Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Working my way through World Ballet Day footage: Part 1 The Bangarra Dance Theatre

Rock Paintings, Kimberley, Western Australia
Author TimJN1
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

I am slowly working my way through the footage of World Ballet Day and I am still only on Australia. However one of the delights that I have already encountered is the Bangarra Dance Theatre which is introduced by one of its dancers, Tara Bower. The company describes itself as "an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander organisation and one ofAustralia’s leading performing arts companies." It consists of 16 dancers and according to the video each and every one of them shares an indigenous Australian or Torres Islander heritage.

The company was formed just over 25 years ago and is directed by Stephen Page. According to its website the company's dance technique is "forged from over 40,000 years of culture, infused with contemporary movement." Although based in Sydney it remains close to the Aboriginal communities from whom its material is drawn.

The slot given to Bangarra on World Ballet Day was not long. Just enough time to show a class, a trip to the country, a dancer stretching by the sea shore, a rehearsal, part of a performance and snippets from the company's tour to Turkey and Paris. The film shows the dancers in a magnificent modern auditorium in Istanbul and then in a special performance in the Australian embassy in Paris.

As they have been to Paris it occurred to me that they had probably been to London so I googled Sadler's Well and Bangarra. I found that they were here in 2008 with the Australian Ballet with whom they danced a version of Rite of Spring called Rites. The film is very impressive and I really wish I had seen those dancers on stage. In her commentary Tara Bower says that the dancers are trained in several styles including jazz and contemporary and of course ballet. In fact the class shows the dancers performing the traditional barre exercises.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Ballet Cymru at Home

The Riverfront Theatre, Newport
Photo  Gif absarnt
Creative Commons Licence
Source Wikipedia

After the State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet earlier this year I exchanged a few words with The Herald's dance critic Mary Brennan, Brennan had spoken very warmly of Peter Darrell whom I greatly admired and once had the honour of meeting. Darrell was artistic director of what was then Western Theatre Ballet and it was he who took the company to Glasgow shortly after I went up to St Andrews. "He gave us our national dance company" Brennan enthused. "But at the expense of the West Country and South Wales" I replied. Being a native Mancunian I know how it stung when Northern Ballet crossed the Pennines even though it never affected me personally as Leeds is no further away from my home than Manchester. The departure of Northern Ballet diminished our city even though we still have Northern Ballet School, The Lowry and Manchester City Ballet.

Well, South Wales and the West Country have had to wait a very long time but they now have a first class ballet company again in Ballet Cymru. Actually the company has existed  for nearly 30 years but it is now receiving the recognition and funding that it needs to go places. It is still quite small. It reminds me very much of Scottish Theatre Ballet when I first knew it. Although James is very different from Darrell he has similar drive and similar sense of vision. Nearly half a century ago I envisaged Scottish Theatre Ballet as it is now - one of the world's great companies. I have the same feeling about Ballet Cymru and I hope that I live long enough to see it

On Saturday 3 Oct 2015 I joined the London Ballet Circle's visit to Ballet Cymru's premises in Newport. In order not to pre-empt the official write up I will say that we met James, Amy Doughty, Patricia Vallis and Mike Holden as well as the dancers. We watched the company class and a rehearsal of Cinderella. We toured the company's building which is on an industrial estate in Rogestone a few miles to the north west of the city centre.  Darius James told us about the history of the company and his plans for the future which are very ambitious indeed.

I will however mention two things that I knew already. The first is that there is now a magnificent theatre in Newport for the company to showcase its work. That is the Riverfront arts centre on the banks of the Usk. The second is that the company provides great opportunities to local dancers.  It runs workshops, intensives and associates programmes in conjunction with the Royal Ballet and the RAD. On the 18 Oct it is hosting a "Creative Spaces" event in conjunction with the RAD and on the 30 Oct a Junior Associate Experience Day for the Royal Ballet School. It also offers body conditioning and ballet classes to the general public every Monday for a very reasonable fee. Details of these outreach programmes can be obtained from the education officer Mandev Sokhi on mandevsokhi@welshballet.co.uk.

Newport lies at the heart of the Great Western Cities with a combined population of 2.5 million and a GVA of £58 billion. This is South Wales and the West's answer to the Northern Powerhouse. The initiative aims to improve transport links and attract investment to the region.  If it succeeds it will greatly expand Ballet Cymru's market. It will also provide opportunities for attracting sponsorship and funding of other kinds. After the visit I toured some of the city's landmarks and did a little shopping in a local supermarket. I got the impression that things are beginning to buzz around the Severn estuary.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Phoenix at Home

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Phoenix@Home, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 1 Oct 2015

Although I missed most of World Ballet Day on Thursday because I had to work Phoenix Dance Theatre's showcase Phoenix@Home more than made up for it. The audience at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre was treated to a glorious programme of dance:  Melt Document and Mapping - very different but somehow complementary works by Sharon WatsonUri Ivgi and Johan Greben and Darshan Singh Bhuller. All three works were impressive and I appreciated them all.

The most joyful of the works was Melt. It was dance in three dimensions. Dancers formed patterns on the stage. Then they were hoisted up on ropes from which they swooped and twirled and turned. The programme notes mentions elements colliding and  the choreographer talks about ice and fire from which I surmises the title Melt is derived. I saw only harmony and fluidity. If there were collisions they were controlled. The work is hauntingly beautiful not least because of the music chosen for the work: "We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues" by Wild Beasts from their 2009 album ‘Two Dancers‘. Watson, the company's artistic director, created Melt for the company's Reflected programme in 2011.

Whereas Melt suggested fluidity and joy Document conveyed restriction and violence. I was reminded of Plato's cave.  Other members of the audience thought of gassed or shell shocked soldiers or refugees landing at Lampedusa.  You can see what I mean from the trailer here and the video in which the choreographers discuss their work here. There is very little movement as the piece begins. Staccato movements to the throbbing percussion which persists with occasional overtones for the length of the show. Their hands appeared to be shackled. But they broke free flaying their limbs in all directions. There were duets but these were more like duels. In the second of the two videos Ivgi and Greben say that they are a team who draw strength from their differences. Ivgi is Israeli and Greben is Dutch.  They also speak of their collaboration with Tom Parkinson who wrote the score. An impressive but very disturbing piece of theatre.

Mapping was created by a former artistic director of the company and it is a lot of fun. Ballet Central had included it in their touring programme two years ago (see Central Forward  25 March 2013). Bhuller projects the movements of the dancers onto a screen and deploys a tiny vehicle with a blue light to follow the dancers like a dog.  By his projection technique he creates the illusion of improbable shapes and movements. I tried to relate all that to mapping and thought of the Google earth vehicle and Mercator projection which distort the shapes and sizes of continents and oceans. "Was there an analogy there?" I wondered. According to the programme notes Mapping was inspired by the choreographer's father's journey to the west.

Each work in the programme was received with thundering applause and the end was greeted with ululation and foot stamping. A Phoenix audience seem to show their appreciation in a completely different way from a Northern Ballet one which may be because it tends to be younger and more diverse. Perhaps that is because they get a lot more than dance with Phoenix.  Yesterday the company held a conference called MindBody which included contributions from the well known cricketer Mike Brearley. Last year there was a similar conference on Dance and Civil Rights.

Phoenix is not a big company but it is an important one. I suspect that is largely due to the drive and vision of the company's artistic director. I have seen her at many dance events but also on the panel of the Creative Industries Federation's roadshow in June (see The Creative Industries Road Show comes to Leeds 1 June 2015). It came as no surprise to me that she is chairing Leeds's European capital of culture bid for 2023. However, a dance company also has to have dancers and Phoenix has some fine ones. One familiar face that I am pleased to welcome to Leeds is Marie-Astrid Mence whom I know from ballet black. I look forward to seeing more of her.

Friday, 2 October 2015

A Review of our Performance at Morley Town Hall

Morley Town Hall
Photo Steve Partridge
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

A Feast of Music and Dance by Older Performers, Saturday, 26 Sept 2015, Morley Town Hall

Last Saturday I danced at Morley Town Hall with members of my over 55 class at Northern Ballet. I wrote about the experience in Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley 28 Sept 2015. Our classmate Inger Huddleston was in the audience and she chatted with us after the show, During our conversation I asked her whether she would care to review our performance for Terpsichore. She kindly agreed to see what she could do.

On the 30 Sept 2015 I received this lovely email from Inger.  I think you will agree that she came up trumps.
"Dear Jane,
Following your background coverage on Terpsicore blog, I rather hesitate to write a review of Northern Ballet over 55's contribution to the Feast of Music and Dance having been in the early rehearsals, but not having taken part in either performance - the End Of Term Show at Northern Ballet or The Young at Arts showcase.
The technical steps you have already described, in your review of the day at Morley, so my contribution is more personal.
Having started in the 1990s (actually at Yorkshire Dance) very late in life, having done no ballet as a child I know how difficult the first years are, but you have to start somewhere!
I have kept going since then in the Academy classes either Open or over 55, and observing and sketching at open rehearsals as a Friend of Northern Ballet. It's a constant fascination, how choreography constantly changes, no two steps are really the same - whether professional dancers or amateurs - attending company class or amateur classes, dancers have to be prepared for the unpredictable and adapt.
With regard to performances, changes in cast, choreography and staging, lighting and costume, and music, to name but some, everyone must keep all this in mind, with patience and remain very alert!
As I see it, this was one of the greatest challenges for seven lovely, very contrasting classical dancers on this occasion. To be this adaptable seemed quite remarkable. Adapting to "theatre in the round" instead of proscenium, close proximity of audience, different group dynamics and situation was a big ask, for teacher Annemarie and the cast.
Each gave an individual performance, yet the work showed what a wonderfully supportive and inclusive group this is.
The Lullaby by Lulaby music, was interpreted so well, with rests, sways, dreamlike pauses, rocking, through Annemarie Donaghue's brilliant choreography. This would have been a challenge for any professional classical dancer, though there may have been some such in the group. I thought the enjoyment given and received quite wonderful. Lovely smiles (yours in particular) showed confidence and relaxation, surely the purpose of a lullaby.
The audience was very involved, and gave a much appreciative ovation.
I just thought I owed it to you to send something by way of thanks to you and all for a most enjoyable time.
Good Luck, and keep dancing!
Kind Regards,
This is one of the most generous reviews that has ever appeared in this blog:
"I thought the enjoyment given and received quite wonderful. Lovely smiles (yours in particular) showed confidence and relaxation, surely the purpose of a lullaby.  The audience was very involved, and gave a much appreciative ovation."
I think Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova would have been purring at praise like that. In my case just a little bit too flattering perhaps,  But we all did our best and we certainly enjoyed ourselves.

The important point about our class and our show is that it is never too late to dance and no dancer is ever too old to take part in a show.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


Van Gogh "Sunflowers"
Source Wikipedia
Reproduced under GNU free documentation licence

On 27 Sept 2015 Chantry Dance performed Duology, their double bill at the Square Chapel in Halifax. Gita and I had already seen their rehearsal of Vincent - a stranger to himself when we visited their rehearsal studios earlier in the month and knew what to expect (see Chantry Dance's Vincent - Rarely have I been more excited by a New Ballet 4 Sept 2015). Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, however, was completely new.

I enjoyed both works but I think that the Nachtmusik was the better of the two. Ostensibly it was a tussle between Paul Chantry, Rae Pipler and David Beer for space on a settee that could seat three at a pinch but comfortably only two. Of course as two of the contestants were men competing for the attention of the female it developed into something of a love triangle. It was very cleverly choreographed by Chantry and Piper to Mozart's famous music and executed beautifully by the three.

Vincent which followed after the interval was an opportunity for the company's recruits, Rebecca Scanlon and Sorel de Paula Hanika, as well as some of their associates to shine. They were a credit to the company. I was particularly impressed by the appearance of their ghostly faces from behind a glass screen at the back of the stage. Beer, dressed in black, was a disturbing presence. Did he represent death or madness? Piper and Chantry were powerful and their last duet was particularly moving. The production was impressive even in rehearsal. It was magnificent on Saturday night.

After the show the company stayed on stage to answer questions from the audience. Helen Gavaghan asked whether the choreographers had read much about van Gogh before they started to create the ballet and learned that they had read loads. In particular, they had read the artist's letters to his brother. Someone else asked about the creative process, whether the music came first and how they developed the story.  Gita commented on the enormous progress the company had made since their last visit to Halifax. I asked them about their school (see If only I were young again - Chantry School of Contemporary and Balletic Arts 27 July 2014).

It was a good evening. My only disappointment was that the Square Chapel was nowhere near full. I knew that they had a full house in Grantham and Woolwich and a good turnout in Birmingham. Piper said that we had been a lovely audience and that the company hoped to return to Halifax but I can't help wondering whether they might do better at some other venues such as the Studio in Bradford or even the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Leeds where there is already an audience for contemporary ballet. Halifax is at the very extremity of the Leeds City Region, it is not as easy to reach by public transport as Bradford or Leeds and not everybody has heard of the Square Chapel. I think most of the Square Chapel audience would travel to Leeds to see Chantry Dance again. I do not know how many of the crowd who regularly turn out in mass for Phoenix or Rambert would trek out west however good the show.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley

On 4 July 2015 I danced again at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in the Northern Ballet Academy's end of year show (see My Second Ballet 5 July 2015). Gita reviewed our performance in Northern Ballet Academy's End of Year Show 9 July 2015. Last Saturday we took out show on tour and danced in A Feast of Music and Dance by Older Performers at Morley.

We contributed to a lunch time cabaret organized by LEAF partners (Yorkshire Dance, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance, Leeds Grand Theatre and City Varieties and Opera North) at Morley Town Hall. The cabaret was part of a project known as Young at Arts which is itself part of a 6 year programme called Time to Shine that will bring the arts to older audiences in community centres, health centres, care homes, shopping centres and leisure centres so that they can get creative, active and connected. The Time to Shine programme is funded by the Big Lottery's Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better scheme to reduce social isolation of 200,000 older people.

The cabaret took place in the basement of the Town Hall between 11:30 and 13:00. For those who are not from these parts, Morley is a town of about 44,000 people a few miles south of Leeds. Although it forms part of the metropolitan district of Leeds for local government purposes it remains a distinct community in its own right with its own mayor and town council who meet in their own town hall. We were asked to meet Selina McGonagle, Northern Ballet's director of learning at the town hall at 11:30. I reported to Selina at the appointed time and found most of our troupe already seated around a table which had been reserved for us. That table was one of several that had been arranged around a wooden dance floor. A screen had been erected just behind the stage and there were also trestle tables with sandwiches and cake and tea and coffee urns in a corner of the room.  The room was already quite full by the time I arrived. Almost all those who were present appeared to be aged 55 and many much older. They seemed to be a representative cross-section of the population of Morley.

As we needed to warm up someone found a corridor with handrails just outside the room where the event was to take place.  It was not ideal because it was on a slope and very narrow but we each did out own barre exercises. I started in the way that I had been shown by most of my teachers and faced the rail in first position. I did three tendus to the front with my right food rotating my toes on the third, three to the side and three to the right, repeating the exercise with my left and then reversing with a plié and a rise on demi pointe after each set. I then did a set of demi and full  pliés in each of the five positions with side bends in second and fourth and a back bend in third, followed by more tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, développés, cloches, grands battements and finally the very deep stretches on the barre that Karen Sant had originally taught me at KNT and which Jane Tucker had refined in the Swan Lake intensive. In the corner of my eye I could see that most of my classmates were doing the same.

Selina called us back form a film from a dance group from Canberra called "The Golds" who seemed to be very similar to us. They were also aged 55 or over and their number included folk who had danced or taught dance to quite a high level as well as several individuals like me who had taken up dancing in the last year or so. I subsequently learned that Gold is an acronym for Growing Old Disgracefully and that it is "an exciting dance class for movers and non movers over 55 years with a focus on fitness, mobility and creativity." That class was originally part of a performance project for over 55s in early 2011, in association with the National Library of Australia and Belconnen Arts Centre, and supported by the ACT Government under the ACT Health Promotion Grants Program.

I had actually visited Canberra on the way to an International Bar Association conference in Sydney and had spent a very pleasant weekend touring the city and its environs. My late spouse and I visited the Houses of Parliament and saw one of the earliest copies of Magna Carta. We heard part of an appeal to the High Court of Australia which is the federal supreme court of the country and were surprised to find the judges who were sitting en banc in American style gowns which reminded us of night shirts rather than the sort of robes that our judges wore at that time. We patronized a restaurant called The Republic where the local politicians, lobbyists, journalists and others are said to hang out. We marvelled at the local bird life which made one hell of a racket at nightfall and somewhere spotted a family of kangaroos. We explored the mountainous countryside nearby. It was very beautiful but also very cold and actually snowed quite heavily in the hills and briefly even in the city while we were there.

The Golds did not dance at the lunch but they did answer questions from the audience. Unfortunately I had to miss the Q and A in order to rehearse.  We were then called back for lunch after which we changed into our costumes. I think the Feeling Good Theatre Company and a group from Yorkshire Dance did a turn or showed a film but we missed them because we had to get into costume. Then it was us. We were nearly forgotten by the compère who was about to close the show but her co-presenter reminded her that we were still to dance.

We entered the dance floor, took up our positions and danced.  We raised our right arms in sequence, then our left and tuned in out sets. We swayed back and forth and turned. Then we did a couru in demi flapping our arms like swans. Half of us them did balancés and pas de bourrées while the other half prepared to jump. We ran back to allow them to do their glissades. Then a dancer from stage left followed with a balancé and a temps levés while two if us did the same from the other side. We took up our final positions in a semicircle lifting an arm in sequence and then finally a post de bras to right and left. I think it went very well except that my hand bashed the hand of another dancer as we were both turning which was entirely my fault. We had to change our choreography a little as we had a much smaller stage, fewer dancers and were dancing in the round but we remembered the changes and executed them well. We received very generous applause from the audience. An elderly lady in a hijab congratulated me and told me how much she and her companion had enjoyed the show. She said that it was her first taste of ballet and that she hoped to see more ballet in future. As the object of the exercise is to bring the performing arts to members of the public who do not attend the theatre regularly I chalked that up as a success.

After the show I introduced myself to some of the Golds. I suggested challenging them to a cricket match but they had to prepare for their next engagements in Bradford and Vienna and I am not sure that everyone in our class would have been up for a game. One of the Golds asked me how long I had been dancing. I replied that I had been with the Northern Ballet Academy over 55 class for two years but that I had also had a year from an excellent teacher from Brisbane and had also benefited from classes from Adam at Pineapple and Sarah at KNT who were also Australian. The Golds positively purred at that answer.

Selina thanked us for performing. So did the compère and her staff. Most importantly our teacher Annemarie seemed genuinely pleased with us. I enjoyed the afternoon enormously and hope we can do something like that again very soon.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake at the Lowry

Reproduced under standard YouTube licence

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Swan Lake, The Lowry 24 Sept 2015

I like a traditional Swan Lake. The productions by David Nixon, Christopher Moore and Matthew Bourne are all quite admirable in their way but I want my swans to be girls, the same ballerina to dance Odette and Odile with 32 fouettés in act III and the action to take place somewhere in Central Europe rather than the United States. Peter Wright's production for the Birmingham Royal Ballet was of the traditional kind and it was one of the best I have ever seen.

Even though it followed tradition Sir Peter did add some original touches which I think worked quite well. During the overture the curtain lifted on a funeral cortège for Siegfried's father. Suddenly the 21 year old has to assume state responsibilities including marriage to a princess who will bear children to continue the royal line. The weight of those responsibilities come home to him as he dances alone towards the end of the first act. Such a Siegrfied meeds to be a young, sensitive dancer and that role was danced exquisitely by Joseph Caley.

Such a Siegried also needs a very special Swan Queen. A fragile and vulnerable Odette and a wily and wilful Odile. Such roles are not always combined well. Some ballerinas soar as swans but are utterly unconvincing seductresses. For other it is the other way round. On Thursday night Momoko Hirarata excelled in both. Her solo in the pas de deux in the third act with all those turns was breathtaking. How could any prince resist her even if he had been aware that she was Rothbart's daughter.

I was delighted to see Celine Gittens as the Polish princess who is one of my favourites in the company. Ruth Brill, another favourite was also there as one of Siegrfied's attendants. Valentin Olovyannikov made a formidable Rothbart and Matthias Dingman a faithful Benno.

I should say a word for Philip Prowse's designs which were magnificent  I was particularly impressed with the lakeside scene with the moonlight reflected by the ripples on the surface. It was a beautiful romantic setting enchanting but also slightly forbidding.

Having attended KNT's summer intensive last month I took a particular interest in the dances that I had learned. I relived every temps levé and arabesque of the swans, the pas de chats and changements of the cygnets, my feeble attempts to pirouette and turn in the air in Siegfried's solo and the stately czardas.  That course enhanced my appreciation of the ballet a hundred thousand times. I wish I could do a similar workshop for every ballet I see.

In the first interval I met Janet McNulty in the temporary bar area. She was as enthralled by the performance as much as I had been. She had already seen Gittens and Tyrone Singleton the night before for which I really envy her.  I wish I could have seen the other casts but I was also performing today and had to rehearse for my show. However I love this production and was well satisfied with Thursday night's show. I hope to see it again with the other casts at one of the other venues this season,