Thursday, 7 October 2021

Toer

7th Symphony
Author Hans Gerritsen © 2021 Dutch National Ballet, All rights reserved










Dutch National Ballet  Toer  Streamed from the Music Theatre, Amsterdam, 25 Sept 2021, 19:15  and repeated 6 Oct 2021, 19:00

Toer is a double bill in honour of the celebrated choreographer, artist, designer and former dancer, Toer van Schayk.  It consists of two of his ballets: Lucifer Studies and 7th Symphony    Lucifer Studies is a new work which was premiered on 14 Sept 2021.  7th Symphony is described by the programme as one of van Schayk's most successful ballets.  He created it in 1986 and he was awarded the choreography prize of the Dutch Association of Theatre and Concert Hall Directors for the work within a year.   The programme was streamed over the internet from the Amsterdam Music Theatre on 25 Sept and repeated last night,   I watched both transmissions.

Both works were new to me.   They are very different.  The first contains studies that were intended to form part of a full-length ballet based on Vondel's Lucifer.   Work on the ballet has been interrupted by the pandemic but Van Schayk rightly considered that the studies were worth showing. The second piece is based on Beethoven's 7th symphony.   That symphony is one of Beethoven's most famous compositions.  Contrary to the opinion of an eminent ballet critic who really ought to know better that Beethoven is undanceable, the 7th symphony was crying out to be danced and van Schayk has choreographed it beautifully.  While I had to work hard to digest Joep Frannsens's Echoes for Lucifer Studies I could barely sit still and keep silent as the orchestra romped through Beethoven's exuberant work.

I like to think that I am reasonably well-read but I have to confess that until I saw Lucifer Studies I had never heard of Vondel or his play and I fear that few of my fellow Anglophones could claim otherwise.  There is a beautiful open space in the centre of Amsterdam known as Vondel Park and I wonder whether it was named after him.  Joost van den Vondel lived from 1587 to 1689 which encompassed the life of our great poet, John Milton, who lived from 1608 to 1674. I have now had a chance to acquaint myself with Lucifer. Even in translation, Lucifer is impressive and its subject matter is the same as Paradise Lost.  I know that poem well perhaps because I attended the same secondary school as Milton.  I am told by one of his former classmates that Matthew Rowe attended that school too.  Fragments of Milton's verse flashed through my mind as I watched the ballet. From the way the orchestra played, I sensed that Rowe was also inspired by Milton too and that he had communicated that inspiration to each and every musician.

Lucifer Studies
Author Hans Gerritsen © 2021 Dutch National Ballet, All rights reserved












Lucifer Studies had an all-male cast. As I suspect that each of the studies was intended to be danced by a principal or soloist in the full-length work, van Shayk selected some of the company's ablest young dancers.   They included Timothy van Poucke who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the company winning the Radius prize within a very short time of graduating from the Junior Company.   Also in the piece was Martin ten Kortenaar whom I featured in 2014.   Others I recognized were Daniel Robert Silva, Nathan Brhane and Giovanni Princic.  That is not a complete list because I cannot recover the cast list for 25 Sept from the company's website.   Each and every one of those excellent young men impressed me greatly. 

Van Shayk designed the sets and costumes for Lucifer Studies.   The most striking feature of the costumes was that each of the dancers wore a differently coloured right sleeve.   Sometimes the colours of those sleeves were projected onto the backdrop focusing the audience's attention on the solo or duet in question.

Though Lucifer Studies lasts no more than 27 minutes it is a very absorbing work.   I had to watch it twice and discuss it with a dancer friend to get the measure of it.   After the world emerges from the pandemic I fervently hope that resources will be found to enable van Schayk to finish the full-length work.

Young Gyu Choi and Nancy Burer
Author Hans Gerritsen
© 2021 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved






















It is not hard to see why 7th Symphony was an immediate success.  Van Schayk caught the exuberance of the score and amplified it.   The cast was split into two groups lettered "A" and "B".   I regret that I did not record the names of all the dancers on 25 Sept because I thought that the cast list would be available with the repeat   I remember that I admired the performances of Artur Shesterikov and Floor Eimers but there were many others some of whom I did not recognize.   Everyone danced well in that show and I congratulate each and every one of them.   Van Schayk designed the sets and costumes. The women's dresses must have been a joy to wear. 

Of all the online shows that I have seen since the start of the pandemic, this double bill was one of my favourites.  It was a fitting tribute to an extraordinary talent who celebrated his 85th birthday last month.

Friday, 6 August 2021

Dancing in the Penthouse











In Back to the Studio with KNT  I described KNT Danceworks new venue in the ABC Buildings on Quay Street in Manchester and gave practical directions on how to get there, where the park and how to find the studio once inside the premises.   Though not designed as a studio the space is in many important respects superior to the rehearsal studios in the Dancehouse.

If there is sufficient demand the ABC Buildings will host the first studio Day of Dance for nearly two years on 14 Aug 2021.  It is a day on which Karen Sant hires some of the best dance professionals on stage or in the schools to train us.   Those whom she had assembled in the past include Alex Hallas, dancer and choreographer with Ballet Cymru, Harriet Mills, principal ballerina with the Karlsruhe Ballet and Joey Taylor of Birmingham Royal Ballet from the stage as well as great teachers such as Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy and Martin Dutton of the Hammond School.

Next week's programme looks very inviting:

  • Beginner and Pre-Intermediate Ballet Class between 10:00 and 11:30
  • Beginner and Pre-Intermediate Choreograph between 11:30 and 13:00
  • Intermediate and Advanced Balled Repertoire between 13:30 and 15:00
  • Intermediate and Advanced Ballet Class between 15:00 and 16:30

If you want to attend this event (and why wouldn't you) you must register through the Class Manager app as soon as possible.   It will only go ahead if there are at least 15 takers for each event.   If you have not already signed up for the event do so soon.   Karen will need to make a decision at least a week ahead.  I have put my name down for the Pre-Intermediate Class and Choreography sessions.   I look forward to seeing some of you there,

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Back to the Studio with KNT

Manchester Quay Street
Author Mikey Licence CC BY 2.0 Source Wikimedia Commons



















Throughout this pandemic, Karen Sant of KNT Danceworks has kept north country dancers moving and motivated. Frst by transferring her regular classes online. More recently by holding some of those classes in the open air in Castlefield near the Roman fort where Manchester began.  While nothing beats alfresco dancing on a warm summer evening our city is better known for precipitation than sunshine.   On a particularly inclement evening, Karen announced a new venue in the ABC Buildings on Quay Street.  I rolled up there for my regular pre-intermediate ballet class with Karen yesterday.

 As Quay Street was my old stamping ground when I practised in Manchester I had no difficulty in finding the building.  It is located near Cobden House which housed the Manchester District Registry and County Court offices for many years and is now occupied by a set of barristers into which my former chambers merged.  It is a few hundred yards from Spingingfields car park and there is usually some metered street parking nearby if you care to look for it.  It is very close to Deansgate which is the main shopping street of Manchester.  Also, a moderate walk from the nearest tram stop by the Town Hall or Victoria and Piccadilly mainline railway stations.    

One hazard for dancers coming by car is the roadworks in Quay Street and approaches.   The congestion caused by those excavations was horrendous.   The journey from the intersection of the Oldham Road and Swan Street to Spiningfields - which can't be much more than a mile - took almost as long as the 25 miles from Holmfirth to that intersection.  Next time I shall park on the outskirts of the city centre and finish my journey on foot.

The class took place at the top of what I believe to be the B Building of the ABC complex. It was not easy to find because there is no signage. The reception desk was unoccupied and the staff in the cinema bar hadn't a clue though they did their best to point me in the right direction.  Happily, I ran into two other wandering souls.  After eliminating between us just about every landing and staircase in the building we caught a peel of tinkly music that eventually led us to Karen.   Newcomers to the class should enter the building by the first set of doors if coming from Deansgate or the last if coming from Spiningfields, walk down a long corridor to the lifts, take a lift to the top floor and climb the stairs to what appears to have been the penthouse.

Although probably not intended to be a dance studio, that space is an improvement on Studio 2 of the Dancehouse in several respects.  For a start, it has windows along both main walls.  Two doors open onto a balcony with views of central Manchester. The doors also provide good ventilation.  On the other hand, the floor is unfinished, there is no sound system and we have to use the window structures as a barre.  However, the amenity of the space more than made up for its limitations.

Because I was badly delayed by traffic and could not immediately find the class I arrived in the middle of pliés.  Karen took us through all the usual barre exercises except grands battements which she combined with tendus and pirouette practice in the centre.  She also taught us a delightful adagio which we performed in two groups.  We had warm-up jumps and joyful temps leves at the end.

It was a delightful class.   It was good to see so many familiar faces and of course Karen.  Everyone I could see had grins from ear to ear.   At £6.50 this class was a bargain.   To sign up or future ones, register or log on to the KNT Class Manager site and follow the simple directions.  There are also other classes at different levels of several genres on most days of the week,

Friday, 9 July 2021

Giselle Re-imagined

Lichfield Cathedral
Author Nina-no Licence CC BY-SA 3.0 Source Wikimedia

 






















Ballet Cymru, Giselle Livestream from Lichfield Cathedral, 8 July 2021 19:30

Ballet Cymru is not a big company.  If one consults the dancers' page as I tried to do yesterday because there were several artists in the cast I could not recognize, Ballet Cymru appears to have only four members.  Yet Ballet Cymru is capable of staging major full-length classical ballets and often doing them better than many bigger and better-resourced companies.  its Romeo a Juliet is one of the best and its Cinderella is definitely the best - much as I admire the Hampson and Wheeldon versions for Scottish Ballet and HNB.  

Those productions are successful because Darius James and Amy Doughty rethink those ballets for a small cast on the road. They are innovative without being gimmicky.  Their works are of our time yet remain anchored in the classical tradition.  Most importantly, though their artists are from Australia, Bermuda, Italy and Yorkshire, the company is unmistakably Welsh.  Here are two examples of how they work.   If a score does not quite work for them they have the courage to commission a new one.  As often as not, that commission will go to a Welsh composer such as Jack White or Catrin Finch. Another example is how they tell a story.   Romeo a Juliet is set not in renaissance Verona but post-industrial Newport.   The brawl between Montagues and Capulets in Act 1 takes place in the pedestrian underpass to the River Usk.  It is broken up not by a duke but by flashing blue lights.  

James and Doughty applied that formula to their new Giselle which was premiered at Lichfield Cathedral last night.  Although I saw it only on screen I have no doubt that it was a spectacular success.  The camera caught the front row of the audience who rose to their feet at the curtain call. Standing ovations are de rigeur in some parts of the world, but in Lichfield they are rare.  I know that city well because I attended prep school there.

As I knew that James and Doughty had commissioned Finch to write the music I was surprised to hear the opening notes of Adam's overture but it was quickly followed by percussion as the cast entered the stage and shortly afterwards (and my memory may be playing tricks on me here) Bugeilio'r Gwenith GwynAs I tweeted last night Finch's arrangement of Adam with her own work and traditional Welsh airs was one of the reasons for the ballet's success.

The ballet followed the familiar story but with some modern twists.  There are not too many peasants in Newport these days so there was no peasant pas de deux.  Fox hunting is illegal in Wales so there was no ducal hunting party.  Young Welsh women can learn about the men they encounter from their smartphones nowadays so there was no petal picking. But there was still a Giselle danced by Beth Meadway, an Albrecht (Andrea Battaggia), a Hilarion (Yasset Roldan), a Berthe (Hanna Lyn Hughes) and a Bathilde (Natasha Chu).  Other artists, described in the cast list as "friends", were  Robbie Moorcroft, Joe Powell-Main, Madeleine Green, Jakob Myers, Sanea Singh and Jethro Paine.  Chu and Lyn Hughes also appeared in the crowd scenes. 

We at Powerhouse Ballet hold all the dancers of Ballet Cymru in high regard but we have a particular affection for Meadway. She taught us In my craft or sullen art at the Dylan Thomas workshop when Ballet Cymru visited Leeds (see More than a Bit Differently: Ballet Cymru's Workshop and the Launch of the Powerhouse Ballet Circle  29 Nov 2018 Terpsichore).  She also gave us one of the best online company classes ever last year.   Above all, she is a North Country lass - just like most of us.  I already knew that she could dance but I had never seen her act before.  She is at least as good an actor as she is a dancer.  She did not just dance Giselle.   She made us believe that she was Giselle.

Tall and dashing, Battagia was cast well as Albrecht. It was easy to see how Giselle's head was turned by him.  He did not carry a sword but he did have some sort of ID that he carelessly left in a wallet in his coat pocket.  I have always felt a bit sorry for poor old Hilarion.  If anyone deserves to die it is Albrecht and in Dada Masilo's version, he does (see  A Brace of Giselles 15 Oct 2019 Terpsichore).  James and Doughty stick to tradition and he perishes in a horrible way. Roldan danced his role with verve and passion.   The choreography gives him opportunities to demonstrate virtuosity and he took full advantage.  Berthe seems even younger than her daughter which may be why she is described in the cast list as "Giselle's friend".  There is a poignant moment as Berthe comforts Giselle when she first experiences heart trouble.   It is also Berthe who tries to revive Giselle at the end.   

In any production of Giselle, there is a contrast between acts 1 and 2.   In this production, the contrast was marked by the absence of pointe work in act 1.  The women wore soft shoes and turned on demi.  In the spirit world, Myrtha and Giselle were on pointe.  No doubt to emphasize their lightness like Taglioni in La Sylphide or Grisi in the first Giselle.  The wilis were the scariest I have ever seen.   The friends in act 1 became spirits in act 2.  They, therefore, included men who were particularly threatening.   They crawled over their graves like serpents.   No graceful arabesques or penchés.   They were led by Isobel Holland.   The tension between Holland and Meadway was palpable.   Holland like Meadway is an excellent actor. She also taught us at our Dylan Thomas workshop.  We at Powerhouse know that she is delightful in real life but as queen of the wilis she was grisly and venomous.  

The set was simple but robust which will be ideal for touring.   Essentially rectangular slaps with reflective surfaces. As in their other ballets. Ballet Cymru relied on projectors to create scenery or change mood.   One background - ancient Celtic and Latin crosses - was simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. All credit to the lighting designer, Chris Illingworth.  Congratulations also to the costume designer, Derek Tudor.  Myrtha's was stunning.   The women's skirts with their layers of material must have been a joy to wear.

I look forward to seeing this show on stage very much.  A screen is all very well but it is two dimensional and ballet has depth.   If Ballet Cymru ever offers this choreography as a workshop we should love to learn it.   Once this third wave has subsided we shall learn the Coralli-Perrot-Petipa version of the dance of the wilis but the James and Doughty version would be such fun.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Muntagirov's Masterclass

Vadim Muntagirov and Alina Cojocaru
Author ASH Licence CCO 1,0 Source Wikimedia Commons 

 













I have just noticed that Danceworks has arranged for Vadim Muntagirov to give a 90-minute master class between 14:30 and 16:00 today.  Dancers in London can attend the class at Danceworks's studio at 16 Balderton Street which is just off Oxford Street almost opposite Selfridge's. It will cost £18 which is not much more than a 90-minute with any other teacher in London.  The rest of us can follow the class online for £9. Bookings can be made through the Danceworks website,

There is also a master class next week with Brandon Lawrence of Birmingham Royal Ballet followed by Jane Coulston of Beyond Repair Dance Company on 11 July, Alejandro Parente and Marianela Nuñez on 25 July, Alexander Campbell on 8 Aug Nathalie Harrison on 22 Aug and Claire Calvert on 5 Sept 2021. 

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Celebrating Beethoven's 250th Birthday

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Dutch National Ballet Prometheus and Grosse Fugue Livestreamed from Amsterdam 8 June 2021 19:15

Just over 6 years ago I attended a panel discussion advertised as a State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015 Terpsichore). The panel was chaired by Mike Dixon and included the critics, Mary Brennan, Louise Levene and Graham Watts, Christopher Hampson, the artistic director of Scottish Ballet and dancers Tobias Batley and Dreda Blow.   The reason it has stuck in my memory is that one of the panellists alleged that it was impossible to choreograph ballets to Beethoven.

I was itching to put him right because I had seen a performance of Sir Frederick Ashton's  The Creatures of Prometheus by the Royal Ballet's Touring Company (now known as The Birmingham Royal Ballet) at the Royal Opera House on 12 Dec 1970. The cast included Doreen Wells, Derek Rencher, Alfreda Thorogood, Christopher Carr, Wayne Sleep and Brenda Last.  It was part of a mixed bill and as far as I can remember it was danced to, and received enthusiastically by, a full house.  Sadly there were only two performances but that often happens to ballets that are created for special occasions such as anniversaries.    

Ashton was not the only choreographer to create a ballet to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth.  On the other side of the North Sea, Hans van Manen created Grosse Fuge for the Nederlands Dans Theater, It was premiered at Scheveningen on 8 April 1971.   Unlike The Creatures of Prometheus, Grosse Fuge continues to be performed regularly.   According to the programme notes it is one of the most sought after of van Manen's ballets.   It is currently in the repertoire of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.   On 8 June 2021, it was part of the Dutch National Ballet's Beethoven double bill.  The other work in the programme was Prometheus which was a collaboration by  Wubkje Kuindersma, Ernst Meisner and Remi Wörtmeyer,

The two ballets were very different.   Kuindersma, Meisner and Wörtmeyer used The Creatures of Prometheus which was the only score that Beethoven wrote for the ballet.  It requires a large cast that included several of the company's principals, an elaborate set and costumes and a full orchestra.   It broadly follows the myth in which Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to mankind for which transgression he is sentenced to eternal torment.  Grosse Fuge requires 8 dancers and a very simple backdrop and lighting.   Speaking to the audience before the show, Ted Brandsen, the company's artistic director, said that Grosse Fuge is as fresh to modern audiences as it was on the day that it was first performed.

Beethoven wrote The Creatures of Prometheus for the Italian choreographer Salvatore Viganò in 1801.  That was 20 years before La Sylphide in which Taglioni danced en pointe for the first time. Viganò is remembered for coreodramma which is literally "dance drama".  His ballet would have been very different from a modern one.   Beethoven's score may well have been ideal for a dance drama before an audience that was familiar with classical literature but both the music and the story are unfamiliar today.  It was a challenge for the choreographers to produce a work based on that score and myth that would appeal to audiences today.

In my eyes, they succeeded and, I think, two reasons.  First, the choreographers had a remarkably gifted cast. Timothy van Poucke who danced Prometheus is young and energetic but he also has an expressive countenance.   Particularly memorable in that regard was the scene with Luc Smith and Raul van der Ent Braat representing humanity in its infancy.  Van Poucke seemed to express amusement turning quickly into exasperation at humankind's antics.  There was a poignant moment with the entrance of Floor Eimers, a tall, graceful and almost regal figure representing womankind.  There were impressive duets and solos and it would be unfair to single any of the artists for special praise.  The other reason for the success of the piece was Tatyana van Walsum's designs.   The backdrop was particularly striking.   It seemed to morph in texture and colour from scene to scene.  At one point parts of classical statutes, a rockface at a third, the facades at Petra and eventually fire.  

Having followed their careers closely since they joined the Junior Company I was delighted to see Riho SakamotoYuanyuan ZhangMartin ten Kortenaar, Sho Yamada, Daniel Silva, Nathan Brhane, Nancy BurerGiovanni Princic and Conor Walmsley in Prometheus.  It has been great to see their progress over the years which in some cases has been meteoric. I congratulate them all.

Eimers appeared in Grosse Fuge together with Maia Makhateli, Qian Liu and Salome Leverashvili. Dressed simply in white they regard the entry of Semyon Velichko, James StoutEdo Wijnen and Young Gyu Choi in long black skirtlike garments that underscored their strength and masculinity. In so far as those garments signify status they are removed and the men are left with their underpants.   At one point the women grab the tops of the men's pants.   According to the programme van Manen designed the costumes so I assume that the debagging of the men and the grabbing of their shorts must have significance.   The ballet was danced against a plain background at times with a beam of light.   Jean-Paul Vroom designed the set and Joop Caboort the lighting.

As they were forbidden to leave their seats during the interval. the audience was treated to Rose which was directed and choreographed by Milena Sidorova.  I have been a fan ever since I saw her Full Moon which she created for Bart Engelen to the music of the Dance of the Knights when he was with the Junior Company (see Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015).  I have now discovered Spider which she created when she was very young.   In his welcome, Brandsen described Rose as "very much not Beethoven".  The music is Brent Lewis, Doris Day and CAN.   The action takes place in a cocktail bar.  It begins with a young woman (clearly in distress) pouring out her heart to a barman impersonating a donkey. It is followed by some impressive duets.  It ends with the cast on their feet dancing against a plain backdrop.

Shots of the audience at the end of the performance show an auditorium that was, perhaps, a quarter full. Though necessary, social distancing is such a misery.  Despite the paucity of numbers, the crowd still made a lot of noise.  As often happens in that theatre there was a standing ovation.  There was a special roar when van Manen appeared.  In a delightful touch, the grand old man applauded his artists. I miss that audience, that company, that theatre and that city so much.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

A Coppelia for our Times

Author Jean Raoux  Pygmalion in Love with his Statue















A show to which I am particularly looking forward is Jess and Morgs's Coppelia for Scottish Ballet.  It will be premiered at next year's Edinburgh International Festival and then go on tour. It is described as a "deliciously dark comedy of mischief and mistaken identity, reinvented for the digital age." It addresses the question: "What happens when you fall in love with a machine? How can we compete with the perfection of the unreal?"

The idea of a human being falling in love with an artefact is not a new one.  I remember translating the story of Pygmalion from Ovid's Metamorphoses as an unseen when I was at secondary school. The reason why that story is relevant now is that it is possible to create a robot with some human and animnal characteristics.  In Japan, robots that respond to touch, sound and light are already being used in nursing homes (see Don Lee Desperate for workers, aging Japan turns to robots for healthcare 25 July 2019 LA Times). 

In Saint-Léon's ballet, Franz's infatuation for a doll that sits on a balcony all day holding a book upside down is secondary.  The love story is between Franz and Swanhilda although one wonders just how long that marriage will last if Franz is already eyeing other women, breaking into Coppelius's workshop and accepting a drink from the old boy he has just burgled and whom he had previously roughed up on his way to the pub. What will he be like when he is in his forties and Swanhikda's left at home to look after the kids?

Jess and Morgs's production should be different.  It promises to "test the boundaries of dance, theatre and film in this distinctive new adaptation of the classic ballet, blending location and real-time filming with projection and live performance." Jess and Morgs have already produced The Secret Theatre which I reviewed in Scottish Ballet's Secret Theatre on 22 Dec 2020. They have also created Cinderella Games for English National Ballet based on the ballet that Christopher Wheeldon created for the Dutch National Ballet and English National Ballet.  They discuss their work for ENB on Chat with the Creatives: Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple | English National Ballet 14 July 2020.

It is interesting that Jess and Morgs describe themselves as film makers and choreographers.  The pandemic has brought a lot of suffering but there have been a few compensations. One of those is the development of dance film as an art form in its own right.  It is to be hoped that that development continues when the emergency is over.

Friday, 4 June 2021

Everything Happens on a Tuesday!

 

Author Pd4u Licence Kopimi Source Wikimedia












Since Northern Ballet moved its improvers' class from Wednesday to Tuesday in September I have had to make the heartbreaking choice between joining my improvers class in Leeds or my pre-intermediate class in Manchester.  Neither of those classes is to be missed. Northern Ballet is not taking any new registrations at the moment.  However, you can sign up for KNT's in Manchester by following the instructions in the last paragraph of Dancing Outdoors in Castlefield on 2 June 2021.  

Since the London Ballet Circle has started its "In Conversation" interviews on Tuesday evenings my heart has often been broken three-ways.  They have had some really interesting guests recently.  This Tuesday they will welcome Cira Robinson of Ballet Black, one of my all-time favourite ballerinas. Here she is in conversation with Helen Pickett last September (see YouTube Helen Pickett and Cira Robinson 20 Sep 2020).   You will probably have to join the Circle to get a link to the interview but you can join online at https://www.tlbc.org.uk/.

And this Thursday my heart risks shattering to smithereens because the Dutch National Ballet plans to live stream Beethoven on 8 June 2021 and David Dawson's Four Seasons on 15 June 2021 at 19:15 our time. Tickets can be obtained from the box office at +31(0) 20 625 54 55 or through the website ay www.operaballet.nl.  

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Nixon - An Appreciation

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On 28 May 2021, Northern Ballet announced the retirement of its artistic director, David Nixon (see David Nixon OBE steps down as Artistic Director of Northern Ballet after 20 years 28 May 2021 Northern Ballet).  He has already held that job longer than any other director of the company. When he stands down at the end of the year he will have been with the company for over 40% of its history.  

Good things have happened to Northern Ballet during that time. The company's move to Quarry Hill will have been appreciated by the artists and technicians but it has also enabled ordinary folk like me to dance in the same studios and occasionally even upon the same stage as the artists. The work of the Academy and the Leeds Centre for Advanced Training are other significant achievements.  There are, of course, adult ballet classes and centres of advanced elsewhere but one of the distinctions of the Academy and the Leeds Centre is whether aiming for a career in dance or simply dancing for fun, all students are trained under the Ichino Technique:
"Under this method, young dancers learn how to cope with the physical and emotional demands of dancing through preventative conditioning, a clear understanding of their individual strengths and limitations and a detailed knowledge of dance technique."

Yoko Ichino, the deviser of that technique, is also Mrs David Nixon.

Nixon is highly regarded as a choreographer.  While I can't say that I have liked all his work he is the author of two masterpieces. One is A Midsummer Night's Dream  which I reviewed as follows in Realizing Another Dream on  15 Sept 2013:

"Perhaps the best way to start this review is at the end. I could not help rising to my feet as the cast took their bows. And I was not the only one. The English, unlike Americans, are very slow to give standing ovations (except at party conferences) and I have only seen other in my lifetime. That was a special evening for Sir Frederick Ashton at Covent Garden in July 1970 when he retired as director of the Royal Ballet. It seems from the tweets and video that Northern Ballet's short season at West Yorkshire Playhouse (6 to 14 Sept 2013) has also been very special."

Nixon's other masterpiece is Madame Butterfly.  In my review I wrote:

"it took my breath away. I have seen a fair selection of Nixon's work and in my humble opinion Madame Butterfly is his masterpiece.
To his credit, Nixon has commissioned major works from his own artists and I have enjoyed these better than many of his outside commissions.  Particularly successful was Kenneth Tindall's Casanova and Daniel de Andrade's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

There has been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Nixon and what he will do next.  I have no idea about either but I know whom I would like to see apply for the role.  I think dance education is very important and two of my favourite candidates are artistic directors of great ballet schools, one in mainland Europe and the other in London.  Both have worked with exceptionally gifted young dancers in the important years between finishing vocational education and joining a company. The other candidate has already been an artistic director.  She has created sensations in San Francisco and London and also worked for Northern Ballet.  As for Nixon, someone on BalletcoForum suggested an important role for him in North America. 

Whether Nixon takes up a new appointment or retires I wish him all the best for the future.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Dancing Outdoors in Castlefield

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Castlefield is where Manchester began. It is where we meet to celebrate and commiserate. I remember doing a little bit of both before a big screen one late summer evening in 1993 as we waited for the International Olympic Committee to weigh our bid to host the 2000 Olympics against those of Beijing and Sydney (see Manchester lost 2000 Olympics to Sydney 'because of arrogance and old buffers 18 June 2019 BBC).

Last night we celebrated moving, being outdoors and being together.  All around me were dear friends and acquaintances including our teacher Karen Sant whom I had not seen for15 months. Covid 19 has done a lot of mischief but it has also helped us appreciate things that we had previously taken for granted like friendship and simply being alive.

We wore trainers and plimsolls rather than ballet shoes.  We were in jeans, shorts or tracksuits instead of leotards,  We did warm-ups, pliés, tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, fondus and grands battements withut a barre.   Then tendus in the centre, followed by an adagio, warm up jumps, temps levés and cooldown.   We had an audience that applauded our pliés until an acrobat somersaulting across the Canal Basin like an express train grabbed spectators attention.

There are outdoor classes at Castlefield in different genres of dance several evenings a week.  If you can't attend those classes you can still take part in KN T Danceworks' online ones or "on-demand" ones,  You need to register at:
https://app.classmanager.com/portal/knt-danceworks/login

and then select a class from "upcoming classes."   There is a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu1s3Eo-qIE which shows you what to do.   If you attend one of those outdoor classes you will experience ballet in a way that you have never done before.   I don't know whether it will be possible for Karen to continue these classes when we return to the Dancehouse but I hope she will offer a few every year just to commemorate this time.  They are definitely one of the positives of this pandemic.

Monday, 31 May 2021

One Balmy August Evening - My Memory of Carla Fracci

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At the end of July and the first few days of August 1970. American Ballet Theatre visited the Royal Opera House.  They brought such great names as Cynthia Gregory, Sallie Wilson, Han Enelaar and Erik Bruhn. But the greatest of all was Carla Fracci.  I saw her at the height of her career in her greatest role one balmy August night nearly 51 years ago.

Although I was only 21 at the time I had already seen several productions of Giselle by the Royal Ballet and other companies.  And I have seen countless productions since then.  Many of these have been good and some have been great such as Lauren Cuthvertson's of 2 April 2016 (see Cuthbertson's Giselle  3 April 2016). None of them has equalled Fracci's performance that evening in August.  I can't remember who was her Albrecht.   I think it must have been Bruhn but I didn't pay him or for that matter, any other dancer much attention because Fracci commanded the stage in a way that I had never seen before or since.  Every detail of every scene from her exit from the cottage in Act I to her descent into her grave in Act II is recorded in my memory as though it were a film.

When I saw that performance of Giselle  I was a  Young Friend of Covent Garden.  As such I received 2 sheets of ticket vouchers every month that enabled me to sit in the L to Ps of the amphitheatre stalls for just a few shillings.   I think I visited the House just about every night.  I remember a very rich and varied programme that included Swan Lake and Giselle but also Balanchine, de Mille and Tudor. But nothing stuck in my memory like Fracci's Giselle.   She literally took my breath away.  For her acting which you can see in this clip as well as her virtuosity.

I never saw Fracci again after that tour.  I think the company returned in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's silver jubilee but I don't remember Fracci.  An army of obituarists and biographers have charted her career since her death 4 days ago.   It would have been necessary to refer to their work to write one of my own.  In this blog, I try to be original.  There is happily a lot of video footage of Fracci at the height of her career which I am gratefully working through now, Misquoting Nero, qualis artifex obiit. 

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Plato's Cave, Ballet, Bernstein and Blogging










As I relished the pleasure of running and jumping on a sprung floor to the instructions of our esteemed teacher in the company of my dear friends and acquaintances I was reminded of a story that I first heard at the age of 8 when my father was taking a course at the LSE and using me as a sounding board.  It came from The Republic which I read for myself a few years later at St Andrews. In my day, all arts students at the ancient Scottish universities had to take a course in moral philosophy or logic and metaphysics. I chose moral phil which was easier for me than most because all students at independent London day schools had to learn some Greek.

Plato tells the story of a group of prisoners chained to a wall of a cave.  Behind them lies a flickering fire.  Occasionally things pass between the prisoners and the fire which the prisoners see as shadows projected on the cave wall.  Eventually, one of the prisoners broke free and saw the world in all its beauty.  He urged his fellows to follow him but they couldn't because the cave wall encompassed all reality.

Well, yesterday I escaped from online Zoom classes in my kitchen and pliéd (woodenly), pirouetted (scrappily) and grand jetéd (clumsily a half-second or more behind the others in my group) across Studio 2 of Yorkshire Dance

 "And it was good, Brother.  And it was goddam good," (per Leonard Bernstein "God said").

I am going to stick with Bernstein rather than Plato because Plato told the story to flog his theory of form which led him to despise artists as copyists of copies of reality. What he would have made of ballet dancers I shudder to think - and amateur ballet dancers like me do not bear speculation. 

Yesterday's class was one of the happiest of my life and indeed one of the happiest days of my life. Having cleared three score years and ten some time ago I had begun to see buffers and barriers which were always there but never noticed before. Having recently lost my footing to slide down a flight of stairs on my backside which was jolly painful, I seriously wondered whether I would ever be in class again.  That saddened me and it was one of the reasons why I had stopped blogging about dance for a while.

But I can still dance for now. Yesterday I was with beautiful young friends from all over England. In the studio Joanna from London and Sarah from Brum.  On the other side of the screen, Philippa from Dartmouth, Emmeline, Gerard, Anne and Mel.  All of us enjoying the music.  All of us moving.

Well, as you can see, I have started blogging again.  And what a time to begin.  My first articles will be about Carla Fracci (one of the greatest ballerinas of all time whom I was lucky enough to see in her most famous role) and the retirement of David Nixon (Northern Ballet's longest-serving director and in many ways the architect of the company's success).  The first live ballet I will actually review will be in Manchester Cathedral and the end of July.  One thing I really must do while I can still travel is to visit Moscow and St Petersburg and as many regional companies as possible.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Hans van Manen Variations

a
Adagio Hammerklavier
Maria Chugai, Daniel Silva, Luiza Bertha, James Stout, Elisabeth Tonev, Vito Mazzeo
Author Hans Gerritsen © 2021 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved


















Dutch National Ballet Hans van Manen Variations  Music Theatre, Amsterdam 27 amd 28 Feb 2021, 14:00

When I first took an interest in ballet as an undergraduate at St Andrews at the end of the 1960s, I subscribed to Dance and Dancers and the Dancing Times. Although both publications carried reviews and news stories from around the world, four great names seemed to dominate.  Balanchine in the USA, Ashton and Macmillan here and Hans van Manen in the Netherlands.  Sadly, Ashton, Balanchine and Macmillan are no more but van Manen remains with us.  

On 27 and 28 Feb 2021, the Dutch National Ballet held two special matinees in his honour. They were danced in an empty theatre but screened to a worldwide audience. It was, of course, a celebration of van Manen's genius, but with two separate casts, it was a showcase of the strength and depth of one of the world's great companies..

Six works were presented:




27 Feb

28 Feb

Adagio Hammerklavier

Anna Ol, Semyon Velichko, Qian Liu , Jakob Feyferlik Maia Makhateli, Artur Shesterikov

Luiza Bertho, James Stout, Maria Chugai, Daniel Silva, Elisabeth Tonev,  Vito Mazzeo

Sarcasmen 

Floor Eimers, Jozef Varga 

Salome Leverashvili, Timothy van Poucke

Déjà Vu 

Erica Horwood, Young Gyu Choi 

Floor Eimers, Edo Wijnen

Trois Gnossiennes

Anna Ol, James Stout

Qian Liu, Jakob Feyferlik

Two Pieces for HET 

Maia Makhateli, Remi Wörtmeyer 

Anna Tsygankova,

Constantine Allen

Variations for Two Couples 

Anna Tsygankova, Constantine Allen, Jessica Xuan, Martin ten Kortenaar

Riho Sakamoto, Young Gyu Choi, Jingjing Mao, Jared Wright


The programme opened with Adagio Hammerklavier which is the longest and most dramatic of the 6 works. It was created for the Dutch National Ballet in 1973 but it has been performed by many of the world's other leading companies including the Royal Ballet in 1976 and the Maryinsky in 2014.  In a short introductory speech, the company's director, Ted Brandsen, said that van Manen had worked with some 60 companies around the world. 

The score is by Beethoven and I once heard someone who really should have known better that Beethoven is impossible to choreograph (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). There are,  it is true, not many ballets by Beethoven and it can't be easy to create dance from his music but van Manen succeeded spectacularly as indeed did Ashton with his Creatures of Prometheus in 1970.  This is a challenging ballet which is why companies field their best dancers. In the London premiere, for instance, it was danced by Makarova, Mason, Penney, Wall, Eagling and Silver.

Both casts for this piece were brilliant. The Saturday one was majestic. A cast that included Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov, Anna Ol and Semyon Velichko, could not be otherwise. Shesterikov has been my dancer of the year and Makhateli is another favourite. I had not seen Jakob Feyferlik before but I shall certainly look out for him in future. He partnered Qian Liu who never fails to impress. The Sunday cast brought energy and freshness to the work. It was good to see Daniel Silva whom I have followed closely since I saw him in No Time Before Time on 14 Feb 2016 (see Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016). He is particularly graceful and partnered Maria Chugai confidently but sensitively. She was, as ever, a delight to watch in a role to which she is particularly well suited. Save for Ernst Meisner's class on World Ballet Day I had not seen Elisabeth Tonev before but I shall certainly look out for her in future, I also enjoyed the performance of Luiza Bertho. I had, of course, seen the principals, James Stout and Vito Mazzeo many times before. As was to be expected, their performances were masterly.

Nowhere was the contrast between the two casts more striking than in Sarcasmen. This is a sexy (if not slightly risqué) duet to Prokofiev's Cinq Sarcasmes, Opus 17. It is about a man who can't resist showing off and a woman who can't resist puncturing his ego.  At one point she grabs his unmentionables. The ballet was introduced to the audience by Rachel Beaujean in a short interval between stage changes. Her comments were particularly interesting because she had premiered the female role of this ballet in 1981. On Saturday Jozef Varga, who has been in the company since 2007, and Floor Eimers, one of its most admired soloists, danced with sophistication.  On Sunday, Timothy van Poucke and Salome Leverashvili danced with flair. I have been a fan of those artists ever since they were in the Junior Company. They used to run a delightful vlog that I mentioned in Missing Amsterdam on 18 Feb 2017. Van Poucke won the Radius Prize, which is usually awarded to principals, just 2 years after he had joined the company.

Eimers performed again with Edo Wijnen in Déjà vu, a work that he had created for the Nederlands Dans Theater to  Fratres, a striking composition for violin and piano by Arvo Pärt.  I enjoyed her performance in this piece even more than her performance in Sarcasmen.  The dancers on Saturday were Erica Horwood and Young Gyu Choi who impressed the audience with their virtuosity. During the interval, Beaujean explained that the title was a gentle reproach from the choreographer to critics in the mid-1990s who complained that his ballets had become much or a muchness.

After Adagio Hammerklavier my favourite work of both shows was Trois Gnossiennes and that is at least partly down to the score.  As far as I am aware, Erik Satie did not compose for the ballet but his work has been the basis of two masterpieces, van Manen's and Ashton's  Monotones.  They are quite dissimilar in the number of dancers, set design and, in the case of Monotones, orchestration but they are both works of genius.   I first saw Trois Gnossiennes in Ballet Bubbles on my birthday in 2016 when it was performed by Melissa Chapski and Giovanni Princic and I could not have wished for a better birthday present. It was performed elegantly by Ol and Stout on Saturday and Qian Liu and Feyferlik on Sunday.

The other piece that I had seen before was Two Pieces for HET for RachelThe artist to whom that work had been dedicated was of course Rachel Beaujean. "Het" is a definite article in Dutch, It is used by lazy, anglophone, monoglot and possibly in some cases brexiteer journalists as an abbreviation for Het Nationale Ballet instead of "HNB" or even "DNB". It is, however, a beautiful work which was danced by Makhateli and Wörtmeyer on Saturday and Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen on Sunday. In other companies, they might be called "Etoiles".  Tsygankova won many hearts in London which her performance of Cinderella and she reduced many of us to tears with her portrayal of Mata Hari. She is an accomplished pianist which perhaps accounts for her musicality.

In an interlude shortly before the programme ended, we were treated to a screening of the film Hans van Manen Performer - Dutch National Ballet which the company had commissioned for the choreographer's 75th birthday.  Van Manen was born in 1932 yet he marched onto the stage of the auditorium on Friday ramrod straight like a guardsman to acknowledge the internet's applause and affection.

The finale was Variations for Two Couples which is one of van Manen's most recent works.  Tsygankova had danced in the first performance of that work with Matthew Goulding, Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga. She danced the piece again on Saturday but this time with Allen, Jessica Xuan and Martin ten Kortenaar. I have been following Xuan and Kortenaar ever since I first saw the Junior Company for the first time in 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013).  They have soared since then which makes me very happy. Another dancer I have followed from the time she joined the Junior Company is Riho Sakamoto. She performed on Sunday with Young Gyu Choi, Jingjing Mao and Jared Wright.  Both casts did justice to this work which was set to an eclectic score that included pieces by Benjamin Britten, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Stefan Kovács and Astor Piazzolla. It was a perfect way to end a delightful weekend.

As the vaccination rollout accelerates and the accuracy of testing and tracing improves in the Netherlands and the rest of the world there is hope that this pandemic will retreat.  It will take some time for social distancing to end but at least there is at least a chance that theatres around the world will re-open soon. I look forward to returning to Amsterdam just as soon as it is safe to travel.  

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Ballet Rising

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One of my favourite principals at the Dutch National Ballet was Casey Herd.  He impressed me in Dawson's Empire Noir. Brandsen's Mata Hari and many other works. He continues to impress me now with his latest enterprise, Ballet Rising.

Ballet Rising is the standard-bearer of a movement with the following vision:
"The stars of the ballet world used to be born and trained in Europe and North America or sometimes Japan, Cuba and Argentina. Today the talent pool has grown. More major dancers are coming out of China, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and elsewhere. Dancers have a wider range of ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds than ever before. Globalization is expanding the ballet world, fueling international exposure to and passion for ballet—and transforming the art form. Ballet Rising takes an in-depth look at the communities reshaping ballet and brings their stories to global audiences. Although ballet has always spoken to people on a profound level, imagine how engagement would grow if people all over the world felt like ballet represented them. What if ballet were accessible to dancers everywhere? Ballet Rising is joining the movement to make ballet a truly global art form that welcomes all to take part."

Now if those sentiments sound familiar you are quite right. Though my background and experience have been from the other side of the footlights, I have shared Herd's vision ever since I helped to establish a dance club at my university over 50 years ago. It has been one of the focuses of Terpsichore  and it is one of the reasons why I set up Powerhouse Ballet and The Stage Door,

Some idea of the breadth of Herd's vision can be gleaned from its recent articles:

Now all of those countries have a long and rich tradition of dance. Many in those countries regard ballet which developed in the imperial and royal courts of the former colonial powers with understandable suspicion.  Herd acknowledges that  possibility and accommodates it:
"We want to highlight communities where there is already an interest in ballet. We are careful to visit places where the drive to build ballet communities has originated within the local communities themselves. We pay close attention to the sensitive nature of cultural encounters, and we strive to build positive relationships with local arts organizations so that the global ballet community grows in harmony with local customs. While we encourage the exposure of ballet to people in all walks of life, we hope that classical ballet expands only in places where a community expresses its own interest."

In fact, as the South African dancer, Dada Masilo has shown, ballet can be the medium through which African dance tradition can be communicated to audiences outside that continent (see A Brace of Giselles 13 Oct 2019).

For many years the best and the brightest students from Africa, Asia and other countries have won scholarships to Europe and North America where they have been hired by the world's leading companies.  That's fine for the dancers as it provides them with an opportunity to perform but not so good for audiences and other students in their countries of origin,  That is understood by Ballet Rising and it is for that reason that Herd and others encourage the development of schools and companies in those countries.

This will not be the last time I shall mention Ballet Rising and if there is any way that I can further its objectives I shall certainly do so.