Monday, 29 October 2018

French Revelation: "The Three Musketeers"

Standard YouTube Licence

Northern Ballet The Three Musketeers The Lyceum, Sheffield, 27 Oct 2018, 19:45

Coincidentally the last three ballets that I have seen have been set in pre-revolutionary France.  There was Ashton's Fille that I first saw over 50 years ago which was performed at The Lowry by Birmingham Royal Ballet.   There was Manon by Sir Kenneth MacMillan danced by English National Ballet at the Manchester Opera House.  Finally, there was Northern Ballet's rendering of David Nixon's Three Musketeers at the Sheffield Lyceum. 

As I know La Fille mal gardée very well and as it had been created by one of the greatest choreographers who has ever lived I was sure that I would like that work best.  I thought Manon would be number two as it had been created by one of the other all time greats.  I did not know Manon as well as I know Fille but I had seen two impressive HDTV transmissions from Covent Garden. I feared The Three Musketeers would be a bit of an anticlimax as I have not liked every ballet that Nixon has made.  As it happened I enjoyed The Three Musketeers most of all though, I hasten to add, I liked Fille and Manon very much too.

I think the reason that I liked the Musketeers so much is that the company danced particularly well.  They performed with energy and flair.  They were well rehearsed - as slick and polished as ever I have seen them.  They looked as though they were enjoying themselves - particularly the sword fights which were as gripping as anything in Romeo and Juliet - and the touches of slapstick humour like burying the washerwomen with laundry.

I was delighted to see Gavin McCaig (whom I had featured when he first joined the company) as Athos and Javier Torres (my dancer of the year for 2017) as Porthos.  Riku Ito was a sleek d'Artagnan and Sean Bates a convincing Aramis. I am used to seeing Mlindi Kulashe in villainous roles like Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre, the Fury in The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, Casanova's persecutor, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and Tybalt.  It was a surprise to see him as an "easily manipulated" king.

As for the female roles, the heroine is Constance danced on Saturday by Ayami Miyata.  Intriguingly, I see from her profile that she would have been a lawyer had she not been a dancer. I know of many barristers who imagine themselves on stage.  It is rare and a little flattering to find a beautiful dancer who must have contemplated life the other way round.  Constance's nemesis is Milady de Winter danced by Minju Kang. The fight between those women and the discovery of Milady's branding, of course, the denouement of the story.   It was good to see Pippa Moore again as Constance's mum and Rachael Gillespie as Marie de Hautbois.

The libretto by David Drew bears about as much resemblance to Alexandre Dumas's novel as Petipa's Don Quixote does to Cervantes's.   There is a magnificent score by Sir Malcolm Arnold as arranged by John Longstaff.  The sets by Charles Cusick Smith and costumes are gorgeous.

The show moves on to Canterbury which is easy to reach from London by HS1.   It opens at the Marlowe Theatre on the 31 Oct and continues to 3 Nov 2018.   This is one of the best ballets in the British Isles not to come out of London.   I urge my metropolitan chums to see it.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Van Dantzig's "Swan Lake"

Anna Ol and Artur Shesterikov
Author Michel Schnater
© 2018 Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved
Reproduced courtesy of the company

Anna Ol and Artur Shesterikov White Swan Pas de Deux, Swan Lake Dutch National Ballet Gala, 8 Sept 2018, 19:30  Stopera

This year the gala for the opening night of the 2018-2019 ballet season was dedicated to Rudi van Dantzig. One of the works for which he is most admired is his production of Swan Lake which will be performed in March.  I have seen extracts before but not yet the whole ballet but the little bits that I have seen persuade me that this is special.  With van Dantzig's choreography, costumes by Toer van Schayk, how could it be otherwise?

On the opening night gala we saw two pas de deux from the ballet.  The first from the white act stars Artur Shesterikov and Anna Ol as Siegtied and  Odette.  The second was the seduction scene from the black act with Daniel Camargo and Maia Makhateli as Siegfried and Odile. I shall discuss that second extract tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Ernst Meisner's "Embers" - One of the Highlights of the Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala

Cristiano Principato and Jessica Xuan in Embers
Author Michel Schnater
© 2018 Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved
 Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Cristiano Principato and Jessica Xuan  Embers (Opening night gala of the Dutch National Ballet) 8 Sep 2018, 19:30 Stopera

For me the highlight of the Dutch National Ballet's opening night gala on 8 Sept 2018 was the performance of Ernst Meisner's Embers by Cristiano Principato and Jessica Xuan.  I love Max Richter's music.  I love Ernst Meisner's choreography.  Most of all I love the interpretation by Cristiano and Jessica. 

This is what I wrote in my review:
"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."
 I can't really add to that.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Ballet West's Winter Tour ................... and a bit of McGonegall

Standard YouTube Licence

Not long now before Ballet West's tour of Scotland.  Once again they are dancing The Nutcracker.  They danced that ballet at Pitlochry the first time I ever saw them.  My review of their performance is my very first post.  I am very grateful to Ballet West for allowing me to attend class with their undergraduates earlier this year (see Visiting Taynuilt 4 May 2018).

As usual they will begin their tour in Oban on 26 Jan 2019.  They will proceed to Stirling on 2 Feb, Dundee on 5 Feb, Livingston on 7 Feb, Glasgow on 9 Feb, Greenock on 15 Feb and Edinburgh on 22 Feb.   Dundee is a new venue.   They will perform at the Gardyne Theatre which is a new auditorium on the campus of  Dundee and Angus College along the way to Broughty Ferry.  I know it well.

I think that is where I shall see the show because it is not far from my alma mater  (see Thoughts on St Andrew's Day  1 Dec 2016).   The performance in Dundee takes place on a Tuesday.  With any luck I can resume my old place at the barre in the beginners' class at the St Andrews Dance Club some 50 years after I learned my first plié.   According to the Club's Facebook page, that class meets in the town hall at 14:00 on Wednesdays.

In Thoughts on St Andrew's Day, I quoted Andrew Laing's atmospheric first verse of his Almae Matres.   That poem never fails to cheer me up when I miss Scotland.    Dundee also has a bard in William Topaz McGonogall.  You may be amused by one of his poems:
"Oh, Bonnie Dundee! I will sing in thy praise
A few but true simple lays,
Regarding some of your beauties of the present day
And virtually speaking, there’s none can them gainsay;
There’s no other town I know of with you can compare
For spinning mills and lasses fair,
And for stately buildings there’s none can excel
The beautiful Albert Institute or the Queen’s Hotel."
Both of those buildings remain though the Albert Institute is now known as "The McManus".

I digress.  Wherever you see the show it will delight you.  Especially the Mother Ginger divertissement

Sunday, 14 October 2018

"Portrait" - Michaela DePrince

Michaela DePrince "Portrait" Dutch National Ballet's Gala 8 Sept 2018
Photo Michel Schnater
© 2018 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Michaela DePrince  Portrait (Opening night gala of the Dutch National Ballet) Stopera 8 Sep 2018 19:30

In my review of the Dutch National Ballet's opening night gala, I wrote that the evening 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."
I can't really add to that.  Here is another glorious photo of Michaela DePrince in that role.
Photo Michel Schnater
© 2018 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Beggar's Opera

Opéra des Nations
© 2018 Jane Elizabeth Lambert: All rights reserved

Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord The Beggar's Opera Opéra des Nations, Geneva 7 Oct 2018, 15:00

Before I saw the show I thought I would have to justify the appearance of an opera review in a dance blog.  However, the new version of The Beggar's Opera by Ian Burton and Robert Carson began with an explosion of dance and there was plenty more throughout the show.  Rebecca Howell's choreography was spectacular.  At least one bit where a boy seemed to levitate in low plank position was as impressive to watch as it must have been exhausting to perform.

Of course, The Beggar's Opera is not really opera.  There are no recitatives and Pepusch incorporated the popular songs of his day such as Over the Hills and Far Away and Lillibulero with John Gay's lyrics into the score.  The formalities of Italian opera were just as much targets of Gay's satire as the celebrities that he pilloried.

The Beggar's Opera was a hit when it was first performed in 1728. So, too, have been most of its revivals.  The reason for its popularity is that a story about mobsters, venal politicians, bent coppers and arrogant young men treating women abominably resonates in every age.  Analogies would have been drawn with events of our day even if it had been performed in period costumes without any rewriting of the text.  Carson's staging in modern dress with mobile phones and laptops and Burton's witty libretto rendered it as fresh and topical today as Gay's must have been on its opening night.

The show opened with a cacophony of police sirens and frantic movements against a backdrop of packing cases.   Those cases, incidentally, ingeniously designed by James Brandily,  served as Peacham's warehouse, a thieves' den, a brothel, Robin's parlour, a bar and Lockit's prison.   Doors opened in the structure to reveal Polly's bedroom and the gallows.  Crates opened to reveal musical instruments and the band assembled stage right where they remained for the entire show.

I shall not retell the whole story because it is well known or easily looked up but I will give you little snippets of the dialogue. 

Welcoming the audience to his warehouse, Peachum announced he was in the import-export trade. He imported stolen goods and re-sold them as "luxury pre-loved items at knock-down prices."

Having declared his love to Polly Peacham, Macheath confesses:
"I love SEX but I could never be content with just one woman any more than a man who loves money could ever be content with one plastic five pound note."
The mainly French speaking, Swiss audience with their mighty franc certainly got that one. They hooted in derision at our weedy currency.   Another joke they got was Robin's announcement of  a reprieve for Macheath:
STOP!!! There's just been a television News Flash! The Government Majority has collapsed! The Prime Minister has resigned! She's gone - together with her little tiger skin shoes!  The Unionists have gone back to Northern Ireland and the Tories are out for good."
The applause was deafening.  Whoops and cheers around the house.  Remember this was a French speaking audience in a country outside the EU.  Not a bunch of remoaners in Brexit Britain.   There were a few lines such as "strong and stable government" and "we're all in it together" where I seemed to be the only one laughing but the audience appreciated most of the quips.

Every member of the cast was magnificent.  It is probably unfair to single any of them out  for special praise but I particularly liked Beverley Klein as Mrs. Peacham and Kate Batter as her daughter.  Batter explains how the roués of the world get away with so much.  They know that the objects of their love a thoroughgoing scoundrels but they can't tear themselves away from them.

I should say something about the theatre,   It is one of the prettiest little auditoriums I have ever visited.  It is located at a tram and road junction known as "Nations" no doubt deriving its name from the pre-war Palais des Nations.  It is surrounded by the headquarters of UN institutions such as the ITU, the WIPO and the UNHCR.  It is one of the pleasantest spots in Geneva. 

The show ran without an interval but the bars were open for refreshments before and after the show.   We have beer tents in England.   They had a champagne tent outside.  Programmes cost CHF16 (which is more than one would pay even at Covent Garden) but they contained the entire libretto in English and French.  There were also interesting articles about the work some of which were in English.  Like a lot of things in Switzerland, you pay a lot of money but you usually get your moneysworth.

The Beggar's Opera is touring Europe.  If it comes near you then go see it.   Also, it you ever find yourself in Geneva while there is a show at the Opéra des Nations you really must try to see it.

Friday, 5 October 2018

A Ballet Circle for the North

Photo Gita Mistry
© 2018 Gita Mistry: all rights reserved

The London Ballet Circle was founded in the year that the company that was to become the Royal Ballet returned to Covent Garden for its legendary performance of The Sleeping Beauty.  Dame Ninette de Valois was the Circle's first President.  At the 70th anniversary reception I learned that Dame Ninette regarded the Circle as her third great achievement alongside her company and her school.

I first joined the London Ballet Circle when I was an undergraduate. When I went to graduate school in Los Angeles I allowed my membership to lapse. It took nearly 50 years for me to rejoin,  But since I rejoined I have made full use of my membership attending talks by Cassa Pancho, Christopher Hampson, Li Cunxin, Ernst Meisner and Javier Torres.   The Circle also arranges visits to companies and ballet schools although I have only managed to make it to Ballet Cymru in their new premises in Newport (see Ballet Cymru at Home 5 Oct 2015). 

Most importantly the London Ballet Circle raises money for prizes and scholarships for outstanding young students.   One of its prize winners was Xander Parish who is now a principal with the Mariinsky.   According to its  website
"The London Ballet Circle provides financial support to student dancers. Typically, we pay for children to attend dance summer schools such as the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, Dutch National Ballet Summer School or Newport Summer Dance & Wales International Ballet Summer School. We ask school principals to select naturally gifted students who, without the London Ballet Circle's financial support, would be unable to attend such specialist coaching sessions."
The Dutch National Ballet Academy, Ballet Cymru's Summer School and Yorkshire Ballet Summer School are three of my favourite causes.

As it is not easy for everybody to get to London I have long thought that we needed a Ballet Circle in the North. The visit by Ballet Cymru to Leeds at the end of November is a very good opportunity to set one one. Powerhouse Ballet is hosting a workshop for Ballet Cymru at Yorkshire Dance between 18:00 and 19:30 on 28 November to which everyone taking regular ballet classes will be welcome. After the workshop there will be a chance for everyone to meet members of Ballet Cymru over a glass of wine

If this meeting proves to be successful we shall hold others with choreographers, dancers, teachers and others from our region and beyond.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs

© 2018 Sleepy Robot 

If I were washed up on Sue Lawley's desert island with a DVD player and had seconds to rescue discs from the jaws of a sea monster, Cerys Matthews's TIR  would be one for which I would risk a limb.  The reason I say that is that it would remind me of an unforgettable performance by Cerys and Ballet Cymru of her music interpreted in dance by Darius James and Amy Doughty at The Riverfront Theatre in Newport on 6 Nov 2015 (see "The Pride of Newport and the Pride of Wales" 8 Nov 2015).

Cerys Matthews, Darius James, Amy Doughty and Ballet Cymru have collaborated again to create Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger EggsThis is a new ballet to be premiered in Brecon on 12 Oct 2018.  It will then tour the country including London, Newport and Leeds on 29 Nov 2018.  

According to the company's press release, the ballet will be based on  Cerys's album Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas , Poems and Tiger EggsThese are based on Dylan Thomas's writings featuring the story about the uncles and snow that we all read at school.  Cerys will recite the story in person when the show comes to Bangor, London and Newport.  The music for the ballet is composed and arranged by Cerys and Mason Neely.

This is not the first time that I have seen a ballet based on Dylan Thomas's work.   Christopher Bruce created Ten Poems for Scottish Ballet in 2014 which I reviewed in Bruce Again  on 8 Oct 2014.  That was an impressive work but as I said at the time "there weren't too many laughs." Ballet Cymru's ballet promises to be more cheerful though even A Child's Christmas has a sombre side.

Powerhouse Ballet (several of whose best dancers live in North Wales) will be hosting a workshop for Ballet Cymru at Yorkshire Dance on 28 Nov 2018 between 18:00 and 19:30 to which all are welcome.  Particulars of that event will be announced on the company's website shortly.  Booking will be through Eventbrite.