Friday, 28 November 2014

Michaela DePrince at TEDx Amsterdam

This is not the first time I have mentioned TED (Technology Entertainment Design). I embedded the presentation of the educationalist Ken Robinson in Dance is as important as Maths on 17 Aug 2014 because he told a wonderful story about Gillian Lynne, choreographer of A Simple Man and Miracle in The Gorbals. Robinson's talk had received more hits than any other.

Here is another TED presentation that should run and run. Michaela DePrince gave this talk at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam where I saw her dance a year ago (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013). Much of her speech is about her life. The appalling things that happened to her in Sierra Leone. Her adoption.  Growing up and learning to be a dancer in America.

But there was a message.
"10:32 the reason why I'm telling you my stories because I want to encourage
10:36 young people to aspire to dream I want people to understand that
10:40 is okay to be different it is OK
10:43 to stand out I'm different I want you to understand to believe
10:48 yourself to believe that you have talent even if you don't think you do"
Those words have moved me as much as her pas de deux with Sho Yamada from Diana and Actaeon in the same theatre.

I saw her dance that pas de deux with Yamda again  again in May in the Linbury Theatre and this time I brought Vlad's mum and my sister in law.  Both are Sierra Leonean. Vlad's mum came to us during the same civil war that DePrince mentioned in her talk.

DePrince has another message. Her life itself is a message of hope. Having emerged from the ordeal of war 20 years ago Sierra Leone is now tested with another.  Its people need hope. They need such a message.

Further Reading

About De Prince
30 May 2014  And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden
28 May 2014 The Flying Dutchmen are coming to London
9 Dec 2013 Dutch National Ballet Junior Company: "Twelve Outstanding Talents" and "Stars of the Future"
25 Nov 2013 The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013
20 Nov 2013 The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company - more than just dePrince
4 Oct 2013  No Holds Barred
4 April 2013 Michaela DePrince

About Africa
8 Oct 2014   Could the Arts not do something about this horrible Scourge
20 May 2014 A Ballet School for Freetown
4 Feb 2014  Gala for Ghana
10 March 2013  Happy Mothers' Day
3 March 2013  What can be achieved by a good teacher
18 April 2007  Sierra Leone (from my law blog)

Remember the coster? Well 'e aint got no ballet school no more.

You remember "Wouldn't it be loverly", the conversation between the coster and the porter about adult ballet classes at Covent Garden? And his excitement in "The Coster gets his Answer" when the geezer in charge told him he could join his class.

Poor bloke! He's feeling a bit deflated right now because he has just discovered this email in his spam filter:
"Dear Adult Ballet Participant,
We hope you have been enjoying The Royal Ballet School adult ballet classes on Wednesday evenings. This has been a new initiative for 2014 which we have run in various formats over the last three terms and this trial period will conclude at the end of the autumn term.
Following extensive consultation, we regret to inform you that, in order to re-evaluate provision, the School has decided not to continue with adult ballet classes from January 2015. Therefore the last adult ballet class will be Wednesday 17th December 2014.
All classes are now fully booked meaning that online booking for the remaining classes this term is no longer available. If you are on the waiting list and a place in class becomes available, you will be contacted in good time.
The decision to suspend the adult ballet classes has not been made lightly; you will appreciate there are some significant considerations for the School including cost implications and child protection issues. Meanwhile, we suggest you research the following organisations, all of whom run established adult ballet classes:
The Place, 17, Dukes Road, London WC1H 9PY
Trinity Laban, Creekside, London SE8 3DZ Tel: 020 8305 9400
Central School of Ballet, 10 Herbal Hill, Clerkenwell Road, London EC1R 5EG Tel: 0207 837 6332
Rambert, 99 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PP Tel: 020 8630 0600
English National Ballet, 39 Jay Mews, London SW7 2ES
Thank you for your understanding in this matter and we hope you continue to enjoy taking adult ballet classes. Thank you also for your interest in The Royal Ballet School. If you would like updates concerning The Royal Ballet School and priority booking for events and open days, we recommend you consider joining our Friends.
Warmest wishes,
The Adult Ballet Team"
Never mind!  It was good while it lasted!  He learned a thing or two.  He's going to check out the classes that the Royal Ballet School suggested.  He has also heard of the RAD's syllabus and non-syllabus classes for adults, Pineapple, and the website.

He's also had a butcher's at the Danceworks newsletter which has lots of deals. He's hinted to the missus that he wouldn't say no to a Danceworks gift card. And he knows where he can go to work off the turkey and Christmas pud over the Christmas holidays.

So he's spoilt for choice, isn't he.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

Photo Wikipedia

In Oban, Stirling, Livingston, Paisley, Greenock, Musselburgh and Glasgow.

Ballet West, Scotland's other classical ballet company, is on tour. It will dance Romeo and Juliet in each of those towns on the following dates:

The principal roles will be danced by Jonathan Barton and Sara-Maria Smith who teach at the school. Other roles will be danced by the school's students some of whom are already beginning to distinguish themselves (see Natasha Watson in Lausanne 15 Nov 2014). If this show is anything like as good as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake it should be well worth the trek up the M6 and M74.


Edgar Degar  Ballet Class
Photo Wikipedia

Exactly two years ago I took my first ballet with Fiona Noonan at The Base Studios in Huddersfield.  It was my first class for 45 years. It wasn't easy. Most of the other students were young. Some were still at school. All had studied ballet for years. I was so unlike them. An overweight 63 year old barrister. I didn't even have the right kit. I took my first class in jogging trousers, tee-shirt and socks. I am sure the other students wondered why I was there and I certainly did. I can't say I enjoyed that class because I could  do hardly any of the exercises. I still can't do all of them even now. And my body ached for ages afterwards.

But I came back. I took private lessons from Fiona who patiently taught me to stack my body and balance first on two legs in demi and then one leg with the other in retiré. I managed to do the barre exercises and some of the jumps. Turns are a different matter - soutenus are all right and even chaînés but I just can't stay in relevé with my non-supporting leg in retiré long enough to do a full pirouette (see A Really Useful Video on Pirouettes 22 Nov 2014). And when I tried posé turns in Leeds I fell flat on my back.  I did wonder then whether I was getting a little too old for this ballet malarkey but I got up, dusted myself down and carried on.

I'm so glad I did because I love class and I have been trying to work out why. The music is one reason. We have some lovely pianists at Northern Ballet, particularly Alena Panasenka whom you can hear in the video but even the recording that Fiona and some of my other teachers use for the adagio is beautiful.

Camaraderie is another reason. The ladies in the film speak about it and it was that video that drew me to Northern Ballet. Those ladies and I danced together last June in And The Dance Goes On in which I had the time of my life and I am glad to say that the ladies are now my friends.  I have also made friends in my other classes in Huddersfield, Sheffield and Manchester.

I have also been fortunate in having wonderful teachers.  None of them resembles the awful Miss Polly in Ballet Black's Dogs Don't Do Ballet. The bond between dancer and teacher is very special. Dame Antoinette Sibley spoke of it when she talked about her classes with Tamara Karsavina (see Le jour de gloire est arrive 3 Feb 2014) as did Elena Glurdjidze and indeed my friend Pamela Newton when remembering Olga Preobrajenska. Look at the interaction between teacher and students in the classes in Moscow and San Francisco in Adult Ballet in Moscow and San Francisco. I have experienced something like that in my own short ballet career as you may recall from my dialogue with Fiona after I told her that I had spent the afternoon listening to Clement Crisp and Antoinette Sibley:
"'Oh super jealousy' she replied.
'Don't be jealous' I responded 'You are also part of the tradition. You live it, I just see it. And you pass on your gift to others.'
'Awwwww Thanku xxxx'
'When I go to class you or Annemarie represent every dancer, choreographer and teacher who ever lived'.
'Aw Jane! I won't be able to leave the room soon'
'I am only paraphrasing Sibley. She should know. Through you I am linked to your teacher who is probably linked to someone at Ballet Russes who is linked to Petipa.'
'xxxxx wise woman!'"
And that brings me onto my final and most important reason which I only appreciated fully this month after watching the company classes of English National Ballet and Chantry Dance who do some of the same exercises that I do with my teachers. It is the sense of being part of a worldwide community with a 200 year heritage. 

That is why I push myself to class even when I feel rotten and why I am always so glad to have done so after we bow or curtsy and clap our teacher and pianist.

Further Reading

Adult Beginner   First Class Stories  Adult Beginner 
David Wilson    Just Started Ballet  Dave Tries Ballet
Greta Wright   How to choose a Ballet class  Danceworks
Jane Lambert  For Emma 28 April 2914
Jane Lambert  Realizing a Dream 12 Sep 2013 

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.