Monday, 9 December 2013
I just spotted this trailer on the Dutch National Ballet's Facebook page which I "liked" along with the entire population of the Netherlands from King Willem-Alexander downwards. However I have actually seen these dancers on stage and they are even better in real life than they are in the video ("The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013" 25 Nov 2013).
The video contains glimpses of the ballets that I saw in Amsterdam and reviewed in my post. There are a few words of Dutch which is not a language that I have ever studied but it is not very different from English and if you know some German you are well away. My educated guess is that the first sign says "Twelve Outstanding Talents" - or if it doesn't it could have done - and the second refers to "Twelve Stars of the Tomorrow" and that is certainly true.
Although I am trying very hard to persuade the powers that be to invite them to England they seem to have their work cut out touring the Netherlands. They have already done Spijkenisse. Amsterdam and Heerelen and they are in Gouda tomorrow. After that they are taking a break until March when they are on the road again. It is well worth crossing the North Sea to see them. If you live anywhere in the near continent, what are you waiting for?
Friday, 6 December 2013
I got up at 05:00 yesterday so that I could make Annemarie's 11:30 class for the over 55s in Leeds. This was more of a struggle than it sounds because I had come to London for our chambers Christmas bash at the Luce e Limoni the night before. Barristers are a fairly gregarious bunch as Lucentio noted in Taming of the Shrew
"And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends;"and Luce e Limoni is not a bad eatery if you ever find yourselves in the area (which you might if you go to Sadlers Wells for a ballet or even consult me about a patent). So I rolled up to my long suffering daughter manquée's home in the early hours of the morning. But I hate to miss a class so I set off at 06:00 clearing the Blackwall Tunnel in no time at all and belting up the M11 and A1 towards Leeds with bags of time.
And then just south of Donny disaster struck. I found myself in a massive queue of trucks on the A1 (M). Yesterday's storm had blown down a tree which closed both lanes of the motorway. I found myself wedged between lorries, the hard shoulder and the central reservation unable to do anything except scan the ether for traffic information of which there came forth none. As Melvyn Bragg gave way to Woman's House which in turn gave way to something else I realized that I was not going to make my class. Doubly galling as I shall have to miss next week's as well because I am speaking at a conference on Middle East intellectual property law at the Langham Hotel on the 12 Dec 2013. As Annemarie is a great teacher I rang the Northern Ballet Academy to send her my apologies. "No problem" said the kind lady at the other end. "there's a beginners' class at 19:00 tonight if you can make it in time".
Eventually the tree was moved and I reached my humble abode in time to prepare myself a late lunch or early dinner and make my way to Quarry Hill by 18:45. The class took place in studio 3 which Annemarie had used on a couple of occasions. It has mirrors on only one wall and that is the wall where there is no barre. The class was very much like the one I had taken at Pineapple a few weeks earlier, lots of earnest looking disgustingly fit and thin young men and women one third of my age.
I understand that the class is usually taken by Fiona Beale but she was indisposed last night so it was taken by a teacher who introduced himself as "Chris". "Could that be Christopher Hinton-Lewis?" I wondered. One of my favourite dancers. Dancers look so different when you see them off the stage without makeup, lighting or costume. Well I couldn't think of any other Chris on the teaching staff so I guess it must have been. "What am I an ageing female version of Horace Rumpole of "traditional build" like Mma Ramotswe doing in the presence of this Adonis?" I thought to myself.
Class started with pliés though the sequences were a bit more complex and energetic than I am used to starting in second with port de bras, rises and quite brisk turns but I survived. I also survived tendus and frappés plus a brush through which Chris described as "getting shit off your shoe" and an exercise which so far as I can remember was tendus to en plat front, side and back with the right foot culminating in a retiré. Quite a lot for an old lady.
Then we went into the centre which started off tamely enough with port de bras but became increasingly complex. The next exercise was pirouettes and that is something at which I am not very good. However, I did pick up some good tips and to my great surprise I was able to complete first 90, then 180 and finally 360 degree turns - more or less.
We next did chassés and pas de bourrée and even managed something approaching a port de bras which Chris commended. I felt quite confident about that because Annemarie is mustard when it comes to port de bras. Finally we did some jumps which is about the only thing I can remember from my very first ballet classes in St Andrews 44 years ago. My teacher, Sally, used to get me jumping like a jack in the box. Chris started us with simple jumps in first and finally got us to do échappés.
It was very hard work but a wonderful class and great fun. "See you next week" said one of the girls afterwards which was a wonderful boost to the self-confidence. "Was this your first class?" asked another which brought me back to earth with a bump. Was I really that bad? Anyway Chris invited me back though I am not sure how often that will be possible as I am already taking one regular class on a Thursday and nobody pays me to take ballet classes.
Monday, 2 December 2013
MurleyDance Triple Bill Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds 1 Dec 2013
Topics like ageing, cancer, death and gender dysphoria are not exactly a bundle of laughs but they are aspects of the human condition which the arts exist to explain. Yesterday's ballets by David Murley, Briar Adams and Gwyn Emberton performed by MurleyDance at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre addressed each of those issues and more. As some of those topics were a bit close to the bone they did not make for comfortable watching but they were compelling. I would not have missed the show for the world. MurleyDance, which I discussed in "Something to brighten up your Friday - MurleyDance is coming to the North" 8 Nov 2013 consists of those 3 choreographers and 6 remarkable dancers.
One of those dancers is Sarah Kundi who is a particular favourite and I have to be careful how I explain why. In "Why Ballet Black Is special" 20 May 2013 I wrote:
"I was reminded of Fonteyn by Sarah Kundi when I first saw Depouillage on YouTube. Am I flattering Kundi extravagantly? I don't think so. Take a look at this YouTube clip of Marguerite and Armand and then another look at Depouillage. See what I mean?
When I actually saw Kundi on stage for the first time in a Quadruple Bill at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre on Saturday 18 May the resemblance to the prima ballerina assoluta was quite uncanny."
Now those sentences have probably embarrassed the artist - for which I apologize - and many would say that they show how little I know about ballet; but I do not resile from them for a moment, Now I don't mean to compare Kundi to one of the greatest dancers if not the greatest of all time but Fonteyn actuated a switch that released contentment. No other dancer before or since has done that for me until now. Yesterday as in May Kundi flipped that switch in my brain. I don't know how she does it. Perhaps her stature or possibly her fluency and grace. But somehow I float when she dances. No other dancer has that effect on me.
The first work of the evening was Murley's La Peau which transposed into dance Raphael's Three Graces, Ingres's La Grande Odalisque, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's Dying Slave. The video shot in Edinburgh that I embedded into my last post on MurleyDance shows extracts from that ballet.
- The movement inspired by Raphael was titled Vanity and was danced by Sarah Kundi, Bianca Hopkins and Simona Marsabilio to the adagio in Albioni's Oboe Concerto in D Minor.
- The movement inspired by Ingres was a ravishing pas de deux by Joshua Royal and Giulia Neri to music by Patrick Hawes. These are beautiful dancers. Royal is sleek and strong and Neri is smouldering and passionate.
- It took me some time to get the connection between the Birth of Venus and Ageing danced by Simona Marsibilio as the no longer young chanteuse and her nurses, Hopkins and Kundi. The connection clicked several hours after the show when I realized that what I had perceived as an outsize bedpan was in fact the shell of the Botticelli. The music also threw me for a while: a translation of Serge Lama's La Chanteuse a Vingt Ans (see the YouTube video here) by Murley and Paul Kelly set to music by Juan Rezzuto and sung by the soprano Emma Sewell. Just about everything bar the kitchen sink was thrown into that movement but it worked. Marsibilio is another rare talent. I shed silent tears for her as she struggled for her dignity en pointe as she was bundled brutally into a straitjacket by the red uniformed nurses. To stay on point, even for a few seconds with one's hands constrained, must have been horrible.
- Death the movement inspired by The Dying Slave was another slow burn because of the use of a step ladder but the dancing was exquisite. Umberto Aragno has a beautifully expressive face and great sensitivity.
My favourite work of the evening was The Marks We Leave by Adams to music by Al MacSween. I think it is about the reactions of the young to the realization of their mortality. According to the programme the dancers in the piece are all around the ages of 16 to 17. Having seen the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company (see "The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013" 25 Nov) I would love to see what those dancers would make of Adams's work. There are some strong roles: Augustus, an athlete suffering from brain cancer, danced by Royal, Caroline his girl friend who had died of a brain tumour danced by Kundi and Monica danced by Neri. This work enabled those dancers to display their virtuosity.
Gwyn Emberton's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress to a score by Razzuto is based on Alan Ball's play by the same name. As I have not seen the play and I am not sure how well it is known in the UK I reproduce the story from the Dramatists Play Service website:
"During an ostentatious wedding reception at a Knoxville, Tennessee, estate, five reluctant, identically clad bridesmaids hide out in an upstairs bedroom, each with her own reason to avoid the proceedings below. They are Frances, a painfully sweet but sheltered fundamentalist; Mindy, the cheerful, wise-cracking lesbian sister of the groom; Georgeanne, whose heartbreak over her own failed marriage triggers outrageous behavior; Meredith, the bride's younger sister whose precocious rebelliousness masks a dark secret; and Trisha, a jaded beauty whose die-hard cynicism about men is called into question when she meets Tripp, a charming bad-boy usher to whom there is more than meets the eye. As the afternoon wears on, these five very different women joyously discover a common bond in this wickedly funny, irreverent and touching celebration of the women's spirit."The choreographer introduced one important change by transforming Mindy from a lesbian into a man who "yearns to be the woman he's always wanted to be." That character was danced by Aragno. The dress was represented by a purple garment worn by all the women and Aragno who removed his male clothes to reveal the dress. Though he danced without wig, makeup or pointe shoes he transitioned before our very eyes and then back to male again. This was the only work with any hint of humour in the show - a tussle between two bridesmaids over a necklace in which Kundi showed she can tease as well as dance - but also some violence when one of the girls was knocked out cold.
I have never attended the birth of a new company before and it is exciting, I think I have a flavour of what it must have been like at the Mercury in the 1930s when Marie Rambert staged her first shows or at Oxford Road in Manchester in the late 1960s when Northern Dance Theatre was launched. I could be wrong but I think that MurleyDance will grow and mature. I wish it well.
Monday, 25 November 2013
Stuttgart Ballet Taming of the Shrew Sadler's Wells 23 Nov 2013
In the film that preceded yesterday's performance by the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company of Hans van Manen's Kwintet, one of the dancers (I think it was Daniel Cooke but I could be wrong) spoke about the history of the work and the dancers for whom it was created but added "it was way before my time," Oh puer felix to be so talented and so young. Alas van Danzig and such stars as Alexandra Radius were not before my time. Van Manen was one of the Colossuses of the time that I first began to appreciate dance. And John Cranko (whom I discussed in "Cranko's "Taming of the Shrew": Now's our chance to see one of the Ballets everyone should see before they die" 21 Sept 2013) was another.
I first heard of Cranko's Taming of the Shrew from the review in the July 1969 issue of Dance and Dancers and I made up my mind to see the ballet when I could. Last Saturday I achieved that ambition when Cranko's company, the Stuttgart Ballet, performed the ballet at Sadler's Wells. The French have an expression "Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre" which is roughly equivalent to "patience is a virtue" but it means something more than that. If you wait long enough you will be amply rewarded albeit, perhaps, in Heaven. And so it proved with the Stuttgart Ballet's performance on 23 Nov 2013.
Cranko had created the ballet for the great Marcia Haydée who was one of the greats of her age along with Antoinette Sibley, Lynn Seymour and Alexandra Radius (see "Ballerina" 1 July 2013). However, something of her greatness was reflected by Sue Jin Kang who danced Katherina on Saturday together with Flip Barankiewicz as Petruchio. These are both exceptionally gifted dancers as you can see from the YouTube clip of their dancing those roles in an earlier performance.
The ballet follows the play pretty faithfully save that Cranko dropped the prologue and substituted his own sub-plot of Lucentio's duping Gremio and Hortensio into marrying two local sex workers, something that could easily have been written by Shakespeare. For a feminist Taming of the Shrew is not an easy play to watch and the ballet was worse with actions not words. Starving poor Katherina and depriving her of sleep Guantanamo style so that she ends up saying:
"Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable."
Ooh it makes my blood boil. I was mentally settling the divorce petition on Saturday night. But Petruchio as danced by Barankiewicz is a hunk so I suppose you can see why she gave in to him. :-(
Cranko gives strong roles to Lucentio danced by Evan McKie and Bianca danced by Hyo-Jung Kang but also demanding character roles for Gremio (Brent Parolin), the priest (Matteo Crockard-Villa) and the tarts (Magdalena Dziegielewska and Daisy Long).
This is a happy ballet with a strong sense of fun. We English like to tease the Germans for their lack of a sense of humour so we say; but this ballet is hilarious. There are at least as many laughs as is Ashton's La fille mal gardée. Bits that the audience loved were Bianca's turning Gremio's script the right way round after he had finished wooing her and the dancers on their backs at the end of the first Act.
I ought to say a few words about the score which was Kurt Heinz Stolze's arrangement of Scarlatti. Not everybody liked it but I did. Tragically, Stolze like Cranko died far too young. Also a word about Elizabeth Dalton's sets and costumes - simple as though for The Globe but instantly recognizable.
One of the reasons I have had to wait 44 years to see Shrew is that the Stuttgart Ballet hardly ever come to London. I think we had to wait 20 years to see it staged in England for the first time and even longer for the company to come back again. This should be a staple of all major ballet companies because it has everything. Powerful turns and jumps for the men, a wonderfully dramatic role for the ballerina and lots for the character artists. Just the sort of thing for a new director to get his teeth into.
|Stadsshouwburg, Amsterdam Source Wikipedia|
Often when one builds up high hopes and expectations one is disappointed. I had built up very high hopes and enormous expectations of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company. And you know what? My hopes and expectations were exceeded.
As it is rather late and I have a plane to catch at 09:30 I shall have to be brief. This evening we saw 8 short works the last of which was a world premiere. Each of these works was introduced by a short film with commentary by the dancers or choreographer.
The first ballet was Minuet choreographed by Ernst Meisner the Junior Company's artistic director to music by Handel, It was danced by two young American dancers Therese Davis and Daniel Cooke. Dressed sumptuously as the Sun King's courtiers against a backdrop of what appeared to be Versailles they executed the intricate steps with precision and elegance. This was a good choice for the start of the evening because ballet can trace its origins to the French court of this period.
In a way the next ballet continued that theme. A voice explained why the vocabulary of ballet is French. It asked Daniel Montero to demonstrate sequentially 100 positions in ballet. Then the commentator called the positions randomly forcing the dancer to greater and greater exertions culminating in turns to the whine of a jet aircraft engine. The lights dimmed for a few seconds to reveal a stage full of body parts, "Position 101"boomed the voice to the audience's laughter. Happily the scattered body parts were not those of Mr Montero though the bust was a pretty good likeness. Montero took his bow to thunderous applaus. The ballet was called "Ballet 101"and the music (such as it was) was by Jens-Peter Abele.
The third ballet was Rudi van Dantzig's arrangement of the first pas de deux of Odette and Siegfried in Swan Lake. Odette was danced by Jessica Xuan and Siegfried by Nathan Brhane. The audience loved them and so did I.
I had come to Amsterdam to see Michaela dePrince about whom I have written a lot. She appeared as Diana in Diana & Actaeon a ballet originally choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova for the Kirov in 1935. Soviet ballet was athletic and spectacular requiring enormous virtuosity. I had seen something of dePrince's virtuosity in her YouTube videos but she is even more impressive in real life. She is quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while. It cannot be easy to partner a dancer of dePrince's calibre but Sho Yamada was equal to the task. He dazzled the audience with his jumps and turns. A very powerful dancer.
Next came Peter Wright's pas de quatre in Sleeping Beauty. Having recently seen Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance at The Lowry (see "The Sleeping Beauty - a Review and why the Ballet is important" 29 Sep 2013)Wright's choreography was fresh in my mind. Veronika Verleich, Wantao Li, Nancy Burer and Mert Erdin executed it faithfully,
The last work of the first Act was Saltarello another ballet by Meisner. Another opportunity for Yamada and dePrince to display their virtuosity together with Sofia Rubio Robles and Montero. In the introductory film before the ballet dePrince explained that the work was based on an Italian folk dance that required great technical skill but was also fun to dance. With music by Mendelssohn and beautiful rainbow costumes this was my favourite work of the show.
After the interval Xuan danced Quintet with Brhane, Cooke, Mert Erdin and Wantao Li. "In this ballet I get to dance with four men at the same time"she remarked charmingly. Choreographed by Hans van Manen to Mozart's music in 1974 this is one of the great works of 20th century ballet. The audience knew it well and clearly loved it. At the end of the performance the great man himself came on stage to take a bow.
The final work of the evening was a new ballet by the English choreographer George Williamson called Dawn Dances. This had been commissioned for the company and this performance was the world premiere. In the introductory film Williamson explained that his aim was to give each of the dancers an opportunity to shine while still working as a team. From my perspective he certainly achieved that objective.
Until tonight I had only seen two standing ovations the last as recently as September ("Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sep 2013). I never expected to see another and certainly not so soon. But stand we did. Not in groups as in Leeds but as if we were one. Now I don't think the Dutch are more emotional or given to hyperbole than us British and they see a lot of ballet in Amsterdam. I doubt that they stand very often. Clearly this was more than just a good evening. It was outstanding.
I should just like to say a few words about the Stadsshouwburg. It is one of the most beautiful theatres I have ever seen. It is an intimate auditorium but it has all the grandeur of an opera house with tiers of galleries and intricate moldings. Not a bad place for these talented dancers to start what are likely to be stellar careers.
Hans van Manen Interview for Northern Ballet Northern Ballet's YouTube Channel
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
I have written a lot about Michaela dePrince in this blog and she deserves attention because she is a very promising young dancer, But then so, it would seem. are all these others. It looks as though I am in for a treat when I see the Junior Company of the Netherlands National Ballet perform at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam on Sunday.
Here are the names of all the members of the company
- Michaela DePrince,
- Jessica Xuan;
- Nathan Brhane,
- Mert Erdin,
- Daniel Montero,
- Sho Yamada
- Nancy Burer,
- Therese Davis,
- Sofia Rubio Robles,
- Veronika Verterich;
- Daniel Cooke, and
- Wentao Li.
As you can see from the film these dancers come from all parts of the world.
The company is now touring the Netherlands with a programme of extracts from the classics as well as new works commissioned specially for its young dancers. If I can squeeze my Chromebook into my luggage and the hotel has wifi I shall review the performance on Sunday night.
If anybody from the Netherlands reads this article perhaps he or she can tell me the word for "chookas". Whatever it is I wish the company well for the start of their season on Friday.
|Apparently something to do with Dr. Who Source Wikipedia|
This Saturday I shall see the Stuttgart Ballet dance Taming of the Shrew at Sadlers Well's. The next day I am catching an easyJet flight from Luton to see the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company dance at the Staddschowburg in Amsterdam. Then next Sunday I shall be in the audience of the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre for MurleyDance.
"Aren't you being a teeny weeny bit obsessive?" asked one friend who is a Dr Who fan. Another friend who is a Chelsea supporter told me to get a life. "Like watching 22 grown men chasing an inflated pig's bladder around a freezing stadium?" I replied. If you ever want a study in obsession find yourself a football fan. When I was at St Andrews I learned of somebody's dad who demonstrated his allegiance to Rangers by planting forget-me-nots in his lawn as that was the only part of his dwelling that he could not paint blue. And as for Dr Who I remember being dragged around industrial estates in South Wales after a strenuous hearing in the Trade Marks Registry by a former clerk on the hunt for David Tennant. "Now there's obsession for you" as the locals would probably say.
Now balletomania isn't like that. It can save lives and civilize as I mentioned in my article on "The New Mariinksy" of 4 May 2013. Tamara Karsavina's brother probably owed his life and certainly his liberty to the fact that his interrogator loved ballet. And I don't think that loving ballet is an obsession for it is nothing more than the pursuit and admiration of beauty. A dancer like Sarah Kundi actuates an electrochemical switch in the brain that induces a feeling of contentment and well being. Look at her "Dépouillage" in "Ballet Black's Appeal" of 12 March 2013 or her "Dépouillement" after the terrible events in Woolwich. See what I mean. That's why I can hardly wait for MurleyDance (a company that I would have longed to see anyway for the reasons I set out in "Something to brighten up your Friday" on 8 Nov 2013).
As for the trip to Holland I think we shall see a lot of Michaela de Prince in the opera houses of the world but at seat prices greatly in excess of a return flight on a budget airline. Often a dancer is at his or her best when he or she is young and I shall have seen this remarkable young artist while she is still young (see "Michaela dePrince" of 4 April 2013).
As for "Taming of the Shrew" see my post of 21 Sept as why John Cranko's masterpiece is one ballet everybody should see before they die.
If you are still unconvinced go, find yourself a dalek to play with.