Sunday, 31 January 2016

One of my proudest moments - Dancing in Move It!

Yoshie Kimura and Jane Lambert

It is nearly 03:12 in the morning but I am not going to sleep until I have written this experience out of my system. Last night I took part in Move ItThe Dancehouse's seasonal dance revue performed by students from its many and varied evening classes. I was in KNT's Beginners' Ballet piece which was choreographed by our teacher, Karen Sant. It was not the first time I had danced in public but it was by far the most enjoyable.

Karen had asked us to assemble at The Dancehouse at 15:30. She had told us to wear black leotards with a mesh dress, black tights, pink shoes and our hair in a bun. The last instruction caused me no end of grief because I have never learned how to style my hair. I spent a whole hour in front of three different transatlantic YouTube tutorials entitled "How to make a classic ballet bun" (or words to similar effect) getting precisely nowhere. Happily Gita knew how and she arranged my hair in a very tight bun within minutes.

Just as she had finished I caught my crowd proceeding with a purpose so I followed them. They led me to the auditorium of The Dancehouse Theatre where we all sat down. There were already dancers on stage performing to an infectious drum beat.  After they had finished the compère whom I had mentioned in Better than Eurovision took to the stage. Her introduction was very much as it had been last year but she said something very true about adult dance. Nobody forces us to come to class week after week as may have happened to some of us when we were children. We come because we want to not just to keep fit but because dance is enormously satisfying both emotionally and spiritually. She added that for the teachers seeing that satisfaction on the faces of their pupils is enormously rewarding. I will give an example of what she must have meant below.

The compère then called on the first piece which was Josh Moss's repertoire class (see A Pint for Josh 28 Aug 2015). They were performing the swans' entry from Swan Lake which was a bit of choreography that I happened to know from the Swan Lake intensive that I attended over last summer (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 1 18 Aug 2015, Day 2 19 Aug 2015 and Day 3 20 Aug 2015). It was executed beautifully as was a Rothbart excerpt danced by my classmate from the intensive, Simon Garner, and another gent whose name I do not know.  We saw the whole of the first part of the review and a bit of the second before our cast was called back stage to do our stuff. Gita saw the whole performance so she will review the show. All I will say is that I enjoyed each and every piece and some (including the last ballet piece performed by a cast that included another Swan Lake intensive student, Yoshie Kimura, photographed with me above) enormously.

Not long into the second part of the show we were called back stage.  The Dancehouse is only the second commercial theatre in which I have performed and is quite a bit bigger that the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Leeds. There is a whole labyrinth of passages and anterooms before you get to stage left or stage right. Somehow I arrived at the right place for entry stage right. Our music struck up. The first step was a tendu with the right leg followed by a fondu and lunge. Out of my peripheral vision I caught Tyson, yet another Swan Lake intensive student doing those steps so I knew I was OK. We repeated those en croix. then some lunges left and right working through a plié in second, a soutenu, some balancés right and left, followed by three glissades to the right, a changement, more glisssades and another changement, a run, a temps levé, another runa turn with the right hand followed by a turn with the left, some sautés, an advance forward, two awkward retirés, a port de bras and then lights followed by a curtsy and a rapid exit to the right. Or something like that! We (or rather I) made a few errors but somehow we got through that rehearsal without mishap.

Karen shepherded all the KNT evening class students to one of studios after the rehearsal where she and the other teachers put each of the casts through our paces. Being very old and rickety I had intended to do a barre with Sophie before the rehearsal but I never made it because of my struggles with my hair.  I did a few pliés in each position with side and back bends, tendus, glisses, ronds de jambe, grands battements and stretches on the upper rail of the barre of my own. I applied some make up and then it was time for our second rehearsal. We were better second time round. Several of us practised some of the steps once or twice again until we got it more or less right.

With all the KNT casts in the studio dancing, snacking, chatting, stretching it was just like a party. Some of us checked our phones. I found tweets and chukkas messages from far and near: Andrea from Basel (via Golcar), Andrew in Sheffield, Marion and Annette in Chelmsford, Mel in Budapest, Nik in New Zealand and Mark Hindle from somewhere on the high seas.  I thank them all.  After our studio rehearsal I spotted Jane Tucker who had taught our intensive. Everyone who had taken that intensive was transformed by it so her presence back stage lifted our morale to new heights. Mine particularly for I had taken her class at Northern Ballet the previous Wednesday and by some fluke I had actually managed to pull off a pirouette more or less correctly. Jane had witnessed it and the expression on her face was a joy to behold. I think she was even more delighted than I had been.

Gradually the studio emptied until there were only two casts left. Our friends from the advanced class toi-toied and chukkased us and we made our way back stage. We could hear the peels of applause for each of the other turns and then it was us. The saying "it'll be alright on the night" has some truth because a performance almost always lifts performers. I am sure we made mistakes - Gita has already mentioned one that I made - but it didn't matter. We danced like we had never danced before and left the stage elated. "We did it!" one us said punching the air once out of the audience's earshot.

Then there were photos and flowers and hugs and kisses. That was when Yoshie arranged for someone to photograph us which she posted to my Facebook page. I'm a bit taller than Yoshie so I tried to plier in first position hence my rather curious expression and pose.  Honestly, I had not been drinking. In a Facebook post before the show Karen had referred to us all as "the KNT family" and that was just how we felt. We got to know each other a little better yesterday. I certainly got to like my classmates and our wonderful teachers, Karen, Josh and Ailsa, even more. We all made our way to the bar and I am sure the celebrations must have carried on for ages.

Performances like yesterday's are very important to students at every level for ballet belongs in the theatre. Without the chance to dance it is just another way of keeping fit.  Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but it is a bit like reading Shakespeare for an exam. The poetry and music can still emerge but it is strained. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who got me to this point - Karen, the Dancehouse, all the teachers at KNT and all the others elsewhere who got me started and have helped me on my way.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Miracle that's wrought by tickling the Ivories of the Old Joanna

Igor Zapravadin.                          Standard YouTube Licence

Because last week's class at KNT was so good (see "So what was so great about it exactly?" 20 Jan 2016) I feared tonight's would be something of an anticlimax. In fact it was even better and one of the reasons why it was even better is that we had a pianist. There are some lovely recordings for ballet classes on the market but there is nothing like a live pianist especially when he or she plays something from a well loved ballet. I remember being transfixed by strains of Mendelssohn's Dream from the next door studio at Quarry Hill and fighting back tears as memories of Sibley and Dowell flooded back.

Although we have pianists for most of our classes at Northern Ballet we are taught to honour them. We curtsy to them in the reverence. One instructor, Elizabeth Rae, taught us to curtsy with our hands over our hearts. "You've always got to show respect to the maestro" she explained. A classmate who had studied at one of the best schools in London corroborated her. "They have real power" she warned. She told me a story about a pianist from her student days,
"If you got on the right side of the pianist he would play 'I feel pretty' for your turn. If you upset him he would serve up 'Nellie the Elephant'". 
Consequently I always make a point of thanking the pianist as well as the instructor though I would probably do that anyway.

The other reason why tonight was so good is that we had our rehearsal on the stage of the auditorium in which we are performing. What a stage it is!  I thought the Stanley and Audrey was big but The Dancehouse's is even bigger. When the house lights are up and you peer into the seating are it looks and feels cavernous.

Our rehearsal did not get off to a good start but Karen coached us patiently. We performed it in the studio a couple of times. Then Karen led us onto the stage. The first run through needed some adjustment particularly with the last movement but we practised it a couple of times before Karen called it a day.

I didn't go home immediately because some of the members of our class were in the pointe class and several of us wanted to watch them. I was quite impressed but Karen saw room for improvement. She drilled them as she had drilled us and the second time through they were even more polished.
"You must think I'm terrible" muttered Karen as she dashed past.
"Not at all" I replied. "Mark had told me you had high standards and expected nothing less than the best." 
That was true by the way. Vlad the Lad, his mum and dad, Gita and I collared my teacher Mark Hundle at the stage door of the Empire after he had danced two shows in Dick Whittington on Boxing Day and wanted nothing more than to get on with his Christmas (see a Liverpudlian Whittington 27 Dec 2015). It was Mark. incidentally, who encouraged me to dance in this show and for that I am very grateful. In that suggestion he was backed up by Mel who once saw me dance (see Mel Wong The Dance DID go on - Northern Ballet Academy Show 2014 29 June 2014).

Today we got our costumes which in my case is a mesh dress over a black leotard. I'd been worried that it might not fit because it is made by Bloch whose idea of extra large seems to me to be an anorexic stick insect. But in fact it does fit and I feel so good in it.  I shall be 67 on the 14 Feb so I am not sure how much longer I can keep dancing. But for the moment I can. And I love every minute of it.

So folks, if you find yourself in Manchester on Saturday night and feel like you need a break from assembling your Billy flat packs or a change from propping up the bar of the Lass o' Gowrie, The Briton's Protection or The Old Monkey you could do a lot worse than come to the Danchouse at 19:30  and watch us Move It.  All that entertainment for a fiver. You won't get much better value than that.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Competition for Cranko: The Bolshoi's Taming of the Sheew streamed from Moscow

Standard YouTube Licence

Even before the housekeeper ambled on to the stage I could tell from the photos that we were in for a treat. They depicted Petruchio's loucheness in the way he wore his hat, the simple set and the timeless costumes. The housekeeper was first on stage well before the maestro. She was elegant, wearing heels, immaculately coiffed.  She sat down on stage to check her make up. She donned a pair of pointe shoes and filed her nails. Then when she was good and ready she ushered in the conductor.

The ballet was very short. It consisted of two acts.   The screening started at 15:00 GMT and we were out by 17:00 but it packed so much in. The dancing was magnificent, particularly the duet between Katherina and Petrtuchio in act II. There were some lifts movements I have never seen before. The most extraordinary was where Petruchio seemed to raise Katherina with his arm stretched like a piston as though she were riding a horse. It must have required enormous strength from him and I guess remarkably uncomfortable for her.

The score was by Dimitri Shostakovich and the choice was inspired. One of the greatest composers for the ballet ever.  Glorious soaring crescendos and humour with his orchestration of Tea for Two for the harmony of the last scene.  Of equal genius was the choreographer, Jean-Christophe Maillot, and his muse, Bernice Copieters who translated it into dance.  So too was Ernest Pignon-Ernest who designed the set and the choreographer's son, Augustin, who designed the costumes.  One of the highlights of yesterday's transmission was Katerina Novikova's interview with Jean-Christopher Maillot and Sergei Filin in the interval and it was there that Maillot acknowledged the contributions of his creative team.

The story kept pretty faithfully to the play with a little lot more prominence to the widow.  Bianco was all sweetness and  grace while Katherina was Scotch bonnet pepper - until she was bedded towards the end of the second act.  Katherina is the star. Hers is the title role and it required a dancer with exceptional technique who was also a remarkable actor. Yesterday that role was danced by Ekaterina Krysanova.  Her Petruchio had to be at least as strong and his role was danced by Vladislaw Lantratov. Olga Smirnova was a gorgeous Bianca. Anna Tikhomirova, .as the housekeeper was in many ways the anchor of the show from the prologue when she patronizingly clapped the entry of the conductor.  I must say a special work for Vyacheslav Lopatin, one of the best character dancers ever, who played Petruchio's groom. His eyes were a picture as he tossed a sheet over his master and bride.

I have often said that Pathe Live had the edge over the Royal Opera House's transmissions though the House has recently raised its game.  Yesterday's transmission from Moscow reached new heights with the interview with Filin and Maillot. It will be interesting to see how Covent Garden responds to the challenge.

The Bolshoi are bringing the Taming of the Shrew to London on 3 and 4 Aug 2016.   Here is a little clip on their YouTube channel. I can't wait to see them live on stage in that show.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

This year I am in it!

Liverpool Town Hall, 8 Sept 2014

I described last year's Move It as better than Eurovision as indeed it was.  This year's show is taking place this Saturday and, guess what, I'm in it. I've danced in public before at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds this year and last (see My Second Ballet 5 July 2015 and The Time of my Life 5 July 2014) and also in Morley Town Hall (see Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015) but this performance is altogether more challenging for it takes place in The Dancehouse which is half as big again as the Stanley and Audrey and part of Manchester's history.

I shall be dancing in the Beginners' Ballet piece but that class is of a very high standard. See how good they were last year in Didn't They Do Well!  Well we have an even harder routine this year and we have all been working hard to master it since the beginning of last term. Our choreographer is Karen Sant and she expects a lot from each of us. The above video shows her teaching our contemporary class in Liverpool Town Hall on 8 Sept 2014. I was there and wrote about it in It's not every Class that you can use Lord Canning's Eyes for Spotting 9 Sept 2014. It was the first time I tried jazz and contemporary although we started with ballet.

There will, of course, be lots of other performers apart from us. Other ballet classes plus Jazz, Tap, Burlesque, Flamenco, Hula Hooping, Chinese Dance, Street Dance, Belly Dancing and more. Last year I had a great time and if you do come I hope you do too.

Tickets will set you back £5. Doors open at 19:00 and the show starts at 19:30. The Dancehouse is in Oxford Road, a few hundred yards from, and on the same side of the road as, the railway station, There is also lots of unrestricted street parking on Saturday evenings. If you are feeling peckish you can get an excellent burrito at Panchos and there is also good Chinese, Indian and fast food in the area.

We Mancunians like to say that what we do today London does tomorrow. I think it derives from the days when impresarios previewed they shows here before taking them to the West End. They did that because Manchester has the best theatre and most discriminating audiences outside London

Saturday, 23 January 2016

We drop French at our peril

Louis XIV
Author Hyacinthe Rigaud
Source Wikipedia

There is a really depressing article by Ed West in The Guardian entitled The long adieu: how Britain gave up learning French. Apparently there has been a sharp decline in the number of British schoolchildren taking modern languages, particularly French. For some reason or other there has been a slight increase in the numbers taking Spanish (which is good) but that does not make up for not doing French.  Spanish has never been spoken in these islands whereas French was. As West notes, it is
"the language used at the first parliament, spoken at Runnymede in 1215, a language that still features in much of our legal system and which, until 1858, was the only one on British passports."
That is the reason why our vocabulary is so huge and flexible and our grammar so simple. Without the Norman conquest English could well have developed into an inflected language, much like modern German, with genders and awkward compound words.

But there is another reason for learning French which is that seventeenth and eighteenth century France shaped the modern world in science, diplomacy and of the course the arts. That is particularly true of ballet. Just go through Wikipedia's glossary of ballet terms and count the number that are not in French. As David Bintley reminded us in his documentary, The King who invented Ballet there is a reason for that. The company of the Paris Opera and the school that is attached to it are the oldest and arguably noblest in the world.

A generation ago it would not have been necessary for teachers to explain what is meant by tendu, fondu or frapper. The class would have come across those words in their unseens and prose composition. Increasingly in class I am instructed to bend rather than plier or to tap rather than piquer.  Plier means to fold rather like a pantograph and piquer means to prick which are subtly different concepts from bending or tapping which would translate into rather different movements.

World Ballet Day starts with class in each of the companies. The ballet master or mistress may give instructions in Russian, English or some other language but the exercise itself is nearly always described in French and its meaning instantly becomes clear. The use of French was never abandoned in the Soviet Union even at the height of Stalin's terror and it would have been one of the few conduits with the rest of the world. It provided a medium through which other ideas could pass.  Without such conduit would perestroika ever have been possible?

As machine translation improves, as English is spoken everywhere a tourist goes as many businesses and institutions even in France use English internally it is argued that there are better uses of time on a crowded curriculum - but are there. We don't learn French to order a pression or croque Monsieur but to understand our own language and civilization better. If we drop French we do so at our peril.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Two Chances to meet Leanne Benjamin

In my article about Hendrick's January's class at Danceworks I mentioned some of the master classes that will take place at those studios soon:
"Roberta Marquez, Zdenek Konvalisa and Antonia Franceschi as well as Leanne Benjamin teaching a series of repertoire classes from February and Michaela DePrince in July."
 I promised to mention these again when I had more details.

Danceworks has just published details of Leanne Benjamin's course for advanced and professional dancers. The great ballerina will present four master classes between 09:30 and 12:00 on  22 Feb, 21 March, 18 April  and 16 May. Those who want to take the course must book all four classes at a cost of £160 plus a £3 booking fee. The blurb advises that numbers will be strictly limited to ensure personal attention. Participants are asked to make sure that they have appropriate technical training in order to get the most out of the experience. They must be 15 years of age or over. Places are offered on a first come first served basis and you can book through the web page.

If like me you are a million miles from "advanced/professional" standard you can still meet Leanne Benjamin on the 7 March at 19:30 in the Civil Service Club at 13-15 Great Scotland Yard when she gives a talk to the London Ballet Circle. That event, incidentally, is open the public as well as members of the Circle. If you are not already a member it is well worth joining even if you live well outside the metropolis. Tomorrow is the Circle's AGM and party by the way.

Returning to Danceworks I could not resist this photo of one of my favourite dancers on the poster for the studios' open day on 31 Jan which offers all sorts of free taster classes in  all styles of dance. Christina-Maria Mittelmaier will teach beginners' ballet between 10:30 and 11:30 after which she gives her regular class until 12:00 (see the the Sunday timetable). Oh and if you are wondering about Michaela DePrince I am assured that she is coming. Not on the 31 Jan alas but soon.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Small Steps - Northern Ballet Academy's Commemoration of the Kindertransport

Arrival of Jewish refugees, London
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S69279 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Source Wikipedia
 Creative Commons Licence

On Sunday the 24 Jan 2016 at 14:00 the Lord Mayor of Leeds will commemorate the Kindertransport, the rescue of nearly 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and occupied territories immediately before the Second World War. Members and attenders of the Religious Society of Friends (whose faith I share) helped to promote and facilitate that effort by making representations to the government to relax immigration restrictions, fetching the children from their points of departure and accompanying them to England and providing homes and schools for the children upon their arrival (see Kindertransport on the Quaker website).  The history of the Quakers' contribution has been recorded on

I mention the commemoration of the Kindertransport  because I learnt today in my Over 55 improvers' class at Northern Ballet Academy that Cara O'Shea has choreographed a short ballet called Small Steps for the Centre for Advanced Training students of our Academy which they will perform at the Town Hall. There will also be a speech by Nick Winton (the son of Sir Nicholas Winton who was particularly prominent in rescuing Czech children), a performance by the Clothworkers' Consort of Leeds, readings, lighting of candles and prayers by Rudi Leavor of Bradford Synagogue (see Leeds Town Hall Civic Remembrance Event on the City Council Website).

Readers of this blog will know that I have a very high regard for Cara O'Shea. It was she who trained the childen in The Nutcracker who helped to make the show for me (see Northern Nutcracker 19 Dec 2015). She first came to my attention when she was teaching the boys for the Northern Ballet Open Day on 18 Feb 2014 and a few days later I was lucky enough to be taught by her (see A Treat For Us Old Ladies 27 Feb 2014). She is also close to two other institutions for which I have enormous regard: the Northern Ballet School where she trained and the Chelmsford Ballet Company where she danced Aurora at age 15.

While the Kindertransport commemoration would be well worth supporting for its own sake a performance by some of our Academy's most promising students under the direction of one of their excellent teachers will make it particularly memorable.