Sunday, 24 September 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Aladdin nearly Five Years on


Standard YouTube Licence


Birmingham Royal Ballet Aladdin The Lowry, 23 Sept 2017, 19:30

Shortly after I started this blog I reviewed Birmingham Royal Ballet's Aladdin (see my review of 1 March 2013). I saw it just after I had started taking ballet lessons with Fiona Noonan several months before I entered the over 55 class at Northern Ballet. Although I had seen a lot of ballet before 2013 I had not actually done very much. I have since learned that however much ballet you see from the stalls or dress circle you really don't know what you are talking about until you try your hand at it. Then your admiration for those who make their living from the art soars beyond bounds.

In March 2013 I wrote:
"Having developed my love of ballet while Frederick Ashton was the Royal Ballet's choreographer I am very hard to please. But pleased I was. The pas de deux that Bintley created for Aladdin and the Princess danced yesterday by Jamie Bond and Jenna Roberts reminded me a lot of Ashton. So did the powerful roles for the djinn (Matthias Dingman), Mahgrib and Sultan (Rory Mackay). Also, the sweet role for Aladdin's mother danced delightfully by Marion Tait - no Widow Twankey she. Other lovely touches - and very familiar to Manchester with our famous Chinese quarter - were the lion and dragon dances. It is probably unfair to single out any of the other dancers because all excelled but I was impressed particularly by Céline Gittens who danced Diamond. Finally, Davis's score with its oriental allusions was perfect for Bintley's choreography."
I saw many of the same dancers in the same roles last night. Would I still like it especially as I had been looking forward to Stanton Welch's La Bayadère which had to be axed when Birmingham City Council reduced its grant to Birmingham Royal Ballet? (see A Birmingham Bayadère 26 Nov 2016 and How Nikiya must have felt when she saw a snake 31 Jan 2017)

Well, I am glad to say that I liked Aladdin even more last night and I think I have to thank my teachers in Leeds, Manchester, Huddersfield, Sheffield, London, Liverpool, Cambridge, Budapest and, half a century ago, St Andrews for that as they taught me how to appreciate ballet. As before I loved Carl Davis's score. I was impressed by Sue Blane's costumes, Dick Bird's sets and Mark Jonathan's lighting. I was thrilled by David Bintley's choreography. Most of all I was dazzled by the dancing.

César Morales was a perfect Aladdin alternating from an awkward adolescent to the sultan's splendid sun in law. Jenna Roberts was as lovely as she had been when I had last seen her in that role. Iain Mackay was a magnificent magician (why does Salford feel it has to boo him at the curtain call just because he is cast as a baddie?)  Aitor Galende. clad and coloured from head to toe in blue was a noble djinn. Tom Rogers was every inch a sultan.  Marion Tait is always a delight. One of my all-time favourites. It was appropriate that many of my other favourites appeared as jewels for gems they are. The incomparable Céline Gittens, glittered as a diamond, Chi Cao glowed as an emerald, Samara Downs and Alys Shee gleamed as gold and silver, Yasuo Atsujii and Yijing Zha radiated as rubies, Karla Doorbar shone as onyx as indeed did the whole cast.

I attended the performance with a friend who has seen a lot of ballet and attended a lot of classes though she likes the other performing arts and other dance forms at least as well. She also saw the 2013 show with me and said she enjoyed last night's performance even more. Sitting next to us were a couple for whom ballet was still a new experience. In fact, for one them it was his first live show. I was curious to see whether he would take to it. He told me that he found difficulty with the first act but enjoyed the second and third very much. On balance he enjoyed the whole experience.

I hope to see Stanton Welch's La Bayadère one day even if I have to fly to Texas to do so.  As one of my favourite young dancers has just moved from HNB to the Houston Ballet I hope to do so soon, I was sad to learn that the company had suffered so much from Hurricane Harvey.  As I said in Houston Ballet  30 Aug 2017 we in the North know the damage flood water can do. I am sure that company will emerge stronger than ever as Northern Ballet did. I shall look out for the Houston Ballet on World Ballet Day and give it a special cheer.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Northern Ballet and Phoenix host the China IP Roadshow


Standard YouTube Licence


Ever since Northern Ballet moved to its new studios I have been looking for a chance to introduce it to my colleagues and clients (see Ballet and Intellectual Property - my Excuse for reviewing "Beauty and the Beast" 31 Dec 2011 IP Yorkshire and The Things I do for my Art: Northern Ballet's Breakfast Meeting 23 Sept 2014). The opportunity arose when I was asked by Tom Duke, our IP attaché in Beijing to arrange venues for and chair the China IP Roadshow in Yorkshire.

As Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre create more intellectual assets than most in the form of choreography, musical scores, set and costume designs and performances and both have strong links with China I proposed Northern Ballet as the venue for the Leeds event. I was overjoyed when my proposal was accepted.

The event took place in the Boardroom on the top floor on Tuesday 19 Sept between 09:00 and 12:00. Many of Leeds's biggest law firms and patent and trade mark agencies were represented as well as the city's businesses, universities and local authority.  I invited two special guests - Sharon Watson Phoenix's artistic director who is chairing Leeds's bid to become the European City of Culture and Tobias Perkins, planning manager of Northern Ballet.

Tom spoke about China and the opportunities for British businesses in all sectors including the creative industries but warned of some of the things that can go wrong.  He recommended a number of countermeasures such as registering IP rights, getting contracts drawn up by Chinese lawyers and not leaving your business sense behind at Heathrow. Precautions that business people would take here such as requiring partners to enter non-disclosure agreements before disclosing trade secrets work in exactly the same way in China.

After Tom had answered a few questions I invited Sharon to talk about Phoenix and the City of Culture bid.  As you would expect, Sharon spoke passionately on both. Tom congratulated her on her presentation.  There were a lot of lawyers and business people who wanted to talk to buttonhole Sharon before she left the boardroom.

Tobias also spoke well. He spoke of two ways in which Northern Ballet raises revenue.  One was by performing and the company had made many tours of China over the years. The other is by licensing out to foreign companies and Tobias mentioned that the West Australian Ballet was performing David Nixon's The Great Gatsby in Perth almost as we spoke.

As the boardroom is almost next door to Studio 7 I proudly showed Tom where our 55+ class trains. Before leaving the building he asked to see the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre.  As Sean was in reception I asked whether it would be possible for Tom and his party to glance inside and I was delighted when he said it was.

Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre did me proud as they always do.  I shall certainly try to arrange more such events at their premises.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

World Ballet Day is coming


Standard YouTube Licence

One of the compensations of Autumn is World Ballet Day in which five of the world's top companies present their offerings and those of their guests. This year it falls on 5 Oct 2017.

The day begins in Melbourne with the Australian Ballet. We have a special interest in that company as they hosted Amelia Sierevogel earlier this year.  She told us all about her experiences with that company in Melbourne City of Dance 23 May 2017.  The Australian Ballet is sharing its slot with three other companies with which we have a connection, namely the Queensland Ballet, the Hong Kong Ballet and the West Australian Ballet.

We welcomed the Queensland Ballet to London in 2015 (see A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015).  Gita and I also had the honour of meeting its legendary artistic director, Li Cunxin, when he visited the London Ballet Circle. Amelia and I have another connection with that company since our teacher, Fiona Noonan, trained and danced with them. Another favourite teacher, Jane Tucker, danced with the Hong Kong Ballet who are also guests of the Australian Ballet. The third guest that we follow with interest is the West Australian Ballet who are dancing David Nixon's The Great Gatsby in Perth this month.

The baton passes to the Bolshoi whose Taming of the Shrew delighted audiences in London last year (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2017). The choreographer of that work was Jean-Christophe Maillot whose company Les Ballets de Monte Carlo will share the Bolshoi's slot. The Bolshoi's other guests are the Netherlands Dance Theatre who are well known and greatly appreciated here.  The Bolshoi will rehearse for us Balanchine's Diamonds and The Golden Age and introduce us to The Moscow State Academy of Choreography.

Next comes London with the Royal Ballet and four of our other great companies all of whom I know well and admire greatly. The Royal Ballet will rehearse Anastasia, La Fille mal gardée, The Sleeping Beauty and a new ballet by Charlotte Edmonds. Students from the Royal Ballet School will dance Concerto and the company will dance Anastasia.  The Royal Ballet's guests include some of the world's greatest companies including The Dutch National Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, La Scala, the Stuttgart Ballet and the Vienna State Ballet. This should be the highpoint of the day.

Across the Atlantic to Toronto with the National Ballet of Canada. They will be rehearsing Cinderella and Onegin and interview the great Karen Kain. Wayne McGregor and Robert Binet.  Their guests include the Miami City Ballet whom Gita saw in February (see Gita Mistry Attending the Ballet in Florida: Miami City Ballet's Program Three 6 March 2017) and the Boston Ballet who were in London in 2013 (see High as a Flag on the 4th July 7 July 2917).

Finally to San Francisco, one of the oldest and finest companies in America who also promise rehearsals of Diamonds and Cinderella as well as Liam Scarlett's Frankenstein, Helgi Tomasson's Haffner Symphony and a new work by Yuri Possokhov. Their guests include the Houston Ballet which suffered badly from Hurricane Harvey (see Houston Ballet  30 Aug 2017). I take a special interest in that company partly because of its many connections with this country. partly because Li Cunxin started his career there but mainly because the outstanding young artist, Emilie Tassinari, has recently joined the corps.

Every year seems to be better than the last and this year promises to be the best of all. Nobody can watch the whole feast on one day but, happily, recordings remain on YouTube for months after the event.  It takes about a year to savour it all.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Bridgewater Hall's Birthday Party

Author Alan Stanton
Licence Creative Common Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic


I thought of our 55+ class's talented pianist, Alena Panasenka, this weekend when I visited the Bridgewater Hall for its 21st birthday party on Sunday. There was a lot to see, do and, above all, hear that day as the concert hall opened its doors to its patrons and friends.

The high point of the day, and this is the bit that made me think of Alena, was a  concert by Noriko Ogawa, Graham Scott, Murray McLachlan and Martin Roscoe on the Bridgewater Hall's four Steinway pianos. The programme included works by Beethoven, Bernstein, Debussy, Holst, Mozart and Wagner some of which were arranged very ingeniously. Some of the works were arranged for four pianos and others for two. You will not be surprised to learn that my favourite piece was the prelude to L'Aprȅs Midi d'un Faune.

There was also music in the stalls café bar by the main entrance.  I heard guitar music from Emma Smith, saxophone music from four students of the Royal Northern College of Music known as the Cornelian Saxophone Quartet and clarinet music from another four who performed as the Arundo Clarinet Quartet.  My companion also had a free lesson on one of the Steinways.

We both heard a talk chaired by Peter Davidson, the Bridgewater Hall's artistic consultant, on "Playing the Bridgewater Hall."  The acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall are sometimes compared to a Stradivarius violin which sounds quite ordinary in the hands of an average player but extraordinary in the hands of an exceptionally talented violinist. We heard from Rob Harris, the hall's first acoustic consultant, the critic Robert Beale, the singer, Jacqui Dankworth, and the guitarist, Craig Ogden.  I learned a lot about the hall from that talk. For instance, the fact that it is mounted on springs like a vehicle. I also discovered that it is soundproofed so well that technicians assembling the organ were quite oblivious to a terrorist explosion in the Arndale Centre a few hundred yards away.

There was much that we did not see because the celebrations lasted the whole weekend.  The day after tomorrow I shall see the Bridgewater Hall in a different light when it hosts Venturefest. It is a source of great pride for the whole city and for everyone who is entitled to call him or herself a Mancunian.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet"


Standard YouTube Licence


Northern Ballet The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 9 Sept 2017 19:30 West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds


Daniel de Andrade's ballet, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet last night. I congratulate the choreographer, his fellow creatives, the dancers and everyone else who was involved in the show on an outstanding performance. It greatly exceeded my expectations and raised my admiration for the company to new heights.

Although  I had neither read John Boyne's novel nor seen the film and had been unable to catch the work in Doncaster or any of the other venues on this year's midscale tour, I had been aware of the story. I feared a descent into mawkish sentimentality and that this review would be an exercise in floccinaucinihilipilification. Instead, de Andrade explored the twin themes of corruption of decent men by poisonous ideology and love between children.  Watching that ballet was a moving, indeed harrowing, experience that tugged at every emotion.

Boyne's novel cannot have been easy to transpose to dance.  De Andrade responded to that challenge with considerable ingenuity.  For example, Hitler appears in the book and personally appoints the father of one of the children at the centre of the story as Commandant of Auschwitz. Easy enough, one would think, as Hitler is instantly recognizable with his half moustache and floppy forelock. But de Andrade resisted the temptation to do the obvious. He substituted a Fury for the Führer - an even more menacing Siegfried type character crouching, creeping and dripping with evil. For some reason or other, the Bolshoi refer to Siegfried as "the evil genius" in its version of Swan Lake (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). Well, de Andrade's evil genius was spine chilling.

The strong libretto was just one reason for the show's success.

There was some pretty powerful choreography.  The duet between the boys on different sides of the fence - always harmonious but never symmetrical - the acts of violence - the cashiering of the arrogant and sadistic Lieutenant Kotler - and so much more of which space does not permit proper acknowledgement.

There was also an excellent score by Gaty Yeschon reminiscent of the compositions of the time - at least in this country, America and even Russia though not perhaps Nazi Germany.  It must have been difficult to play and seemed from the luxury of my chair particularly difficult to dance but it fitted the ballet exactly.

There were sets cleverly transporting us to the Reichs Chancery, the Commandant's home, the boundary of the concentration camp and even the train and gas chambers by Mark Bailey. The outline of that monstrous sign, "Arbeit macht frei" (as horrifying as the inscription on the gates of Hell "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate") made me shudder. Bailey's uniforms and civilians' costumes seemed authentic to the last detail.

Finally, there was some exquisite lighting by Tim Mitchell. The pool of red light around Kotler's body represented his death in combat eloquently and chillingly.

The dancers, as I said above, were splendid.

The boys, Matthew Koon who danced Bruno (the Commandant's son) and Filippo di Vilio who danced Shmuel (the prisoner), central to the story, were lyrical. The playful, loving, innocent Bruno with his cartwheels and jumps. The starving, beaten, almost dehumanized Schmuel with his arabesques. How I rejoiced as he sank his teeth into an apple, How I wept as the cloud destroyed them both.

Mlindi Kualshe, often cast as a villain even though he is a most affable young man, radiated evil as the Fury. He was an excellent choice for the role.  He emerged from his mask with a gleaming smile and special applause at the reverence.

Javier Torres, the company's remaining premier dancer, interpreted the Commandant's role with sensitivity and sophistication.  This was a man who would almost certainly have been hanged at Nuremberg for his crimes.  However, he was also a loving father and husband and even in the running of the camp he showed signs of humanity. A much more complex character than O'Brien in Jonathan Watkin's 1984.  Torres discharged that role magnificently.

Also magnificent was Hannah Bateman who danced his wife.  A vain and spoilt beauty - a model of Aryan womanhood - hollowed out by conscience and in the end the loss of her son in her husband's death machine.  A formidable dancer.  A superb actor.  I can think of few artists from any company who could have carried off that challenging role anything like as well.

Magnificence, too, from Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Bruno's sister who swallowed the Nazi message, perhaps because of the attentions of Lieutenant Kotler (Sean Bates) who delivered it, Mariana Rodrigues, the Commandant's mother who would have none of that message, Dominique Larose, the Commandant's maid, and indeed each and every other member of the cast.  I don't know whether anyone else joined me but I was compelled to rise to my feet after that performance.  That's not something I do every day.

Yesterday's was almost the last performance of the current run.  The show moves on to Hull next month and then that's it for the time being. I hope it stays in the company's repertoire for I would love to see it again.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Ballet Couple


Standard YouTube Licence


There is a great overlap between film and dance. It started long before The Red Shoes.  Pavlova experimented with the camera as you can see from her clip of The Dying Swan In Leeds of All Places - Ashton Pavlova and Magic  18 Sept 2013.  So, too, did Nijinsky as you can see from Hommage au Faun 9 July 2013.

When I interviewed Kenny Tindall in "A Many Sided Genius" - Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017 we talked about the cinema which he refers to as "church". Tindal compared the work of a choreographer to that of the director of a film:
"The roles were similar and maybe even converging as techniques and technology that had been developed for the cinema were increasingly used in ballet. I recalled the filming of The Architect to which project I had contributed (see Tindall's Architect - How to Get a Piece of the Action - Literally! 7 June 2014). I asked whether another film might result from Casanova. Tindall’s eyes sparkled. No concrete plans as yet, he said, but would it not be splendid to film Act I in Venice and Act II in Paris."
I was reminded of my conversation with Tindall when I saw New Moves on 24 June 2017.   As I said in my review:
"The most dramatic work of the evening was Thomas van Damme's Convergence which he created for Skyler Martin and Clara Superfine to music by Gorecki. Superfine is yet another dancer whose career I follow closely (see Thank You Ernst 17 March 2016). Through superb use of lighting reminiscent of cinema, he seemed to force the dancers together. They seemed to approach each other but not as lovers, more like predator and prey. It seemed like a gripping narrative though the programme notes suggest something gentler:
"1. Independent development of similar characters often associate with similarity of habits or environment.
2. Moving toward union or uniformity."
As he has mastered the technique of building suspense, I look forward to seeing whether van Damme will use that technique in his future work."
I have not had to wait very long. He used the same technique in Girls Night with Riho Sakamoto and Yuanyuan Zhang,  This is one of a number of short films that Thomas van Damme has made with Youanyuan Zhang as The Ballet Couple.  They have their own YouTube Channel, Facebook page and Twitter stream.  They describe themselves as:
"Professional ballet dancers in love enjoying life and youtube. 
Follow us in our life with our special jobs and crazy adventures! 
Tell us about your adventures and experiences with dance or other. 
Love, 
Yuanyuan & Thomas"
You have already seen enough of them to appreciate their talents.  Just imagine their potential.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Ann Maguire Gala 2017


On Sunday 3 Sept, my friend Erin and I attended the Ann Maguire Gala 2017 at Leeds Grand Theatre. The money raised by the ticket sales went towards the Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund less the essential running costs. All the performers and stage crew volunteered to be part of this event. 

But this event was not just any old dance gala.  No. It was an incredible opportunity for us to feast our eyes upon dancers from the Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet and Ballet Boyz. The repertoire consisted of choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, Frederick Ashton, Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett, Alastair Marriott, Steven McRae and Christopher Wheeldon.

As one who does not have a lot of money, this was an opportunity for me to see some of my favourite dancers.

I was so incredibly excited!

Erin and I filled with excitement for the night's event. 
The show began with an introduction by Wayne Sleep.  I was surprised to see how small he is in real life

The first act included
  • the second movement pas de deux from Concerto,
  • a piece enitled simply New Work
  • the White Swan pas de deux, 
  • Quizas
  • Aeternum pas de deux and 
  • Voices of Spring.  
I shan't go into detail about every piece of the programme, but will instead talk about the pieces that have stuck in my mind since Sunday night.
Quizas was a new piece choreographed by Will Tuckett, to the track of the same name by Nat King Cole and Shigeru Umebayashi. It was performed by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera. It has a very latin vibe to it but was still balletic.  I truly found myself falling in love with it. I just wanted to get up and dance with them. It looked so incredibly fun! And, of course, effortless, much to the credit of the dancers.

Ashton's Voices of Spring was performed by Yuhui Choe and recently promoted Alexander Campbell. It was so beautiful to watch. It left me feeling like I was dreaming at the end of the act!

The second act opened with a musical medley of songs from Les Miserables and West Side Story performed by Leeds Youth Opera.

Act two included
  • Debussy's Clair de Lune performed by Edward Watson,
  • Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour pas de deux,
  • Asphodel Meadows - second movement pas de deux
  • Northern Ballet's 1984 by Jonathan Watkins- the final pas de deux
  • Steven McRae's famous tap piece Czardas
  • Meditation from Thais pas de deux, and 
  • Le Corsaire - pas de deux.
Clair de Lune was one of my favourite performances of the whole night. It was very simple and elegant. Watson executed the most incredible attitude turns (believe me when I say from my own experience they're hard). His ending position which was a plié in second, left Erin and me breathless for he did not move at all - for what seemed like forever. Not even shaking!

Czardas by Steven McRae was so much fun. He was accompanied on the stage with violinist Vasko Vassilev. Both artists were truly incredible to watch.  I would love to watch this over again and again.*

Le Corsaire pas de deux was performed by Akane Takada and Benjamin Ella. Akane did all 32 fouette turns perfectly and Benjamin flew across the stage with his incredible jumps. It was a truly a delight to watch. It left the audience on such a high note!

Finally, the night concluded with a thank you from Wayne Sleep and Emma Maguire (the daughter of the late Ann Maguire and event organiser) followed by, of course. the curtain call. each of the performers was given a single red rose.  I was left feeling overwhelmed and happy to have watched such a wonderful night of performances.

Myself with Edward Watson
Erin with Alexander Campbell

The night, however, did not end there for Erin and I decided to go to the stage door after the performance. We were fortunate enough to meet Alexander Campbell, Steven McRae, Fumi Kaneko and Edward Watson. All of whom were lovely, and we had enjoyable conversations with them. We found out that the stage was raked, which made us gasp even more. We sadly did not meet any of the other artists due to having to catch a train back to Huddersfield from Leeds and it was quite late. But I still cannot believe we met some of our absolute favourite dancers, let alone watched them perform. It will be a night I will remember for the rest of my life!

Amelia x

* You can.  He performed it on World Ballet Day and a video of his performance is right here (Ed).