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

Standard YouiTube Licence

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.