Sunday, 17 September 2017

World Ballet Day is coming


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One of the compensations of Autumn is World Ballet Day in which five of the world's top companies present their offerings and those of their guests. This year it falls on 5 Oct 2017.

The day begins in Melbourne with the Australian Ballet. We have a special interest in that company as they hosted Amelia Sierevogel earlier this year.  She told us all about her experiences with that company in Melbourne City of Dance 23 May 2017.  The Australian Ballet is sharing its slot with three other companies with which we have a connection, namely the Queensland Ballet, the Hong Kong Ballet and the West Australian Ballet.

We welcomed the Queensland Ballet to London in 2015 (see A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015).  Gita and I also had the honour of meeting its legendary artistic director, Li Cunxin, when he visited the London Ballet Circle. Amelia and I have another connection with that company since our teacher, Fiona Noonan, trained and danced with them. Another favourite teacher, Jane Tucker, danced with the Hong Kong Ballet who are also guests of the Australian Ballet. The third guest that we follow with interest is the West Australian Ballet who are dancing David Nixon's The Great Gatsby in Perth this month.

The baton passes to the Bolshoi whose Taming of the Shrew delighted audiences in London last year (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2017). The choreographer of that work was Jean-Christophe Maillot whose company Les Ballets de Monte Carlo will share the Bolshoi's slot. The Bolshoi's other guests are the Netherlands Dance Theatre who are well known and greatly appreciated here.  The Bolshoi will rehearse for us Balanchine's Diamonds and The Golden Age and introduce us to The Moscow State Academy of Choreography.

Next comes London with the Royal Ballet and four of our other great companies all of whom I know well and admire greatly. The Royal Ballet will rehearse Anastasia, La Fille mal gardée, The Sleeping Beauty and a new ballet by Charlotte Edmonds. Students from the Royal Ballet School will dance Concerto and the company will dance Anastasia.  The Royal Ballet's guests include some of the world's greatest companies including The Dutch National Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, La Scala, the Stuttgart Ballet and the Vienna State Ballet. This should be the highpoint of the day.

Across the Atlantic to Toronto with the National Ballet of Canada. They will be rehearsing Cinderella and Onegin and interview the great Karen Kain. Wayne McGregor and Robert Binet.  Their guests include the Miami City Ballet whom Gita saw in February (see Gita Mistry Attending the Ballet in Florida: Miami City Ballet's Program Three 6 March 2017) and the Boston Ballet who were in London in 2013 (see High as a Flag on the 4th July 7 July 2917).

Finally to San Francisco, one of the oldest and finest companies in America who also promise rehearsals of Diamonds and Cinderella as well as Liam Scarlett's Frankenstein, Helgi Tomasson's Haffner Symphony and a new work by Yuri Possokhov. Their guests include the Houston Ballet which suffered badly from Hurricane Harvey (see Houston Ballet  30 Aug 2017). I take a special interest in that company partly because of its many connections with this country. partly because Li Cunxin started his career there but mainly because the outstanding young artist, Emilie Tassinari, has recently joined the corps.

Every year seems to be better than the last and this year promises to be the best of all. Nobody can watch the whole feast on one day but, happily, recordings remain on YouTube for months after the event.  It takes about a year to savour it all.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Bridgewater Hall's Birthday Party

Author Alan Stanton
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I thought of our 55+ class's talented pianist, Alena Panasenka, this weekend when I visited the Bridgewater Hall for its 21st birthday party on Sunday. There was a lot to see, do and, above all, hear that day as the concert hall opened its doors to its patrons and friends.

The high point of the day, and this is the bit that made me think of Alena, was a  concert by Noriko Ogawa, Graham Scott, Murray McLachlan and Martin Roscoe on the Bridgewater Hall's four Steinway pianos. The programme included works by Beethoven, Bernstein, Debussy, Holst, Mozart and Wagner some of which were arranged very ingeniously. Some of the works were arranged for four pianos and others for two. You will not be surprised to learn that my favourite piece was the prelude to L'Aprȅs Midi d'un Faune.

There was also music in the stalls café bar by the main entrance.  I heard guitar music from Emma Smith, saxophone music from four students of the Royal Northern College of Music known as the Cornelian Saxophone Quartet and clarinet music from another four who performed as the Arundo Clarinet Quartet.  My companion also had a free lesson on one of the Steinways.

We both heard a talk chaired by Peter Davidson, the Bridgewater Hall's artistic consultant, on "Playing the Bridgewater Hall."  The acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall are sometimes compared to a Stradivarius violin which sounds quite ordinary in the hands of an average player but extraordinary in the hands of an exceptionally talented violinist. We heard from Rob Harris, the hall's first acoustic consultant, the critic Robert Beale, the singer, Jacqui Dankworth, and the guitarist, Craig Ogden.  I learned a lot about the hall from that talk. For instance, the fact that it is mounted on springs like a vehicle. I also discovered that it is soundproofed so well that technicians assembling the organ were quite oblivious to a terrorist explosion in the Arndale Centre a few hundred yards away.

There was much that we did not see because the celebrations lasted the whole weekend.  The day after tomorrow I shall see the Bridgewater Hall in a different light when it hosts Venturefest. It is a source of great pride for the whole city and for everyone who is entitled to call him or herself a Mancunian.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet"


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Northern Ballet The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 9 Sept 2017 19:30 West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds


Daniel de Andrade's ballet, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet last night. I congratulate the choreographer, his fellow creatives, the dancers and everyone else who was involved in the show on an outstanding performance. It greatly exceeded my expectations and raised my admiration for the company to new heights.

Although  I had neither read John Boyne's novel nor seen the film and had been unable to catch the work in Doncaster or any of the other venues on this year's midscale tour, I had been aware of the story. I feared a descent into mawkish sentimentality and that this review would be an exercise in floccinaucinihilipilification. Instead, de Andrade explored the twin themes of corruption of decent men by poisonous ideology and love between children.  Watching that ballet was a moving, indeed harrowing, experience that tugged at every emotion.

Boyne's novel cannot have been easy to transpose to dance.  De Andrade responded to that challenge with considerable ingenuity.  For example, Hitler appears in the book and personally appoints the father of one of the children at the centre of the story as Commandant of Auschwitz. Easy enough, one would think, as Hitler is instantly recognizable with his half moustache and floppy forelock. But de Andrade resisted the temptation to do the obvious. He substituted a Fury for the Führer - an even more menacing Siegfried type character crouching, creeping and dripping with evil. For some reason or other, the Bolshoi refer to Siegfried as "the evil genius" in its version of Swan Lake (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). Well, de Andrade's evil genius was spine chilling.

The strong libretto was just one reason for the show's success.

There was some pretty powerful choreography.  The duet between the boys on different sides of the fence - always harmonious but never symmetrical - the acts of violence - the cashiering of the arrogant and sadistic Lieutenant Kotler - and so much more of which space does not permit proper acknowledgement.

There was also an excellent score by Gaty Yeschon reminiscent of the compositions of the time - at least in this country, America and even Russia though not perhaps Nazi Germany.  It must have been difficult to play and seemed from the luxury of my chair particularly difficult to dance but it fitted the ballet exactly.

There were sets cleverly transporting us to the Reichs Chancery, the Commandant's home, the boundary of the concentration camp and even the train and gas chambers by Mark Bailey. The outline of that monstrous sign, "Arbeit macht frei" (as horrifying as the inscription on the gates of Hell "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate") made me shudder. Bailey's uniforms and civilians' costumes seemed authentic to the last detail.

Finally, there was some exquisite lighting by Tim Mitchell. The pool of red light around Kotler's body represented his death in combat eloquently and chillingly.

The dancers, as I said above, were splendid.

The boys, Matthew Koon who danced Bruno (the Commandant's son) and Filippo di Vilio who danced Shmuel (the prisoner), central to the story, were lyrical. The playful, loving, innocent Bruno with his cartwheels and jumps. The starving, beaten, almost dehumanized Schmuel with his arabesques. How I rejoiced as he sank his teeth into an apple, How I wept as the cloud destroyed them both.

Mlindi Kualshe, often cast as a villain even though he is a most affable young man, radiated evil as the Fury. He was an excellent choice for the role.  He emerged from his mask with a gleaming smile and special applause at the reverence.

Javier Torres, the company's remaining premier dancer, interpreted the Commandant's role with sensitivity and sophistication.  This was a man who would almost certainly have been hanged at Nuremberg for his crimes.  However, he was also a loving father and husband and even in the running of the camp he showed signs of humanity. A much more complex character than O'Brien in Jonathan Watkin's 1984.  Torres discharged that role magnificently.

Also magnificent was Hannah Bateman who danced his wife.  A vain and spoilt beauty - a model of Aryan womanhood - hollowed out by conscience and in the end the loss of her son in her husband's death machine.  A formidable dancer.  A superb actor.  I can think of few artists from any company who could have carried off that challenging role anything like as well.

Magnificence, too, from Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Bruno's sister who swallowed the Nazi message, perhaps because of the attentions of Lieutenant Kotler (Sean Bates) who delivered it, Mariana Rodrigues, the Commandant's mother who would have none of that message, Dominique Larose, the Commandant's maid, and indeed each and every other member of the cast.  I don't know whether anyone else joined me but I was compelled to rise to my feet after that performance.  That's not something I do every day.

Yesterday's was almost the last performance of the current run.  The show moves on to Hull next month and then that's it for the time being. I hope it stays in the company's repertoire for I would love to see it again.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Ballet Couple


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There is a great overlap between film and dance. It started long before The Red Shoes.  Pavlova experimented with the camera as you can see from her clip of The Dying Swan In Leeds of All Places - Ashton Pavlova and Magic  18 Sept 2013.  So, too, did Nijinsky as you can see from Hommage au Faun 9 July 2013.

When I interviewed Kenny Tindall in "A Many Sided Genius" - Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017 we talked about the cinema which he refers to as "church". Tindal compared the work of a choreographer to that of the director of a film:
"The roles were similar and maybe even converging as techniques and technology that had been developed for the cinema were increasingly used in ballet. I recalled the filming of The Architect to which project I had contributed (see Tindall's Architect - How to Get a Piece of the Action - Literally! 7 June 2014). I asked whether another film might result from Casanova. Tindall’s eyes sparkled. No concrete plans as yet, he said, but would it not be splendid to film Act I in Venice and Act II in Paris."
I was reminded of my conversation with Tindall when I saw New Moves on 24 June 2017.   As I said in my review:
"The most dramatic work of the evening was Thomas van Damme's Convergence which he created for Skyler Martin and Clara Superfine to music by Gorecki. Superfine is yet another dancer whose career I follow closely (see Thank You Ernst 17 March 2016). Through superb use of lighting reminiscent of cinema, he seemed to force the dancers together. They seemed to approach each other but not as lovers, more like predator and prey. It seemed like a gripping narrative though the programme notes suggest something gentler:
"1. Independent development of similar characters often associate with similarity of habits or environment.
2. Moving toward union or uniformity."
As he has mastered the technique of building suspense, I look forward to seeing whether van Damme will use that technique in his future work."
I have not had to wait very long. He used the same technique in Girls Night with Riho Sakamoto and Yuanyuan Zhang,  This is one of a number of short films that Thomas van Damme has made with Youanyuan Zhang as The Ballet Couple.  They have their own YouTube Channel, Facebook page and Twitter stream.  They describe themselves as:
"Professional ballet dancers in love enjoying life and youtube. 
Follow us in our life with our special jobs and crazy adventures! 
Tell us about your adventures and experiences with dance or other. 
Love, 
Yuanyuan & Thomas"
You have already seen enough of them to appreciate their talents.  Just imagine their potential.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Ann Maguire Gala 2017


On Sunday 3 Sept, my friend Erin and I attended the Ann Maguire Gala 2017 at Leeds Grand Theatre. The money raised by the ticket sales went towards the Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund less the essential running costs. All the performers and stage crew volunteered to be part of this event. 

But this event was not just any old dance gala.  No. It was an incredible opportunity for us to feast our eyes upon dancers from the Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet and Ballet Boyz. The repertoire consisted of choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, Frederick Ashton, Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett, Alastair Marriott, Steven McRae and Christopher Wheeldon.

As one who does not have a lot of money, this was an opportunity for me to see some of my favourite dancers.

I was so incredibly excited!

Erin and I filled with excitement for the night's event. 
The show began with an introduction by Wayne Sleep.  I was surprised to see how small he is in real life

The first act included
  • the second movement pas de deux from Concerto,
  • a piece enitled simply New Work
  • the White Swan pas de deux, 
  • Quizas
  • Aeternum pas de deux and 
  • Voices of Spring.  
I shan't go into detail about every piece of the programme, but will instead talk about the pieces that have stuck in my mind since Sunday night.
Quizas was a new piece choreographed by Will Tuckett, to the track of the same name by Nat King Cole and Shigeru Umebayashi. It was performed by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera. It has a very latin vibe to it but was still balletic.  I truly found myself falling in love with it. I just wanted to get up and dance with them. It looked so incredibly fun! And, of course, effortless, much to the credit of the dancers.

Ashton's Voices of Spring was performed by Yuhui Choe and recently promoted Alexander Campbell. It was so beautiful to watch. It left me feeling like I was dreaming at the end of the act!

The second act opened with a musical medley of songs from Les Miserables and West Side Story performed by Leeds Youth Opera.

Act two included
  • Debussy's Clair de Lune performed by Edward Watson,
  • Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour pas de deux,
  • Asphodel Meadows - second movement pas de deux
  • Northern Ballet's 1984 by Jonathan Watkins- the final pas de deux
  • Steven McRae's famous tap piece Czardas
  • Meditation from Thais pas de deux, and 
  • Le Corsaire - pas de deux.
Clair de Lune was one of my favourite performances of the whole night. It was very simple and elegant. Watson executed the most incredible attitude turns (believe me when I say from my own experience they're hard). His ending position which was a plié in second, left Erin and me breathless for he did not move at all - for what seemed like forever. Not even shaking!

Czardas by Steven McRae was so much fun. He was accompanied on the stage with violinist Vasko Vassilev. Both artists were truly incredible to watch.  I would love to watch this over again and again.*

Le Corsaire pas de deux was performed by Akane Takada and Benjamin Ella. Akane did all 32 fouette turns perfectly and Benjamin flew across the stage with his incredible jumps. It was a truly a delight to watch. It left the audience on such a high note!

Finally, the night concluded with a thank you from Wayne Sleep and Emma Maguire (the daughter of the late Ann Maguire and event organiser) followed by, of course. the curtain call. each of the performers was given a single red rose.  I was left feeling overwhelmed and happy to have watched such a wonderful night of performances.

Myself with Edward Watson
Erin with Alexander Campbell

The night, however, did not end there for Erin and I decided to go to the stage door after the performance. We were fortunate enough to meet Alexander Campbell, Steven McRae, Fumi Kaneko and Edward Watson. All of whom were lovely, and we had enjoyable conversations with them. We found out that the stage was raked, which made us gasp even more. We sadly did not meet any of the other artists due to having to catch a train back to Huddersfield from Leeds and it was quite late. But I still cannot believe we met some of our absolute favourite dancers, let alone watched them perform. It will be a night I will remember for the rest of my life!

Amelia x

* You can.  He performed it on World Ballet Day and a video of his performance is right here (Ed).

Monday, 4 September 2017

Shanghai Ballet - "The Greatest Swan Lake in the World"


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Shanghai Ballet Swan Lake, Theater Carré, Amsterdam, Wed 30 Aug 2017.

Remco Van Grevenstein 

Last Wednesday. I saw Swan Lake for the first time on stage. I had seen it a couple of times before on YouTube and other sites with performances by the Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. This was also the first time I had sees a ballet company from China. It was fabulous. It was billed as the ''Greatest Swan Lake in the World'' and with 48 swan's it was pretty big. If you have ever been to the Carré Theatre you will know that the stage is not as big as those of most Opera Houses, but they somehow made it work.

With 48 swans as well as Princess Odette and Baron von Rothbart on stage, there were a lot of people. Choreographer Derek Deane made it possible. Perhaps they should have called this ballet Swan Sea - but who is counting?

The role of Odette/Odile was danced by Qi Bingxue. According to an interview on Dutch TV, this was the first time that she had danced in this ballet as a principal dancer. She did a great job. The role of Siegfried was danced by Wu Husheng. While I think he is a good dancer, I did not like his hesitation in the PDD.  His dance did not seem to flow. The rhythm was staccato: move - break - move - break. I did not appreciate that.*

What I did like at the end was the standing ovation for the corps de ballet. It was the first time that I had seen that in a ballet or indeed any other show. After the whole company had appeared on stage the principals stepped aside so that the corps could receive their own standing ovation.  Indeed the public clapped even harder for them.

According to their website the Shanghai Ballet have been touring the globe for a year, so perhaps they will show up some day at an auditorium near you.

Rothbart was performed by a chap called Wu. I can't remember his family name or find it on the Internet, but he was great in that role both as the baron and as the sorcerer.

What I missed was the lovers' sacrifice at the end. In this ballet, both Siegfried and Odette got into a small barque and sailed away into the future. A bit too tame for my taste

* Readers may like to see Graham Watts's interview with Wu Husheng and Qi Bingxue on DanceTabs on 14 Aug 2016 (Ed).

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Welcome Silver Swans

Author Marek Szczepanek
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The top item of my RAD newsletter features Angela Ripon in a dance studio above the headline "Silver Swans Take Flight". The article announces that the RAD is piloting ballet classes for the over-55s in the UK and elsewhere to be taught by specially trained instructors under the SILVER SWANS trade mark and that Angela Ripon is promoting them.  No classes have been arranged just yet but the RAD's website shows a map of the UK where those instructors are located. The most northerly is in Billingham and the most southerly in Helston unless you count Jersey which also has a teacher at Saint-Ouen. The RAD map complements Sophie Rebecca's more comprehensive map of adult ballet classes in the UK some of which also cater for the over 55s.

The RAD's initiative seems to have been a long time in the making.  I reported on three taster classes in Haslingden, Richmond and Glossop marketed by the RAD under the SILVER SWANS sign as long ago as 12 Feb 2014 (see Migrating Swans - Dance Classes for the Over 50s in the North 12 Feb 2014). Interestingly, the first use of the words SILVER SWANS to refer to dancers of a certain age appears to have been by the BBC.   Those words appeared in the headline for an article about a Scottish Ballet class for older dancers by Emma Ailes as long ago as 18 Oct 2013 (see 'Silver Swans' taking to the barre later in life for ballet lessons 18 Oct 2013 BBC).

If you are over 55 and want to return to dance after a gap of many years or even take up ballet for the first time, you do not have to wait for the RAD.  Northern Ballet Academy has been running several beginners and improvers classes a week for dancers over the age of 55 in Leeds for many years.  As you can see from the class timetable, it now runs classes for beginners and improvers over the age of 55 at its studios in Leeds on Tuesdays and Fridays as well as two classes in Gomersal on Monday mornings. I started the beginners' class in Leeds almost exactly 4 years ago. If you are wondering what to expect on your first day. I wrote about my first experiences in Realizing a Dream on 12 Sept 2013. You can actually watch a video of our class in action and find links to lots of other articles on dancing in later life in We're in the Paper 15 April 2013.

I know for a fact that there are similar classes in London run by Rambert which seem to attract royal patronage (see Mercury Movers 60+ on the Rambert website), Birmingham (see Move into Ballet on the Dance Exchange website), Newcastle (see Ballet Beginners on the Dance City website) and Glasgow (see Regenerate on the Scottish Ballet website). For the more ambitious or extrovert there are elder companies in Glasgow and London which perform before a paying public (see Caledonian Cousins 9 June 2015 and Sage Dance Company 19 June 2017) and indeed Canberra (see Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015).

One other thing to note. I have found out that there is not much difference between an over 55 improvers class in Leeds and any other adult ballet class.  We do exactly the same barre and centre exercises and the teacher expects exactly the same degree of effort and commitment from us as she does from her other students.  I discovered that by accident when I strayed into Christopher Hinton-Lewis's class after I was prevented from attending my over 55 class by a fallen tree on the A1 (see It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class 8 Dec 2013). So if there is no over 55 class in your town, don't be afraid to join an all age class as you will not feel out of place.  I discovered KNT in my home town of Manchester three years ago and have never looked back. I do not know a more congenial group of classmates or more encouraging teachers on the planet (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014).

So I wish RAD and their students every success with their SILVER SWANS venture. I shall be very pleased to assist them in any way I can. If anyone who takes a SILVER SWANS class would care to review it for me I shall be very glad to publish it. I encourage everyone of every age who loves ballet to check out their local dance school for an adult ballet class.  I remember a poster a few years ago with the words "You can't buy happiness but you can buy a ballet class which is kinda the same thing." That is just so true.