Thursday, 24 February 2022

Ballet Cymru's DUETS Programme and why it is important.

Standard YouTube Licence

The dancers in this film are students at Moorland Primary School in Cardiff and Ysgol Ty Ffynnon on Deeside. They participated in Ballet Cymru's DUETS programme. DUETS stands for "Delivering Unique and Exciting Training Strands".  It is a collaboration between Ballet Cymru, theatres, schools and community dance groups across Wales to bring ballet to children who would not otherwise have an opportunity to learn it.

I mentioned the programme in my review of Ballet Cymru's Giselle on 10 Nov 2021:
"Wales has a strong dance tradition as you can see from this grasshopper dance but it does not yet have a national ballet school or comprehensive nationwide facilities for developing balletic talen. There are good ballet teachers in the main towns and cities but most of Wales is rural. Ballet Cymru's Duets Programme goes some way to filling that lacuna."   
Before Giselle, children on the DUETS programme demonstrated what they had learnt in a very short time which earned them considerable applause from the Riverview Theatre audience.

I wrote about Ballet Cymru's work with local schools in Gwynedd in Ballet Cymru - Even Better than Last Year on 6 Dec 2019 and in How the Pontio Centre and M-SParc complement each other in the Social and Economic Development of Northwest Wales on 5 June 2020 in NIPC Wales.  My Welsh teacher from Nant Gwrtheyrn emailed me to say that her husband who is the headmaster of Llanllyfni School had appeared in that video, adding "Byd bach!!!" which means "small world."  

The dance authority that covers Llanllyfni and the Pontio Centre is Dawns i Bawb which means "Dance for Everyone".  It is one of Ballet Cymru's partners in DUETS.  Look up its YouTube channel for films like 'The Jungle' on refugees or "Dawnsio'r Degawdau("Dance the Decades") which addresses dementia as the companion film explains.  There are also some fun films like "Dosbarth Dawns i Bawb("Dance Class for All"), "Migldi Magldi Dolig" ("Christmas Migldi Magldi") and Dydd Mwsig Cymraeg 2021 (Welsh Music Day).

Some of the children from Llanllyfni, Cardiff or Deeside may be inspired to become performers or teachers but most will not.  However, their lives will be enriched by dance which is why DUETS is important.

Monday, 21 February 2022

Powerhouse Ballet's Reawakening

Standard YouTube Licence

The last two years have been tough for everyone in the arts but they have been particularly hard for adult ballet students who long to perform in public.  For Powerhouse Ballet which was founded just under 4 years ago, the lockdown was almost fatal.  We had been riding high with our very successful workshop with Yorkshire choreographer Alex Hallas and were looking forward to learning the snowflakes scene from The Nutcracker when everything was put on hold.

I feared that it would be the end of Powerhouse Ballet and probably all the other amateur companies in the United Kingdom because we could no longer meet for class.  But help came quite unexpectedly from Amsterdam when Maria Chugai of the Dutch National Ballet offered us an online class.  That class was very successful and showed that it was possible to train over Zoom.  I engaged all our regular teachers as well as Shannon Lilly, Beth Meadway and Krystal Lowe to give online classes.  When restrictions were relaxed in 2020 we held classes in studios in Birmingham and Leeds.   Though it was expensive and hard we never missed a monthly company class and, most importantly, we stayed together.

Now that the country is emerging from lockdown Powerhouse Ballet can rebuild.  My immediate aim is to stage a mixed bill which will include Terence Etheridge's Aria, Yvonne Charlton's Morning, Waltz of the Flowers and Snowflakes from The Nutcracker and part of the wilis' choreography from Act II of Giselle. Much of the preparation for this will be at a summer school in North Wales.  In the longer term, we plan to set up an associates class and I have engaged the assistance of someone with considerable experience in that area to advise me.

That leaves the tricky matters of funding and governance.  Over the last two years, it was easier for me to sponsor the company's activities and I will continue to do so but our plans will require more than I can afford.  In the medium term, we will need to reintroduce a subscription, seek grants and sponsorship.  Publications like this blog, the Stage Door and classes outside the North of England could generate revenue for Powerhouse Ballet.   Eventually, we shall seek charitable status for which we shall need trustees, a business manager and a full-time artistic director.

Returning to the present, if you want to meet us with a view to joining us, register for our company class at Dance Studio Leeds on 26 Feb 2022 from 15:30 until 17:00.   

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Last Monday's Romeo and Juliet - a Cinematic as well as a Balletic Triumph

Author Russ London Licence CC BY-SA 3.0 Source Wikimedia Commons

Royal Ballet Romeo and Juliet Cinema 14 Feb 2022 19:30

Last Monday's screening of the Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet was quite different from previous ones and all the better for it.  Gone were the gushing tweets from cinema audiences around the world and the presenters' platitudes.  In its place were interviews with Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin with Dame Darcey passing on her wisdom and experience to Anna Rose O’Sullivan. Exactly how I want to see one of the greatest ballerinas of my lifetime.

Not only that but there was very clever camera work that caught O'Sullivan's ecstasy in the balcony scene or James Hay's pain after his stabbing by Tybalt. I noticed details in the screening that I had missed before. Consequently, I learned a lot about the ballet on Monday even though I had been watching MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet on screen as well as on stage since the 1960s. 

Although I must have seen them many times I had never really noted Anna Rose O'Sullivan or Marcelino Sambé until now,  but I am a fan of both of them now.  There is something about O'Sullivan that reminded me of Antoinette Sibley.  Sambé is very different from Dowell but I think we may have seen on Monday the start of a partnership between him and O'Sullivan which will be remembered like that of Sibley and Dowell.

There were two other dancers who particularly caught my eye who happen to be my all-time favourite Drosselmeyers.  One was Thomas Whitehead who danced Tybalt with menace earning what appeared to be isolated pantomime villain boos at the reverence as well as cinema vibrating roars. The other was Gary Avis who danced Juliet's well-meaning dad, puzzled and exasperated by his teenage daughter's apparent inability to grasp in Paris a dishy, decent husband and a comfortable future. 

All in the cast danced brilliantly, James Hay as Mercutio, Nicol Edmonds as Paris, Kristen McNally as Lady Capulet, Philip Mosley as Friar Lawrence, Romany Pajdak as the nurse.    There were also Prince Escalus, harlots, mandolin dancers, knights and their ladies and the street folk of renaissance Verona.  All deserve commendation but if I mentioned more names this would look less like a review and more like a telephone directory.

Nevertheless, my review must acknowledge three of the creatives: Laura Morera who staged the show, the conductor Jonathan Lo who first came to my notice at Northern Ballet, and the late Nicholas Georgiadis whose designs remind me of the work of Leon Bakst.  If there was a weakness in the screening it was that the richness of Georgiadis's sets did not always come through. That always seems to be a problem with ballet on film.

Last Monday happened to be my birthday.  It was a delightful day with calls and cards and presents.  But the screening was definitely a high point.  So many thanks for that, Royal Ballet.  

Readers who missed the performance have a second chance on Sunday.   

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

The Dutch National Ballet's "Raymonda"

Copyright 2021 Dutch National Ballet Standard YouTube Licence

As I said in my review of the live-streaming of the Bolshoi's performance on 27 Oct 2019, Raymonda is not performed in this country very often.  Indeed, as English National Ballet noted on its website, no local company had performed the work in its entirety until its production opened at the Coliseum last month.  As ENB's version is set in the 19th-century Crimean war rather than the medieval crusades, it could be argued that we still have to wait for a British company to dance the whole work.

But if we want to see a full-length performance of the traditional ballet, we do not have to go very far or wait very long to see one.  That is because the Dutch National Ballet will premiere a new production of Raymonda at the company's auditorium in Amsterdam on 3 April 2022.   It has been created by the company's assistant artistic director, Rachel Beaujean, in collaboration with the artistic director, Ted Brandsen, and Grigori Tchitcherine of the National Academy.  Beaujean produced Giselle which impressed me greatly when I saw it at Heerlen on 9 Nov 2018 (see Mooie! 10 Nov 2018). Tchitcherine gained a thorough knowledge of Raymonda first as a student at the Vaganova, later as a dancer with the Mariinsky and most recently from his research into the original and subsequent productions of the ballet.   As the sets have been created by Jérôme Kaplan who also designed the sets for David Nixon's The Great Gatsby and as the orchestra will be conducted by Boris Gruzin I have very high hopes for this production.  

Although Beaujean will depart from Countess Pashkova's libretto in one regard in order to "devise a crown and setting that are relevant to today" HNB's website emphasizes that the "choreographic splendours" will be retained. Further reassurance in that regard is provided in an interview with Beaujean and Tchitcherine. They describe how they delved into the history of the ballet over the last two years. They examined the records of the original choreography that had been made by Vladimir Stepanov. He devised one of the earliest systems of ballet notation which he explained in Alphabet des mouvements du corps human, essai d'enregistrement des mouvements du corps humain au moyen des signes musicaux published in Paris in 1892.  They also examined Konstantin Sergeyev's choreography for the Kirov's revival in 1948 and concluded that it was probably closest to Petipa's. A member of HNB's cast who also knows the Mariinsky's version well tells me that it follows tradition.    

Beaujean's modification to the story is to characterize Raymonda as "a young woman who makes her own choices on the path of love" rather than tamely accepting her marriage to Jean de Brienne as inevitable.  She justifies the change on the ground that Petipa and Glazunov were not happy with the original libretto and made changes to it.  That is altogether different from writing a story about a different war, in a different country in a different century.

In making these observations I do not disparage Tamara Rojo's version in the least.   I missed the season at the Coliseum only because of pressing professional commitments and soaring omicron infections in London.   I am a Friend of English National Ballet and have attended its performances regularly ever since I was enchanted by one of its performances of The Nutcracker in the Festival Hall.  New versions of familiar ballets can work as David Dawson has shown with his Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet.  I look forward to watching Rojo's version when English National Ballet brings its Raymonda to Manchester or Liverpool.

I will see ENB's Raymonda after HNB's.  I have my ticket for the centre of the stalls 6 rows from the stage, a return rail ticket to Amsterdam via St Pancras and a reservation at my favourite hotel in Amsterdam.   I shall publish my review in early April.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Northern Ballet's New Director

Copyright 2020 Royal Opera House  Licence YouTube Standard Licence

"Bravo bloody oh!" That was the reaction of one of my friends when I told her the news of Federico Bonelli's appointment as the next Artistic Director of Northern Ballet.  Other reactions have been a little less colourful but no less enthusiastic. I have been a fan of Bonelli for years and could not have wished for a better choice.  If you ever see him on stage or just watch this video you will understand why. 

Nevertheless, it was a very unexpected appointment.  Graham Watts tweeted:
"I definitely didn’t see this one coming - Northern Ballet has announced Federico Bonelli as the Company’s new Artistic Director."

Watts was not the only one.   Even though I am a fan of Bonelli he had not been on my radar.  Had anyone kept a book my money would have been on a brilliant young choreographer whose style reminds me of Cranko whose appointment would have recemented a link with Central or, possibly, on one of our leading female choreographers who has already contributed two much-loved ballets to the company.

Bonelli's appointment coincides with the publication of the government's "levelling up strategy".  It has promised to ensure that great cultural institutions play their part in spreading access to excellence:

"100% of the Arts Council England funding uplift announced at SR21 will be directed outside London, with support for theatre, museums and galleries, libraries and dance in towns which have been deprived of investment in the past. We will explore how more flagship national cultural institutions can support the strength of our historic cultural heritage in great cities such as Stoke and Manchester."

Not a bad time to make a move outside London.