Monday, 5 December 2016

Ballet Cymru's "Sleeping Beauty Moment"

The Millennium Centre
(c) 2016 Jane Lambert: all rights reserved

Ballet Cymru Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs Millennium Centre, 4 Dec 2016

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend an event which may be as significant for Ballet Cymru as the first performance of The Sleeping Beauty by the Sadler's Wells Ballet in the Royal Opera House on 20 Feb 1946 was for the Royal Ballet. That performance of The Sleeping Beauty made the Royal Ballet. There is every chance that yesterday's performance of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs before a packed house at the Wales Millennium Centre with the entire BBC National Orchestra of Wales will do the same for Ballet Cymru. The performance celebrated two significant anniversaries: the centenary of Roald Dahl's birth in Llandaff  and the 30th anniversary of the formation of Ballet Cymru (see Our History on Ballet Cymru's website).

The show took place in the Donald Gordon Theatre which is a massive auditorium as my photograph shows. According to Wikipedia it has 1,897 seats which makes that auditorium significantly larger than The Lowry with 1,730, the Leeds Grand Theatre with 1,550. and the Bradford Alhambra with 1,440 and only slightly smaller than the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum. There was barely an empty seat in the house.  With a population of only 346,000, Cardiff is not a massive city. To attract nearly 1,900 people tat 16:00 in the run-up to Christmas speaks volumes for the regard that members of the public have for Ballet Cymru.

I had seen the show at the Riverfront Theatre in Newport on 21 May 2016 and reviewed it in Ballet Cymru's Summer Tour 22 May 2016. David Murley saw it in the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells last week and reviewed it in Little Red Riding Hood comes to London on 2 Dec 2016. On each of those occasions the dancers performed to recorded music. Dancing to a massive symphony orchestra presented logistical questions such as where to put the musicians. They were too numerous for an orchestra pit and part of the attraction was to experience the orchestra playing a new work.

Donald Gordon Theatre
(c) 2016 Jane Elizabeth Lambert: all rights reserved
The answer was to put the orchestra on stage as in Elite Syncopations. Just before the show started the musicians and dancers assembled behind the screen in the photo to the left. As the house lights dimmed, silhouettes of the musicians and dancers could be made out. The curtain rose and the lights focused on Mark Griffiths who began the story by introducing the wolf and other forest creatures. I had feared that a work that had been designed for small or medium theatres would be swamped by the sheer expanse of the auditorium but the orchestra scaled up the production naturally and seamlessly.

The role of Little Red Riding Hood had been danced by Lydia Arnoux. I don't know whether Darius James and Amy Doughty had created it for her but she was well suited to it. When I read in David Murley's review that Anna Pujol had danced Little Red Riding Hood in London I was intrigued because Pujol is taller and dances differently. Pujol certainly impressed David Murley:
"Spanish company Artist Anna Pujol portrayed a likeable, empowered, no-nonsense and even glamorous Little Red Riding Hood. Pujol has sass and class. There were moments speckled throughout the piece when she was a budding Cyd Charisse."
I was impressed too. She made the role her own. There are a lot of chaînés and other  pyrotechnics in James and Doughty's choreography which Pujol executed exquisitely.

All the dancers performed well and it would be unfair to single any out for special praise but I loved Robbie Moorcroft's depiction of the "bad grandma", Dylan Waddell's mean wolf and half pantomime cow and Miguel Fernantes's other half. It was as always good to see Krystal Lowe on stage again as a guest artist.

I met the dancers briefly at a small party after the show. They told me about the thrill they experienced at dancing to a full house in a massive theatre. They also loved dancing to live musicians. They want more of both. They are ambitious. They want to see their company grow. They are looking forward to Farnham Maltings on Thursday but they are ready for bigger things now.

Other Reviews

Mike Smith  Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, Ballet Cymru, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Wales Millennium Centre 5 Dec 2016 Art Scene in Wales

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Red Shoes Second Time Round

The Angel and Karen in Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy Tale
Illustrator Vilhelm Pederson
Source Wikipedia

New Adventures The Red Shoes  The Lowry, 3 Dec 2016, 19:30

I enjoyed Friday's performance of The Red Shoes so much that I saw the show again last night. As I bought my ticket at the very last moment there were not many seats available. I had to settle fro the middle of row L in the upper circle.   That was too far back to see the dancers' facial expressions and I would not have known that a pistol had been produced in the romantic ballet but I saw the orchestra from the gods whereas they had been invisible from the stalls and I caught some details such as the reflections on the water at Villefrance-Sur-Mer which I had missed before.

The advantage of seeing The Red Shoes twice is that one picks up details that one missed first time round. For example, one of those details was the sounding of a train whistle when Vicky fell into the arms of Craster after dancing Karen in the Red Shoes at the end of Act I and again when she follows her husband after Lermontov orders him off the premises at the rehearsal of Concerto Macabre. The significance of those train whistles is that Victoria falls under the wheels of a train. Incidentally, I once took a train to Monaco from Èze and shuddered involuntarily as the train pulled into Monte Carlo - Monaco station because memories of the ending of the film flooded back.

One of the features of Bourne's choreography us to include a ballet within the overall work. There is a spoof ballet in his Swan Lake and there are two or possibly three ballet scenes in The Red Shoes.  The ballet within the film was created by Robert Helpmann who was a considerable choreographer in his day. It is sad that so little of his work is performed nowadays. Bourne has followed Helpmann's story quite faithfully but substituted his own choreography. I had forgotten the importance of the ballet within the ballet on Friday night but it is vital to the plot as it links Victoria's fate to the of Karen in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale. I studied tt more carefully second time around and appreciated Brotherton's backdrops and costumes so much more the second time around.

Cordelia Braithwaite danced Victoria Page again but Dominic North danced Craster and Chris Trenfield Lermontov. North is my favourite male dancer at New Adventures. I expect much from him and he did not disappoint me. He danced with passion but also showed arrogance which almost persuaded me that Lermontov was right to get rid of him.  Trentfield portrayed Lermontov with sympathetically particularly the solos where I felt I detected remorse after Victoria had left the company. The new cast certainly gave me new insights into the show.

The Red Shoes have now left Manchester (alright SALFORD if you insist) and are on their way to Sadler's Wells where they will dance for 8 weeks. I hope to see them at the Alhambra when they reappear in the North. I feel drawn to this work in a way that I have never done so with a Bourne work before. That is one of the reasons why I described The Red Shoes as Sir Matthew's masterpiece.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Red Shoes Bourne Again

Sir Matthew Bourne
(c) 2006 New Adventures
Creative Commons Licence
Source Wikipedia

New Adventures The Red Shoes The Lowry, 2 Dec 2016

I have come a long way in my appreciation of Sir Matthew Bourne since I wrote: "Why can't I be nicer to Matthew Bourne?" 5 April 2013. That was the headline of my review of Sir Matthew's Sleeping Beauty which I described as very, very clever but perhaps too clever by half. I could see its merits but I didn't really like it. I think it was Baby Aurora scaling the curtain very early in the performance that drove me up the wall. Not even a sterling performance by Christopher Marney whom I have always admired as Count Lilac could mollify me.

I had mellowed a little by the time I saw Bourne's Swan Lake nearly a year later.  In Swan Lads - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Bradford Alhambra 4 March 2014 5 March 2016 I wrote:
"When I reviewed Bourne's Sleeping Beauty on 6 April 2013 I asked "Why can't I be nicer to Matthew Bourne?" Well, this time I think I can."
I still had reservations but there was much to like from the re-working of Tchaikowsky's music to the kiss that the prince gave a bag lady at the end of act 1. I was so glad I could be nicer Matthew Bourne because he deserved some praise.

I was even more positive about The Car Man which I saw in Sheffield on 24 June 2015.  I wrote in Motoring  25 June 2015:
"Matthew Bourne has never been quite my cup of tea but that does not stop my recognizing quality when I see it. Last night at the Sheffield Lyceum we had quality in spades. Quality in Lez Brotherson's designs. Quality in Terry Davies's score which incorporates Bizet and builds on it. Quality in the dancing including an impressive first performance by Tim Hodges in the role of Luca. Above all, quality in choreography by Matthew Bourne. The Car Man is the best production by New Adventures that I have seen to date."
Bourne read the review and tweeted:
I replied that I had always valued his work just as I esteem Lapsang Souchong or Darjeeling but I still prefer good old Yorkshire tea and milk. Bourne responded that we sounded more similar than I thought. He added "I enjoy the variety in my tea too! Spice of life! Thx again."  He started to follow me on twitter and has commented more than once on articles in this blog proving that he reads it occasionally.

Sir Matthew was in the audience last night when I saw The Red Shoes at The Lowry. He was actually a few seats from me in the stalls and my companion spotted him in the Pier Eight bar in the intermission. I thought about introducing myself to him:
"He actually reads my blog, you know." I said to my companion. "We had over 13,000 page hits last month which may be as many as readers as the critics get in the qualities."
"I think you should," she said and so I did.
From the tone of his voice, I doubt that he could place me when I told him who I was;  but he could not have been more courteous or charming. He asked me whether I was enjoying the show and I was very glad to be able to reply that I was.

For if I hadn't I would have told him and this review would have been dripping with vitriol rather than unguents.  I grew up with The Red Shoes  and love it more than any other film. If I thought anyone was taking liberties with it I would have defended it with all the fury of a tigress protecting her young. In fact, I wanted Bourne that I would in my preview Red Shoes Rebounding 22 Nov 2016:
"I love this film and I think Sir Matthew must do so too. If he has done a good job in transposing it to the stage I shall be deliriously happy and will never say an unkind word about him again. But if I find that he has mucked it up ...................."
Happily, Sir Matthew did not muck it up. He honoured that film and its actors by making something that is at least as beautiful.  In the programme notes Bourne said:
"I have loved this film since I was a teenager with its depiction of a group of people all passionate about creating something magic and beautiful. It seemed to be saying that art was something worth fighting for, even dying for, if the rather melodramatic conclusion is to be believed. It was a world full of glamour, romance and creativity populated by larger than life personalities. In short it was a world I wanted to be part of." 
Although I drew precisely the opposite conclusion, I have always loved the story, the glamour and romance. For me. it is a love story plunged into tragedy by the obduracy of the impresario, Lermontov. and. to a lesser extent, the young composer, Craster.

Sir Matthew follows the film pretty faithfully with just one significant change. Bourne shows Vicky walking out in solidarity with Julian when he is sacked by Lermontov and she is reduced to working in an East End music hall. That did not happen in the film and it would not have happened in real life for ballet had a massive and growing audience in Britain immediately after the second world war as David Bintley reminds us in Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II made British Ballet. However, it fitted the story well and gave Terry Davies an excellent opportunity to incorporate Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road into the score.

Yesterday Cordelia Braithwaite danced Vicky Page. She looked like Moira Shearer and she moved uncannily like Shearer. I can't imagine a better fit.  Chris Trenrtfield made a convincing Craster. In some ways, I thought he was better cast than Marius Goring had been in the same role in the film. Sam Archer was an impressive Lermontov.  Grischa was danced by Glenn Graham and he reminded me very much of Leonide Massine who performed that role in the film.

Lez Brotherson's sets and costumes were magnificent as they always are. They transported us to a lost world of smoking jackets, steam trains and music halls - one that possibly existed during my lifetime but which now seems to be as remote as any in history.  I loved the score and its orchestration as well as the choreographic interpretation.  The duet between Victoria and Craster in their London flat when they decide to return to Monte Carlo was particularly poignant.

This is a splendid production and in my opinion Sir Matthew's masterpiece. I can't see how he can improve on or surpass this work - but, with Sir Matthew, you never know. He is after all the nearest we have to a Diaghilev in our times.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Little Red Riding Hood comes to London

Little Red Riding Hood
Photo John Bishop
(c) 2016 Ballet Cymru: all rights reserved
Reproduced wth kind permission of the company

Ballet Cymru, Little Red Riding Hood and ThrLittletke Pigs, Sadler's Wells, 29 Novm 2016

David Murley

Ballet Cyrmu, a jewel-box of a ballet company, recently performed their production of Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Pigs. Based in Newport, Wales, the company came to London and put the fairy tale inspired show on at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre at Sadler’s Wells from the 28th – 30th November 2016. The performance was perfect in length, not too long or too short. To add, the spectacle goes down a treat with both children and adults alike.

First on the bill for the evening was Little Red Riding Hood. Keeping true to the ‘Revolting Rhymes’ of Welsh author Dahl, the company members execute James’s and Doughty’s choreography with acute precision while maintaining vivid characterisations. Integrating complex footwork and maintaining a high level of animation to sustain characterization is a skill. It takes a lot of energy and concentration – something the dancers of Ballet Cymru have made to seem effortless. There were moments in the enchaînements of the Sprites and Little Red Riding Hood herself where the sequences of dance appeared to be a marathon of endless steps. However, the dancers blazed through the plentiful choreography, again, seamlessly staying in character. 

The technicality of the female dancer’s footwork – especially the use of the metatarsals, particularly amongst the female Sprites in Little Red Riding Hood was noticeably articulate and crisp. From a technical dance point of view, this was exceptionally pleasing to watch. Keep up the good work, ladies! 

Spanish company Artist Anna Pujol portrayed a likeable, empowered, no-nonsense and even glamorous Little Red Riding Hood. Pujol has sass and class. There were moments speckled throughout the piece when she was a budding Cyd Charisse. English Narrator Mark Griffiths, who trained in Canada, finds himself back in the UK in Ballet Cymru after performing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. His solid and robust North American training was evident in his double saut de basques and strong jump. Not only did Griffiths exemplify strong and confident dancing abilities, but he excelled in the role as Narrator. Griffiths was able to speak clearly, audibly and enunciate with clarity that was easy on the ear. To add, Griffiths’s displayed a propensity to chop and change accents as he voiced over the different characters in Dahl’s story. 

After a short interval, the programme continued with Dahl’s The Three Little Pigs. It was refreshing to see some of the other company members given a chance to shine. Rockstar Big Bad Wolf, played by Australian Dylan Waddell, was positively hammy, nimble and authentic. He was consistent throughout, technically and character-wise. Waddell has a genuine stage presence. 

The staging of the Three Little Pigs' houses was simply adorable. Anyone who has kids, or occasionally cries during films will most certainly have a hearty chuckle as the wolf huffs and puffs and blows their houses down. Again, kudos to Spanish dancer Pujol for re-entering as Little Red Riding Hood, this time with a towel on her head and looking simply divine. 

The company of dancers at Ballet Cymru appear to be a strong and tight-knit community within themselves. There appears to be a supportive camaraderie amongst them, which is essential in maintaining a healthy and successful group of dancers. I wish them well, and look forward to seeing the group again soon. They were a pleasure to watch. 

Ballet Cyrmu next head to Cardiff where they will be putting on their production of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. The company will perform on the main stage of the Millennium Centre with a full 72-piece symphony orchestra on the 4th December 2016. Ballet Cymru is the first dance company to perform Dahl’s story set to composer’s Paul Patterson’s colourful and vibrant score. All the best to the company in Cardiff. The evening will undoubtedly be an enchanting one.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Thoughts on St Andrew's Day

Standard YouTube Licence

Yesterday was St Andrew's Day and my thoughts turned to Andrew Laing's Almae Matres as they often do at this time of year:
"St Andrews by the Northern Sea,
A haunted town it is to me!
A little city, worn and grey,
The grey North Ocean girds it round,
And o’er the rocks, and up the bay,
The long sea-rollers surge and sound.
And still the thin and biting spray
Drives down the melancholy street,
And still endure, and still decay,
Towers that the salt winds vainly beat.
Ghost-like and shadowy they stand
Dim mirrored in the wet sea-sand."
St Andrews was my alma mater as it was Laing's. It was there that I first got to know Scottish Ballet and discovered Stravinsky. I don't know whether that great composer ever visited the "little city, worn and grey" but his spirit certainly haunts that town for me. It was his music that I played when I had revision or essays to write. Firebird, Petrushka, Pulcinella and above all The Rite of Spring accompanied me through those four glorious years as my gown slipped from bejant shoulders to magistrand wrists.

Next Autumn, Scottish Ballet will present two contrasting Stravinsky's ballets - MacMillan's Le Baiser de la Fée and a new version of The Rite of Spring by Christopher Hampson. The double bill will be performed first at Glasgow between the 5 and 7 Oct and will progress to Aberdeen and Inverness. Sadly it will not visit England, Wales or Northern Ireland - or even Edinburgh, A shame because this may well be one of the highlights of the year and I cannot be the only Sassenach who is tempted.

According to Scottish Ballet's website the company will be working with the Benesh notator, Diana Curry, and designer Gary Harris to recreate Sir Kenneth's production. I saw a little bit of Curry's work at Ivy House which had been Pavlova's home (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 Jun 2014). With the help of James Hay and Donald MacLeary a short snippet of MacMillan's beautiful ballet took shape before our very eyes.

The Rite of Spring will be a complete reinterpretation of Stravinsky's score:
"Christopher Hampson, uses only three dancers to convey a present day story of two brothers destined for different paths to enlightenment. Hampson has created a version that is relevant to our time; his The Rite of Spring is a brutal and physical response to the Stravinsky score. An exploration of rivalry, betrayal and sacrifice, Scottish Ballet’s The Rite of Spring is at times violent, intense and thought-provoking."
I don't know who penned those words but they caught my curiosity. Hampson can't put a foot wrong so far as I am concerned and the trailer looks intriguing,

There was no Scottish Ballet when MacMillan and MacLeary were in their prime. Indeed, there was hardly any ballet except for visits by English touring companies and an occasional exotic visitor to the Edinburgh Festival. Now there are lots of companies in different styles of dance as well as conservatories and schools for the young,  A lot has been achieved since Western Theatre Ballet moved North in 1969.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Ballet Cymru's Big Give Appeal

Ballet Cymru
(c) 2015 Gita Mistry: all rights reserved

I have already asked you to dig deep for English National Ballet's Dance for Parkinson in ENB's Big Give to Dance for Parkinson's 25 Nov 2016 and Birmingham Royal Ballet to stage La Bayadere in A Birmingham Bayadere 26 Nov 2016 . I urge you to support those causes once again. I also ask you to add Balletboyz Parkinson's can dance. But there is one other appeal I should like you to consider.  It is smaller than the others but no less deserving.

Ballet Cymru, some of the sweetest people I know in dance, hope to raise £1,000 in the Big Give for a new roof with solar panels. They need it because their existing roof is beginning to leak in several places putting props and costumes at risk. Responsibly they also want to reduce their carbon footprint.  They have already arranged £1,000 match funding and another £1,000 from the public is not too much to ask - is it?

We are very lucky in this country to have strong regional companies in Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Newport as well as world class companies like the Royal Ballet and ENB and we must cherish them all.

Leeds Dance Partnership

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On the very day that Northern Ballet's Artistic Director, David Nixon, addressed the London Ballet Circle, Arts Council England announced that it had granted £750,000 to Northern Ballet out of its "Ambition for Excellence" fund "to support the creation of the Leeds Dance Partnership." This is a £35.2 million fund to support
"Audio-visual, broadcast and transmission, commissioning, digital creation, exhibition, festival, original work, performance, production."
It is a rolling programme from 28 May 2015 to 27 Oct 2017 which is open to National Portfolio Organizations. museums and consortiums.

Northern Ballet is a National PortfolioOrganization as I mentioned in How Arts Council England supports Dance 10 Oct 2015. In that article, I noted that the Arts Council had recommended "dance hubs" to be developed in Birmingham and Leeds. As regards Leeds the Arts Council observed:
"Leeds has the potential to become a major regional dance centre. We suggested that Northern Ballet should work with Phoenix, Leeds City Council, Yorkshire Dance and others to explore how they might work collaboratively to build a broad dance culture in Leeds, capable of increasing audiences and attracting and retaining talent in the city."
Northern Ballet seems to have acted upon that recommendation for it held the event that was recorded in the video on 12 April 2016.

In conjunction with Burns Associates, a steering committee which included Mark Skipper of Northern Ballet and Sharon Watson of Phoenix applied for funding for the partnership. The committee set out its objectives in Leeds Dance Partnership A step change for dance in the north Update September 2016:
  • "Better and more work made in Leeds and the north and toured elsewhere; 
  • Better and more work toured into Leeds and the north; 
  • More diverse audiences and participants watching, owning, co-curating and taking part in dance."
Will it work?  I fervently hope so but it will not be easy.  Leeds's population is significantly smaller than Birmingham's.

One of the problems of state funding for the arts in the way that it exists in the UK is that the funding agency looks at the arts from the producer's point of view rather than the audience's. That is entirely the wrong end of the telescope.  If you want to create a market for an art form you start where the market actually is and not where the creators would like it to be.  It is, after all, the public that pays for the arts whether as patrons or taxpayers and public generosity is not unlimited.  As the economy enters post-Brexit uncertainty how much longer an organization created by Lord Keynes can continue in a post-Keynesian age.