Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Really Useful Video on Pirouettes

Not long ago Adult Beginner posted the following appeal to her blog: Plz help a reader with her Pirouette Problem! 28 March 2014 Adult Beginner:
“I’ve been taking classes seriously for 2 years, 2-3 times a week. I am the ONLY person in my class who cannot do a pirouette. I can balance in passé, spot etc. but I cannot do even one turn. Its gotten to be a “thing.” Two teachers have said its all in my head since I have the requisite skills but its getting ridiculous. I mean, I actually felt like crying from frustration in class last night. The more I practice, the worse it gets. Basically, what happens most of the time is I “fall” out of the turn when I get halfway around. I have also fallen on my ass more times than I care to admit. I am hoping if you make this a post, lots of people will write in with advice and it will be the turning point (pun intended) of my life.”
That appeal elicited 38 responses from around the world including one from me which contained the best tip that I had received up to that date. Ironically it came from Southern California just like Adult Beginner.

Now I have exactly the same problem as K-boom (Adult Beginner's correspondent) and it has also bothered me. The problem with pirouettes is that if you know how to do them you just can't see a problem. You just can't understand why folk can't pick them up just as you did and indeed just as most other students seem to do. Well there is a problem and that it that the dancer has to do a lot of things at once. Fine if you are child, teenager or even a 20, 30 or 40 something beginner but not so easy if you are pushing 66 in February.

First, we have to learn how to rise and stay up in demi for more than a microsecond. Not easy when we are old for everybody's balance deteriorates with age. Next we have to learn to balance in retiré. Again not easy for us old fogeys for the same reason. And balancing on the supporting foot in relevé with the other foot in retiré in the centre of the studio is a very big ask indeed.  But that's only for starters. Dancers have to remember to "push catch" (as one of my teachers calls it) turning clockwise on the left foot which is itself counter-intuitive (or the opposite when turning anti-clockwise), find something in the studio to gaze at (otherwise known as spotting) and remember to position the non-supporting leg neatly behind in 4th at the end of the manoeuvre. All at the same time. Oh brother. Is it any wonder that our hair turns grey!

Now the useful tip from this Dutch video is to master the relevé and retiré bits at the barre. I have been copying Mr Wijnen using a towel rail for barre for the last hour or so and I think I have been making some real progress. I can't stay on demi for very long but I am getting better. At least I think so. Of course, the next stage is to do the pushing, catching, spotting and landing in the right sequence and that has to be done in the centre. But if I can balance on demi with my right paw in retiré I can at least get off what our erstwhile colonial cousins call "first base" in their version  of rounders.

I found Mr Wijnen's video on the Dutch National Ballet's Facebook page which I shared on my timeline but as not all my readers use Facebook I thought I would embed it here. It comes from a website called "Jump" for young fans of the Dutch National Ballet.  It is something that our ballet companies might like to consider.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Happy Prince in Halifax

Oscar Wilde, Author of The Happy Price
Photo Wikipedia

Oscar Wilde lived between 1854 and 1900. In 1888 he published a series of children's short stories entitled The Happy Prince and other Tales. To celebrate the 160th anniversary of Wilde's birth Paul Chantry has created a ballet based on The Happy Prince which his company, Chantry Dance Company, has taken (with two other works) on a nationwide tour. Yesterday the company was at The Square Chapel in Halifax. They delivered a heart warming performance that the audience loved and brought me to my feet.

The show opened with Eliza Wade carrying a lantern and a suitcase and calling out for anyone who might be there. She stumbled upon Oscar Wilde danced by David Beer. Wilde makes a paper swallow and thus begins the story. The swallow was brought to life by Rae Piper dressed in a blue. She is an impressive dancer combining power with grace but it is her power of expression that enchants me. It is the quality that I noted the first tine I saw the company in Sandman last May (Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance 10 May 2014) and I saw it again when Piper danced Scura in Chasing the Eclipse on 28 Sept 2014. The swallow delivers precious stones from a bejewelled gilded statue of the city's prince whose spirit sends those gems as gifts to relieve the suffering of the city's poor. Grazziano Bongiovnni danced that role with flair. A handsome young man with elegant movements he was a delight to watch - particularly in his pas de deux with Piper towards the end of the piece.  I had seen them dance that pas de deux at the company's open day in August.  I described in the post how my spine began to tingle in the way that it did when I saw Sibley and Dowell (Chantry Dance - Making Connections 30 Aug 2014). On stage and in costume they are even better.  I don't think that the company has released a video of the performance, but you can see a trailer for the show in my review of Sandman.

The Happy Prince was the first act of the show.  Two shorter works composed the second act: Rhapsody in Blue to Gershwin's well known music and All I can do is be me - the Bob Dylan Ballet to Bob Dylan. These works were also choreographed by Chantry whose repertoire is already long and diverse. While I enjoyed all three works my favourite was Rhapsody in Blue, partly because I love the music and the period but mainly because of the opportunity to see Chantry dance with Piper. I have already mentioned how much I admire her dancing. Well, her husband dances beautifully too. Tall and authoritative he commands a stage. He is thrilling to watch. Together they are magnificent. In this work Chantry danced a man on a train. An actor perhaps for he whipped out a copy of The Stage. Piper, again in blue, was The Lady of Jazz

The Bob Dylan ballet showed off the whole company including two talented young women, Camille Barrié and Rosie Macari. The scene opened with Bongiovanni in a party hat muttering to himself in Italian.  He was joined by Barrié also in a party hat muttering to herself in French. I have studied both languages but couldn't make much sense of either monologue. A few seconds later Macari entered the scene muttering equally incoherently in English. They were joined by Beer and Chantry who seemed to have had a good time at the party. Both were attracted to the same girl and a rivalry ensued to the strains of "All I Really Wanna Do" in which she was literally pulled by each of them. It must have been a challenge to dance.  And there were many other challenges in the choreography including a spectacular jump by both Barrié and Macari into the arms of their partners who hoisted them shoulder high.

The company travel light with costumes and a few props but they don't need more for they have an excellent lighting designer in Owain Davies. The one ballet that did require slightly more, The Happy Prince, showed off Zoe Squire's considerable ingenuity.

I have already mentioned the audience's applause. I am not sure that the cast expected it to be quite so strong because the auditorium is not large but Piper's smile was a delight to behold.  Anyway she was moved to say a few words about the company and its outreach and educational work including its associate programme of which Eliza Wade was a member. I mentioned the range of their work briefly in Chantry Dance - Making Connections and I reviewed the associates' show in Chantry Dance Associates: Lots of Promise 28 July 2014. I have personally benefited from one of their workshops for their dance director, Gail Gordon, coaxed me onto the stage of the Lincoln Drill Hall in May which gave me the confidence to put my name forward for the Northern Ballet Academy's end of term show (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014). If Chantry Dance can get a Rumpolean elephant like me to come on stage and enjoy herself they can do anything.

Earlier in the day I got a chance to see their company class and a rehearsal for the Dylan ballet. All dancers work hard. I appreciated that when I saw English National Ballet in class in Oxford three weeks ago (Coppelia in Oxford 2 Nov 2014) but I think this troupe works harder than most. I had been to class in Leeds in the morning and had done several of the same exercises. Watching the professionals from a distance of a few feet I noted  how they hold their arms in bras bas and second, how they define space in a forward port de bras, how they find their balance on demi-pointe and arabesque and much, much more. I hope I can remember and incorporate what I learned in my own dancing the next time I go to class.

Halifax was the penultimate stage of the tour. Tonight Chantry Dance are in London. So good was their show that I seriously thought of taking the day off and belting down the motorway to see it one last time. If you are in the capital tonight and can obtain a ticket do yourself a favour and get yourself over to The Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells at 19:45. After last night's show Piper told me that the company plans to dance The Happy Prince for children so there may be another chance to see it. But tonight is your last chance to see the whole triple bill including the gorgeous Rhapsody in Blue.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Food and Ballet

Gita Mistry's Dessert in Honour of Isaac Lee-Baker
Photo Gita Mistry

Food has lots of connections with ballet. It is of course fuel for the lifts and jumps that delight an audience, But a good meal also complements a memorable evening in the theatre. Sometimes it is part of the scenario of the ballet as in The Taming of the Shrew where Petruchio starves Katherina into submission. Occasionally a great dancer inspires a chef to create a great dish as happened when Anna Pavlova visited New Zealand. Something like that happened on Saturday when my friend Gita Mistry and I saw The Great Gatsby in Bradford (see Northern Ballet at its best: The Great Gatsby in Bradford).

Gita is an artist in her own right. She is a chef who won the BBC's Eating with the Enemy contest a few years ago. She won over 4 of the country's top food critics.  She is also a dancer who has performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and other venues. She has even kept me company at the barre more than once.

Like me Gita was impressed with The Great Gatsby. She particularly enjoyed Nixon's choreography with its soaring lifts, the dancers' virtuosity and passion, the costumes which accounted for a fleet of pantechnicons parked outside the Alhambra. One particular dancer stood out for her - Isaac Lee-Baker who danced the hapless Wilson in the ballet. She was so impressed with his performance that she created the dessert that appears above in his honour.

We had intended to courier it to Quarry Hill tomorrow but temptation got the better of us. It was scrumptious. I mean seriously scrumptious.  I might add that it had far too much cream and sugar than is good for a dancer so we really did Isaac Lee-Baker a favour by keeping it beyond his reach.  But Gita has shared her recipe in DanceFood - A Dessert for Isaac Lee-Baker 16 Nov 2014 Gita Mistry Food.  And if Isaac really wants to throw caution to the wind I am sure that Gita could be prevailed upon to make another just for him.

Over the next few weeks Gita and I will be exploring the relationship between food and dance in all its aspects. I can't promise any new dishes but there will certainly be plenty of tips and useful information.

Northern Ballet at its best: The Great Gatsby in Bradford

Northern Ballet "The Great Gatsby", Bradford Alhambra, 18 Nov 2014

I saw David Nixon'a The Great Gatsby for the first time on 7 March 2013 ("Life follows Art: The Great Gatsby" 8 March 2013). It was good then.  It is even better now.

The cast that I saw at the Bradford Alhambra last night were almost the same as last time: Martha Leebolt danced Daisy Buchanan, Tobias Batley Jay Gatsby, Kenneth Tindall Tom Buchanan and Giuliani Contadini Nick Carraway.  On the last occasion I had seen Benjamin Mitchell and Victoria Sibson dance the Wilsons.  Last night those roles were performed by Isaac Lee-Baker and Jessica Morgan respectively.

Each of those dancers excelled in their roles. They had danced those characters well in 2013 but this time they seemed to live them.   Isn't that supposed to happen in every narrative ballet?  Well yes and no. Every landscape is supposed to reflect the scene before the artist's eyes but it takes a work of genius to come to life. Well, yesterday I felt involved in the tragedy as though I was in Long Island and New York City all those years ago and in a way that I didn't before. Not for the first time several members of the audience rose to their feet for the curtain call including me.

Having seen the work before I concentrated on the detail. The choreography is very clever.  For example, Nixon did remarkable things with tyres incorporating one into Wilson's dance as though it were a partner. He slid along it and then hugged it as his wife slipped out of the garage for her liaison with Buchanan. The choreography is also very beautiful - particularly the final ecstatic pas de deux between Gatsby and Daisy which is shown on the clip above. All of this is set to a magnificent score, ingenious scenery and gorgeous costumes - all of which I mentioned in my previous review.

Yesterday I reflected on the treasure that we in the North have in this company. It deserved to win the Taglioni award for best company and it is right that it should be nominated for the National Dance Awards 2014. It has outstanding dancers in Batley, Leebolt, Moore and Tindall with more on the way at every level. A personal pleasure for me in that regard was to see Gavin McCaig on stage for the first time. I had first met this talented and personable young man in the audience for the mixed bill on the 21 June 2014 and again for Dracula on the 13 Sept 2014. On the 3 Sept 2014 Gavin gave me an interview which has proved to be the most popular article in this blog.

A few months ago in London Christopher Marney, my favourite living British choreographer, was asked by a young student to name his favourite dancer. He thought for a moment. "Lauren Cuthbertson" he mused but then the answer came to him "Northern Ballet" he replied "and Martha Leebolt in particular." I was so proud. I don't think Marney has ever worked with Northern Ballet but I hope that one day he will for I am sure that they would create something wonderful between them.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Natasha Watson in Lausanne

Théâtre de Beaulieu
Photo Wikipedia

Last year I celebrated Natasha Watson's success in The Genée in Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée 30 Sept 2013. Between the 1 and 8 February 2015 Ms Watson will be competing in the 43rd International Ballet Competition for the Prix de Lausanne. This talented young dancer will be the only British competitor in the finals of this competition. I for one will be rooting for her and I am sure that every other ballet goer will do the same.

Although I visit Scotland several times a year I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Ms Watson. However, I have seen her colleagues from Ballet West in The Nutcracker and Swan Lake as well as graduates of the school such as Sarah Mortimer who are now dancing with Ballet Theatre UK and they are good. Clearly, somebody is doing something right in Taynuilt.

The Prix de Lausanne is open to dancers aged between 15 and 18 who have not yet turned professional.  According to the organizers' website its mission is:
  • "To reveal the potential of exceptionally talented young dancers (ages 15 to 18) from around the globe by having them perform before a jury of world-renowned dance personalities
  • To open the doors to the world’s finest schools and companies for them by providing scholarships to the most prestigious international schools and companies
  • To promote their scholastic education (a dancer’s career is short-lived: from about age 18 to 38) by ensuring that they earn a high school diploma which will facilitate their career transition
  • To preserve their health by applying a strict health policy: eating habits and body mass index are scrutinised before the competition."
The list of prize winners is impressive. They include Steven McRae, Alina Cojocaru, Diana Vishneva, Benjamin Millepied, Christopher Wheeldon and Carlos Acosta. Ms Watson has already  done very well indeed just to get this far.

I regret that I cannot justify a week in Switzerland to see the competition but I do hope to see Ms Watson's fellow students and instructors in Romeo and Juliet in their annual tour which will culminate in a performance in the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow in February,  Ballet West have already taken this show to China where it was received very well and there are videos of the company's rehearsals on its Facebook page (see Scottish Ballet and Ballet West.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Mancunian Nutcracker

Whenever I can I cross the Pennines to take the beginners or complete beginners classes at KNT Danceworks  (see So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class 29 Aug 2014). The instructors are clear and patient and the students are friendly. Everything one could hope for in a ballet class.

KNT Danceworks is next door to The Dancehouse theatre which presents comedy, drama and music as well as dance. However, between the 11 and 13 Dec it will host Manchester City Ballet which provides performance experience for the students of the Northern Ballet School. Judging by the extracts from Coppelia, Giselle and other performances on the School's YouTube channel those young men and women are good.

I shall be there to review the show on the Friday. Booking details are set out on the poster above.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Scottish Ballet Costume Appeal

Between 13 Dec 2014 and 14 Feb 2015 Scottish Ballet are touring Scotland and the North of England with Peter Darrell's The Nutcracker. This was a sumptuous production when first performed as  can be seen from the photos on the 1970s web page of the website of the Peter Darrell Trust. Recreating this magnificent ballet does not come cheap and Scottish Ballet are appealing for contributions to the cost of the costumes.

You can pay £35 for a party dress

£70 for a rodent

£150 for a snow flake

£300 for Clara

£500 for the Sugar Plum
£1,000 for the Nutcracker
Whatever you want to
pay for anything else
The contributions received so far have been acknowledged on the costume appeal website and will be recorded in the programme. You can contribute to the appeal by clicking this link and filling out the form.

If you want to see the ballet in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen or Inverness you can click this link here for details. If you want to see it in Newcastle you can click here. I do hope Scottish Ballet will take The Nutcracker to the rest of the UK. It has a lot of fans throughout the country, particularly London where there is a massive audience for dance and Bristol where the company began.

If you want to learn more about this production there are pre-show talks and post show discussions in the theatres where the ballet is performed (see "Get Closer"). There are also films, photos of the costumes and rehearsals and details of workshops for kids and adults in Edinburgh and Glasgow which one little boy in London would just love if he could only get to Scotland.

I learnt to love ballet in Scotland which is why Scottish Ballet occupies a special place in my affections (see Scottish Ballet and Ballet West 3 Oct 2014). I do hope folk will support the costume appeal generously.