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.