Thursday, 31 July 2014

Reet Gradely: Romeo and Juliet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House 29 July 2014

Mariinsky Theatre, St Perersburg
Photo Wkipedia

In Tuesday's Evening Standard Lyndsey Winship wrote:
"For Londoners used to Kenneth MacMillan’s masterful version for the Royal Ballet, this Romeo and Juliet seems flabbier and hammier — especially smugly arrogant Tybalt (Yuri Smekalov), seemingly modelled on Prince Charming from Shrek, and Vladimir Ponomarev’s theatrical Lord Capulet (even his eyebrows are up to something dastardly)."
Well that may be how Londoners see it but for this Northern lass Tuesday's performance of Romeo and Juliet by the very company that had created the ballet was reet gradely. Xander Parish who danced Romeo ought to know what that commendation means for he was born in God's own county. For those who weren't. here's a definition and etymology.

I am a bit of a connoisseuse of Romeo and Juliet having seen English National's, Scottish Ballet's and Ballet Cymru's in a little over a year. I also know the Royal Ballet's very well. Indeed, I have actually seen Seymour and Fonteyn dance Juliet. In my humble, provincial opinion the Mariinsky's  version towers above any I had previously seen.

I had expected a lot from this show. I had come to see Xander Parish whom I had last seen at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala in York on my silver wedding anniversary 7 years ago ("We still have some of the best dancers in Yorkshire" 20 July 2014). Even though he and his sister were very young they impressed me with their athleticism and grace  Xander Parish displayed those same qualities yesterday. That alone would have been enough to justify a 440 mile round trip at the height of summer with the motorways in a mess but there were two others who stood out.

First, Viktoria Tereshkina who danced Juliet. Even more than Parish, she was the star of the show. I was bowled over by her from her first few playful steps with her nurse. She is a powerful dancer with considerable elevation which she demonstrated frequently but she is also an accomplished actress projecting sensitivity and vulnerability. The crucial part of any production of Romeo and Juliet takes place in Juliet's bedroom. First, there is the newly weds' pas de deux. This is the most beautiful part of the ballet and it is on that sequence that the whole work hangs.  Parish and Tereshkina were magnificent. After Romeo leaves her parents enter with Paris in tow with news that she is to marry Paris. So many emotions are unleashed in this poor young woman which she has to project in dance.  Again, Tereshkina excelled. For the last 40 years Seymour had been my Juliet. From now on it will be Tereshkina

The other dancer who impressed me greatly was Kimin Kim. He danced Mercutio. He has a beautifully expressive face conveying every type of feeling. He interpreted the role brilliantly with boyish swagger as he provokes Tybalt (also danced well by Kamil Yangurazov). The sword fight with Tybalt was one of the most exciting and realistic I have ever seen on stage.  "It's as if they are fighting with real swords" whispered my daughter manquée. Though we all knew how this fight would end how our hopes soared when Romeo seemed to separate the swordsmen and how they were dashed after Tybalt's sword punctured Mercutio's body. I could barely restrain a tear as Kim staggered around the stage rising to his feel, slumping, getting up again and eventually collapsing. This is one of the great death scenes in ballet. It stings Romeo into action overcoming temporarily even his love for Juliet. How we clapped and cheered as Kim took his curtain call at the end of Act II so relieved by the assurance that he was indeed alive.

There were sterling performances by Elena Bazhenova as Lady Capulet, Valeria Karpina as the nurse, Yuri Smekalov as Paris and Andrei Yakovlev who danced Friar Lawrence and Lord Montague. The whole company danced well but the cast is so long that it would be impossible to do justice to them all.  The Martiinsky's orchestra conducted by Boris Gruzin played magnificently.

I need to say a few words about the sets and costumes. These were credited to Pyotr Williams whose biography in itself. Intrigued by the Welsh surname and Russian forename and found that he was the son of an American scientist who had become a Russian citizen in 1896. The very time that so many Russians were emigrating to the United States. Somehow this son of an American émigré survived Stalin's purges when so many other artists perished.  The sets we saw on Tuesday must be reproductions of Williams's sets for the original 1940 performance. They were impressive particularly the opening scene of Verona with an estuary in the background, the Capulets' balcony and the burial ground. An interesting feature was the use of a second gold curtain which was no doubt intended to simulate the historic stage of the Mariinsky theatre.

"What's so special about the Russians?" my daughter manquée asked me when I invited her to the show. It is a question I had often asked myself. After all there are so many other fine companies around the world - not least our own Royal Ballet. Well after Tuesday's performance both my daughter manquée know the answer to that question. Despite revolution, purges, war and crisis the Mariinsky - the successor to the Imperial Russian Ballet - continues to set the standard to which everybody else aspires.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Chantry Dance Associates: Lots of Promise

Sadler's Wells Theatre
Source Wikipedia

Both Mel and I have written about Chantry Dance recently (see Jane Lambert "Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance" 10 May 2014 and Mel Wong "July News from Chantry Dance Company" 6 July 2014). One of the company's activities is an associate programme for "young dancers of a pre-vocational or pre-professional level, who aspire to have a career in dance." That programme
"exists to nurture, develop and inspire the country's most talented young dancers, and to encourage them to be courageous with their dancing in order to reach new levels in their technique and interpretative skills."
Yesterday, the associates (participants on the programme) showed what they could do in the Lilian Baylis Studio of Sadler's Wells.

Owing to the closure of the M1 between junctions 21 and 22 yesterday (see "M1 motorway closed between junctions 21 and 22 following serious accident" 27 July 2014 Leicester Mercury) my journey was delayed by nearly 2 hours and I arrived towards the end of the show.  Gail Gordon, who must have formed a terrible impression of me because I was also late for the Dream Dance workshop, ushered me into a rehearsal studio and perched me on a piano stool in order not to disturb the associates who were dancing to Vivaldi or Paul Chantry who was filming them on an iPad.  They were all young women and I spotted immediately one I knew: Fiona who had taught me the dance in the Dream Dance workshop. After the show, Rae Piper told me that the dancers ranged in age from 11 to 24. At least one was at Elmhurst and two others were on their way to Trinity Laban.

The steps that the associates danced were not easy and demanded a lot of energy and stamina. The choreography to which Gail told me she had contributed was intricate.  It was executed with lightness, precision and obvious joy. The movement of those artists lifted my spirits and helped me forget my terrible journey.

After the Vivaldi several of the associates performed their own short solos. I had to take notes on the back of a VAT receipt because I had left my notebook in my car in my rush to catch a train at Luton Parkway. Consequently I was able to record my impressions of only a few of those pieces with the result that I am unable to do justice to the others. They were all good and I congratulate all the artists. I enjoyed their work enormously. However, those that I did record made a particular impression on me. An associate whom I know only as Jessica explored steps and movements beyond the positions of classical ballet to create novel and ingenious body shapes. She reminded me of two performances that I had seen recently: first, Ed Watson in the first act of The Winter's Tale where his body contortions represented his jealousy and irrationality; secondly, Daniel Montero's Ballet 101 in the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's gala. Another dancer whose name I forget interpreted the story of Icarus and Daedalus. A human biology student represented heart beats and blood flows. Yet another one showed considerably dramatic promise in her improvisation.

The performance took place in a part of Sadler's Wells that I had not seen before. There was a plaque to Sir Frederick Ashton on the wall and busts of him as well as Fonteyn, Somes, Dolin, Lillian Baylis and Madam (I do hope real dancers will excuse my presumption in referring to Dane Ninette de Valois in this way) at the entrance. I had seen all of those great men and women except Baylis when they were alive and the flood of memories those busts triggered made my eyes water.

But I was also reminded that ballet is not all magic and involves hard work and sweat. I found myself in a lift with a troupe of Brazilian dancers including one who was naked except for a pair of sweaty underpants. They had obviously been dancing their socks off. Literally. That's about as up close and personal as most of us would care to get.

Talking about sweat, Chantry Dance is a company that works incredibly hard. On Saturday they had been performing The Sandman plus a new work in the Lincoln Drill Hall. Today they are starting a week long summer school in which Mel and Fiona are taking part. Later next month they are meeting local business. In October they will take their latest works which includes The Happy Prince on tour. One of the venues they will visit is The Square Chapel in Halifax on 20 Nov 2014.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Crystal Ballet's Associate Programme for Adults!

Crystal Ballet, who have already brought dance lovers the stunning Genesis film shown above (starring Steven McRae, Vadim Muntagirov, Daria Kilmentova and Alina Cojocaru no less!) and run incredibly popular Pas de Deux courses for adults, are starting up a unique Associates programme especially for adult dancers in September.

Despite the seeming boom in adult classes in the UK recently, we all know just how difficult it can be sometimes to get regular, high-quality ballet tuition as an adult (particularly if we have professional aspirations but lack access to company classes etc). There are plenty of associates programmes available for young dancers in the UK, but very few are welcoming or open to adults. Thankfully Henry St Clair, AD of Crystal Ballet and former ENB & Royal Ballet dancer, is set to change that!

The course itself will have three tiers to ensure that dancers get placed in the level that is best suited to them - Crystal Ballet Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced - and the classes will take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 19.15pm and 20.45pm making them accessible to dancers who live outside of London. I have been reliably informed that the classes will be held in a studio at the English National Ballet School, accompanied by a pianist, and the teaching faculty for the course is something to really get excited about (if you want to find out who you'll have to contact Henry at!) Like most associate programmes Crystal Ballet Associates will run on a termly basis, with 3 12-week terms per year. In addition to classes, associates will also be able to take regular intensives weekends which will cover aspects such as Pas de Deux, Pointe & Female Rep, Allegro & Male Rep (I wonder if that's open to girls, too!) and Pilates, contemporary and stage craft. And there will be the opportunity for all associates to work towards a performance of a ballet classic at the end of the course year! 

Booking is now open for the course, but places are likely to go quickly due to its unique nature, so get in touch with Henry if you want to find out more asap! His email is and he can also be reached via Twitter ( 

The UK adult ballet community is already buzzing with excitement about the course:

UPDATE: Crystal Ballet now has a Facebook page for the Associates course: don't forget to 'like' it to stay up to date!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

We still have some of the best dancers in Yorkshire

In IP Yorkshire, one of my other blogs, I was bemoaning Yorkshire's indifferent performance in the number of patent and trade mark applications and almost bottom of the list in registered design applications (see Jane Lambert "Well at least a Yorkshireman invented Cats' Eyes" 20 July 2014 IP Yorks). We are doing rather better in cricket which is just as well for they say that when Yorkshire's cricket is strong England is strong. But it is in ballet where Yorkshire folk are really doing well.

One of our best is Xander Parish who is with the Maryinsky Ballet in St Petersburg. Here he is dancing in the second act of Giselle.  His company is coming to London soon and I have booked to see him dance the title role in Romeo and Juliet on 29 July 2014.  I last saw him and his sister Demelza Parish at the Grand Opera House in York on my silver wedding anniversary on 30 July 2007 which was one of the most memorable performances of my life (see "Review: A Summer Gala of Dance and Song, Grand Opera House, York" 31 July 2007 The Press). This is a particularly precious memory because it was just before my late spouse began to show signs of fatigue that were eventually diagnosed as motor neurone disease.

As if seeing Parish on the stage again was not treat enough we all have the opportunity of meeting him at the Civil Service Club on 13-15 Great Scotland Yard at 19:30 on Monday 4 Aug 2014 for he is to be the guest of London Ballet Circle. In a reminder sent to all London Ballet Circle members Audrey Allen wrote:
"A reminder, if one is needed, that we are greatly looking forward to welcoming Xander on 4 August. Many of our members remember him and his sister, Demelza, as young students taking part in the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars, now Summer Schools, and they were awarded a special bursary in 2005 at The Royal Ballet School’s Annual Prize-Giving ceremony to honour the memory of our former Patron and President, Dame Alicia Markova. Since the Mariinsky’s London season was announced Xander has received a great deal of media attention and there have been a number of very interesting articles on his career since joining the prestigious Russian company."
This event, like most London Ballet Circle events, is open to the public.  Visitors pay £8 at the door. Members of the Circle are admitted for £5.  As the annual sub is only £12 it is well worth joining even if you live nowhere near London.   As Audrey Allen mentioned the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School  I should add that it started yesterday at Askham Bryan College and continues until the 1 Aug 2014. As you can see from the Events page members of the Circle are allowed to attend part of the programme for a modest charge.

Another exceptionally promising young Yorkshire dancer with Russian connections is Tala Lee Turton of Barnsley. Ms Turton is at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and she will be only the ninth Briton to train there. When I attended the Tenth Anniversary Gala at Northern Ballet last month I sat next to Laraine Penson for afternoon tea (see "Coming Down to Earth Gently" 30 June 2014). Over sandwiches and scones I told her about the compliment that Christopher Marney had paid to our dancers when he spoke to the London Ballet Circle. Ms Penson thought those talks were a great idea and offered to host something similar at Quarry Hill. On Friday I asked Ms Turton whether she would like to be guest of honour at one of those talks when she is next in Yorkshire and I am delighted to report that she would.

So while we may not be doing as well as we should in patents, trade marks and registered designs our county is doing very well at the two things for which I have a passion, namely ballet and cricket. And that's quite good enough for me.

Fat Chance - Rained Off!

Right now I should have been reviewing Hype Dance Company's contribution to Chance to Dance. It would have been my chance to reciprocate the support that Mel showed me and my classmates at Northern Ballet Academy when we performed in the end of year show three weeks ago (see "The Time of My Life" 28 June 2014 and Mel's generous review "The Dance DID go on - Northern Ballet Academy Show 2014" 29 June 2014). It would have been a great show and I can say that with some conviction because I took part in the rehearsals for both Fiona Noonan's Sugar Plum Fairy and Lucy's Stay with Me. Fiona and Lucy and their students, Andrew, Blessing, Mel, Rose, Verity, and all the others whose names I can't recall just now worked so hard for the show.

The show was called off because the weather in Sheffield yesterday was like the storm scene in La Fille mal gardée - only worse.  The dancers were understandably disappointed. Andrew tweeted
Mel added
And it was a real cri de coeur because she plans to start her advanced training in London soon:
The organizers, who must be just as disappointed, have promised to do what they can:
I make no criticism of their decision to cancel the festival. There were probably public liability, health and safety or other considerations that left them with little choice. I did criticize them on twitter a few minutes ago for not making contingency plans for the weather because thunder storms in summer are by no means unusual in North West Europe - that's part of the plot of the oldest ballet in the modern repertoire for goodness sake - but, on reflection, that criticism was unkind and I withdraw it.  I have the advantage of hindsight which is always 20/20. But I do think that the organizers of Chance to Dance and other outdoor dance festivals can learn from yesterday by making wet weather contingency plans of some kind and I hope that they do.

If there is another chance to dance this year and Mel can't take part then I shall take her place if the choreographer and other dancers will have me.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christophi dancing in the same Ballet again

To my mind one of the most beautiful clips on the internet is this video of Depouillage danced by Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christophi when they were at Ballet Black. Shortly after this clip was filmed they went their separate ways. Now they are both in English National Ballet and dancing in the same ballet.

Between the 24 July and the 9 Aug 2014 Kundi will dance Aphrodite and Hale-Christophi Paris in The Judgment of Paris, a work to be choreographed by James Streeter. The ballet is an interlude in the opera Adriana Lecouvreur which is to be performed by Opera Holland Park.  Tickets for the performance can be booked through Opera Holland Park's website,

I would not have learned of this performance had it not been for Janet McNulty who posted news of the performance to the BalletcoForum website and drew it to my attention on twitter earlier today. A tweet that was re-tweeted by Kundi herself. I am grateful to both of them.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Saved for the Nation

In "Bye Bye and All the Best" 10 June 2014 I wrote:
"Readers of this blog know that I am a Kundi fan. She started her career at Northern Ballet and I have followed her from there to Ballet Black and then on to MurleyDance. A journey that introduced me to new companies, new dancers and new choreographers who are now among my favourites. Kundi is on the move again this time to Victor Ullate in Spain."
Of course, I was delighted for her but sad to see her go so far.  On Tuesday I tweeted
I added
But you know what, I don't have to bother because Sarah Kundi has joined English National Ballet (see "English National Ballet Announces Promotions and New Joiners" 17 July 2014 ENB Blog) and her picture and profile are already on the company's website.

As you can imagine I am over the moon and so are many other people, particularly in the North where she started her career.  Meanwhile, enjoy this pas de deux.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ballet and Bollywood - why they don't meet more often

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of welcoming Raj and Mel to our adult ballet class at Team Hud. Raj had danced with Mel in Big Ballet and it was great to see them both. After the class the three of us together with another friend crossed the road for a coffee and a chat.

Raj has many interests one of which is Spice Entertainment with its Bollywood Dance Group. Over coffee we discussed Bollywood and ballet and one of us - almost certainly Mel - suggested a Bollywood version of La Bayadère. "Ooh! With Sarah Kundi as Nikiya!" I enthused. Anyone who reads this blog will know that I am one of Sarah Kundi's fans and I had just seen her for the last time in England for a while in English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet in the Round.  We discussed ways in which we could make it happen and Mel and Raj decided that the first step might be a workshop exploring ballet and Bollywood.

Clearly great minds think alike for a few weeks later Mel and I attended the Tenth Anniversary CAT Gala at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre where David Nixon presented some of the Northern Ballet Academy's recent alumni.  One of them was Joseph Poulton who has already begun to make a name for himself as a dancer with Ballet Black and also as a choreographer. Nixon mentioned that Poulton had the idea of combining Bollywood with La Bayadère. Mel sat up bolt upright in her seat. "That's my idea" she whispered. After the show Mel introduced herself (and me to Poulton) and told him about her idea for a workshop.

Such a workshop is actually going to happen at Hype Dance Company in Sheffield on Sunday 10 Aug 2014 between 14:00 and 16:30. According to the Eventbrite web page Mel and Raj will give an introduction to classical ballet and Bollywood techniques between  14:00 and 15:00. After a short break delegates will use the rest of their time devising their own Bollywood inspired improvisation.  It sounds tremendous fun. Tickets cost £12 and can be booked here.

Considering that La Bayadère is set in India and there are several other ballets with Indian dances as divertissements I wondered why there were not more workshops like Raj and Mel's including some in India as well as in England. Part of the answer may be that ballet has not taken off in India in the way that it has in Japan and China. Considering that English is widely used in business, government and education in India and the many ties between India and the UK and other European countries that is surprising.

There are, however, signs that that may be changing. I googled "ballet" and "India" and discovered the National Ballet & Academy Trust of India in Delhi, a School of Classical Ballet and Western Dance in Mumbai and the Imperial Fernando Ballet Company in both cities which show that there is some interest in ballet in India. I also looked up theatres and found the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai which is a complex of auditoriums, rehearsal studios and outdoor performing spaces including the Godrej Dance Theatre. The Centre hosts The Symphony Orchestra of India, the country's first and so far only professional symphony orchestra whose repertoire includes Stravinsky's Firebird.  The performance of that suite was applauded warmly so there seems to be an audience for ballet and the National Centre certainly provides an infrastructure.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Branding and Ballet - Ten Top Tips

Whenever possible I try to get the company's T-shirt when I watch them performing in a ballet. So far I have T-shirts from
  • Ballet Black
  • Ballet Cymru
  • Rambert
  • The Dutch National Ballet
  • The Royal Ballet, and
  • The Stuttgart Ballet.
I also have a ballet bag from the Bristol Russian Ballet School and I'be bought English National Ballet's My First Coppelia t-shirts for Vlad the Lad and my Huddersfield ballet teacher's younger daughter. It is a way of supporting those companies and one that I much prefer to the doling out of public money by the Arts Council of England

The reason I feel uncomfortable about it is that I can't really think of an answer to my fellow citizens who see opera and ballet as all right for those who like that sort of thing but it shouldn't be their brass that pays for it. Now don't get me wrong. I love opera, ballet and all the other performing arts. I am delighted that my beloved Northern Ballet was favoured in the Arts Council's latest round of investment in opera and ballet. But I am not sure that Arts Council funding is particularly fair to those who prefer their money to be spent in other ways and when I look across the Atlantic where just about every town of any size has its own company that is supported strongly by its local community (some of which such as the Sarasota Ballet seem to be rather good) I have to ask whether this form of subsidy is even good for the performing arts. The Arts Council was promoted by one of its first chairmen Lord Keynes (see "John Maynard Keynes and English Ballet" 3 March 2013). Like a lot of Lord Keynes's ideas that wilted under the scrutiny of Thatcherism in the 1980s direct funding for the performing arts may have to be reconsidered.

Even if the Arts Council can be justified the funds available to it for investment are unlikely to grow by much and there is also a limit to the amount of money that the hard pressed public can afford to pay for tickets or donations.  As I said in "Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers" 13 March 2014 companies, theatres, dancers (at least principals) and possibly even schools and dancers will have to exploit their goodwill a little more in the way that sports stars and artists in the other performing arts have done. To that end I wrote three further articles to show how that could be done:
This is a summary of the advice that I gave in those articles. It applies to everyone in dance - individual artists and teachers as well as institutions.
  1. Register your business name and any logo as trade marks: You can do it yourself on-line for the UK from as little as £170 though I would advise you to last out a few hundred pounds more and get a trade mark or patent agent to do it for you. He or she will make a search to make sure there are no conflicting registrations, prepare a specification that covers all your needs, file it and correspond with the Intellectual Property Office or other registry until you have your grant. There are two advantages of registration, First it is easier to protect and license branded merchandise. Secondly, it trumps anything a cyber-squatter can say in a domain name dispute. If you do it yourself make sure you cover all the countries in which you want to perform or sell your merchandise and that your registration covers clothing, printed matter and anything else you can see yourself selling in the next five years.
  2. Subscribe to a good watch service. A watch service scours the IPO and other patent office websites for applications that could conflict with your registrations and reports back to you if it finds any.  Most patent and trade mark agents can set up such a subscription for you though they tend to be on the pricey side. Leeds Business and IP Centre runs a good service. Call Ged or Stef on 0113 247 8266 for more info.
  3. Keep an audit trail of all your artistic, choreographic, literary and musical works. As I said in "Branding and Ballet - Copyright and Rights in Performances" copyright and rights in performances are not registered rights. They come to being when a qualified person creates an original artistic, dramatic, literary or musical work or, in the case of dancers and musicians, takes part in live performances.  The best way of proving your title is by means of contemporaneous notes and logs with references back to the stave on which the choreology or music is recorded.
  4. Review and keep under review all your licences and other agreements. This applies both to people who serve you such as your choreographers, dancers and musicians and also to those who want to take licences from you. Make sure these are drawn up professionally and that you enforce them.
  5. Take out adequate insurance to cover claims by you and against you.   IP litigation is expensive and is usually excluded from most legal risk indemnity programs. There are some specialist companies that provide such a service and it is worth looking out for them (see my article "IP Insurance Five Years on" 23 Oct 2010 Inventors Club blog).
  6. Be sure to talk to a lawyer first if you think someone has infringed your IPR. That is because some statutes such as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Trade Marks Act 1994 provide a cause of action against those who threaten litigation without justification (see "If you think someone has infringed your patent talk to a lawyer first" 11 July 2014 Inventors Club biog).
  7. Carry out periodic IP audits. You are creating new works all the time and also licensing in and out other peoples' work. Make sure that everything is covered.
  8. If someone infringes your rights don't ignore it. There's an expression in the law that delay defeats equity. At the very least delay in enforcing your rights could prevent your getting an interim injunction. At the worst it could be seen as acquiescence.
  9. Make others aware of your IP rights.  Use the copyright symbol (c) and the registered trade mark symbol to make the public aware of your rights. That way they can't use the defence of ignorance.
  10. Get your audiences on your side. Folk who have paid a lot of money for their tickets are understandably annoyed when the first thing they hear is an order not to use cameras or mobile phones. But if you explain why they will co-operate with you even to the point of stopping their neighbours from surreptitiously photographing or taping your show.
This is the last of my articles on ballet and branding. It is my gift back to the artists and impresarios who have given me so much pleasure over the years. I hope that at least some of you will find my tips useful.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Congratulations Class of 2014!

It's that time of year again when keen and hungry young dancers graduate from their chosen conservatoires and vocational training schools! After 3 plus years of hard work and dedication, the graduation is not just a celebration of work achieved it is also a celebration of hope that these young artists and dancers will keep the flame of dance burning bright in the world! Terpsichore writers extend our warmest congratulations to the dancers who have graduated from their respective training courses this summer!!

Two of the UK's top ballet training schools - The Royal Ballet School and English National Ballet School - have just released their lists of graduate destinations. I'm currently trying to source the same information from Northern School of Contemporary Dance, however from the newsfeeds of my friends who performed in and watched the BA Hons graduation performance in Leeds last night it's safe to assume that a very talented and artistic new generation of contemporary dancers have been developed.

Destination companies for some of the RBS graduates include Covent Garden HQ, Royal Ballet of Flanders, Royal Danish Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet and National Romanian Ballet. The list of ENB's graduate destinations is similarly diverse and includes Scottish Ballet, Ballet Bejart Lausanne and Mystic Ballet. 3 of ENB's grads will be joining our very own Northern Ballet: Gavin McCaig, Luke Francis and Isabelle Clough (who will be joining as a Company Apprentice). Needless to say both Jane and I will be keeping a very close eye on their progress and developments over the coming season!

And by the looks of McCaig's Dissertation choreography, we may even have a budding Kenneth Tindall on our hands

Friday, 11 July 2014

Better than Potato Salad - or even Carrot Juice - 2014 Big Dance Tour by Hack Ballet

Last month we supported Hannah Bateman and Kenneth Tindall's campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for Stephen Lally to film Tindall's new baller "The Architect". Their campaign was successful and we rejoiced at their success in They Made It on 20 June 2014. This month we support another great project: Hack Ballet's  2014 Tour in the The Big Dance Bus.

The Big Dance Bus carries a mobile dance stage for free open air dance performances. Between the 25 July and 30 Aug the bus will be take Hack Ballet to Poplar, Hounslow, Stratford and Paddingtom where they will perform extracts of Briar Adams's latest works To the Edge and Conflux.  Hack Ballet is Adams's company and I can tell you that she is an excellent choreographer. I saw MurleyDance perform The Marks We Leave which she had choreographed in Leeds last year and as you can see from my post it was my favourite work of the evening.

Hack Ballet are raising £1,240 on Kickstarter to fund their tour and so far they have raised £541 with just under 3 days to go. This tour will take ballet to new audiences around London which must be good; but they can only do that if they raise enough to cover their basic expenses such as travel, costumes and rehearsals. So please help them. I can think of few projects that are more deserving of support and I certainly know of one - and perhaps more than one - that is a good deal less. By the way Mel's other campaign on go fund me is one of the other projects that really does merit a modicum of moulah.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

News from Chelmsford

Chelmsford Shire Hall
Source Wikipedia

I am very proud to be a non-dancing associate of the Chelmsford Ballet Company. As I noted in The Chelmsford Ballet  16 Dec 2013 it is one of the oldest ballet companies in the UK tracing its history to 1947 which is well before Festival, Scottish, Northern and just about everybody except Rambert and the London and Birmingham Royal Ballet companies. I saw a wonderful production of The Nutcracker in March. The company's patrons are my favourite living British choreographer Christopher Marney and one of my all time favourite dancers, Doreen Wells, or perhaps more properly The Marchioness of Londonderry.

I have just received the company's newsletter and they are in jubilant mood as well they might. They had an excellent run at The Chelmsford Civic Theatre when they danced to packed house at every performance. They can now look forward to dancing in their own Marney ballet between 18 and 21 March as well as John Cranko's Pineapple Poll. Before then they can look forward to the Lets Make a Ballet workshop for young dancers on 19 Oct 2014 and the annual Music for Christmas concert of the Hutton and Shenfield Choral Society at the Brentwood Centre on 20 Dec 2014.   I might also add that they have yet another treat from my part of the world in that Northern Ballet Academy's Cara O'Shea will take the next company class. I have been lucky enough to take a class with Cara and I learned a lot from her.

The company has just stated to market its own merchandise which includes ladies and gents' dance wear at very reasonable prices, I think I may get myself some of that.

Big Dance 2014

Just a quick post to remind all Terpsichore readers to get involved with Big Dance 2014 in whatever way they can! Pledges, performances, events and activities will be running until Sunday 13th July across the country, and you can find out more about what's going on in your area on the Big Dance website:

The Pledge this year has been specially choreographed by a company that Jane knows very well - Scottish Ballet! Performance date for the pledge has passed, but you can still use all the resources on the site and its a great way to simply get started with creating and performing dance.

Channel 4's Random Acts are also showing special Big Dance shorts this week, and if you miss an episode on TV you can watch them again and again online. The week kicked off with this 'Tango Brasiliero' short, and today sees the premier of ENB dancer Tamarin Stott's film with a few familiar ENB faces that you might recognise:

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

We are the dancers, we create the dreams: Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s El Lago de los Cisnes in Havana

The title of this post is from a poem by Albert Einstein and it came to mind when I had the chance to see Ballet Nacional de Cuba's production of El Lago de los Cisnes in Havana under the direction of 92-year-old ballerina Alicia Alonso. Alonso, who has been partially sighted since the age of 19, and famously danced Odette/Odile, was present and her appearance received rapturous applause from a packed house.

Last week's Swan Queen,the stunning Viengsay Valdés, lived up to Cuba’s reputation for producing striking and talented dancers.  Nobody could fail to appreciate Valdes’ fantastic balance and the panache with which she executed Odile’s famous 32 fouettés. Valdés is an international star and it shows. She was a glittering Odette and even more dazzling as a glamorous, hypnotic Odile with great style – and a stunning smile.

 Dani Hernández as Prince Siegfried was competent and elegant and comparatively understated, which worked well. Carolina García’s characterisation of the queen as a dominant mother was also effective. In terms of other performers, I was struck by the athleticism and style of Srafin Castro who played the buffoon with plenty of energy and executed some stupendous leaps. The corps de ballet was excellent and well cast – the dancers were more or less the same height and their beautiful lines accentuated the structure and patterns of the choreography. 

Generally speaking, the dancers were young, energetic and enthusiastic. However, the sets and production seemed dated. The cameo scenes were slightly disjointed and there were a few obvious glitches early on – a lift that definitely didn’t work, for example – but the performance soon warmed up. Literally. Cuba in June is baking hot with temperatures of over 30°C. Although the auditorium was air-conditioned, I could see from row B in the stalls just how hard the dancers were working under the hot stage lighting. The visible sweat on her back made Valdés’ flawless spins and balances even more remarkable.

The main downside was that Alonso’s version of Swan Lake adjusts the storyline, bringing together the third and fourth acts into a single third act and a short epilogue scene, in which Siegfried and Odette seem to live happily ever after, rather than being reunited in death, having drowned in Swan Lake, as per the traditional story. Personally, I found this confusing and the Soviet-style epilogue weakened the production, as the swan maidens transformed back into human princesses with heavy, dated costumes. Other clunky parts of the production were Prince Siegfried’s extra-speedy dispatch of Von Rothbart, whose bird costume had a bizarre pantomime quality.

As other commentators have observed, The Ballet Nacional de Cuba is a company of performers rather than performances – the quality of the dancers outshone the production. There were plenty of pauses for applause and Alonso herself appeared on stage to take a bow – to a standing ovation. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to see her in the flesh.

One reason I love ballet is its inclusivity. The classes I attend in London bring together people of all ages and backgrounds. Ballet is an international language, but it is generally expensive to see it performed. In Cuba, ballet seems more accessible. It was great to see so many ballet enthusiasts and many more children than you would see at the Royal Opera House or Sadler’s Wells, even at Christmas.

The Teatro Nacional de Cuba actively encourages young people to be interested in and enjoy ballet. If the expensive seats at the front are not occupied, children who have bought ordinary seats further back are allowed to run forward and sit in the front rows.

As foreigners, we had arranged tickets via our hotel and no doubt paid over the odds for two seats in row B although the price was extremely reasonable compared with the UK, Europe or the US.  As far as I could see, there were very few tourists and the front row was full of children who were clearly entranced – and incredibly well behaved. One little ballet girl must have spent a full 25 minutes looking down into the orchestra pit before the performance. I wish our theatres would offer unsold expensive seats to the dancers of tomorrow. The under-ten-year-olds in front of me sat quietly throughout and spent the intervals eating the Cuban equivalent of cheesy quavers that they had brought with them and seriously discussing the performance.

If any Terpsichore readers are planning a holiday in Cuba, I would certainly recommend an evening at the ballet. The recently restored theatre is easily reachable by taxi from the centre and there are taxis waiting outside to take you back afterwards. I was fortunate to see some of Cuba’s international stars, and the company is young, well trained and energetic, although I did not spot any budding Carlos Acostas. 

In Cuba, ballet dancers are living the dream. Having read Carlos Acosta's autobiography, I realise that ballet represents a genuine possibility of escaping Cuba's limitations. But not everyone wants to physically escape, and not everyone wants to dance. The Cuban approach to ballet is also about instilling an appreciation of culture. My evening at the ballet highlighted the social and cultural value that Cuba places on dance, beyond simply it's commercial value, and that value allows Cuban dancers to continue to create the dreams.

 Photography by Peter Mardon