Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala

Artur Shesterikov in Hans van Manen's 5 Tangos
Photo Hans Geritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet


Dutch National Ballet Christmas Gala 19 Dec 2020 19:15 GMT

Even though it was performed without an audience and I watched it on a tiny laptop, I think I shall remember the Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala for as long as I live.  It will stand out in my memory like Scottish Ballet's performance of David Dawson's Swan Lake at the Liverpool Empire on 3 June 2016 (see Empire Blanc: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016) or the first time I saw the Junior Company at the Stadsshouwburg in 2013.

Although there was no grand defilé, Radius Prize or reception after the show, it was very similar to the opening night gala in September which is always one of the highlights of my year.  The show took place in the National Opera and Ballet's auditorium. The company's Director of Music and Principal Conductor, Matthew Rowe conducted the National Ballet Orchestra.   The artists performed the following: short ballets or extracts from longer ballets:

  • Balanchine's Who  Cares?
  • Echoes of Tomorrow by Wubkje Kuindersma to the music of Valentin Silvestrov 
  • Wayne McGregor's Chroma
  • Grand Pas Classique by Valentin Silvestrov 
  • David Dawson's Metamorphosis I to the music of Philip Glass
  • 5 Tangos by Hans van Manen to the music of Astor Piazzolla
  • Rudi van Dantzig's Romeo and Juliet
  • Ted Brandsen's Classical Symphony 
  • Christopher Wheeldon's  Duet 
  • Hans van Manen's Solo 
  • John Cranko's Onegin, and
  • The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.
I enjoyed all the works in the programme. It was very well balanced and must have satisfied every possible balletic preference: Broadway razzamatazz in Who Cares?, modern masterpieces such as van Manen's 5 Tangos and McGregor's Chroma, twentieth-century classics like  Romeo and Juliet and Onegin, works that had never been heard before and The Nutcracker.

The evening was introduced by Milouska Meulens who is a presenter on Dutch television. She interviewed Ted Brandsen, Maia Makhateli Floor Eimers and members of the children's choir who provide the vocals for the snowflakes scene. That was a lovely touch because the children are usually hidden in most productions. Though the conversation was in Dutch it was clear that the children appreciated the attention.  

Rafael Valdez, Edo Wijnen, Sho Yamada
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The last time that I saw the National Ballet live on stage was at the Zuiderstrandtheater, a seaside theatre just outside The Hague on 17 Nov 2019.  They performed a triple bill entitled Best of Balanchine which included Who Cares?  (see Balanchine by the Beach 20 Nov 2019).   Who Cares? is a favourite of American companies. but very few companies outside the United States can carry it off as well as the Americans.  The Dutch National Ballet is one that can.  This was the third time that I have seen the company dance the work and last Saturday's performance was the best,   They danced Somebody Loves You with Salome Leverashvili, Khayla Fitzpatrick, Naira Agvanean, Erica Horwood and Floor Eimers, Bidin' My Time with Edo Wijnen, Giovanni Princic, Sho Yamada, Rafael Valdez and  Dustin True, The Man I Love with Jessica Xuan and Martin ten Kortenaar, Stairway to Paradise with Nina Tonoli, My One and Only with Riho Sakamoto, Liza by Ten Kortenaar and I've Git Rhythm by the cast of that piece.

Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke.in Echoes
of Tomorrow
Photo  Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The first of two works that were premiered at the gala was Echoes of Tomorrow by Wubkje Kuindersma.  Kuindersma is one of three choreographers who have recently been appointed as young creative associates of the company.  Set to the music of Valentin Silvestrov's In Memory of Tchaikovsky for violin and piano the work represented a dialogue of two souls reliving an event in the past that they once shared.  It was performed eloquently by Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke.  Readers will remember the banter between Leverashvili and van Pouck in their blog which I mentioned in Missing Amsterdam! on 18 Feb 2018.  Van Poucke is a remarkable young man.  He has been in the company only since 2916 and he has already risen to grand sujet.  In 2018 he won the Radius Prize which is normally awarded to principals.

Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo in Chroma
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballert

The next work was the pas de deux from Wayne McGregor's Chroma.   I had seen the Dutch National Ballet perform the whole ballet in 2015 when they included it in their  Cool Britannia. mixed bill.  I had also seen performances of the work by Alvin Ailey and the Royal Ballet.  Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo danced it exquisitely.  Even though they could not have heard me on the other side of the North Sea I clapped and cheered until my voice was hoarse and my palms were raw.  My only reservation was that I am not sure that the pas de deux succeeds as a standalone work.  The ballet's appeal lies in the combination of McGregor's choreography with Talbot's score and Pawson's architectural set designs.  That did not quite come across in the extract.

Photo Hans Geritrsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet  All rights reserved

Victor Gsovsky's Grand Pas Classique was new to me.  The reason why I had not seen it before it that it is an exhibition piece to display the dancers' virtuosity.  It had been created for Yvette Chauviré and Vladimir Skouratoff at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées in 1949.  It could be regarded as a mid-twentieth century hommage to the Imperial Russian Ballet perhaps in the same way as the third act of Jewels.  The ballerina is resplendent in a blue and white classical tutu.  With spectacular jumps for the man and lots of fouettés for them both, it cannot be easy.   Jessica Xuan and Jakob Feyferlik performed it with great flair and precision.

Anna Öl and James Stout
Photo  Hans Gerritsen ©2020 Dutch National Ballet

The second work to be premiered on 19 Dec was David Dawson's Metamorphis I.  He is an Associate Artist of the Dutch National Ballet and he has created a lot of pieces for that company though my favourite of his works is his Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet.  Metamorphosis I reminded me a little of Swan Lake possibly because Swan Lake is also about metamorphosis.  The choreography and even the costumes seemed to echo that work.  However, Philip Glass's music was different,  A piano piece played by Olga Khoziainova. The dancers were Anna Öl and James Stout.  Immediately after seeing this piece, I tweeted:

That just about sums up my impression of the work. 

Hans van Manen was an important influence when I first took an interest in dance at the end of the 1960s. He has created a vast body of work over the years.   Many - and I include myself in that number - regard him as the world's greatest living choreographer.  One of his most popular works is 5 Tangos to the following pieces by Astor PizzollaTodo Buenos Aires, Mort, Vayamos al diablo, Resurrección del angel and Buenos Áires hora cero. In this context it is important to remember that tango is more than a style of social dancing. It is an art form in its own right in Argentina. Pizzolla helped to elevate tango music from something that was played on the streets of the immigrant neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires to the world's concert halls.  The tango as it is performed around the River Plate is a swaggering dance for alpha males and vampish females which van Manen captured in his work. For the gala, Artur Shesterikov danced the solo Vayamos al diablo (literally "Let's Go to the Devil") with energy, flair and machismo.  It was one of the highlights of my evening which is why Shesterikov's photo is at the top of this review.

Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko in Romeo and Juliet
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Vallet

The other great Dutch choreographer of our time is Rudi van Dantzig.  He created the Dutch National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet which I have yet to see. I have however seen productions of Romeo and Juliet by MacMillan, Lavrovsky, Maillot, Pastor, James and others.  Having seen the balcony scene danced by Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko it is now a personal priority to see the complete work.  The leading roles must be the most difficult for any principal to perform because they have to imagine themselves as impulsive teenagers even though they are expected to be mature adults in nearly every other role they dance. A good test of a Romeo and Juliet is whether the audience can imagine them as kids despite their 'life and stage experience.   Qian Liu and Velichko passed that test in my eyes.

Jared Wright, Martin ten Kortenaar, Vito Mazzeo and Daniel Robert Silva
in Classical Symphony
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballwr


More Prokoviev in Brandsen's Classical Symphony and a chance to review his male dancers:  Martin ten Kortenaar, Sem Sjouke, Joseph Massarelli, Daniel Montero Real, Dingkai Bai, Michele EspositoManu Kumar, Alejandro Zwartendijk, Isaac Mueller, James Stout, Daniel Robert Silva, Pascal Johnson. Giovanni Princic, Leo Hepler, Bela Erlandson, Giorgi Potskhishvili, Vito Mazzeo, Nathan BrhaneRémy Catalan, Fabio Rinieri, Bastiaan Stoopm Dustin True, Rafael Valdez, Conor Walmsley and Sander Baaij.  With their jumps and turns, the virtuosity and athleticism of those artists were impressive.  Balanchine is reported to have said that ballet is "a purely female thing" but this piece showed the fallacy of his remark.

Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen in "Duet"
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

As its title suggests this gem of a work by Christopher Wheeldom to a piano piece by Ravel is a duet.  This was yet another ba;let that I had not seen before but long to see again.  According to the programme, Duet was created in 2012 but I have not yet found out for whom it was created and when it was first performed.  It could well have been made for Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen for they made it their own.  This is a work that was particularly well suited for Tsygankova because she is an accomplished pianist. Having seen her performance as Cinderella in London I thnk she has a special understanding of Wheeldon's work (see Wheeldon's Conderella 13 July 2015).  I imagine she would be a great Hermione in his Winter's Tale and I hope that she may be cast in that role one day.

Sho Yamada in Solo
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

Solo was the second van Manen masterpiece in the programme.  Originally created for the Netherlands Dance Theatre Junior Company in 1997, this is a work for three male dancers. to the music of  Johann Sebastian Bach. It was performed on 19 Dec 2020 by Sho Yamada, Daniel Silva and Remi Wörtmeyer.  This was another highlight of my evening.

Anna Ol and Jozef Varga in Onegin
Photo  Han Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballt

The last full-length ballet that I saw before the lockdown was the Royal Ballet's Onegin with  Thiago Soares in the title role, Itziar Mendizabal in the lead roles. The penultimate scene from  John Cranko's Onegin was a poignant reminder of a lost year.  It is the denouement where Onegin shows up after years of exile to look up his old flame Tatiana.  Earlier in the story, Tatiana had declared her love for Onegin in a letter which he heartlessly destroys in front of her.  That led to a duel in which he killed his best friend and was forced into exile. Tatiana would have been heartbroken but she found a good man to marry and was living very happily until Onegin returned to seduce her.   In the final duet, Tatiana is still attracted to the cad and for a second we fear that she will throw her new life away.  But she doesn't.  Instead, she screws up Onegin's love letter in front of him and sends him on his way.   A dramatic scene danced passionately by Anna Ol and Jozef Varga.  Although the ballet was created by a South African it was based on a poem by Pushkin which Ol will have known well.   Like Osipova who danced Tatiana in London in 2015, she seemed to have injected a je ne sais quoi which only a Russian could do.

Photo Hans Geritsen © 2020 Dutch Narional Ballet

The gala ended with scenes from Wayne Eagling's The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.  The first was the Snowflakes scene which the members of Powerhouse Ballet had intended to learn on 14 March.  We had booked Mark Hindle to teach it to us but we had to abandon the workshop at the last minute to avoid the risk of infection. The first thing we shall do once this virus is eradicated will be to fix a new date for the workshop.  I was delighted to see that the lead dancers in the Snowflakes scene were Maria Chugai and Jingjing Mao. I am a very big fan of both dancers but particularly Chugai who impressed me with her performance as Myrthe in Heerlen in 2018. During the lockdown, she has given us two unforgettable online classes and been our guest at The Stage Door,

The other scenes in the gala were the Chinese, Russian and Greek divertissements and the grand pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier.   The Chinese dance was performed by Kira Hilli, Fabio Rinieril Dustin True, Rémy Catalan and Dingkai Bai.  I had noticed Hilli when the Junior Company visited Covent Garden and it is good to see that talented young artist has made the main company. The soloists in the Russian dance were Sandra Quintyn and Pascal Johnson.   

 Floor Eimers and Nathan Brhane in the Greek scene
Photo Gabs Gerritseb © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

If anyone is wondering, the Greek dance was what other companies call the mirlitons.  With a ruined temple as a backdrop with mythical beasts, it was danced superbly by Floor Eimers Sem Sjouke, Nathan Brhane and Daniel Montero Real.  Wayne Eagling also produced The Nutcracker for English National Ballet when he was its Artistic Director but I do not recall that scene.

Maia Makhateli  and Young Gyu Choi
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The evening was perfected by the final pas de deux.   Makhateli was a delightful Sugar Plum.   Seldom have I seen her solo danced so beautifully.  Young Gyu Choi, a powerful athletic dancer, who gas impressed me in everything that he has performed, was a worthy cavalier.

This has been a miserable year for balletgoers but this gala is a positive memory.   Many who lived through the Spanish flu pandemic blocked 1918 from their recollection and we may do the same.  Whatever else I remember or choose not to remember of 2020  I shall never forget that outstanding gala. My congratulations to all the dancers, musicians, technicians and other staff who made it happen.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Scottish Ballet's Secret Theatre

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Scottish Ballet's Feature Film The Secret Theatre 21 Dec 2020

A little boy (Leo Tetten) bounces his football off a soot-stained wall in Victorian Glasgow. He dribbles it across a footbridge into the West End.  He bounces it against a door which creaks open.  His curiosity gets the better of him and he goes in.   He finds himself in an auditorium but the stage is lit.  Evading the watchman's torch he finds himself in the props department.  A basket heaves and creaks and out jumps Lexi.

Now you would have to have visited Scotland at the beginning of the year and seen The Snow Queen in order to know about Lexi.  As I said in my review, Hampson's Masterpiece: The Snow Queen on 7 March 2020, she is the Snow Queen's sister in Christopher Hampson's adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale which can fairly be described as his best work yet.  When I saw the ballet the role was danced by Grace Horler but in Scottish Ballet's first full-length film, The Secret Theatre, she is danced by Alice Kawalek.

Around the stage are the snow wolves' heads, the shattered ice backdrop of the Snow Queen's palace and many other components of Lez Brotherston's magnificent sets and costumes.   Many of the characters in Hampson's ballet were in the film including the Snow Queen performed by the wonderful Constance Devernay, the Ringmaster (Bruno Micchiardi), the Strongman (Nicholas Shoesmith) and the ballerina (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo), 

However, The Secret Theatre is not a screen version of The Snow Queen.  If anything it has more in common with The Nutcracker as you can see from the synopsis The one big difference is that there is no Clara, Marie or Princess Masha.   In their place is the little boy who shows in one scene that he knows how to head a football.   The Snow Wolf characters rub shoulders with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sophie Martin) and the snowflakes led by Marge Hendrick. Hendrick will always have a special place in my affection for reminding me so much of Elaine McDonald at Northern Ballet's 50th-anniversary celebration in Leeds on 4 Jan 2020.  She danced Peter Darrell's Five Rückert Songs which was my highlight of that evening (see Northern Ballet's 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala  5 Jan 2020).

The climax of the film was the final pas de deux from The Nutcracker.   Just as Clara morphs into the Sugar Plum Fairy in some productions of The Nutcracker the little boy morphs into the handsome cavalier (Jerome Anthony Barnes).  Having studied the Sugar Plum Fairy's solo  I follow it particularly closely.  Martin performed it exquisitely and had I been in a theatre I would have thrown flowers on stage.  Indeed the whole pas de deux was a delight.

I have to congratulate Hampson and Brotherston who co-directed the film.  The only film of this genre that I have enjoyed as much as has been Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes.   I believe that The Secret Theatre will be watched and enjoyed in 70 years time just as our generation appreciates The Red Shoes now.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Meet Amedeo Giunta of the Plovdiv Opera House Ballet

Amadeo Giunta
© 2020 Amadeo Giunta 



A few weeks ago I joined KNT's Saturday online intermediate class and met a new teacher, He asked us to bear with him because it was the first time that he had taught in English.  He had no need to seek our indulgence. He had a love of dance which he communicated to us eloquently.  It came as no surprise to learn at the end of the class that he was a professional dancer. He is a member of the ballet troupe of the Plovdiv Opera House.

A few weeks later, he taught us again on the Day of Dance.  This time for a full 90 minutes.  There are many good teachers who have never been members of a company but those who have bring something very special to their classes.  I am not sure what it is but they make us want to jump that little bit higher or make a bit more of an effort at something else.  I don't know whether we jumped a fraction of an inch higher or whether our pirouettes were tighter and straighter but we definitely felt lifted by our teacher's manner.  

Immediately after the class, I contacted Karen Sant, the Principal of KNT, for the teacher's contact details so that I could ask him for this interview.  Karen sent me a short bio from which I learnt that his name was Amedeo Giunta.  I transmitted the invitation through a mutual friend and, almost immediately afterwards, I received his acceptance.

Amedeo told me that he was born in Barrafranca, a small, inland cathedral city in the province of Enna in Sicily.  He has a younger brother and two older sisters. The older of his sisters, Rosamaria, has two daughters of whom he is particularly fond. He says that the days on which his nieces were born were among the happiest of his life. He is justifiably proud of his region which is distinguished for its history, architecture, cuisine and traditions.  

He comes from a family of dancers.  His mother attended dance classes until she learned that she was pregnant with Amedeo.  Rosamaria teaches ballet to children and young people. It was she who took Amedeo to his first dance class at the tender age of 3.  He was the only boy in a class of girls.  He remembers being the centre of their attention sitting on the floor in his sister's dancing shoes. He felt at home in the studio right from the start despite being the only boy.

He studied hard under his first teacher Cettina Averna.   He describes her as almost a second mother.   After a few months of classes, he was invited to perform in public for the first time.  His piece was a Michael Jackson solo.  From that moment he knew that he was destined for the stage.

As there are no theatres near his home, Amedeo did not see ballet live on stage until his student days in Rome.  However, he had DVDs of the great classical works including Giselle, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Le Corsaire.  I asked him about his first live ballet.  It turned out to have been a dress rehearsal of Roland Petit's Coppelia.  That must have made quite an impression on Amedeo because Petit's version is particularly dramatic as can be seen from this clip in which Sergei Polunin danced Franz.  I asked Amedeo whether he was inspired by any of the artists that appeared in his DVDs. He replied:

"Of course as dancers, we all have our idols (Nureyev, Baryshnikov, and the more recents like Roberto Bolle, Carlos Acosta, Federico Bonelli, Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel) but what most inspires me is the desire to improve myself not to be like my idols, but to be the best version of myself everyday."

 He said that he took advantage of every opportunity he could get to attend workshops with the leading Italian and international masters.  

Amedeo's big break came in 2012 when he won the best soloist title in the Mentana Danza Life competition.  This is the video for the 2013 competition.  His prize included a scholarship to the MAS professional school in Milan.

Between 2013 and 2015 Amedeo trained at the Balletto di Roma School, As it is attached to the Rome Ballet and directed by the distinguished choreographer, Paola Jorio, it is very prestigious.  I asked Amedeo whether he had any favourite teachers at the Rome Ballet School. He mentioned Alexandre Stepkine who taught ballet, Mauro Murri, another of his ballet teachers and his contemporary teacher, Paolo Mangiola.  Stepkine helped him to understand how to develop the power needed for jumps and tours en l'air.  Murri showed him how to work on his body with intelligence and awareness. Mangiola opened his eyes to new possibilities of movement and to explore new ways to find expression through the human body.  

As end of term shows often provide the first opportunity for artistic directors, critics and audiences to spot up and coming dancers, I asked Amedeo about his performances at ballet school.   He mentioned, in particular, dancing  Brighella in Alexandre Stepkin’s Commedia Dell’arte.  He also had the chance to dance with the Rome Ballet. That was his first experience of working in a studio with different choreographers.  He danced in Futura, a piece by  Milena Zullo who also taught at his school.  He took part in the premiere of Tefer by Itamar Serussi Sahar a the Belgrade Dance Festival.  Other performances included Tourning by Alessandro Sciarroni and Reveals which was created by the dancers themselves.

Amedeo seems to have enjoyed his time in Rome.  I asked him what was the most important lesson that he had learned there.  He replied:

"The best advice that I received was to focus on my limits, accept them and make them my quality,"

His first job was with the Sienna Ballet (Balleto di Siena),  One of the works in the company's repertoire is entitled in English The Great Pas de Deux which includes extracts from Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty and many more.  Amedeo had the chance to dance in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Diana and Acteon, and Esmeralda. He also learned some of the technical skills of staging a ballet such as lighting design and scenography. 

I asked him where he had acquired his teaching skills.  He replied that he had always assisted his sister and his first teacher Cettina Averna.  He would give classes to their students and choreograph pieces for their shows.  His bio mentions the "Snoopy School" so I asked him about that.  He told me that Cettina's classes are known as "The Snoopy School" because the sports and leisure centre where she gives her classes is named after Snoopy in Peanuts.  He is passionate about dance education not just for the talented but also for the public as a whole.  He said:

"Our mission is to make dance, culture and art more accessible to the people of our city and to destroy the prejudice that the ‘unknown’ takes within society."

That is identical to the mission of this blog and indeed Powerhouse Ballet which grew out of the blog.  I shall make it my business to keep in touch with those artists in Sicily.  Who knows? Maybe we can find a way of working together. 

As I said in the first paragraph, Amedeo is now with the Plovdiv ballet.  Plovdiv, like Manchester, is the second city of its country and it also has a long history.  It used to be known as Φιλιππούπολη because it was founded by Philip of Macedon.  Also like Manchester, Plovdiv is a big manufacturing and commercial centre with lots of theatres, concert halls and other places of entertainment, museums, universities and plenty of arts festivals.  The opera house was founded in 1953 and the auditorium now hoists operas, musicals and concerts as well as ballets.

Amedeo is very glad to be in Plovdiv:

"I enjoy every single day, emotion, show, moment. It’s amazing how much this country believes in culture and theatres, and I’m really happy to dance in such a beautiful city like Plovdiv."

While he has been there he has danced the Rat King in The Nutcracker and Magdavaya in La Bayadere.  He has also danced Siegfried in a performance of Swan Lake for children.  I asked him about roles that he would like to dance in future.  He replied  Birbanto in Le Corsaire and Rothbart in Swan Lake.

I learned that Amedeo had created some ballets of his own so I asked about them.  He replied:

"The piece that I created for State Opera Plovdiv is a pas de deux called  The Opposite Pole that talks about the attraction, relation and complementation of everything. For example, day and night are completely opposite from each other, but they compliment each other because they are attached together. It is inspired a lot by the symbol of Yin-Yang (That I actually have tattooed on my arm because it is a very special symbol that always appears in my life). It is choreographed to a beautiful music by an Italian composer, Andrea Farri and danced by myself and my colleague from State Opera Plovdiv, Mara Salvaggio. Now I am starting to choreograph a new piece for the company, under invitation by the artistic director Mariana Krancheva, with only male dancers! Which is a big challenge for me, and I cannot wait to develop it in the studio and hopefully on stage."

I guessed that Wayne McGregor might have been one of his inspirations and so it turned out.  Other favourite choreographers include Alexander Ekman, Marco Goecke, Akram Khan and Ohad Naharin.

I asked Amedeo whether he had any unfulfilled ambitions and this is what he said:

"The only ambition that I have right now is to dance all over the world, and why not create new choreographies and inspire people with them."

I asked him whether that might include the UK  "Living in the UK?" he replied,  "Why not? Who knows, maybe my next adventure is there!"

As for the future, he said that he has always loved teaching:

"So yes, later in life I would like to teach as well as choreograph in professional schools and pass all of my love for this art form to the new younger generations."
"In that case," I replied, "your students will ask you for advice,  What are you going to tell them?"

He said:

"The only advice that I want to give young aspiring dancers is to accept themselves with their limitations and their qualities and work on them. Only by working in that way, can they improve every day and maybe become someone that they never imagined to be. At least that is what happened to me. I started my career certain that the only way for me to dance was in modern or contemporary because of my body limitations for ballet; and I see now that I’m living a dream that I never even imagined, to dance in an Opera House."

How many others who have grabbed a barre can say that? 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Dance in Nigeria

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Yesterday I took part in a webinar entitled "The Business of Dance" which was organized by the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association of Nigeria.   My fellow panellists were Jemima Angulu, Artistic Director of Krump Studios, Victor Nwejinaka of Blackbones Theatre Kompany, Basorun Aderoju of Hyeres Elite Athletes and Talents and the distinguished Nigerian IP lawyer Folarin Aluko. I set out my reflections as a lawyer in Intellectual Property Lawyers Association of Nigeria Webinar - The Business of Dance 27 Nov 2020 NIPC News.  Here I set out some thoughts as a dance blogger.

As I said in my other article, speaker after speaker - lawyers as well as creatives - stressed the importance of dance in Nigeria.  It may be important to us but it is vital to Nigerians. Some idea of the diversity and energy of Nigerian dance can be gained from the videos and photos on the Blackbones Theatre Kompany Facebook page.  The company describes itself as "an entertainment outfit of youths that seeks to promote our rich African cultural heritage through dance, drama and music."

While Nigeria has a rich heritage of indigenous dance genres it is making its mark in other art forms.  It would appear from the costumes and hand links in this photo from Blackbones's Facebook page that those dancers are rehearsing the cygnets' dance from the second act of Swan Lake.  There are students of enormous talent in Nigeria Anthony Mmesoma Madu and he is by no means unique as can be seen in Lindsay Alissa King's articles  Ballet in Nigeria and Imagining the Future of Ballet from Nigeria in Ballet Rising.

Now that I have learned a little more about dance in Nigeria and established links with some of the leaders in the sector I shall follow the sector with great interest.

Further Reading

The Hon Ehusani Abel Simpa The Role of the Customary Court in protecting Nigerian Cultural Expressions and Dance 28 Nov 2020 Eruditepark

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

So what is the Dutch Style?

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That was a question that I put to Ernst Meisner in the Q&A following his interview by Graham Watts in the London Ballet Circle's Zoom call last night.  I asked Ernst that question because the Dutch National Ballet will perform a mixed bill entitled The Dutch School between 12 and 26 June 2021 to which he is one of the contributors.  Thinking also of Balanchine's Jewels in which emeralds were attributed to the French, rubies to the Americans and diamonds to the Russians, I wondered what would be the Dutch jewel if Mr B could plan a sequel.

Ernst replied "simplicity" when Graham Watts read out my question.  That is certainly true of Embers and No Time before Time, two of the most beautiful short pieces that have ever been created for the stage.  It is quite impossible to watch either of those works dry-eyed.  But what about the others?  Van Dantzig, van Manen, van Schayk, Ochoa and Brandsen?  To name just a few?  "Simplicity" is not the first word that comes to my mind when contemplating Mata Hari or In the Future.

Yet there is undoubtedly a quality of Dutch dance that makes it recognizable anywhere and that is its fluidity. That is the characteristic that I think all the works that I have seen in Amsterdam have in common.  It is the je ne sais quoi of Embers and No Time that tugs at my emotions. But it is the one quality that I think the maker of abstract historical ballets shares with the creator of moving architecture.  I might also add another word that is close to fluidity, namely fluency.

Don't all successful works of choreography have that quality? Many will ask.  Yes, but in the same way as all male dancers jump spectacularly but perhaps not quite in the same way as the Russians.  Similarly, there is a certain lyrical softness to say Lise's solo as she is locked up with the sheaves of corn that all dancers display but perhaps not to the same extent which perhaps explains why I have never seen Ashton performed outside England quite as well as his work is danced here. 

If I were thinking of awarding the Dutch a jewel I think it would be mercury, the only metal that exists as a liquid at room temperature.  Not a gem that can be worn on a ring or in the hair but something equally rare, just as beautiful and much more elusive.

Friday, 20 November 2020


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Scottish Ballet Swan 19 Nov 2020

My most popular post by far has been Empire Blanc: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016, my review of Scottish Ballet's performance of David Dawson's Swan Lake at the Liverpool Empire on 3 June 2016. I received tens of thousands of hits at the time and I am still getting a lot even now. I loved that show and I think readers must have sensed something of my passion behind my words.

Dawson's ballet was to have been revived for a tour of Scotland this Spring but sadly the pandemic got in the way. Scottish Ballet plans to reschedule it just as soon as Covid 19 is under control. To assuage the audience's disappointment at the postponement of the tour, Eve McConnachie has transposed part of the last act to film. It was premiered over the internet at 19:00 last night and I have already watched it three times. It is a work of art of considerable value in its own right. From the film, I have seen details of the choreography, lighting, costumes that my senses failed to take in the first time around. The camera takes the audience into the performance. It really is the next best thing to performing onstage.

There are 10 dancers in the film - Constance Duverney, Aisling Brangan, Claire Souet, Grace Horler, Roseanna Leney, Grace Paulley, Alice Kawalek, Amy McEntee, Melissa Parsons and Anna Williams. According to the filmmaker, Dawson's choreography was left unchanged. However, he was in contact with the artists throughout the making of the film.

After the film, there were short interviews with Eve McConnachie and Roseanna Leney. Leney was asked about differences between dancing before a lens and dancing on stage. An important difference was the absence of an audience. She described the experience of sensing its presence, The chatter before the lights go down and then the lull. Theatre is a collaborative art and the audience are as much part of the creative process as the artists though their participation is limited to the applause. That is particularly true of dance and maybe especially so in ballet.

Yesterday's performance was for Friends of Scottish Ballet. Scottish Ballet was the first company that I got to know and love. I was a fan even before it was Scottish largely for the sparky choreography of its founder Peter Darrell. I relished such works as Mods and Rockers and Houseparty. The company has grown and prospered over the years and as it has grown so has my affection and admiration.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

World Ballet Day Highlights #2 - The Royal New Zealand Ballet

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The Royal New Zealand Ballet had a very successful tour of the UK five years ago.  I attended and reviewed their performances of A Passing Cloud in Leeds on 4 Nov 2015 and Giselle in High Wycombe on 7 Nov 2015.   Their contribution to World Ballet Day on 29 Oct 2020 was one of my highlights of that day.  

Since their visit to this country, the company has appointed Patricia Barker as Artistic Director and it was she who welcomed the audience to the company's studios.  For the first 17 minutes, we saw the company's class taken by one of its ballet masters, Nicholas Schutz.  Schutz, like Barker, comes from the United States. So, too, does his wife Laura, who is one of the company's ballet mistresses.  It will be interesting to see whether they influence the company's repertoire and choreography.

World Ballet Day coincided with the opening night of The Sleeping Beauty which is touring New Zealand.  Barker led us to the rehearsal studio where she directed Kate Kadow and suitors in the rose adagio.  Schutz reappeared with Clytie Campbell, the other ballet mistress, to demonstrate how they create the scene where the lilac fairy leads Florimund to the sleeping Aurora.

The last scene was the technical rehearsal at the Wellington Opera House.  Kadow, already in costume for Aurora's 16th birthday, greeted her internet audience in her dressing room. The camera followed her down to the stage pursued by beaming students waving excitedly.  The very last scene showed Aurora's entry, a bit of the rose adagio and one of the scariest Carabosse entries I have ever seen. Judging by the volume of applause I think the last scene must have been the first night in Wellington.

Though New Zealand has been much more successful than most countries at controlling coronavirus the company has not been unaffected by the pandemic.   According to the News page, it has had to endure theatre closures and cancel a visit to London. On World Ballet Day, sunlight streamed through the windows of the rehearsal studios. The dancers trained without face coverings.  The applause in the theatre was thunderous.  While the main reason the RNZB's slot was one of my highlights of World Ballet 2020 is that the company is good it was also because it projected light and hope. Those of us about to enter the Northern Winter were shown an image of ballet in a post-pandemic world, Just as the prince was shown an image of the sleeping Aurora by the lilac fairy.

Friday, 6 November 2020

Bethany Kingsley-Garner - A Ballerina with a Brand

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 In Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers 13 March 2020 I quoted Alina Cojocaru:
"Ballet careers are relatively short and require years of training that pose the risk of injury, yet the world’s top dancers earn far less money than their counterparts elsewhere in show business."

"What to do about it?" I asked.  I concluded that companies and theatres were already pretty stretched and that the public whether as theatregoer or taxpayer cannot afford much more. Since then we have had the pandemic that has closed theatres around the world for months.

"So is there anything else that can be done?" I asked.    "Well perhaps" I answered." As the Bailey's Nutcracker commercial showed some years ago, ballet can sell. Maybe advertising, merchandising and endorsement.  Many companies were already taking advantage of that revenue stream but what about dancers?  Compared to sports stars, rock musicians and even opera singers, dancers have been slow to tap into it.   When I wrote my article 6 years ago, the only two that came to mind were Carlos Acosta and Darcey Bussell.

They have been joined by several others and the latest happens to be one of my favourite artists, Bethany Kingsley-Garner.   I wrote in my review of her performance as Odile in David Dawson's Swan Lake:
"Bethany Kingsley-Garner, who has recently been elevated to principal, was perfect in both. She first came to my notice as Cinderella in Edinburgh (see Scottish Ballet's Cinderella 20 Dec 2015) and she has already entered my canon of all time greatest ballerinas. The only other Scottish dancer in that rare company is Elaine McDonand (see Elaine McDonald in her own Words 11 March 2014)." (see Empire Blanc: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016)

Kingsley-Garner has two spin-off activities: online ballet classes and coaching and, more recently, her own dancewear collection which she distributes through Manchester-based online retailer Move Dance.

The dancewear includes leotards, shrug, skirts, top and leg warmers.  Each of those garments has a name and a story.   For instance, one of the leotards is called "The Rachel Leotard".  This is the story:

"Every step of the way

​Here's to good women everywhere. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them."

​Creation - Emergence - Life Force - Love - Nurture - Protect - Support - Confidence

​Rachel is my mother, she gave me the greatest gift of life itself; nurtured, protected and loved unconditionally.

She helped me take my first steps, raised me to become confident, individual and independent and was there to watch me step on stage emerged as a principal ballerina leading the ballet company.

A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person who makes leaning unnecessary. I am a strong woman because a strong woman raised me.

​Feel the support and protection when you're dancing in The Rachel Leotard.

Be Inspired Be Unstoppable Be You . . BKG"

That is a delightful sentiment and it says something that we might have guessed but would not otherwise have known why Kingsley-Garner is such a remarkable dancer.  

Launching a dancewear collection when dance studios in most parts of the UK are in lockdown might seem to some to be a bold thing to do. But it is also a promise of better things to come.  This venture deserves to succeed and it has every chance of doing so.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

World Ballet Day Highlights #1: The Royal Academy of Dance

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World Ballet Day came just as theatres and studios across the UK were emerging from a 7-month hibernation.  It was a day of optimism.  Sadly that optimism has been dampened by the announcement on Saturday of another lockdown in England.  The sudden closure of studios and theatres is devastating; It is therefore all the more vital to hang on to that optimism. One way to do that is to remember the highlights of World Ballet Day. Over the next few days, I shall recall some of my most memorable moments.  

I begin with the Royal Academy of Dance.  The RAD is an institution that educates students at all levels, of all ages in all parts of the world.  Its contribution to World Ballet Day summarized its work exactly.  The Academy's Artistic Director, Gerard Charles, and its President, Darcey Bussell, opened the clip. The first half featured the work of three RAD teachers in Peru, Kenya and Australia while in the second Dame Darcy coached Anya Mercer, a student at the English National Ballet School and a finalist in last year's Genée in the second female solo of the pas de trois in Act 1 of Swan Lake.

When I first started blogging about dance I mentioned the work of Mike Wamaya who teaches ballet in Kibera, one of the most impoverished neighbourhoods of Nairobi (see What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013). In Recognition for the Kibera Ballet Class  9 Jan 2017 I noted that some of those students had been accepted for training at the Dance Centre Kenya with Ms Cooper Rust.  In the video, Ms Rust taught a class of boys who showed considerable enthusiasm as well as aptitude for their art.

Nairobi is a conurbation of over 9 million people where there is the possibility of exposure to the performing arts through the press and broadcasting.  Such a possibility is much less in the upper reaches of the Amazon where the Nevada Building Hope Foundation operates.  One of its teachers is Barbara Land.  In the video, Ms Land explains how she introduced ballet to local children. They were enchanted and wanted to learn. 

As an RAD teacher, Ms Land was able to train the Peruvian kids to the same exacting standards as the young  Sydneysiders in Hilary Kaplan's class at the Alegria Dance Studios in Australia.  Australia has given the world some of its greatest dancers from Sir Robert Helpmann and Elaine Fifield to Alexander Campbell who was my male dancer of the year for 2019.  After watching Ms Kappan's class for a few minutes, I think we can understand why.  Excellence is baked into ballet at the very earliest opportunity.

Dame Darcey's session with Anya Mercer was a masterclass for her audience as well as for that promising young dancer.   It is a thrilling solo particularly the turns at the end.   Dame Darcey discerned details that I had never noticed before. Her pupil has shown considerable promise to reach this point.  I wish her well with her studies and subsequent career.

My next article will feature the Royal New Zealand Ballet's company class and preparation for the opening performance of The Sleeping Beauty in an apparently coronavirus fee Wellington.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

"Live" - Van Manen's Narrative Ballet?

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inplayer Dutch National Ballet Live  10 Oct to 7 Nov 2020

Hans van Manen made it very clear that he does not do story ballets in a discussion that followed the first screening of the latest filming of Live.   To emphasize the point he added that that was why he had never created a full-length ballet.  It is true that there is no synopsis or libretto but you don't need a plot for a narrative ballet.  That was about the only point upon which a panel of experts on narrative dance was agreed when I asked that question at the "State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet" in Leeds some years ago.   For me, Live tells the story of a relationship at least as eloquently as any ballet.

It is also much more real and immediate.  Unlike the storybook ballets, Live is not confined to the stage.  It starts there bit spills into the audience's world.   It proceeds into the lobby of the Music Theatre and finally the streets.  The last scene shows the woman in red walking slowly along the banks of the Amstel towards the Waterlooplein underground station.  

Van Manen's Live is therefore just as much a work of cinema as it is of ballet.  On his foundation's website, van Manen lists Live as a "video ballet" rather than simply as a ballet.  He gives the cameraman equal billing with the dancers. That is likely to be because the cameraman is very much part of the action.  The interplay between dancer and cameraman is best appreciated in Altin Kaftira's film Diana Vishneva in 'LIVE' of Hans van Manen.  The cameraman is in the dancers' faces, particularly the woman's. At one point, she repels him by pressing her palm against the camera lens.  The other important element of the film is the music. Van Manen chose the following pieces by Liszt:  Sospiri, Bagatelle sans tonalité, Wiegenlied,  Vier kleine Klavierstücke and Abschied.

Live was filmed for the first time in 1979  Colleen Davis and Henny Jurriëns were the original dancers and Henk van was the cameraman.  It was filmed in the Carré because the Music Theatre had not been constructed at that time. The video has been remade several times with different dancers including, of course, Vishneva.  The film that has been released between the 10 Oct and 7 Nov 2020 casts  Maia Makhateli as the woman in red and Artur Shesterikov as her partner. 

I have long admired Shesterikov and Makhateli for their virtuosity but in the film I also saw superb acting.  There were moments when sparks seemed to fly.  The drama was heightened by the accompaniment of Olga Khoziainova.  After the screening, there was a short conversation about the film between van Manen, Rachel Beaujean and Davis.  Clips from the 1979 film were shown.  I was amazed to learn that Davis was only 19 when she danced the lady in red. Particularly as her successors in the role have included Vishneva and Makhateli.

Though he was much younger than the other choreographers and his work was very different, van Manen was one of the recurring names in the 1960s when I first started to follow ballet.  His works were reviewed in almost every issue of Dance and Dancers and The Dancing Times which I devoured when I was at university. His name was mentioned as frequently as those of Ashton, Balanchine, Cranko, Darrell, MacMillan and van Dantzig.  All those great choreographers have gone.  Only van Manen is left.  He must be well into his 80s but he still knows how to excite, surprise and delight.

The film may be viewed on the Dutch National Ballet's website until 7 Nov 2020.  The access charge is €2.95. 

Saturday, 31 October 2020

The Finale - Dutch National Ballet;s "Dancing Apart Together"

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Dutch National Ballet Dancing Apart Together Music Theatre, Amsterdam, 20 Sep 2020 14:00

Ib her review, Dutch National Ballet - "Dancing Apart Together", Yvonne Charlton described the show's finale:
"Extending the stage by moving the side curtains and the backcloth, Anna Tsygankova appeared in the centre. Slowly all the other dancers joined her coming from between the stage lightings filling the whole stage with social distance. A sublime grand finale with the whole ensemble of the National Ballet and the Junior Company."

It must have been a wonderful moment.

Happily, I have just found a video of that scene and it seems to have been every bit as impressive as the scene that Yvonne described.   Listen to that applause.   It's deafening.  Yet the auditorium was only a quarter full.  It represents the affection in which Amsterdam - indeed the whole world - holds that magnificent company.

Friday, 23 October 2020

KNT's Day of Dance Tomorrow

The Dear Old Dancehouse

One of the highlights of my year is KNT's Day of Dance.  It offers a chance to train with some of the best teachers and performers in the business.  Last year, for example, I took classes with   Alex Hallas of Bale Cymru and  Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy.

Another Day of Dance will take place tomorrow and I regret to say that I only learned of it a few minutes ago when I tried to check in your some online classes for the coming week. According to KNT's Class Manager app, the following are available:

  • 11:00 - 12:30 Beginner/Pre-Intermediate Ballet 
  • 11:00 - 12:30 Intermediate/Advanced Contemporary 
  • 13:00 - 14:30 Intermediate/Advanced Ballet
  • 13:00 - 14:30 Pre-Intermediate Contemporary 
  • 19:00 - 20:30 Beginner/Pre-Intermediate Ballet 
  • 19:00 - 20:30 Beginner/Pre-Intermediate Contemporary
  • 20:30 - 22:00 Intermediate/Advanced Ballet  
  • 20:30 - 22:00 Intermediate/Advanced Contemporary 
All the classes for tomorrow's Day of Dance are priced at £10.

Sadly it won't be quite the same as last year because we are exiled from the Dear Old Dancehouse as a result of the public health emergency but we shall still have excellent teaching.  Above all, we can still wave at each other over Zoom even if we can no longer embrace.

Plagues don't last forever.  There is every chance that medicine will eradicate or at least contain this virus as it has done with so many other infections.   One day this horrible scourge will be nothing more than a horrible memory.  I wish everyone a great weekend.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Dutch National Ballet - "Dancing Apart Together"

Anna Ol
(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen

Dutch National Ballet Dancing Apart Together Music Theatre, Amsterdam, 20 Sep 2020 14:00


I visited the Dutch National Ballet on the afternoon of Sunday 20 Sept 2020 for a very special programme.  It was my first visit since the coronavirus lockdown in March.

It was not quite the same as before. Instead of having a full audience of about 1,600, only 400 were allowed for each performance. But at least we were back as an audience.  That gave us a very special feeling. We were quite emotional.  It felt very safe. The front of house staff made sure we kept our distance from each other.

The programme was called Dancing Apart Together.   It consisted of 12 different pieces by 9 different choreographers.   Each of those pieces was, in the words of Ted Brandsen, “connected by a number of central questions." Those questions were:  How do we experience togetherness? How do we do it from a distance? And how important is physical contact for us individually? Each of those choreographers gave his or her take on those themes thereby showing how he or she dealt with lockdown.

The programme was as follows:

1. The Dying Swan by Mikhail Fokine;
2. Romanian Folk Dances a new work by Ted Brandsen;
3. Kaddish another new work by Ted Brandsen;
4. Manoeuvre a new work by Juanjo Arqués;
5. L’Autre Côté a new work by Sedrig Verwoert;
6. Reset a new work by Milena Sidorova;
7. On the Nature of Daylight by David Dawson;
8. Largo a new work by Ernst Meisner;
9. Quasicystal a new work by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa;
10. Solo by Hans van Manen;
11. Slot one more new work by Ted Brandsen, and
12  Frolicsome Finale yet another new work by new Ted Brandsen.

The Dying Swan
(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen

The show began with the Dying Swan beautifully performed by Anna Ol.  Her movements represented not only dying but also the resurrection of the phoenix.  An analogy which was drawn byTed Brandsen. A solo full of loneliness and sadness would be followed by a new beginning symbolized by eight new pieces created by present-day choreographers.

Romanuan Folk Dances
(c) 2020 Michel Schnater

Brandsen's Romanian Folk Dances was a lively and joyful ballet for 16 dancers (8 men and 8 women).  They formed a lot the forms of circles. Circles can be a symbol of emptiness, the infinity and of the absolute freedom, bound by nothing but the are also a symbol of safety and connected with love, energy and power. 

Romanian Folk Dances
(c) 2020 Michel Schnater

All those aspects were represented in the piece.

(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen 


There then followed a duet, Kaddish, danced by Jessica Xuan and Semyon Velichko based on a prayer from the Jewish liturgy. For me, it was about believing in yourself and believing in each other.  Intense and soft. A beautiful contrast with the Romanian folk dances.

(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen 

For me, the next piece, Manoeuvre, stayed in this intense and soft feeling. However, this was danced by 8 men.  Through their masculinity, they showed their intensive and sensitive feelings. Now and then you got the feeling of being in a slow-motion movie.

L'Autre Côté
(x) 2020 Hans Gerritsen

The next work was L'Autre Côté by Sedrig Verwoert.  To be honest, I had never seen a piece from this choreographer before.   Here he challenged the cast of 10 to come out of their current comfort zone into the new “future” without losing mutual trust.   This was well chosen and I hope to see more from this choreographer in the future.

(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen

In Milena Sidorova's Reset, we were thrown back to the time before lockdown.  The artists were dancing as they did in the “old days” close together, albeit briefly, and then suddenly realizing the need to keep their distance.  They made you think:  What is freedom?  What are restrictions?  What are obstacles?

On the Nature of Daylight
(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen

The duet On the Nature of Daylight made me feel how very precious and delicate is true love between two persons.   It was performed beautifully by Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen.

(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen

The introduction of this season’s new Junior Company has had to be put “on hold” for the duration.  This was the first opportunity for the public to see them.  Ernst Meisner's Largo showed them off to best advantage as individuals and as an ensemble.  The dancers formed a single line from which they emerged in ones or twos to display their virtuosity.  A promising new generation.

(c) Hans Gerritsen

Quasicrystal consisted of intense duets by 4 couples showing extreme sorrow and pain that people inflict upon themselves.

(c) 2020 Michel Scgnater

Solo is one of van Maanen’s great works.  It was danced by 3 totally different strong male dancers: Remi Wortmeyer, Edo Wijnen and Young Gyu Choi.  What a joy to watch this at a time of holding back. Each of their solos was full of spirit and fire. Finishing all 3 together on stage by challenging each other in a good way. It was like watching a play battle between them.

Frolicsome Finale 
(c) 2020 Hans Gerritsen

With Frolicsome, we came to the end of the show. 

And as the name stated and using the words of Ted Brandsen: Dancing Apart Together concluded with a subdued and contemplative ending, signalling the return to the core of the dancer’s existence.

Extending the stage by moving the side curtains and the backcloth, Anna Tsygankova appeared in the centre. Slowly all the other dancers joined her coming from between the stage lightings filling the whole stage with social distance.  A sublime grand finale with the whole ensemble of the National Ballet and 
the Junior Company.

Throughout the performance, you saw the emotions in all the dancers.  They all excelled.  I couldn't say that any of them eclipsed the others.   However, all the individual and different pieces in a way came together to create one ballet. 

The costumes, the music from an orchestra consisting entirely of strings and of course the choreography came together to create an excellent and emotionally charged programme.

I am already looking forward to my next visit to see Back to Ballet.