Sunday, 28 July 2013

Business of Ballet: Northern Ballet's bid to educate us Philistines

















I am not sure what to expect from the Business of Ballet event on 23 Sep 2013. It's absurdly early even for a dancer. To make Quarry Hill by 07:30 I will have to leave Holmfirth by 06:00 the day after a weekend which means getting up at ........... it doesn't bear thinking about. So listen Mr. Nixon it had better be good.

I think it may be good.  According to the blurb
"Since 2011 Northern Ballet has had to respond to devastating cuts in public funding and it has done this by drawing on its strengths – a dedicated and driven team of dancers, technicians, and administrators who have worked hard to respond innovatively to the challenges the company faces whilst remaining true to their artistic vision."
Well I guess that's a business story worth listening to.  

Catering is to be provided by Catering Yorkshire. I hope they are not the same caterers who served a slightly stale chicken coronation sandwich to me when I visited the Stanley & Aubrey Burton Theatre to see the Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill on the 8 June (see "Angelic - Northern Ballet's Mixed Bill"  9 June 2013). The show more than made up for it so never mind.  Perhaps more to the point is that I don't have a dancer's body.  I'm more in the Mma Ramotswe traditional build mould than Martha Leebolt and I like my "Yorkshire nourishment" I do. I can hear Cheryl of Ballet News tut tutting in Surrey not only at my dietary predilections but also at the liberties that I take with her English language.

After breakfast we are to have an "inspiring and illuminating session" with CEO Mark Skipper DL for one and a half hours without an interval.  Actually I am looking forward to it because a ballet company must know a thing or two about logistics if they have to hump props and costumes and herd a troupe of dancers around the country and no doubt, occasionally, other countries.   Then there are the one to ones on "executive and planning, marketing & PR or fundraising and events.".

Actually this is not the first time I have blogged about business and ballet.   In my review of "Beauty and the Beast" 31 Dec 2011 I mentioned the company's excellent facilities for workshops and conferences.   If we could guarantee an audience I would love to stage a seminar there.

If anyone is tempted to attend the event you can book here.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hommage au Faune

On Thursday I watched Boston Ballet's performance of Afternoon of a Faun (see "Boston Ballet: 'High as a flag on the Fourth of July!'"). As you can see from my review, they danced it well. 

That ballet means a lot to me because it was the first ballet I ever saw,  But it is also an important work in the history of dance. It was one of the first (if not the first) works to be centred on the male principal rather than the ballerina. Hardly surprising as it was choreographed and first danced by Vaslav Nijinsky.  Amazingly, there survives the following clip of Nijinsky as the Faun in 1912.


It is also important as one of the first (if not the first) of Diaghilev's brilliant fusions of art, choreography, literature and music. 

The sets were the work of Leon Bakst.   It was an exhibition of Bakst's work at the V & A that led me to the the Ballet Russes and hence to ballet. The music was by Claude Debussy upon the inspiration of the poem by  Stéphane Mallarmé:

"L’APRÈS-MIDI D’VN FAVNE
LE FAVNE
Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer.
Si clair,
Leur incarnat léger qu’il voltige dans l’air
Assoupi de sommeils touffus.
Aimai-je un rêve ?
Mon doute, amas de nuit ancienne, s’achève
En maint rameau subtil, qui, demeuré les vrais
Bois mêmes, prouve, hélas ! que bien seul je m’offrais
Pour triomphe la faute idéale de roses.
Réfléchissons..
ou si les femmes dont tu gloses
Figurent un souhait de tes sens fabuleux !
Faune, l’illusion s’échappe des yeux bleus
Et froids, comme une source en pleurs, de la plus chaste :
Mais, l’autre tout soupirs, dis-tu qu’elle contraste
Comme brise du jour chaude dans ta toison !
Que non ! par l’immobile et lasse pâmoison
Suffoquant de chaleurs le matin frais s’il lutte,
Ne murmure point d’eau que ne verse ma flûte
Au bosquet arrosé d’accords ; et le seul vent
Hors des deux tuyaux prompt à s’exhaler avant
Qu’il disperse le son dans une pluie aride,
C’est, à l’horizon pas remué d’une ride,
Le visible et serein souffle artificiel
De l’inspiration, qui regagne le ciel.
O bords siciliens d’un calme marécage
Qu’à l’envi des soleils ma vanité saccage,
Tacite sous les fleurs d’étincelles,
CONTEZ
» Que je coupais ici les creux roseaux domptés
» Par le talent ; quand, sur l’or glauque de lointaines
» Verdures dédiant leur vigne à des fontaines,
» Ondoie une blancheur animale au repos :
» Et qu’au prélude lent où naissent les pipeaux,
» Ce vol de cygnes, non ! de naïades se sauve
» Ou plonge.. »
Inerte, tout brûle dans l’heure fauve
Sans marquer par quel art ensemble détala
Trop d’hymen souhaité de qui cherche le la :
Alors m’éveillerai-je à la ferveur première,
Droit et seul, sous un flot antique de lumière,
Lys ! et l’un de vous tous pour l’ingénuité.
Autre que ce doux rien par leur lèvre ébruité,
Le baiser, qui tout bas des perfides assure,
Mon sein, vierge de preuve, atteste une morsure
Mystérieuse, due à quelque auguste dent ;
Mais, bast ! arcane tel élut pour confident
Le jonc vaste et jumeau dont sous l’azur on joue :
Qui, détournant à soi le trouble de la joue
Rêve, dans un solo long que nous amusions
La beauté d’alentour par des confusions
Fausses entre elle-même et notre chant crédule ;
Et de faire aussi haut que l’amour se module
Évanouir du songe ordinaire de dos
Ou de flanc pur suivis avec mes regards clos,
Une sonore, vaine et monotone ligne.
Tâche donc, instrument des fuites, ô maligne
Syrinx, de refleurir aux lacs où tu m’attends !
Moi, de ma rumeur fier, je vais parler longtemps
Des déesses ; et, par d’idolâtres peintures,
A leur ombre enlever encore des ceintures :
Ainsi, quand des raisins j’ai sucé la clarté,
Pour bannir un regret par ma feinte écarté,
Rieur, j’élève au ciel d’été la grappe vide
Et, soufflant dans ses peaux lumineuses, avide
D’ivresse, jusqu’au soir je regarde au travers.

O nymphes, regonflons des SOUVENIRS divers.
» Mon œil, trouant les joncs, dardait chaque encolure
» Immortelle, qui noie en l’onde sa brûlure
» Avec un cri de rage au ciel de la forêt ;
» Et le splendide bain de cheveux disparaît
» Dans les clartés et les frissons, ô pierreries !
» J’accours ; quand, à mes pieds, s’entrejoignent (meurtries
» De la langueur goûtée à ce mal d’être deux)
» Des dormeuses parmi leurs seuls bras hasardeux ;
» Je les ravis, sans les désenlacer, et vole
» A ce massif, haï par l’ombrage frivole,
» De roses tarissant tout parfum au soleil,
» Où notre ébat au jour consumé soit pareil.
Je t’adore, courroux des vierges, ô délice
Farouche du sacré fardeau nu qui se glisse,
Pour fuir ma lèvre en feu buvant, comme un éclair
Tressaille ! la frayeur secrète de la chair :
Des pieds de l’inhumaine au cœur de la timide
Que délaisse à la fois une innocence, humide
De larmes folles ou de moins tristes vapeurs.
» Mon crime, c’est d’avoir, gai de vaincre ces peurs
» Traîtresses, divisé la touffe échevelée
» De baisers que les dieux gardaient si bien mêlée ;
» Car, à peine j’allais cacher un rire ardent
» Sous les replis heureux d’une seule (gardant
» Par un doigt simple, afin que sa candeur de plume
» Se teignît à l’émoi de sa sœur qui s’allume,
» La petite, naïve et ne rougissant pas :)
» Que de mes bras, défaits par de vagues trépas,
» Cette proie, à jamais ingrate, se délivre
» Sans pitié du sanglot dont j’étais encore ivre.
Tant pis ! vers le bonheur d’autres m’entraîneront
Par leur tresse nouée aux cornes de mon front :
Tu sais, ma passion, que, pourpre et déjà mûre,
Chaque grenade éclate et d’abeilles murmure ;
Et notre sang, épris de qui le va saisir,
Coule pour tout l’essaim éternel du désir.
A l’heure où ce bois d’or et de cendres se teinte.
Une fête s’exalte en la feuillée éteinte :
Etna ! c’est parmi toi visité de Vénus
Sur ta lave posant ses talons ingénus,
Quand tonne un somme triste ou s’épuise la flamme.
Je tiens la reine !
O sûr châtiment..
Non, mais l’âme
De paroles vacante et ce corps alourdi
Tard succombent au fier silence de midi :
Sans plus il faut dormir en l’oubli du blasphème,
Sur le sable altéré gisant et comme j’aime
Ouvrir ma bouche à l’astre efficace des vins !
Couple, adieu ; je vais voir l’ombre que tu devins."
This poem is virtually untranslatable but here is one valiant attempt by Roger Fry.

To appreciate the ballet as it is performed today here is the Joffrey Ballet with Rudolf Nureyev as the Faun.



Sunday, 7 July 2013

Two Ballet Appeals

Here are two appeals which are very well worth supporting.

One is for the education of Mr. Alessandro Caggegi at the Bolshoi Ballet school in Moscow which has been launched by his mum, Louise Mercer. Caggegi is clearly an outstanding student from whom we can expect much. You can learn more about him and his history by visiting his website.

I learned of Caggegi and his appeal from Tracey Summerell who is another lawyer who loves ballet.  Tracey's children attend Kate Simmons Dance Ltd in Warrington where Caggegi studied. It obviously recognizes and develops exceptional talent when it sees it.   The school's end of year performance takes place at the Lowry between 12 and 14 July and I would have loved to have seen it.  Alas, I can't be in two places at the same time. But I can say chookas or toi-toi to everyone in the show.

The other appeal is my ballet teacher's 10km run in Leeds on 14 July to raise money for Northern Ballet and Macmillan cancer relief. Her target is to raise £300 and she is nearly there.   Now it takes a special type of saint to teach me ballet believe me, because I really do have two left feet, so do dig deep for that final £90.

As this blog is read in the USA, Russia and the eurozone as well as Britain you can contribute to both campaigns in dollars (US, Canadian Australian, Kiwi, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe or whatever), roubles, euro, yen, renminbi,  rupees, dirhams or indeed Sierra Leonean leones.   All contributions would be equally appreciated.

Post Script

I shared this post on Linkedin where it came to Tracey Summerell's attention. She made the following comment:
"I'm sure Alex and his mum will be delighted by your interest and grateful for the support. Alex is a shining example of what can be achieved when you work hard at your passion. Take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi7CSUW17rY"
I have uploaded the clip here.




That lad is good. As I said, dig deep but don't forget Northern Ballet or Macmillan either will you,

Boston Ballet: "High as a flag on the Fourth of July!"















What better way to spend the 4 July than with Americans? Americans bring a zest to ballet. I first noticed it as a young graduate student when I saw New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. I saw it again when American Ballet Theatre brought Cynthia Gregory and Carla Fracci to Covent Garden as America's gift to the silver jubilee celebrations of 1977. Such zest almost exploded when the Dance Theatre of Harlem came over. There are magnificent companies in Russia, Denmark and, of course, our own country but none of them have excited me as much as those Americans.

On Thursday I experienced excitement again when I saw Boston Ballet at the Coliseum. They danced a quadruple bill:
Choreographed in 1934 Serenade was the first great American ballet and was tremendously influential in the USA (see Toni Bentley "The Ballet that changed Everything" 3 Sep 2010 Wall Street Journal)   Although it alludes to the great 19th century ballets with a Tchaikovsky score it is nevertheless very American with more than a touch of Hollywood about it.  There is no scenery or props to speak of.   Just the corps de ballet in romantic tutus bathed in blue.  As the curtain rose there was a collective gasp and then spontaneous
Balanchine crater    Source Meesenger
applause.  To understand why, take a butcher's at Cheryl Angear's photos in "Serenaded  by Boston Ballet" of 4 July 2013 in her excellent blog Ballet News.  I learned today that the planet Mercury has a crater called "Balanchine" because it generates blue rays reminiscent of the lighting and costumes of the ballet. 

On the 4 July the main roles were danced by Kathleen Breen Combes, Dusty Button,Seo Hye Han, Bo Busby and Nelson Madrigal. All danced well but I have to say that I was captivated by Breen Combes. It was the first time I had seen her and she was dazzling.  I was instantly reminded of Fracci when she danced at the Royal Opera House all those years ago.

So far as I know Serenade is not in the repertoire of any British company.That is a pity because it is a lovely ballet. The score is haunting and soaring and accompanies the other worldliness of the blue bathed stage perfectly. I saw the show with a student from my adult ballet class in Huddersfield who had taken class for years yet had somehow managed to reach adulthood without ever having seen ballet on the stage..  I was quite envious of her because I can think of no better introduction to ballet than Serenade.

Leon Bakst's stage setting for Faune
The next work was one that had hooked me onto ballet nearly 50 years ago: Nijinsky's L'après-midi d'un faune. I was drawn to the ballet by the richness of Leon Bakst's design rather than the choreography.   This ballet has been controversial ever since the day it was first performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes just over 100 years ago and it is controversial now. Cheryl Angear, who knows far more about ballet than I ever will, tweeted that it was one of her least favourite works.  It is an unconventional ballet but how can one not relish Bakst's designs, Debussy's score and Nijinsky's choreography.  Anyway the audience on Thursday seemed to love it as much as I did.  John Lam danced the Faun drawing cheers as he entered the stage with a deer like step almost becoming the creature. Ashley Ellis danced the Nymph exquisitely. 

Elo's Plan to B was the only work which we saw on Thursday that had been choreographed specifically for the Boston Ballet and its only recent work. It was first performed in Boston on the 25 March 2011.  No doubt because it is the company's very own work it was danced with particular exuberance.   The score was by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern which I had not heard before. The dancers were Button, Sylvia Deaton, Isaac Akiba, Jeffrey Cirio, Paul Craid and Bradley Schlagheck. They too drew thunderous applause.

The last work was another Balanchine but from the other end of his career nearly 40 years after Serenade,   It was first performed on 18 June 1972 to a score by Stravinsky who had died just one year earlier.   This was the work that showed what this remarkable company could do and just about everybody who had come to London was on the stage. The dancers who impressed me most were Lia Cirio and her brother Jeffrey (see Lia's YouTube interview). There were also strong performances by Misa Kuranaga, Rie Ichikawa, Lasha Khovashvili and Schlagcheck.

This is the company's first visit to London since 1981 and it was a very short season. I sincerely hope they do not leave it another 30 years and that they stay longer when they return. I hate to admit it as a proud  northerner but there is something special about a London audience. I used to go to Covent Garden, the Coliseum and Festival Hall a lot when I was at law school and starting my career because those theatres rub shoulders with legal London. I got to know the regulars and, indeed, probably became one of them. Muriel from Muswell Hill and Ida from Ilford had seen everyone from Ninette de Valois to Rudolf Nureyev and analysed their performances in the minutest detail. When a London audience reacts as they did on Thursday you know you have seen something special.

More on Boston Ballet
Shelby Elsbree "Touring with Boston Ballet" 4 July 2013 The Ballet Bag
Cheryl Angear "Serenaded by Boston Ballet" 4 July 2913 Ballet news
Boston Ballet "In the Press"  Company website
Boston Ballet Facebook page

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ballerina





"Ballerina" is a rank, rather like QC at the Bar. It is reserved for the star of a major company, such as the Royal Ballet or American Ballet Theatre, who dances the leading roles such as Giselle or Odette-Odile. There are only a handful of such stars at any one time.

There is no real equivalent title for outstanding male dancers. "Principal", which applies to both sexes, is how Nureyev and Dowell were described in the House's programmes

A great resource on the art of the ballerina is the Ballerina Gallery,  All the great names are there:
and very many more.  Unfortunately the website does not seem to have been updated since 2010.   

"Who is the greatest ballerina of all time?" I am sometimes asked.  It is impossible to say.   We can only know our contemporaries and, even then, comparisons are invidious.  Each dancer is a star for a reason and the qualities that make a star of one dancer may be quite different from those that make a star of another.

But I can name my favourite dancer of all time and that is Antoinette Sibley. During her prime I could not see enough of her. I lost count of the number of her performances that I saw.. Some praise her line, others her technique but, for me, it was the expressiveness of her face.  Particularly her eyes.   Above is a tribute of photos compiled by the RAD of which she was president.  It is a lovely reminder of a great dancer and a still ravishingly beautiful woman.

Further Reading
Judith Mackrell "Margot Fonteyn as you've never seen her before" 10 Dec 2013
Jane Lambert Sibley 17 Dec 2013
Jane Lambert "Le jour de gloire est arrive - Dame Antoinette Sibley with Clement Crisp at the Royal Ballet School" 3 Feb 2014