Friday, 21 July 2017

My Thousandth Post

















A thousandth post is something of a milestone I think you will agree.  It deserves a special article to celebrate the occasion.  I have been thinking about the best way to do it and I think a retrospective of the most memorable performances of each of the last four and a bit years would be appropriate. So here goes.

Without a doubt, the most memorable performance of 2013 was the launch of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's tour of the Netherlands at the  Stadsshouwburg in Amsterdam on the 24 Nov 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). I had come to Amsterdam to see Michaela DePrince who had joined the company a few months earlier. I had already heard of her because of her success at the Youth America Grand Prix in 2010 and the critical acclaims she had received in South Africa and New York but I was particularly fascinated by her Sierra Leonean origin as I had been married to a Sierra Leonean national for nearly 28 years.

When I saw DePrince dance I described her as "quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while." I have watched her progress in the Dutch National Ballet from élève to soloist with enormous satisfaction for I get the impression that she is a very likeable young woman as well as a fine artist.  I once had the pleasure of meeting her at the opening night gala of the 2015/2016 ballet season and "I left the Stopera thinking how that exceptionally talented young dancer was as gracious off stage as she is magnificent upon it" (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2013).

DePrince led me to the Junior Company and its remarkable artistic coordinator Ernst Meisner whom I featured a year later (see Meet Ernst Meisner and his talented young dancers 6 Dec 2014) and he, in turn, led me to the Dutch National Ballet which is one of the best companies I have ever seen. That company performed the most memorable performance of the 4 1/2 years that I have been keeping this blog, namely Natalia Makarova's La Bayadère with the excellent Sasha Mukhamedov in the title role on the 13 Nov 2016 (see Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere 14 Nov 2016). Once in a while, a ballerina shines in a role with such brilliance that she makes it her own. Fonteyn did that for me many years ago in Marguerite and Armand as did Sibley as Titania in Frederick Ashton's Dream.  For me, Nikiya will always be Mukhamedov.

Of course, Fonteyn might not have shone so brightly in that role had it not been for Nureyev. Sibley was always partnered magnificently by Sir Anthony Dowell. Similarly, Mukhamedov had the most gallant Solor in Jozef Varga. There were many other fine dancers in that matinee including Daniel Robert Silva who danced the bronze idol. He is a man to watch. He first came to my notice in Meisner's No Time Before Time on 14 Feb 2016 which is the best birthday treat I have ever had and he impressed me again on 26 June 2017 in Cristiano Principato's Purcell Variations (see New Moves 2017 27 June 2017).

The shows that impressed me most in 2014, 2015 and 2017 were all by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. They were Gillian Lynne's atmospheric reconstruction of Sir Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals which I saw at Sadler's Wells on 18 Oct 2014 (see A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2014, David Bintley's The King Dances at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 20 June 2016 (see A Special Ballet for a Special Day 23 June 2015) and Ruth Brill's Arcadia also at the Hippodrome on 21 June 2017 (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia 22 June 2017).

The first two of those works were reconstructions though I suspect Miracle in the Gorbals would have been quite an accurate one as Dame Gillian had been in the original production even though she and Henry Danton have said that they cannot recall a single step. However, the score has survived as has the libretto and images of the sets and costumes. The ballet would have evolved had it remained continuously in the repertoire so I think we are as close to the original as we are to the original of any other ballet. We have Dame Gillian to thank for another great work, namely A Simple Man which marked the centenary of L S Lowry's birth.  It was the first work by Northern Ballet that I saw after I returned to the North in 1987 and it remains my favourite offering from that company. One of the reasons why I love it so is that it was the last time I saw Christopher Gable and Moira Shearer on stage. I hold both of them in the highest possible esteem. Shortly after I saw that ballet, Gable became artistic director of the company and his term of office was unquestionably its golden age.

Bintley's The King Dances was quite different. Less of a reconstruction because the original pageant lasted all night. More an homage. But an impressive one all the same. Several 17th-century conventions were observed in that nearly all the female roles were danced by men and the stage appeared to be lit at times by torches. But the score was new and, of course, so was the lighting at the end of the ballet that radiated Louis's majesty more effectively than anything available to the royal household at the time. The premiere of the show coincided with the 25th anniversary of the company's move to Birmingham and the 20th of David Bintley's appointment as artistic director. It was danced with Carmina Burana, one of Bintley's most popular ballets.

Brill's Arcadia is a masterpiece. I knew she was talented from Matryoshka but Arcadia reveals brilliance. It is a complex work full of historical, mythical and literary allusions. Any choreographer would be proud of such a work but when one takes into account Brill's youth it is nothing short of prodigious. I am impatient for Brill's next new ballet....... and the next ... and next.

These were the five best shows I have seen since I started the blog but they are not the only precious moments. I have met some lovely people through ballet - great teachers in Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield, London and even Budapest, delightful classmates at all those venues and particularly those in Manchester, knowledgeable ballet lovers in person through the London Ballet Circle and the various friends groups to which I belong as well as many more online through Facebook, twitter and BalletcoForum. I have listened to some impressive presentations and interviews by dancers, choreographers, composers, designers and administrators many of whom I have interviewed for this blog. I have had the opportunity to dance before a living, breathing and paying audience in Leeds and Manchester (see The Time of my Life 28 June 2014 and Show 14 May 2017) and thanks to the ever patient Jane Tucker I have had a go at dancing cygnets, Juliet, knights, shades, Siegfried, sugar plum, swans, guests at the Stahlbaums' party and even a golden idol.

All that within months of the expiration of my three score years and ten expiring. Could anyone wish for anything more?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Just as most Adult Ballet Classes are folding up for the Summer, here's one that's opening

Photo Huddersfield University~
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence


















At a time of the year when many adult ballet classes are winding down for the summer, it is great to hear of one that is opening up. Today and for the next four Thursdays, Fiona Noonan will run an open adult class at Huddersfield University Sports Centre between 11:00 and 12:00.

Fiona is an excellent teacher. She trained at Queensland Ballet Academy in Brisbane which is the ballet school for Li Cunxin's company that made such a memorable impression on critics and audiences when it brought La Sylphide to London in 2015 (see A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015). She then danced with a number of companies around the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She, therefore, brings two rare qualities to her teaching. A rigorous pursuit of excellence and an attention to detail which I have noticed in other Australian trained teachers such as Adam Pudney at Pineapple and more than a little stardust from the stage that some of my favourite teachers at Northern Ballet Academy and KNT also scatter.

I have attended Fiona's classes at The Base Studios and Team Hud in Huddersfield and at Hype Studios in Sheffield (see More than just Hype - Beginners and Improvers Classes in Sheffield 14 May 2014).  They are not easy.  She pushes her students to their limits and then some. But that is exactly what a ballet student needs whatever his or her age or natural ability. I have also learned some important lessons from her. "Ballet is a harsh mistress", I once heard her tell a promising young student " and she is wanting and waiting for you to fail."  Like most balletomanes, I had associated dance with tiaras and gravity defying leaps but the reality is graft, sweat, pain and on more than a few occasions physical danger. Something that requires will, determination and resilience even if you are just taking an adult ballet class. Transferable qualities, incidentally, if you are lucky enough to enjoy your job and have no plans to quit just because you have reached pensionable age.

So if you come to her class this morning you had better pack a towel with your leotard or sports kit because you can expect to sweat. If this is your first class you will be allowed to dance barefoot. However, if you plan to stay the course and invest in some shoes there is a dance shop in the Byrom Arcade called "Mr Frog Dancewear".

For those who do not know the campus, the Sports Centre is in a new building called "Student Central" where you will also find the students' shop and cafeteria. It is almost opposite Sainsbury's car park and there are two multi-storey car parks on the other side of Queensway. The Sports Centre is one floor down and you have to report at the front desk. I don't yet know how much Fiona will charge for her classes but it was £5 two years ago. Most other ballet schools in the North charge between £6 and £8. Well worth it for a fair dinkum touch of stardust, mate. Gooday.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Jumping for Joy


Standard YouTube Licence

I described Jump two years ago in Jump 11 July 2015. It's a fan club for young ballet fans with its own website but it is also an open day called Dansdag when kids take over the Stopera. This year it fell on 24 June and I am told by people who were there that it was particularly good this year.

Judging by this film it certainly seems to have been. Most ballet companies run special activities for children and young people but this must be one of the best.

Montpellier Danse

Hans van Manen by Bibi Neuray
Reproduced with permission of the Dutch National Ballet














Tonight, Hans van Manen will be created a Commandeur des Arts et Lettres, France's highest distinction in the arts at the Montpellier Dance Festival. That festival, which runs from 23 June to 7 July 2017, is an annual festival of contemporary dance which started in 1981 by the Montpelier city council and the National Choreographic Centre which was then run by Dominique Bagouet (see Festival Montpellier Danse in Wikipedia).

The festival attracts some of the biggest names in dance such as Lucinda Childs who is coming to Manchester on Thursday (see Manchester International Festival 3 July 2017) and the Dutch National Ballet who are performing tonight. To coincide with the presentation to van Manen, Dutch National Ballet will dance several of his works.

The Company's artistic director, Ted Brandsen, paid warm tribute to van Manen in an interview in Ted Brandsen / Dutch National Ballet : Hommage à Hans van Manen - Programme 1 & 2. In that same interview Brandsen was asked to say a few words about his company and where the company recruited its dancers.

I have been following van Manen for as long as I have been following ballet. Of the greats of my youth - Ashton, MacMillan, Balachine, Cranko - he is the only one who remains, Fékicitations to the new Commandeur but also to the company who will be dancing as I type.

Congratulations to Delia Matthews

Delia Matthews
Photo Andrew Ross
© 2016 Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced wth kind permission of the company: 



























Ever since I saw have bravely and professionally she exited the stage of the Grand Opera House in York when she must have been in considerable pain or discomfort, I have been a fan of Delia Matthews (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in York 23 May 2015). I am therefore delighted that she and Tzu-Chao Chou, another favourite dancer, have become principals of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.  I congratulate both of them and wish them all the best for the future.

Heartiest congratulations also to Arancha Baselga and Yasuo Atsuji who become first soloists, Miki Mizutani who is now a soloist and Laura Day and Alys Shee who are now first artists. Best wishes to them too.

Welcome to  Elisabetta Formento and Lynsey Sutherland who join the company from the Estonian and Polish National Ballets and also to Haoliang Feng, Augustus Payne, Harry Wright, Brogan McKelvey,
Hamish Scott, Claudia Nicholson and Jade Wallace who have recently graduated from their respective ballet schools. I congratulate each and every one of them on landing jobs with a great ballet company. I shall follow their careers with considerable interest.


Joseph Caley and William Bracewell will leave the company - Caley to join English National Ballet as a principal and Bracewell the Royal Ballet as a soloist. I congratulate them on their new appointments and wish them well with their new companies.  Sadly, we sat goodbye to Jamie Bond who retires from ballet to take up a new career in sport in which I wish him every success,  Lewis Turner and Alexander Bird who will join the Berlin State Ballet and Emily Smith and Johanne Monfret. Many thanks to each of them for the pleasure that they have given us and good luck for the future

Monday, 3 July 2017

New Moves - The Photos No. 2

Dutch National Ballet, New Moves 26 June 2017 Amsterdam
Photo Michael Schnater |(c) 2017 Dutch National Ballet All Rights ReservedReproduced with kind permission of the company 




















Another great photo by Michael Schnater from last Monday's New Moves by the Dutch National Ballet.  More to come in the course of the week

Manchester International Festival


Available Light                                                       Standard YouTube Licence


Manchester International Festival, our city's biennial arts festival, is in full swing. Between the 29 June and 16 July 2017, there will be a massive choice of events in the following fields:
Albert Square has been transformed into a village of tents, pavilions and other temporary buildings and has been renamed "Festival Square" where almost every type of street food was on offer.  Gita and I checked out Festival Square last night and I can recommend Heathcote & Co. and Life Bakery (see  Five foodie questions: Heathcote & Co and Staff of Life Bakery on the Festival website).

One of several dance events is Available Light which takes place at The Palace between 6 and 8 July. This is a collaboration between the choreographer Lucinda Childs, the composer John Adams and architect, Frank Gehry. The work is described as "a perfect fusion of music, movement and art," and as "a landmark in American dance." According to the website:
"Available Light beautifully unites the distinct visions of its three creators. Gehry’s designs playfully subvert convention, setting a backdrop of chain-link fencing against a stage split over two levels. Adams’ hypnotic soundtrack pulses out in waves, subtly blending acoustic brass with synthesisers and electronics as it anchors the movements of a dozen dancers. And Childs’ intricate, mesmerising choreography, playing with notions of space and time, is a brilliant distillation of the minimalist aesthetic that has long kept her work at the cutting edge."
I found the clip of the work on  YouTube which appears above.

Wikipedia describes Childs as a post-modern dancer and choreographer whose compositions are known for their minimalistic movements yet complex transitions.  It adds:
"Childs is most famous for being able to turn the slightest movements into an intricate choreographic masterpiece. Her use of patterns, repetition, and dialect has caused her to have a unique style of choreography that is often imitated for its ability to experiment."
Adams's work includes Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer which has been the subject of considerable controversy because of its subject matter.