Monday, 16 January 2017

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba


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In Double Latin  7 Jan 2017 I mentioned the forthcoming tour of the UK by Danza Contemporánea de Cuba. While writing Beautiful Ballet Black 14 Jan 2017 I remembered that Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who choreographed A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet and Little Red Riding Hood for Ballet Black, will also contribute Reversible to the Cuban tour.

The above trailer gives us a taste of what to expect from in the programme. There is a bit more detail including comments from each of the choreographers and two of the dancers in The Spirit of the Cubans | Danza Contemporánea de Cuba UK Tour 2017.

The tour starts at Royal Concert Hall Nottingham on 14 and 15 Feb and moves on to the Lowry 17 and 18 Feb, Theatre Royal Newcastle 21 and 22 Feb, Barbican 23 Feb, Millennium Stadium 28 Feb and 1 March, Theatre Royal Plymouth 3 and 4 March, Brighton Dome 7 and 8 March, Eden Court, Inverness 10 March, Festival Theatre Edinburgh 14 and 15 March and Marlowe Theatre Canterbury 17 and 18 March.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Ballet Theatre UK's Romeo and Juliet

Theatre Royal Wakefield
Photo Tim Green
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Ballet Theatre UK Romeo and Juliet Theatre Royal Wakefield, 14 Jan 2017, 19:30

I have been blogging about Ballet Theatre UK for nearly three years and have reported their performances of The Little Mermaid (see Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport 27 Apr 2014), Swan Lake (see The Bedouin of Ballet 12 Dec 2014), Aladdin (see Ballet Theatre UK's Aladdin 5 Apr 2015) and Pinnochio (see Pinnochio 6 June 2016).  It is a troupe of some 14 talented young dancers who create two full-length ballets a year which they perform in small and medium town and suburban auditoriums the length and breadth of the country. Each of those ballets is choreographed by their founder and artistic director, Christopher Moore and is either an adaptation of a well-known work such as last night's Romeo and Juliet or a folk or children's tale like last season's Pinnochio.

Through that work, Ballet Theatre UK introduces high-quality dance to audiences whose only other experience of ballet might be a show on BBC 2 or BBC 4 around Christmas or an end of term review by kids from a local ballet school. There is a complete absence of gimmickry in Moore's productions. His Romeo and Juliet, for example, is set firmly in renaissance Verona and his costume designer, Daniel Hope, has obviously spent time and trouble on researching the period in order to produce the most elaborate and what to my eyes at any rate are historically accurate representations of the elaborate headgear that might have been worn by Lady Capulet, Paris and Juliet's nurse. Phillip Moore's set consisted of a simple classical arch which, when combined with some imaginative lighting design by Russ Marquis, transported us effortlessly from the town square of Verona, to Juliet's boudoir, to her parents ballroom, to her balcony, to Friar Lawrence's chapel, the square again, the bedroom and finally to her tomb. All of those costumes and props will no doubt be dismantled and packed in the vehicle that will convey last night's show from the county town of the West Riding to Horsham in sunny Sussex.

The audience that saw last night's show got a lot for their money.  As the crowd included a fair sprinkling of children I should imagine ballet teachers and dancewear shops the length and breadth of the country owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Christopher Moore and his dancers for inspiring an endless supply of new pupils and customers all of whom will be in the market for tights, shoes and snazzy new leotards. Indeed, it may not just be children in the market for such kit as adult ballet classes are sprouting like mushrooms everywhere as I noted in Back to Class 8 Jan 2017. Those teachers, retailers, studios and theatres would probably be willing to advertise if Ballet Theatre UK would take advertising.

So Christopher Moore and his talented young dancers perform an important public service not just to dance itself but also to education, retailing and possibly even public health in getting kids and possibly some adults off their backsides and onto the barre. When the time comes for giving gongs I hope the powers that be remember him.

It is vital that this company keeps going but it is not obvious how they manage it. If they get anything from Arts Council England, which seems to have plenty of dosh for projects that seem to be much less worthy, Ballet Theatre UK don't mention it on their website or in their sumptuously designed and printed, but singularly uninformative, programmes at £5 each. They appeal for corporate giving and sponsorship on their website but if they get any they keep quiet about it. There is an acknowledgement of some 22 individual donors on the last page of the programme some of whom bear the names or at least the surnames of creatives and dancers in the company. The only advertisement in the programme is for The School of Ballet Theatre UK.

Ticket and programme sales will bring in some revenue but it can't be that much. The Theatre Royal Wakefield, which is a beautiful Victorian venue with a glorious history (see Theatre has a rich history 22 Aug 2097 Wakefield Express), seats only 499 punters. Although yesterday's turnout was not bad there was more than one empty seat.

Of the five shows by Ballet Theatre UK that I have seen since I started this blog, this was by far the best. I think it helped that I knew the story backwards.   By contrast, Aladdin and Pinnochio were not the easiest ballets to follow.

However, I think a lot of credit must go to the dancers and in particular to Isaac Peter Bowry who, like me, is a Mancunian (see Born to be a star: Wythenshawe dancer Isaac, 16, on the road to ballet success 12 Oct 2012 Manchester Evening News). Yesterday was not the first time I had seen Bowry in a major role. I mentioned him in my very first post for his performance as Drosselmeyer in Ballet West's "The Nutcracker" on 25 Feb 2013, again when he danced von Rothbart the following year (see Swan Loch - Ballet West's Swan Lake, Pitlochry 1 March 2014 3 March 2014) and Paris the year after that in Ballet West's Romeo and Juliet 1 Feb 2015. He impressed me when he was a student and again last night. I am delighted that he has found a home in Hinckley. He is a naturally talented actor as well as a strong dancer.
His glazed expression after seeing Juliet for the first time at her parents' ball was priceless.

Laia Ramon, his Juliet, also acted and danced well. Alistair Beatte handled a sword adroitly as Mercutio as did Lucien Vecchienelli who danced Tybalt. Claire Corruble, the only name I remember from the last time I saw the company, danced Lady Capulet with passion. Dominic Who portrayed her husband as not a very nice man threatening Lady Capulet as well as Juliet with a clout at one point. All danced well.

I can't tell you much about anyone in the cast except Bowry because there were no biographies in the £5 programme and the information on the dancers' page of the company's website is "coming soon" - and has been for several months. That's a pity because Gita likes to name "a man or woman of the match" but can't identify her nominee.  All she can say is that it was "that tall slender girl."

Ballet Theatre UK inspires a lot of loyalty. The mother of one of its former dancers describes the company as "fine". Another former dancer who is a Facebook friend wrote "enjoy" when I announced I was on the way to the theatre. A subscriber to Balletco Forum who identifies him or herself only as a Nottinghamshire ballet lover contributed a glowing review of the Chesterfield show to that website. As I said above, friends and family of the company, members as well as the dancers and creatives themselves have donated.  It is clearly a cause worth supporting.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Beautiful Ballet Black

























Yesterday I received this very welcome message from Cassa Pancho:
"Dear Jane
We are delighted to be returning to the main stage of the Barbican in March with our new triple bill!

This year, we are presenting a new ballet by the celebrated British choreographer, Michael Corder who has created a sparkling new quartet, House of Dreams to the music of Debussy, a re-staging of our 2012 audience hit, Captured created by Martin Lawrance and our story ballet is Red Riding Hood, choreographed by the multi-award winning Annabelle Lopez Ochoa who gives us a fairy tale with a surprising twist (and helium balloons!) with costumes from Yann Seabra who designed our fabulous Swarovski tutu for Cristaux last year.
We have over 3000 seats to fill, so please help us spread the word! If you can't make it to London, take a look at our Spring tour dates at the end of this email.
Barbican triple bill premiere: 2nd-4th March 2017: https://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=20245
We look forward to seeing you at a show soon!
Best regards from Cassa & all at Ballet Black"
There followed a list of venues where they are going in the first half of this year.  The list includes Finchley, Winchester, Worthing, Birmingham, Ipswich, Salisbury and Nottingham (see the Performances page of their website for full details). Nowhere in the North as yet but they usually visit Leeds in the Autumn and there is every hope that they may be tempted back to the CAST and Lowry.

Michael Corder is described by the Birmingham Royal Ballet as "one of Britain's most successful choreographers and directors" who has created over 50 original works which have been performed by The Royal Ballet, The Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet, The Dutch National Ballet, The Boston Ballet and The Norwegian National Ballet and many others. He studied at the Royal Ballet School and joined the Royal Ballet in 1973. As a dancer, he performed many leading roles with the Royal Ballet and also as a guest artist with other major companies.

Martin Lawrence is an associate choreographer with Richard Alston Dance Company.   He trained at Coventry Centre for the Performing Arts and London Contemporary Dance School. He danced with Richard Alston Dance Company from 1995 - 2007 and was appointed rehearsal director of that company in 2007. His first commission was  Thimble Rigging for the Meltdown Festival in 2000. Since then he has created work for Richard Alston, Scottish Ballet and Ballet Manilla as well as Pendulum, Captured and Limbo for Ballet Black. I reviewed Limbo in Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury 26 Feb 2014 27 Feb 2014 and mentioned it again in What could be more thrilling than a Ride on a Roller Coaster? A performance by Ballet Black! 24 May 2014, Best Ever - Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse and Ballet Black at Home in Leeds 7 Nov 2014.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a freelance choreographer based in Amsterdam. She trained at the Royal Ballet School in Antwerp and danced with various Europen companies before specializing in choreography in 2003 (see her Biography page on her website). Her works include A Streetcar named Desire for Scottish Ballet which I reviewed in Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015.  Cassa's description of Little Red Riding hood is intriguing and I look forward to comparing Lopez Ochoa's version with Darius James and Amy Doughty's for Ballet Cymru which I saw in Newport on 21 May 2016 (see Ballet Cymru's Summer Tour 22 May 2016) and Cardiff (see Ballet Cymru's "Sleeping Beauty Moment" 5 Dec 2016) and which David Murley reviewed in Little Red Riding Hood comes to London 2 Dec 2016).

On 25 Feb 2017 Lopez Ochoa will hold a one-day practical workshop on Red Riding Hood for students in higher education and training, emerging artists and professionals which will explore ballet technique generally and the repertory of the new ballet.  The cost is only £65 plus a 60p booking fee and the fee includes a ticket fo the show. There are also a number of bursary places.   To apply for a place
"Please send a CV (feel free to include images/video links) and a short written statement (200 words) on how this Weekend Lab will benefit your practice to: weekendlabs@barbican.org.uk
The closing date for applications is 5pm on Friday 27 January; you will be notified one week later if you have been offered a place."
That seems like a golden once-in-a-lifetime-never-to-be-forgotten opportunity to me and I wish everyone who applies for a place the very best of luck. If I were an able young dancer I would jump - nay perform grands jetes en tournant, tours en l'air and any number of entrechats - at that chance.

Finally, I could not leave a discussion of Ballet Black without reminding my readers that Damien Johnson was one of my outstanding male dancers in 2016. As it is not easy to compare a principal in a company like the Royal Ballet, Dutch National Ballet or the Bolshoi with a senior artist of a specialist company like Ballet Black I divided the award into two, one for principals and soloists of major companies who dance leading roles in full-length ballets and the other for the rest.

I did not draw a similar distinction for women dancers but partly because I did not have time but mainly because I could not decide between Cira Robinson, Sayaka Ichikawa and Isabela Coracey all of whom are outstanding.  All I can say is that it would have been one (or more likely all) of them.

I don't think I would be flattering them or exaggerating by saying that Ballet Black is one of the most attractive companies in any of the performing arts that I have seen in over 60 years of theatregoing.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Factory to go ahead

St John's Gardens
Author: R Lee
Source Wikipedia
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Ever since George Osborne MP delivered his Autumn Statement for 2014 I have been beating the drum for the Factory arts and cultural centre as a centre for dance in Manchester (see Let's bring the Royal Ballet to The Factory Manchester 11 Dec 2014, The Factory begins to take shape 26 Nov 2015 and Thanks George 8 Dec 2015). Yesterday, Manchester International Festival ("MIF") announced that it had obtained planning permission to build the arts complex as part of the redevelopment of the St John's district of Manchester (see MIF announced as operator for Factory).

According to the Festival's website:
"MIF will be the operator for Factory, creating a year-round programme of work and running the building, which is due to open 2020. Factory will give audiences the opportunity to enjoy the broadest range of art forms and cultural experiences – including dance, theatre, music, opera, visual arts, spoken word, popular culture and innovative contemporary work incorporating multiple media and technologies"
MIF has commissioned dance before.   In 2015 it commissioned Wayne McGregor's Tree of Codes which was premiered at the Manchester Opera House on 3 July 2015 and is to be performed this year at the Palais Garnier, the Musikhuset in Aarhus and Sadler's Wells. Last year it facilitated Akram Khan's Giselle which the MIF's artistic director described as “an example of the sort of collaboration we can expect to find at The Factory” (see Verity Williams MIF’s Giselle at The Palace Theatre, preview: Dancing to a different tune 15 Dec 2016 creativetourist.com).

While I was not exactly bowled over by Akram Khan's Giselle I applaud MIF's commitment to dance. Now that we shall have a 1,600 seat auditorium for Manchester there is no reason why the second city of the UK should not host its own world class resident ballet company. Ideally, I should like to revive plans for a Northern home for the Royal Ballet which the last Labour government had proposed.  If that is not possible we may have to build one ourselves from the ground up. We shall see.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants some idea as to how the Factory will look there is a great article about the Factory with some good pictures on the BBC website (see Designs approved for Manchester's £110m Factory arts venue 12 Jan 2017).

Thursday, 12 January 2017

ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble's UK Tour

ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble
(c) 2017 ŻfinMalta Dance EnsembleL all rights reserved
Reproduced wth kind permission of CAST on behalf of the company



















We are likely to hear quite a lot from Malta over the next 6 months as it holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. It will be to the Maltese government that our ministers will deliver notice of this country's intention to leave the EU under art 50 (2) of the Treaty on European Union. Malta is one of our best and oldest friends having resisted gallantly ferocious attacks by Axis forces during the second world war for which the whole population was awarded the George Cross. An emblem that continues to appear on its national flag. That small island republic is an important partner in the Commonwealth as well as the EU - at least for the time being.

Even though it has a population of only 450,000 Malta has a rich culture. Its national language is Semitic though English is another official language and Italian is widely spoken. It is 50 miles south of Sicily and about 200 miles north of Libya and Tunisia. It has been influenced by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, all of whom have occupied the country at one time or another.

That rich heritage which is both Mediterranean and European is alluded to by ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble, Mata's national contemporary dance company, on the "Company" page of its website:
"ŻMDE is the repertory national company of Malta that aims to thrive in the sharing and employment of a wide range of repertoire ranging from new works created in Malta by both local and international choreographers (upcoming and established) as well as the re-staging of renowned works from all over the world, thus creating a company of versatility, whilst maintaining a clear identity with its Euro-Mediterranean roots,"
The company is directed by Mavin Khoo who studied Bharata Natyam, the Cunningham technique in New York and classical ballet with various distinguished teachers around the world and has worked with Wayne McGregor, Akram Khan and Shobana Jeyasingh among others.  Its dancers come from Malta and many other countries.

ŻMDE is about to tour the UK with "five works designed to take the audience on a journey of discovery, passion and intricate choreography."  The tour starts in Swansea on 26 Jan 2017 and will move on to Birmingham on the 27, Doncaster on the 1 Feb, Derby on 2, Liverpool on the 3 and Sadler's Wells on the 9 and 10.

The performance in Doncaster will take place at CAST which I visited on 21 May 2015 to see Northern Ballet's Madame Butterfly (see Nixon's Masterpiece 22 May 2015) and Ballet Black last year (see Ballet Black in Doncaster 3 Nov 2016). The company will perform Home by Mavin Khoo and Kick the Bucket by the Spanish choreographer, Iván Pérez. Home is inspired by Spanish cinema and the films of Pedro Almodóvar. The dancers weave a cinematic narrative as the life of one man unravels on stage. Kick the Bucket is an emotional dance duet about life and death. Tickets for the performance in Doncaster will cost £16.50 (£14.50 concessions) each and may be ordered from the box office on 01302 303 959 or online at castindoncaster.com.

Rodolfo Barradas, Marketing and Communications Officer of CAST, has kindly brought this tour to my attention and supplied me with the photo that appears above. He has also sent me the text of an interview with Mavin Khoo which I plan to publish shortly before ŻMDE visits Doncaster. I also hope to find out more about dance in Malta generally. I have already discovered that there is a Russian ballet school in the republic and a dance department at the national university. I have also seen some impressive videos of some of the country's ballet students. For a place with a population not much bigger than the metropolitan borough of Doncaster occupying a very much smaller land area there appears to be a lot going on.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Thinking Big out West


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I first learned about Duchy Ballet on 29 March 2014. The reason I can date it so precisely is that I wrote in The Guys of the Golden West 30 March 2014:
"Other Golden Guys are Duchy Ballet whose existence I discovered only yesterday. This evening and yesterday they were performing The Mousehole Cat & Other Ballets at The Hall for Cornwall in Truro. Roberta Marquez of the Royal Ballet appeared as a guest artist. According to the company's website Duchy Ballet was formed to celebrate the opening of The Hall for Cornwall with the aim was of establishing a youth ballet company for Cornwall providing the opportunity to train, rehearse and perform within a professional setting. The company's choreographer is Terry Etheridge who was a guest choreographer of the Chelmsford Ballet Company some years ago and inspired and taught Andrew Potter who danced Drosselmeyer in that company's recent production of The Nutcracker (see "The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmmicks but with Love and Joy" 20 March 2014). Potter acknowledged his debt to Etheridge on twitter this morning:
"Mr Etheridge, Found me, taught me and inspired me."
Having seen Potter's performance I congratulate Etheridge on a very good job."
I mentioned Terence Etheridge and Duchy Ballet again on 17 Sept 2016 in Ballet in Cornwall while I was on holiday in Looe.  I added that their next production will be The Sleeping Beauty at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro. 

Today I learned that Aurora will be danced by Laura Bosenberg, one of the senior principals of the Cape Town City Ballet. To get some idea of how she dances watch the YouTube clip of her performance in Camille with Tom Thorne, one of the male principals of the company.  Founded only 3 years after the company that eventually became the Royal Ballet the Cape Town City Ballet is one of the oldest ballet companies in the Commonwealth.  According to Wikipedia John Cranko was a member as was Phyllis Spira Africa's one and only prima ballerina assoluta. Margot Fonteyn has danced with the company as have Carla Fracci, Beryl Grey, Nadia Nerina and many other famous stars.

I suppose I should not be surprised.   A company that can attract a principal of the Royal Ballet of the stature of Marquez thinks big. It is not only in America that they think big out West.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Sasha Mukhamedov's Elevation to Principal

Sasha Mukhamedov in La Bayadere
Photo Altin Kaftira
(c) 2016 Dutch National Ballet
Reproduced with kind permission of the company




















At the end of last year the Dutch National Ballet announced three important promotions. Sasha Mukhamedov and Qian Liu became principals and Michaela DePrince a soloist. I have already mentioned DePrince's elevation in Not just Christopher Hampson who makes onstage promotions: Michaela DePrince's Promotion to Soloist 28 Dec 2016. I am delighted by the news and congratulate all three dancers.

I am particularly pleased by Mukhamedov's promotion for two reasons.  The first is that she was born in the United Kingdom and trained at Tring, the Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst. The second is that I saw her dance an extract from La Bayadere at the opening night gala in September (see Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 9 Sept 2016 and Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere - the Highlight of my World Ballet Day 5 Oct 2016) and then the whole ballet on 13 Nov 2016 (see Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere 14 Nov 2016).  She danced beautifully in that ballet and just as Fonteyn is my Marguerite and Sibley my Titania she will always be my Nikiya.

Mukhamedov's progress has been meteoric. She first came to public attention as a medallist in the Youth America Grand Prix in 2007 when she was only 17. She joined the company the following year rising to coryphée in 2010, soloist in 2012 and now principal ballerina.

I watched her greet her fans, pose for photos and sign their merchandise after her performance in La Bayadere with considerable grace and good humour.  Some ballerinas are admired but not always loved.   She is loved as well as admired.