Friday, 21 September 2018

Northern Ballet's Mixed Programme


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Northern Ballet  Mixed Programme (The Kingdom of Back, Mamela, The Shape of Sound) Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds 15 Sep 2018, 19:30

A triple bill should be balanced and varied like a good meal.  The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company got it right in their fifth anniversary performance earlier this year (see "In the Future" - Junior Company's Fifth Anniversary Performance 17 April 2018). They started with a bit of Bournonville, continued with Juanjo Arqués's Fingers in the Air and finished with some vintage van Manen.  In contrast Northern Ballet's Mixed Programme was samey and far too long. 

That was a shame because each of the works in the Mixed Programme was worthy enough but they  would have been appreciated more had there been a little more variety.   Northern Ballet has plenty of works in its repertoire that it could have used - Mark Godden's Angels in the Architecture, Hans van Manen's Concertante and Jonathan Watkins's Northern Trilogy to name just threeHad any of those works been sandwiched between say a Watkins and a van Manen the evening would have been much better.

Of the three works in the programme I liked Kenneth Tindall's The Shape of Sound  best.  His score was Vivaldi's Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter.  There were some spectacular moments such as when his male dancers bounded onto stage in unison almost in silhouette.  There were also quieter moments when the dancers seemed to become architecture.  There was clever lighting some of which appears to have been designed by Tindall himself.  There were curious touches like linear makeup intersecting the eye line at angles of 90 degrees.  Tindall's cast included Hannah Bateman, Antoinette Brooks-Daw,  Ashley Dixon and Abigail Prudames,

Mlindi Kulashe is an exciting dancer so I had expected some exciting choreography from him.  His piece, Mamela.....  which means "listen" in Xhosa, turned out to be pensive and restrained - subdued even.  That may be because the programme states that it encompasses frustration, escapism and imprisonment though he left it to each member of the audience to create his or her own narrative.  I am mot sure how many of those themes came over. Imprisonment perhaps but only because of the greyish blue dungaree style costumes and the absence of women until some way into the piece.   Kulashe chose a score by Jack Edmonds which opens and ends with the human voices.  The movements were jerky with sudden turns and stretches.  Kulashe used 9 dancers of various levels of seniority from first soloists Joseph Taylor and Abigail Prudames to members of the corps.  One dancer who stood out for me was Ommaira Kanga Perez and I shall look out for her in future.

The Kingdom of Back by Morgann Runacre-Temple offered the only levity in the evening.  It opened with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's elder sister bearing an elaborate 18th century hair piece on her head which she removes at her brother's behest.  The piece focused on the relationship between the siblings relationship with their father and each other.   Some of my favourite dancers were in the piece including Javier Torres who was my male dancer of the year last year and Mlindi  Kulashe, Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Rachael Gillespie.  A lot of composers contributed to the score including Wolfgang Amadeus and Leopold Mozart and David Bowie.  The ballet grabbed my attention with its start but I had to work hard to follow it towards the end.  A good idea but it was rather long.

The Mixed Programme will be performed again at the Cast theatre in Doncaster tonight and tomorrow and in Newcastle in April. It is worth attending though I have seen better work including better triple bills from Northern Ballet.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Dutch National Ballet's Gala 2018: A very special evening with a very special company



Dutch National Ballet Gala 2018 Stopera, 8 Sept 2018, 19:30

I described the Dutch National Ballet'a gala in 2015 as "The Best Evening I have ever spent at the Ballet13 Sept 2015.  I meant it even though I had seen some very special performances.  "How could the 2015 gala possibly be equalled?" I asked myself rhetorically. In fact it was surpassed the very next year (see in Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016).  Saturday night's gala was better still  It was a very special evening with a very special company.

It was special for all sorts of reasons.  Some of those were obvious such as the brilliance of the performances and the sense of occasion.  Others were personal reasons like the expression of pride on the face of my former ward (the nearest I have to a daughter) as she spotted Michaela DePrince in the grand defilé.   My ward also came from  Sierra Leone.  Having suffered  from civil war and ebola Sierra Leone has not had much to cheer about lately. DePrince's success is an exception. It is unadulterated good news and an enormous source of pride even to Sierra Leoneans who have never seen a ballet.  Recently DePrince sustained an injury that has kept her from her public far too long.  Seeing her dance again on Saturday in Peter Leung's Portrait  was a joy.  That alone justified the trip to Amsterdam as far as I am concerned.

Another personal highlight was Cristiano Principato and Jessica Xuan in Ernst Meisner's Embers. I fell in love with that piece the first time I saw it at the Stadsshouwburg in 2015 (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015). In 2016 Principato brought his friends in the Dutch National Ballet and other leading companies to a tiny theatre in a small town half way between Milan and Turin to perform a Gala for Africa (see From Italy with Love 1 July 2016).  I flew to Italy to support them. While I was there I had the honour of meeting Cristiano Principato's parents.  It was a beautiful evening which ended with a performance of Embers by Principato and Priscylla Gallo. I wrote:
"Last year Meisner was my joint choreographer of the year for creating Embers. It moves me in a special way. I have now seen it four times and I love it a little more each time I see it. Thomas and Nancy Burer introduced me to the work and they dance it beautifully. I experienced it in a different way when Cristiano and Priscylla danced the piece on Tuesday night. Never has it seemed more beautiful."
In July of this year, Principato and Xuan danced Embers  at the Varna International Ballet Competition. For her performance in that piece, Xuan was awarded first prize.  I am very fond of both of those dancers. When they took their bow on Saturday I felt compelled to rise to my feet.  Wild horses would not have restrained me.

One of the reasons I like Meisner's work so much is that he innovates.   In 2014 he collaborated with Marco Gerris of the ISH Dance Collective to create Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and The WardrobeThat work combined ballet with hip hop for the Junior Company and ISH.   Dancers from both companies performed extracts of that work at the 2016 gala and I was entranced.   Now Meisner and Gerris have collaborated again to produce a new work called Grimm which the Junior Company and ISH danced on Saturday night.  The combination of hip hop and classical dance succeeded brilliantly. The costumes were gorgeously outlandish and the music infectious.  I would love to see the whole work.   I hope it may be performed in the UK one day.

This year's gala was dedicated to Rudi van Dantzig who was one of two towering geniuses of Dutch ballet.  Three of his works were performed on Saturday: Voorbij Gegaan ("Beyond Goodbye")  by Josef Varga and Anna Tsygankova, Autumn Haze by Qian Liu and Constantine Allen and extracts from his Swan LakeThe first extract was from act II where Siegfried meets Odette.   Artur Shesterikov was Siegfried and Anna Ol Odette.  The second was the seduction scene from act III with Legnani's 32 fouettés.  Maia Makhateli was Odile and Daniel Camargo Siegfried.   I have seen some great dancers in that role including Fonteyn and Nureyev but this was one of the most exciting performances  that I had ever seen.  Just before Christmas I joined the autograph queue following their performance in The Sleeping Beauty to ask Camargo and Makhateli to sign  two Christmas cards - one for two promising young ballet students at the Leeds Centre for Advanced Training whose mum is one of my ballet teachers and  another for Helen McDonough, who is the second biggest fan of Camargo and Makhateli from the UK.  Helen was in the audience on Saturday so they danced before their #1 and #2 British fans.

The other towering genius of Dutch ballet is, of course, Hans van Manen.  Three of his works were performed on Saturday.   The first was the Frank Bridge Variations, a pas de deux which was performed exquisitely by Remi Wörtmeyer and Suzanna Kaic.  It was followed immediately by In the Future  from the Junior Company which I had seen at the Stadsshouwburg in their fifth anniversary performance.  Visually Saturday's performance was as impressive as it had been the first time I had seen it but the words that are an integral part of the piece and essential for its appreciation were indistinct.  The last of Van Manen's works was his Symfonien der Nederlanden which was performed by the corps immediately after the first interval.  Van Manen is my favourite living choreographer and this symphony for the Dutch People is now my favourite of his works.  Set to Louis Andriessen's uplifting score, the dancers in costumes that resembled overalls saluted a great nation.  This was the first time that I had seen the Symfonien but I shall make sure that it is not the last.

Wörtmeyer is a talented choreographer.   I was impressed by his Passing Shadows at New Moves 2017:
"Passing Shadows by the company's principal, Remi Wörtmeyer, was another gripping work though more for the choreography than the staging. There was an explosion of applause before the curtain began to fall as Wörtmeyer spun his fellow Australian Juliet Burnett of the Flanders Ballet inches from the floor. This was a work for four dancers to Rachmaninov's Cello Somata in G Minor Op 19 Slow. This was a work for four dancers the other two being Jingjing Mao and Clemens Fröhlich. Wörtmeyer is credited with painting the sets and designing the costumes though they were sourced from the company's wardrobe and props departments."
He has created another beautiful work called You Before Me to Philip Glass's Etudes No 2 .  It was danced on Saturday by Anna Ol and Semyon Velichko.  Their interpretation was a joy to watch, as delicate as it was moving.

Ever since I saw her Streetcar Named Desire  for Scottish Ballet I have been a fan of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.  Last year I was introduced to her by Cassa Pancho at Ballet Black's performance of her Little Red Riding Hood in Nottingham (see All Hail to the Lone Star Dancer 23 June 2017).  Her NUDE a delightful piece danced by Erica Horwood and Vito Mazzeo in flesh coloured body hugging costumes delighted the crowd.

Another choreographer who has created a major work for Scottish Ballet is David Dawson.  I loved his Swan Lake but I also enjoy his shorter ballets for the Junior Company and the Dutch National Ballet.  One of my all time favourite ballerinas is Sasha Mukhsmedov whose Nikiya delighted me (see Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadère 14 Nov 2016).  On Saturday I saw her in a very different role in Dawson's The Grey Area and she delighted me once more.  In The Grey Area she has partnered gallantly by James Stout who has recently been promoted to principal.

One of the most thrilling virtuosos of any company is Young Gyu Choi.  He excels in such roles as the Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty and Shiva in Mata Hari.   He was superbly cast for the Soviet era ballet Flames of Paris which was danced for the first time in the Netherlands (and possibly the first time anywhere outside the former Soviet Union by a non-Russian company) on Saturday night. The bit that we saw was a rumbustious pas de deux with Aya Okumura to some catchy tunes by Boris Asafyev.  Okumura partnered Young enchantingly.  "Balletic Les Mis" flashed through my mind as I watched the piece.  I missed Ratmansky's revival of Flames of Paris on the Bolshoi's latest tour of London and in last year's cinema screening so I can't really say much about the work other than that the extract that we saw at the gala was very entertaining.

Another work that we see rarely in the UK is John Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias.   That is probably because we are brought up on Ashton's Marguerite and Armand which was created for Fonteyn and Nureyev some 15 years earlier.   Just as Fonteyn was Ashton's muse Marcia Haydée was Neumeier's.  The role of Marguerite requires a diva and there is probably nobody in the world who could have performed it more convincingly than Igone de Jongh.  Her Armand was Daniel Camargo who was magnificent.  Elegantly constructed and beautifully executed, it was the company at its best.

The show opened with the grand defilé or big parade - row upon row of dancers from the first year students at the National Ballet Academy to the principals presented themselves to the strains of Aurora's wedding from The Sleeping Beauty.   What presence and grace those children possessed.  The orchestra was conducted by our very own Koen Kessels.  That was yet another treat as Kessels is my favourite ballet conductor since John Lanchbery and I was able to tell him that in person as I was about to leave the theatre.  The show ended in a shower of gold confetti that brought the audience to their feet.

Every year the company awards a prize in honour of Alexandra Radius to the outstanding dancer of the year.  Usually it goes to a principal.   Young Gyu Choi won it last year and Artur Shesterikov the year before.  This year it was awarded to Timothy van Poucke, one of the company's youngest dancers who is still in the corps.  Van Poucke's career has been meteoric.  Only last year he and Salome Leverashvili were blogging about the Junior Company (see Missing Amsterdam 18 Feb 2017).

Readers will get some idea of the grandeur of the occasion from the video above. I am in the clip 8 minutes 35 seconds in.   Although it is grand it is not exclusive as it would be in some countries.  Anyone anywhere can buy a ticket through the company's website.  Tickets for the gala are more expensive than for other shows because there is a reception at which food and drink are served liberally.  Even so, our seats in row 9 of the stalls (zaal) were significantly less than the cost of equivalent seats at Covent Garden.

The New York Times ranks the Dutch National Ballet as one of the top 5 in the world and I would respectfully agree with that ranking.   I think the Junior Company has much to do with the Dutch National Ballet's success as recruits from the Juniors refresh and reinvigorate it every year.  According to Ted Brandsen, Junior Company alumni already make up a third of the company and that proportion is likely to rise over time.  I think that is why every year's gala has been better than the last.