Sunday, 30 November 2014

Cinderella - even better

Northern Ballet, Cinderella, Lyceum, Sheffield 29 Nov 2014

When I reviewed Northern Ballet's Cinderella at The Grand last Boxing Day I described it as "a triumph". Yesterday's performance at The Lyceum in Sheffield was even better.

It was much the same cast: Lucia Solari in the title role, Javier Torres as the Prince and Hiranao Takahashi as Cinderella's father and the Magician. The most significant change was that Hannah Bateman danced Cinderella's stepmother. I have admired Bateman for some time but I did not appreciate fully how good she was until yesterday evening. Having made her acquaintance at the Decadent Afternoon Tea last June to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Centre for Advanced Training I can attest to her amiability but in role she was the epitome of meanness, peevishness and vindictiveness. Her performance contributed considerably to my appreciation of the ballet. The other dancer I noticed particularly last night  was Rachael Gillespie who danced Cinderella as a child. She loves to dance. She radiates enthusiasm with her eyes and smile.

As with Gatsby two weeks ago I was able to concentrate on the score and choreography. First time round I barely listened to the Philip Feeney's music (possibly because it wasn't Prokoviev) but this time I did listen and fell in love with it.  It has been resonating in my brain - especially the closing scene where Cinders runs to the prince  - all nght. As in Gatsby there is some very clever choreography. The skating scene on the Crystal Lake, the performing bear and huskies and the ecstatic pas de deux between Cinders and the Prince are just three examples.

And talking of bears I now know why I did not appreciate the Royal Ballet's The Winter's Tale  first time round. Nixon has a performing bear danced by the entertaining Matthew Broadbent whereas Wheeldon uses fabric which just didn't work for me and still doesn't. I had seen Cinderella a few weeks earlier and it is so good that I think it spoiled me for everything else. In my last review I spoke of the magic and the Cinders mobile. This time I noticed the ingenuity of some of the other scenes such as the opening with its forest and river.

This year we have seen Cleopatra, Dracula, Gatsby  and now Cinderella which are Nixon's most popular works. The last is my favourite work in Northern's repertoire and I would argue that it is Nixon's best work.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Michaela DePrince at TEDx Amsterdam

This is not the first time I have mentioned TED (Technology Entertainment Design). I embedded the presentation of the educationalist Ken Robinson in Dance is as important as Maths on 17 Aug 2014 because he told a wonderful story about Gillian Lynne, choreographer of A Simple Man and Miracle in The Gorbals. Robinson's talk had received more hits than any other.

Here is another TED presentation that should run and run. Michaela DePrince gave this talk at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam where I saw her dance a year ago (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). Much of her speech is about her life. The appalling things that happened to her in Sierra Leone. Her adoption.  Growing up and learning to be a dancer in America.

But there was a message.
"10:32 the reason why I'm telling you my stories because I want to encourage
10:36 young people to aspire to dream I want people to understand that
10:40 is okay to be different it is OK
10:43 to stand out I'm different I want you to understand to believe
10:48 yourself to believe that you have talent even if you don't think you do"
Those words have moved me as much as her pas de deux with Sho Yamada from Diana and Actaeon in the same theatre.

I saw her dance that pas de deux with Yamda again  again in May in the Linbury Theatre and this time I brought Vlad's mum and my sister in law.  Both are Sierra Leonean. Vlad's mum came to us during the same civil war that DePrince mentioned in her talk.

DePrince has another message. Her life itself is a message of hope. Having emerged from the ordeal of war 20 years ago Sierra Leone is now tested with another.  Its people need hope. They need such a message.

Further Reading

About De Prince

8 July 2015   Michaela's Masterclass
29 June 2015  Going Dutch
31 March 2015 Dégagé
30 March 2015  Another Beautiful Picture of Michaela DePrince
26 March 2015 "Taking Flight" in more ways than one
2 March 2015 Dance with DePrince
20 Jan 2015  Cafe 164 to screen "First Position"
30 May 2014  And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden
28 May 2014 The Flying Dutchmen are coming to London
9 Dec 2013 Dutch National Ballet Junior Company: "Twelve Outstanding Talents" and "Stars of the Future"
25 Nov 2013 The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013
20 Nov 2013 The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company - more than just dePrince
4 Oct 2013  No Holds Barred
4 April 2013 Michaela DePrince

About Africa

7 Jan 2015  Back to Africa
8 Oct 2014   Could the Arts not do something about this horrible Scourge
20 May 2014 A Ballet School for Freetown
4 Feb 2014  Gala for Ghana
10 March 2013  Happy Mothers' Day
3 March 2013  What can be achieved by a good teacher
18 April 2007  Sierra Leone (from my law blog)

Remember the coster? Well 'e aint got no ballet school no more.

You remember "Wouldn't it be loverly", the conversation between the coster and the porter about adult ballet classes at Covent Garden? And his excitement in "The Coster gets his Answer" when the geezer in charge told him he could join his class.

Poor bloke! He's feeling a bit deflated right now because he has just discovered this email in his spam filter:
"Dear Adult Ballet Participant,
We hope you have been enjoying The Royal Ballet School adult ballet classes on Wednesday evenings. This has been a new initiative for 2014 which we have run in various formats over the last three terms and this trial period will conclude at the end of the autumn term.
Following extensive consultation, we regret to inform you that, in order to re-evaluate provision, the School has decided not to continue with adult ballet classes from January 2015. Therefore the last adult ballet class will be Wednesday 17th December 2014.
All classes are now fully booked meaning that online booking for the remaining classes this term is no longer available. If you are on the waiting list and a place in class becomes available, you will be contacted in good time.
The decision to suspend the adult ballet classes has not been made lightly; you will appreciate there are some significant considerations for the School including cost implications and child protection issues. Meanwhile, we suggest you research the following organisations, all of whom run established adult ballet classes:
The Place, 17, Dukes Road, London WC1H 9PY
Trinity Laban, Creekside, London SE8 3DZ Tel: 020 8305 9400
Central School of Ballet, 10 Herbal Hill, Clerkenwell Road, London EC1R 5EG Tel: 0207 837 6332
Rambert, 99 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PP Tel: 020 8630 0600
English National Ballet, 39 Jay Mews, London SW7 2ES
Thank you for your understanding in this matter and we hope you continue to enjoy taking adult ballet classes. Thank you also for your interest in The Royal Ballet School. If you would like updates concerning The Royal Ballet School and priority booking for events and open days, we recommend you consider joining our Friends.
Warmest wishes,
The Adult Ballet Team"
Never mind!  It was good while it lasted!  He learned a thing or two.  He's going to check out the classes that the Royal Ballet School suggested.  He has also heard of the RAD's syllabus and non-syllabus classes for adults, Pineapple, and the website.

He's also had a butcher's at the Danceworks newsletter which has lots of deals. He's hinted to the missus that he wouldn't say no to a Danceworks gift card. And he knows where he can go to work off the turkey and Christmas pud over the Christmas holidays.

So he's spoilt for choice, isn't he.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

Photo Wikipedia

In Oban, Stirling, Livingston, Paisley, Greenock, Musselburgh and Glasgow.

Ballet West, Scotland's other classical ballet company, is on tour. It will dance Romeo and Juliet in each of those towns on the following dates:

The principal roles will be danced by Jonathan Barton and Sara-Maria Smith who teach at the school. Other roles will be danced by the school's students some of whom are already beginning to distinguish themselves (see Natasha Watson in Lausanne 15 Nov 2014). If this show is anything like as good as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake it should be well worth the trek up the M6 and M74.


Edgar Degar  Ballet Class
Photo Wikipedia

Exactly two years ago I took my first ballet with Fiona Noonan at The Base Studios in Huddersfield.  It was my first class for 45 years. It wasn't easy. Most of the other students were young. Some were still at school. All had studied ballet for years. I was so unlike them. An overweight 63 year old barrister. I didn't even have the right kit. I took my first class in jogging trousers, tee-shirt and socks. I am sure the other students wondered why I was there and I certainly did. I can't say I enjoyed that class because I could  do hardly any of the exercises. I still can't do all of them even now. And my body ached for ages afterwards.

But I came back. I took private lessons from Fiona who patiently taught me to stack my body and balance first on two legs in demi and then one leg with the other in retiré. I managed to do the barre exercises and some of the jumps. Turns are a different matter - soutenus are all right and even chaînés but I just can't stay in relevé with my non-supporting leg in retiré long enough to do a full pirouette (see A Really Useful Video on Pirouettes 22 Nov 2014). And when I tried posé turns in Leeds I fell flat on my back.  I did wonder then whether I was getting a little too old for this ballet malarkey but I got up, dusted myself down and carried on.

I'm so glad I did because I love class and I have been trying to work out why. The music is one reason. We have some lovely pianists at Northern Ballet, particularly Alena Panasenka whom you can hear in the video but even the recording that Fiona and some of my other teachers use for the adagio is beautiful.

Camaraderie is another reason. The ladies in the film speak about it and it was that video that drew me to Northern Ballet. Those ladies and I danced together last June in And The Dance Goes On in which I had the time of my life and I am glad to say that the ladies are now my friends.  I have also made friends in my other classes in Huddersfield, Sheffield and Manchester.

I have also been fortunate in having wonderful teachers.  None of them resembles the awful Miss Polly in Ballet Black's Dogs Don't Do Ballet. The bond between dancer and teacher is very special. Dame Antoinette Sibley spoke of it when she talked about her classes with Tamara Karsavina (see Le jour de gloire est arrive 3 Feb 2014) as did Elena Glurdjidze and indeed my friend Pamela Newton when remembering Olga Preobrajenska. Look at the interaction between teacher and students in the classes in Moscow and San Francisco in Adult Ballet in Moscow and San Francisco. I have experienced something like that in my own short ballet career as you may recall from my dialogue with Fiona after I told her that I had spent the afternoon listening to Clement Crisp and Antoinette Sibley:
"'Oh super jealousy' she replied.
'Don't be jealous' I responded 'You are also part of the tradition. You live it, I just see it. And you pass on your gift to others.'
'Awwwww Thanku xxxx'
'When I go to class you or Annemarie represent every dancer, choreographer and teacher who ever lived'.
'Aw Jane! I won't be able to leave the room soon'
'I am only paraphrasing Sibley. She should know. Through you I am linked to your teacher who is probably linked to someone at Ballet Russes who is linked to Petipa.'
'xxxxx wise woman!'"
And that brings me onto my final and most important reason which I only appreciated fully this month after watching the company classes of English National Ballet and Chantry Dance who do some of the same exercises that I do with my teachers. It is the sense of being part of a worldwide community with a 200 year heritage. 

That is why I push myself to class even when I feel rotten and why I am always so glad to have done so after we bow or curtsy and clap our teacher and pianist.

Further Reading

Adult Beginner   First Class Stories  Adult Beginner 
David Wilson    Just Started Ballet  Dave Tries Ballet
Greta Wright   How to choose a Ballet class  Danceworks
Jane Lambert  For Emma 28 April 2914
Jane Lambert  Realizing a Dream 12 Sep 2013 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Really Useful Video on Pirouettes

Not long ago Adult Beginner posted the following appeal to her blog: Plz help a reader with her Pirouette Problem! 28 March 2014 Adult Beginner:
“I’ve been taking classes seriously for 2 years, 2-3 times a week. I am the ONLY person in my class who cannot do a pirouette. I can balance in passé, spot etc. but I cannot do even one turn. Its gotten to be a “thing.” Two teachers have said its all in my head since I have the requisite skills but its getting ridiculous. I mean, I actually felt like crying from frustration in class last night. The more I practice, the worse it gets. Basically, what happens most of the time is I “fall” out of the turn when I get halfway around. I have also fallen on my ass more times than I care to admit. I am hoping if you make this a post, lots of people will write in with advice and it will be the turning point (pun intended) of my life.”
That appeal elicited 38 responses from around the world including one from me which contained the best tip that I had received up to that date. Ironically it came from Southern California just like Adult Beginner.

Now I have exactly the same problem as K-boom (Adult Beginner's correspondent) and it has also bothered me. The problem with pirouettes is that if you know how to do them you just can't see a problem. You just can't understand why folk can't pick them up just as you did and indeed just as most other students seem to do. Well there is a problem and that it that the dancer has to do a lot of things at once. Fine if you are child, teenager or even a 20, 30 or 40 something beginner but not so easy if you are pushing 66 in February.

First, we have to learn how to rise and stay up in demi for more than a microsecond. Not easy when we are old for everybody's balance deteriorates with age. Next we have to learn to balance in retiré. Again not easy for us old fogeys for the same reason. And balancing on the supporting foot in relevé with the other foot in retiré in the centre of the studio is a very big ask indeed.  But that's only for starters. Dancers have to remember to "push catch" (as one of my teachers calls it) turning clockwise on the left foot which is itself counter-intuitive (or the opposite when turning anti-clockwise), find something in the studio to gaze at (otherwise known as spotting) and remember to position the non-supporting leg neatly behind in 4th at the end of the manoeuvre. All at the same time. Oh brother. Is it any wonder that our hair turns grey!

Now the useful tip from this Dutch video is to master the relevé and retiré bits at the barre. I have been copying Mr Wijnen using a towel rail for barre for the last hour or so and I think I have been making some real progress. I can't stay on demi for very long but I am getting better. At least I think so. Of course, the next stage is to do the pushing, catching, spotting and landing in the right sequence and that has to be done in the centre. But if I can balance on demi with my right paw in retiré I can at least get off what our erstwhile colonial cousins call "first base" in their version  of rounders.

I found Mr Wijnen's video on the Dutch National Ballet's Facebook page which I shared on my timeline but as not all my readers use Facebook I thought I would embed it here. It comes from a website called "Jump" for young fans of the Dutch National Ballet.  It is something that our ballet companies might like to consider.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Happy Prince in Halifax

Oscar Wilde, Author of The Happy Price
Photo Wikipedia

Oscar Wilde lived between 1854 and 1900. In 1888 he published a series of children's short stories entitled The Happy Prince and other Tales. To celebrate the 160th anniversary of Wilde's birth Paul Chantry has created a ballet based on The Happy Prince which his company, Chantry Dance Company, has taken (with two other works) on a nationwide tour. Yesterday the company was at The Square Chapel in Halifax. They delivered a heart warming performance that the audience loved and brought me to my feet.

The show opened with Eliza Wade carrying a lantern and a suitcase and calling out for anyone who might be there. She stumbled upon Oscar Wilde danced by David Beer. Wilde makes a paper swallow and thus begins the story. The swallow was brought to life by Rae Piper dressed in a blue. She is an impressive dancer combining power with grace but it is her power of expression that enchants me. It is the quality that I noted the first tine I saw the company in Sandman last May (Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance 10 May 2014) and I saw it again when Piper danced Scura in Chasing the Eclipse on 28 Sept 2014. The swallow delivers precious stones from a bejewelled gilded statue of the city's prince whose spirit sends those gems as gifts to relieve the suffering of the city's poor. Grazziano Bongiovnni danced that role with flair. A handsome young man with elegant movements he was a delight to watch - particularly in his pas de deux with Piper towards the end of the piece.  I had seen them dance that pas de deux at the company's open day in August.  I described in the post how my spine began to tingle in the way that it did when I saw Sibley and Dowell (Chantry Dance - Making Connections 30 Aug 2014). On stage and in costume they are even better.  I don't think that the company has released a video of the performance, but you can see a trailer for the show in my review of Sandman.

The Happy Prince was the first act of the show.  Two shorter works composed the second act: Rhapsody in Blue to Gershwin's well known music and All I can do is be me - the Bob Dylan Ballet to Bob Dylan. These works were also choreographed by Chantry whose repertoire is already long and diverse. While I enjoyed all three works my favourite was Rhapsody in Blue, partly because I love the music and the period but mainly because of the opportunity to see Chantry dance with Piper. I have already mentioned how much I admire her dancing. Well, her husband dances beautifully too. Tall and authoritative he commands a stage. He is thrilling to watch. Together they are magnificent. In this work Chantry danced a man on a train. An actor perhaps for he whipped out a copy of The Stage. Piper, again in blue, was The Lady of Jazz

The Bob Dylan ballet showed off the whole company including two talented young women, Camille Barrié and Rosie Macari. The scene opened with Bongiovanni in a party hat muttering to himself in Italian.  He was joined by Barrié also in a party hat muttering to herself in French. I have studied both languages but couldn't make much sense of either monologue. A few seconds later Macari entered the scene muttering equally incoherently in English. They were joined by Beer and Chantry who seemed to have had a good time at the party. Both were attracted to the same girl and a rivalry ensued to the strains of "All I Really Wanna Do" in which she was literally pulled by each of them. It must have been a challenge to dance.  And there were many other challenges in the choreography including a spectacular jump by both Barrié and Macari into the arms of their partners who hoisted them shoulder high.

The company travel light with costumes and a few props but they don't need more for they have an excellent lighting designer in Owain Davies. The one ballet that did require slightly more, The Happy Prince, showed off Zoe Squire's considerable ingenuity.

I have already mentioned the audience's applause. I am not sure that the cast expected it to be quite so strong because the auditorium is not large but Piper's smile was a delight to behold.  Anyway she was moved to say a few words about the company and its outreach and educational work including its associate programme of which Eliza Wade was a member. I mentioned the range of their work briefly in Chantry Dance - Making Connections and I reviewed the associates' show in Chantry Dance Associates: Lots of Promise 28 July 2014. I have personally benefited from one of their workshops for their dance director, Gail Gordon, coaxed me onto the stage of the Lincoln Drill Hall in May which gave me the confidence to put my name forward for the Northern Ballet Academy's end of term show (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014). If Chantry Dance can get a Rumpolean elephant like me to come on stage and enjoy herself they can do anything.

Earlier in the day I got a chance to see their company class and a rehearsal for the Dylan ballet. All dancers work hard. I appreciated that when I saw English National Ballet in class in Oxford three weeks ago (Coppelia in Oxford 2 Nov 2014) but I think this troupe works harder than most. I had been to class in Leeds in the morning and had done several of the same exercises. Watching the professionals from a distance of a few feet I noted  how they hold their arms in bras bas and second, how they define space in a forward port de bras, how they find their balance on demi-pointe and arabesque and much, much more. I hope I can remember and incorporate what I learned in my own dancing the next time I go to class.

Halifax was the penultimate stage of the tour. Tonight Chantry Dance are in London. So good was their show that I seriously thought of taking the day off and belting down the motorway to see it one last time. If you are in the capital tonight and can obtain a ticket do yourself a favour and get yourself over to The Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells at 19:45. After last night's show Piper told me that the company plans to dance The Happy Prince for children so there may be another chance to see it. But tonight is your last chance to see the whole triple bill including the gorgeous Rhapsody in Blue.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Food and Ballet

Gita Mistry's Dessert in Honour of Isaac Lee-Baker
Photo Gita Mistry

Food has lots of connections with ballet. It is of course fuel for the lifts and jumps that delight an audience, But a good meal also complements a memorable evening in the theatre. Sometimes it is part of the scenario of the ballet as in The Taming of the Shrew where Petruchio starves Katherina into submission. Occasionally a great dancer inspires a chef to create a great dish as happened when Anna Pavlova visited New Zealand. Something like that happened on Saturday when my friend Gita Mistry and I saw The Great Gatsby in Bradford (see Northern Ballet at its best: The Great Gatsby in Bradford).

Gita is an artist in her own right. She is a chef who won the BBC's Eating with the Enemy contest a few years ago. She won over 4 of the country's top food critics.  She is also a dancer who has performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and other venues. She has even kept me company at the barre more than once.

Like me Gita was impressed with The Great Gatsby. She particularly enjoyed Nixon's choreography with its soaring lifts, the dancers' virtuosity and passion, the costumes which accounted for a fleet of pantechnicons parked outside the Alhambra. One particular dancer stood out for her - Isaac Lee-Baker who danced the hapless Wilson in the ballet. She was so impressed with his performance that she created the dessert that appears above in his honour.

We had intended to courier it to Quarry Hill tomorrow but temptation got the better of us. It was scrumptious. I mean seriously scrumptious.  I might add that it had far too much cream and sugar than is good for a dancer so we really did Isaac Lee-Baker a favour by keeping it beyond his reach.  But Gita has shared her recipe in DanceFood - A Dessert for Isaac Lee-Baker 16 Nov 2014 Gita Mistry Food.  And if Isaac really wants to throw caution to the wind I am sure that Gita could be prevailed upon to make another just for him.

Over the next few weeks Gita and I will be exploring the relationship between food and dance in all its aspects. I can't promise any new dishes but there will certainly be plenty of tips and useful information.

Northern Ballet at its best: The Great Gatsby in Bradford

Northern Ballet "The Great Gatsby", Bradford Alhambra, 18 Nov 2014

I saw David Nixon'a The Great Gatsby for the first time on 7 March 2013 ("Life follows Art: The Great Gatsby" 8 March 2013). It was good then.  It is even better now.

The cast that I saw at the Bradford Alhambra last night were almost the same as last time: Martha Leebolt danced Daisy Buchanan, Tobias Batley Jay Gatsby, Kenneth Tindall Tom Buchanan and Giuliani Contadini Nick Carraway.  On the last occasion I had seen Benjamin Mitchell and Victoria Sibson dance the Wilsons.  Last night those roles were performed by Isaac Lee-Baker and Jessica Morgan respectively.

Each of those dancers excelled in their roles. They had danced those characters well in 2013 but this time they seemed to live them.   Isn't that supposed to happen in every narrative ballet?  Well yes and no. Every landscape is supposed to reflect the scene before the artist's eyes but it takes a work of genius to come to life. Well, yesterday I felt involved in the tragedy as though I was in Long Island and New York City all those years ago and in a way that I didn't before. Not for the first time several members of the audience rose to their feet for the curtain call including me.

Having seen the work before I concentrated on the detail. The choreography is very clever.  For example, Nixon did remarkable things with tyres incorporating one into Wilson's dance as though it were a partner. He slid along it and then hugged it as his wife slipped out of the garage for her liaison with Buchanan. The choreography is also very beautiful - particularly the final ecstatic pas de deux between Gatsby and Daisy which is shown on the clip above. All of this is set to a magnificent score, ingenious scenery and gorgeous costumes - all of which I mentioned in my previous review.

Yesterday I reflected on the treasure that we in the North have in this company. It deserved to win the Taglioni award for best company and it is right that it should be nominated for the National Dance Awards 2014. It has outstanding dancers in Batley, Leebolt, Moore and Tindall with more on the way at every level. A personal pleasure for me in that regard was to see Gavin McCaig on stage for the first time. I had first met this talented and personable young man in the audience for the mixed bill on the 21 June 2014 and again for Dracula on the 13 Sept 2014. On the 3 Sept 2014 Gavin gave me an interview which has proved to be the most popular article in this blog.

A few months ago in London Christopher Marney, my favourite living British choreographer, was asked by a young student to name his favourite dancer. He thought for a moment. "Lauren Cuthbertson" he mused but then the answer came to him "Northern Ballet" he replied "and Martha Leebolt in particular." I was so proud. I don't think Marney has ever worked with Northern Ballet but I hope that one day he will for I am sure that they would create something wonderful between them.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Natasha Watson in Lausanne

Théâtre de Beaulieu
Photo Wikipedia

Last year I celebrated Natasha Watson's success in The Genée in Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée 30 Sept 2013. Between the 1 and 8 February 2015 Ms Watson will be competing in the 43rd International Ballet Competition for the Prix de Lausanne. This talented young dancer will be the only British competitor in the finals of this competition. I for one will be rooting for her and I am sure that every other ballet goer will do the same.

Although I visit Scotland several times a year I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Ms Watson. However, I have seen her colleagues from Ballet West in The Nutcracker and Swan Lake as well as graduates of the school such as Sarah Mortimer who are now dancing with Ballet Theatre UK and they are good. Clearly, somebody is doing something right in Taynuilt.

The Prix de Lausanne is open to dancers aged between 15 and 18 who have not yet turned professional.  According to the organizers' website its mission is:
  • "To reveal the potential of exceptionally talented young dancers (ages 15 to 18) from around the globe by having them perform before a jury of world-renowned dance personalities
  • To open the doors to the world’s finest schools and companies for them by providing scholarships to the most prestigious international schools and companies
  • To promote their scholastic education (a dancer’s career is short-lived: from about age 18 to 38) by ensuring that they earn a high school diploma which will facilitate their career transition
  • To preserve their health by applying a strict health policy: eating habits and body mass index are scrutinised before the competition."
The list of prize winners is impressive. They include Steven McRae, Alina Cojocaru, Diana Vishneva, Benjamin Millepied, Christopher Wheeldon and Carlos Acosta. Ms Watson has already  done very well indeed just to get this far.

I regret that I cannot justify a week in Switzerland to see the competition but I do hope to see Ms Watson's fellow students and instructors in Romeo and Juliet in their annual tour which will culminate in a performance in the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow in February,  Ballet West have already taken this show to China where it was received very well and there are videos of the company's rehearsals on its Facebook page (see Scottish Ballet and Ballet West).

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Mancunian Nutcracker

Whenever I can I cross the Pennines to take the beginners or complete beginners classes at KNT Danceworks  (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014). The instructors are clear and patient and the students are friendly. Everything one could hope for in a ballet class.

KNT Danceworks is next door to The Dancehouse theatre which presents comedy, drama and music as well as dance. However, between the 11 and 13 Dec it will host Manchester City Ballet which provides performance experience for the students of the Northern Ballet School. Judging by the extracts from Coppelia, Giselle and other performances on the School's YouTube channel those young men and women are good.

I shall be there to review the show on the Friday. Booking details are set out on the poster above.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Scottish Ballet Costume Appeal

Between 13 Dec 2014 and 14 Feb 2015 Scottish Ballet are touring Scotland and the North of England with Peter Darrell's The Nutcracker. This was a sumptuous production when first performed as  can be seen from the photos on the 1970s web page of the website of the Peter Darrell Trust. Recreating this magnificent ballet does not come cheap and Scottish Ballet are appealing for contributions to the cost of the costumes.

You can pay £35 for a party dress

£70 for a rodent

£150 for a snow flake

£300 for Clara

£500 for the Sugar Plum
£1,000 for the Nutcracker
Whatever you want to
pay for anything else
The contributions received so far have been acknowledged on the costume appeal website and will be recorded in the programme. You can contribute to the appeal by clicking this link and filling out the form.

If you want to see the ballet in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen or Inverness you can click this link here for details. If you want to see it in Newcastle you can click here. I do hope Scottish Ballet will take The Nutcracker to the rest of the UK. It has a lot of fans throughout the country, particularly London where there is a massive audience for dance and Bristol where the company began.

If you want to learn more about this production there are pre-show talks and post show discussions in the theatres where the ballet is performed (see "Get Closer"). There are also films, photos of the costumes and rehearsals and details of workshops for kids and adults in Edinburgh and Glasgow which one little boy in London would just love if he could only get to Scotland.

I learnt to love ballet in Scotland which is why Scottish Ballet occupies a special place in my affections (see Scottish Ballet and Ballet West 3 Oct 2014). I do hope folk will support the costume appeal generously.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Ballet Black at Home in Leeds

Ballet Black Limbo Two of a Kind Dream Highlights 26 Feb 2014 from Wizard Video Productions Ltd on Vimeo.

Ballet Black may be based in London but when they come to Leeds we welcome that company as one of our own. It packs the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre.  We applaud the dancers until our hands are sore.  They clearly feel at home in Leeds for they dance here better than anywhere else.  The ambiance helps.  The theatre forms part of the complex of offices and studios in which Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance Theatre and the Northern Ballet Academy are based.  It is designed for dance and I can attest from personal experience that it is a great stage on which to dance. The seats are very close to the stage which makes it possible to catch detail that would be missed in a bigger auditorium.

I had already seen this triple bill three times - at the Linbury (Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury 26 Feb 2014 27 Feb 2014, Southport (What could be more thrilling than a Ride on a Roller Coaster? A performance by Ballet Black! 23 May 2014) and Nottingham (Best Ever - Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse 3 July 2014) - but when I saw it for a fourth time last night it still seemed fresh. I discovered  new things in each of the ballets.  In previous performances I had not really understood Limbo although I had always admired the dancing.  Yesterday the choreography and the music started to make sense. Exasperatingly because Ballet Black will have a new programme when it returns to the Linbury in February. Yesterday was almost the last opportunity to see Limbo for some time. Two of a Kind remains my favourite work for its soaring lifts and expression of joy to a beautiful score but I love Arthur Pita's A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream too.

Some important things have happened to Ballet Black since I last saw the programme at Nottingham in July. They have been nominated for the Best Independent Company award of the National Dance Awards and Pita's Dream as the best classical choreography. They have created their first children's ballet Dogs Don't Do Ballet (see Woof 12 Oct 2014). They have recruited Marie-Astrid Mence whom I had described as an adorable Anna in Dogs.  Last night she danced a spirited Helena in Dream.  She is a dancer to watch.

Everyone danced well last night.  I was a fan of Isabela Coracy even before I saw her dance last year (see Ballet Black's New Dancers 24 Sept 2013).  Every time I see her she impresses me more.  The same is true of Christopher Renfurm who joined the company at about the same time last year. Great in character roles but also in the pas de deux in Two of a Kind.   Jose Alves and Jacob Wye are always exciting to watch and Kanika Carr is charming.  I have only met her briefly once but I am sure she is enormous fun in real life. She seems to get her head stuck in things: a butterfly net last night and a French horn in Dogs. Damien Johnson and Cira Robinson are magnificent. Johnson dominates the stage, particularly in Two of a Kind and the opening and closing scenes of Dream. Robinson is a a ballerina in the traditional sense, a classical dancer of the highest calibre.

After its second performance in Leeds tonight the company moves on to Watford and Winchester.  If you live anywhere near those towns do go to see the show.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Out of this World

Hype Dance Academy's advanced ballet class
Photo Jane Lambert

I mentioned Frightnight last week. Yesterday my friend, Andrea, and I visited Sheffield to experience its  annual Halloween festival.  Andrea is a Dr Who fan and she had been attracted by the images of the Tardis on the local authority's website and news that the Daleks were about to invade Sheffield.  I had come to see Hype Dance's show and in particular to support my teacher, Fiona Noonan, and fellow students in the advanced and intermediate ballet classes.

The weather was glorious yesterday. Very different from July when Chance for Dance had been rained off.  Many visitors - particularly the children - were in fancy dress.  Some had painted faces.  The pedestrian precincts in the city centre were occupied by stalls and fair ground rides.   Half way along The Moor, a street in the City centre, a space had been railed off for live performances.

Hype Dance Academy was given three 30 minute slots in that space.   The Academy teaches different styles of dance to students of various ages and different levels of attainment. These ranged from very young children dressed as witches and Harry Potter lookalikes to the ladies and handful of gents of the advanced ballet, contemporary, jazz and street.   Everybody performed well and my friend, Andrea, who is no balletomane, appeared to enjoy the show as much as I did.

Having seen a rehearsal of Paint it Black a few weeks ago I was looking forward to seeing it on an outdoor stage.  I am glad to say it worked very well.   It was very fast which must have been exhausting for the dancers but I guess it would have been a lot of fun for them.  The dance began and ended in a circle. One of the dancers was my friend, Mel Wong, who donned the tutu she had worn in Big Ballet. Ian, to whom I had recommended Hype when I met him at another studio in September, was dressed as a pirate. He had to execute a simple lift during the routine which he and his partner did well.

It would be invidious to single out  any of the classes for special mention but the advanced adult contemporary class danced with considerable spirit.

After the show Andrea and I scoured Sheffield city centre for Daleks. We found that Dr Who had visited the Winter Gardens the day before but he had disappeared by Sunday taking his phone box with him. Not to be downhearted we enjoyed a very good lunch at the Wong Ting followed by tea at Yummy Yorkshire on our way home.

Post Script

Mel has drawn my attention to a YouTuve video of Paint it Black and Hype's advanced jazz class's performance which you can see by clicking this link,

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Coppelia in Oxford

The first time I saw Coppélia was when I was an undergraduate at St Andrews. It was London Festival's at the Coliseum in the late 1960s with Peter Schaufuss ("can't believe it's a real name" scoffed my companion Jean who was reading German at the time and is now a successful solicitor in Scotland) and the beautiful Dagmar Kessler.  It was one of the first ballets that I saw shortly after I got my own income in the form of a local authority grant and entrance scholarship and could afford to take myself off to the ballet and pay for my first ballet lessons. Delibes's music and the kaleidoscope of colour and movement with the gorgeous sets and costumes and the spectacular choreography impressed me like no other ballet before or since.

I saw that show shortly after I had made my first acquaintance with digital computers and the so-called Turing Test. I could not help reflecting on the modernity of the ballet's plot in a way that Saint-Léon and Delibes could never have imagined a century earlier when they first staged the work (see Laura Dodge Coppélia: An Insight), This was a discussion of man-machine interaction, one of the issues of artificial intelligence, a topic of moral philosophy which was compulsory for St Andrews undergraduates as well as something we addressed in our short course in the computer science lab.

Fast forward nearly half a century to the same company's performance of the same ballet (albeit under a different moniker) in another ancient university city and the work was still as fresh and appealing to me as it had been when I first saw it.  Instead of Schaufuss and Kessler I saw Yonah Acosta and Shiori Kase as Franz and Swanilda. Acosta is a virtuoso. Always a pleasure to watch. He wowed us with his magnificent turns and jumps particularly in the last act. His virtuosity I had seen before but last night he also showed his charm and his aptitude as an actor. He is fast winning my admiration in the way that only a handful dancers (one of whom is Carlos) have done. Kase was a lovely Swanilda: sweet, vulnerable (Franz's dalliance with a doll really hurt her), impetuous and in the end heroic as she struggled to release her fiancé from Dr Coppélius's clutches. The role could have been created for her.

There were strong performances from Michael Coleman as the mad scientist, Fabian Remair as the Burgermeister, Crystal Costa as Dawn, Lauretta Summerscales and Jung ah Choi (who was also the doll). Anjuli Hudson, Sarah Kundi (one of my favourite dancers as every reader of this blog knows) and Jennie Harringtom in the Dance of the Hours. The whole cast danced well - as one would expect from a company of this calibre - and it is almost invidious to single any of them out for special praise.

Earlier in the day I had the privilege of seeing this company including last night's cast in company class.  I didn't see it all because the traffic yesterday morning was appalling and I don't know Oxford as well as I thought I did. I knew there was an underground car park under the bus station but could I find it in the congestion? I had intended to take the park and ride service but the car parks on the ring road were full by the time I had arrived from Yorkshire. The class took place in the theatre with the scenery for the show on stage. I noticed travelling barres on stage but missed the barre work if indeed there had been any.

Company class was very familiar with the ballet mistress Hua Fang Zhang directing the dancers much in the way Fiona, Annemarie or Ailsa directs me. Some of the exercises were the same as ours though there were several (probably most) that I could never do in a month of Sundays. There was a pianist just as we have in Leeds playing some of the same music as in our exercises. The big difference was in the pace of the class and the fact that the professionals were getting the exercises right first time (or at least most of the time) which doesn't happen with us (or at any rate me).  I noticed how many of the dancers followed the ballet mistress's instructions with finger movements - a useful trick that I shall try - and their effort. They really work hard. I'm even more impressed with those dancers than I had been before.

Just before we left the auditorium we were treated to a rehearsal of the pas de deux in the first act by Kase and Acosta.  As he was in his practice clothes I could see the muscles of that man.  I marvelled at the way he held his precious cargo on his shoulder with his right arm almost casually around her. A precarious position one would have thought but Kase seemed as relaxed and comfortable as if she had been in her favourite arm chair. I've seen such lifts and holds countless times as a ballet goer but seeing it in rehearsal with the principals stripped of their costumes was nevertheless a revelation.

The show is moving on to Bristol now and I thoroughly recommend it.

Further Reading

3 Nov 2014  Sarah Kundi   Oxford: Sarah Kundi on Tour   ENB website