advance as we are limited to 25 dancers.  I know it's summer but please register and turn up.   None of the good things that I have suggested will be possible without good turnout in both senses of the word.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Plato's Cave - the Live Transmission of the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

Plato's Cave
Author Jan Sanraedam according to Cornelos van Harlaam
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Royal Ballet Swan Lake 12 June 2018 Live streaming to cinemas worldwide from Covent Garden

I was lucky enough to see the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake from the stalls of the Royal Opera House on 22 May 2018 and reviewed the performance in Scarlett's Swan Lake 23 May 2018. I saw it again last Tuesday at the Leeds Showcase against my better judgment and really wish I hadn't.

In Flowers for Dreda 9 June 2018 I wrote that ballet should never be a passive experience and that is the difference between watching ballet in the cinema and watching it live. You can marvel at Legnani's 32 fouettés from your local flicks just as much as you can in the theatre. Arguably you can even get a better view.  Certainly more than you would in rows L to Q of the amphitheatre. But however loudly you clap or cheer Nuñez or Nikulina can't hear you.  They are 200 or in the case of the Bolshoi 1,500 miles away and their dialogue is with the living, breathing, thinking audience a few feet away.  Not the hot dog munchers or cola quaffers of Birstall, Bergen or Brescia.

There are some advantages to ballet in the cinema.

You can see details that you might want to see such as the dancer's facial expressions, Rothbart's picking up the crown at the end of act III or Odette's mime in act IV when she breaks the news that they have to spend the rest of their lives floating around a slimy pond because Siegfried has blown it. On the other hand you also see some details that you don't like the brush strokes or bricks on the backdrop or loose threads on the costumes.

The other big advantage of cinema is that audiences can gain insight into the production or performance that they would never get in the theatre by interviewing the choreographers, composers or designers who created the work or the conductors and dancers who are about to perform it.  Generally, that is something that Pathé  Live and the Bolshoi do so much better than Covent Garden. One of the reasons the Bolshoi get it right is that they employ a multilingual journalist with good dress sense and an excellent knowledge of the ballet.

One feature of the Royal Ballet's transmissions that I wish they would drop are the gushing tweets.  Most seem to state the obvious - namely that ballet is a remarkable spectacle (it wouldn't be worth watching otherwise) plus their locations. Social media could have a role.  For example, it could be used to put questions to the creatives. I would love to have quizzed Liam Scarlett on why and how he developed  von Rothbart's role.  Covent Garden just seem to use it as a marketing tool or perhaps just simple vanity.

In watching the cinema transmission I was reminded of the story of Plato's cave.

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I first heard of it from my father long before I started to learn Greek.  Live transmissions of ballet are rather like the shadows of reality from the fire in the cave.  They may be better than nothing and they have their place but don't let anyone tell you that they are ballet because they are not. The analogy works quite well with live transmissions because some things that look good in the theatre just so not show up well on screen. John Macfarlane's designs are a case in point.  The screen images did not do justice to them.

I expressed these views on a ballet goers' website some years ago and got roasted. I was accused of elitism by a lady who makes her living from translating foreign  language patent specifications and was excoriated a man of the cloth.  I was reminded of the fate of the man who broke free of the cave and tried to warn the remaining troglodytes and gave that website a miss for many years. I am now very careful about what I post to that website confining myself to reviews of performances that most subscribers would not have seen lest I be offered a pint of hemlock.

Sunday, 17 June 2018


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Studio 59 Querencia 16 June 2018, 19:30 Victoria Theatre, Halifax

Querencia is an unusual title for a Halifax dance studio's annual show. Look it up in a Spanish dictionary and one of the meanings is "haunt" as a noun in the sense of a place where living creatures as well as unquiet spirits like to go. Hemingway used the term as the bull's space in the bull ring. The show's programme shows a pride of lions under the words "a place from which one's strength is drawn, where one feels at home: the place where you are your most authentic self."

Hmmm! Well I guess the show's organizers had to call it something even if most of the audience (I included) had to google the name.  Student shows are very important because dance developed in the theatre and is intended for an audience.  As I said in my review of Hype Dance's Annual Show 13 May 2018:
"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."
This was a particularly ambitious show because it took place in Halifax's main repertory theatre which seats over 1,500 patrons and consisted of almost 2 hours of continuous, vigorous dancing. Considering that Studio 59 opened its doors only 18 months ago and has just under 100 registered students this was an impressive undertaking.

I was there at the invitation of one of the dancers who attended Jane Tucker's class for Powerhouse Ballet on 26 May 2018 (see We have a Company 27 May 2018 Powerhouse Ballet).  She told us about this show when Amelia Sierevogel and I visited her Thursday evening ballet class at Ballet North on 31 May 2018 (see Class Review - Ballet North Halifax 2 June 2018).

The show consisted of 19 pieces in every style from ballet to tap.  It opened with a scene from Hairspray with the girls in flowing full length dresses performing a high octane routine.  Grace Allen as Corny Collins made a very convincing young man.  I could not fault the dancing.  It was exuberant and fun to watch.  The only part of that piece which could have been improved was in the dialogue. The Baltimore accent is particularly difficult to imitate as Maryland lies just south of the Mason-Dixon line but is influenced by the more nasal tones from New Jersey and New York and the nearest thing Americans have to a received pronunciation in Washington DC. I would have thought the girls' natural voices would have been good enough especially as the West Riding has quite a lot in common with Baltimore.  Also, the casting was a bit strange with the mother looking very much younger than her teenage daughters unless irony was intended by the producer.

Hairspray was followed by Milkshake by the intermediate commercial class, a tap number We both reached for the gun from Chicago, Ice Royalty (hip hop), Can Can (great dancing but no fin de siècle music), Wash & Set in heels, Bye Bye Blackbird (more tap this time by the intermediate class which was one of my favourites), Youth (lyrical), Gangland (more hip-hop), I just can't wait to be king (another favourite performed by two very talented young girls Elenya Coates and Grace Raine) and finally the ballet which wound up act 1.

The ballet was called Young & Beautiful and combined the junior, intermediate and senior classes in one piece.  The dancers performed in grey classical tutus and what appeared to be lemon coloured tops. The senior dancers wore eye masks and pointe shoes.  There seemed to be quite a lot of bourrées on full pointe and demi which must have required some stamina.  Even though ballet accommodates every type of music and none (even Bollywood as my old university dance club showed in Colour of Love) I wondered at the juxtaposition of classical tutus with anything but classical music. However, the piece was performed slickly. It was well rehearsed and thoughtfully choreographed.  I congratulate those who coached the artists as well as the artists who took part.

The second act began with Tribute, a jazz piece celebrating 100 years of women's suffrage.  It was followed by Black Magic (junior commercial), Pop Mania (more jazz and a very confident performance by two junior dancers), Chun Li (more hip hop), Flashmob  (break dance and acrobatics which was the only piece that included some boys), OTW (more commercial) and Tapathon that included another appearance by the talented Grace Raine).

Throughout the show there were breaks for speeches by a lady and gentleman who appeared to be in charge of Studio 59.  They presented small silver cups to students they wished to reward.  At the very end of the show they and each of the choreographers performed a party piece to prove that they had not forgotten their dance skills.

It goes without saying that a lot of work must have gone into the show. Not only with the dancing but also with the costumes, properties and lighting.  It was entertaining for the audience and must have been fun to rehearse and perform.  Studio 59 have every reason to be pleased with the result.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Huddersfield University's Graduate Costume Show

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University of Huddersfield  Graduate Costume Show 15 June 2018 17:00 Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

I am often asked by friends who regard balletomania as an addiction how I came to be hooked. Even  though I saw a lot of theatre, attended a lot of concerts and visited a lot of art galleries and museums as I was growing up, I never had much to do with ballet.  That was largely because my father, a kindly and erudite man of letters, regarded it as slightly disreputable owing to its association with the Soviet Union and the tendency of the classical tutu and male dancers' tights to reveal more than many considered decent.

My interest in ballet was sparked by an exhibition of early 20th century Russian art at the Victoria and Albert Museum or possibly Royal Academy when I was about 16 or 17.  There I saw some of the work of Leon Bakst and was quite bowled over. I learned of his work with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. I found that he was just one of many great artists who had been commissioned to design for the ballet.  When I should have been revising for "A" levels and Oxbridge scholarships in Hammersmith Library I was pouring over its massive collection of reference books on theatre design and ballet.  I watched what I could on television and became an early fan of Peter Darrell's Western Theatre Ballet. Eventually the London Festival Ballet staged a triple bill at The Coliseum that included the The Firebird, widely regarded as Bakst's masterpiece.

On the pretext of treating an elderly aunt I persuaded my parents to pay for me to see the show. It was better than I had ever imagined. The music, the colour, the movement and the drama absorbed all my senses.  It was the most thrilling experience that I had ever known.  The auditorium exploded at the curtain call.  The cheering, whooping and growling from the crowd, the thunderous applause, the mountains of flowers were theatre in themselves. Nobody with any soul could fail to have been moved by that experience.  Although I had to wait till I got to St Andrews with an independent income before I could afford another show or ballet lessons my passion for dance had been ignited.

I experienced a similar frisson  of excitement last night when I saw another costume for The Firebird .  That garment had been designed by Amelia Sierevogel who has just graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a bachelor's degree in Costume with Textiles. The costume was modelled by Erin Phillips who also reads Costume with Textiles at Huddersfield.  As soon as she came on stage I recognized her as a fellow adult ballet student. Erin did not simply display that costume. She danced in it.  Much of her performance was on pointe.  It was - or rather costume and dancing were - spell binding.

Amelia's costume was just one of several excellent works that I saw last night at the Graduate Costume Show at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.   The students on that course learn to design costumes for theatres around the world as can be seen from the placements.  Amelia's were with the Australian Ballet and the Australian Opera last year.  Students pick characters from theatre, literature, film or television and create costumes for them. Last night we saw costumes for Cinderella and Ophelia as well as The Firebird and many other characters.  There were several designs for the ballet. Erin was not the only model on pointe last night.  The show opened spectacularly with a scene from Midsummer Night's Dream with a splendid Bottom dressed as an ass.

Although last night's show was filmed, it is likely to be some time before any of it is posted to YouTube.  Happily one can get some idea of its format from the above recording of Rhianna Lister's designs for characters from A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from the 2016 show.

As I said above, I was led to ballet by Leon Bakst so I cannot stress too much the importance of theatre design. Over the years I have been impressed by other designers such as Nicholas Georgiadis, Osbert Lancaster and more recently Lez Brotherston   The course at Huddersfield is described in Costume with Textiles at the University of Huddersfield - Natalie Day. It is clearly an important resource for the theatre and thus for all of us.

Although it has nothing to do with costume design or fashion I must report another find.  On my way back to my car I passed an eatery called Rostyk Kitchen that advertised jollof rice. It is a delicacy from West Africa that my late spouse used to cook and I miss it so.  West African food requires a lot of preparation and the ingredients are not always readily available. I can cook simple dishes like plantains and sweet potatoes but not plasas, pepper chicken or groundnut stew. Now I no longer need to mither Vlad the Lad's mum and dad, my sisters in law in London or my relations by marriage in Freetown when I get a craving.  My feast of jollof rice and chicken completed a perfect day.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Nifty North Korean Footwork

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Prompted by the comings and goings in Singapore I googled "Ballet in North Korea" and this is what I found.  I am not sure that this counts as ballet but it certainly passes muster as tap.   Some very nifty footwork there.

There are plenty of dancers from South Korea in the world's ballet companies.  Kimin Kim, the first to spring to mind, actually dances in Russia.  He will be performing in London with the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre between 22 and 26 Aug 2018.  There is also Hyo-Jung Kang with the Stuttgart Ballet and I nearly forgot Young Gye Choi who is one of my favourites at the Dutch National Ballet.

I struggle to think to think of any from the North.  Given Pyongyang's adoption of other Stalinist practices I am surprises that there is not a strong North Korean Ballet or, if there is, that we in the West hear so little of it.  If any of my readers know otherwise then do say.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Inspiration in Bingley - Cinderella at Bingley Little Theatre

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Sara Packham Theatre School and Ballet North Cinderella 10 June 2018 18:00 Bingley Little Theatre

Surprisingly, the most memorable moment of the weekend came not in the valedictory performances of Dreda Blow and Victoria Sibson on the last night of Jane Eyre (excellent though though the company was - see Jane Eyre at the Lowry 10 June 2018) or in David Nixon's speech when he presented to Dreda Blow a framed photo of what I am reliably informed was a framed photo of herself as Beatrice in Ondine (apt though it was) but in a speech by the mother of a former student of the Sara Packham Theatre School at the end of a performance of Cinderella by children and adult ballet students at Bingley Little Theatre last night.

The speaker introduced herself as a parent of an actor who had established himself in New York but had started his career at that very school in Bingley. Presenting the choreographers to a packed auditorium, she explained that they were teaching not just ballet but important life skills that would transform children into confident, poised, beautiful human beings. After her speech the instructors gave each of the dancers - children as well as adults, boys as well as girls - a single rose. "This may take some time" somebody said from the stage. It did but nobody minded a bit. It was a lovely gesture and a proper induction into the traditions of the ballet.

Bingley, for readers who may not know this area, is a small town just outside Bradford. In the 19th century it was a mill town specializing in the manufacture of worsted. Now it is one of the more sought after neighbourhoods of the metropolitan district of Bradford. One of its attractions is an Arts Centre which includes the Bingley Little Theatre. It was there that a cast selected from the School and Ballet North in Halifax gave four performances of Cinderella on 10 and 11 June 2018.

I learned about the production through attending a class by Charlotte Ingleson at Ballet North in the Dance Mill on 31 May 2018 (see Class Review - Ballet North Halifax 2 June 2018). I was introduced to the class by Elaine Berrill who was one of the dancers attending Jane Tucker's class in Huddersfield on 26 May 2018 (see We have a Company 27 May 2018 Powerhouse Ballet). I noticed in the programme that Charlotte was one of the choreographers of Cinderella and that another was Martin Dutton who had taught me in a special class at KNT (see And what a class we had Feb 2017) and workshops on The Nutcracker and La Bayadère (see KNT Nutcracker Intensive 21 Dec 2017 and KNT's One Day Workshop on La Bayadère 15 April 2018).

Charlotte also danced one of the leading roles as Cinderella's mother and fairy godmother. Her young daughter also had a role in the work as a cat. There was yet another name on the cast list that I thought I knew. That of Oscar Ward as the prince. The Oscar that I knew was one of the star pupils at Ballet West and a finalist in the BBC Young Dancer competition. Could it be the same? Oscar Ward is not a very common name and not every young man with that name will be an accomplished dancer. I messaged Gillian Barton of Ballet West to find out.
"Could be, but don’t really know. I’ll try and find out." she replied
As it happened it was a coincidence. The young man who danced before us is also very promising. When I congratulated him I told him about his namesake though Yorkshire Oscar had already heard of Scottish Oscar. If he is minded to train for the stage he could do a lot worse that follow in the footsteps of the other Oscar.

 As Gillian observed,
"Every one of our male graduates has gone on to do amazing things. BW is a great school for boys as they get so many opportunities."
Earlier today, Isaac Peter Bowry whom I had first seen as Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker in 2013 announced on Facebook:
"So I’ve got another big announcement to make!! 
I can now say that I am officially joining the Birmingham Royal Ballet to perform in Kennith Macmillan’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ 
I’ll be performing in all the Birmingham performances between the 26th- 30th June!"
But I digress. There were lots of other dancers who impressed me.

There were three Cinderellas - one as a child, another as a young person and the third as the belle of the ball. Young Cinderella was Alice Brocklesby, Clarice Keller-Bradbury and Sienna Brandolino alternated in the role of Cinderella as a young person and Leah Robinson and Sophie Talbot in the role of Cinderella at the ball. I am not sure which of the alternates I saw last night but I congratulate Alice and the other dancers who portrayed her in later life.

The show was basically the Cinderella we know to Prokofiev's score with a little bit of The Sleeping Beauty bolted on. The bolt on was a divertissement that enabled four talented soloists - Hollie Kate Smith, Harriet Berry, Katie Barber and Jess Leeming to dance Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter fairies and Lexie Meehan a dragonfly. Lots of roles were found for lots of dancers from mini-movers to the adult pointe class. It was good to see a few very talented young boys in the cast.

At the ball Oscar Ward showed that he can jump, turn and lift with the best of them. His Cinders in a classical tutu was lovely. Her stepmother, Catriona Ford, and step sisters, Ellen Richard and Grace Macdonald, amused us with their antics. One in an unsightly green wig and the other in pink. They also got a tiny bit tipsy towards the end giving an entirely new meaning to pas de bourée. There was humour too is the search for the owner of the missing slipper. One candidate barely broke her conversation on her mobile. Another nearly dropped a pile of precariously positioned pizzas. A hefty subject in a wig and a skirt had a go to a squall of derision.

This was tightly directed, well rehearsed with realistic sets and costumes. I saw a lot of happy mums and dads and siblings, even happier artists and a particularly proud and happy Charlotte Ingleson. The audience were appreciative and engaged. It was a treat to be there.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Jane Eyre at the Lowry

The Lowry Theatre, Salford, Greater Manchester
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Northern Ballet Jane Eyre 9 June 2018, 19:30, The Lowry

Yesterday, Northern Ballet gave their last performance of Jane Eyre of the current run at the Lowry Theatre.  It was also the last opportunity to see Dreda Blow and Victoria Sibson dance with the company. I attended the show for two reasons.  The first is that although I had never met either dancer I had seen them on stage many times. I wished to express my appreciation for all the pleasure that they had given me over the years. The second reason is that a dancer's farewell performance is often one of his or her best for he or she wants to leave on a high with the public wanting more. That in turn lifts the rest of the cast who also give of their best.

That is what happened yesterday.  Northern Ballet gave one of the strongest performances that I have ever seen from them.  They did so on one of the most spacious stages upon which they regularly perform.  They fielded a cast that included many of my favourite dancers in the company.  And, as I have said many times, Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre is by far the best work in their current repertoire.

As I have described the work already in Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre: the best new Ballet from the Company in 20 Years 2 June 2016 and Jane Eyre Second Time Round 18 April 2018 I shall avoid detail about the libretto, characters, designs and score. Edward Rochester was danced by Javier Torres who was my male dancer of the year last year (see 2017 in Retrospect 7 Jan 2018). Jane Eyre as an adult was, of course, danced by Dreda Blow who gave the strongest performance that I have ever seen her give in that role. Jane's younger self was danced by Antoinette Brooks-Daw and her tormenting cousins by Abigail Prudames, Abigail Cockrell and Matthew Koon. Mlindi Kulashe was a chilling Mr Brocklehurst (he plays baddies particularly well) and Ailen Ramos Betancourt an equally unpleasant Aunt Reed.

The novel, Jane Eyre, divides naturally into three parts yet the ballet splits into just two.  I think it would benefit from an interval immediately after the attempted bigamy scene.  Two much is funnelled into the second act. Valuable bits of the choreography such as the dance between Rochester and Blanche Ingram (Abigail Prudames) and Mr Rivers's proposal is overlooked even third time round.  That is because there is just so much going on and the senses can only take in so much.  Incidentally,  I have to congratulate Sean Bates for his role for his portrayal of Rivers as a kindly, sensitive but nevertheless lacking soul who would have driven Jane nuts.

The most important characters from the governess phase of Jane's life are the playful Adèle (danced charmingly by Rachael Gillespie) and the deranged Bertha.  Though her appearance is a short one it is probably the most important role in the ballet after Jane herself and it needs a fine dance actor.  The company had none better than Victoria Sibson. I had seen her in that role in Richmond and she had impressed me then but her performance last night was even stronger.  She threw herself into the last duet with Torres as the flames her flickered around her.  Strands of her hair - a gorgeous red - her whirling dress - merging in the flames. What a glorious way for her public to remember her!

The crowd clapped and cheered of course and quite a few of us rose to our feet but it was not quite the send off that I had expected when I penned Flowers for Dreda yesterday.  The Lowry's architecture does not lend itself to flower throws but I did expect massive bouquets for Blow and Sibson and possible one or two others. But then I reflected that this is a northern company and extravagance of that kind is not a northern thing to do. David Nixon entered the stage and gave a very good speech recalling some of her finest performances.  It clearly affected Dreda for she gave him a big, tight hug. Instead of flowers which would have faded in days he gave her a framed photo of herself.  From what I could glimpse from the centre of the stalls she was in red in full flight. "Something that will last" I thought. "She can hang it in her front parlour, perhaps." A sensible Northern gift from us no-nonsense northern folk.

Another thought that occurred to me as I stepped outside the theatre was that the company had come home.  Manchester was where it was born and it is sad that it ever felt it had to leave us. It now has a magnificent studio and theatre complex at Quarry Hill, of course, that it shares with Phoenix to their obvious, mutual, artistic benefit. But the Grand with its pillars and narrow creaky stairs and possibly raked stage never quite does it justice. The Lowry, on the other hand, certainly does. It is possible for a company to have more than one home as several American companies do.  I hope we shall see more of Northern here perhaps working with our CAT. The Lowry is not too far from Leeds. I spotted several of the great and good from Leeds sitting near me in the stalls.  Indeed, I chatted to one of my favourite artists from that city in the interval.  It is encouraging that Northern Ballet will return to the Lowry next year with Gatsby.  I hope it puts down some very deep roots there.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Flowers for Dreda?

Dread Blow is leaving Northern Ballet this evening and we shall miss her so. I tweeted last night:
Of course, there is unlikely to be one.  For a start the Lowry is not Covent Garden and there are good health and safety reasons why members of the public should be discouraged from emptying their gardens on to the stage. Leanne Benjamin described it as "pretty scary" to be bombarded with blooms in Roslyn Sulcas's Tiptoeing (on Point) Through the Tulips 20 Nov 2014 NY Times.

And yet.  What a lovely way to say goodbye as London did to Zenaida Yanowsky last year:

Or to Sir Fred when he retired from the Royal Opera House on 24 July 1970. I was in the audience that night. Yes folks I really am that old.  That photo was taken before the flower throwers got into their stride for by the time the last bouquet was tossed the stage was ankle deep in flowers.

In the 1970s, when I first became interested in ballet, flowers seemed to be thrown at the end of almost every show.   It was easy to get them in those days because the flower market was in what is now the Paul Hamlyn Hall.  Roslyn Sukcas writes:
"The floral tradition at the Royal Ballet is also probably a result of the opera house’s proximity to the Covent Garden flower market before it moved and the possibility of buying leftover or spoiled flowers cheaply.
'Back in the day, the fans used to queue overnight for tickets, and there was a very striking woman, dressed in a black velvet cloak, who used to run the queue, collect money for flowers and organize throws from the amphitheater,' Mr. Welford said, referring to the tradition of pelting dancers with loose flowers from the topmost part of the theater."
You know, I think I can remember that woman in black.  Rumour had it that she had been a Russian ballerina, noblewoman or even a princess who somehow survived the butchery at Ekaterinburg.

I certainly remember a lingering smell of vegetation everywhere in the House that remained long after the wholesale market moved to Nine Elms. Covent Garden was not quite so posh or pricey in those days. Remember that the Royal Opera House had been used as a cinema, palais de danse and even furniture store within living memory.  The smell only disappeared after the extensive renovations of the 1990s during which time the company performed in a circus tent in Battersea Park.

Nowadays flower throws in London are organized by the Ballet Association for extra special occasions (see "About Us" on the Ballet Association's website).  That's probably a good thing but it has taken away the spontaneity of the gesture.

I once discussed the custom of throwing cut flowers with Ernst Meisner of the Dutch National Ballet. He was familiar with the tradition having trained at the Royal Ballet School and having danced for many years with the Royal Ballet. "It's a lovely custom," said Ernst, "but we have never done it here."  Well, actually, according to Julia Farron, it was Ernst's compatriots who started the custom for she remembers showers of daffodils and tulips the day that Sadlers Wells Ballet performed in the Hague (see David Bintley How World War 2 made British Ballet BBC website).

Whatever is to be arranged for Dreda (and if anyone is collecting for flowers, do get in touch with me for I would love to contribute) it will be a bitter-sweet occasion.  In many ways the curtain call is the most important part of the performance for it is the audience's opportunity to perform. The ballet should never be a passive experience. And tonight we shall perform. With tears. With cries and yells and Russian style roars. With thunderous applause.  And hopefully flowers. Because we love dear Dreda so.

Friday, 8 June 2018

At the end we begin

Time's Mortal Aspect by Charles van der Stappen
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Richard Chappell Dance At The End We Begin 6 June 2018, 19:30 Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

At the end we begin is a 45 minute essay in movement inspired by T S Elliot's Four Quartets.It was performed by four dancers (Iris Borras, Faye Stoeser, Francesco Migliaccio and the choreographer of the work, Richard Chappell) to a score by Samuel Hall. You can get an idea of the show from the trailer.

The poems that inspired Chappell were written between 1936 and 1942 shortly after Elliot had acquired British nationality and converted to Anglicanism. They were written during  one of the darkest periods of modern history, that is to say between the great depression and the second world war.  Having read those poems for the first time only yesterday in order to write this review my impression is of an attempt to make sense of the senseless and comprehend the incomprehensible. Or put another way (and hence the reason for the above photo) a mortals grappling with the concept of eternity.

In a Q & A that followed the performance, Chappell said that he and the dancers had been inspired by the following stanzas:-

PART 1: Burnt Norton

'At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.' - T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

PART 2: East Coker

'The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
Fort he pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.'- T.S. Eliot, East Coker

PART 3: The Dry Salvages

'The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation...' - T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages

PART 4: Little Gidding

'We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.'- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

The last stanza is probably the key to understanding Chappell's choreography work which does have unity but not necessarily Elliot's four poems which possibly do not.  The impression that I got from the choreography was of a cycle not of an individual but of humanity as a whole. Some of the work was easy to understand - the percussion representing gunfire and the dancers dropping to the ground in The Dry Salvages which was written when the war was not going well.  Other bits were much harder to comprehend and have to be seen more than once to be understood properly.  Some audience members saw things I just couldn't see like rapid circular arm movements representing the hands of a clock.

After the show I introduced myself to Chappell as we had been following each other on Facebook for years.  He asked me whether I had enjoyed the show and I said yes but then I reflected that not all art is meant to be enjoyed.   A better word for challenging works is "appreciated".  I think that is what I should have said.   It was not a beautiful work, or an amusing work or a readily comprehensible work but it was definitely a work worth seeing. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Dance as a University Sport

One important development since I was at university has been the emergence of dance as a university sport. According to this report from the Dance Club, has had a dance team known as "the blue angels" for over 10 years which "attended four competitions across the nation winning a total of 30 trophies including ‘Best Overall University’ at the University of Loughborough’s Dance Competition, the largest inter-university competition in the UK."

I have googled the event and found this Facebook page and this event page on the Loughborough Students Union website. There is also a YouTube channel for the competition.  I am pleased to see that St Andrews maintained the momentum and won the advanced contemporary and came second in novice ballet competitions the following year.

I saw the Blue Angels at  St Andrews University Dance Club's 50th Anniversary Gala and I can see why they did so well.  Videos showing their performances appear in the YouTube channel that I mentioned in Remarkable Stuff - St Andrews University Dance Club Videos. I liked all of them and congratulate all the Blue Angels.  As I have to pick one for this post I have chosen the intermediate ballet team's performance of Dysphoria that appears above.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Ballet West in Asia

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Long before I got to know Ballet West I wrote Taynuilt - where better to create ballet?  31 Aug 2013. It is a beautiful location and I saw for myself when I attended a class there how the surroundings inspire the staff and students.   In a grand jeté en tournant exercise the instructor, Jonathan Barton, pointed to the surrounding hills urging the class to "soar like the mountains" (see Visiting Taynuilt 4 May 2018). Nobody who has seen a show by Ballet West can doubt the quality of the training that is available there.

And yet Ballet West alumni have to work harder than those from other schools to establish themselves in the profession. In Visiting Taynuilt I explained why. Ballet West is a long way from London and indeed a long way from just about every other major population centre in the British Isles.  If a company in London (or Leeds, Birmingham or Glasgow for that matter) wishes to fill a vacancy and can find excellent candidates immediately from the Royal Ballet School and possibly a handful of other ballet schools there is very little incentive to spend time and money looking further. That may be unfair but it is perfectly understandable.  The same sort of thing happens in other professions including my own.

So what can Ballet West do about that?  Well one partial solution is to look beyond London to the tiger economies of East Asia where there is an insatiable appetite for dance. That is exactly what Ballet West seems to be doing with its International Touring Company. According to the company's website it is a professional ballet company devoted to delivering world class ballet productions globally. It comprises 32 dancers including Jonathan Barton, Natasha Watson, Uyu Hiromoto and Joseph Wright. It will begin with 6 performances of Daniel Job's production of Swan Lake in Genting, Malaysia between 24 Aug and 2 Sept 2918. Performances in Macau and other places are envisaged for the future.

According to the Malaysian website Star Online, those performances will take place at the Genting International Showroom which describes itself as a hi-tech multimedia entertainment venue seating up to 1,000 people with the latest sound and lighting system a revolving stage and flying towers.  Apparently the season was heralded by a flash mob ballet with 80 dancers on the SkySymphony stage. If that report is accurate and all the advertised facilities were used it must have been quite a spectacle.   The Star Online website quotes Gillian Barton as saying that “This will be the first professional full-UK cast, full-length Swan Lake ballet in Malaysia."

As well as providing work for British dancers this summer (see the Auditions Notice on the Dancers Opportunities website) the tour should offer opportunities for young Malaysian dancers. The Star Online website reports that there will be masterclasses at the Arena of Stars on 22, 23, 24 and 30 Aug.  It is entirely possible that some of those dancers will wish to undergo further training abroad in which case Ballet West will be the first overseas school to spring to mind.

With a GDP of US$340 billion Malaysia is already an important economy and it is growing rapidly. English is widely used in commerce, education, government and the arts. Malaysia has many links with the UK.  It could be an important market for the creative industries generally and not just the performing arts.

Ballet West's International Touring Company will not employ all Ballet West's students but it will employ some and that is an important start. More importantly, however, it shows that there is a place for enterprise in the arts just as there is in any other industry. Those who don't find work with the touring company have an example of how they can create a niche for themselves.  As in so many other walks of life it may not be enough to be good at your job. Maybe you need to be an entrepreneur as well.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Screen-Stage Interface

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One of the most interesting press releases to have emanated from Northern Ballet recently was the announcement of the appointment of Kenneth Tindall as artistic director digital and choreographer in residence (see Northern Ballet appoints Kenneth Tindall to Artistic Staff 31 May 2018). Many congratulations to Kenneth!  It could not have happened to a nicer fellow. And congratulations also to Northern Ballet.  A very savvy decision.  I am sure that Kenneth will do an excellent job.

Kenneth is, of course, very well established.  Two young dancers who are beginning to rise in their careers are Thomas van Damme and Yuanyuan Zhang of the Dutch National Ballet. Thomas and Yuanyuan have their own YouTube channel called "The Ballet Couple".  I first wrote about them last September in The Ballet CoupleSince then, Yuanyuan has been promoted to grand sujet and Thomas from élève to the corps

Every week they offer some tips about dancing.  Last Friday, for instance they discussed the ideal age to take up and the time to retire from ballet.  On when to start ballet they said that it is possible to begin at any age unless you want to dance professionally. For adult ballet students - particularly for those of us who have taken it up or resumed it very late in life - that is very encouraging. But it is also good to know that you don't have to start too early even if you want to go on stage.

As for when to retire Thomas and Yuanyuan said that it is very much a personal matter and they discussed some of the factors that dancers consider. When I asked Yuanyuan about her long term ambitions five years ago she said that she said her immediate aim was to get into the main but company but in the future she could see herself as a ballet master.

In other clips Yuanyuan talks about pointe shoes and there is a lovely film on the opening night gala.

However, it is not all about ballet.

On Tuesday for example they suggested using a pint class as a loud speaker. It does work Thomas.  It's the same principle as a megaphone. I am a bit more dubious about hanging a second hanger from the aluminium ring pull of a drinks can. I can think up all sorts of problems like collapsing wardrobe rails and scrunched up clothes. Probably cheaper and easier to buy Probably cheaper and easier to get another wardrobe or at least a clothes rail from Ikea. I preferred the previous film about an elegant way of opening a packet of corn chips and I guess it would also work for crisps.

There are also some charming videos about celebrating a national holiday, food that dancers really eat, opening a package of Chinese goodies and a really soppy one "Yes together until we die."