Thursday, 31 March 2022

Amser Da - Dutch National Ballet New Season

National Opera and Ballet
Author Jane Lambert © 2022 Powerhouse Ballet All rights reserved


The Dutch are good at puns.  It may be because every schoolchild in the Netherlands is expected to learn enough English, French or German to hold a simple conversation in any of those languages.  One of the best puns came from Remco van Revenstein after the 2020 US presidential election.  It went like this: "Question: "Why does Mr Trunp have to leave the White House?" Answer "Because it's for Biden."

Here is one pun that not even the Dutch will have dreamt up. The Welsh for "Good time" is "Amser da" and of course almost the name of their leading city. If I ran a travel agency, airline or the Dutch tourist board in Cardiff, Swansea or Newport I would be flogging that pun for all that it is worth and then some.

That is because the Dutch National Ballet has just announced its new season in a press release dated 29 March 2022.  It will attract theatre-goers in droves from around the world including, no doubt, many from Wales and the rest of the UK. Highlights will include:

  • Celebrate between 13 to 28 Sept 2022: A mixed bill consisting of Yugen by Wayne McGregor to the music of Leonard Bernstein, Christopher Wheeldon's The Two of Us, Ted Brandsen's The Chairman Dances  to the music of John Adams and Milena Siderova's  Regnum to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart;
  • The Sleeping Beauty between 12 Oct 2022 to 2 Jan 2023;
  • Balanchine, Van Manen and Arques: 9 - 19 Nov 2022  a national tour with Balanchine's Four Temperaments, various works by Hans van Manen and Arques's Manoeuvre;
  • Dawson 8 to 18 Dec 2022 a double bill consisting of a new work by David Dawson and Dawson's The Four Seasons to the music of Max Richter;
  • The Junior Company Ballet Bubbles 26 Jan to 15 Feb 2023;
  • Verdi Requiem in collaboration with the National Opera 9 Feb - 25 Feb 2023;
  • Swan Lake 11 May - 16 June 2023;
  • Dorian by  Ernst Meisner and Marco Gerris of IDH Dance Collective to the music of  Joey Rouken; and 
  • Forsythe Festival between 10 and 27 June 2023.
The company will also take part in the Fall for Dance Festuva in New York this autumn.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Beatrix Potter comes to Life

Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit*


* Photo credits Rod Tinsley/Tony Cockrell Copyright 2022 Chelmsford Ballet Company, Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Chelmsford Ballet Company Beatrix Potter™ Tales in association with Frederick Warne & Co. Chelmsford Civic Theatre, 16 March 2022, 19:30

I have watched every annual show by the Chelmsford Ballet Company since 2013. I have enjoyed them all but none has delighted me more than Beatrix Potter™ Tales in association with Frederick Warne & Co. It was a show in which everyone shone from the tiniest hedgehog to guest artist Xholindi Muçi.  It was not just the cast that excelled.  I don't think I have seen so many scene changes. There was a different backcloth for each scene.  Those backcloths seemed to depict not the Cumbrian lakes and fells but the rolling hills, brooks and woods of rural Essex. Never have I seen more lavish costumes.  Each animal head painstakingly created.  There was entertainment even in the interval as the artists dashed through the bar and foyer in full costume. 

The ballet opened with Olivia Riley as Beatrix Potter at her desk.  She rose to her feet.  Gentle soutenus and développés represented her musings.  Characters from her Tales came to life one by one.  They included:
  • Mrs Tittlemouse (Sophie Odell)
  • Johnny Town Mouse (Orla Swann) 
  • Mice led by Anastasia Marks and Tessa Raita, 
  • Peter Rabbit (Alycia Potter)
  • Mrs Tiggy-Winkle (Anna Gellett)
  • Hedgehogs led by Isabella Stagg
  • Alexander Pig (Grace Emerson)
  • Pigling Bland (Xholindi Muçi)
  • Pig Wig (Darci Willsher)
  • Jemima Puddle-Duck (Samantha Ellis)
  • Mr Tod (Anna Gellett)
  • Jeremy Fisher (Kiera Cook)
  • Hunca Munca (Isabelle Fellows)
  • Tom Thumb (Abigail Wiltshire)
  • Squirrel Nutkin (Rachel Young)
  • Tabitha Twitchit (Echo Murrill)
  • Mrs Tiggy-Winkle in Act 2 (Grace Emerson) and 
  • Squirrel (Karisma Patel).
There were many artists - some very young - who danced in the ensemble.  Each and every one of them performed well. The only reason I have not listed them above or singled them out for special praise below is that this review would resemble a telephone directory had I mentioned everyone who impressed me.

Each of the scenes represented a different Tale. Some were solos and others were duets.  I particularly admired Muçi's dance with Willsher.  There was some difficult choreography in their duet including a fish dive. I enjoyed all the solos especially Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck who flew across the stage and Jeremy Fisher who read "Pond Life" while waiting for his catch.

This was the first time I had seen this ballet but I was told by Elizabeth Baker (the company's President) that it had been in the repertoire for some time.  She had danced in an earlier production.  She said that the ballet had been inspired by the filmFrederick Warne & Co. had licensed Chelmsford's version.  The score had been composed by John Lanchberry and Nigel Westlake.  The magnificent costumes were designed by Ann Starling. The sets were created by Annette Potter who also choreographed and produced the show. 

The Tales of Beatrix Potter shows what can be achieved by non-professional dancers.  Chelmsford Ballet was formed 73 years ago and has survived lockdown, austerity, inflation and umpteen recessions.  It inspired us at Powerhouse Ballet to set up a similar company in the North of England.  lt would be wonderful if we could stage something like the Tales of Beatrix Potter one day. 

There will be performances tonight and tomorrow.   If you can reach the Chelmsford Civic Theatre you can expect a treat.

Monday, 14 March 2022

Powerhouse Ballet's Nutcracker Intensive


Sunday, 13 March 2022

Chelmsford Ballet's First Show Since the Pandemic

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The Chelmsford Ballet Company is older than Northern Ballet, Scottish Ballet and even English National Ballet. This little news clip records its formation. Clearly, the founders were resourceful and enterprising. Not surprising given that many of the City's movers and shakers hail from Essex.  I am proud to say that I am a non-dancing member of the Chelmsford Ballet.  I am tempted to attend an audition in June to see whether I could qualify as a dancing member.  

In the middle of March of every year, Chelmsford Ballet stages a full-length ballet or mixed bill in the city's Civic Theatre.  I watched and reviewed every one of those annual shows between 2014 and 2019. I missed the 2020 show because of covid.  There was no show last year for the same reason.  I am glad to see that the company will return to the Civic between 16 and 19 March 2022 to perform Beatrix Potter™ Tales in association with Frederick Warne & Co. 

According to the Civic's website:
"Many of the delightful Beatrix Potter characters enjoyed by generations are brought to life in this imaginative balletic interpretation.

We see Beatrix engrossed in her work & watch as some of her characters come to life such as Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, adding to the excitement a flying Jemima Puddle-Duck trying to escape from Mr. Toad."

Save for an occasional young professional at the start of his or her career who may be engaged to perform a principal role most of the artists are child or adult dance students. There is however nothing amateurish about their performances.  Particularly impressive is their computer-generated special effects.  A projection of the growth of a forest around Aurora's castle in The Sleeping Beauty was breathtaking.  Equally remarkable is their wardrobe department (see the headpieces of the snow wolves in the 2017 production of The Snow Queen).

I plan to watch the opening night. My review will appear a few days later.

Saturday, 12 March 2022

Casanova Revived

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Northern Ballet Casanova  Leeds Grand Theatre 11 March 2022 19:30

I saw Northern Ballet on stage for the first time since its 50th anniversary gala on 4 Jan 2020.  It was very good to see them again.   Although I try not to be partisan and support the other classical and contemporary companies of the United Kingdom, the Dutch National Ballet and great companies around the world as well as I can, Northern Ballet is my home company.  I live 25 miles from Leeds. I have attended whenever possible Northern Ballet's over 55 and evening classes since 2013. I have seen most of its shows since I was captivated by Dame Gillian Lynne's A Simple Man. Through those connections, I have got to know and like many members of the company.

Several of those artists were in last night's performance of Casanova.  It was a particular pleasure to see Hannah Bateman as Madame de Pompadour.  I had taken part in a virtual flower throw for her early in the lockdown because it had not been possible to attend the Grand for a real flower throw in what I had understood to be her final performance for Northern Ballet. Bateman has long been my favourite female artist in that company.  She founded The Ballet Retreat which I have always promoted but never attended largely because I fear I would not be good enough for her.  She is in the very restricted sense that I use the term a true ballerina.

Other dancers in the show whom I know well and like a lot included Abigail Prudames as Bellino, Ashley Dixon as Senator Bragadin and Gavin McCaig as an inquisitor and other roles. The title role, however, was danced by Lorenzo Trosello. Yesterday was the first time I had noticed him in a major role and I was impressed.  I particularly admired his interaction with Prudames who danced Bellino.  That appears to me to be the most demanding female role.  She was also impressive.  They certainly excited the crowd most of whom rose to their feet at the reverence.

Casanova is not a particularly easy story to follow.  I had seen it several times and written quite a lot about it in Casanova Second Time Round in the articles linked to that post, but even I had to refer to the synopsis in the programme at times.  Tindall is a dramatic choreographer - perhaps most remarkable for his work with groups and the corps than for his solos and duets.  He makes his dancers create shapes that are almost sculptural.  His narrative is cinematic. Christopher Oram's designs are breathtaking as is Muzzey's score.  The success of this ballet is down to the choreographer's eye for talent and ability to bring it all together.

The house was less than full last night but the folk who did attend were vociferous and enthusiastic. Perhaps more used to Elland Road, I thought, than the theatre. When the Ukrainian national anthem was announced my friend and I stood up. Though we were joined by one or two others as the playing continued most seemed content to sit it out.  It was quite a contrast to the audience at The Lowry last week.  They did however stand and even ululate at the curtain call.  It was certainly a good show though not good enough for me to lose my sense of proportion.

The show will remain at the Grand until 19 March.  It opens at the Lyceum in Sheffield on 22 March and then moves on to Sadlers Wells and The Lowry in May.  It is one of the best works in Northern Ballet's repertoire and if you can get to any of those theatres you should see it.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Don Quixote at the Lowry

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Birmingham Royal Ballet Don Quixote The Lowry 4 March 2022 19:30

I have seen a lot of shows in Greater Manchester in my time from pantomimes to grand opera. I cannot recall one with greater flair than last night's Don Quixote at the Lowry. Never have I been part of a more appreciative audience.  Standing ovations are rare in this country, particularly outside London. Yesterday, a large part of the audience (including yours truly) rose to our feet at the end of the show.

I have followed the Birmingham Royal Ballet for many years.  Indeed long before it moved to Birmingham. Never have I seen it dance as well as it did last night.  Yesterday was the first time that I had seen the company since Carlos Acosta became its director.  He seems to have galvanized it.

When I saw the Royal Ballet's Don Quixote at Covent Garden I wrote:
"Seldom have I enjoyed a performance at the Royal Opera House more than last Saturday's matinee of Don Quixote" (see Campbell and Magri in Royal Ballet's Don Quixote 2 April 2019).

I think I enjoyed last night's show even more.

For those who do not know the ballet, there is a brief synopsis in Wikipedia. The work is known for its spectacular jumps and fouettés requiring considerable virtuosity not only of those who dance Basilio and Kitri but also Espada, the matador, Mercedes, the street dancer, the Queen of the Dryads and the gipsy and fandango dancers. There are also great character roles for Sancho Panza, Gamache and, of course, Don Quixote himself.

I had been looking forward to seeing Lachlan Monaghan as Don Basilio as advertised on the company's website.   He had been my guest at The Stage Door. As I said in my interview, I admire his choreography and photography as well as his dancing.  Yesterday he was cast as Espada which he danced with panache.  Basilio was danced by Mathias Dingman another of my favourite artists.  He impressed us with his virtuosity and amused us with his touches of humour.  Miki Mizutani was a perfect Kitri. Coquettish when interacting with Gamache and her father.  Spectacular in her solos and pas de deux.  I was impressed by Eilis Small as Mercedes and Lucy Waine as Queen of the Dryads.  It is always a delight to see Tzu-Chao Chou who danced Amour.  Casting Laura Day as Don Quixote's hapless squire was inspirational. I have never seen or even imagined the role being performed by a woman. She carried it off brilliantly. I must also commend Rory Mackay for his performance of Gamache and Jonathan Payn for the title role.   Everyone in the cast delighted and impressed us and I congratulate them all.

One of the strengths of yesterday's performance was the designs and special effects.  I was particularly impressed with the sails of the windmills which morphed into limbs and claws before our eyes. I am not sure whether credit for that scene belongs to Tim Hatley who designed the sets and costumes or Nina Dunn the video designer.  It was spectacular.

The Symphonia conducted by Peter Murphy excelled themselves as much as the dancers.  Before the performance, they played the Ukrainian national anthem.  There has always been a large Ukrainian community in the North as is evidenced by the many Ukrainian clubs and churches to be seen.  Playing that anthem was an apposite reminder of those links.

The first two performances of this short season had to be cancelled because of injuries and illness.  There will be more performances at the Lowry this afternoon and evening.  The tour continues to Sunderland, Plymouth and at Sadler's Wells. If you can reach any of those theatres you should see this show.

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Acosta Danza "100% Cuban"

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Acosta Danza 100% Cuban  New Theatre, Hull, 25 Feb 2022, 19:30

Cuba may be a small Caribbean island with a population of 11.2 million but it has world-class national ballet and contemporary dance companies.  Joanna Goodman reviewed one of the Cuban National Ballet's performances of Swan Lake in its own theatre in 2014 (see "We are the dancers, we create the dreams: Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s El Lago de los Cisnes in Havana8 July 2014). I reviewed the national contemporary dance company when it visited the Lowry (see Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at the Lowry 19 Feb 2017).

Artists from Cuba have contributed not only to their own national companies but also to leading companies of other nations.  Probably the best known of those is Carlos Acosta. He is now the artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.  Previously he was a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet.  A glimpse at his website shows that Acosta is more than a dancer and choreographer. He is an entrepreneur, novelist and indeed impresario.

In 2016 Acosta established Acosta Danza which he has described as "Some of the finest Cuban dancers I have ever had the pleasure of working with."  The company is touring the United Kingdom and my friend and I caught up with it at the Hull New Theatre on Friday.  We were treated to the following:
These were very different works that showed off the versatility of the company.

Liberto was a duet created by Raúl Reinoso to the music of Pepe Gavilondo.  The programme contains the following note:
"The story of a cimarron, invites us to reflect on the faces of slavery, from ancient times to the present day. The meeting of the fugitive with the woman, beyond the beginning of a love story, is a moment of reflection and retelling, the possible discovery of the path to the utopian kingdom of total freedom."

I think cimarron must be the Spanish word for "Maroon" who were fugitive slaves.  They formed colonies in the Caribbean and some found their way to Freetown in Sierra Leone where I first learnt their story.  The ballet featured a couple. I am not sure of the identity of the man because the company did not publish a cast list. I asked for one in a Q & A that followed the show but the company's interpreter did not seem to know what I was talking about or why I needed one.   I think Reinoso danced the male role and believe the woman was Zeleidy Crespo but I cannot be sure. I remember a giant net from which the man struggled to escape.  The designs were by Alisa Peláez. The lighting was by Yaron Abulafia.

Like a football match, Hybrid was a combination of two halves. Quite literally because there was a point when the cast lined up for a curtain call, accepted the applause and then slowly started dancing again.  The inspiration for the work appears to have been the legend of Sisyphus:

“O my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible.
(The Myth of Sisyphus).  According to the programme, the piece was about a "universe where the real and the unreal blur their limits to reach our chimaeras." It continued:

"An approach to sensitive realities and imaginaries of a nation and its people, told from the strength of its culture and dance.
An island that unveils its mysteries on a path that goes from darkness to light"
The whole company or at least a large part of it seemed to be in the work. The music was by Jenny Peña and Randy Araujo, the choreography by Norge Cedeño and Thais Suárez, the designs by Celia Ledón and the lighting by Yaron Abulafia.

This was not to everyone's taste because the audience thinned out a little after the interval.

As the music was entitled Cuban landscape with rumba by Leo Brouwer and Cuban Landscape by Stefan Levin and the ballet was danced against a backdrop of growing crops, I understood Paysage, Soudain, La Nuit to be an appreciation of the Cuban countryside and those who worked in it.  This was another work in which the whole company participated.  The choreographer was Pontus Lidberg. Costumes were by Karen Young.  The lighting was by Patrik Bogårdh.

The most spectacular work was Impronta.  It was a solo by Crespo which she performed to the music of José V. Gavilondo. The show started with a mass of blue.  It was not clear whether that was a prop or a group of dancers.  It turned out to be a long flowing dress worn by the dancer. A tall, elegant and exceptionally supple woman, Crespo had bent her body almost to the floor so that her face appeared through the dress.  In the Q&A, Crespo explained that the dress represented the sea.  In answer to a  question from my friend, she said that the dance had been influenced largely by African rhythms.  The programme added:
"Catalan choreographer María Rovira created this solo in wich contemporary dance merges with Afro-Cuban folk dances."

Several audience members stood to applaud Crespo's performance at the end.  Others whooped with delight.  The reaction was well merited because it was impressive.

My favourite ballet was De Punto a Cabo.  I surmise that the title must refer to a seaside walk that is opposite Havana.  The backdrop was of a busy city separated by a stretch of water and a sea wall. Alexis Fernández's choreography to José White and Omar Sosa's music reminded me of the view of Manhattan in the last scene of Liam Scarlett's Age of Anxiety (see Bernstein Centenary  18 March 2018). The piece generated much the same energy and awe.   The website states in Spanish that the choreographer sought to transpose into dance his impressions of contemporary Cuba, a land of diversity and contrasts. He made that point by combining ballet with contemporary dance.  There were some spectacular fouettés from Penélope Morejón as well as contemporary expressions to African and Cuban rhythms.

In the Q&A we learnt that the morning company class alternates between ballet and contemporary. Each of the dancers was asked which style they preferred.  None expressed a preference except Morejón who seemed to glow as she talked about ballet.  There were the usual easily anticipated questions from the floor about the creative process, influences and how they liked the British weather. The best intervention came from a lady from Bridlington who had to dash for a train. She probably spoke for all of us in expressing gratitude for the pleasure the company had brought after a 2-year pandemic.

This was the first time I had attended the Hull New Theatre and my first impressions are good.  It is located on Kingston Square where there was plenty of free street parking.  There is a restaurant and bar which offered inter alia burgers and scampi and chips. It was not exactly gourmet food and slightly over-priced for what it was but it was very convenient.  The auditorium seemed well ventilated.  The seats were comfortable with enough legroom at least for me.

Acosta Danza is nearing the end of its UK tour.  They are at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury tonight and at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth at the end of the week.