Saturday, 1 August 2015

Happy Yorkshire Day

Today is Yorkshire Day. I believe the 1 Aug has been chosen because it is the anniversary of the battle of Minden when the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry distinguished themselves. Although I was born just the other side of the Pennines in Manchester which is where my first loyalties will always lie I have deep roots in this county. My mother was born in Leeds, brought up in Bramhope and spent her last years in Harrogate and I have lived in Holmfirth since 1985.

So today I want to celebrate Yorkshire and Ballet.

First up are Xander and Demelza Parish. I first saw them dance at the Grand Opera House York at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School Gala in 2007  (see Charles Hutchinson's review for The Press 31 July 2007). There was a great array of that talent that night but those two stood out even then. It was obvious that they had great futures and so it has transpired. Whenever I see either of them dance (and nowadays it is more likely to be Demelza than Xander) I feel more than a little tug of pride. It was so good to see Xander in Romeo and Juliet  a year ago (see Reet Gradely: Romeo and Juliet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House 29 July 2014 31 July 2014) and even better to see him in Ballet 101 at the Sapphire gala in March. I am also a cricket fan and I think Gita may be too. Should Xander ever tire of ballet we would still come to watch him at Headingley (The ballet dancer who could have played cricket for Yorkshire 11 Jan 2015).

The next village to mine is Honley and that is the home of David Bintley, one of the most celebrated choreographers this country has ever produced.  I had the pleasure of listening to him at the London Ballet Circle a few weeks ago and I was in the Birmingham Hippodrome on 20 June to celebrate his 20th anniversary as artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the 25th anniversary of the company's move to Birmingham (see In Praise of Bintley 21 June 2015), One of the best nights I have ever spent in the theatre.

One of Bintley's most exciting dancers is Brandon Lawrence who comes from Bradford. When the company performed at the Grand Opera House at York his presence in Yorkshire seemed to give him a little extra pzazz. In my review of the performance I wrote:
"But if I have to single out anyone it has to be Brandon Lawrence, a Bradford lad who clearly relished his return to God's own county. He danced proudly and magisterially. There was no doubt that he was glad to be back on home turf."
Lawrence danced in The King Dances at the special double bill that I mentioned above (see A Special Ballet for a Special Day 23 June 2015) and again he shone.

Since I started writing this post a whole slew of names occurred to me. If I were to include them all this post would be as long as the Leeds telephone directory. I should like to wish all of those great dancers and the many I have missed out a very happy Yorkshire Day.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Igone on Pointe

"Igone" is of course Igone de Jongh, one of three female principals with the Dutch National Ballet. I have only seen her on film up to now coaching Martin ten Kortenaar and YuanYuan Zhang in the pas de deux from the white act in Swan Lake but maybe I shall be lucky enough to see her in the flesh at the Gala on the 8 Sept.

The film is in Dutch but there are English subtitles. De Jongh talks about her first time on pointe as a little girl. She also tells us how she feels wearing pointe now. Apparently they give her a sense of freedom. They are an extension of her limbs,

The film also introduces the company's shoe manager who describes his job and its many responsibilities. Each female dancer has her own shoes and often her own shoemaker and these have to be registered and tracked by computer,

Finally, the film shows folk who are prepared to pay good money for used pointe shoes. I'm a great fan of Sarah Kundi of English National, Ruth Brill of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Rachael Gillespie of Northern Ballet and indeed Michaela DePrince of the Dutch National Ballet but I'd draw the line there.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Memory of what could have been

On 20 June 2015 the Birmingham Royal Ballet celebrated the 25th anniversary of its move to Birmingham and the 20th anniversary of the appointment of its artistic director in Birmingham (see In Praise of Bintley 21 June 2015), Northern Ballet hosted a programme of events called Tell Tale Steps which included a company class, a panel discussion on narrative dance in ballet (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015) and English National Ballet presented Choreogaphics Live in London, I lamented at the time at being forced to choose between those three and I did manage to get to the company class and panel discussion in Leeds and the Bintley triple bill in Birmingham (see Three into Two won't go 20 June 2015). The reason I was able to see part of Northern Baller's offering and all of Birmingham Royal Ballet's was that English National Ballet recorded its performance on video which can still be seen on ArtStreamingTV's website and YouTube.

It will come as no surprise to my readers that my favourite work was Memory of what could have been by Renato Paroni de Castro which was danced by Guilherme and Vitor Menezes and Sarah Kundi. I have been following Kundi for a long time and she moves me in a way that no other dancer can. I should explain that I can say the same of other dancers but they move me in a different way. Last year I feared that we would lose her to Spain but thankfully she is now with English National Ballet.

Memory is a very good example of a plotless narrative ballet which was being discussed in Leeds at the very moment that it was being performed in London. This is an interaction between  three dancers - the Menezeses dressed as sailors in summer whites and Kundi in a flowing orange dress. For the first part of the ballet Kundi is detached as the boys complete but this ballet is much more like Christopher Marney's War Letters (in which Kundi has also dancedthan Gene Kelly's On the Town. One of the sailors disappears while the other changes into winter or navy blue uniform. What happened to him? Did the girl in orange simply make a choice or was he lost in action.

This is a haunting work sensitively danced by all three. It is very tense and very taught. Such relief as exists is at the beginning of the work. Though I admired the work I am very conscious that I am missing a lot by viewing it on a lap top rather than in the Lilian Baylis Studio where it was performed.  The video goes on for one and three quarter hours including an interview with Tamara Rojo at the start. I hope to review the other ballet's presently.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A Different Kind of Ballet Class - Emily Talks at Hype

Author Tpxpress
Source Wikipedia

Every ballet class that I have ever done, whether in Huddersfield, Leeds, London. Manchester, Sheffield or (half a century ago) St. Andrews, has followed a pattern. Usually there is a warm followed by 20 to 30 minutes barre consisting of pliés, tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, fondus, cloches and either grands battements or développés, then a port de bras which is my favourite part of the class, followed sometimes by pirouettes (which still defeat me), sautés, grands jetés  or temps levés and cool down. We did most of that yesterday as well as several steps that were quite new to me - but in a different way - and it was a lot of fun.

The class took place at Hype in Sheffield which I mentioned in More than just Hype - Beginners and Improvers Classes in Sheffield 14 May 2014. Our teacher was Emily Talks who has been on maternity leave over the last year. Mel had spoken very highly of Emily and I can quite see why. Emily and I had met briefly in August when Mel did her grands battements and we have been friends on Facebook for a while but this was the first time I had taken one of Emily's classes.

It was not a big class. Less than 10 of us. All women except for Ian (the gent I introduced in my review of Hype's Frightnight contribution (seewas Out of this World 3 Nov 2014)). Emily's warm up consisted of getting us to walk in random directions, then backwards trying not to turn round which resulted in my barging into Mel with great velocity, then walking forwards curtseying or bowing to each other as we passed.

Instead of pliés and tendus at the barre Emily called us into the centre and taught us a delightful enchainement consisting of pliés. rises, arms in open 5th, glissé, piqué, point, several steps forward and finally a port de bras all carried off with a smile. She drilled us several times at this exercise until we got it more or less right.

She sent us back to the barre briefly to practise glissés (3 in front followed by a plié, 3 to the side followed by another plié, 3 to the back followed by yet another plié, 3 more to the side followed by a snappy relevé). We did that in both directions a couple of times.

Next we tried fondus in the centre bending our left leg and raising our tight, then our tight raising our left, bending our left and stretching our right, bending once more and balancing on left in relevé running a few steps and balancing on our right legs in third arabesque. We marked it once without music and then with music. We divided into groups and had a go at the exercise several times. We then tried the exercise on the opposite feet. I have had trouble with my right foot for over a year and just can't hold demi-pointe for more than a millisecond which can't have impressed Emily. On the other hand I could make a much better stab at third arabesque balancing on my left leg. Emily drilled us in that exercise several times and I do think I improved slightly. Seeing my struggles Mel slapped me on my back by way of encouragement.

Our last enchainement was a weight shifting exercise for which we were given props. There was a big bag of toys and other goodies on one of the racks from which Emily selected some coloured wands with streamers for each of the women and a Union flag for Ian. My wand had green and white stripes with a green ribbon. The exercise consisted of waving our wands (or flag) in the air from left to right and back again as we shifted our weight from one side to the other pointing our unengaged toe a couple of rapid soutenus waving our wands (or flag) below our tummies, pliés, rising in the air, running (and then for me the new bit) jumping a  rassemblé changing step and direction and ending with our rights arms and wands in the air and our left arms forming a continuous line. Or at least that was the idea. I don't think I ever got there but I did my best. Again, we tried that exercise in groups several times.

Finally. we did some conventional jumping - sautés and changements ending with some temps levés. Again we tried each of those exercises several times.

Then it was all over.

Emily's cool down consisted of some stretches on the floor followed by some stretches on out feet.  We curtseyed to Emily, then to each other and we were on our way.

I don't think a class has ever gone so quickly. I have to think back to my first class with Annemarie to recall one that has been as much fun. The hour was more like a rehearsal than a class. By combining the exercises into enchainements we were able to understand the exercises in the context of a performance. By repeating them more than once each of us we improved a little - or at least (in my case) I thought I did. We were all bouncing and chatting as we exited the studio.

I shall certainly try to return to Sheffield for another of Emily's classes. Unfortunately, I don't know when. Emily's class clashes with meetings of the London Ballet CircleErnst Meisner was the guest last week, Marcelo Gomes the week before that and Li Cunxin is coming next week. There is no way I would miss the opportunity to listen to and afterwards shake hands with them.  Moreover Sheffield is not a city I visit often. Traffic is terrible. Public transport is no better.  Trains from  Brockholes take forever and the tram does not go anywhere near Hype's studio. Off-street parking is outrageous and the council has the cheek to charge £1 for parking outside the Lord Nelson after 18:30. The only reason I was able to take yesterday's class was that I had a business meeting in the city followed by an invitation to the Wong Ting. Nevertheless, I have an incentive to return and return I will just as soon as I can.

Monday, 27 July 2015

If only I were young again - Chantry School of Contemporary and Balletic Arts

A few days ago I wrote about Serendipity. Chantry Dance Company about which I have written a lot in the past is another example of serendipity. Formed in reaction to a Chinese bureaucrat's unfamiliarity with the concept of freelancing it has become a significant touring company attracting such guest artists as Dominic North whom I last saw in Matthew Bourne's The Car Man (see my review of Chantry Dance's Chasing the Eclipse 26 Sept 2014). The Company has always been engaged in education and indeed it was at one of their workshops that I made their acquaintance in the first place (see Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance 16 May 2015). Now it has put its educational activities on a formal basis by launching the Chantry School of Contemporary and Balletic Arts.

If I were young again with some ability and a vocation for dance (and could not be deterred by Matthew Henley's report that "Most professional dancers ‘earn less than £5k a year’" 24 July 2015 The Stage) this is one school that I would consider very seriously. The reason I would consider it seriously it is that it is run by Rae Piper and Paul Chantry who are young and still on an upward trajectory in their dancing careers. Paul Chantry is also a talented choreographer. The quality of their work has been recognized and rewarded with commissions in Rome, Japan and Covent Garden in the last 9 months alone. The best chance for a young dancer to make a reasonable living out of his or her career would be by taking some tips from Piper and Chantry.

What would give me some hope that I might find work at the end of my course is the curriculum which includes classes in nutrition for the dancer, audition technique and marketing as well as classical and contemporary ballet. modern and contemporary dance and acrobatics. How many other dance schools offer classes in the last skill? The fees at £4,500 a year are not beyond the range of most families and in the few cases where such fees just cannot be raised scholarships and bursaries are available.

If I were the parent of such a young dancer I would encourage him or her to consider the Chantry school because Chantry and Piper are persons of principle. I am not going to embarrass them by repeating their tweets and posts to Facebook but I have noted their posts about such things as literacy and other matters outside dance and strongly approve of them. I love reading about their little dog, about their wonder at their discoveries in Japan and Italy. In Chasing the Eclipse Piper expressed her wonder at the universe with an enormous smile. It is upon her more than any other dancer that I have tried to model myself on the two occasions that I have been inflicted on the paying public. I can imagine her viewing the lakes, mountains and temples and castles of Japan and the ruins and archaeology of ancient Rome with that  same expression of wonder.

The vocational course is just one of the School's activities. There is also an associate programme whose show at Sadler's Wells I reviewed last year (Chantry Dance Associates: Lots of Promise 28 July 2014 ) and a summer school whose award ceremony last year I also attended (see Chantry Dance Summer School 2 Aug 2014). I have already mentioned the workshops in which I have participated and I woukd add that Gita and I are making enquiries with a view to facilitating one in Manchester on a convenient occasion.

This school fills a very obvious need and it deserves to do well. Its programmes have already been successful. I look forward to even more from them as Piper and Chantry develop this activity.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Für Andrea - more Information on 1984

I mentioned my Swiss friend Andrea who is into just about everything except ballet in 1984 on 28 Feb 2015. Last September she emailed me this link with the words: "This is one ballet I might actually want to see." I promised to look out for it and give her the dates as soon as they were announced which is what I din in February.

Now I can give her so much more information because Northern Ballet have recently posted the trailer to YouTube that you see above. They have also posted the story, photos, touring schedule and lots of other information about the ballet to their website. We now know that Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt will dance Winston Smith and Julia and there will probably be at least one other cast. Also, meine liebe Andrea, Sie haben die Informationen. Wollen Sie diese Ballett sehen? Oder nicht?

I had some misgivings about whether Orwell would translate into dance but it is the same choreographer who made us laugh at Albert and the Lion in Sapphire. If anyone can pull this off it is Jonathan Watkins. So we await the first performance with bated breath. Where next for Watkins and Northern Ballet? Wigan Pier perhaps.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Revisiting Kenya with Obama

President Obama's visit to Kenya has reminded me of Mike Wamaya's ballet classes in one of the toughest districts of Nairobi. I wrote about them in What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013 and Back to Africa 7 Jan 2015. I have found an interview with this remarkable teacher with this video of some of his students on the International Performers Aid trust website.

In his interview Wamaya says:
"Since the set up of Anno’s Africa in Kenya seven years ago, we have experienced significant results. The children now find school fun and by this their levels of concentration while studying have gone up. The program explores their individual human potential and creativity in a much broader sense; who they are, what they think and believe, what they want for their futures. This has brought a lot of confidence and self-esteem in them."
It is clear from the interview that Wamaya's students have learned some valuable lessons from his classes quite apart from pliés and tendus. 

According to the About IPAT page of its website "the International Performers’ Aid Trust is a charity created for the relief of poverty amongst people involved in the performing arts in distress in all parts of the world."  It supports projects in Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and the Middle East, Mike Wamaya's classes seem to be its only dance project.

Unless a student from Sub-Saharan Africa leaves for an advanced country at a very young age it is hard to see how he or she could make a career in ballet. There are very few schools and even fewer companies between the Mediterranean and the Cape and the few that do exist are concentrated in South Africa. But Africa is changing. It is becoming more prosperous and greater prosperity will provide a market for the performing arts. Even if few of Wamaya's students make it on stage a fair proportion of them should be able to afford the best seats in the auditorium and thereby provide a market for the next generation.