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.