Monday, 8 February 2016

Thinking out Loud about Ballet West

A few miles outside Oban lies the village of Taynuilt. I spent a day there on 31 August 2013 before catching a McBrayne ferry to the Isle of Mull.  I wrote about my visit in Taynuilt - where better to create ballet? 31 Aug 2013.  The reason I came to Taynuilt is that Ballet West is there.  That school must be one of the most remarkable educational institutions in the United Kingdom. It offers degrees in dance and higher national diplomas in professional dance performance to residential students, dance training through its associate programmes to children and young people in Glasgow and Edinburgh and summer schools in Taynuilt and outreach classes to children, young people and adults at various venues in the Highlands.

The training that appears to be available at Taynuilt is particularly rich in that the staff includes Daniel Job, who danced with the Royal Danish Ballet and the Ballets des Marseille and with such greats as Roland Petit, Kenneth MacMillan and even George Balanchine, and Olga Voloboueva who trained at the Vaganova Academy and danced with the Mariinsky Ballet when it was known as the Kirov.

The best testimonials for an educational institution are the achievements of its students and last year the only British finalist in the Lausanne International Ballet Competition was Natasha Watson who has now graduated from Ballet West. I have followed the career of this talented young woman for some time and celebrated her success in the Genée in Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée 30 Sept 2013 and her entry for Lausanne in Natasha Watson in Lausanne 15 Nov 2014. Another graduate of Ballet West is Sarah Mortimer who dances with Ballet Theatre UK. I first came across this artist in Ballet Theatre UK's Little Mermaid at the Atkinson and wrote about it in Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport 27 April 2014 and I have been following her career ever since. Ms Mortimer also did well in the Genée in a previous year and I should mention in passing that Ms Watson is by no means the only medallist (see Ballet West's Competition and Awards page), In fact, on Saturday evening I shook hands with three of them: Ms. Watson and her teachers, Jonathan Barton and his sister Sara-Maria Barton.

One of the reasons why Ballet West achieves so much is that it gives its students and associates touring experience through its performance company. Northern Ballet School offers its students performance experience in Manchester City Ballet (see Alchemy 13 Dec 2014 and Manchester City Ballet's Giselle 12 Dec 2015) and, of course, the Central School of Ballet does the same with Ballet Central (see Dazzled 3 May 2015 and Central Forward 25 March 2013).  At the beginning of every year Ballet West tours Scotland and I have been coming to Scotland for these tours since 2013. In fact the first post in this blog was on the company's performance of The Nutcracker in Pitlochry (see Ballet West's "The Nutcracker" 25 Feb 2013). I also reviewed their Swan Lake in Swan Loch - Ballet West's Swan Lake, Pitlochry 1 March 2014 3 March 2014 and Rome and Juliet in Ballet West's Romeo and Juliet 1 Feb 2014.

Last Saturday I saw Ballet West perform The Nutcracker again in Stirling.  The 2013 production had been good but this production was even better. It was tight and slick and could stand comparison with that of any professional company. Indeed, in my humble and totally ill informed North Country opinion as some of the metropolitan toffs who sound off about dance  would have it, in some respects it was even better.   Of course, it did have pros - Mr Barton who danced the Snow King and Herr Stahlbaum partnering Ms Watson as Frau Stahlbaum and the Snow Queen, Sara-Maria Barton as the Sugar Plum who was partnered by Ballet Cymru's Andrea Battagia and Andrew Cook, a graduate of Ballet West whom I had greatly admired for his performance in Swan Lake two years ago who danced Drosselmeyer and the Russian divertissement in Act II.

One of the reasons why I like this version of The Nutcracker so much is that it is faithful to its libretto and the choreography of Ivanov and Petipa. Though it had some delightful Scottish touches like Mother Ginger who shook Clara vigorously by the hand, draped a red shawl round Clara's neck and decanted a gaggle of associates from her ample skirts there were none of the gimmicks of other productions that tend to get my goat. There were, for example, no rodent kings clinging onto the dirigible into Act II.  Clara does not morph into the Sugar Plum but remains childlike. The Stahlbaums remain the Stahlbaums of somewhere in Mitteleuropa rather than the Edwards of Bramhope. All credit in that regard to Mr. Job, the choreographer, whom I had the pleasure of meeting after the performance.

I think on Saturday I saw some stars in the making.   Uyu Hiromoto who danced in the snow scene and as Columbine in Act I and was the dew drop fairy in Act II, Owen Morris who was Rat King, accompanied Andrew Cook in the Russian divertiseement and also danced the Arabian and Alice Flinton who was an adorable Clara.  She is only a first year HND student yett she already knows how to hold an audience. We were enchanted by her mime scene where she recounts the battle with the mice and how she clobbered King Rat. She was Gita's man (or in this case) woman of the match.

In any production of The Nutcracker it is the children who often make or break the show for they take on so many roles. In this show they took on even more than usual and coaching them all cannot have been easy. They brought real joy to the stage but they kept their discipline. Whoever drilled those kids deserves enormous applause.  I think a large part of the credit goes to Ms Barton who told me that she had been teaching as well as dancing Sugar Plum that evening when I met her after the show but there were others and if I had flowers to throw they would have got some.

I should say a word about the sets, costumes and lighting.  They were magnificent, particularly the party scene which reproduced the Romanesque columns from the video that appears above.   The backdrop of the kingdom of the sweets was a vivid floral design.  The programme says that these were designed by Amelia Seymour.  There are a lot of tutus of various colours in this show not to mention the mouse king's outfit and period clothes of the party guests. More flowers for the wardrobe team.   There was also some clever lighting particularly in the transition scenes in Act I which was designed by Matthew Masterson.

The production is moving on to Inverness on the 11 Feb, Glasgow on the 13, Greenock on the 14 and Edinburgh on the 20. If you live anywhere near those places you should do yourselves a favour and get tickets for the show.  Gita and I drove 250 miles to see it and it was well worth the journey.

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