Monday, 30 December 2019

The Nutcracker #4 - Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Albert Hall

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Birmingham Royal Ballet The Nutcracker Royal Albert Hall, 29 Dec 2019 13:00

Having seen Sir Peter Wright's version of The Nutcracker for the Birmingham Royal Ballet several times in Birmingham as well as once at the Royal Albert Hall I had very high expectations of yesterday's performance.  I am pleased to report that those expectations were exceeded.  There are two reasons why I liked yesterday's matinee so much.  The first was the sheer quality of the dancers and musicians with Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence in the leading roles and Koen Kessels conducting the orchestra.  The second was the straightforward interpretation of Hoffman's story with great special effects but no creepiness or spookiness.

The performance began not with the familiar overture but sounds of industrial activity from Dr Drosselmeyer's workshop. Drosselmeyer (Tom Rogers) appeared on stage and introduced himself through the voice of Simon Callow. He explained that he is called a doll maker but prefers to call his creations "automatons" as he likes to think they have a touch of magic about them.  Nowadays, that "touch of magic" might be called artificial intelligence and that was seen in the self-propelled toy mice that scurried about the Stahlbaums' sitting room as well as the humanoids Columbine, Harlequin, Jack-in-the-Box and, of course, the Nutcracker.  Callow announced that he was bringing gifts for his delightful goddaughter Clara and her somewhat less agreeable brother Fritz.  Beatrice Parma danced Clara. Wesley Mpakati, an 11-year old schoolboy from Tyseley according to Brum Pic, was Fritz,

After that introduction, the orchestra struck up and the ballet unfolded in the traditional way.  The workshop was removed and replaced by a Christmas tree which became the centrepiece of the Stahlbaums' Christmas party.  Guests arrived including Drosselmeyer and his assistant (Gus Payne). They distributed presents to the children: dolls to the girls and drums, rattles and war toys to the boys and the nutcracker to Clara. Fritz and his friends made thorough nuisances of themselves earning more than a few tickings off from Mr Stahlbaum (Jonathan Payn). At one point they grabbed the nutcracker from Clara and damaged it.  Happily, Drosselmeyer was able to repair the damage.  He demonstrated Harlequin (Hamish Scott), Columbine (Rosanna Ely) and the Jack-in-the-Box (Max Maslen) to the guests.

I took a particular interest in the Jack-in-the-Box because Joey Taylor tried to teach me that dance in KNT's Day of Dance last April (see Best "Day of Dance" Ever 23 April 2019).  "And were you able to do any of that?" my companion asked.  "Not much" I had to admit, "but then I am over 70."  However, I am proud to say that several of my classmates who are also adult ballet students did very well even managing a couple of cartwheels.   In yesterday's performance, Taylor was in the Spanish dance.  As my box in the grand tier overlooked stage right, I shouted "Bravo Joey" at the end of the divertissement which I hope he heard.   If not, he will know that I appreciated his performance should he ever get round to reading this review.

After the party, the Christmas tree expanded and giant baubles descended from the ceiling.  Mice and toy soldiers appeared and fought a battle that the mice nearly won. Clara saved the day for the soldiers by clobbering the mouse king (Gabriel Anderson) with one of her pointe shoes.  As a reward, she was transported to the land of sweets by a jet-propelled seagull.  The expansion of the Christmas tree was achieved by massive side panels on either side of the stage.  The same side panels showed rotating rotor blades in engines below the seagull's wings.  In the land of sweets, Clara was treated to the Spanish, Arab, Chinese and Russian divertissements followed by the mirlitons, waltz of the flowers and the Sugar Plum pas de deux.

Gittens was excellent as ever  Over the years I have seen her in most of the leading classical roles.   I think that she is particularly good in The Nutcracker.  I should mention in passing that she is this publication's ballerina of the year, her company is Terpsichore's "company of the year" and Ruth Brill is our choreographer of 2019.  Finally, Birmingham Royal Ballet's former director, David Bintley, has been awarded a knighthood in the 2020 honours list.   As he comes from the next village but one to mine in the Holme Valley I take particular pleasure in congratulating him on that accolade (see  My Home and Bintley's 12 May 2015).  Quite an annus mirabilis for the company.

Everybody danced well yesterday and I say that despite a couple of slips on the artificial snow.  Lawrence partnered Gittens deftly and jumped impressively in the final pas de deux.  Rogers was a splendid Drosselmeyer.  Yijing Zhang was a delightful snow fairy.  Anderson was a fine mouse king.  Maslen made an impressive Jack-in-the-Box.   Finally, it was good to see the musicians at work.  Kessels, whom I met briefly at the Dutch National Ballet's gala in 2018, is almost a dancer in his own right and I was grateful for the monitor that remained focused on the maestro throughout the show.

There are three more performances of The Nutcracker before the season ends.  Ticket prices are not cheap. Even the programmes cost £10.  However, if you see no other ballet over the coming year this is the one to catch.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

The Nutcracker #3 - The Royal Ballet Screening

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The Royal Ballet The Nutcracker 17 Dec 2019 19:39 Screened to cinemas worldwide

Yesterday I discussed the screening of the Bolshoi's version of The Nutcracker on 15 Dec 2019 in The Nutcracker #2 - The Bolshoi Screening.  Two days later the Bolshoi's screening, the Royal Opera House screened a recording of the Royal Ballet's version of The Nutcracker.  For the reasons that I explained yesterday the twp productions are very different.  The Bolshoi's records Marie's transition into womanhood while the Royal Ballet's is a fantasy with more than a little in common with Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Lookingglass.  

The Royal Ballet's production was created by Sir Peter Wright who took a bow at the end of the show.  The recording was made in 2016 which coincided with Sir Peter's 90th birthday.  In Sir Peter's version, the nutcracker is  Drosselmeyer's nephew who is imprisoned in wood.  He can come back to life only through the love of a young woman.  This is an adaptation of ETA Hoffmann's story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and it is a detail that most versions of the ballet overlook.  This makes Drosselmeyer a much less sinister and more likeable character than in the Bolshoi's or most other versions of the ballet.  Sir Peter's ballet opens in Drosselmeyer's workshop as he wraps up his present for Clara.  The workshop is also where the show ends as the nephew - restored to human form -  embraces his uncle.

Sir Peter's ballet requires two ballerinas, namely the young girl known as Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy, and two premiers danseurs nobles, that is to say, the nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy's prince or cavalier.  There are also meaty roles for the mouse king, Harlequin and Columbine in the first act and the soloists in each of the divertissements of the second.  The climax of the production is the pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her beau.  Probably, the most famous dance of the whole ballet is the Sugar Plum Fairy's solo to the slightly otherworldly sounds of the celesta.

In the recording, Drosselmeyer was danced by the company's principal character artist, Gary Avis whom I once had the pleasure of meeting at the London Ballet Circle's 70th-anniversary celebrations.  I can report that he is as gracious in real life as he is graceful on stage.  Clara was danced by Francesca Hayward who was perfect in the role.  Her nutcracker was Alexander Campbell who, like Xander Parish, shares my passion for cricket as well as dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy was danced by Lauren Cuthbertson, my dancer of the year in 2016. and she was partnered by Federico Bonelli, another favourite.  With an orchestra was conducted by Maestro Gruzin it is hard to think of a  stronger cast by any company anywhere in the world.  The sets, costumes and technical effects match the choreography and dancing.  It is a sumptuous production.

On Sunday I shall see Sir Peter Wright's production for the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Royal Albert Hall.  That will be the last Nutcracker that I shall see this season and indeed the last ballet of this year.  The version that is staged at the Hippodrome is my favourite version of The Nutcracker. If the Hippodrome version can be scaled up for the Royal Albert's stage I suspect Birmingham Royal Ballet's will be my favourite Nutcracker for this year.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

The Nutcracker #2 - The Bolshoi Screening

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Bolshoi Ballet The Nutcracker Screened in cinemas worldwide, 15 Dec 2019, 14:00

In Coppelia in the Cinema 12 Dec 2019, I wrote that the conversation between Merle Park, Darcey Bussell and Marianela Nuñez was the high point of the screening of Coppelia.   Pathé Live went one better with an interview with Ludmila Semenyaka that consumed virtually the whole interval.  As her interviewer, Ekaterina Novikova remarked, Semenyaka was one of the greats of Soviet ballet. She danced all the leading roles including the lead in The Nutcracker.  There are some ballerinas like Antoinette Sibley who could tell a story or transmit emotion with their eyes.  I suspect that Semenyaka must have been able to do that too,  Though now is in her late 60s her eyes remain as expressive as they must have been at the height of her career.  The interview was conducted at a high level because Ms Novikova is exceedingly well informed about ballet.

I arrived at the screening shortly before the curtain rose but I caught the last part of Ms Novikova's introduction to the ballet.  She explained why the Bolshoi's version of The Nutcracker is so different from those in the West.  In the former, Clara (or Marie as she is called there) and the sugar plum are one and the same person which turns The Nutcracker into a journey to adulthood instead of a succession of divertissements as happens here. A few days after the screening I listened to a podcast by Tom Service called The Nutcracker - Strange Enchantments that argued that there was a dark side to the ballet and that the transition from the Stahlbaums' sitting room to the kingdom of the sweets might actually be an entry into paradise.  Mr Service reminded his listeners that infantile mortality was much more common at the end of the 19th century than it is now and that the final pas de deux was performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra at a concert to commemorate the children who were killed in the siege of Beslan.

If one views The Nutcracker through too dark a lens it can look very sinister indeed.  A world of monster mice and outsize Christmas trees can be seen as symptoms of delirium or worse and Drosselmeyer appears more as a child molester and less as a kindly uncle with a line of conjuring tricks. Mr Service even interpreted the Spanish, Arabian and Chinese dances as a defence of imperialism even though the Russia of Tchaikovsky and Petipa possessed no territories in lands that produced chocolate, coffee or tea. 

The version that Pathé Live screened on 15 Dec does not stray too far from ETA Hoffmann's story. Marie may have lost her innocence but she still wakes up in her own home. Semenyaka explained in the interview that there is a tension between Hoffmann's story and Tchaikovsky's score and where he had to choose between the tale and music the choreographer, Yuri Grigorovich chose the music. She added that was why she preferred Grigorovich's version to all others even though she could see merit in other companies' productions.

In the screening of 15 Dec 2019, the title role was performed by Margarita Shrayner, a first soloist in the company who danced more confidently than many principals. She can act as well as dance and has an impressive repertoire.  The male lead was Semyon Chudin who is now a principal with the Bolshoi. Interestingly, he trained not in the Bolshoi's own school but in Novosibirsk and joined the company from the Universal Ballet Company of South Korea.  Drosselmeyer was danced by Denis Savin who was suitably creepy.  Compared to the Royal Ballet's production (a recording of which was screened a few days later) the Bolshoi's sets and costumes seemed a bit dowdy. There was, however, nothing wrong with the dancing or acting which are the most important components of any ballet. There were a couple of nice touches which other companies might consider.  For instance, the Russian dance is performed by a couple rather than a bevvy of boys dressed as Cossacks and Bo Peep and her sheep (on casters) were substituted for "mirlitons" whatever they may be. 

Altogether I enjoyed the screening very much.  I can't wait to see the company in its own theatre which is my Christmas present to myself for the New Year.  As I see that I have finished my review on Christmas morning, I wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year,

Monday, 23 December 2019

Northern Ballet's Cinderella Second Time Round

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Northern Ballet Cinderella Grand Theatre, Leeds 21 Dec 2019 19:00

I attended Northern Ballet's Cinderella at the Grand on Saturday the day after I saw The Wizard of Oz at the Leeds Playhouse. I could not help reflecting that the two shows had more than a little in common,  Both rely heavily on special effects.  Both had wizards and cuddly dogs.  The only difference between the scene in which Dorothy acquires the slippers of the wicked witch of the east and Cinders her glass ones was in the colour of the footwear.  Anyone looking for h a rollicking good spectacle in Leeds has two from which to choose this Christmas.

For that reason, Northern Ballet's Cinderella may not be for everyone.  Anybody expecting Prokofiev's glorious music or the folk tale of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm will not find them in this versionA new score was commissioned from Philip Feeney who had previously composed the music for a Christopher Gable's version of Cinderella. As Feeney remarked in the programme notes, the ballet was set in imperial Russia.  I think I detected allusions to Petrushka in the winter market and crystal lake scenes.  Unlike most versions of Cinderella, her torment begins with the death of her father and not that of her mother,  Instead of a fairy godmother or birds Cinderella is rescued by a magician.

As in Wuthering Heights, Nixon has a young heroine and a grown-up one.  A flashback to Cinderella's childhood worked rather well in that it provided an explanation for the stepmother's antipathy towards Cinderella.  Cinders had pestered her father to retrieve a shawl from the other side of a stream where a  shoot was taking place.  As he picked it up he was struck by a stray shot.  It is much easier to understand a widow's anger at such needless loss of life than resentment at the rejection of a bunch of flowers as in Christopher Wheeldon's version of the ballet.

Any version of Cinderella is about grief and jealousy. These   are heavy subjects that need to be leavened now and then.  There is plenty of scope for levity in Cinderella.  Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Robert Helpmann were a hoot as the ugly sisters in the Royal Ballet's version in the early 1970s (see Sir Frederick Ashton - A Most Lovably Monstrous Ugly Sister),   So, too, was Sarah Kundi (a former Northern Ballet dancer) as the stepmother who gets tighter and tighter at the royal ball in Christopher Wheeldon's (see Cinders in the Round 13 June 2019).  There is also the shoe matching scene.  Wheeldon has knights in armour in the queue to try the shoe.  Darius James and Amy Doughty dress Cinderella's brother as a girl and attempt to saw lumps off his foot in Ballet Cymru's version.  There was nothing like that in Nixon's version.  Apart from the magic with which the wizard transformed Cinderella's kitchen that reminded me of the easy peasy lemon squeezy advert and the illuminated "Cinders" sign on the sleigh I can't remember much to laugh about in Northern Ballet's Cinders.

Having said that, I had come to watch a ballet and not a pantomime,  Dancers who particularly impressed me yesterday include Miki Akuta as young Cinderella, Antoinette Brooks-Daw as the stepmother, Jonathan Hinks, Matthew Topliss who danced the magician or wizard and Cinderellas dad and Sarah Chun in the title role.   This was the first time I had noticed Chun in a leading role and she performed it with flair.  I shall look out for her in future.  Another quality I noticed on Saturday was Brooks-Daw's acting.  Scenes that stood out were her picking up and tossing down Cinderella's shawl immediately after her husband's death and the purposefulness with which she tries to separate her stepdaughter from the prince at the ball.

I have not praised everything that Nixon has produced but this is one ballet that I like a lot. This is the second time I have seen it.  On the first occasion I described it as a triumph (see Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph 27 Dec 2013).  Though not perfect in every respect, Cinderella is one of the best works in Northern Ballet's repertoire.  It is just over halfway through a nationwide tour that started last September and ends in June.  It stays at the Grand until 2 Jan and will then visit Leicester, Milton Keynes and the Lowry.  If you can reach any of those venues, it is well worth seeing.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Coppelia in the Cinema

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Royal Ballet Coppelia Royal Opera House and Cinemas 10 Dec 2019 19:30

For me, this conversation between Merle Park, Darcey Bussell and Marianela Nuñez was the high point of Tuesday's live screening of Coppelia. Park was at the height of her career when I first took an interest in ballet.   I saw her many times in many toles and admired her greatly.  It was good to see her again after many years and even better to see her name on a cast sheet again as one of the principal coaches.

There were other interesting discussions during on Tuesday night.  The conductor, Barry Wordsworth, spoke about the score. The wardrobe mistress explained how technology had transformed costume preparation and maintenance over the years.  At one time the flower on a bodice had to be painted by hand.  Nowadays it can be printed out by computer.  Members of the corps spoke about rehearsals and how their ballet master coaxed our their best  Those conversations are the one big advantage of live streaming,  Even though Bussell said on Tuesday (as has been said before) that the cinema audience have the best seats in the house it is not really true.  Ballet is three-dimensional and screens can only accommodate two and there can be no two-way communication between artists and audience as there is in theatre.  The insights that can be gleaned from conversations and interviews.

Nuñez danced Swanilda on Tuesday and I think that is a role that suits her well.  I had long admired her virtuosity in roles like Kitri but I had never seen her bring a character to life in the way she did in that performance.  Coquettish and playful but also with a heart.  Her facial expressions when the Burgermeister tried to reconcile her and Franz after she had caught him flirting with the robot in the window of Dr Coppelius's workshop.

The principal male role in Coppelia is not really Franz who saves his entrechats and tours en l'air to the very end but the inventor, Dr Coppelius.  A lot of people think he is too much over the top but having run inventors clubs and pro bono patent clinics in the North of England for nearly 20 years I can testify that folk like Dr Coppelius really do exist.  Gary Avis, a brilliant character dancer, represented him perfectly.

I have to say that I am not really sure about the morality of this ballet.  It seems to celebrate elder abuse. It surely can't be right for the local toughs to rough up the old body on his way to the pub. Or for ladettes to break into his laboratory and set off his robots as they make their escape.  Or indeed for Franz to climb into his premises through the window.  Or, worst of all, Swanilda tearing pages out of his lab books.  Never mind!  The old chap is compensated at the end, albeit by the local aristocrat and not by Swanilda.  And he is generous enough to raise a glass to Franz and Swanilda at their wedding,

Although Arthur Saint-Léon who created the ballet in 1870 may not have envisaged it, the interaction of humans with humanoid robots is very much a topic for our times.  At two recent conferences, one on copyright last week and the other on life sciences the week before, there were no less than five presentations on artificial intelligence and whether a machine can invent things for which patents can granted or create works of art in which copyright subsists.

Returning to the ballet, Vadim Muntagirov danced Franz with his usual flair and grace.  In the first act, I enjoyed Mayara Magri's peasant dance.  In the dance of the hours, Claire Calvert was a delightful Aurora and Annette Buvoli an angelic Prayer.  I must also congratulate Mica Bradbury Isabella GaspariniHannah Grennell, Meaghan Grace HinkisRomany Pajdak and Leticia Stock who danced Swanilda's friends.  They are on stage almost as long as Swanilda herself and their dancing is barely less demanding. At one point in the first act, they have to follow each movement of Swanilda exactly.  In the transmission, Nuñez traced the start of her career in Coppelia to her first performance as one of Swanilda's friends and it is obvious why.

This was one of the Royal Opera House's better live streamings.  In this show, the programme maker made much better use of Darcey Bussell.  The Royal Opera transmissions are still not quite as good as the Bolshoi's and they won't be until they engage a presenter as knowledgeable and personable as Ekaterina Novikova. But it was still a good show.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

English National Ballet at the Liverpool Empire

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English National Ballet The Nutcracker Liverpool Empire, 30 Nov 2019, 19:30

For many children who grew up in London and the Southeast in the 1960s and 1970s, the London Festival Ballet's Christmas seasons at the Royal Festival Hall offered a welcome alternative to pointless dialogues with the likes of Buttons or Wishee-Washee.  Instead of chanting "It's behind you" or "Oh no it isn't", they could marvel at Drosselmeyer's wizardry or the Sugarplum Fairy's daintiness.  The stage may have been less than ideal as the auditorium was a concert hall but those performances were superb.  Countless children developed a lifelong love of theatre in general and ballet in particular by those shows. Many of them will have pestered their parents for ballet lessons. At least a few will have been inspired to dance professionally.

The company has evolved since then.  It changed its name to English National Ballet or ENB many years ago. It has recently acquired new premises.  It has an impressive repertoire that includes groundbreaking new works.  It has performed to critical acclaim in many great opera houses and is recognized as one of the world's great companies.  Notwithstanding all those developments, it still performs The Nutcracker at Christmas though in conventional theatres rather than the Royal Festival Hall.  The version that it now performs was created by Wayne Eagling who directed the Dutch National Ballet between 1991 and 2003 and the English National Ballet between 2006 and 2012. He choreographed the Dutch National Ballet's version of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (see the trailer for the current season).  I had previously seen ENB's version at the Coliseum in 2013 with Vadum Muntagirov and Daria Klimentiva in the leading roles (see Cracking 14 Dec 2013). I saw it again at the Liverpool Empire on 30 Nov 2019.

In my previous review I wrote:
"English National's current version of The Nutcracker is by Wayne Eagling and he has made a few changes to Petipa's choreography and Hoffmann's story such as setting it by the Thames rather than somewhere in Mitteleuropa, casting Clara as a grown woman fusing her with The Sugar Plum Fairy and letting the mouse hang on (literally) into the second Act which I am not altogether sure that I like. Turning Clara into an adult in particular takes away some of the innocence and indeed charm of a ballet which for me and many others is about sweets, toy soldiers and rampaging rodents."
I would still make those same criticisms today.  However, I added:
"Despite those reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed The Nutcracker on the opening night of its Christmas season. It will be at the Coliseum until 5 Jan 2014. It is well worth seeing for Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov's brilliance, for Peter Farmer's designs, for the sparkling Spanish, Arabic and Russian dances and other divertissements in the second Act and the wonderful character artistry by Junor Souza as the Nutcracker and James Streeter as King Mouse. There are some cute touches like a rat in a kilt in Act 1 (which may become a regular feature in English versions if Scotland votes the wrong way in September), using a mousetrap as a catapult and the substitution of a balloon for a sleigh as a transport to the kingdom of sweets and the land of dreams."
I would also stand by the same commendation with the obvious observation that Junor Souza had been elevated to the Nutcracker in Liverpool and Shiori Kase danced Clara as an adult.  I think on balance that I prefer Eagling's version to Peter Wright's for the Royal Ballet and David Nixon's for Northern but I like Wright's version for the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Peter Darrell's for Scottish Ballet even more.

Kase was a delicious Sugarplum and Brooklyn Mack her gallant beau.  Streeter danced the Mouse King again in a thoroughly murine manner. So much so that he received a few unmerited boos at the reverence until he removed his mouse headgear whereupon h received deafening applause. Fabian Raimar was an impressive Drosselmeyer.  Drosselmeyer is probably key to the success of any performance of The Nutcracker since he appears in almost every scene.  I liked all the divertissements and congratulate all the artists who took part whose names are too numerous to mention.  If I had to single out any single performer it would be Precious Adams who led the flowers and snowflakes with consummate grace.  The advertised conductor was Gary Cornelius but the maestro who took the applause looked very much like Huddersfield's very own Gavin Sutherland.

Liverpool is a great place to watch ballet because the audience is always appreciative.  Possibly the best place in the United Kingdom and I say that as a native Mancunian and an adopted Londoner. Liverpudlians are England's Neapolitans.  If they like a show they do not so much clap and cheer as stamp and holler. The Empire's audience made a lot of noise on the Saturday night before last.

The Nutcracker is about to open in London where it will compete after Christmas with Birmingham's version in the Albert Hall but not with the Royal Ballet's this year.  Both shows are worth watching but readers are warned tickets will not be easy to get for either show.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Ballet Cymru - Even Better than Last Year

Author Sian Trenberth Photography Ltd
© 2019 Ballet Cymru: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Ballet Cymru (Three Works: Wired to the Moon, Divided We Stand and Celtic Concerto) Pontio Centre, Bangor 30 Nov 2019, 19:30

In my review of 12 Dec 2018, I described Ballet Cymru's Dylan Thomas programme as "the company's best work ever" but I think this year's triple bill was even better.  I say that because Dylan Thomas's words as read by Cerys Matthews eclipsed the dance whereas this year the focus was on dance. 

The three works that Ballet Cymru could not have been more different: Celtic Concerto, an exquisite classical work by Darius James and Amy Doughty, Patricia Vallis's cotemporary Divided We Stand and Charlotte Edmond's innovative Wired to the Moon. The company performed all three works with flair. Ballet Cymru is undoubtedly a company in the classical tradition but it can shine in other styles as well.

In my preview of Ballet Cymru's appearance in Bangor, I linked to a YouTube film of the company's inaugural performance of Celtic Concerto in Newport in 2013.  Readers will appreciate the beauty of Catrin Finch's score, the exuberance of the choreography and the elegance of the costumes and lighting.  The women in black tutus and the men in matching leotards.  The cast has changed since then with highly talented young recruits like Beau Dillen, Joshua Feist and Oliver Wilkinson-Smith.  I first saw that work at Sadler's Wells exactly four years ago. I like it even better now than I did then.

I saw Divided We  Stand in Made in Wales on 22 March at the Dance House in Cardiff.  That was the end of course performance of the Pre-Professional Programme.  If I am not mistaken, Patricia Vallis has added to that work.  There is dialogue and real needle in some of the duets.  The choreographer trained in Rotterdam and New York which explains why I was put in mind of both NDT and Joffrey by her work.  Everyone danced well but there was an exchange between Alex Hallas and Beth Meadway that seemed to express perfectly the message that I drew from the work, namely a new harmony eventually emerges from confrontation.  The score was by Henry Purcell that suited the narrative precisely.  

In the programme, Wired to the Moon is said to have been inspired by functioning systems and how they respond to changes in their environment and shows us "how technology is an extension of our world and in this increasingly interconnected works we must exist in balance." Well, maybe. To me, the work seemed to have more in common with tide and beaches. There was a beach on the front page of the programme, some of the artists removed their trousers as if preparing for a swim, white boxes on stage suggested crests of waves or breakwaters. For a while, I was puzzled by the title then I realized that the moon actuates our tides and I suppose that it is a kind of system.  Katya Richardson's score was dramatic and Eleanor Bull's designs were thought provoking.  The dancing was, of course, superb.

I enjoyed all the elements of the triple bill, perhaps Celtic Concerto and Divided We Stand slightly more than Wired to the Moon because I had seen the first two works before and understood them better.  Although the company performed all three works equally well I think Celtic Concerto showed the artists to their best advantage.  They are a classical company and it is in that style that they are (in my eyes at least) most beautiful.

I saw the show with a member of staff of M-SParc and her 12-year-old daughter.  My guest's daughter had studied ballet for a while but she had previously seen only one live performance.  She was thrilled by Ballet Cymru and delighted to meet Darius James, Patricia Vallis and the cast after the show.  Several of the dancers asked whether she would like to dance professionally to which she said she would.  She told me that she would resume her classes with renewed enthusiasm.  She was not the only young student to have been inspired by Ballet Cymru. Just before the performance, pupils from the local schools performed a curtain-raiser in the foyer.  I missed most of it but I caught a scene on the balcony and those students were very good. Alex Hallas, who had rehearsed them, told me that quite a few of the children including several boys intended to join local classes. 

Most if not all major ballet companies in the UK have associates and outreach programmes but none seems to be as close to their local communities and young people from those communities as Ballet Cymru.  When I told Patricia Vallis what my guest's daughter had said to me, she replied: "That is such wonderful news! That is one of the reasons why we do what we do!"  It is yet another reason why I love Ballet Cymru so.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Ballet Cymru at the Bangor Pontio Centre

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Ballet Cymru has commissioned Charlotte Edmonds to create a new ballet called Wired to the Moon. to a score by Katya Richardson with sets and costumes by  Eleanor Bull,  It will be performed at the Pontio Centre in Bangor together with Patricia Vallis's Divided We Stand and Darius James and Amy Doughty's Celtic Concerto on 29 Nov 2019.  I saw Divided We Stand in Cardiff earlier this year (see Made in Wales 29 March 2919) and Celtic Concerto at Sadlers Wells (see Ballet Cymru in London 1 Dec 2015). I can recommend the evening for those two works alone.  Having seen Edmunds's Fuse for the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company and her contribution to Northern Ballet's Tell-Tale Steps I think we can expect a very special evening.

The Pontio Centre is more than a theatre as I said in The Pontio Centre: A Resource for Inventors, Designers and Makers in North Wales 14 Dec 2018 NIPC Inventors Club. There is also a cinema, restaurant, students' union, bars and cafés and, most importantly, the Hwb which is the Pontio innovation area.  According to the Centre's website:
"Pontio Innovation is about equipping individuals and businesses with the tools they need to succeed in the modern economy. With a focus on transdisciplinary working and rapid prototyping, the Co-Lab, Media Lab, Hackspace and Fablab areas are equipped with cutting-edge technologies. It will boost the University’s cross-disciplinary teaching programmes and encourage collaborative work between students, staff and local businesses,"
Like the Menai Science Park (M-SParc) which I shall be visiting earlier in the day to give a talk to local entrepreneurs, inventors and creatives it is an initiative of Bangor University. New knowledge-based businesses are sprouting are springing up on both banks of the Menai Strait.

Many of the folk who have migrating or returning to Bangor and Anglesey will be attracted by the combination of coastal, mountain and pastoral landscapes that make Northwest Wales one of the most beautiful corners of the planet, but they also require the arts.  That is why the Ponto Centre's facilities supporting regular visits by Wales's classical dance company and other world-class performing artists are crucial to the social and economic development of Northwest Wales.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Breaking Pointe

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When I visited Cork to see Swan Lake by the Cork City Ballet nearly two weeks ago, I received a full-length copy of Breaking Pointe from Colette McNamee the chair of the company's board.  The film was made to celebrate the first 25 years of the ballet company and consists largely of an interview with its founder and artistic director, Alan Foley.

The first question to Foley was how he started dancing.  He replied that he started when he was very young dancing behind closed doors to records in his parents' sitting room.  Later he was sent to ballet class where he did well in competitions throughout Ireland and beyond. Eventually, he met Joan Denise Moriarty who terrified him.  On their first meeting, he bolted out of her presence.  However, he returned and submitted to her discipline even though there were times when he found it chafing.

In 1989 the Vaganova Ballet Academy invited dancers from around the world to attend a summer school in Leningrad.  He applied without first seeking Moriarty's permission. To his great joy and surprise, he was accepted.  His teacher was about to reprimand him when the Irish national broadcasting corporation learned of his success and asked her for her reaction.  What else could Moriarty say other than that she was very proud of him? In some footage that must be quite rare, she warned him that he could expect to work.  Apparently, he lost two stone in weight while he was there.

Although he also received training in London and New York, Foley seems to have established some close links with Russia.  His lead dancers in Swan Lake were Russian nationals. The sound recording and many of the costumes for his shows came from that country. Foley remarked in the film that Russians and Irish folk share a similar temperament which is a notion that had occurred to me from my own friends and acquaintances from those countries quite independently some time ago. One of Foley's former collaborators, Monica Loughman, who is best known in this country for Big Ballet in which several of my friends and acquaintances participated, trained at the Perm State Choreographic College (Пермский государственный хореографический колледж).

Although I had attended a ballet at either The Gate or Abbey in Dublin as long ago as 1982 I had not been aware of the strength of the balletic tradition in the Republic of Ireland.  I should have been, of course.  Dame Ninette de Valois, who founded our national company and leading ballet school, was born in Co. Wicklow.  Indeed, the teacher who led me back to the barre after a gap of 50 years is an Irishwoman albeit that she trained in Brisbane. What I learned in Cork from a taxi driver who had never attended a ballet was that Moriarty had set up a ballet company and school in Cork as long ago as the 1940s.  She had been a considerable choreographer.  She is particularly well remembered for adapting Synge's The Playboy of the Western World to dance.

Although Foley seems to be adept at rallying support from businesses and politicians - as I mentioned in my review of Swan Lake the President of the Republic wrote a foreword for the programme - it has received no support from the Arts Council of Ireland for several years. I was flabbergasted to learn that.  Performing arts companies in the UK grumble about state miserliness but lesser institutions than the Cork City Ballet seem to get something. Kruschev knew the value of ballet as an instrument of soft power when he sent the Bolshoi to tour the West immediately after Hungary. Maybe we had learned that lesson even earlier when we send the Sadler's Well Ballet to the neutral Netherlands in 1940.  The Cork City Ballet is a valuable cultural asset which should be cherished.

In my introduction to Cork City Ballet, I wrote that the company did not seem to have a school or associates programme but having seen shots of eager children and classes all over Cork and surrounding districts I think I may have been wrong.  It may not be called an associates programme as such but Foley and his company definitely train the young.  And not just the young for adult classes are offered at the company's Firkin Crane studio every Wednesday. According to McNamee, they are often given by Foley himself.

I warmed to the Cork City Ballet the moment the curtain rose and I want to see it do well. I have found lots of personal links to the company.  I have already mentioned Big Ballet and Loughman. There are many others.  One of Powerhouse Ballet's best dancers trained with Katherine Lewis, the company's ballet mistress. Sadly Lewis died earlier this year but she appears in the film. One of the company's solo artists trained at Ballet West.  His principal was delighted to learn of the success of her alumnus.  I shall be back in Cork next year for The Nutcracker and I hope that a good number of my theatre-going compatriots will be tempted to join me.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Balanchine by the Seaside

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Dutch National Ballet Best of Balanchine 17 Nov 2019 15:00  Zuiderstrbdtheater, The Hague  

The Best of Balanchine triple bill must have been a big deal for the Dutch National Ballet for they presented Symphony in Three Movements and Who Cares? at the opening night gala on 10 Sept 2019, performed it in Amsterdam for the last two weeks at the end of September and then took it on tour to the Dutch provinces in November.  I make no complaint about that because we do not see as much of Balanchine as we should in the United Kingdom. The Dutch dance Balanchine's works very well. From what I have seen, they dance his work as well as any company outside the United States.

Balanchine was born, trained and started his career in Russia but he made his formidable international reputation in the USA. The works in the triple bill reflected that history. Ballet Imperial to the music of Tchaikovsky was pure Russian whereas Who Cares? was a celebration of America. Symphony in Three Movements to a score by Stravinsky was a blending of the two. Created in America for American dancers but a tribute to another great Russian émigré.

I had intended to see the Best of Balanchine in Amsterdam on 29 Sept but a nasty fall down the steps to a car park in Birmingham the day before put paid to that plan. Instead, I saw it at the Zuiderstrandstheater (literally "the Southern Sands Theatre") on the coast a few miles outside The Hague on Sunday. That theatre is one of the most beautiful I have ever visited. It has an ample stage allowing a good view from every part of the auditorium. I was in the middle of row 17 of the stalls which was far enough back to take in the whole stage but near enough to see the dancers' features. Even more beautiful is its settling, literally yards from the sea behind a big sand dune on one side and overlooking a small harbour with a coastguard cutter at berth on the other.  This was only my second time in The Hague but I really took to it. The 28 bus from the railway station took me past the Netherlands Dance Theatre's home base, the Houses of Parliament and the royal palace, the International Court of Justice, several embassies and a lovely park before reaching the Zuiderstrand which, for some reason or other, is called "Norfolk."

The leading dancers in Ballet Imperial included three of my favourites - Maia Makhateli, Artur Shesterikov and Riho Sakamoto. I took particular delight in seeing Sakamoto because I featured her when she joined the Junior Company (see Meet Riho Sakamoto of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company 6 Dec 2014).  I had an inkling then that she would do well and so she has. Another member of that cohort, Cristiano Principato, also had an important role in the pas de trois  It was also good to see some of the latest recruits in that work such as Leo Hepler, Sebia Plantefeve, Claire Tjoe-Fat and Wenjin Guo as well as Junior Company alumni such as Alexandria Marx and Conor Walmsley who are now élèves and Clara Superfine and Melissa Chapski who are in the corps. The work is created on Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto which was played enchantingly by Michael Mouratch.

In Symphony in Three Movements the women dancers exchange their buns for ponytails which immediately relaxes the mood.  Not too much, however, for this ballet was intended as a tribute to Stravinsky who composed albeit innovatively in the classical style. It is a ballet that flows though some of the positions are quite angular. Parts of the ballet are explosive and exuberant.  Other parts such as the duets require almost mechanical precision. There are three principal couples - Sakamoto with Edo Wijnen who won the Radius prize this year; Qian Liu and Jared Wright; and Floor Eimers (another artist I follow closely) and Vito Mazzeo - and five solo couples. All were exquisite.
The finale, Who Cares? to the music of Gershwin as arranged by Hershi Kay was danced to a backdrop of Manhattan in the 1930s with the Chrysler Building, the Woolworth Building and other landmarks. The cast consists of one male lead - in this case, Constantine Allen - three female leads = Yuanyuan Zhang, Nina Tonoli and Maia Makhateli, five male soloists and five female and the corps. The ballet opened with the whole cast on stage. The next tune left only the corps. In the next scene, the female soloists in red and black costumes entered. They were followed by the male soloists in white shirts, ties and waistcoats.  There were some beautiful duets and solos. It was a great way to end the matinee but it was over far too quickly.

I had just one disappointment. Michaela DePrince appeared in the programme for Who Cares? There was no announcement that she was indisposed but I just do not remember seeing her in the show.  It was she who led me first to the Junior Company and then the Dutch National Ballet in 2913. I have not seen her in anything since the 2918 gala when she returned to the stage after a long recuperation from injury. I sincerely hope that there has been no recurrence of that injury. She is a beautiful dancer and I long to see her fly again.

Though again there was no mention of his name in the cast list, the orchestra was conducted by Matthew Rowe.  Always a pleasure to see him at the rostrum. 

I see a lot of ballets every year and have seen some particularly good ones this year but this matinee triple bill is among the best so far.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ballet Black's Best Programme Ever

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Ballet Black (Triple Bill (Pendulum, Click! Ingoma) Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds 16 Nov 2019 19:30

I suppose that a company that has danced at Glastonbury is pretty well made. There is not much that a blogger or even a critic can say that could be of much consequence.  It does not, however, hurt to repeat what I said to Cassa Pancho, the company's founder and artistic director, as I was leaving the auditorium.  This year's triple bill is the company's best programme ever.

Last Saturday's programme was the same as the one that I had described as "stunning" in March.  As I described the three works in some detail in my review pf that performance it is unnecessary for me to do so again.  However, there was one important difference between the show in March and Saturday's.  The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre is very much smaller and more intimate than The Barbican.  There is no gap or barrier between the front row and stage. When the seats are removed the theatre becomes a rehearsal studio. The audience is very close to the dancers. Having twice danced on the Stanley and Audrey Burton's stage, I can say that the dancers are very aware of the audience's proximity.

Mthuthzeli November took advantage of that intimacy in leading the audience to the coalface as his dancers slowly approached stage left with the house lights still lit.  As those house lights dimmed the beams of light from the lamps on the miners' helmets focused on the audience.  Trapped!  The danger, the darkness, the monotony, the pain of the mine was palpable.  Heightened, of course, by the cruelty of apartheid on the surface as well as under the ground.   Ingoma is an impressive work. November had already captured our hearts as the rakish wolf spinning his tail in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Little Red Riding Hood.  He has now captured our minds with his choreography.  Nobody will be surprised that he has been commissioned to create a new baller for the company's next season at The Barbican (see Beautiful Ballet Black's 2020 Season 8 Nov 2019).

Seeing Martin Lawrence's Pendulum for a second time, I noticed similarities and parallels with Ingoma, particularly with the score which resembled a heartbeat.  It was opened by two of the company's strong young dancers, Ebony Thomas and Marie Astrid Mence.  Mence spent a year with Phoenix Dance Theatre where she became an audience favourite. We still miss her.  Their pace and the complexity of their movements increase as the heartbeats quicken.  It is an almost mesmeric experience.

Click! by Scottish Ballet's Sophie Laplane is just pure joy.  Each of the dancers in different brightly coloured suits performs solos or duets to Snapping Fingers and other snappy music carefully arranged by Kenny Inglis.  All the company's dancers except Alexander Fadayiro were in the piece.  Cira Robinson, magnificent in red, Isabela Coracey resplendent in yellow et cetera et cetera.  In many ways, this work displays the essence of Ballet Black,  its exuberance, its energy and its diversity.

In my preview of the new season, I mentioned the recruitment of Fadayiro, his training and career with New Adventures. On Saturday I saw him for the first time. He appeared only in Ingoma as one of the miners and it was possible to see him properly only at the reverence but he performed well.  He appears to be very strong and cuts an impressive figure on stage. I look forward to seeing more of him in future.

I was very lucky to get a ticket for Saturday's show. I was #13 on the waiting list and held out very little hope of seeing the company again this year.   Their performances in Stratford and Leeds were sold out weeks ago.  That may be because of their appearance at Glastonbury - though I have to say that Saturday's crowd did not strike me as the sort of folk who go to Glasto - or it may be because they gave fewer performances this evening.  Either way, it is good to see that they have developed a very loyal following not just in London and with one ethnic group but among the whole population and across the nation.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Cork City Ballet's Swan Lake

Andrei Bolotin and Ekaterina Borytakova in Cork City Ballet's Swan Lake
Author Miki Barlok   Copyright  Cork City Ballet 2019: all rights reserved
Licence Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Cork City Ballet  Swan Lake  9 Nov 2019, 14:30 Cork Opera House

I have seen bigger and better-resourced performances of Swan Lake but seldom have I enjoyed a performance as much as Saturday afternoon's by the Cork City Ballet at the Cork Opera House. There are two reasons for that. The first is that Yury Demakov, the choreographer, made the very best of the resources that were available to him not only in casting but also in procuring costumes and a sound recording from Russia. The second is that ballet should be an interaction between performers and audience rather than a passive exhibition and on Saturday it really was two-way communication.  The Corkonian audience seems to know and appreciate its ballet and supported the company with a 100% standing ovation at the end.

This was a traditional Swan Lake without gimmicks except perhaps for the Soviet-style happy ending.  All the characters were there except Benno. The plot was spelt out with stark clarity.  Siegfried pledges his troth to Odette in the second act with his index and forefinger.  He is tricked by von Rothbart into breaking it by making the same pledge to Odile.  In this production, Siegfried manages to redeem himself not by sacrificing his life but by destroying the wicked magician.

For Siegfried, Demakov recruited Bolshoi soloist Andrei Bolotin, a powerful but slick virtuoso.  For Odette-Odile he cast Ekaterina Bortyakova.  I am told that she came from the Moscow State Ballet but I have been unable to find out much about her career. Like Bolotin, she gave a technically flawless performance. In my introduction to Cork City Ballet, I noted that there were no permanent members of the company other than the founder, Alan Foley, Demakov and their immediate circle.  All other artists are recruited on short term contracts.  They were all good but some stood out.  I was particularly impressed by Robert J Thomas, the jester, Andrew McFarlane who danced the pas de trois and the Spanish divertissement and his partners, Nicole Federov and Julie Pochko.

I am nor sure who designed the sets but I liked the castle and hills in the backcloth to act I.  They reminded me of Westmeath though I suppose they could have been some other part of Ireland.   They were certainly nowhere else and that is as it should be for an Irish company.

It is not every company in the world that can persuade its head of state to contribute a foreword to its programme, but that is exactly what President Higgins has done for the Cork City Ballet.  The company will perform The Nutcracker this time next year.  I hope this review will encourage my compatriots to join me in the auditorium for a company that inspires such pride and affection is definitely worth watching.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Beautiful Ballet Black's 2020 Season

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Beautiful Ballet Black has been so successful that it sold every seat in the house for its performances at Stratford and Leeds.  I am on the waiting list at the Stan and Audrey but at #13 I am not holding out much hope of getting one for their show next week. 

I shouldn't grumble because I saw their wonderful performance of The Suit at Sadler's Wells on 30 Oct and the triple bill at The Barbican in March which I described as "stunning".  Moreover, I have just received an email which I believe to have been sent to all Friends of Ballet Black alerting me to the sale of tickets for the launch of the company's new season at The Barbican between the 26 and 29 March 2020. Two new ballets will be presented by the company's Mthuthuzeli November and the Royal Ballet's Will Tuckett.  November created Ingoma which is one of the works on the current tour while Tuckett has contributed Depouillement which attracted me to Ballet Black in the first place.

I also note from the email that Ballet Black has acquired a new dancer, namely Alexander Fadayiro.  I am not sure whether I have had the opportunity to see him dance.  I do not remember him in The Suit but I could well be mistaken.  However, I see that he has danced with New Adventures and that he trained at the Central School of Ballet.

If you love Ballet Black as much as I do I would strongly recommend its Friends Circle.  The subscription is only £40 a year which is about the cost of an extra theatre ticket.  Friends are invited to rehearsals and often have an opportunity to discuss the work with the artists after the show.  I cannot attend many of those events as they take place in London but it is a practical way to support the company, acknowledge its work in the past and promote its values and aspirations.

Finally, there is the merchandise page.  I bought the "I ❤ Ballet Black" tee-shirt the first time I saw the company at the Bernie Grant Centre in Tottenham in 2013 and I have worn it proudly everywhere there are balletomanes from Taynuilt in Argyll to Trecate in Piedmont.  I have made it my business to make folk aware of the beauty in many senses and at many levels of Ballet Black.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Cork City Ballet

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Something very interesting seems to be taking place in Ireland and it is happening not in Dublin or Belfast but in Cork which has an estimated population of just over 200,000.  In contrast to many cities of that size in Great Britain that do not even have an adequate auditorium for a touring company, Cork has its own recently rebuilt 1,000 seat opera house and a well-established local ballet company that is capable of staging a full-length Petipa ballet.

From this evening until Saturday the Cork City Ballet will perform Swan Lake at the Opera House. Intrigued by this production, I have booked myself a seat in the stalls for the 14:00 performance on Saturday.  I have also googled everything that I can find about the company and opera house and watched every video that I can find on YouTube. From what I have seen, the standard of performance is very high indeed.

The company appears to have been founded by Alan Foley who trained in Cork, London, Russia and New York.  He is its artistic director and choreographer.  According to the company's website, Foley danced with the Irish National Ballet and I think may have seen him in a show by that company in Dublin.  I have not been able to find out much about the dancers other than the guest artists who have appeared for the company over the years so I can't say much about the troupe's size or experience.   The Auditions page states that the company currently operates seasonal contracts for dancers for its winter season.

However, it has an impressive repertoire and has earned some complimentary reviews mainly from the Irish press but also some from Dance Europe and the Dancing Times.  It does not seem to run a school or an associates programme for local students but I am delighted to see that it offers adult ballet training for absolute beginners and improvers at its Firkin Crane studios on Wednesday evenings.  Should I ever be in Cork on that day I shall try to join one of those classes.

I will review the performance of Swan Lake either on Sunday or shortly afterwards.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

All Credit to the Royal Ballet's Dancers last night. If only the Presenters and Techies were as good.

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Royal Ballet Triple Bill: Concerto, Enigma Variations and Raymonda  streamed from the Royal Opera House to cinemas worldwide including Leeds-Bradford Odeon, 5 Nov 2019, 19:15

If the Royal Opera House had subcontracted the streaming of its live performances to Pathé Live or at least recruited Ekaterina Novikova, yesterday's screening of the Concerto, Enigma Variations and Act III of Raymonda would have been perfect.  The double act between Anita Rani and Darcey Bussell just did not work. Alexander Campbell and Kristen McNally who recently hosted World Ballet Day were so much better.

Also, I probably saw the screening at the wrong cinema.  I was at Leeds Bradford Odeon which has been promoted as a super luxury auditorium. Each seat has an airline-style tray enabling patrons to chomp away as you watch the feature.  Fine for Disney perhaps but not for ballet.  Also, the transmission started late.  No more than 5 minutes before the curtain was raised.  Nobody in the cinema had bothered to print the programmes even after I had given a member of their staff the URL from which they could be downloaded. The ladies' loos on the first floor were a disgrace because they could not be flushed properly.

Happily, my mood changed the moment Maestro Sorokin entered the orchestra pit. Soon I was enchanted by the music of Shostakovich and MacMillan's choreography.  Concerto is a very short piece but it must require considerable strength, stamina and concentration to do well.  The dancers were Anna Rose O'SullivanJames HayYasmine Naghdi Ryoichi Hirano and Mayara Magri.  The set was very simple.  Just a red disc like a setting sun for the second movement.  So, too, were Rose's costumes. They filled the stage and uplifted even the cinema audience.

In the interval, Rani and Bussell interviewed Wayne Sleep and Alfreda Thoroughgood.  They were the leading dancers of my youth and it was so good to see them again. They had, of course, aged but they were still beautiful.  I am not sure that I ever saw Thoroughgood in Enigma Variations but I certainly remember Sleep, Anthony Dowell and the wonderful Antoinette Sibley as Dorabella.  When one associates a role with a dancer it is always difficult to watch another artist a generation later fill her shoes but I was more than happy with Francesca Hayward in Sibley's role.  I was also delighted with Laura Morera as Lady Elgar and Christopher Saunders as Elgar.  I think is my favourite Ashton work. It is certainly my favourite of his short works.  I can't remember when I last saw it but it was good to see it again.

The last work was a treat with Natalia Osipova in the title role and Vadim Muntagirov as de Brienne. Having seen the Bolshoi's performance of Raymonda on 27 Oct 2019, I would dispute that it is a silly story or not much of a story as Bussell or someone else last night.  I think there is a love triangle between de Brienne, Raymonda and Abderakhman and anyone restaging the ballet might want to develop that.  Abderakhman/s treatment could be explained by Islamophobia or racism. To my mind, the last Act, which is one big divertissement, is the least interesting of the ballet.  But it provides plenty of scope for virtuosity,  Being Guy Fawkes day, Osipova and Muntagirov excited us as well as any pyrotechnics outside.

So my thoughts of the evening are as follows: All credit to the Royal Ballet's dancers and creatives last night, If only the presenters and techies were as good.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Scottish Ballet to revive Dawson's Swan Lake

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One of the most remarkable performances that I have attended was David Dawson's Swan Lake at Liverpool Empire on 3 June 2016.  My review of that show has turned out to be my most popular post attracting nearly 47,000 hits, over 10 times more than my next most popular article.  The reason I love this work so much is that it is innovative and original but still recognizably Swan Lake (see the synopsis). 

I am therefore delighted to announce that Scottish Ballet has announced that this beautiful ballet is to be revived (see Swan Lake The Classic retold for new Generation on Scottish Ballet's website). The work will open at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on 9 April 2020 and stay there until 11 April. It will then visit Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow finishing at the Theatre Royal on 2 May 2020 (see the Places, Dates and Times page).

The dancers expected to take part in the show include Aisling Brangan, Barnaby Rook BishopClaire Souet, Evan Loudon and Thomas Edwards.

This is one of the best productions of Swan Lake that I have ever seen and in Scottish Ballet's brilliant repertoire this work shines brightest.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Ballet West's Tour of Scotland

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My very first post to Terpsichore was a review of The Nutcracker by Ballet West Company. I was so impressed that I had to write it down.  I had been blogging for years on the law and had even found an excuse to squeeze in a review of a show by Northern Ballet on the ground that choreography is an intellectual asset protected by copyright. The only way to do justice to Ballet West's performance at Pitlochry was to publish my review somewhere. As I did not then know any other dance blogger I decided to start my own ballet blog

Not least the most impressive aspect of that 2013 performance was that it was largely a student show,  Ballet West states on its website:
"As part of your studies, you will be part of the Ballet West company which gives you the experience of working with professional dancers and choreographers to perform classical ballet repertoire and new works in genuine performance contexts throughout your time at Ballet West."
Now all ballet schools stage shows but the unique feature of Ballet West's training is that they take their show on a strenuous tour of Scotland.  Between 25 Jan and 16 Feb 2020 they will perform Swan Lake no less than 12 times in 8 cities and towns including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, Some of their venues such as the Glasgow Armadillo and the Stirling Macrobert Arts Centre are fair size auditoriums which they manage to fill.

Bearing in mind that all major classical companies in the UK except the Royal Ballet tour the country regularly and some of them such as Ballet Theatre UK and Ballet Cymru can cover enormous distances between performances, this must be the best possible training for professional life.  In fact, Ballet West notes:
"Previous students always consider the experience of these performances as the most useful in securing work and preparing them for life as a professional dancer."
The only other school that sends its students on tour is the Central School of Ballet.  They visit even more venues but they start in March and finish in July.

Although Ballet West is a small school located a long way from Londo, it achieves a lot,  One of the last British students to make it to the final the Grand Prix de Lausanne was a Ballet West alumna (see Natasha Watson in Lausanne 15 Nov 2014).  She also did well in the Genée a few months earlier. So, too, have a number of other students. The school holds outreach classes in the vicinity for students of all ages. Possibly Ballet West's most impressive achievement is the training they give to their associates. Some of those students are very young. Many travel long distances to attend classes and rehearsals. They have a limited time to prepare for a show. But the standard of performance is very high indeed.

If I had a son or daughter of the appropriate age with an interest in and aptitude for ballet, I would certainly not discourage him or her from considering Ballet West very seriously.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Birmingham Royal Ballet and Ballet Black's Mixed Programme at Sadler's Wells

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Birmingham Royal Ballet and Ballet Black (A Brief Nostalgia, The Suit and Nine Sinatra Songs) Sadler's Wells 30 Oct 2019 at 19:30

As a fully paid-up Friend of Ballet Black and a big fan of Birmingham Royal Ballet and Cathy Marston, I decided to nip down to London on Wednesday to see their combined triple bill. I say "nipped" with some caution. It was easy enough to get down to the Smoke but coming back was quite a different matter. The East Coast mainline has deteriorated considerably since its re-nationalization by LNER and it is now a shambles. It took an hour for the 23:30 from King's Cross to amble from Doncaster to Leeds by way of Pontefract and goodness knows where else with the result that I arrived home at 04:00 yesterday morning.

Happily, the show made it all worthwhile. I arrived at Sadler's Wells just in time for a talk by Kit Holder of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Tom Harrold who had composed the score for the first work, A Brief Nostalgia, and Cassa Pancho, founder and artistic director of Ballet Black.  I am very glad that I did because Tom's talk prepared me for A Brief Nostalgia and helped me appreciate it properly.  He explained that he was a Scottish composer living in Manchester and this commission had been his first work for the theatre. The ballet was a collaboration between the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Queensland Ballet. The companies had chosen Jack Lister, to choreograph the work and Tom described their long-distance collaboration.  Lister had wanted to express a mood that is expressed in Portuguese by the word saudade.  Deborah Jones's programme note described it as "a delicate, complicated feeling that has melancholy and pain built in but also has room for the beauty of remembering emotions, people or objects of personal value." She added that an American academic had offered "a word for 'the presence of absence," as an apt translation.

In the questions and answers that followed, a member of the audience asked why the ballet was entitled "A Brief Nostalgia". I guess he meant why a ballet addressing such a nuanced and complex topic should have been given such a prosaic title. Tom could not really answer the question but warned that it was quite a "dark ballet".  "Oh dear!" I thought to myself as I remembered what The Suit is all about. "Happen we are in for a right barrel of laughs."

The piece when it came to be performed was not too bad. It was certainly not as miserable as a marital breakdown and a suicide.  For a start, I liked the score and I was even more impressed with the lighting design for shadows on the sets exaggerated the dancers' line and movements. There were also some dramatic moments such as when the cast dashed in and froze in arabesque. It was the lighting which actually punctuated the phases of the ballet. It began at ground level while the later scenes lit up the space above the artists' heads.

There were six pairs of dancers: Brandon Lawrence with Delia Matthews, Matthias Dingman with Maureya Lebowitz, Tzu-Chao Chou with Momoko Hirata, Max Maslen with Samara Downs, Lachlan Monaghan with Alys Shee and Kit Holder with Beatrice Parma. The only downside with the lighting is that it was hard to make out who was who on stage. The only one that I could identify positively before the reverence was Brandon Lawrence and that is only because I have seen a lot of him lately. They all danced well and richly merited the applause with even a few Russian style growls.

The work that I had come primarily to see was The Suit.  I am a big fan of Ballet Black both for their outstanding artistry but also for their work in bringing ballet to every section of our community including those that have not been represented in ballet proportionately.  I am also a fan of Cathy Marston having seen her Jane Eyre and Victoria for Northern Ballet and Snowblind for the San Francisco Ballet recently and, of course, The Suit at least four times.  Of her works that I have seen live, The Suit is by far the best in my humble opinion.  However, I have seen a lot of videos of her work in Berne which I should like to see on stage.

It is one respect a very depressing work.  It starts happily enough with Philomom, the husband, José Alves, and Matilda, his wife, Cira Robinson in marital bliss. The alarm clock sounds and Philemon has to go to work. He gets up, shaves, showers and dons a suit with the rest of the cast playing washbasins, showers, wardrobes and mirrors. He says goodbye to his wife still in her nightie and absent-mindedly leaves his briefcase behind. The next few minutes show his commute to work. He meets all sorts of folk such as stylish ladies like Isabella Coracey and Sayaka Ichikawa, one of whom earns a wolf whistle. and little old ladies bent double over their walking sticks such as Marie-Astrid Mence, in real life probably the youngest members of the troupe. Suddenly, it dawns on him that has left his case behind. He returns to the house and finds it is not all it should be. Matilda is still in bed but she is not alone.

Philip Feeney's music changes dramatically from regular rhythms to sounds more akin to sirens. He freezes.  His home is shattered. Momentarily he is broken. When he recovers his composure he is a changed man.  Matilda may have deceived him but she must have been bored looking after the home while Philemon was in the city. When good-looking Simon, Mchuthuzeli November, paid her attention it would have required a lot of resolve to resist him.

Simon had darted out of the house in his underwear leaving his suit behind. It was through that suit that Philemon exacted his terrible revenge. For the rest of the marriage, he tortured his wife with the garment forcing her to treat it as an honoured guest even taking it for walks around the neighbourhood. Everyone would have known that she had erred.  She felt scorn and shame. For a brief moment, there seems a to be a chance of reconciliation but his anger gets the better of him and he shoves her away.

She wanders the home desolate and then spots the tie. She wraps it around her neck connecting the end to a beam. There then follows one of the most chilling scenes possible in theatre. That beautiful woman perishes before our eyes and then rests lifeless. I had seen that ballet four times and know that Cira springs back to life for the curtain call but I can't help shaking and feel the tears welling up in my eyes.  No, this is not a comfortable ballet to watch.  In fact, it is shocking.  But it is compelling watching.

We needed cheering up and that is just what we got with Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs.  Each of the girls is beautifully dressed and coiffed wearing heels instead of pointe shoes.  Karla Doorbar who accompanied James Barton in his last performance with the company wore the most scrumptious costume.  Before the show Kit Holder told the audience that this was to be Barton's last appearance with the company and invited us to give him an extra burst of applause which we did.  I was sad for a while but then overjoyed to learn that he has not retired but is on his way to Glasgow to join Scottish Ballet. Readers will tire of my saying that that was the first company that I got to know and love. They will know that I am an even bigger fan of Scottish Ballet than I am of BRB,  Far from saying goodbye I look forward to seeing more of him in his new company.

I have never really listened much to Frank Sinatra but I have heard a lot of his music in lifts, waiting rooms and on the telephone waiting to be put through to the right extension in the course of a lifetime.  There is something comforting in the banal and the artists of the Birmingham Royal Ballet made us forget the horror of the previous piece with their wit, their charm and their virtuosity. Although the ballet is called Nine Sinatra Songs we actually got eight for My Way is played twice. The first time with three couples - Rachele Pizzillo, Emma Price and Yaoquian Shang with Rory Mackay, Edivaldo Souza da Silva and Alexander Yap.  The second time was the finale with the whole cast.

I have followed Ballet Black for as long as I have kept this blog and seen them grow. Watching them perform in one of the world's premier dance auditoriums with de Valois's foundation I thought they had come of age,  Interestingly one of the audience members had reminded me of their appearance of the pyramid stage of Glasto.  That must have earned them a lot of fame but I think the shows at The Hippodrome and Sadler's Wells would have given them even more kudos.

Later this month Ballet Black will perform Pendulum, Click! and Ingoma in Oxford, Stratford, Leeds and York in the next few weeks, I described that triple bill as stunning when I saw it at The Barbican earlier this year.   I recommend it strongly.