Sunday, 10 May 2020

Classes in Lockdown

Author NIAID Licence CC BY 2.0

After I felt obliged to postpone the Snowflakes workshop that Mark Hindle had kindly agreed to give us on 14 March 2020 I had reconciled myself to a long delay before I would ever do a plié again. I did broach the subject of online classes with a teacher for whom I have particularly high regard but she was sceptical.  She was worried about limited space, unsprung floors and insurance and so was I. 

On 21 April, Maria Chugai of the Dutch National Ballet gave us an online class which made our spirits soar (see An Unforgettable Class 7 May 2020).  Encouraged by Maria's success, I asked Charlotte Ingleson of Ballet North UK to give us an online class on 2 May in lieu of the March company class which she had agreed to deliver.   Again, that was very successful.   She made us work very hard for the full 90 minutes.    As we have also missed our April class I have arranged with Jane Tucker to give us an extra class on 16 May.  Jane will also deliver her usual class on 30 May.

As Maria and Charlotte have shown that online classes are not only possible but fun I have been trying out a few more.  Online classes fall into two categories.   Some are given by ballet schools and companies over Facebook or YouTube,   They offer training by the likes of  Ernst Meisner and Tamara Rojo for free.  The disadvantage is that the teachers can't see us so there is no chance of corrections.   The other option is to enrol in a class that is held over Zoom. That is the next best thing to a class in a studio because the teacher and see and correct her students and give corrections.  For those classes, there is, of course, a fee.

Of the classes offered by schools and ballet companies, my favourites are those by Ernst Meisner.  Recordings of those classes are available on the Dutch National Ballet's YouTube channel  I am not an unbiased critic because I am a big fan of Meisner for the work that he has done for the Junior Company and the Dutch National Ballet Academy.  However, my opinion appears to be shared by two experienced teachers who certainly know what they are talking about. 

Our guest ballet mistress, Yvonne Charlton of the Dolstra Dance Centre in IJsselstein, wrote:
"Jane Lambert he is a great teacher i am doing his classes."
To which I responded:
"Yvonne Charlton de beste leraar ooit!"  
Taxing the very extremity of my command of the Dutch language.   She agreed with me.

The other person who commented on Meisner's class was our first choreographer, Terence Etheridge.   Having been one of the founder members of Northern Ballet and later its ballet master, as well as ballet master in Hong Kong, Terence knows everything there is to know about classes.   When he wrote in Facebook that it was a very good class we can be sure that it was.

I have also attended two Zoom classes.   One was given by Karen Sant of KNT Danceworks, my usual teacher in Manchester.   The other by Sonya Pettigrew of Brighton Ballet School. 

KNT usually offers classes in Northern Ballet School's studios.   I first came to KNT in August 2014 when my over 55 class in Leeds was on vacation and I have been a regular visitor ever since.  I have taken classes at various levels with all of the teachers and I have got on well with every one of them.  I have also attended some excellent choreography workshops on  Swan Lake, La Bayadere, Coppelia, Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker given by Jane Tucker and Martin Dutton as well as days of intensive classes known as "Days of Dance".  Over the years I have made some good friendships and close acquaintances with many of the other students.  I love KNT and am very fond of Karen.

Since the lockdown, Karen has created a portal to her online classes called the class manager.  As far as I could see from the "upcoming classes" section, everything that KNT offered in the studio is available online.  I joined my usual "Pre-Intermediate Class" which meets on Tuesdays between 18:30 and 19:45  The barre was almost identical to the studio but we had a few modifications for the centre work. Nevertheless, we finished with a joyful temps levé carrying me from the kitchen through the hall to my sitting room and back again.  Karen charged £3.50 for that class and I shall certainly be back.

Although Sonya had invited me to attend and review one of her classes several months ago I never had an opportunity to take advantage of it.  After the lockdown, she invited me to attend one of her online classes which I did on 24 April.   I joined the entry-level class and found that it was quite rigorous.  Again, there was a full barre and some demanding centre exercises.   I counted 8 of us in gallery view, mostly women but one gentleman.   Sonya is a good teacher.  She gave me several corrections for which I am grateful.   She has a very easy manner and it is clear that she is well-liked by her students.  If I lived in Sussex I would almost certainly be one of her regulars.

New online classes are coming onto the market all the time.  On 7 May Northern Ballet Academy announced that it is about to launch a new online class for the Over 55s to be given by Viki Westall from 11 May.   As it meets in office hours I am not sure how many classes I can attend but I shall certainly do one and report back to you with my findings.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Ballet in Lockdown

Standard YouTube Licence

Dutch National Ballet Ballet connects dancers in lockdown 21 April 2020 YouTube
This is the first new ballet that I have reviewed since lockdown.  It is on screen rather than a stage but it is fresh, relevant and eloquent.  It expresses the anxiety, frustration, isolation and tedium that each of us suffers whether artist or audience member during these miserable times.

Ballet in Lockdown is a very short work to the music of a Rotterdam band called Di-rect. The track is "Hold on" which Di-rect recorded about ten years ago.  It is certainly appropriate now.   As it is on YouTube I shall let my readers discover it for themselves.   All I will say is that the film begins with solitary dancers in their homes wearing expressions that are the epitome of gloom.  One by one they begin to bourée, to stretch, to turn, to lean or press against their walls as though in adjoining rooms.  Icons of the individual dancers are assembled in gallery view.  The very last frame of the dancers erect, facing the camera, their arms outstretched, their hands held high expresses hope and promise. An assurance that this plague will one day end,  If we only hold on,   I was moved by this piece.  I have played it several times.  Each time I have noticed something new.  It is a gem that deserves preservation.  I would love to see its transposition to a stage if that can be done.

This work was created by Milena Siderova who has an impressive portfolio of work. I had previously seen and admired Full Moon which she had created for Bert Engelen when he was in the Junior Company and Withdrawn for the company's New Moves in 2017, Full Moon was about those nights when it is hard to sleep where the bedclothes seem to have minds of their own, In that piece,  Engelen struggled with his pillow to the music of Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights.  Withdrawn was more reflective.  In my review I wrote:
"The finale was Milena Siderova's Withdrawn. Siderova had created Full Moon for Bart Engelen who is now with the Norwegian Ballet........... I expected much from her next work and I think that we got it. Withdrawn was a work for 10 dancers to the music of Emilie Satt's Butterfly. It appears to have been inspired by a passage from Carol Becker's essay Thinking in Place, Art, Action and Cultural Protection of a dystopian future in which human social interaction is replaced by the interaction of electronic devices. Each of the dancers carried a torch which I guess was reminiscent of the screen of a mobile phone. They seemed to wander in a sort of limber rather like the lost souls in surgical gowns in Tran-Phat's In Limbo that launched the show."
A work from her repertoire that I have never seen but would very much like to is The Spider which she crested in 2011.  Her observation of the animal's movements and behaviour is knife-sharp. Their translation into dance is the best I have seen  Petipa's Puss in Boots and White Cat duet in the last act of The Sleeping Beauty.

I wish more companies could attempt something like this.  Video streams of past performances are all very well but they lack something.  In another article, I compared it recently to encountering a stuffed animal in a museum.  Better than nothing I suppose but there is no life to it.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Gavin McCaig in Conversation with his Friends

Gary Sutherland / CC BY-SA (

Not far from Taynuilt lies the port of Oban from where McBrayne ferries depart for Mull on the way to Iona.  I had passed through the port countless times but never bothered to stop until two years ago when I attended a performance of Highland Fling at the Atlantic Leisure Centre. It was then that I discovered that there was a lot more to Oban than a waystation to or from the Hebrides. Some of the best fish and chips in the United Kingdom are to be had in the city's many chippies.  For anybody wondering why I call Oban a city, it is because it has two cathedrals including Sir Gilbert Scott's magnificent St Columba's by the seashore.  However, the most impressive landmark in the whole of Oban is the colonnade on Battery Hill known as McCaig's tower.

I had a question about the tower up my sleeve in case I ran out of things to say when I interviewed Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet for Stage Door on Sunday but I didn't need it for the conversation flowed like water. Gavin McCaig is a very interesting chap as well as a very congenial one. I had interviewed him for Terpsichore soon after he had joined the company in 2014.  He has come a long way since then and while he might not have reached the very top of the greasy pole he has certainly gained considerable elevation.

I began the interview by asking him whether the success for which he must have aimed when he was at ballet school had turned out to be all that it was cracked up to be.  Disarmingly he replied that he had not set his sites on any particular outcome when he was at ballet school. There is stiff competition to enter any company particularly one in the UK.  His ambition was simply to get a job in ballet.  He had begun to follow Northern Ballet when he was at the English Ballet School.  He remembered trips to Woking and other theatres within the vicinity of London. Joining Northern Ballet was everything he could have hoped for.

I mentioned some of the roles in which he had impressed.  John Brown in Cathy Marston's Victoria in which he had been shot and St John in Jane Eyre which is another Marston work.  I had followed the company to London to see it in Richmon in 2016 and pronounced it the best work form the company that I had seen in 20 years.  He seemed well suited to Marston's choreography, I suggested.  He said that he enjoyed working with Cathy Marston for whom he had a particular regard.  I agreed mentioning how much I had admired Snowblind when the San Francisco Ballet came to London and how much I was looking forward to seeing what she makes of Mrs Robinson.

However, he had excelled in other choreographers' works.  I mentioned his performance as Athos in The Three Musketeers in which he had particularly impressed me.  While accepting the compliment he drew my attention to a role that I had not mentioned. Early in his career, he had been one of Friar Lawrence's acolytes in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet.  The friar and his acolytes were on stage when the curtain lowered and it was an exceptionally moving experience as the orchestra played the last few barres of the score.  I mentioned that I was a fan of Maillot having also seen the Bolshoi's performance of his Taming of the Shrew.  I asked whether he had visited Leeds.  Gavin replied that he had and that he had spent 3 days there.

In his interview in 2014, Gavin had expressed an interest in choreography.   I mentioned a choreographic workshop to which he had contributed a ballet.  I had admired the work very much particularly the take on Mr Nigel Farage's "You're not laughing now" remark with the hollowly cackling cast,  Again, he acknowledged my compliment graciously.

At this point we had the first question from the audience,  Amelia Sierevogel asked about some of the memorable costumes he had worn.  He mentioned the one with lots of buttons and others where there had been what can best be described as little local difficulties.  Elaine Berrill and Janet McNulty also intervened and Amelia asked a follow up towards the end.   He was asked what advice he would give to a young man particularly in view of prejudice against male dancers.  He acknowledged it was there and the answer was to persist,  There was one time when he thought he might give up and he actually left the class for a while.   I am glad to say that he had another think and resumed his studies,  The question on motivation and overcoming inhibitions had arisen a few days earlier in a Q&A with his class in Portugal. Janet was aware that he had done a lot of running and asked how that was affecting his legs and feet.  He replied that a certain amount of tension in those muscles was good.

As it appeared that Kevin Poeung was in the same room as Gavin I asked whether it would be possible to say "hello" to him. Kevin appeared and greeted us,   I asked them how they were coping with the lockdown.  While they were appalled by the casualties they had made the best of it.  They had a chance to appreciate their home, carry out some DIY and enjoy some quality time which would not otherwise have been available with a busy schedule,

I asked about Gavin's plans for the future.  We discussed his award-winning film on the company's digital dance platform. He was learning business finance to qualify for a managerial role in the performing arts.  I asked about roles he hoped to perform.  He had mentioned Simon in David Nixon's Swan Lake on the company's website.   He explained that was because of Simon's personality, As he had mentioned that he would like to dance the big classical roles in his 2014 interview I asked whether he retained any ambitions in that regard.   He replied that he had already danced the lead in The Nutcracker in Montana a few months ago which he had enjoyed but he was not sure that he was ideally suited to the great Petipa roles.

We finished with an appeal for contributions to the Academy of Northern Ballet.  I have placed a donate button to the ACADEMY OF NORTHERN BALLET PARENTS ASSOCIATION on my Facebook page.   Alternatively, donors can call the Academy on 0113 220 8000 or email

Friday, 1 May 2020

Online Company Classes for May 2020

Company Class 29 February 2020
© 2020 Powerhouse Ballet

A photo of our last company class in a studio.  It was held on 29 Feb 2020 in Studio 2 at The Dancehouse and Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet was our guest ballet mistress. I am particularly fond of that studio because it was there that Jane taught us Swan Lake, La Bayadere, Coppelia, Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker in KNT's wonderful choreographic workshops.  It is also where my pre-intermediate class with Karen used to meet.

Jane gave us our first company class in Huddersfield two years ago.  Last year she gave us a great anniversary class at Yorkshire Dance with David Plumpton at the piano.  I had booked Jane, David and the same studio on 30 of this month for another anniversary class. 

I have no idea when we shall be allowed to reassemble in a studio but from what the PM was saying last night it is unlikely to be any time soon.  Also, as I am in the most vulnerable age group I have to face the possibility that I may never take a conventional class again.

But we can still do online classes.   To make up for the classes that we missed in March and April I have booked Charlotte Ingleson at 14:00 tomorrow and Jane Tucker at 11:00 on 16 May to train us online.   Jane will still deliver our anniversary class at 11:00 on 30 May which I shall make as special as I possibly can. 

On the first Saturday after dance studios reopen, Jane and David have agreed to give you the class of your lives even if I cannot join you in person because of continuing social distancing for my age group.

So make the following notes in your diaries:

2 May 2020   14:00   Charlotte Ingleson    Online Company Class
16 May 2020 11:00   Jane Tucker              Online Company Class
30 May 2020 11:00   Jane Tucker              Anniversary Company Class

Stage Door - A Sunday Afternoon Conversation with your Favourite Artists

"Stage Door" is a new service to keep ballet goers in touch with their favourite artists and artists in touch with their fans during these miserable times.

Every Sunday afternoon during lockdown (and possibly longer if theatres remain dark) I shall interview one of my favourite artists over Zoom.  After the interview members of the audience will be invited to put questions to the guest through the chat function.

I shall start with Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet.  I featured Gavin in Terpsichore shortly after he had joined the company (see Meet Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet 3 Sep 2014).  That interview is still one of my most popular articles.   Next week I have lined up Maria Chugai of the Dutch National Ballet, the best Myrtha I have ever seen in 60 years of ballet going. For the week after that the world-famous accompanist David Plumpton whose DVDs power ballet classes everywhere.

As this is an experimental service and I am still on a learning curve I do not have the brass neck to charge anything just now.  But the arts and education need help during this time.  I am therefore inviting everyone who enjoys these talks to contribute to a charity or good cause of the guest's choice.  Gavin has nominated the Academy of Northern Ballet.  As I study ballet there I think that is a great choice.   I have not been able to find an online donations page for the Academy but you can call them on 0113 220 8000, by email

If you want to hear Gavin on Sunday you must register here. When I get a little more experience with webinars I may livestream these events over YouTube or Facebook but baby steps for now.  My thanks to Gavin for being our first guest,