Sunday, 25 September 2022


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Scottish Ballet Coppelia Theatre Royal, Glasgow 25 May 2022 19:30

Scottish Ballet has specialized in reinterpreting the classical repertoire ever since Peter Darrell's Beauty and the Beast.   Sometimes it has been spectacularly successful, as with David Dawson's Swan Lake or Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling. Others such as Krzysztof Pastor's Romeo and Juliet less so.  Despite excellent performances by Rishan Benjamin as Swanhilda and Thomas Edwards as Dr Coppelius which saved my evening, I regret to say that Morgann Runacre-Temple and Jessica Wright's  Coppelia did not work for me.

Coppelia is not a story that needs to be reworked.  It is basically Pygmalion which has fascinated human beings since classical times. Ted Brandsen has set it in modern dress but kept the story intact in his  Coppelia As my readers will gather from the synopsis, Runacre-Temple and Wright have transplanted Dr Coppelius to Silicon Valley.  Instead of an eccentric old codger with a workshop full of automatons, Coppelisu is the founder and CEO of the sinister startup NuLife.

The conventional Coppelia would not have retained its popularity for more than 150 years had it focused on Dr Coppelis's experiments.  Audiences like the lovely mazurkas of the first act, the humour of the village girls' overtures to Dr Coppelius's doll. Swanhilda's increasing exasperation with Franz as he flirts with the doll, the mugging where Dr Coppelius loses his house keys, the break-in by Swanhilda and her girlfriends to the workshop, the girls' nervousness, the cacophony when Swnhilda sets off the toys as she makes her escape, the charming dance of the hours of the last act and of course a delightful pas de deux at the end.

There is none of that in Runacre-Temple and Wright's work.  It was essentially about Coppelius and his interview with pant-suited investigative journalist Swanhilda,   A voice-over asks Coppelius how he deals with his critics.   "Do I have any?" asked another voice which made me smile as I was already thinking about this review.  There were lots of lights and screen images, a percussive score with the occasional echo of Delibes and snatches of dialogue such as "This table does not exist."  Everything was packed into a single 80-minute act.  Altogether. I found it heavy going.

Now I have to say out of fairness that most of the audience seemed to love the show.  There was a standing ovation which was the first I have ever seen in Scotland.  But it was not a simultaneous rising as I had seen in Leeds the previous week but a phased one like the opening night of Akram Khan's Giselle or at the Lowry after Sir Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet.  In a phased standing ovation unlike a spontaneous one, audience members rise to their feet because others have done so and they feel they should or maybe they just want to see the stage at the curtain call,  

Now I want to end my review on a positive note because I have followed Scottish Ballet ever since they were in Bristol and I love them to bits.   This was the first time I had seen them live since lockdown and I had been looking forward to the show for weeks.  For me, the evening was saved by Benjamin and Edwards.  Particularly Benjamin.  This was the first time I had noticed her. She is still listed simply as an "artist".  I am not sure when she joined the company but I think her future is bright.  She reminds me a lot of Michaela DePrince.  She commands the stage in much the same way. 

There were good performances from Evan Loudon who danced Franz and Amy McEntee, Xolisweh Richards. Roseanna Leney, Noa Barry,  Urara Takata, Grace Horler, Melissa Parsons, Aisling Brangan, Hannah Cubitt, Nicholas Vavrecka,, Rimbaud Patron, James Garrington, Harvey Evans, Andrea Azzari., Ben Thomas, Ishan Mahabir-Stokes. Joel Wright and Jamie Reid as lab technicians. Franz was not quite the same role as in the conventional Coppelia.  Reed was also the cameraman.

As I said above I don't think it is necessary to update Coppelia because the challenge of artificial intelligence has existed since 1870 if not from the ancient Greeks.  However, if Scottish Ballet wants to modernize that gorgeous work it need look no further than one of its own board members.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

The Dutch National Ballet's Sixtieth Anniversary Gala

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Dutch National Ballet  Sixtieth Anniversary Gala National Opera and Ballet Auditorium Amsterdam 30 June 2020 19:30

One of the high points of my year is the Dutch National Ballet's annual gala.  It consists of extracts from some of the company's work over the previous year and ends with a reception in which the dancers and musicians mingle with the audience.  In other years it has taken place in early September but this year it was on 30 June.  It is always a special occasion but this year's gala was particularly important because it was the company's 60th anniversary.  It also celebrated Hans van Manen's 90th birthday and the company's emergence from covid restrictions.  To underscore the significance of the occasion, the event was attended by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.  

As usual, the evening began with the Grand Défilé, a parade of artists from the youngest students of the Dutch National Ballet Academy in their smartest leotards to the principal ballerinas in dazzling white classical tutus accompanied by the premiers danseurs nobles to the strains of Aurora's wedding from The Sleeping Beauty.   That was a tune that I often played in 2020 and 2021 in the hope that the pandemic would one day come to an end and the world's theatres would reopen.  This visit was my first trip to the Netherlands since 17 Nov 2019 when I saw The Best of Balanchine at the Zuiderstrandstheater in The Hague.

The Grand Défilé was followed by Hans van Manen's Soloa spectacular piece to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach's Violin Partita which had come pretty close to stealing the show the previous evening. Henrik Erikson of the Stuttgart Ballet who had entertained us the night before thrilled us once more. This time, he was joined on stage by Fabio Adorisio and Christian Pforr.  Once again the applause was tumultuous.

At this point, the company's artistic director Ted Brandson usually walks on stage to welcome the crowd in Dutch and English. This year it was a little different for he spoke only in Dutch.  Presently a screen appeared and this film was run.  Now I have never learnt any Dutch - I regret to say that there are not many opportunities to learn that language in this country except for diplomats and a few academics - but I do speak German and my ears caught something that sounded like "Ritter" which means knight in that language.  Dutch is a language that English speakers with a good knowledge of German can actually get the drift because it is close to both languages.  The ceremony was nothing like a British investiture at which Her Majesty or nowadays Prince Charles dubs the candidate with a sword.  A decoration was presented by the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam. But it was clearly a very high honour at least equal to any of our knighthoods for service to the arts as the company's news release makes clear.  I met Brandsen after the show and congratulated him on his knighthood. I asked him whether we had to call him "Sir Ted" from now on.  Brandsen thought that perhaps we should but I have to say that his view was not shared by any of my Dutch friends. 

The preeminence of Dutch ballet rests largely on the work of three outstanding choreographers, Hans van Manen, Rudi van Dantzig and Toer van Schayk. The company actually refers to them as the three Vans on the History page of its website.  Van Schayk is a distinguished sculptor, painter and stage designer as well as a choreographer and many of the sets for the Dutch National Ballet's productions were designed by him.  

The next work on the programme was De Chimaera van LA, an extract from van Schayk's ballet Het mythische voorwendsel which means "the mythical pretext".  According to the programme notes, the title of the ballet was inspired by a quotation from Salvador Dali who said, "the subject of art is a pretext." The music for the piece was by Bela Bartok but van Schayk created just about everything else. He choreographed the work and designed the set, costumes and lighting.  It was performed by Anna Tsygankova and Giorgi Potskhishvili.  I know Tsygankova very well having seen her for the first time as Cinderella at the Coliseum in 2014 but Potskhishvili was new to me.  He is clearly a rising star having entered the Junior Company as recently as 2020. Their ballet master, incidentally, was Caroline Sayo Iura who danced in the first performance of the ballet.  

The French composer Erik Satie inspired Sir Frederick Ashton to create Monotones and Hans van Manen Trois Gnossiennes. Van Manen's work was the next in the programme. It is a duet but one in which the pianist and piano have a role at least to the extent that they are on castors and moved around the stage. Having never heard the word "Gnossiennes " outside the context of this music I looked it up and found that it had been coined by Satie and that he had never explained what it means.   The word is reminiscent of the Greek word γνῶσις and as the music has a sacerdotal quality I offer "The Three Initiates".  The dancers were Anna Ol and James Stout and the pianist Olga Khoziainova.

Had he lived Wojciech Kilar would also have been 90 this year.  One of his most exciting works is Toccata which Krzysztof Pastor, Director of the Polish National Ballet and former dancer and choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet, used to create a fast-moving ballet.  It was performed by Chinara Alizade, Jaeeun Jung, Ryota Kitai, Paweł Koncewoj and Patryk Walczak of the Polish National Ballet.  Toccata was the next work of the evening.

The Staatsballett Berlin presented the following ballet  It had commissioned David Dawson (the Dutch National Ballet's Associate Artist) to create Voices during the lockdown.  According to the programme notes the piece reflects that time.  Dawson is reported to have said:
“The difficult times caused by the pandemic have given us an opportunity to reflect and progress, and help us to see the world again in its truth. I believe this is when change can really happen. VOICES aims to visualise the awakening of a new era where we can create the world we want to live in. A new place for humanity to have the chance to be the best it can be as we all learn more about our infinite capacity and potential.”

This piece is quite different from any of his previous works.  It was performed on stage by Polina Semionova and Alejandro Virelles.

One of van Manen's best known works is 5  Tangos to the music of Astor Piazzolla.  Perhaps the most thrilling part of that ballet is Voyamos a DiabloThis is a male solo which requires a dancer of considerable strength and equal grace. Artur Shesterikov danced that role with characteristic flair.  

The contribution to the evening from Van Dantzig's repertoire was  Voorbij GegaanThe title has never been translated but I think it means "Gone By".  Van Dantzig created it for Alexandra Radius and Han Ebbelaar as they approached the peak of their careers.  A lyrical piece to a piano composition by Chopin it was danced delightfully by Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko.

One of my favourite moments of the evening was Joel a short solo by Remi Wӧrtmeyer that he had created for himself to the music of Jacques Offenbach.  It was a humorous piece but also one that required strength, stamina and enormous skill.  The company has recently announced Wörtmeyer's retirement,  In his valedictory, Brandsen said:

"Remi’s positive energy, fabulous technique and engaging personality onstage and off have made him one of the most beloved dancers in our company. I will miss Remi and his dancing enormously and I wish him lots of success with his new artistic adventures.”

I shall also miss him and I add my best wishes.

My other favourite piece was Riho Sakamoto's My One and Only from Balanchine's Who Cares. I interviewed her when she joined the Junior Company and have marvelled at her meteoric rise. This is a solo that charms her audience.  The applause loved her and exploded in applause.

I had seen van Manen's Variations for Two Couples the previous night and discussed it in my review of that performance.  Jozef Varga, who has also announced his retirement, had appeared in the first performance of that ballet. He was joined by Tsygankova who had also been in the first show, The other dancers were Jessica Xuan and Constantine Allen.  This performance is likely to have been Varga's last with the company.  He will also be missed and I wish him well.

The last piece before the interval was Grand Pas Classique by Viktor Gsovsky. It is not performed very often if at all in the United Kingdom and the only time that I had seen it before was as part of the Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala which was live streamed on 19 Dec 2021.  The work is spectacular even on screen but it is even better on stage. The dancers were Jakob Feyferlik who had performed the work in the Christmas Gala and Olga Smirnova.

There was an interval after Grand Pas Classique.  After we had returned to our seats, Matthew Rowe, the Director of Music, rose and addressed the King and Queen of the Netherlands.  He said that the Dutch Ballet Orchestra had commissioned some music from the Dutch composer, Jacob ter Veldhuis, as a 60th anniversary present for the company.  Mr Ter Veldhuis was in the audience and a spotlight picked him out immediately after the conductor's announcement. The piece that Mr ter Veldhuis had written was entitled  Luce Divina inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy on which he had already written an oratorio.  The orchestra then played the commissioned work. 

Although Rowe conducted the orchestra for most of the evening, he handed the baton to Jonathan Lo for De Chimaera van L.A and the finale.   Lo is the Director of Music of Northern Ballet and I have also seen him at Covent Garden.  Lo was with Brandsen when I congratulated him on his honour and Brandsen kindly introduced me to Lo.  I expressed my delight that through Lo there was now a personal link between Leeds and Amsterdam. I was even happier when Lo told me that Northern's new Director, Federico Bonelli, had also attended the gala which means that there is now a direct link with my local company at the highest level.

Every year an award is presented by Alexandra Radius to the year's most outstanding dancer.  This year it was won by Salome Leverashvili.  She came to my attention when she and Timothy van Poucke published a vlog which I featured in Missing Amsterdam on 17 Feb 2017.   Those talented young artists have risen through the company's ranks very quickly. Van Poucke won the Radius prize as early as 2018.  Leverashvili accepted her prize with a short but witty speech in English which may well have won her even more fans.

A part of any gala to which the audience particularly looks forward is the Junior Company's piece. This year the Junior Company danced the last part of In the Future. I discussed the piece in detail in my review of the previous night's performance.  The Junior Company did not disappoint their fans.  They were as exciting and vivacious as always.  Yet another triumph for their artistic coordinator, Ernst Meisner.  The programme did not name them individually but I have done so in my review of the previous night's show.

The evening's finale was part of the last act of Raymonda.   Rachel Beaujean's new production was perhaps the main achievement of this anniversary year.  I had intended to see it in Amsterdam on 6 April but was prevented from attending by injury.  Nevertheless, I saw it on screen on 8 May 2022 (see Live Streaming of Beaujean's Raymonda 8 May 2022).  The extracts that were danced at the gala included the Pas Hongrois and the Pas Classique Hongrois.  Floor Eimers and Jan Spunda led the Pas Hongrois and they were joined by Emma Mardegan and Luca Abdel-Nour, Khayla Fitzpatrick and Rafael Valdez, Wendeline Wijkstra and Nathan BrhaneArianna Maldini and Alejandro Zwartendijk, Luiza Bertho and Dustin True, Hannah de Klein and Sander Baaij, Lore Zonderman and Conor Walmsley, Kira Hilli and Leo Hepler.  Maia Makhateli and Young Gyu Choi accompanied by Connie Vowles and Edo Wijnen, Yuanyuan Zhang and Sho Yamada, Nina Tonoli and Davi Ramos, Salome Leverashvili and Martin ten Kortenaar, Chloë Réveillon and Joseph Massarelli, Maria Chugai and Timothy van Poucke, Elisabeth Tonev and Sem Sjouke and Jingjing Mao and Daniel Robert Silva performed the Pas Classique Hongrois. Chloë Réveillon the variation and Edo Wijnen, Sho Yamada, Martin ten Kortenaar and Timothy van Poucke the male variation.

After the performance, the audience spilt out onto the lobby and terraces for the reception.  The reception welds the company and its audience into a family which does not happen with most other companies. It is one of the reasons why I love the Dutch National Ballet.  Of course, I have a lot of respect for the world's other great companies and I am a member of many of their Friends' schemes and support them in every way I can.  But, with the exceptions of Scottish Ballet, Ballet Cymru and, very recently, Northern Ballet, I do not feel as close to them as  I do to the Dutch National Ballet.  It was at the reception that I met van Manen.  My brief handshake and greeting enabled me to express my admiration and gratitude for his lifetime's work.  I doubt that I could have done that in any other way.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

The van Manen Festival, Programme IV

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Dutch National Ballet and Guests Hans van Manen Festival IV National Opera and Ballet auditorium 29 June 2022 20:15

I would argue that Hans van Manen is the greatest living choreographer and one of the greatest of all time.  I have been a fan ever since I first saw his work some 50 years or so ago.   In that time he has made over 150 ballets and I have seen a fair number of them.  His works are performed regularly by the world's leading ballet companies including those of the United Kingdom.

Earlier this month van Manen celebrated his 90th birthday.   To mark the occasion, the Dutch National Ballet ended its 2021-2022 season with a special Hans van Manen Festival.  Between 8 and 29 June 2022, the Dutch National Ballet and companies from Austria and Germany performed 19 of van Manen's works arranged in four separate programmes.  

I attended the fourth of those programmes on 29 June 2022 which consisted of Four Schumann Pieces, In the Future, Variations for Two Couples, Solo and Concertante.  I chose that programme for three reasons.  It was an opportunity to see the latest recruits to the Junior Company which I had followed closely since 2013.  They were to perform In the Future which I had previously seen at their 5th-anniversary celebration at the  Stadsschouwburg on 15 April 2018, the 2018 gala and in London on 5 July 2019.  Secondly, one of the works was to be performed by the Vienna State Ballet and another by the Stuttgart Ballet which had been Cranko's company.  These are companies that rarely visit this country and it was a chance to see them. Finally, the fourth programme included Concertante which is the work by van Manen that I know best.

Van Manen had created Four Schumann Pieces for the Royal Ballet.  It was first performed at Covent Garden on 31 Jan 1975 with Sir Anthony Dowell in the leading role.  The music is Robert Schumann's String quartet in A opus 41 no. 3.   The ballet revolves around the leading male and there is some YouTube footage of Dowell in that role.  It was part of a mixed bill which I attended.  I can't remember much about it but it would have been one of the reasons why I began to admire van Manen.   According to the programme notes, the male lead was later performed by Rudolf Nureyev, Hans Ebelaar, Wayne Eagling and Matthew Golding each of whom interpreted it in a different way.  The company that performed the piece on 29 June was the Vienna State Ballet.   Davide Dato was the lead male  He was supported by Hyo-Jung Kang and Arne VanderveldeLiudmila Konovalova and  Francesco CostaElena Bottaro and Igor MilosSonia Dvořák and  Géraud Wielick and Aleksandra Liashenko and Andrey Teterin.  The company danced Four Schumann Pieces for the first time in the Vienna Volksoper on 4 June 2022. For them, it was a brand new piece which they danced with appealing energy and freshness.

In the Future was created for the Scarpino Ballet Rotterdam in 1986,  a company that is even older than the Dutch National Ballet.  The piece was inspired by music that the Scottish composer David Byrne had written as a soundtrack for Fritz Lang's film Metropolis the previous year.  As striking as the music are the set, costume and lighting designs of Keso Dekker  Each dancer wears a garment that is green at the front and red at the back. The dancers pulsate to the music as if they were beams of light.  It is a perfect piece for the Junior Company which is now a completely different cohort from the one I saw in Amsterdam in 2018 and London in 2019.  The members who danced on 29 June were Luca Abdel-NourKoko Bamford, Lily CarboneMila Caviglia, Sven de Wilde, Lauren Hunter, Nicola Jones, Gabriel Rajah, Guillermo Torrijos, Louisella Vogt and Koyo Yamamoto.  They were as impressive as their predecessors and I look forward to watching them develop as a troupe and blossom as artists of the Dutch National Ballet and other leading companies.

Variations for Two Couples is one of van Manen's latest works.  It was created for Anna Tsygankova,  Matthew Golding, Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga and first performed on 15 Feb 2012.  It is a very short piece that packs in music by Benjamin Britten, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Stefan Kovács Tickmayer and Astor Piazzolla.   The programme states that for van Manen it was all about the personalities of the dancers that he wished to draw out.  Varga danced the role that van Manen had created for him on 29 June. but instead of Tsygankova, Golding and de Jongh he was joined by Riho Sakamoto, Young Gyu Choi and Jessica Xuan.   Van Manen intended this to be a very understated ballet.   He said, "everything is 'low down' – even the dancers’ lifts."  That is echoed by Dekker's costumes and backdrop.  The result is a work of refinement and elegance.

There was an interval after Variations for Two Couples.   On returning to my seat I noticed that van Manen was sitting in my row.  Several of his fans were talking to him and one gave him a hug.   He stood up to allow me to pass and for a moment I felt impelled to introduce myself and shake his hand.  However, the curtain was about to rise and I let the moment slip.  The very next day my friend Gita Mistry button-holed him in the lobby of the National Opera and Ballet auditorium as we gathered for the Gala.  She introduced me to him and  I had the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed his work over the last 50 years.  However, Gita went one better and actually took a selfie of herself with the great man. In her interview with Judith Mackrell, Laura Esquivel compared the art of the chef with that of the choreographer (see Like Water for Chocolate  23 July 2022). Gita offered to cook for van  Manen and as she is an artist in spice he would enjoy one of the best meals of his life were he ever to take her up on the offer.

Solo danced by Henrik Erikson, Alessandro Giaquinto and Matteo Miccini of the Stuttgart Ballet won the loudest and most sustained applause of the evening.  It is a very short piece set to Bach's Violin Partita. Keeping up with the music requires great virtuosity and equal stamina.  It was danced with energy, flair and fluidity. - an altogether brilliant display.

The first time I saw Concertante it was performed by Northern Ballet.   I wrote in Terpsichore:
"What can one say about a masterpiece? Especially when there is a YouTube video of the great man himself discussing his ballet. According to the clip van Manen staged the work for the Nederlands Dans Theater junior company (Dans Theater 2). He spoke very highly of the Leeds dancers (Bateman, Batley, Leebolt, Contadini, Lori Gilchrist, Nicola Gervasi, Prudames and Isaac Lee-Baker) as well he might for they were good."

The video to which I referred was an interview with van Manen in Leeds on 6 June 2013.   I have seen performances of the work by other companies since then and it never ceases to impress me. Floor Eimers said that Concedrtante brings out the best in her and that seems also to be the case with other dancers.  There is something compelling in Frank Martin's music, Kekko's designs and of course the choreography,   This was the last work of the van Manen season and it was danced with verve by Nina Tonoli, Timothy van Poucke, Jingjing Mao, Martin ten Kortenaar, Lore Zonderman, Jan Spunda, Khayla Fitzpatrick and Conor Walmsley.

The evening had begun under the baton of Matthew Rowe, a compatriot and (I believe) an old boy of St Paul's School.  It ended under that baton of Northern Ballet's Director of Music, Jonathan Lo.  As he was led onto the stage the applause was deafening.   I felt very proud of him as well as Matthew Rowe.   But the loudest cheers and most vigorous clapping were reserved for van Manen himself.  They were in appreciation of the works that we had seen that night but also for his lifetime's achievement.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Further Reflections on "Like Water for Chocolate"

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In Like Water for ChocolateI noted that Christopher Wheeldon had advised his audience to come early and read the programme.  I added that that was good advice but not nearly enough.  Those coming to see  Like Water for Chocolate should watch Judith Mackrell's Insight videos:  Insights: Like Water For Chocolate — Beginnings and Origins Insights: Like Water for Chocolate – Music and Design and  Insights: Like Water for Chocolate – Towards Opening Night.  As a counsel of perfection, I advised readers to read the novel and see the film,   At that stage, I had done neither but now I have done both greatly enhancing my appreciation of the ballet.

Although the story spans several generations from the death of Tita's father at the shock of learning of his wife's infidelity to the wedding of her niece Esperanza to the doctor's son, Alex, most of the action takes place during the Mexican civil war between 1910 and 1920 near the city of Piedras Negras on the US border.  The book is divided into 12 chapters, one for each month of the year.  The months do not seem to bear any particular relationship to the narrative.  Each one starts with a list of ingredients some of which are quite gargantuan,   Most are for food but one is for matches.  Some of the chapters contain instructions but the novel is no cookbook.  I should be amazed if the author expects her readers to make dishes out of those ingredients.

The ballet is much kinder to Mama Elena than the book.  The scene where Tita reads her mother's correspondence shows the murder of her African American lover.  In the novel, there is nothing sympathetic about her at all.   Offering Rosaura to Pedro is an act of pure malevolence which wrecked the lives of two daughters, one son-in-law and possibly one grandson. She thrashed Tita for supposedly lacing the wedding cake with an emetic.  She tried to commit Tita to a psychiatric hospital which would necessarily have deprived her of the services of the daughter whose happiness was supposed to be sacrificed for care.  She showed the worst kind of hypocrisy in the second haunting by accusing her daughter of immorality when she had given birth to Gertrudis out of wedlock.  Tita banished the ghost by reminding Mama Elens of her hypocrisy.  Her last words to the ghost were words of hate,

Laura Esquivel's portrayal of Pedro is hardly kinder.  He is reprimanded for his folly in accepting the hand of a woman he did not love in order to be closer to her sister in the first chapter.  He neglected his bride for months after her wedding night on the pretext that Tita's cake had made her ill.  At several times in the story, he had the chance to carry Tita away much as Gertrudis had been carried away by her revolutionary captain but he missed every opportunity.  He was resentful of the doctor for his interest in Tita even though the latter had saved his skin literally after a carousel that dislodged an oil lamp.   He was moody, spoilt and not very bright.  Tita was right to send him packing several times.   

My favourite sister is Gertrudis who escaped her mother's thrall by dashing naked to her revolutionary liberator.  In the revolution she becomes a general bringing her soldiers to the ranch.  In celebrations at the ranch, she displays an ability to dance that neither of her parents possessed.  There is a discussion as to how she inherited such skills.  When she gave birth to a dark-skinned child Tita rescued her reputation by revealing her parenthood.

While reflecting on the story I remembered that many of Tita's contemporaries in this and many other countries missed the opportunity to marry.  That was not because of family tradition but because so many men had perished in the First World War.   Muriel Spark mentioned the generation of unmarried women in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  That was the fate of one of my aunts who was born at about the same time as Tita. Like Tiita she was an excellent cook and needlewoman.   She stayed at my grandmother's home in Heaton Moor until my grandmother died in 1953.  When the family home was sold she had to work as a housekeeper in Wilmslow until her death some 40 years ago,  I was not aware of a Pedro in her life but how would I have known?

In one of my tweets, I said the book was hilarious.  I was very properly pulled up by mg friend Marion Pettit who pointed out all those ruined lives.   But there were some extremely funny passages in the story.  As I read the book last night I chuckled at the thought of all those guests puking in the stream after eating Tita's wedding cake.  Or the thought of Gertrudis's sergeant trying to make sense of a pudding recipe,  Every tragedian leavens his story with humour.

I read Esquivel's novel in a single sitting.   I could not put it down   It is a long time since I last read a novel so quickly.   I rarely have the time for that. Even more rarely do I invest so much time in researching a ballet.  I did so this time because the work is so good.   The public will get a chance to see the ballet on-screen on 23 Jan2023.  That leaves plenty of time to read the book, see the film and watch Judith Mackrell's Insight vieos.   Their enjoyment will be greatly enhanced if they do.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Like Water for Chocolate

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The Royal Ballet Lije Water for Chocolate The Royal Opera House, 8 June 2022, 19:30

I saw Like Water for Chocolate on 8 June 2022. It was my first trip back to Covent Garden since Onegin on 18 Jan 2020 (see The Royal Ballet's "Onegin" 8 March 2022).  I set out my first impressions on BalletcoForum immediately after I had seen it and in slightly more detail on Facebook a few hours later. It can be seen from those remarks that I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The ballet was inspired by Laura Esquivel's novel Como agua para chocolate which has also been made into a film.  The title is curious to English ears probably because few of us make chocolate from scratch.  It refers to emotions that are about to boil over like a pan on the stove.  The reason why emotions run high is that Tita, a young woman, is prevented from marrying her lover, Pedro, by a custom that requires the youngest daughter to care for her mother for so long as she lives.   Her misery increases when her mother persuades Pedro to marry Tita's elder sister and Pedro agrees to do simply to be nearer Tita.   For those who have not yet seen the ballet, read the book or watched the film, the story is here,

In the YouTube video Insights: Lije Water for Chocolate - Beginnings and Origins, the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon explained how he came to create the ballet.  The film was one of the videos that he watched at his lodgings in New York shortly after he had landed before he had time to make friends.  To him, it was a lovely film.   Later he read the novel which he also enjoyed.  The notion of creating a ballet based on the novel took root in his mind at that time.

In the video, Judith Mackrell says that every chapter begins with one of Tita's recipes.  Gastronomy is important to Esquivel who recounted how she prepared meals for Wheeldon at her home.   It is through making delicious meals that Tita expresses her feelings.   That is difficult to replicate on stage which is why the ballet is inspired by the book and not a literal transposition.  In the video, Esquivel compares the art of the chef to that of the choreographer.  The chef has to select and arrange ingredients just as the choreographer has to select and arrange the elements of the ballet.  That analogy is appealing.   One way of appreciating the ballet is to treat it as an analogue to the perfect meal

One of the most important ingredients of that ballet is music.  The composer was Joby Talbot who wrote the score for The Winter's Tale, Alice'sAdventures in Wonderland and Chroma.  The conductor who interpreted Talbot's music is Alondra de la Parra.  She is Mexican and on the day that I saw the ballet she unfurled a massive Mexican flag at the reverence.  She was musical consultant to the company as well as conductor.  She discussed her contribution to the ballet in an interview with Kevin O'Hare.  Mexico is a large and diverse country which de la Parra compared to a planet.  Each region had its own musical traditions and even its own instruments some of which were demonstrated in Insights: Like Water for Chocolate - Music and Design.

Other important ingredients are the sets and costumes.   Wheeldon's designer was Bob Crowley who had worked with Wheeldon on The Winter's Tale and Alice'sAdventures in Wonderland.  The set and costume designers who assisted Crowley appear in the Music and Design video. Esquivel was closely involved in the designs.  Apparently, she is a collector of textiles and there is a charming recollection by Lynette Mauro, the costume designer, of Edquivel's delight as Mauro draped one of her favourite materials around a dancer.  I could see occasional similarities with The Winter's Tale in the designs for Like Water for Chocolate such as a tree as the central feature of one of the scenes.

There are some ballets that I forget the next morning and others that I can remember in every detail from 50 or 60 years ago.   The performance on 8 June 2022 is one of the latter.   It was memorable in every respect.   Yasmine Naghdi was Tita and Cesar Corrales was her Pedro.   Their final dance as their surroundings were consumed by fire was the high point of the ballet and I will remember it for the rest of my life.   The other great female role was Mama Elena danced by Fumi Kaneko,  Hers is perhaps the most difficult role in the work because she is Tita's oppressor but she was also oppressed.  One of the most poignant moments of the show which is rehearsed in the video is the murder of her lover.  There were splendid performances by Claire Calvert as Rosaura, Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Gertrudis and Williams Bracewell as Dr John Brown.   I could continue.   All who took part in the show excelled.  All are to be congratulated/

In the Beginnings and Origins, Wheeldon advised the audience to arrive a little bit earlier than usual to read the programme advice.   That is good advice but it is not enough.  It is not even possible for the thousands around the world who will only see it in the cinema.   The best advice I can give for those who want to appreciate the ballet fully is to watch the three Insight videos which will take three hours to run.  Also, if possible, to read the book and watch the film which I plan to do next.   In a small way, I hope this article will help.

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Croeso i Ŵyl Dream

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Ballet Cymru Dream Theatr Clwyd 28 May 2022 19:30 and Lichfield Cathedral 8 July 2022 19:30

The words "Croeso i Ŵyl Dream" were projected onto the wall of Lichfield cathedral last night.  They mean "Welcome to the Dream Festival".  An announcer introduced Darius James and Amy Doughty's Dream as part of the Lichfield Festival's Shakespeare celebration. 

The more one studies A Midsummer Night's Dream the more one finds layers of meaning.  Sometimes it takes a derivative work to reveal those hidden layers.  At first sight, Shakespeare's comedy contains multiple unconnected plots but in fact,. the quarrel between Titania and Oberon, the lovers in the woods, the mechanicals' play and indeed Pyramus and Thisbe are connected. They show the border between reality and the magical, or, if you prefer, the imagination, to be a shadowy one.   The choreographers revealed that interconnection in many ways from the casting of Isobel Holland and Robbie Moorcroft as Hermia's mum and dad as well as Titania and Oberon to their ingenious use of Frank Moon's score and Chris Illingworth's lighting and projections.

James and Doughty are not the first choreographers to transpose A Midsummer Night's Dream to dance.  Frederick Ashton,  Jean-Christophe Maillot, David Nixon and Arthur Pita have all created work that had been inspired by the play,  However, James and Doughty are perhaps the first to tell the full story of the play in all its complexity.  They seem to have revisited Shakespeare's text and created a libretto that summarizes every essential.   As Mendelsohn's score would have limited their opportunity to do that they commissioned a new score from Moon.   They did very much the same in Cinderella and that is perhaps their unique contribution to choreography.

Their summary was not a dry and slavish transposition.   They inserted their own humour like the puppy dog pose to represent Helena's infatuation and the space suit and balloon to indicate the man in the moon,  Indeed, just as the fitting of the slipper is the funniest part of James and Doughty's Cinderella, the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe stole the show.   A mop turned into a lion's mane, a dustbin lid transformed into a breastplate and a collage of cereal packets representing bricks on a wall were hilarious. touches.

Although several of my favourite artists in Ballet Cymru seem to have left Ballet Cymru the company retains plenty of talent left.  Moorcroft and Holland performed their roles as king and queen of the fairies regally and as Hermia's parents tenderly.  The super-talented Beth Meadway brought Helena to life in a way that I have never seen before.  I shall be reminded of Meadway whenever I see the play again regardless of medium.   Sanea Singh was an excellent Puck, Kotone Sugiyama an adorable Hermia, and Jacob Hornsey a memorable Bottom.  Caitlin Jones created a new character Lysandia imaginatively,  I also congratulate  Jacob Myers, Samuel Banks and Jethro Paine for their performances as Moth, Cobweb and Mustard Seed, particularly for their mocking adulation of Bottom while he was still a donkey.

Shows often grow as they tour the country and I think that has happened with Dream.   It was already a good show when I saw it in Mold on 29 May but it was even better yesterday.   Darius James told me that it will be performed in Leeds in the Autumn and that he will give Powerhouse Ballet a workshop based on the ballet.   I look forward to both very much indeed.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

Candoco at the Lowry

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 Candoco Dance Company Set and Reset/Reset and Last Shelter The Lowry, 11 May 2022 19:30

The Candoco Dance Company is one that I have long wanted to see because it has received much critical acclaim.  A quotation from The Observer that appears on its website describes it as "the company for which choreographers reserve their wildest and often most inventive work."  I got my chance to see it on 11 May 2022 when it visited The Lowry to perform Set and Reset/Reset and Last Shelter in the Quays auditorium.

According to its history page, the company developed out of inclusive workshops at London’s Aspire Centre for Spinal Injury.  It was the first live performance that I saw after my injury on 19 March 2022 when I was temporarily struggling on crutches. I marvelled at the virtuosity of Markéta Stránská who used hers to power across the stage with the speed of a cheetah and the grace of a gazelle while I found it an effort to trudge to The Quays from the car park.

The company treated us to two works:  a reconstruction by Abigail Yager of Trisha Brown's Set and Reset/Reset and Jeanine Durning's Last Shelter.   Set and Reset/Reset was immediately appealing with a catchy score and plenty of action.  The humming chatter that David Nixon called "the best sound in the work" erupted around the auditorium as the lights came on.  Last Shelter was a very different work starting off slowly and punctuated with dancers' soliloquies including one from Stránská in what I guess must have been Czech. There was less chatter and more thought as the public left the theatre at the end of the performance.  Although it took longer for me to get my teeth into Last Shelter and I probably need to see it again at least once to appreciate it properly, I enjoyed both works. 

The name "Candoco" appears to combine "can do" with "co" as an abbreviation for company.  It seems to affirm that disability and injury need not mean an end to creativity. When Candoco started in the 1990s such affirmation needed to be trumpeted.  Since then, other companies including the national classical dance companies of Wales and Scotland have staged works for disabled and non-disabled dancers (see An Explosion of Joy 23 Sept 2014 and No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015). While continuing to showcase the work of dancers with disabilities as well as those without out, it is increasingly celebrated for its innovation and ingenuity.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

One of KNT's Best Shows Ever

Friends' Meeting House, Manchester
Photo RuthAS Licence CC BY 4.0 Source Wikimedia Commons


KNT Showcase of Dance Friends Meeting House, Manchester 19:30 21 May 2022

Yesterday's Showcase of Dance was KNT's first show since the pandemic and, in many ways, it was one of its best. Showtime is important to dance education because dance is part of theatre. Everything we learn in class is in preparation for performance.  It is therefore important that everyone is offered a chance to perform even though not everyone wants to accept it.

KNT is run by Karen Sant, one of the most enterprising but also one of the most pleasant young women I have ever had the good fortune to know.  Over the last 13 years, she and her teachers have offered adults and kids evening and weekend classes in ballet, contemporary, jazz and tap in central Manchester.  For most of those years, they gave those classes in the studios of Northern Ballet School on Oxford Road.  When access to the studios was prevented by the pandemic Karen transferred the classes online.  When it became possible to hold classes in the open air, Karen moved them to Castlefield.  When it became possible to teach indoors again Karen tried a number of venues including eventually the Quaker Meeting House. 

Karen's students followed her through those changes of venue. That says a lot for both Karen and her students. Students followed her because she is an excellent teacher and her classes are fun.  But dance is not easy and requires a lot of personal commitment.  Dance students are good at supporting each other and from such support, friendships form. That is particularly true of rehearsals, choreographic workshops and days of dance when we have a shared project and rely on each other for the project's success as well as our own.  I have made a lot of friends at KNT over the years.  One of the delights of the evening was seeing many of them in the show.  

Part of the reason for yesterday's success was the venue which the compère likened to a school assembly hall.  In fact, it was a place of worship which would have been used as such this morning and nearly every other Sunday. Quaker worship can take many forms which, incidentally, could include dance. While I did not detect religiosity yesterday I did see enthusiasm (derived from ἐνθουσιασμός or "inspired by God") and plenty of devotion.  But the main advantage of yesterday's venue was its intimacy.  The audience was very close to the dancers which I particularly appreciated as I would normally have been one of them.

Every class performed a short piece last night,  The teachers skilfully choreographed each piece to display their students' skills to their best advantage and I was most impressed with their capabilities. In the beginners' ballet for example one of the few men in the show supported a woman in a movement that gave the impression of a duet.  The tap class danced to music from Slumdog Millionaire.  The compere performed in that piece changing from a three-piece suit to his costume before the audience.  When he asked how he had done I found myself shouting "very well".   My friends and classmates from my pre-intermediate class filled me with pride.  However, my favourite piece of the evening was the advanced ballet class's interpretation of music that Karen has chosen for her wedding.

Yesterday coincided with Karen's birthday. At the reverence, she was presented with a cake, flowers, a massive card and presents to a more or less tuneful rendering of "Happy Birthday".  It was a wonderful evening that I would not have missed for the world.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Live Streaming of Beaujean's Raymonda

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Dutch National Ballet Raymonda Livestream 8 May 2022

Had I not broken my femur in warmup exercises for our Waltz of the Flowers workshop on 19 March 2022 I would have been in the auditorium of the Dutch National Balet and Opera on 6 April 2022 to watch Anna Tsygankova, Costa Allen and Artur Shesterikov dance Raymonda, Abd al-Rahman and Jean de Brienne respectively.  Watching today's live streaming on a Chromebook was a very poor second best.  But it was enough for me to see that Rachel Beaujean's production of Raymonda is a very significant work indeed. I can understand why it is described as the jewel of the Dutch National Ballet's 60th-anniversary celebrations.

In "Raymonda" from Moscow on 29 Oct 2019, I summarized the story as follows:
"Raymonda is betrothed to Jean de Brienne who visits her in Castle Doris just before he is due to go on crusade. After he has left she falls asleep and dreams of an eastern prince called Abderakhman who declares his love for her. She wakes up in a cold sweat and finds that it was all a nightmare. In the second Act, however, the real Abderakhman appears and offers to carry her away. She politely turns him down but Abderakhman will not take "no" for an answer. He and his followers try to adduct her but are interrupted by de Brienne. They fight each other with swords and de Brienne kills his rival. In the last Act, Raymonda weds de Brienne and they all enjoy a long Hungarian divertissement."

Beaujean has changed that story but not as much as Tamara Rojo who has set her ballet in the Crimean war of the mid-19th century (see Raymonda An epic journey of love and courage on the English National Ballet website). In Beaujean's version, Abd al-Rahman is a friend of Raymonda's grandfather and she falls in love with him.  There is a sword fight between Jean and al-Rahman when Jean finds out that the latter has won Raymonda's affections but Raymonda stops the fight before anyone is killed.  Jean slopes off and Raymonda marries al-Rahman in Hungary. 

In my review of the Bolshoi's performance, I mentioned that Raymonda had been created for Pierina Legnani who pioneered the 32 fouettés in the seduction scene in Swan Lake. It is not surprising that there is some very demanding choreography for the leading lady.  In today's streaming, Raymonda was danced by Maia Makhateli with grace but also breathtaking virtuosity.  I was particularly impressed by a sequence in the second act where, after several fouettés, she was gathered up by Young Gyu Choi, performed what looked like a grand battement and was immediately flung into a fish dive.

Sadly the company did not publish a downloadable cast list and I was not quick enough to write down the names of artists and roles as they flashed across the screen at the beginning and end. I have already commended Makhateli. She was ably supported by Young Gyu Choi who danced Abd al-Rahman and Semyon Velichko. I recognized several of the other principals and soloists but I can not remember their roles except Sandor who was danced by Jozef Varga.  Everyone danced well.  All are to be congratulated.

Although much of Petipa's choreography seems to have been preserved there were some obvious additions.  My guess is that the dance by al-Rahman's retainers in the second act had more in common with Jerome Robbins than Petipa was created for this production.  If so, I make no complaints about it because it worked.

Even on a small screen Kaplan's sets and costumes shone through.  I had been impressed by his work on The Great Gatsby but the designs for Raymonda were on an altogether different order of lavishness.

One of the compensations for watching this live streaming was that a camera was placed at the back of the orchestra pit.   It enabled viewers to watch the conductor from the musician's angle and the audience beyond for a few moments during the overture to the third act.  That is a view that an audience would never see in a theatre or indeed in most screenings.  It felt briefly like being inside the performance.

Watching live streaming has left me with conflicting emotions.   On the one hand, I now know what I missed which saddens me.  On the other hand, it is better than not seeing any of the show at all which cheers me.  I don't think this emotional conflict can be resolved until I see the show on stage.  With any luck, I will get another chance in the next few years.

Monday, 4 April 2022

20 years of Ballet Black - double bill at the Barbican and currently on tour

(Photo Credit: Choreographed by Cassa Pancho and The Ballet Black Company Artists. (L-R) Ebony Thomas, Isabela Coracy, Cira Robinson and Alexander Fadayrio photographed by Bill Cooper. Lighting design by David Plater. Costume design by Jessica Cabassa)

This year is the 20th anniversary of Ballet Black – the ballet company which celebrates dancers of Black and Asian descent. While diversity in dance has improved massively over the past two decades, Ballet Black is still unique in respect of its dancers and repertoire. Ballet Black dancers are genuinely different, and they add new (well, not so new anymore!) creativity and a special energy to ballet performance. I watched the performance at the Barbican and their pre-show class, which shone an interesting light on their work. 


I have never been a professional dancer, but I go to general/intermediate ballet classes most weeks, and two of my teachers, Raymond Chai and Adam Pudney, have taught Ballet Black company classes. The class had all the familiar elements of a classical ballet class, and it showcased the dancers’ solid training and great technique. 


Ballet Black dancers do not have traditional ballet physiques; they are visibly strong, and finely muscled. Cira Robinson’s slender, elongated frame and long limbs give her a sculptural quality, even when she is working on not particularly challenging barre exercises. The male dancers leaping beautifully across the stage, and landing silently, practising for a performance to loud and vibrant music, demonstrated an innate energy – a kind of powerful bounce that was just about in control. Watching the warm-up, we caught their excitement for the show ahead.


The dancers’ energy and enthusiasm give Ballet Black their special quality which is always enhanced by the choreography the company chooses to perform. I have seen them before and I recall a brilliant and witty interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood a couple of years ago. But this year, its 20thanniversary, Ballet Black has found its voice in a double bill of specially commissioned work.


The first half of the show Say It Loud, is a choreographic history of Ballet Black itself, created by founder and artistic director Cassa Pancho. It is structured in seven chapters, with the classical combinations previewed in the warm-up class set to a varied soundtrack of music of Black origin put together by Michael ‘Mikey’ J’ Asante, including African rhythm, calypso, grime, and classic soul, interspersed with a voiceover compiled from social media, audience feedback and comments from company artists between 2001 and 2021 – “the background noise to everything we do,” wrote Pancho in the programme. Some of this was encouraging, “I love Ballet Black,” but it also highlighted the prejudices and preconceptions about Black music and dance that have challenged the company and its dancers over the years, “Why don’t you do ballets about slavery?”


All the pieces were a pleasure to watch and there were pieces designed for each dancer. I especially liked Mthuthuzeli November’s edgy solo to Flowdan’s Welcome to London, “Cold when it′s critical. Cool but cynical. Maxed out never minimal. That's how we function,” and the lyrical interpretations of jazz standards: Isabela Coracy leading a trio to What a Wonderful World, and José Alves and Cira Robinson’s pas de deux to Etta James’ beautiful rendition of At Last.

(Photo Credit: Choreographed by Cassa Pancho and The Ballet Black Company Artists. José Alves and Cira Robinson photographed by Bill Cooper. Lighting design by David Plater. Costume design by Jessica Cabassa)


The second half of the show was Gregory Maqoma’s Black Sun, a long-ish contemporary piece which “draws energy from the sun and the moon, giving rise to descendants of ancestors,” as Maquoma writes in the programme. Basically, the theme is ritual as a preparation for afterlife, blending nature and supernatural, and great use is made of lighting, costume, and sound. The choreography mixes classical and contemporary technique with African tribal rhythms.  There was a nice contrast between the pointe work in Robinson's solo and the beautiful lift in her pas de deux with November, and the tribal section where all the dancers play the drums. 


(Photo credit: Choreographed by Gregory Maqoma. (L-R) Rosanna Lindsey, Isabela Coracy, Ebony Thomas, Sayaka Ichikawa, Alexander Fadayiro and José Alves photographed by Bill Cooper. Lighting design by David Plater. Costume design by Natalie Pryce)

Black Sun builds up into a celebratory crescendo and pulled the audience in to the extent that by the end, everyone was on their feet. But I have to admit that if I hadn’t read the programme, I would not have been able to follow the narrative just from watching the performance. The costumes, by Jessica Cabassa for Say It Loud and Natalie Pryce for Black Sun deserve a mention. David Plater’s lighting is an important element of both pieces. 

Ballet Black has an energy and exuberance that spills out into the audience. Just eight dancers – Alexander Fadayiro, Cira Robinson, José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Rosanna Lindsey, Mthuthuzeli November, Sayaka Ichikawa, and Ebony Thomas – create the feeling of a big show and there was a fantastic atmosphere in the Barbican Theatre. 


And Ballet Black brings real variety to dance. In 20 years, you could say it has added a new dimension to ballet, a lot more than the brown ballet shoes mentioned in the initial voiceover, bringing genuinely different and exciting works to the stage every year – Ballet Black now has a repertoire of over 50 ballets created by 37 choreographers. Importantly, Ballet Black provides opportunity and inspiration for young dancers of colour, many of whom were in the audience. The company– is on tour until 22nd June  Catch them if you can! 


Joanna Goodman, 2022