Sunday, 1 February 2015

Ballet West's Romeo and Juliet




Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, 31 Jan 2015

I've seen three performances by Ballet West: The Nutcracker in 2013, Swan Lake last March and now Romeo and Juliet. The other two were good but this is the best by far. This is a very ambitious production with a big cast including some very young children. It would have been a credit to a full time performing company. As most of the dancers are students Ballet West's achievement is all the more remarkable.

Several factors made this production special.  Excellent choreography by Daniel Job: dramatic and with plenty of detail that is often missed by other productions. Great sets by Ryan Davies and Sara-Maria Barton. A well trained and coordinated corps where even the children performed like pros. Sparkling dancing not only from the principals Jonathan and Sara-Maria Barton but also from the soloists Owen Marris as Tybalt, Andremaria Battaglia as Paris, Miranda Hamill as the nurse, Isaac Bowry as Lord Capulet, Kathrine Blyth as his wife, Andrew Cook as Prince Escalus and Karen Terry as Friar Lawrence.

This is a ballet that demands not only great virtuosity from the principals with no less than 4 major pas de deux (the ball, the balcony, the bedroom and the crypt) but also great drama. Juliet grows up literally overnight. A playful adolescent teasing her nurse in the first Act. A woman who knows her mind and is capable of taking enormous risks in defiance of her father in the next. Romeo - passionate in love but also in fury. Drama also from the soloists. Katherine Blyth's grief at her son's death. Her anger on seeing his killer. Her performance gripped the audience - or at any rate it gripped me. Bowry who I had previously seen as Drosselmeyer and Rothbart showed he can act as well as dance. So too could Cook whom I had also admired very much last year.

Because the cast is large and the sets were elaborate the show needed a big stage. The Macrobert is not a small auditorium but it did not do justice to the show. This production has already toured China where it was no doubt danced in bigger auditoria. Probably the best place to see this show is the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow where the tour concludes on Valentine's day. This will be a memorable performance and if you live in Glasgow or anywhere near it you really should try to be there.

In the programme the company's founder and artistic Gillian Barton wrote how it started from humble beginnings in 1991 and how it has achieved great things with tours of China, finalists and medallists in important competitions and graduates in several major companies. Tonight I met Gillian Barton for the first time. Others including one of the members of my class at Northern Ballet had spoken very highly of that lady and I can quite see why.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Stirling Stuff
















Ballet West will dance Romeo and Juliet at the Macrobert Centre in Stirling tonight and tomorrow and with any luck  I will be in the audience tomorrow night to cheer them.  I enjoyed their Swan Lake and  The Nutcracker very much and I have high hopes of this production.

The company has already performed at The Corran Halls in Oban and by all accounts they did very well. The following message appeared on their Facebook page:
"Congratulations to the entire cast of Romeo & Juliet!! Each and every one of you were outstanding! A special well done to the outreach students, you were brilliant! Thank you also to the artistic and admin staff, chaperones, technical crew and wardrobe! Hope you're all ready for tonight's performance!!"
These shows are the only time I get to see Jonathan and Sara-Maria Barton who are accomplished performers as well as teachers at the school. I was very impressed with both of them in Odette's seduction scene last year.

Stirling is in one of our finest cities. Although it has fewer than 50,000 inhabitants it has the feel of a metropolis. It was for a time the capital of Scotland. Like Edinburgh it has an ancient castle built on a volcanic mound and the splendid Church of the Holy Rude where King James VI of Scotland and I of England was crowned. For the last 50 years Stirling has been a university town with a fine research university with the science park and Macrobert Centre.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is discouraging with high winds and driving snow threatened for both sides of the border but Ballet West, like a Michelin restaurant vaut le voyage.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Accessible Dance: Northern Ballet's In Motion

Samantha Carruthers















One of my personal ballet highlights of 2014 was Ballet Cymru's performance of Stuck in the Mud in the streets and on the beaches of Llandudno (see An Explosion of Joy 21 Sep 2014). I was therefore pleased to read Samantha Carruthers's article Accessible Dance at Northern Ballet. She mentioned that she had just undergone a two day training course at Stopgap Dance Company which came just in time for Northern Ballet's In Motion programme.

That programme is for for self propelling wheelchair users and others with mobility issues aged 8 between 19. It is intended to enable them to let their creativity flourish and give them the confidence to move in a way they have never done before. The classes, which are designed to develop pupils' strength, flexibility and creative expression, take place  in Northern Ballet's studios at Quarry Hill. There is a taster class at 13:00 on 22 March. Subsequent classes take place on Sundays between April and July at a cost of £6.50 per pupil per session.

Enquiries should be made to the Learning Team on 0113 220 8000.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The National Dance Awards

The National Dance Awards were announced yesterday and I congratulate all the winners and indeed all the nominees.

I had been rooting quietly for Xander Parish and English National Ballet and am delighted that they had won in their respective categories.

I first saw Xander Parish dance at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School and I have been following his career ever since. I saw him dance the leading role in Romeo and Juliet when his company visited London in the summer.  I also had the pleasure of shaking his hand when he spoke to the London Ballet Circle a few days later.  Not only is he a magnificent dancer he is also a thoroughly nice chap. He signed a birthday card that I bought from Northern Ballet for my ballet teacher's younger daughter. She and her hum (and of course her mum's student) were over the moon. He also made a lot of other people in the audience very happy.

English National Ballet was the first company I ever saw. For kids growing up in London and the Home Counties in the 1960s a trip to the Festival Hall to see The Nutcracker was always a great treat. The company had lovely dancers then such as Peter Schaufuss and Dagmar Kessler and of course it has lovely dancers now. I was lucky enough to see all my favourites in class when they visited Oxford in November. Last year I saw their Coppelia, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet in the Round and Le Corsaire and enjoyed them all.  On a personal note I was delighted that Sarah Kundi, one of the dancers who makes my spirits soar, joined the company.

I had my fingers crossed for Ballet Black, Arthur Pita and Kevin Poeung and am delighted they came so far.

Finally, the Royal Ballet's Giselle with Carlos Acosta and Natalia Osipova in the leading roles was one of my highlights of 2014.  Acosta's outstanding achievement award and Osipova's two awards were richly deserved.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet





It is always a thrill to see Northern Ballet close at hand. I saw them today as my classmates and I filed out of a rehearsal studio that they were about to occupy. Their next production will be Romeo and Juliet which they will dance in Edinburgh between the 26 and 28 Feb 2015 and Leeds between the 4th and 12th March 2015.

This work has been choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. You can get an impression of the work from the YouTube clip above. The synopsis promises a major role for Friar Lawrence who is described as "the vital thread that links the drama from one part to another" in the scenario. According to the website:
"He represents a figure in a trinity, caught between good and evil, tossed between chance and necessity, will and power. A manipulator who is manipulated, he is the story’s primary architect, through whom the tragedy is caused, even as he believes he has given over the key to happiness. Thus he appears from the beginning of Act One to show how much the story of Romeo and Juliet, their deaths as much as their meeting and even their love, owes to chance. He is the agent of the drama which begins in a street in Verona."
I wonder who will dance that role.

Scotland is also being treated to another Romeo and Juliet.   Ballet West are touring Scotland with their version (see Ballet West on the Road 14 Jan 2015). I shall see them at Stirling this Saturday and will review the performance at the weekend. Scottish Ballet performed Pastor's version at Sadler's Wells in May which I  enjoyed very much (Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2014). Now that I am a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet I look forward to more of Pastor's work.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Bradford

National Media Museum
Photo Wikipedia




















Last Saturday Bradford City Association Football Club beat Premier League leaders Chelsea by 4 goals to 2, a remarkable achievement for a first division club. But the city has more than just a successful football club to celebrate. It has fine public buildings such as the City Hall, Salt's Mill and St George's Hall, a great cathedral and, more recently, some impressive mosques, famous sons and daughters like the Brontës, Hockney and Delius and some great museums including the National Media Museum.

The National Media Museum is part of the Science Museum Group. It has 7 floors of galleries with permanent exhibitions on photography, television, animation, video games, the internet and optics. It often hosts temporary exhibitions on those topics. It maintains a collection of 3.5 million pieces in its research facility. It has 3 cinemas where it hosts the Bradford International Film Festival. One of those cinemas is named after Cubby Broccoli who made the Bond films. It was to that cinema that Pathe Live transmitted Yuri Grigorovich's production of Swan Lake. That was probably the best venue outside the theatre to see the show because it attracted a mature, appreciative crowd who had seen ballet before.

Pathe Live treats its audience like adults. It has an excellent presenter in Katherina Novikova. Yesterday she interviewed Ludmila Semenyaka who had danced Odette-Odile as well as many of the other great roles and Artemy Belyakov who danced von Rothbart (or "the evil genius" as he is called in Grigorovich's production) in yesterday's performance. It would have been nice to have had an interview with Denis Rodkin who danced Siegfried and Svetlana Zakharova who danced Odette-Odile. However, Rodkin did talk to Ms Novikova in the interval of The Nutcracker transmission so I know what he is likely to have said (see Clara grows up- Grigorovitch's Nutcracker transmitted directly from Moscow 21 Dec 2014). Mercifully Pathe Live does not see the need to project audience tweets during the screening unlike the Royal Opera House's screenings.

Grigorovich's version of Swan Lake is different. As I have noted von Rothbart becomes "the evil genius". The show is compressed into two acts instead of three or four. There is no prologue explaining how Odette became a swan, no gift of a bow, no trip by the lads to the lake to try it out, the lovely divertissements in the royal palace in what is normally Act III are turned into a pitch by the various princesses and the whole episode takes place in Siegfried's imagination so that nobody has to jump into the lake in the last scene. Looking on the positive side there are expanded roles for the jester (danced by Igor Tsvirko) and also for von Rothbart danced by Belyakov.

Now I was brought on Ashton's version for the Royal Ballet  which has been lovingly preserved by English National Ballet (see What Manchester does today 10 Oct 2014) and I have to say that I do prefer that version. I don't take kindly to change for change's sake when it comes to my favourite ballets such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake but that's not to say that I am against innovation. Grigorovich's versions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker do work though not perhaps as fairy tales as much of the magic of those stories is removed from them. 

Overall I enjoyed the performance very much indeed. Tchaikovsky's magnificent score remains which was conducted well by Pavel Sorokin. Above all there was some glorious dancing. Particularly the pas de deux in the seduction scene in the palace. Rodkin and Zakharova are fine artists. His jumps and her fouettés were thrilling. They were both supported well by Tvirko and Belyakov and a splendid corps. Simon Virsaladze's designs did not show up well in the cinema but they may well have been more impressive on the Bolshoi's historic stage.

The last production in this series of transmissions will be Ivan the Terrible on 19 April 2015. That is not a ballet that is well known in this country and I have never seen it. The transmissions that I have enjoyed most have been of ballets that are not performed here regularly such as A Legend of Love, Spartacus and Marco Spada. I look forward to Ivan very much indeed.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

What we can learn from Rihanna

Last week the singer Rihanna saw off an appeal by Top Shop against a decision of the High Court ordering the retailer to stop selling t-shirts reproducing her likeness in a way that suggested that she approved or endorsed Top Shop's products. If you want to understand the legal issues you can read my case notes in my law blog on the original decision in 2013 and the appeal.

"Very interesting" you may say "but what's it to do with ballet?" Well quite a lot actually because if more money is to come into dance and the other performing arts it will have to come from merchandising and endorsements. As I said in Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers 13 March 2013 there is a limit to how much the long suffering British public will pay for the arts whether in the form of ticket prices or subsidies from the Arts Council.

Sports stars and performers in other art forms such as Rihanna have long known that there is a lot of money to be made from advertising, endorsement, merchandizing and sponsorship. As the Court of Appeal noted, Rihanna runs very large merchandizing and endorsement businesses. Over the years has had endorsement deaks with Nike, Gillette, Clinique and LG Mobile. She has also been very active in fashion in her own right and has made considerable efforts to associate herself in the public mind with that industry.

As I noted in my article last year:
"A few companies are already making a little extra money from advertising. The Royal Opera House shop offers a wide range of merchandise bearing the Royal Ballet name and crest such as books, calendars, greeting cards, t-shirts and videos. Other companies sell t-shirts. A website called Balletgifts, which appears to be based in New Cross. markets various items of clothing and other merchandise for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky. Many companies hire out rooms in their studios or their orchestras. Most also have schemes by which businesses and individuals can become friends or patrons of a company or sponsor individual productions or dancers."
Also, a few dancers are also beginning to exploit their value as brands:
"A few superstars like Carlos Acosta and Darcey Bussell have websites through which they market branded merchandise. Acosta offersclothing and posters and advertises his book with links to Amazon and Waterstones. Bussell markets a range of children's dancewear, books and games and DVDs from her site."
However, much more can be done. You don't have to be the Royal Ballet or Carlos Acosta to make money from advertising, endorsements, merchandising and sponsorship. Every company - even quite small ones has its following - and it is not just ballerinas and premiers danseurs nobles who have fans. Look how I gush over Brill, Coracy, DePrince, Gillespie, Kundi and other favourite artistes as well as the principals of their companies.  And it's not just performers who have brands. So, too do studios, dance schools and even individual teachers.

I made some suggestions as to what companies, theatres, dancers and increasingly individual teachers can do to protect their goodwill in  Branding and Ballet - Ten Top Tips 13 June 2014. The Rihanna case is likely to be discussed at a seminar at St Pancras on the law relating to branding and fashion and luxury goods at which I shall be speaking on 10 Feb 2015. If you want to attend the seminar you can book on-line.