Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Le chien mal gardé

I have always admired Cira Robinson's dancing ever since I first saw her at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre nearly two years ago. I have seen her in a variety of roles, most recently in Mark Bruce's Second Coming where I wrote:
"There was a pas de deux to Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor which had me reaching or a tissue. Partly it was the memory of Jacqueline du Pré but mainly it was the fluidity and delicacy of Cira Robinson's dancing. She is a wonderful dancer. A true ballerina in the strict sense of the word. I exchanged a few words with her too after the show and she is as gracious off the stage as she is when dancing. There were some spectacular turns and jumps which must have been fun to dance, I suggested. "Yes, so dramatic and different from everything else we have dome before" came the reply."
Last Sunday, she danced a red setter and she was magnificent.

Anybody who has ever kept a dog knows how endearing they can be but also how exasperating. They love having their tummies rubbed.  Bif's pleasure was palpable as she was petted by his mistress Anna. But they have minds of their own. They will stand immovable nose down at something unmentionable despite the entreaties and the commands of their owners. Bif did that too.  They are so affectionate in the way they wake a recumbent human. Ripples of giggles as Bif jumped into the lap of the dozing ballet teacher or licked her awake. They have minds of their own. If they want to follow their young mistress to a ballet class or even to a ballet there is no stopping them. Everything about Robinson's performance reminded me of Tiger, the border terrier with which I shared the first 11 years of my life.

There was some real dancing too. With the dalmatian preening himself in the mirror and of course the final pas de deux in which Bif saved the show. Even the stern Miss Polly who had no time for dogs at the barre - especially dogs in tutus rose to her feet at the reverence.

Although today's article is an appreciation of Cira Robinson it falls on the birthday of one of Ballet Black's other stars, Damian Johnson. I am sure all my readers will join me in wishing him many happy returns of the day.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Not just a children's ballet

Seeing Chris Marney's Dogs don't do ballet for a second time made me realize that this was a ballet that is suitable for children and not just a children's ballet.  I was aware of that when I saw the opening of the show in Harlow last October:
"Though it was a children's ballet there was plenty to appeal to grown ups. For instance, the ballet teacher, Miss Polly, swigging from her hip flask and sleeping through her students' barre exercises. She was danced by Christopher Renfurm who has blossomed as a character dancer. He is a good Salvador Dali but a brilliant ballet teacher. Though I am glad to say that none of my ballet teachers is anything like Miss Polly, Renfurm fitted the popular stereotype of a ballet teacher to a tee. The expression of delight on Anna's face changing to embarrassment upon her first kiss was another moment to savour. Marie Astrid Mence, Ballet Black's latest recruit, was an adorable Anna. The study of canine behaviour by Cira Robinson - so familiar to anyone who has ever kept a dog - was yet another delight. There was Bif's whining, her friendly slathering over Miss Polly, the playfulness with which she toyed with a tutu and her pas de deux with a dalmatian. Just like a real dog ....."
(see Woof  12 Oct 2014),
Having just seen La Fille mal gardee  I was struck by the similarities in the two ballets. Both require a man to dress as a woman though Marney's Miss Polly is somewhat more sophisticated than Ashton's Simone. Both feature animals: dogs in the Marney and hens and a cockerel in the Ashton,  There was even an equivalent to the ribbon dance with the dog leashes.

Although I had intended to see this ballet with a guest there were some advantages of seeing it alone. The first time I saw Dogs don't do ballet I was with a three year old and as a result I saw it very much through the eyes of a child. The only music I could recall from October was Fauré's Dolly Suite and I think that is because I heard that same music every day on the Light Programme's Listen with Mother when I was three years old. Today I discovered that there is actually far more of Tchaikovsky in the score, both The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty as well as the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. So although it begins in the nursery with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star it leads into the classical ballet staples.

It was then that I began to appreciate the beauty of Marney's choreography. The same fluidity that I remember from War Letters and Two of a Kind.  That is why I find his work so satisfying.  It is a wonderful medium for his dancers, particularly Cira Robinson who remained in red setter suit with what must have been a stifling mask throughout the show whereas others got a chance to change, and Marie-Astrid Mence who was again quite charming as Little Anna. There is a magical scene in the ballet when Bif imagines the Dalmatian and they actually dance a little canine pas de deux to Tchaikovsky.

This time I also appreciated Mence's acting. She has the most expressive face conveying apprehension, embarrassment and delight. Her face was a picture when her dad, Damien Johnson, produced two tickets for The Sleeping Beauty. It was also a picture when received her first kiss - delight quickly turned to horror as she tried to wipe it away.

Having burrowed a little below the surface of this work today I expect to discover more about the work when I see it again tomorrow. If you have children then by all means bring them but you don't need children to enjoy this work.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Fille is to us what Napoli is to the Danes - but other countries love Fille too

La Fille mal gardée is to us what Napoli is to the Danes. Napoli. is their national ballet by their most famous choreographer even though it is set in Southern Italy.  Fille is English even though it is set in Normandy. How could it be otherwise with choreography by Ashton, music by Lanchberry and sets by Osbert Lancaster?

But wait. It is also very French as Brigitte Lefèvre explains in the clip above.   The very first production was in Bordeaux on the eve of the storming of the Bastille.  On the anniversary of that insurrection this year the Ballet of the Paris Opera are dancing Ashton's ballet at the Palais Garnier. If this film is anything to go by they can reclaim it for themselves. Quelle joie! Quelle delice. Here are the details if you want to see it.

But Fille is also Russian.  Ashton drew heavily on the experience of Tamara Karsavina who had danced the ballet in St Petersburg.  And now the compliment has been returned for Ashton's version was danced last year at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

And the Americans love Fille too for it is in American Ballet Theatre's repertoire.

The Best Fille Ever

Royal Ballet, La Fille mal gardée, Royal Opera House, 16 April 2015

I first saw La Fille mal gardée in 1970 with Merle Park as Lise, Michael Coleman as Colas, Brian Shaw as Simone, Alexander Grant as Alain and Leslie Edwards as Thomas. I've seen a lot of performances of this ballet since then. But I don't think I have ever seen a better one than last Thursday night's. Vadim Muntagirov danced Colas, Laura Morera Lise, Will Tukett Simone, Paul Kay Alain and Gary Avis Thomas. Ashton would have been delighted with their performance.

Morera was an adorable Lise. Ashton had created that role for Nadia Nerina who retired just before I could afford to take myself to Covent Garden. I saw her only on black and white television of which a few fragments remain on YouTube (see the ribbon dance with David Blair and a rather longer extract from Act II). For me Lise was Merle Park and I have compared every ballerina who has danced that role over the 45 years to her. The highest compliment that I could pay a dancer in that role whenever I reviewed that ballet was that she reminded me of Park. That is what I said about the performance of the lovely Maureya Lebowitz when Birmingham Royal Ballet danced Fille in Nottingham last year (see Fille bien gardée - Nottingham 26 June 2014 27 June 2014). Morera has put her signature on that role.  How charmingly she coaxed her mum into her clogs clicking them gently together. How sweetly she pretended to catch, swat and stamp on an imaginary fly. A disobedient daughter, yes, but such an affectionate one. How could anyone remain angry with her for long?

Muntagirov was the best Colas that I have ever seen. In previous productions he had been overshadowed by Lise which is perhaps as it should be as  Fille is in the title in contrast to the other great ballet about an arranged marriage that went wrong, Romeo and Juliet. Muntagirov transformed that role with his power and grace. He is a magnificent dancer of whom I can never see enough.

Tuckett was a very convincing Simone. Previous dancers in that role had danced it as a pantomime dame but Tuckett was womanly.  At least one person in the audience expressed surprise that Simone was a man on reading the cast list. Kay portrayed the gormless and gulled Alain skilfully. It is a difficult role to dance in the 21st century. Fifty years ago we were less kind to folk with learning difficulties and other disabilities. We laughed at them then but don't any more. Kay won our hearts and our sympathy.

On 9 April Avis tweeted:
I have always liked Avis so I replied

It was such a treat to see him so soon after that exchange.

And yet another treat was to be in a London audience who had seen ballet before and knew when to clap and when to roar. Every single seat in the House was taken. There was a buzz. There was gaiety. There was flair. The crowd was there to watch and live the show. Not simply to be seen by their neighbours in the hope of appearing in the social pages of a county glossy. Such a glorious experience in every way.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cool Britannia - in Amsterdam

Source: Dutch National Ballet

In 1667 Admiral de Ruyter sailed up the Thames and destroyed several warships at the Royal Navy's dockyards at Charham. It was one of the worst defeats in British history. Times change, thank goodness, and the Dutch are now our good friends. I would argue that they are the people in Europe who resemble us most closely. Their language is closely related to ours. They have a maritime history as we do. Indeed, their history and ours have overlapped many times.

Like us they have a great national ballet company which has just paid us the singular compliment of commissioning new works from David Dawson and Christopher Wheeldon to be presented with Wayne McGregor's Chroma as part of a triple bill called Cool Britannia. Chroma is already in the Royal Ballet's repertoire but all I can tell you about the other two works is that Dawson has just started on his ballet and Wheeldon is about to start his.

Casts have been assigned provisionally to this production though as always that is subject to change. According to Richard Heideman, the company's press manager, Igone de Jongh, Vito Mazzeo, Floor Eimers, Jozef Varga, Maia Makhateli, Artur Shesterikov, Sasha Mukhamedov, James Stout. Suzanna Kaic and Edo Wijnen will dance in the Dawson, Anna Tsygankova, Marijn Rademaker, Megan Zimny Kaftira, Remi Wortmeyer and several others will be in the Wheeldon and Marijn Rademaker, Remi Wörtmeyer, Young Gyu Choi, Artur Shesterikov, Wentao Li, Matthew Pawlicki-Sinlair, Maia Makhateli, Suzanna Kaic, Igone de Jongh and Nadia Yanowsky are in Chroma. Greg Haines has been commissioned to write the music for the Dawson. Wheeldon is using Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor as his score. Joby Talbot wrote the score for Chroma.

There will be only 7 performances of this triple bill between 17 and 27 June 2015. If you want a ticket this link will take you to the box office. As the top price is only 53 euros tickets are very reasonable. I've found that the best way to get to Amsterdam from London is via Southend though I shall be flying from Manchester. If you are thinking of coming on the 27 you should be aware that hotel rooms in Amsterdam are selling like hot cakes.

If, like me, you are a fan of the Dutch National Ballet their Junior Company is coming to The Linbury on the 5 and 6 June 2015. They have got some great new works in their show and some fine young dancers such as Bart Engelen, Cristiano Principato and Emilie Tassinari to name just three. The month after that the main company are bringing Wheeldon's Cinderella to the Coliseum.

The Dutch National Ballet is already a great company and I think it will become greater still once the young dancers of the Junior Company ascend its ranks. Ted Brandsen's idea of getting the most promising dancers in the world to develop their talents in the touring company is inspired and I expect other companies to follow them.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

We're in the Paper

A reporter and photographer from the Yorkshire Post visited our class the other day. I remember their visit. Here's their report: Raising the barre: Pirouetting pensioners

I had an off day on Monday and asked myself whether I wasn't getting a little too old for this sort of thing. I suffer from fallen arches and my right foot was playing up. For the first time in a dance class I caught myself watching the clock.  "Why do you put yourself through this pain?"  I asked myself, "Aye and paying for it" I added. "Are you sure it is worth it?" Until I read this report I was beginning to wonder but it reminds me why I turn up to Quarry Hill on Tuesdays and Thursdays as often as I can, week after week.

The first reason is that Northern Ballet's Over 55 class is more than a ballet class.  I have got to know my fellow students over the last 18 months and have made friends with some of them. We meet in Café 164 after the class for a cup of tea and a chat. They are all have a story to tell. This class is where I get to meet them. It does not seem to happen in other classes.  Or at least not so much.  In other classes we exchange smiles and greetings at the barre and look forward to seeing each other next week. But then we get into our cars and scatter to the four winds.

The second reason I love class is that I like the tinkly music even if it is recorded. At Northern Ballet we usually have a pianist for the main class though our teacher uses a DVD for an extra class where we work on more difficult exercises. That used to be one of the highlights of my week until my arches started to give me grief. There's something about ballet exercise music that attracts me. There's one particular recording that all my teachers have played which almost brings tears to my eyes when I hear it. The music plugs me into a tradition which links me albeit very tenuously into a tradition that has been followed by every dancer, choreographer, teacher and student who has gone before.

And I think that is the third reason I need class. In Le jour de gloire est arrivé - Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School 3 Feb 2014 I wrote how Sibley spoke adoringly about her teachers, particularly the great Karsavina. I added:
"As Sibley spoke about her teachers I realized that every teacher represents to his or students every dancer, choreographer and teacher who has gone before. Sibley loved her teachers and I can relate to that because I love every one of mine. Those who have gently corrected my wobbling arabesques and feeble turns."
I feel that connection with the great balletic tradition in every class but particularly strongly in Northern Ballet where we sometimes meet members of the company as we file out of their studio.

Oh and I get fit in the process, mentally as well as physically. I have a lot of stress in my work. I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. I have to concentrate on detail and that happens in class even in simple exercises.  Class helps to relieve that stress, to clear my head, to stretch my body and think straight when I am in court or con.  I don't think I could do my job - or at least not so well - without it.

Post Script 20 April 2015

I had another class with Fiona Noonan on Wednesday night at Huddersfield University and it couldn't have been more different from Monday. It was 90 minutes instead of the usual hour and the teacher worked us hard. Yet even though there was more jumping there was no pain. The class set me up for a really long day on Thursday which began 2 hours after I had gone to bed and included a 200 mile dash to London, several meetings and La Fille mal gardee. Friday was just as hectic with a three and a half hour con and another long drive home but now I am back and looking forward to Ballet Black.

More on the Over 55 Class

Gita Mistry   Coming Back to Ballet 12 March 2015
Jane Lambert Elizabeth Rae  7 Oct 2013
Jane Lambert  New Term at Team Hud - and around the World 2 Oct 2014
Jane Lambert  Coming Down to Earth Gently 30 June 2014
Mel Wong   The Dance DID go on - Northern Ballet Academy Show 2014 29 June 2015
Jane Lambert The Time of My Life 28 June 2014
Jane Lambert Nervous? Shhhhh...... Northern Ballet's Over 55 Class End of Term Show 24 June 2014
Jane Lambert A Treat For Us Old Ladies 27 Feb 2014
Jane Lambert Realizing a Dream 12 Sep 2013

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

More good news from Manchester

On Saturday 23 May 2015 the adult dance students of KNT Danceworks in Manchester will put on a show at The Dancehouse. It is called Move It!  and tickets will cost £8 if booked over the internet or £10 at the door. I saw the beginners' ballet class last week and it was already very good. I would have loved to have taken part but I can at least review it for this blog.

Another event that promises to be a lot of fun is KNT's proposed Beginners' Ballet Workshop for August. Here's an announcement from Karen Sant of KNT Danceworks:
"*** KNT Danceworks Adult Summer Workshops ***
These dates are all still TO BE CONFIRMED but I need to see how many people are interested to make sure this is feasible. If you are interested in a specific workshop, it would really help me if you could let me know which one in a comment below.
All our summer workshops, held at The Dancehouse Theatre, will be taught by industry professionals. The price will be £200 for one workshop (3 days) or £350 for two workshops (6 days). They will run between 10am and 4:30pm approx.
Mon 10th - Wed 12th: Beginner Jazz & Contemporary Workshop
Thurs 13th - Sat 15th: Advanced Jazz & Contemporary Workshop
Mon 17th - Wed 19th: Beginner Ballet Workshop
Thurs 20th - Sat 22nd: Advanced Ballet Workshop"
I do hope those workshops happen and they will happen if enough people support them. If you are interested please contact Karen on info@kntdanceworks.co.uk or 07783 103 037.