Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Frohes neues Jahr

Musikverein Vienna    Source Wikipedia

Like the Scots, we Mancunians make (or at least did make) a fuss of New Year. My family kept the tradition of "letting in the New Year" even in suburban Surrey where I lived from the age of 6 until I went away to St Andrews for university and to Los Angeles for graduate school. Indeed I have kept up the tradition even in those exotic places where they have their own ways of celebrating the New Year. The head of the household (so long as he has or had black hair) slips out at 23:55 on 31 Dec with a gift wrapped slice of bread and lump of coal symbolizing a hope for food and warmth in the coming winter and returns at about 00:02 on 1 Jan to be greeted by mother with a slice of Christmas cake, a mince pie and a glass of sherry.

I love New Year even more - or rather very much more - than Christmas with its tarnished tinsel, moulting pine needles, re-cycled turkey, bad temper, insincerity and utter extravagance. I celebrate it quietly with family or friends. I have tried the American way with a party, the Scots way with wall to wall whisky, the London way freezing for fireworks, even the Sierra Leonean way with a watch night service followed by wild rejoicing "Happy new year me no die-o, Tell God tenke for life" but I like the Mancunian way best.

Before the New Year is even out of nappies there is the New Year's Day concert from the Musikverein in Vienna. It is one of the few television programmes I endeavour not to miss. I hope one day to attend the concert in person. I was actually a guest at a function in the Musikverein when the City Council invited the International Bar Association for which the Austrian post office actually issued a special stamp. And as a balletomane the best part of the whole concert is the dancing.

We tend to overlook Austria's contribution to ballet but it is not insignificant. Ludwig Minkus, the composer of the score for Don Quixote came from Vienna and indeed died there in 1917. There is Lichine's delightful Graduation Ball to the music of Johann Strauss which used to be part of Festival's repertoire but has sadly been dropped. There are the dancers of the Vienna State Ballet which include our very own James Stephens of Huddersfield. As I said in my review of The Choral's Messiah we dance as well as sing in Huddersfield and we have David Bintley to prove it. Indeed, I think a little bit of our Huddersfield music may be played occasionally to the 12 dance superstars of the future.

This year the State Ballet performed three dances, two from the Liechtenstein Palace and a waltz from the Musikverein itself. Much of the attention this year was on Vivienne Westwood's costumes for the dancers - very Graduation Ball and very La Syulphide - but I think Ashley Page's choreography deserved a cheer. I particularly liked his arrangement of Lanner's Die Romantiker and the Blue Danube. I was distracted from the choreography for Delibes's Sylvia by the tartan which did not seem to relate to the ballet at all.

Before writing this post I read Dave Tries Ballet's Goals for 2014 and had a few reflections of my own. Whereas Dave looks forward I have looked back at some of the many delights of the year.

Sarah Kundi's Depouillage which led me to the magnificent Ballet Black and from there to MurleyDance with its talented dancers. I can't watch Kundi without tears welling up though, having said that, I am an equally passionate fan of the other 5 dancers.

Much the same thing happened with the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet. Because I was married to a Sierra Leonean for nearly 28 years I was intrigued to learn about Michaela dePrince and was thrilled by what I saw of her virtuosity on YouTube. But seeing her on film was nothing compared to seeing her on stage. She is quite the most exciting dancer I have seen in years. And she is one of 12 outstanding talents.   I love them all.

Other highlights of the year? I saw the Stuttgart Ballet dance Taming of the Shrew at last, a ballet that I have wanted to see for the last 44 years.  I rekindled my love for Scottish Ballet through watching Hansel and Gretel.  I experienced something remarkable at the West Yorkshire Playhouse when my beloved Northern Ballet danced A Midsummer Night's Dream. And I saw Nixon's Cinderella less than a week ago which was a triumph.

I have seen a lot of ballet in 2013 and I look forward to some more this year. I am looking forward in particular to seeing Antoinette Sibley again at the Royal Ballet School on 2 Feb.

At the end of the concert in Vienna the conductor and orchestra wish the world "Frohes neues Jahr" and that gentle readers is my wish to all of you.

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