Monday, 29 February 2016

More Photos of Mata Hari

Mata Hari's vision of the god Shiva danced by Young Gyu Choi
Photo Marc Haegeman
Copyright 2016  Dutch National Ballet All rights reserved

The Dutch National Ballet's Mata Hari ended its run on Friday to rave reviews including one from me (Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016). Here are some more photos of  that the company has kindly allowed me to reproduce. In each instance Mata Hari is danced by Anna Tsygankova.

Mata Hari as a young woman in Frisia
Photo Marc Haegeman
Copyright 2016  Dutch National Ballet All rights reserved

Mata Hari and her husband danced by Casey Herd 

Photo Marc Haegeman

Copyright 2016  Dutch National Ballet All rights reserved

Mata Hari on station in the Dutch East Indies (Modern Indonesia)

Photo Marc Haegeman

Copyright 2016  Dutch National Ballet All rights reserved

More photos tomorrow folks.

Saturday, 27 February 2016


Clara Superfine
Photo: Michel Schnater
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the company

Another lovely photo of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's performance of Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart Theatre in Amsterdam on 14 Feb 2016 (see my review Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016). This shows the young American dancer, Clara Superfine, in David Dawson's 5.

More pictures over the next few days.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Arts Council of Wales grants to Dance in Wales

The Arts Council of Wales has published its portfolio allocations for 2015-2016 and recommendations for 2016-2017 and has some good news for Ballet Cymru.  The company's grant will increase to £193,842 for the current year and an extra £50,000 is recommended for the year after. The National Dance Company of Wales will get £835,209 this year and £805,977 next year.

Ballet Cymru will start a nationwide tour with Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs on 20 May 2016 (see Tour Dates). It will also take Romeo a Juliet (which I reviewed in They're not from Chigwell - they're from a small Welsh Town called Newport 14 May 2013) to Portsmouth, Llanelli and Stevenage.

The company is also doing great educational and outreach work with ballet and body conditioning classes in Newport between 18:00 and 19:30 on Mondays.  Next time I find myself in Swyddfa Batent I shall bring my shoes and leotard with me.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Hungarian National Ballet's Sleeping Beauty

Budapest Opera House
Photo PDXdjSource WikipediaCreative Commons Licence

On 17 April 2016 the Hungarian National Ballet will present Sir Peter Wright's production of The Sleeping Beauty at the Budapest Opera House. As patron of the London Ballet Circle, Sir Peter has invited members of the Circle to attend the opening night.

According to Wikipedia the company was established in 1884 with the opening of the Budapest Opera House which seems to be a magnificent auditorium.  The theatre has an excellent internet radio station called Operadio Budapest to which I am listening right now.

I regret to say that I do not yet know much about the company. The only dancer I know is Ryosuke Morimoto who has recently joined the corps de ballet. The reason I know him is that he was a member of the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company last year. I included him in my feature on the Junior Company (see Meet Ryosuke Morimoto of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company 3 Dec  2014). I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly at a reception that followed the Junior Company's performance at the Stadsshouwburg on the 6 Feb 2015 and found him to be a very personable young man as well as a fine dancer. I am delighted that he has landed a job with the Hungarian National Ballet.

The company's artistic director and ballet master appears to be Tamás Solymosi The Étoile of the 2015-2016 season is Lili Felméry. a soloist with the company. That lady seems to have studied at a lot of ballet schools including the Royal Ballet School between 2008 and 2009. Her latest role is  in Manon. There are four women principals in the company (Alexandra KozmérTatiana Melnik,  Aleszja Popova and Aliya Tanykpayeva) and five men (Máté Bakó, József CsertaGergely Leblanc, Zoltán Oláh and Dmitry Timofeev). 

In staging the Sleeping Beauty Sir Peter has been assisted by Dennis Bonner  and Miyako Yoshida from the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Sets and costumes have been designed by Philip Prowse. The cast has not been announced but the orchestra will be conducted by István Dénes.

Members of the Circle who want to attend are expected to make their own way to Budapest. Tickets for the show can be booked online. The top price is 25,000 florints (about £62.50 at current rates of exchange) and there are plenty of cheaper seats. The low cost airline Wizzair flies several times a day from Luton. Yhe K & K Opera Hotel which is a few yards from the opera house charges £190 for a 2 night stay, 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Anna Tsygankova as Mata Hari

Anna Tsygankova in Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari
Photo Marc Haegeman
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet, all rights reserved

Reproduction licensed by the company

In Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016 in which I reviewed Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari I described Anna Tsygankova's portrayal of the life of the tragic adventurer and dancer, Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod, as compelling and observed that "it is not often that one sees theatre like that in any medium" I added that I thought the sounds and images of that performance would remain with me for the rest of my life.

Here is just one of those images.  It shows the heroine advancing towards her place of execution on pointe. I believe that is significant.   According to the British reporter, Henry Wales, who witnessed her death, Mata Hari showed remarkable courage and dignity as she approached the firing squad (see "The Execution of Mata Hari, 1917," EyeWitness to History, (2005)). She was not bound and refused a blindfold.  The courage and dignity of the historical character is reflected in the choreography.

The Dutch National Ballet have sent me several other photos from that production which I shall make available over the next few days. But I will start with this one because it is the most compelling.

Monday, 22 February 2016


Belle Beasley with Thomas van Damme and Antonio Martinez in Fuse
Photo Michel Schnater
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet
All rights reserved

Reproduction licensed by the company

Another great photo from the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's matinee performance at the Meervaart Theatre on 14 Feb 2016 which I reviewed in Ballet Bubbles on 16 Feb 2016. This photo shows Belle Beasley with Thomas van Damme and Antonio Martinez Cegarra in Charlotte Edmonds's Fuse.

Two other bits of news about the Junior Company.

Tomorrow they will perform Fresas ("Strawberries"), a new ballet by Juanjo Arques on Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights in 's-Hertogenbosch which was the artist's home town.

The above triptych hangs in the Prado in the choreographer's capital city. A neat link between the Netherlands and Spain.

The other news is that it Bart Engelen's birthday. Bart wowed the Linbury last year with his solo performance of Full Moon (see Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015).

Bart is now with the Norwegian National Ballet.  I am sure I speak for everyone who saw him in London in wishing him a happy birthday and continued success in his career.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ashton's Double Bill

Joseph Noel Paton: The Quarrel between Oberon and Titania
Source Wikipedia

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ashton Double Bill, Birmingham Hippodrome, 20 Feb 2016

In Looking Forward to 2016 (30 Dec 2015) I wrote:
"To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1964 Sir Frederick Ashton created The Dream. Antoinette Sibley was Titania and Anthony Dowell her Oberon. The Dream was one of the most beautiful ballets that Ashton ever created. Here is a snippet of the original production and another of a more recent performance by American Ballet Theatre with Alessandra Ferri and Ethan Stiefel. The ballet was part of a triple bill of works inspired by Shakespeare. The others were Kenneth MacMillan's Images of Love and Sir Robert Helpmann's Hamlet. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death the Birmingham Royal Ballet will revive this iconic work at the Hippodrome between the 17 and 20 Feb 2016. If you see only one ballet this year this is the one you should not miss.
Last night I saw that work with Nao Sakuma as Titania and Joseph Caley as Oberon.  As the orchestra played the final pas de deux I found myself rooting for a tissue for I cannot help associating that music not with Mendelssohn but with Sibley who remains the ballerina that I most admire (Sibley 17 Dec 2013).

It was that association that attracted me to Birmingham last night but it was also the reason for the production's only flaw. Sakuma, who is Japanese, was made to wear a blonde wig so that she looked (from row P of the stalls at any rate) just like Sibley.  That is not necessary and it is not healthy. There is no reason why Titania should be North European (after all the changeling boy is supposed to be Indian) and Sakuma is a magnificent dancer in her own right. There cannot be many members of the audience who remember Sibley and Dowell as I do.  There are not many snippets of their performances of The Dream on YouTube.  Even I wanted to see an interpretation by a modern ballerina and premier danseur noble - not an ersatz reproduction of a performance from another age.

Putting that grumble to one side I still enjoyed the show. Caley and Sakuma danced well, as one would expect. Matthias Dingman danced Puck with his usual wit and spirit. Yijing Zhang was a charming Hermia and Yasuo Atsuji a gallant Lysander - at least for most of the time. As for the other mortals Ana Albutashvili was an amusing but likeable Helena and Tyrone Singleton a haughty Demetrius. The rustics were hilarious - particularly Jonathan Caguioa as Bottom.  I should add that his role requires some pointe work which is rarely demanded of male dancers.  As for the rest of the cast I loved the fairies - the corps as well as those who danced Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth and Mustardseed. It was a delight to see Farmer's designs again and Mendelssohn's overture always leaves me wobbly at the knees.

The second part of the programme was A Month in the Country which was created in 1976 - several years after Ashton had ceased to be the principal choreographer. I missed it when it was first performed. In fact yesterday was the first time I ever saw the work and I enjoyed it very much indeed.

Based on Turgenev's A Month in the Country the ballet creates three very strong female roles:  Natalia Petrovna the lady of a country house somewhere in the Russian countryside who is bored with everything about the country including her husband, her ward Vera and the housemaid Katia. Their routine is disturbed by the arrival of a young student Beliaev who brings a kite for Natalia's son Kolia. All three women fall for Beliaev which leads to an almighty row between Natalia and Vera as a result of which Beliaev is sent packing (in the nicest possibe way) by Natalia's husband.

Yesterday, Samara Downs danced Natalia, Jamie Bond Beliaev, Laura Day Vera and Yiijing Zhang Katia. Tzu-Chao Chou was a convincing juvenile and Rory Mackay danced the husband well. The score was John Lanchbery's arrangement of Chopin which also included an earworm - in this case, Chopin's variations on a theme from Don Giovanni. Julia Trevelyan Oman's designs were breathtaking - particularly the drapes immediately after the curtain rises which reminded me a little bit of Leon Bakst.  Altogether, a production that I look forward to seeing again.

For some reason or other the theatre was far from full which is disappointing for a performance by a company of the calibre of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Although there were some cheers and bravos - mainly from me - and one or two people on their feet - there were not all that many curtain calls. It was a good show and BRB deserved more appreciation. I am sure they will do better when they bring Romeo and Juliet to the Lowry.  I may be wrong but it may be that audiences were put off by Titania's blonde wig. After all it seems to have generated some discussion on BalletcoForum.

As a Mancunian I get bored by the pretensions of Brummies - often endorsed by Londoners who have been to neither Birmingham nor Manchester - that Birmingham is the second city - notwithstanding the latest census returns that the population of Greater Manchester now exceeds that of the West Midlands. However, I have to concede that Birmingham has a world class ballet company and a wonderful home for it in the Hippodrome. Yesterday I tried the theatre's Circle Restaurant. While I found it a tad expensive - especially compared to the Chinese and other East Asian restaurants that surround the theatre - I was delighted to be served Lancashire hotpot. There are not too many places where that dish is on the menu even in Manchester and I have certainly never eaten it at the Palace or Lowry.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Giovanni Princic in Ballet 101

Giovanni Princic in Ballet 101
Photo Michel Schnater
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet
All rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Eric Gauthier's Ballet 101 is fun. I've seen Xander Parish and Daniel Montero do it and here is a YouTube video of Armando Braswell of the Basel Ballet. I am longing to have a go myself if a woman can do it though I would have problems with position 25, 40 and "the beautiful Swan Lake 80". Anyway Mel has promised to show me how.

Last Sunday I saw the talented young Italian dancer Giovanni Princic perform this piece and he did a particularly good job (see Ballet Bubbles 16 July 2016). I was introduced to this excellent young man after the show and he was as charming off stage as he was impressive on it.  I congratulate him on his success to date and wish him well for the future.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Phoenix at 35

Phoenix Dance Theatre's Cake
Photo Gita Mistry
Copyright 2016 Gita Mistry
All rights reserved

Yesterday I reported the opening night of Phoenix Dance Theatre's 35th anniversary tour (see Phoenix's 35th Anniversary Tour 18 Feb 2017). The evening began a year of celebrations which included the cutting of a celebratory cake by David Hamiton, one of the company's founders, and its artistic director, Sharon Watson.
David Hamilton and Sharon Watson cutting the cake
Photo Gita Mistry
Copyright 2016 Gita Mistry
All rights reserved

Yesterday was the start of Phoenix's 35 for 35 appeal which I mentioned in my review.

Photos of La Vivandière – Pas de six

Emilie Tassinari and Theo Duff Grant in La Vivandière – Pas de six
Photo Michel Schnater
Copyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet
All rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the Company

I reviewed the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's matinee performance of Ballet Bubbles on 16 Feb 2016.  The company has kindly sent me some gorgeous photos of the show which I shall upload over the next few days.  

The above photo shows the enormously talented Emilie Tassinari and Theo Duff-Grant in which the dancers trace the steps of Fanny Cerrito and Arthur Saint-Léon.  In the following photo Duff-Grant dances with Melissa Chapski, Hannah Williams, Clara Superfine and Lisanne Kottenhagen.

 La Vivandière – Pas de six
Photo Michel SchnaterCopyright 2016 Dutch National Ballet
All rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by the Company

More photos of that lovely performance tomorrow folks.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Phoenix's 35th Anniversary Tour

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Triple Bill, West Yorkshire Playhouse, 17 Feb 2016

In 1981 David Hamilton, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James founded Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds (see the History page on the company's website). Yesterday David Hamilton attended the first night of Phoenix's 35th anniversary tour at the West Yorkshire Playhouse at the start of a year of celebrations of the 35th anniversary of the formation of the company.

There is a lot to celebrate. As the tour page puts it:
"From small beginnings in inner-city Leeds, Phoenix Dance Theatre has grown to be one of the UKs leading contemporary dance companies."
Phoenix contributes much to the cultural life of the North of England and the nation not only through its performances but also by its educational and outreach work which includes workshops on tour, academies for young people in Leeds and the North East and schools partnerships. The statistics are impressive. According to the programme for yesterday's performance there were 641 workshops engaging 2,379 young people in Leeds between 2014 and 2015 and a further 228 engaging 1,360 young persons outside the city with a total audience of 91,128.

Phoenix started its tour with a triple bill that consisted of Sharon Watson's Melt, Kate Flatt's Undivided Loves and Itzik Galili's Until.With/Out.Enough. I loved all three of those works but particularly Undivided Loves which focused on Sonnet 18:
"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
Brilliantly accompanied by the music of Adriano Adewale who played his score on stage, the dancers Prentice WhitlowSam Vaherlehto and Marie-Astrid Mence explored the themes of love, jealousy and rivalry. I saw a preview of this work just before Christmas as I mentioned in Never attend a Ballet Class the Morning after the Night Before 21 Dec 2015. In the discussion after the performance I asked the composer who is Brazilian whether he had read the sonnets in Portuguese as Shakespeare belongs to every culture and not just the anglophone. Adewale proved that point at the end of the score with snippets of Portuguese and Finnish.

Melt is another favourite. It never fails to lift me.  When I reviewed it for Phoenix at Home 4 Oct 2015 I described it as a "joyful work" and a "dance in three dimensions". I explained that:
"Dancers formed patterns on the stage. Then they were hoisted up on ropes from which they swooped and twirled and turned. The programme notes mentions elements colliding and the choreographer talks about ice and fire from which I surmises the title Melt is derived. I saw only harmony and fluidity. If there were collisions they were controlled. The work is hauntingly beautiful not least because of the music chosen for the work: "We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues" by Wild Beasts from their 2009 album ‘Two Dancers‘. Watson, the company's artistic director, created Melt for the company's Reflected programme in 2011."
The dancers (Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Sandrine Monin, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Jack Thomson, Prentice Whitlow, Sam Vaherlehto and Marie-Astrid Mence) seemed to love this piece. I have never seen them dance better.

Until.With/Out.Enough is a co-commission with the Royal Opera House and I saw it at the Linbury on 13 Nov 2013 (see The Phoenix Soars Over London 13 Nov 2015. It was created by Irzik Galili to the music of Gorecki which cannot have been a an easy score to interpret.  The choreographer responded to that challenge ingeniously by working on the collective shape of the dancers so that the piece seemed to be almost as much a work of sculpture or architecture as a work of dance. Consequently lighting was particularly important in a piece such as this and it was designed impressively by Yaron Abulafia. In this piece were Natalie Alleston performed with Carmen Vazquez Marfil, Sandrine Monin, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Jack Thomson, Prentice Whitlow and Sam Vaherlehto.

As Phoenix has given so much to the nation the company has invited the public to donate 35 for 35. That can be
- £35 - "£1 for every year that Phoenix has been entertaining and inspiring dance audiences" for which contributors will receive a poster of the Company’s latest repertoire and an acknowledgement of support on its website;
- £3.50 per month which, if renewed for a second year, will earn automatic membership of the dancer's circle.
- a one-off donation of £350 which will be rewarded with membership of the choreographers' circle; or
- £3,500 bringing membership of the artistic director's circle.
Information  on making donations is available on the "Give 35 for 35 Years" page of the company's website.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Double Dutch Delights

The Stopera, Home of the Dutch National Ballet
Photo: A J Haverkamp
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

As well as seeing Mata Hari and Ballet Bubbles on Saturday and Sunday (see Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016 and Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016) I attended a presentation on the new opera and ballet season on the 13 Feb 2016 and a tour of the Dutch National Ballet's premises the following morning. Both events were arranged for the Friends of the Dutch National Ballet.

The presentation took place on Saturday afternoon and consisted of interviews with officials from both companies and performances of scenes from the forthcoming shows.  The ballet season starts with an opening gala on 7 Sept 2016 and consists of excerpts from the company's repertoire followed by a party. I was there last year (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015) and I certainly hope to be there this year.  A list of the forthcoming productions has now been published on the Dutch National Ballet's website and they include some real treats:
  • Dutch Masters to mark Toer van Schayk's 80th birthday with works by Hans van Manen and Rudi van Dantzig as well as by van Schayk himself between 14 and 25 Sept 2016;
  • Makarova's La Bayadère between the 5 Oct and 13 Nov 2016;
  • Ted Brandsen's Coppelia which was last produced in 2008 with modern decor and costumes between 10 Dec 2016 and 1 Jan 2017;
  • Made in Amsterdam with a new work by Ernst Meisner as well as ballets by Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Krzysztof Pastor, David Dawson and others between 11 Feb  and 4 March 2017;
  • Onegin from the 29 March to 16 April 2017; and
  • Best of Ballanchine from the 2 to 20 May 2017.
Also, the Junior Company which should have some new members by next year will tour the Netherlands with Juniors Go Dutch and Ernst Meisner's The Little Big Chest.  No plans have been announced for a visit to England but we live in hope. The ballet interludes included pas de deux from the last act of La Bayadere with Anna Ol as Nikiya and Young Gyu Choi as Solor and from Apollon Musagete with Sasha Mukhamedov and Artur Shesterikov.

La Bayadere is one of my favourite ballets. I have actually had a go at the descent of the shades in class at Northern Ballet with Jean Tucker. It is not performed all that often here though I did catch the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's production in London last summer with Denis Rodkin as Solor (see Blown Away - St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere 24 Aug 2015). I long to see it done by a great national company. I am now Mr Brandsen's #1 fan so there is no question of my missing his Coppelia and as I have now been Mr Meisner's #1 fan for some time wild horses won't keep me from Made in Amsterdam. The same is true of Onegin especially if Matthew Golding dances the title role as he did last year in London (see Onegin: the most enjoyable performance that I have seen at the House since Sibley and Dowell 21 Feb 2015). The airlines, railway companies and Amsterdam hoteliers will get a lot of business from me next year.

I missed the start of the Stopera tour because I had to polish off my review of Mata Hari and was then directed to the wrong place. I caught up with the crocodile in the laundry as a lady was washing the dancers' underwear and hosiery in an outside washing machine. We proceeded to the wig department where we saw some of the creations for the Moulin Rouge scene in Mata Hari, then wardrobe and shoes. We were shows a whole cabinet of pointe shoes, one for each dancer. There is a young lady of my acquaintance who makes a point of asking woman dancers the supplier of her favourite pointe shoes. "Well, Miss, I know that answer in respect of all the members of the Dutch National Ballet". We were shown the dressing rooms, gym, rehearsal studios (very like Northern Ballet's) and were actually allowed to watch the barre session of company class. All the big stars were there as well as the soloists, coryphees and corps de ballet.  I sat a few feet away from Michaela DePrince. It was she who had led me to the Junior Company and from there to HNB as I had started to follow her career even before she came to Amsterdam (see Michaela DePrince 4 April 2015).  The highlight of the tour for me was to be allowed on stage. The Stopera is a massive auditorium but the seats are arranged on levels so that everyone has a good view of the stage. From the audience's perspective the theatre is massive but from the performer's it has quite an intimate feel.

The tour finished at 13:00 and I had to get to the Meervaart theatre by 14:30. From the moment I set foot in the Stopera (minutes after the train pulled into Central Station it was wall to wall ballet. I had a lovely weekend. I just can't think of a better way of spending it. Dank U HNB!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Ballet Bubbles

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Ballet Bubbles, Meervaart Theatre, Amsterdam, 14 Feb 2016

Mata Hari is a hard act to follow (see Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016). Mindful of the words of Voltaire's wise Italian that "le mieux est l’ennemi du bien" I feared that anything following it would be an anticlimax. That was what happened after the opening gala in September (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015).  After seeing some of the best dancers in the world on the same stage the same evening I was temporarily spoilt for anything else.

In fact, the Junior Company's matinee performance of Ballet Bubbles which I saw at the end of a weekend that included a preview of the 2016 to 2017 opera and ballet season with interludes of heavenly singing and dancing and a tour of the home of the company which allowed access to company class and a walk on the Stopera's stage for Friends of the Dutch National Ballet as well as Mata Hari was the pièce de résistance. It was in its own way every bit as good as Mata Hari. The ability of the Dutch National Ballet to stage two outstanding but very different shows at the same time is an astounding achievement.  I struggle to think of another company in the world that could have done the same.

Of course, I should not have been so apprehensive. The week before, the Junior Company had premièred Ernst Meisner's joyful No Time Before Time at the finals of the 2016 Lausanne International Ballet Competition and nobody gets to dance there in any capacity unless they are special. Meisner's work was the finale of a brilliant performance which included work by David DawsonKrzysztof Pastor, Hans van Manen as well as Charlotte Edmonds. In an opening address just before the start of the performance (which was in Dutch - not a language that I have ever studied - so I may well have got it wrong) I believe that Meisner explained that the Junior Company offers opportunities not only for the world's most promising young dancers but also for young technicians and choreographers such as Edmonds.

The performance was staged not in the Stadsschouwburg where the last two seasons' tours had started (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013 and The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015) but in the Theater de Meervaart near an artificial lake called the Sloterplas in the western suburbs of Amsterdam. Although nobody in my hotel nor even the Stopera seemed to know where it was, the Meervaart proved to be a good venue, particularly for a matinee performance where there were lots of children. There was plenty of space to sit and chat before and after the performance.  In the interval the management served drinks to the audience: red and white wine or fruit juice to the adults and every kind of sugary fizz to the children. A delightful gesture which I appreciated as I had had no time for lunch or dinner the day before nor any kind of meal on Sunday until after I had landed in England.

The show began with a short talk by Meisner who spoke about the company and the works that were to be performed. As in previous years each piece was preceded by a film in which a dancer set out his or her thoughts in his or her language of choice. 

In the first film Emilie Tassinari introduced the pas de six from Arthur Saint-Léon's La Vivandière which was originally staged in London in 1844 with Fanny Cerrito as La Vivandière and Saint-Léon himself as Hans. This is a gorgeous romantic ballet which is a type of dance in which Tassinari excels and seems to enjoy. In the previous year she had danced a divertissement from Napoli delightfully. In La Vivandière she danced the role that had been created by Cerrito which includes some spectacular grands jetés and tours en l'air that prompted a barrage of bravo from the audience. Saint-Leon's steps were traced impressively by the young Canadian dancer Theo Duff-Grant. They were accompanied equally impressively by Lisanne Kottenhagen, Melissa Chapski, Clara Superfine and Hannah Williams.

The next piece was Eric Gauthier's Ballet 101. It is one of my all time favourites and one that I would love to do.  In fact Mel has kindly offered to coach me.  It requires enormous strength and agility but it is also very witty.  Last year it was performed by Xander Parish at the 45th anniversary gala of Northern Ballet (see Sapphire 15 March 2015). I had previously seen Daniel Montero dance it for the Junior Company in 2013. I am collecting material for a book to be called "Will I like Ballet?" in which I shall refer to this piece throughout the work. On Sunday the piece was danced by Giovanni Princip who was nothing short of magnificent.

Next came Edmonds's Fuse which was arranged to Armand Amar's Dam in China and Paddy Fields. There is a lot of energy in this work with its compelling beat which was translated into movement by Thomas van Damme, Antonio Martinez Cegarra and Belle Beasley. Amar's music cannot have been easy to  choreograph or dance but it was interpreted imaginatively by the choreographer and executed beautifully by her dancers. This was the first time I had seen Edmonds's work and I look forward to more.

The first act was rounded off by Dawson's 5.  5 is only the second of his works that I have seen, the other being Empire Noir in Cool Britannia (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015). That work had been fast and furious and that was also true of 5. The music, Adolphe Adam's Giselle, albeit with some reworking, was familiar but the movement was not. It was exciting and the crowd loved it.  The female roles were danced by Chapski, Superfine and  Tassinari and the male ones by Joseph Massarelli and Daniel Robert Silva. Dawson has been commissioned by Scottish Ballet to produce a new Swan Lake. If his reworking of Giselle is anything can go by Liverpool can look forward to swans on steroids when Scottish Ballet comes to town.

The first ballet after the interval was Pastor's arrangement of Kurt Weil's Silbersee and Wie Lange Noch. Pastor is another of the Dutch National Ballet's resident choreographers whose work has been performed by Scottish Ballet. I was very impressed with his Romeo and Juliet when it came to Sadler's Wells in 2014 (see Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2014).  Silbersee was a duet by Silva and Massirelli and Wie Lnnge Noch a pas de deux by Tassinari and van Damme. A beautiful and haunting work with many layers of meaning.

No performance by the Junior Company would be complete without a work by van Manen. In previous years the great man has come on stage to take a bow and the applause has exploded. Trois Gnossiennes with music by Erik Satie is of particular interest to British balletomanes because of its similarity to Ashton's Monotones. The music is sublime and so is van Manen's choreography executed sensitively by Chapski and Princic.

The last work was Meisner's No Time Before Time and it was my favourite by a mile. Starting with a solo by Silva who is joined gradually by the rest of the company in long, swooping stretches each giving the impression of a great bird in flight. The score by the Romanian composer and violinist Alexander Balanescu lifted the audience and enhanced the impression of flight. It must have been such fun to choreograph and even more fun to dance. The piece builds up. There is a lovely duet. Then some exuberant jumps. A pas de quatre.  More exits and entrances. A pas de trois. Finally two dancers remain on stage and the music cuts. For those of us who were fortunate enough to be at the Meervaart it felt as though we were dancing too.  I don't think I have ever seen a happier audience.

There was no rush for the exits after the show. The bars remained open and the audience stayed to chat. I caught Meisner after the show.  "Had this been London the stage would have been knee deep in flowers" I said to him. Having danced with the Royal Ballet he would have seen flower throws. I also met several of the dancers after the show some of whom I met for the first time and several of whom I already knew.  In the next few weeks I shall gather material for a feature on the Junior Company which I hope will do them even more justice than last time.

The Junior Company is now starting a tour of the Netherlands beginning at Oss near the Belgian border on the 18 Feb 2016 and finishing in the Hague on the 28 May 2016. Coming from a small village in the North of England 200 miles from London I applaud this initiative. I only wish they could have included a trip to the UK this year as they have done in previous years. But the Netherlands is not far and no part of that country is hard to reach. A performance by 12 of the most promising young dancers in the world would richly reward the jounrey.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Brandsen's Masterpiece

Dutch National Ballet, Mata Hari, Stopera, 13 Feb 2016

As Anna Tsygankova stood alone on stage for her curtain call after last night's performance of Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari every single person in the Amsterdam Music Theatre or Stopera rose as one. She would have got a similar standing ovation anywhere - even snooty old London - for her portrayal of the life of the tragic adventurer and dancer (Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod) was compelling It is not often that one sees theatre like that in any medium and I think the sounds and images of that performance will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Although Brandsen is artistic director of one of the world's great dance companies this was the first time I had seen any of his work. I very much hope it will not be the last for Mata Hari indicates that the man is a genius.  After the show I tweeted that the English language does not contain enough superlatives to praise that ballet. That was no mere flattery or sycophancy for I intended every word sincerely and these are the reasons why.

First, it was an act of genius to commission  Tarik O'Regan to compose the score. It is not often that a new composition grips me in the way this one did.  Readers can get some idea of its beauty from the trailer.  It has been echoing in my head all night.  So, too, has the percussive war scene as French and German soldiers batter it out. There has been a lot of new ballet to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and none of the music comes close to O'Regan's.

Another act of genius was the casting. Not just Tsygankova, powerful though her performance was, but also in the choice of Casey Herd who danced her dashing, handsome but in the end cruel husband, Artur Shesterikov who danced Vadime de Masloff, her last lover, Roman Artyushkin who danced Lieutenant Ladoux, her destroyer, Young Gye Cho who danced Shiva in her dreams and indeed all the dancers from the children who danced her son and daughter upwards. Many of my favourite dancers were in other roles in the show including Floor Elmers and, of course, Michaela DePrince, Nancy Burer and others whom I have followed since they were in the Junior Company.

Brandsen showed his genius in his choice of Janine Brogt as dramaturge who told a complex and tragic story in a simple and compelling way. Last June some of the great and the good of British ballet spent half an afternoon on a circumlocution about  narrative ballet (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). My message to Graham Watts, Louise Levene, Tobias Batley et al and their audience is to come to Amsterdam if they want to see what narrative ballet is all about.

There was genius too in the set design and costumes. I did not like the backdrop at first because it reminded me of Amsterdam's Central Station but as the ballet progressed I appreciated why it had been designed as it was. It morphed from the MacLeods' home in Friesland. to the officers' mess in colonial Indonesia, to a Hindu temple, the Moulin Rouge, the rehearsal studio for Diaghilev's Les Sylphides and finally disintegrated in the war scene as it became the settling for her execution.

I appreciate  that this is the shortest and most superficial of reviews but I had a very long day yesterday travelling to Amsterdam by rail, watching the preview of the new season and a lot of tramping in the rain. More of the same today as I hope to tour the Stopera and see the Junior Company's Ballet Bubbles once I find the auditoorium and then dash off to Schipol for the last flight home. This is unlikely to be my last word on Brandsen's masterpiece.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Birthday Offering

My birthday falls on Sunday. Don't ask me how old I will be because it's depressing. But there is one thing that never fails to cheer me up and that is to watch the excellent young men and women of the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet. They are recent graduates of some of the world's best ballet schools and they are now cadet members of one of the world's best companies. I featured them in a series of articles in 2014 (see The Junior Company 3 Dec 2014) and I have been following them for almost as long as I have been keeping this blog.

Last weekend they danced in the finals of the Lausanne International Ballet Competition. This weekend they will begin their tour of the Netherlands with a performance of Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart wherever that may be. Their programme will consist of
  • La Vivandière Pas de six – Arthur Saint-Léon
  • Ballet 101 – Eric Gauthier
  • Fuse – Charlotte Edmonds
  • 5 – David Dawson
  • Kurt Weill – Krzysztof Pastor
  • Trois Gnossienes – Hans van Manen
  • New work – Ernst Meisner.
I will catch their matinee on Sunday which will enable me to see Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari the night before and catch a plane home in time for work on Monday. The role of Mata Hari will be danced by Anna Tsygankova. She danced Cinderella at the Coliseum so delightfully. That will be another treat,

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Cause for Double Celebration at the Robin's Nest

Natasha Watson
Copyright 2016 Ballet West: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the Principal

One doesn't need much of an excuse to visit the Robin's Nest bur if one has something to celebrate there are far worse ways of doing so than indulging in one of that establishment's cakes and pastries (see the photo of a slice of their sponge cake in Taynuilt - where better to create ballet? 31 Aug 2013 before Gita devoured it). I fancy that quite a lot of folk in Taynuilt will have had something to celebrate today because Natasha Watson and Andrew McFarlane have just been hired by English National Ballet (see Ballet West's home page). Hearty congratulations to both of them.

As I said in Thinking Out Loud About Ballet West on 8 Feb 2016 that ballet school must be one of the most remarkable educational institutions in the United Kingdom. These are not many institutions that can cultivate excellence in alumni like Watson and McFarlane while making dance accessible to a large section of the general public through its associate programmes, summer schools and outreach work.

Of course, such an enterprise requires facilities and the 2016 tour programme reports a £1.2 million project to build new studios on its site at Taynuilt:
"In addition to meeting the needs of the students the new studio complex will provide rehearsal space for Ballet West's full scale classical productions which tour Scotland and internationally. It has the potential of being used as a performance space and will open up all Ballet West's facilities for greater use by the local community."
Just what's needed to burn off the calories after a slap up tea at the Robin's Nest.

To help pay for this project Ballet West has appealed to the public for support and one can do so n many ways. One can slip them a few quid through their website or one can become a patron, sponsor a dancer or, if you have a business, you can become a corporate sponsor or benefactor.  If you want to find out more, call Ballet West on +44 (0)1866 822641 or email

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.