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

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  

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:

and then select a class from "upcoming classes."   There is a video at 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.