Friday, 21 October 2016

Manchester City Ballet's Coppelia

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Manchester City Ballet is the performing company of the Northern Ballet School. Two of my favourite teachers, Cara O'Shea and Jane Tucker, danced with that company. It is for the time being our metropolis's only resident ballet company and thus an institution to be treasured.

Just before Christmas, the company performs a full-length classical ballet. Last year it was Giselle which I reviewed in Manchester City Ballet's Giselle 12 Dec 2015. The year before it was The Nutcracker which I reviewed in Alchemy 13 Dec 2014. This year it will be Coppélia which the company will perform at The Dancehouse on Oxford Road between the 8 and 10 Dec 2016. Manchester City Ballet last performed that ballet in 2012, when they were reviewed very favourably by Ian Palmer of Dancing Times and Mike Dixon of Dance Europe (see Coppelia 2012 Reviews).

Tickets are now on sale from the Dancehouse's box office on 0161 237 9753 or 0161 237 1413 or on-line at £12 (£10 concessions).

The Northern Ballet School has recently announced a series of auditions between 7 Nov 2016 and 13 Feb 2017. Further information on admissions is available on the Application Details page. Best wishes to anyone thinking of applying.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The National Ballet of China is coming to the Lowry

Lowry Centre
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In Al Jazeera features the Ballet Class in the Nairobi Slums 19 Oct 2016 I referred to the comments on Al-Jazeera's Facebook page about a remarkable ballet class in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Nairobi. While most of the comments were favourable there was one that was not:
"Ballerina? Very good dream but it must be stopped! Kenya is an ancient land with a rich and colourful past, there are many aspects of Kenyan culture that can be embraced by Kenyan youths. Why are Africans still living like colonial subjects? Helping sustain European language, religion, culture, economy at the expense of Africa and African culture! Stop."
Well, Kenya is indeed "an ancient land with a rich and colourful past" but then so is China.  No one would dispute that "there are many aspects of Kenyan culture that can be embraced by Kenyan youths" and I hope that many of them, including, perhaps, some of the kids in the ballet class in Kibera as well as other students around the world, will do just that. But embracing and contributing to an art form that began in the courts of renaissance Italy and has now spread across the world is not a rejection of any other art from any other culture. Indeed, there are instances where the confluence of two cultures influences both for the better.

A good example of such confluence and mutual influence appears to be The National Ballet of China which describes itself on the "About Us" page of its website as follows:
"The National Ballet of China was founded in December of 1959. All of The National Ballet of China’s outstanding artists come from professional academies. During decades of care and support from the government and friends from all social sectors, the company has never ceased enriching its solid Russian foundations with works of different schools and styles. The company’s repertoire includes classics like Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Giselle, Carmen, Onegin, and The Little Mermaid, as well as original creations like The Red Detachment of Women, The New Year Sacrifice, Yellow River, Raise the Red Lantern, The Peony Pavilion, and The Chinese New Year. By both performing Western ballets and creating works of its own with distinct national characteristics, the company has found a successful path for the development of Chinese ballet. It is fusing the classical and the modern, and cultures from all over the world."
Now with all due respect to the critic of the ballet class in Kibera, the artists of one of the world's most powerful nations and one of its oldest and most brilliant civilizations do not live like colonial subjects. They are creating something magnificent which may use the vocabulary of classical ballet but remains authentically Chinese.

The National Ballet of China will bring one of those Chinese creations to The Lowry when it performs The Peony Pavillion between the 22 and 26 Nov 2016. The ballet is described on The Lowry's website as
"one of the most enduring love stories in Chinese literature. Adapted from Tang Xianzu’s play of the same name, The Peony Pavilion is a ballet telling a 16th-century story of passion pitted against impossible odds, an Eastern contemporary of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'."
Further information on the ballet and the play appears on Wikipedia:
"In May 2008, the National Ballet of China premièred a two-scene ballet adaptation of The Peony Pavilion in Beijing. For this adaptation, the play was rewritten by the opera's director Li Liuyi; the ballet was choreographed by Fei Bo, and the music was composed by Guo Wenjing. The adaptation had its European premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2011."
The Wikipedia description may be a little inaccurate in that it refers to "two scenes". I think the author must have meant to say "two acts". The Lowry describes it as "A Ballet in Two Acts and Six Scenes (Adapted from Tang Xianzu’s play of the same name)" on its website and I have to say that that seems rather more likely.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Want to see a good show in Manchester this Saturday?

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Closer to home than Kibera is The Dancehouse Theatre at Northern Ballet School in Manchester. That is where KNT Danceworks and other teachers offer a whole range of classes in many styles of dance in the evenings (see the Classes page on the theatre's website). I am proud to say that I am one of KNT's students (or perhaps "family member" as Karen Sant, our principal, so sweetly puts it).

Last June KNT were due to stage Move It!, its summer show, at The Dancehouse but a problem with the ceiling forced its postponement.  The ceiling has now been repaired and the show will tale place on Saturday, the 22 Oct 2016. As the Move It! web page indicates the show will showcase everything from ballet to flamenco including some styles such as Chinese folk dancing that are not often performed in this country.

I had a chance to see KNT's contribution in one of the studios on the day it should have taken place. As the title to my review indicates It could easily have gone pear shaped ........... 19 June 2016 ".... but instead it was a howling success." The show that we shall see on Saturday will be slightly different because Mark Hindle, who danced the pas de deux with Karen, is performing in The Lion King at the AFAS Circustheater in the Hague (see Hindle at The Hague 25 June 2016) but I am told to expect the entry into the kingdom of the shades from La Bayadere which will help to make up for Mark's absence.

I took part in the winter show on 30 Jan 2016 which was One of my proudest moments (see 31 Jan 2016). It included the scene from Swan Lake that appears in the video above. Now we are not quite up to the Royal Ballet's standards just yet but remember that we all have day jobs or are reading for degrees and that we have only the evenings and weekends after a heavy working day or week to study ballet and rehearse. With those caveats I think the achievement of my classmates and our teachers is remarkable.

The show will begin at 19:00 sharp this Saturday. Tickets are on sale for only £5 from the box office on 0161 237 9753 or 0161 237 1413 or you can order them on-line from Ticketline. The theatre has a bar (as well as double rail barres) and is surrounded by restaurants including Casa Pancho (I know, the name made Mel and me smile too) which serves the best burritos this side of Tijuana. I defy anyone to propose a better night out than ballet, beer and burritos for so little expenditure in the entire Northern Powerhouse.

Al Jazeera features the Ballet Class in the Nairobi Slums

Kibera, Nairobi
Author Shreibkraft
Source Wikipedia
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One of the first posts that I published was What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013. At the time it was my most popular article clocking up 434 hits almost overnight. It featured a remarkable ballet class in Kibera, a district of Nairobi described by Wikipedia as "the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa," taught by a remarkable teacher, Mike Wamaya.

As I think that Africans will make an enormous contribution to ballet (and indeed all the performing arts as well as the humanities, sciences and civilisation generally) I have revisited the topic several times (see Back to Africa 7 Jan 2015 and Revisiting Kenya with Obama 25 July 2015 and Ballet in Sub-Saharan Africa 30 April 2016). I am glad to see that the Qatari news broadcaster Al-Jazeera has also taken an interest in that class. It posted a video entitled Ballet in Kenya is a beautiful thing to its Facebook page on 15 Oct 2016 which has already attracted nearly a million hits, 12,000 "loves" or "likes" and over 16,000 shares.

Al-Jazeera has also published an article by Fredrik Lerneryd entitled Kenyan children learn ballet at Kibera slum 14 Sep 2016 Al-Jazeera. It contains pictures of Mr. Wamaya's class in Kibera and also at a school in Karen, a rather more affluent neighbourhood, where some of Mr. Wamaya's older students take lessons. In the article Mr Lerneryd refers to Cooper Rust, a US dancer who is artistic director of Dance Centre Kenya. She says that the children from Kibera prove to be just as good as those from Karen despite their lack of resources and facilities.

Most of the comments on Al-Jazeera's Facebook page are favourable but there are exceptions. One lady asks:
"To what use exactly? The charity should instead teach them practical skills that will be useful later in life"
A  gentleman opines:
"Ballerina? Very good dream but it must be stopped! Kenya is an ancient land with a rich and colourful past, there are many aspects of Kenyan culture that can be embraced by Kenyan youths. Why are Africans still living like colonial subjects? Helping sustain European language, religion, culture, economy at the expense of Africa and African culture! Stop"
Try telling a boy or girl from any country or social background who feels compelled to dance to stop? Fat chance! The Kenyan TV station K24TV has a posted the video Ballet dance slowly gaining popularity among children in Kenya which shows that ballet is beginning to gain traction at all levels of Kenyan society. Another station KTN News shows Kenyan students training in Norway.

Ballet is no longer European. Look at the dancers from South America, East Asia and, increasingly, from South Africa in the companies of the world. Kenyans will soon be as proud of their dancers as they are of their long distance runners.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova in Sinatra Suite
Photo Altin Kaftira
(c) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Dutch National Ballet, Sinatra Suite, Stopera, Amsterdam 7 Sept 2016

One of the highlights of the Dutch National Ballet's opening night gala on the 7 Sept 2016 was Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite. American Ballet Theatre commissioned this duet for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo who performed it for the first time at the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington DC on 6 Dec 1983.

Photo Altin Kaftira
(c) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced by kind permission of the company
The choreographer created  dances for the following Sinatra songs:
I. Strangers in the Night
II. All the Way

III. That’s Life

IV. My Way

V. One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).

The beautiful costumes were designed by Oscar de la Renta. Lighting was by Jennifer Tipton.

Photo Altin Kaftira
(c) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced by kind permission of the company

The Dutch National Ballet revived the work for Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova.

This virtuoso act opened the second part of the gala immediately after the interval.

A final glimpse of those beautiful dancers.

Photo Altin Kaftira
(c) 2016 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced by kind permission of the company

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Golden Age

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Bolshoi Ballet The Golden Age, streamed from the Bolshoi Theatre, 16 Oct 2016, 16:00

The history of The Golden Age is almost as fascinating as the ballet itself and could easily be the plot of a ballet in its own right.  As Katerina Novikova told cinema audiences briefly in the interval, this ballet was originally about football. It was originally a three act ballet which was choreographed by Vasili VainonenLeonid Jacobson and V. Chesnakov and first performed in Leningrad (St Petersburg) at the Kirov (Mariinsky) Theatre on 26 Oct 1930.

Wikipedia gives the following information on the plot:
"The ballet is a satirical take on the political and cultural change in 1920s' Europe. It follows a Soviet football team in a Western city where they come into contact with many politically incorrect bad characters such as the Diva, the Fascist, the Agent Provocateur, the Negro and others. The team fall victim to match rigging, police harassment, and unjust imprisonment by the evil bourgeoisie. The team are freed from jail when the local workers overthrow their capitalist overlords and the ballet ends with a dance of solidarity between the workers and the football team."
The score was composed by Dmitri Shostakovich when he was only 24. He wrote a profusion of danceable music as  Jean-Christophe Maillot has shown with his masterly The Taming of the Shrew (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016). Even I have danced to one of his works, namely Shostakovich's Waltz for Flute, Clarinet and Piano "The Return of Maxim"1937 Op 45 (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014 which Mel reviewed very generously in The Dance DID go on - Northern Ballet Academy Show 2014 28 June 2014). Apart from being a great composer, Shostakovich was something of a football fan describing the so called "beautiful game" as the "ballet of the masses". Rather more flattering than John Osborne's description of ballet as "poofs' football" (see page 387 of John Heilpern's John Osborne: A Patriot for Us Google Books).

Apparently the original ballet was performed 18 times before it was pulled by the Soviet authorities and never staged again. Shostakovich's beautiful score remained forgotten for many years like The Sleeping Beauty until it was revived in 1982 by Yuri Grigorovich and Isaak Glikman. They produced a new libretto based on the rivalry between Boris, a young fisherman, and the criminal, Yashka, for the heart of Rita, a cabaret dancer which is complicated by the jealousy of Yashka's moll, Lyuska, who competes with Rita for Yashka's attention. The synopsis is set out in some detail on the Bolshhoi's website.

The fascinating part of Grigorovich's plot is that it is set in 1923 immediately after the civil war when Lenin revoked some of the controls of war communism to incentivize agricultural and industrial production in order to feed the Soviet who were suffering a catastrophic famine. That relaxation was known as the New Economic Policy ("NEP"). It achieved its economic objectives very quickly but led to all sorts of inequalities and imbalances and ultimately crime which are the backdrop to the ballet. The NEP was reversed in 1928 after Joseph Stalin came to power and many of those who responded to the incentives provided by the policy were destroyed over the next few years in Stalin's purges.

In their version of The Golden Age, Grigorovich and Glikman created powerful roles for the protagonists, Boris, Rita, Yashka and Lyuska, as well as some great character roles and some spectacular dances for the corps. Simon Virsaladze created some gorgeous sets and costumes for the 1982 production. I caught the tail end of Ms Novikova's conversation with a wardrobe mistress who described how those costumes had been lovingly preserved all those years in the hope of a revival. Audiences were given a glimpse of the workmanship in close ups of the dancers while waiting to take their curtain calls at the end of the show. Grigoroivch appears to have borrowed some of Shostakovich's music from other shows - or perhaps the other way round - for I recognized Tea for Two which ends The Taming of the Shrew at the start of Act II of The Golden Age.

Boris was danced by Ruslan Skvortsov whom I had last seen as "the prince" (otherwise known as Siegfried) in Swan Lake in London (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). Nina Kaptsova danced Rita. I think yesterday was the first time I had seen her but I hope it will not be the last. More familiar was Mikhail Lobukhin who danced Yashka.  I had seen him before at least in HDTV transmissions.  Another face that I think I recognized was Ekaterina Krysanova who was Lyushka.

The choreography had so many breathtaking lifts and jumps not to mention spectacular fouettes, grands jetes en tournant and other virtuosity not only for the principals and soloists but also for the corps that it is hard to single anything out for special attention. However, I loved the first pas de deux between Boris and Rita in Act I where they fell in love and was riveted by Lyushka's passion at the end of Act II where she throws herself at Yashka and is stabbed for her pains. We are used to praising the Bolshoi's dancers for their technique but the four principals are also superb dance actors.

The ballet appeared to receive a rapturous curtain call in Moscow which must have been echoes in cinemas around the world. There was clapping even at the National Media Museum in Bradford, hundreds of miles from Moscow, even though it could not possibly have been heard on the Bolshoi's stage. Our Yorkshire audience floated out of the Cubby Broccoli on a cloud as elated as if we had been there. A wonderful compliment to the engineers of Pathe-Live as well as the magnificent artists in Moscow who brought us that great spectacle.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Great News About Madame Kanikova

Author BenP
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In Never Better: Ballet Black in Leeds 16 Oct 2016 I acclaimed the return of Jose Alves and Marie-Astrid Mence but noticed that somebody very important was missing:
"But where was Kanika? She has such expressive features and a delightful sense of humour. Vlad the Lad will be devastated if Madame Kanikova has gone for good. So, too, will his granny. If she has indeed left Ballet Black I send her my best wishers wherever she is. I hope to see her back on stage soon - but even if that is not possible I wish her well."
Well actually I was told what had happened to Kanika Carr.  On 7 July 2016 Cassa Pancho posted the following announcement on Facebook that I together with 126 other people "liked":
"Our special #ThrowbackThursday is dedicated to Senior Artist, Kanika Carr who is leaving BB to join the Dance Theater of Harlem!
Kanika joined Ballet Black after graduating from Central School of Ballet, and was one of our first ever apprentices. During her six years she has performed in many, many ballets and worked with some of the best choreographers around - too many to name here! Here are just a few of her best moments...
I became a fan of DTH when they first came to London nearly 40 years ago. I was in the audience on the opening night of their first season at Covent Garden and saw them perform on several other trips. They are a wonderful company with a great heritage. Several of my favourite dancers have performed with them. I am delighted that Kanika is now among their number.

One of Kanika's many roles was Madame Kanikova, the ballerina in Dogs Don't Do Ballet who managed to jam her head in a French horn. My little grandson, Vlad the Lad, attended the premiere of that ballet in Harlow and was very concerned at the fate of that distinguished artiste (see Woof 12 Oct 2014). He was delighted to learn not only that Madame Kanikova managed to extricate herself from her incumbrance as you can see from the photo above but also that she is still dancing. True, she will be quite a long way away, but we both have something to save up for. One little boy went to bed very happy ..... as indeed will his granny.

In the meantime ..............
Author BGVPipe
Source Wikipedia 
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............. congratulations and all the best dear Kanika!