Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Isabelle Brouwers in Kibera


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Over 4 years have elapsed since I first wrote about Mike Wamaya's ballet class in Kibera (see What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013). The world took an interest in that class towards the end of last year when The Guardian featured it on its Facebook page and other news outlets followed suit (see Recognition for the Kibera Ballet Class 9 Jan 2017).

Shortly after that feature appeared, dancers and companies in Britain offered help.  Birmingham Royal Ballet sent pointe shoes to the class (see Thank you Birmingham Royal Ballet 17 Jan 2017). Yesterday, after being reminded of its blog by Feedspot (see We hate to blow our own trumpet but .... 28 March 2017) I read that Isabelle Brouwers of English National Ballet had actually Kibera and given a class there (see Isabelle Brouwers teaches ballet to Kenyan children in Kibera slum 8 Feb 2017 ENB Blog).

I have always had a lot of affection for English National Ballet ever since I attended their Christmas performances of The Nutcracker at the Festival Hall. I have a high regard for that company and their artistic director, Tamara Rojo, not only for their work on stage but also for their work for the community, and in particular, their classes for patients with Parkinson's disease (see ENB's Big Give to Dance for Parkinson's 25 Nov 2016). It came as no surprise to read:
"Backed up by my ever supporting parents, and my wonderful colleagues and Artistic Director Tamara Rojo at the English National Ballet, who helped me gather an incredible amount of dancewear and shoe donations, I was all set for what I knew would be one of the most eye opening and life changing events of my life!"
The article on Brouwers's visit is a very good read and I commend it to my own readers.

I also commend the triple bill of ballets by Pina Bausch, William Forsythe and Hans van Manen at Sadler's Wells this week which I wish I could get to see.  If any of my readers wants to offer me a review I will be very pleased to publish it.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

We hate to blow our own trumpet but ....

Author Achias
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................ We come in at number 36 of the Top 60 Ballet Blogs & Websites Every Ballet Dancer Must Follow.  Not only that but we are number 3 in the UK. The British blogs and websites that are ahead of us are The Guardian's blog on the Royal Ballet which is number 3 in the world and English National Ballet's  at number 4. Blog numero uno, incidentally, is Ballet Reddit of San Francisco which has nearly 1.1 million Facebook and 452,000 twitter followers and ranks number 24 on Alexa.

The top 60 ballet blogs are chosen from thousands of top Ballet blogs in Feedspot's index using search and social metrics which are refreshed once a week. The latest update was 8 Feb 2017 which was at the start of our best month ever. According to Anuj Agarwal who keeps the index, the Top Ballet Blogs list is the most comprehensive list of best ballet blogs on the internet. He writes:
"I’m honoured to have you as part of this! I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world."
Apparently, blogs and websites are ranked on the following criteria
  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review.
I did not apply to be on this list and I paid nothing for the ranking. Indeed, I knew nothing about the listing or Mr Agarwal's website until this evening. But I am glad to be there and gladly return an electronic high-five to Feedspot. In acknowledging the ranking I need to thank my many contributors without whom this blog would be nothing.

We now have just under 300,000 page-hits, I expect the 300,000th this week or next. Our five top articles as of now are:
Out top audiences are the UK, USA, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Ukraine, Italy, Australia and Canada. This is a tremendous boost to morale. We hope to raise our game and eventually take the #1 slot.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Pacific Northwest Ballet experiments with Virtual Reality


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I have already mentioned experiments by the Royal Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet with virtual reality ("VR") in Virtual Reality in Ballet 13 Sept 2016. The latest company to try the technology is Pacific Northwest Ballet ("PNB") which has collaborated with Pixvana Inc ("Pixvana"), a Seattle software startup building a video creation and delivery platform for the emerging mediums of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality ("XR") to create Silent Resonance which appears above.

The video was directed by Scott Squires. Pixvana's CTO, Creative Director and Co-Founder who has a long and successful history in digital production technology (see the About page on Pixvana's website) and choreographed by Price Suddarth, one of the company's artists. The dancers in the video are Emma Love Suddarth and Miles Pertl. The music is Lost in Space by Max Richter.

According to the joint press release by PNB and Pixvana, this collaboration is the result of an effort by PNB's artistic director, Peter Boal, to leverage technology to reach new audiences. There is more information on the work including an interview with Suddarth in New Release: Silent Resonance and
Ballet Lovers Discover VR at Pointe to the Stars on Pixvana's website. Pointe to the Stars is a fundraising event for PNB Stars, a volunteer organization made up of energetic women who are dedicated to the support of PNB through special events, fundraising, scholarship support and member education. Moneys raised by that organization support talented young dancers from the United States and elsewhere through their studies at the PNB School. Readers anywhere in the world can contribute to that worthwhile project through the company's Donate page and I invite them to do so.

PNB describes itself as "one of the largest and most highly regarded ballet companies in the United States" It has 47 dancers (about the same size as Northern Ballet) and gives 100 performances every year. It is based in Seattle where the Microsoft Corporation and many other high-tech businesses are located and tours extensively within the USA and abroad.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

An Adventure Indeed

John Teniel's White Rabbit






































Chelmsford Ballet Company Alice's Adventures Chelmsford Civic Theatre, 25 March 2017, 19:30

I have been coming to the Chelmsford Civic Theatre for the Chelmsford Ballet Company's annual show since 2014 (see The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmicks but with Love and Joy 20 March 2014, A Delight Indeed 22 March 2015 and A Real Beauty: Chelmsford Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty 25 March 2016). Every show has been excellent but Alice's Adventures which I saw last night was by far the best.

Although the company has staged ballets based on Alice in Wonderland twice before (see the list of productions on the company's website), this was an entirely new production with a new plot, new choreography and new designs with some amazing computer generated graphics and inspired dancing. Save for the score which was Carl Davis's arrangement of various works by Tchaikovsky for English National Ballet's 1995 production of Alice in Wonderland everything was created by members of the company. Annette Potter, the company's artistic director, contributed the story and choreography, Ann Starling the designs and Phil Rhodes the special effects.

The ballet began with a prologue where Alice and her sister took a stroll in a park. There they took tea at an open air café called Hatter's run by a rather eccentric proprietor of the same name. There they spotted a hurried and forgetful businessman with a predilection for carrots, a bossy schoolmistress with a party of children, a sleepy urchin, a street vendor selling carrots among other things and a pair of workmen manhandling a tree. Alice was drawn to a hole in which the workmen tried to plant the tree. She stood on the brink. Then a gauze curtain fell onto which images of Alice floating through space were projected. The curtain rose to show her recumbent on the floor of a strange land with food that made her grow and drink that made her shrink. All the individuals that Alice had seen in the park were transposed to this land. The businessman became a giant white rabbit, the café proprietor the Mad Hatter, the schoolmistress the Queen of Hearts, the urchin the dormouse and the vendor the duchess. Alice took tea with the Mad Hatter, met Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, played croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs and encountered all sorts of other characters narrowly escaping decapitation at the command of the Queen only through a rapid return to the real world where she emerged from what had become a rather disturbing dream.

Annette Potter had a cast that ranged in skill and experience from the company's guest artist, Andrei Teodor Iliescu, to some very young ballet students and she had to create dances for them all.  Her choreography was incredibly ingenious. Here are just two examples. The experience of growing after eating the food labelled "East Me" was achieved by Alice's stretches on pointe. The experience of shrinking by splits on the floor. Potter drew out Iliescu's virtuosity while allowing everyone in between from the youngest student to Alice and the other soloists to shine.

There were a lot of dancers in the show and each and every one excelled from the tiniest hedgehog upwards. Sadly I shall omit some names that deserve substantial credit. All I can say is that you were all stars. You must have felt that from the loud and sustained applause at the reverence and at many points throughout the show.

Iliescu was magnificent as the white rabbit and carrot crunching businessman. Tall and slender all eyes were drawn to him, particularly his graceful jumps and turns. I had last seen him in Leeds in Chris Marney's Scenes from a Wedding for Ballet Central (see Dazzled 3 May 2015). According to the programme, Iliescu came to Central after Sara Matthews spotted him in Lausanne (see his performance as Albrecht in the 2013 competition). He was offered a full scholarship and has been here ever since.

Iliescu was partnered delightfully by Darci Wilsher whom I had last seen in Marney's Carnival of the Animals for the 2015 show. She was the perfect Alice, a role that demanded not only a mastery of technique but also of mime and drama.

Andrew Potter was a splendid Hatter. A great character dancer, he had impressed me as Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. I understand that Gary Avis was in the audience on Thursday night. I think he would have been reminded of himself. Samantha Ellis was a fearsome queen and schoolmarm but also occasionally a fetchingly flirtatious young woman whom we couldn't hate. Isabelle Fellows was a fine dormouse, Stacey Byrne an impressive duchess, Scarlett Man a beautiful bluebell, Megan Roberts and Alice Brecknell were a hilarious Dum and Dee and Lucy Abbot an equally amusing half stoned caterpillar.  No show by Chelmsford Ballet would be complete without an appearance by Marion Pettet. She entered in the prologue, a small role but one that she performed with her usual aplomb.

The sets and costumes deserve a special mention. They literally jumped out of Teniel's illustrations. I particularly liked the Cheshire cat which glided above the stage from a gantry. The company has a genius of a special effects designer in Phil Rhodes. I can think of at least one choreographer inspired by film not a million miles from Leeds but who is now in Germany who would have been mightily impressed had he seen those computer generated effects.

This is the company's 70th year and it has achieved a lot. It has launched more than a few careers in dance including that of Cara O'Shea, one of my favourite teachers at Northern Ballet Academy who is also a talented choreographer (see my review of Small Steps and Other Pieces - Leeds CAT End of Term Show 2 July 2016). Chelmsford Ballet will also have inspired three generations of kids to step up to the barre and created a considerable audience for dance in Essex. It is a great example of what dancers, teachers and other artists in a medium size town can do. We have the same building blocks in great profusion in the Northern Powerhouse. Would it not be wonderful to follow Chelmsford Ballet's example there.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

A New Interactive Resource: Royal Ballet School's Ballet History Timeline

Bridge of Aspiration between the Royal Ballet School and the Royal Opera House
Photo Edward
Source Wikipedia
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The Royal Ballet School has recently compiled a magnificent resource for anyone who is interested in the history of dance in the United Kingdom called the Ballet History Timeline. It consists of nearly 750 images of items held in The Royal Ballet School Special Collections together with commentary written by the School’s Manager of Special Collections, Anna Meadmore. There is a useful introductory video on YouTube which states what is in the collection and how to use it.

At present. the Timeline covers the period between 1862 (the year in which Marius Petipa was appointed chief ballet master of the Maryinsky Ballet) and 1956 (the year in which the Royal Ballet received its royal charter and, also incidentally, the year in which the Bolshoi made its first appearance in the United Kingdom). However, the intention is to go back much further and also to advance to the present time.

Readers can access this resource at http://timeline.royalballetschool.org.uk/. There are at present 6 introductory chapters:
  • "Prologue: Marius Petipa and the Imperial Russian Ballet 1860–1897
  • The Birth of Modern Ballet: the Diaghilev Ballets Russes 1898–1919
  • Early British Ballet: foundations and pioneers 1920–30
  • Early British Ballet: building a repertoire 1931–38
  • World War Two: a national ballet for Britain 1939–46
  • Formative Years: The Royal Ballet 1947–56".
Users can either click on those or use the search facility.  

I have already had a lot of fun with this resource. I started by searching for "Petipa" and found references to him recurring in just about every chapter. The last of those references was:
"1862 – Marius PetipaBallet Master of Imperial Russia"
I clicked on the hypertext link and came across a page headed with that title bearing a splendid photo of Petipa in a costume from the ballet The Pharaoh's Daughter.  The introductory text states:
"Marius Petipa (1818–1910) was a French dancer and choreographer; he was chief Ballet Master of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg for more than 40 years (1862–1903). The repertoire and style of Imperial Russian Classicism is exemplified by the enduring ‘ballet classics’ that Marius Petipa and his assistant, Lev Ivanov, created to the glorious ballet scores of Pyotr Tchaikovsky."
More information can be obtained by clicking "Read More". There is also a short biography and a page of drawings, photos and an interesting lithograph of Arthur Saint-Leon's dance notation on a page headed "Gallery".

One of the pleasures of taking up ballet again very late in life is the awareness that one is participating albeit in a very small way in a glorious artistic tradition. It keeps me going when my legs ache and right foot screams out in agony. It motivates me to drive to Truro and back to see a youth ballet and, above all. to keep this publication going.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Au Revoir, Ailsa, and Good Luck

Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Photo Donaldytong
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Last night I joined many of my fellow adult dance students at KNT Danceworks to say au revoir to Ailsa Baker, a favourite teacher. She was my first teacher at KNT (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014). We have all learned a lot from her and, just as importantly, we have all enjoyed her classes.

She had a pretty full class last night and its numbers were swollen by students from her other classes. When our principal, Karen Sant, presented her with an enormous card bearing all our names, the applause was as loud and as enthusiastic as could have been expected by any ballerina.  Afterwards, we made our way to a nearby pub and the party was still going strong when I left to catch my last train home.

Ailsa is going to Dubai where ballet is booming. A new opera house has opened recently (see The Dubai Opera House 11 June 2016) and there are lots of people who want to study dance of all ages and ability ranges. It should be a great adventure for her.

We won't forget her. There is an English language common law court there where I can appear. I will remember to pack a leotard and shoes as well as my wig and gown next time I have business there. She has also promised to visit us whenever she comes back to Manchester. So we wish her bon voyage and au revoir but definitely not goodbye.

Bouvier's Romeo and Juliet in Barcelona


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Last week, one of my friends visited Barcelona. While she was there she took a tour of The Liceu Theatre and attended a rehearsal of Rigoletto. The theatre has just announced its programme for 2017 and 2018 which includes performances of Joëlle Bouvier's Romeo and Juliet by the ballet of the Grand Theatre of Geneva, the Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina. a triple bill by the youth company of the Theatre Institute of St Cujat and Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Dream by the Monte Carlo Ballet.

If I were a lady of leisure I would willingly see all four shows but if I had to select one it would be Bouvier's Romeo and Juliet.  I have already mentioned the Geneva Grand Theatre Ballet in Ballet in Switzerland on 27 Oct 2013 and Geneva Nutcracker on 25 Oct 2015. It was the company that premiered Christopher Bruce's Rooster which is now one of the most popular works in Rambert Dance's repertoire (see Rooster ................ :-) 4 Oct 2014). Its latest work is Philippe Cohen's Une Autre Passion based on Bach's St Matthew Passion which is about to open on 28 March at the Opera des Nations in Geneva.  The company will perform Romeo and Juliet at the Liceu between 3 and 7 Nov 2017.

Bouvier created Romeo and Juliet in 2009 for the 22 dancers of the Geneva Ballet (see the Romeo and Juliet web page on the choreographer's website). There is a feature on the ballet with comments by Bouvier on numeridanse.tv website. Although Bouvier retains Prokofiev's score the interpretation is completely original. The company has already taken this work on tour to France and South Africa where it has received very favourable reviews (see Raphaël de Gubernatis Danse : un "Roméo et Juliette" magistral! 8 April 2011 Le Nouvel Observateur).

The Geneva ballet tour extensively but I cannot remember their last trip to England if, indeed, they have ever performed here at all. They are never in Geneva when I am there for WIPO events. They are definitely not to be missed. As there are plenty of cheap flights to Barcelona it looks as though the 4 or 5 Nov at the Liceu is my best opportunity to see them.