Sunday, 26 June 2016

Reacting to Brexit

Like a lot of my compatriots I am very disappointed by last Thursday's vote. The referendum was quite unnecessary. It was a Machiavellian tactic on the part of the Prime Minister that went disastrously wrong. A lot of people have already been hurt by Brexit and a very great many more will suffer in future including some of those who voted "Leave". It is a massive self-inflicted wound which will take years if not decades to heal.

But we are where we are. Our fellow citizens have voted to leave the EU and we have to live with that vote. Some have already said that they regret it. Very many more may do so very soon.  The petition for another referendum stands at over 3 million and the number of signatories is increasing like the meter of a taxicab. Nevertheless, even though the referendum may not be binding in law any attempt by Parliament to ignore or reverse the result in the short term may make a very bad situation even worse.

However, that does not mean that we have to take the defeat lying down. Nothing is irreversible in politics and I think a new European consensus can be built up in time.  It may take many years - possibly decades - but I am confident that we will rejoin the European project one day and when we do we shall be far more committed to it than ever we were between 1973 and the present.

Until that happens we do not have to abandon our internationalist or European ideals. Thursday's vote did not alter geography, repeal the laws of economics, blot out our history, change our language or rewrite our literature. We are and have been since the days of Julius Caesar if not earlier part of a common European culture. We may live on a small island but England is as much part of Europe as any of our continental neighbours.

Even though political and economic links may loosen for a season there is no reason why our cultural and personal links with our fellow European should weaken too. On the contrary we should strengthen them. Tomorrow I fly to Italy to watch some of the most talented young dancers from the Dutch National Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Vienna State Ballet and JAS Arts Ballet perform works by Marius Petipa, Ted Brandsen, Ernst Meisner and the talented young Italian dancer and choreographer Cristiano Principato.  I am  already a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet and an occasional visitor to Amsterdam. I shall be a frequent visitor to that city and also to the other cities in the remaining EU member where I have made friends and connections such as Budapest which I visited two months ago.

This is a very bad time but it is not the end of the world. We must stop moaning about it and start rebuilding now.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Hindle at the Hague

I have had a lot of good teachers since I took up ballet three years ago and I am grateful to them all but I really must say a special word about Mark Hundle. 

Mark teaches at KNT in Manchester. Although I have taken only a few of his classes  I have learned a lot from him.  Mark has pretty high standards and an eye for detail.  As I said when I introduced him to Ballet Black's Senior Artist Damien Johnson last Sunday, he corrects me mercilessly. Damien thought that was a good thing and he is right. I now make a point of holding my arms properly in second and not poking my left elbow upwards when doing a forward port de bras.

Yesterday Karen Sant posted the following on her Facebook page:

I'm FINALLY allowed to share this AMAZING, WONDERFUL news.... Mark Hindle has got into THE LION KING!!!!! ARGH SO PROUD  Well done Mark

I'm proud of him too.

Mark will perform at the Fortis Circustheater at The Hague from the 23 Oct 2016.  I have already see him in two performances: a pas de deux with Karen which included an awkward fish dive (see It could easily have gone pear shaped ...... but instead it was a howling success 19 June 2016) and in Dick Whittington in Liverpool on Boxing Day (see A Liverpudlian Whittington 27 Dec 2015).

I am sure all my readers will join me in wishing him well.

The Leeds CAT End of Term Show

I mentioned the Centres for Advanced Training in Dance ("CAT") in The Lowry CAT on 27 May 2016. As I said in that post there is also a CAT in Leeds where advanced training is offered to  by the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and Northern Ballet. As a Friend of the Academy of Northern Ballet I have been invited to the end of year show for 2016 this afternoon which I look forward to seeing very much.

The show will take place in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre at 15:00 and 19:30. In previous years the over 55 ballet class and other classes have performed in that show and I took part in those performances (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014 and My Second Ballet 5 July 2015). Timetabling arrangements at Northern Ballet have prevented our rehearsing to take part in this year's show.

Not a lot of details have been given about this afternoon's show but as the CAT programme aims to attract and develop the talents of some of the best young dancers from Leeds and surrounding districts it should be a very good show indeed.

Friday, 24 June 2016

KNT's Summer Ballet Intensive

Here's something to take our minds off the result of the referendum.  Karen Sant of KNT Danceworks has posted the following notice to her Facebook page:

Okay... time for me to get things planned for this year's summer intensives.
Each intensive will go on for 3 days and will be taught by the lovely Jane Tucker who knows us quite well by now!
A few questions for you:
What dates suit you?
Beginners: 15th - 17th August or 18th - 20th August?
Advanced: 15th - 17th August or 18th - 20th August?
What repertoire would you like to learn?
The intensives will be held at The Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester.
The prices are £200 for one summer intensive (3 days) or £350 for two summer intensives (6 days). There is a £50 non refundable deposit included in the price to secure your place.
Our past summer school have been great fun so I hope to see you there Thanks,
I attended Jane's Swan Lake intensive last year and her Romeo and Juliet intensive in April and enjoyed them both thoroughly (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 1 18 Aug 2015, Day 2 19 Aug 2016 and Day 3 20 Aug 2016 and Romeo and Juliet 9 April 2016). So far there have been two votes for La Bayadere, and one each for Jewels, Don Q and The Sleeping Beauty.

If you want to attend, call Karen on 07783 103037 or contact her through Facebook.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Terpsichore votes "Remain"

Jean-Marc Nattier

Tomorrow I will vote "Remain" and one of the reasons why I shall do so is that I care about the arts and creative industries in general and the performing arts and ballet in particular.

The case for Remain was made eloquently by members of the Creative Industries Federation in their briefing note Why is EU membership so important for the health of UK’s arts, creative industries and cultural education?  It was echoed  in Ismene Brown's article The Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells explain how Brexit will hurt dance 13 June 2016 and supported by Jessica Duchen's I'm IN, and here's why you should be too 25 May 2016 JDCMB which I mentioned in my own article Should we stay or should we go? 30 May 2016.

Much of the steam for the Leave campaign has been generated by concern about immigration. There is some outright xenophobia in that sentiment but I believe that it is mainly a worry about shortages of housing, healthcare, education and other public services which could be overcome with proper planning and resourcing.

For the arts, free movement of labour is essential.  Let me give just one example. Earlier this month the Scottish Ballet delighted audiences throughout Scotland and the North of England with David Dawson's Swan Lake (see Empire Blanche: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). Dawson was born in London and trained at Tring Park and the Royal Ballet School but he has spent much of his career with the Dutch National Ballet where he is now an associate artists. He is not the only Brit there. The company's artistic director is Matthew Rowe who is another Londoner (in fact as there is a reference to him in the latest issue of The Pauline he may even have attended my old school).

Conversely many of Scottish Ballet's finest dancers come from France: Constance Deverney recently promoted to principal, Sophie Martin, Marge Hendrick, and Laura Joffre to name just a few. The same is true of our other leading companies. Where would the Royal Ballet be without Laura Morera or Federico Bonelli? The Birmingham Royal Ballet without Koen Kessels?  English National Ballet without Tamara Rojo or Alina Cojocaru?

There are dancers from the EU also in our splendid regional companies like Giuliano Contadini and Kevin Poeung with Northern Ballet and Allegra Vianello and Andrea Battagia with Ballet Cymru. I could go on.

Those artists delight us. Let's continue to make them feel welcome tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Birmingham Royal Ballet performs my favourite ballet at last

Birmingham Royal Ballet
(c) John Lambert 2016: all rights reserved

Birmingham Royal Ballet, The Taming of the Shrew. Birmingham Hippodrome, 18 June 2016

John Cranko created some of his most best known works including The Taming of the Shrew for the Stuttgart Ballet but he trained at Sadler's Wells School and started his career at the Sadler's Wells Ballet part of which is now the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Despite its shared connection with Cranko it was only on the 16 June 2016 (some 47 years after the premiere in Germany) that the Birmingham Royal Ballet was able to stage this work in this country.

For me that is a matter of regret because Cranko appeals to me more than any other choreographer and The Taming of the Shrew is the work that I love most. Even more than The Prince of the Pagodas, Onegin and Pineapple Poll. So if anybody were to ask me which is my favourite ballet I would have to say that it is this one.  I first learned about the work in Dance and Dancers in 1969 and have longed to see it ever since (see 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). I got my chance on 23 Nov 2013 when the Stuttgart Ballet visited London (see Stuttgart Ballet's "Taming of the Shrew" - well worth the Wait 25 Nov 2013).

I think the reason I love the ballet so much is that I love the play and the reason I love the play is that I love paradox. I began to appreciate the paradox upon seeing snippets of Meryl Streep's performance as Katherina in New York City many years ago (see Kiss me Petrucchio (1981) Meryl Streep and Raul Julia - A Documentary from 1981 on YouTube). I never saw that show but I do remember her explaining the work in a feminist context. I am also enjoying the serialization of Anne Tyler's The Vinegar Girl on Radio 4 just now. In her programme note, Pas de Dukes, Katherine Barber who runs Tours en l'Air (see Tours en l'Air a Really Useful Resource  23 Feb 2014) draws parallels with Romeo and Juliet:
"But The Taming of the Shrew is in many ways the 'anti-Romeo and Juliet.'  Silly (with an inspired silliness and comic. It mirrors its solemn and tragic sibling sometimes scene for scene: a tender wedding with the wise Friar Lawrence becomes a farcical free-for-all with a cartoonish priest; bridesmaids who are an ironic harbinger of death in the one are chased around by a baulky and belligerent bride with a limp lily in the other; a pas de trois depicting exuberant high spirits of young men in Verona becomes a vaudeville trio of Chaplinesque buffoons in Padua. Both ballets end in tears, though in one they are tears of sorrow and the other tears of laughter."
An interesting idea and one that had not occurred to me before though I caution against drawing too many parallels because all love stories and the ballets derived from them share at least some of those elements.

Although the Birmingham Royal Ballet uses Cranko's choreography and Kurt-Heinz Stolze's score the designs are different. Elisabeth Dalton designed the sets and costumes for Stuttgart (see her obituary in The Stage) while Susan Benson designed Birmingham's. One the whole I think I preferred Benson's as they gave an even greater freshness and touch of joy to the Birmingham production. In a post to BalletcoForum Barber suggested that Birmingham Royal Ballet had used the National Ballet of Canada's costumes and it is certainly the case that Benson contributed the designs to the Canadian production (see The National Ballet's Ballet Notes for its 2007 season which incidentally also publishes Barber's article sub nom The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare in Motion).

The reason I took notice of the ballet in 1969 is that Cranko deployed a stellar cast:
The dancers in Saturday's matinee were pretty impressive too. 

Kate was danced by Elisha Willis. I count myself as one of her biggest fans and I had been led to believe by a clipping in the Birmingham Mail that Saturday's would be her last performance (see Roz Laws Birmingham Royal Ballet star Elisha Willis on ditching dancing for stitching 14 June 2016). I have since learned that she will dance at least one more show in Bristol. I shall miss Willis and I wish her all the best for the future. 

Willis was partnered brilliantly by Iain Mackay. Jenna Roberts was a sweet but not too sugary Bianca while Brandon Lawrence was her Lucentio. I also enjoyed Rory Mackay's performance as Gremio (particularly his wooing of Bianco and his discomfiture by Kate), Chi Cao's as Hortensio and Delia Matthews's and Angela Paul's as their wives and Jonathan Payn's as Baptista. However, I should say a special word for Valentin Oloyyannikov who doubled as the publican and priest. He is a great character dancer and his characterization of the cleric was nothing short of brilliant.

The play has inspired Jean-Christophe Maillot to create another version of The Taming of the Shrew for the Bolshoi which was screened to British audiences in  January (see Competition for Cranko: The Bolshoi's Taming of the Shrew streamed from Moscow 25 Jan 2016). I enjoyed the screening very much and I look forward to seeing it live when the Bolshoi bring it to Covent Garden.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Ballet Black made my Manchester Day

The Lowry
Author: Rob Chafer
Source: Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence 

Ballet Black, Triple Bill, The Quays Theatre, 19 June 2016

I am not sure whether the timing was deliberate but Ballet Black visited us on Manchester Day which celebrates "the creativity and diversity of Manchester ...... where communities can celebrate pride in our city and show what makes them feel uniquely Mancunian [and where] communities, artists and businesses can work together to create something truly special for Manchester" (see the Manchester Day Parade 2016 video on YouTube). Whether or not they were aware of yesterday's significance they could not have come on a better day for Ballet Black, like my beloved birthplace, is hugely creative, its repertoire could not be more diverse and, as I have said more than once, Ballet Black, like Manchester, is special (see Why Ballet Black is Special 20 May 2013 and Ballet Black is still special 7 Nov 2013).

The audience at The Quays sampled that diverse repertoire last night with Arthur Pita's Cristaux. Christopher Marney's To Begin, Begin and Christopher Hampson's Storyville.  Two of Ballet Black's best loved works while I have been following them are Pita's A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream from their 2014 season and Marney's War Letters from 2013. Storyville is another favourite with audiences from the 2012 season which I saw the first time last night. Hampson together with Ernst Meisner was my choreographer of the year last year and Marney is my favourite living British choreographer. Pita is another firm favourite. Those chaps have never put a foot wrong in my eyes. I expected a super evening and that's exactly what I got.

Cristaux opened with Cira Robinson on pointe in a sparkly tutu gyrating to the tinkling rhythm of Drumming Part III  by Steve Reich. She was joined by Mthuthuzeli November in blue and white. Though the steps seemed simple the pace was fast and frenetic and the effect quite mesmerizing. In the programme notes Pita said that he was inspired by the title to Balanchine's Le Palais de Cristal even though it is thought that the title was not intended to be descriptive. "I personally love the title Le Palais de Cristal", wrote Pita, "as it paints such a beautiful image." So he started thinking about crystals and how we can be mesmerized by their simplicity and beauty. "The reflective light that radiates from crystals is so magical and enchanting" he added. "I wanted to capture this feeling." It led him to "a place in which one is not dead or alive, asleep or awake, but somehow being led or seduced by a glimmering light." A mysterious but strangely exciting work.

Marney's To Begin, Begin  was also mysterious but in a very different way. Sayaka Ichikawa appeared as though on stilts draped on an enormous canopy of blue.  In the programme notes Marney explains:
"In To Begin, Begin, you see first a woman walking under a wave, a floating blue silk, waiting to be found by her soul-mate, who descends from above." 
Other dancers follow: Kanika Carr Jacob Wye, Isabela Coracy, Damien Johnson and Joshua Harriet. Marney continues that as the soul-mate finds the woman he witnesses other other relationships but his instincts lead him back to where he belongs. Marney says his inspiration for the piece came from watching an animation that had been made to some music by Dustin O'Halloran for an animation that he had written for the Sophie Coppola film Marie Antoinette. Live all Marney's work it was lyrical and moving.

Storyville was the story of Lulu White, a brother keeper in the Storyville district of New Orleans, danced by  Ichikawa and one of her girls called Nola (danced by Robinson), which appears to be an acronym for New Orleans Louisiana. The ballet charts the course of Nola's short unhappy life from her arrival as an innocent newcomer to the big city to her death a few years later. It is uncannily like Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire which Hampson's company tuned into a very striking ballet last year (see Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015). I can't help wondering whether there is any connection between Hampson's creation and his company's creation. Nola was danced by Robinson. On stage she seemed so fragile and so vulnerable. It was clear how this story would end. If only I could reach out and rescue her. Harriet is Lulu's henchman, Mack, an epitome of evil. Lulu and Mack appeared in Nola's dreams or hallucinations as symbols of death. Carr and Coracy were bar girls and November and Wye as their guests. Nola's only hope of salvation was the sailor, Johnson, but not even he could divert her from her path to destruction. Not a pretty work at all but an absorbing and important one.

Before the show we learned from the stage manager that a case containing the programmes and some of the props was missing. I met Cira Robinson and asked what had gone missing. She mentioned her headdress and a chandelier from Cristaux which can be seen in these in Dave Morgan's photo on BalletcoForum. The missing items did not diminish the audience's enjoyment one little bit. However, it would be a great excuse to see the show again in Nottingham next Wednesday or in Leeds in the Autumn.

I do hope Ballet Black enjoyed their visit to Greater Manchester. It was great to see them in our area again and I do hope they come back soon. Perhaps even on Manchester Day again. Maybe they could even be part of it.