Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Hungarian National Ballet's Sleeping Beauty: Aurora's Wedding

Aurora's Wedding
Photo: Attila Nagy
(c) 2016 Hungarian National Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

On the 17 April 2016 I attended the première of the Hungarian National Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty  at the State Opera House in Budapest which I reviewed in Sir Peter Wright's The Sleeping Beauty in Budapest 23 April 2016.

I have just received from Mr György Jávorszky, International Communications Project Manager of the Hungarian State Opera, ten beautiful photographs of the ballet which were taken by Mr Attila Nagy with permission to reproduce them in my blog. Over the next few days I shall show them all.

I start with the final scene of Aurora's wedding. If you look closely you will see tiny fragments of gold tinsel falling onto the stage.  I picked up one of those bits of tinsel and brought it back to England as a reminder of that delightful performance.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Another Masterclass

Michaela DePrince and her students, Danceworks, 7 July 2015
(c) 2015 Danceworks Ltd

One of the most popular articles that I have ever published was Michaela's Masterclass 8 July 2015. It was about a master class that Michaela DePrince gave at Danceworks on 7 July 2015.  Lesley Osman, the general manager, sent me some lovely pictures as well as an account of the class by one of the students, Ciara Sturrock.

Michaela DePrince will return to Danceworks for another master class on 18 July 2016.  Anyone who wants to attend the class should contact Lesley as soon as possible.

Michaela's classes are well beyond my capability but there are plenty of others in all dance styles for all abilities. I took one with Hendrick January in January which I thoroughly enjoyed (see Hendrick's Class at Danceworks 19 Jan 3016).

Jakop Ahlbom's Swan Lake

Teaser Swan Lake from Jakop Ahlbom on Vimeo.

First we had Mat Ek's Swan Lake, then Sir Matthew Bourne's, next David Nixon's, then Alexander Ekman and now Jakop Ahfbom's which will be danced at the Meervaart Theatre in Amsterdam between 21 and 30 June 2016 before going on tour to Eindhoven and Roosendaal in September.  According to Jakop Ahlbom's website, this is a joint production with the International Choreographic Arts Centre in Amsterdam ("ICK") and the Meervaart Theatre.  The Meervaart, incidentally, is the theatre in which the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company danced Ballet Bubbles on 14 Feb 2016.

The synopsis of the ballet is set out here:
"Swan Lake is een moderne vertaling van Het Zwanenmeer, een vrije interpretatie van het oorspronkelijke sprookje. Centraal in zijn bewerking staat de destructieve kracht van liefde. Hoe gaan wij om met de liefde, in alle puurheid maar ook in de dubbelhartigheid ervan. Jakop is geïnteresseerd in het dilemma van de mens die we willen zijn, en de mens die we soms moeten en zullen zijn. Hoe blijven we dicht bij onszelf in ons verlangen naar de ander, in ons verlangen naar volmaaktheid. Swan Lake is een associatieve vertelling, waarin de personages zich gewaar worden van hun obscure kanten, liefde niet alles overwint en een mens zijn diepste wezen niet kan verloochenen."
Now I have never studied Dutch (though I have German which I believe helps) so my translation may well be rubbish but I think that means that Swan Lake is a modern version of Swan Lake, a free interpretation of the traditional folk tale. The rest I can't make head or tale out of at all and the Google machine translation seems to be gobbledegook.

I have had a little bit more luck in the Lees Meer (Read More) section:
"Het oorspronkelijke Zwanenmeer vertelt het verhaal van de witte zwaan Odette, die is betoverd door de tovenaar Von Rothbart. Zij is ‘s nachts vrouw, maar overdag moet ze als zwaan door het leven. Tijdens een jachtpartij staat prins Siegfried op het punt de witte zwaan neer te schieten, als zij plots in een mooie vrouw verandert. Ze worden verliefd en hij belooft haar te trouwen. Dan zal de vloek verbroken worden. Ze spreken af dat zij die avond naar het bal op het kasteel zal komen. Daar verschijnt echter Von Rothbart met zijn dochter Odile. Zij is het zwarte evenbeeld van Odette. Siegfried denkt dat het zijn geliefde is, danst met haar en belooft haar zijn trouw. Als Odette bij het kasteel arriveert, ziet Siegfried zijn vergissing in. Haar kans op verlossing lijkt verloren."
This seems to tell the story of Von Rothbart's spell over Odette, Siegfried's falling in love with her and Rothbart's passing off Odile as Odette quite faithfully.

One big difference between this Swan Lake and everybody else's is that the choreographer is using an adaptation  of Tchaikovsky by Alamo Race Track rather than the original score. The cast will include Helena Volkov, Tycho Hupperets, Gwen Langenberg,  Ivan Cidrian Ugrin and Silke Hundertmark.

Sadly I won't be able to make it as I shall be in Italy for the Casa for Alessia gala but should be happy to publish a review from any of my dear readers.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Why I Still Go to Class - Despite Everything

LAMDA Poem - Stage Three - Ballet Lesson Wildcats Academy (Wildcats Theatre School)

Standard YouTube Licence

"Aren't you a bit too old for this ballet malarkey?" ask my chums from time to time. After seeing an overweight, lumbering hippo in black trying to do temps levés and balancé turns at least half a second behind everyone else in the Romeo and Juliet intensive (see Romeo and Juliet Intensive - the awful proof as the camera does not lie 21 April 2016) I could understand their point.  For a few days I was absolutely pole axed by those pictures. I chickened out at the last moment of two classes that I normally attend out of pure embarrassment.

It did not take long to realize that there is no need to be embarrassed in class because everyone is too preoccupied with their own exercises to have time or energy to take an interest in anybody else's. However, that is a reason for not avoiding class rather than a positive reason for going to class.

I think I go to class for four reasons even though it can be tiring, sometimes painful and always takes up a lot of time. 

The main reason is that  I have learned more about ballet from the classes that I have taken over the last three years than I had picked up in a lifetime of watching performances from the stalls. I am far too old and far too fat and feeble ever to learn pointe and I cannot do most of the turns and jumps but I can do at least some of the steps and know how it feels to do them. More importantly I have - albeit fleetingly and imperfectly - felt the music flow through my body and to express the music which is an experience I think every dancer must know. It is a glorious sensation which makes all the pain and effort worthwhile.

Closely related to that is the excitement one gets just before a show as one finds one's position on stage in the dark. Then the music strikes up and the dancers go. It is actually very like the feeling I get when I go into court. I wrote about it the first time I did a show in The Time of My Life 28 June 2014. Strange though it may seem, I like advocacy too.

That leads me into my third reason which is that it helps me to do my job. Advocacy like dancing is a young person's game. It requires enormous explosions of energy in a very short time. It requires mastery of a lot of facts. It requires anticipation of what is to come. Exactly the qualities needed for ballet. That point arose when I met Sir Peter Wright in Budapest two weeks ago (see My Trip to Hungary 21 April 2016).
"Ballet keeps you mentally alert as well as physically fit" observed Sir Peter.
"I know" I replied. "I can speak from experience. It helps me do my job better."
"Oh!" exclaimed Sir Peter looking bemused. "And what kind of job might that be?"
"I'm a barrister. I have to be as nimble in my thoughts as you in your body and I have found the two go together."
The look of bemusement disappeared. He knew exactly what I meant.
So when my clerk remonstrates out of exasperation: "Nobody pays you to be a ballerina, do they miss" that will be my reply in future.

Finally, I have found a great esprit de corps in every ballet class I have done. Through class I have met some really nice people and made some very good friends, particularly in my Over 55 class. There are some splendid women who have led very impressive lives in that class.  After we have pivoted precariously and thumped about doing sautes I like nothing better than sitting down with them in Café 164 or the tables by the lift at Quarry Hill to listen to their stories as well as their opinions - always interesting and original, occasionally provocative and sometimes brilliant - on just about everything.

So although ballet takes up a lot of time - although I am like Mma Ramotswe of "traditional build" - I shall still turn up in Manchester, Leeds or Huddersfield a couple of times a  week and, occasionally, Danceworks or Pineapple or, indeed, even Budapest for my fix however ridiculous I may look.

Prickling - NDT2 in Bradford

NDT2's Cacti
(c) 2016 Nederlands Dans Theater, all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the company

NDT2, Mixed Programme, Alhambra, 30 April 2016

I saw Nederlands Dans Theater 2 at the Alhambra last night and enjoyed their performance in Bradford even more than their show at The Lowry (see NBT2 at the Lowry  24 April 2016). Yet again my favourite was van Manen's Solo and once again I was dazzled by the virtuosity of Gregory Lau but I also appreciated the other works a little more, particularly Sad CaseMutual Comfort  and Cacti and I was impressed by the other dancers, especially Katerina van den Wouwer and Alice Godfrey. Some Other Time was omitted from the Bradford programme but otherwise it was the same as the one in Salford.

Despite its title there was nothing particularly sad about Sad Case. The Latin American music was exuberant and the pace fast. Voices could be heard speaking Spanish: a count down, then something that sounded like a dialogue from one of the Spanish language TV soaps of the kind you often find on the hotel telly when you have just landed from a Transatlantic flight, an ecstatic "Ay, yai, yai, yai" and finally an "ay, yai, yai, yai" with the stress on the final "yai". The audience exploded in mirth. Thoughts of the breakfast scene from When Harry Met Sally perhaps. This was a work that involved the whole company. It was vibrant and fast. I wish I could see it again soon.

Edward Clug's Mutual Comfort followed after the first break. close intense dancing by van den Wouwer and Godfrey with Benjamin Behrends and Lau. I particularly liked Milko Lazar music with its incessant, compulsive beat. It was a short but powerful work.  I had not fully realized just how good it was first time round as I had been waiting for Solo.  This time I think I did it justice.

Solo was as exciting in Bradford as it had been in Salford and it raised the biggest applause. The house was less than full yesterday but you would never have guessed that from the noise that they made. Yet again it was Lau who raised the biggest cheer.

As is Salford, the whole of the last part was taken up by Cacti. It was introduced by the droning of an American male voice which might have come from an anthropology lecture at a US junior college or, worse, a low budget TV show. I could not make head or tail of what he was saying but that was probably the choreographer's idea. There were scenes of the whole company on wooden platforms conducting what seemed to be some meaningless ritual. Then a cackle of laughter, more simian than human. Then a dialogue between a man and a woman on dividing their assets including a lifeless cat which fell from the ceiling, The American voice could be heard at the end. "This is the end", "I know this is the end", "I know" with added frustration as the dancers kept dancing. It was a fine work to a fine score - particularly the Beethoven - and some dramatic scenes such as this one towards the end.

NDT2's Cacti
(c) 2016 Nederlands Dans Theater, all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the company

Sadly, the company has finished its run in the North and is now moving on to the Hippodrome, Plymouth, Nottingham, Brighton and Sadler's Wells. Most of the young dancers in NDT2 will graduate to the main company soon but they will be replaced by a new intake whom I look forward to seeing soon.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Some More Information on Alessia

Ernst Meisner's Embers

Standard YouTube Licence

Last year I was lucky enough to see Ernst Meisner's Embers twice: once in Amsterdam on 6 Feb 2015 (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015) and again in London (Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015). When I first saw it I wrote:
"Quite simply, it is one of the most beautiful ballets I have ever seen. Its beauty had me close to tears."
When I saw it again at Covent Garden I wrote:
"The next work was Ernst Meisner's Embers danced by Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme. In my previous review I described it as "quite simply ....... one of the most beautiful ballets I have ever seen." It moved me the first time I saw it on film - a performance on the concourse of Amsterdam railway station which I embedded into Junior Company's New Season 6 Feb 2015. It moved me again last night. "
I loved it so much that I named Meisner my choreographer of the year for 2015 (see Highlights of 2015 29 Dec 2015) and I might add that right now he is on course for being choreographer of the year for 2016 for his No Time Before Time (see Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016).

I will have (and you too gentle readers can all have) the opportunity to see this masterpiece again if you come to Trecate near Novara in North West Italy on 28 June 2016 at 21:00 for the Gala for Alessia which I mentioned in Principato's Project on 7 April 2016 and Update on the Trecate Gala 28 April 2016. Embers will round off a brilliant evening of dance from the most promising young dancers in some of the world's greatest ballet companies which is being directed by Cristiano Principato of the Dutch National Ballet. Cristiano explains that he has chosen Embers to end his gala because it is "all about the sunset of a great love and that reminds me of a stunning but very dramatic sunset."

The love that the gala is celebrating is that of a family for a remarkable young woman called Alessia Mairati. She came from Novara (a town just a little bit bigger than Barnsley and about the same distance from Milan as Barnsley is from Manchester). Cristiano explained that:
"Alessia was the daughter of a colleague of my father so our families were always really close. Alessia died twelve years ago when she was only eighteen year old. She was on a school exchange spending her last year of secondary school at a school in Ecuador. She was telling her family about how poor people were in Latin America and saying that she really wanted to do something concrete to help those people once she returned to Italy. Unfortunately her plane crushed on her way back. So ten years ago her father founded the charity, Casa Alessia, to make her dream of helping to alleviate poverty come true."
 If you can read Italian you will find her life story here, her emails here and some lovely photos of her here.

As they were very close to Alessia's family, Cristiano's was very distressed by the tragedy. That was particularly true of his father who fell ill and he has still not recovered. Because of that illness, he has not been able to travel long distances to see his son on stage. Since it takes place very close to home, the Gala for Alessia will be Mr Principato senior's first opportunity in 7 years to see what his son can do. I am sure he will be a very proud man indeed. No wonder Cristiano is so excited.

Every year Casa Alessia holds a concert to raise money for its work.  Because his heart is very close to Casa Alessia and Alessia's father, Cristiano always wanted to take part in that event but he was not allowed to do so while at ballet school. He was also very busy with his academic work - not to mention driving lessons. He started to think about the project last year and this year he has finally made it a reality.

The gala will be divided into two parts. The first is an introduction to ballet and will consist of various pieces from the modern and classical repertoire. Cristiano will open the show with a solo called Tempo which he is choreographing for himself. There will be some classical favourites, the white swan pas de deux and an extract from Coppélia finishing with another of his works called "Palladio", which he is creating for the Dutch National's productions New Moves.
"The second part will be a sort of trip through Casa Alessia's work in Africa made through the choice of pieces that are related to it. It will start in Egypt with a suite from The Pharaoh's Daughter (pas de deux, solos and coda)".  
Cristiano will dance that piece with a dancer from the Wiener Staatsballet.
"Then again some other connections with African diamonds (the diamond solo from The Sleeping Beauty). One contemporary solo about the lack of water and rain, a two boys duet about two orphans, a pas de deux set the night before a soldier would have to leave for the war (Elegie by Ernet Meisner) and a lot of other pieces related to Alessia's life like her love for sunflowers (with an extract from The Flower Festival pas de deux). Every piece of the second part will be explained and introduced by an announcer. "
Finally, Ernst's Meisner Embers.
"It is such a very demanding and challenging event but I will do my best to make that happen and I hope in a great help to Casa Alessia." 
Admission is free but there will be a collection at the end of the show which will enable the audience to show their appreciation for the artists as well as the work of the charity. "We'll dance our hearts out" said Cristiano  "to encourage folk to dig deep. I hope we'll manage to raise a good amount to help Casa Alessia in its amazing work. We're all dancing for free so all the money will go to the charity."

Even if it wasn't for a good cause I would still come to Trecate to see the show. Ernst Meisner has scoured the world to find the world's best young dancers and they will be there to entertain us. Unless I am very much mistaken they are the stars who will be filling Covent Garden, the Met, Palais Garnier, the Bolshoi, the Scala and Stopera in 10 to 15 years time. On our 25th wedding anniversary in 2007 I saw a young lad called Xander Parish in York and I said to my late spouse "In 10 years he will be a big star," Less than 9 years on, was I right or was I right?

I might add that I would also support Casa Alessia and projects like it even if there were no show. I was married to an African and I know its human potential is like a tightly coiled spring. Once it is freed from poverty there will be no stopping its people in every field of human endeavour including the performing arts. Cristiano's colleague, Michaela DePrince, is proof of that.

Ballet in Sub-Saharan Africa

Author: Benji Robertson
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

In 13 Prominent Ballet Dancers and Choreographers Born in Southern Africa 3 May 2009 Ross Dix-Peek wrote:
"Most people would not dare to proffer southern Africa as an example of a prolific breeding ground of ballet dancers and choreographers, but, that she is. South Africa, and what was then Rhodesia, has for many decades now been a veritable nursery for ballet dancers, and her progeny have, after receiving expert local tutelage , often ventured abroad, performing for the Royal Ballet and other stellar ballet companies, some accruing universal acclaim. Listed below are thirteen southern African-born men and women who have distinguished themselves in the ballet fraternity, most notably abroad."
Dix-Peek listed some of the greatest names in dance: John Cranko, Monica Mason, Nadia Nerina and Merle Park. They were, of course, white dancers who made their careers in the United Kingdom and other advanced countries.

One of the most remarkable features of the art form has been its resilience to political change. It might easily have suffered from its association with the ancien regime in Russia and disappeared without trace but instead it was adopted by the Soviets and received considerable support from them. Later it survived the fall of the Soviet Union and continues to prosper in the current political and economic climate.

A similar transition seems to have occurred in Southern Africa. There was an audience for ballet in the apartheid period and it might have been feared that ballet would have been tainted by association with that system but that does not appear to have happened. South Africans of all races have trained in the art though many continue to make their careers in Europe and North America.

There are however signs that a market for dance is developing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yesterday the BBC posted the video"Ballet: 'Every dancer should have this background'" 29 April 2016 about ballet in Nigeria to its website. The film featured Sarah Boulos, Chairperson of the Society for Performing Arts in Nigeria ("SPAN"), which describes itself as "a registered NGO offering unprecedented opportunities in dance, music, theatre and visual arts to Nigeria's talented citizens."  A Google search of ballet in Nigeria revealed this YouTube video of children having fun and correspondence between a number of young Nigerian women who sought ballet training and a US website (see Career Development Plan - Ballet in Nigeria on Ballet Dancers Guide.com).

Elsewhere I have written about Mike Wamaya's class in one of the toughest neighbourhoods of Nairobi (see What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013) which I followed up last year with Back to Africa 7 Jan 2015 and Revisiting Kenya with Obama 25 July 2015. One development that I should very much like to see would be a ballet school in Freetown (see A Ballet School for Freetown 20 May 2014) as it is the capital of the country where Michaela DePrince was born (see Michaela DePrince at TEDx Amsterdam 28 Nov 2014) and also a country with which I have many connections.

Though these developments are encouraging there is still a long way to go. Lagos has had a 5,000 seater National Arts Theatre for the last 40 years but I struggle to find evidence of any kind of performance there, much less a ballet one. With any luck that may change as Africa celebrates the achievements of dancers like DePrince and Mthuthuzeli November who are making a name for themselves abroad.