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  1. Constructing an effective mixed bill is an art in itself. It is not simply a question of selecting the right dance works for an evening as even the sequence in which they are performed can have a significant impact on the audience's response to the programme as a whole. Comments on French ballet websites about programming at Covent Garden suggest that French audiences find mixed programmes containing contrasting elements something of an anglo saxon eccentricity and much prefer, or are used to seeing, programmes with a significant unifying element to them. A programme of dance works set to Chopin's music by a number of different choreographers would not be the subject of comment about the lack of variety whereas a programme of contrasting works by a single choreographer would almost certainly be criticised for its lack of a unifying element. Perhaps the problem in this case was opening with the Cunningham.
  2. Mashinka. You may know considerably more about inadequate performances of Oberon than I do. I prefer to avoid them if at all possible. I know that I spent a great deal of Dowell's directorship being delighted at the prospect of performances of Ashton mixed bills, being appalled by the proposed casts and saving money by staying away from them. The result seemed to be that the Ashton mixed bills with half decent casts at Covent Garden ended up being gatherings of ballet goers who knew and cared what Ashton's ballets should look like in performance which people who I knew from my earliest ballet going years seemed to crawl out of the woodwork to attend .I also went to see a lot of performances by SWRB/BRB which under Sir Peter Wright seemed far more able to conjure up interesting mixed bills with much better casts than the company resident at Covent Garden seemed able to manage although it was generally understood that the resident company had first choice of the school's graduates .Wright seemed to have a much better understanding of how to develop dancers through his choice of repertory and a much better grasp of the ballets which his dancers and his audience needed to experience in performance. Perhaps the fact that Wright came to be involved in classical ballet in his late teens via Kurt Joos gave him a greater appreciation of the special qualities of classical dance and choreography created using the idiom than someone who is introduced to ballet as a young child and grows up in a world where it is a given.I should like to think that Kevin O'Hare had learned some of Sir Peter's system for developing dancers from his time working for him. The ballets in this year's repertory with Fille, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Jewels occupying a significant part of the season suggested that he had. However next year's rep suggests that his commitment to giving the youngest dancers in his company the development opportunities that they need may not be that strong. I know that next season is being treated as a significant MacMillan anniversary season but I am not sure that is necessarily that beneficial for maintaining technical standards throughout the company.The early performances of the new Swan Lake will reveal what damage, if any, the MacMillanfest has inflicted on technical standards as his full length ballets tend to treat the corps as background stage dressing, albeit each with his or her backstory, rather than giving them really challenging choreography to dance.
  3. I have just come back from Zurich where I saw two performances of this production. I do not intend to give a detailed account of the production as Amy did a sterling job when she described what she saw in Milan nor do I intend to give a blow by blow account of the choreography. It was all so familiar and yet so different. At regular intervals I saw elements not only of the Dowell production but of the productions which preceded it but those familiar sections were performed with a different emphasis and accent as everything was performed in period appropriate style. This had the effect of making the performance of the choreography emphasize dance as a flow of movement rather than movement from pose to pose.As legs are kept low and are often curved and limbs are not stretched to the nth degree the dancing looks softer in performance than we have become used to in this ballet. One of the first things that struck me about the performances which I saw was that in this version Odette does not engage in Swan impersonations and the music is not distorted in order to accommodate the dancers and their desire to exhibit their muscular control and their technique. This meant that for the first time in years I saw an account of the first lakeside scene in which Odette and the corps de ballet actually seemed to be appearing in the same ballet as far as tempi were concerned rather than at the brisk tempo indicated by the composer when the corps were dancing and at a "as slow as you can you go" sort of speed during the pas de deux or pas de trois as it is here.While the floor plan for act 1 scene 2 is pretty much the same as it is in the Dowell production it looks and feels very different in performance simply because of the speed at which it is danced..It is lighter, faster and far less like the monumental classical ballet which modern productions tend to make it and it contains no overhead Bolshoi style lifts. In the second act the pas d'action is just that, it tells the story through dance and mime and it does not degenerate into competitive dancing towards the end of the pas. Siegfried's choreography can be seen as an expression of his pleasure at having found the girl of his dreams rather than an expression of his bravura technique. Odile's choreography is used for narrative and expressive effect. It is not simply an opportunity for the dancer to display her bravura technique to the audience, it is the means by which she first distracts Siegfried when Odette appears at the window and then entrances and beguiles him. I think that Ratmansky is right where his staging gives Siegfried the possibility of catching a glimpse of Odette at the window as it explains Odile's subsequent actions, touching his forehead and thrusting herself between him and the apparition at the window. At the end of the pas when Siegfried swears eternal love for Odile both Rothbart and Odile laugh at him before they rush off, the laughter is in the score. The act ends with Siegfried collapsing distraught at his mother's feet which does not look at all heroic .It is easy to see why in later post revolutionary productions the prince rushes off into the night when he discovers that he has betrayed Odette. It makes him look more like a man of action and less like a wimp. The last act begins with four swans entering and then looking out onto the night waiting for Odette's return and they are followed by another four swans who do the self same thing but facing in the opposite direction. Odette arrives and tells them what has happened and that Siegfried has abandoned his love for her.The rest of the act is very similar to the Dowell production. I have seen seen the Mariinsky reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty which restored the original sumptuous designs but performed the original choreographic text using modern "improved" technique and the Bolshoi reconstructed Corsaire "seen through twenty first century eyes" in live performance. I have seen the Ratmansky reconstructions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake in live performance and the Munich Paquita in a streamed one. All three of these were performed in period appropriate style and at tempi which the choreographer and his composers might have recognised. While it might be nice to stage reconstructions of nineteenth century ballets with expensive designs I don't honestly think that the success of a reconstruction is dependent on expensive costumes and designs. What really matters in the initial stage is the choreographic text and how it is performed. Ballets are expensive to stage and at a time when the majority of ballet goers, dancers,coaches and artistic directors have yet to be convinced of the relevance and value of reconstructing the great ballets of the past it seems to me that the bulk of the effort has to go into reconstructing choreographic texts and recruiting dancers who can perform these works in period appropriate style with the same sort of facility we expect of those dancers performing in current performance style. It seems to me that there is little point in staging a reconstruction of any nineteenth century ballet if the stager is not going to insist on period appropriate performance style and observing the tempi set by the composer. that way there is a possibility that the audience will experience something approaching the choreographer's musicality. Seeing the Mariinsky's Sleeping Beauty was fascinating as far as the designs were concerned but what we were saw in performance bore little resemblance to what was staged in 1895 as it was being performed in the most modern style rather than in a style and at a speed which might have allowed the audience to experience Petipa's musicality.I have to say that what I have seen so far makes me eager to see more reconstructed Petipa and then there is the Justament archive.There is always a possibility that some of the great French ballets of the nineteenth century could be revived,
  4. The RB only reveals the barest details of casting.It has finally announced the missing details of the Ashton mixed bill which will round off the ballet season.In the Dream Sambe will dance Oberon to Hayward's Titania and Campbell will dance Oberon to Morera's Titania. In addition Polunin will be dancing Armand to Osipova's Marguerite. The ROH has only seen fit to announce the fact that Polunin is to appear in Marguerite and Armand.Personally I think that the details about who is to dance Oberon will be of far greater interest to the regular ballet goer than the fact that Polunin will be appearing in Marguerite and Armand. In fact the casting for Oberon will probably come as a great relief to many as there were fears that we might have to endure Matthew Golding lumbering round the stage in order to see Hayward dance Titania.
  5. Unfortunately as 2017 marks the twenty fifth anniversary of MacMillan's death it was inevitable that we were going to have rather a lot of his ballets programmed during the entire year. I am just grateful that we have had so few of his "challenging" works scheduled for performance and that Lady M. has not managed to persuade the management to disinter Isadora. As far as the Ashton repertory is concerned I am not sure that It has been specifically singled out for neglect as we have not seen much of the Diaghilev repertory either since Mr. O'Hare became AD. It would seem that he is more concerned with commissioning new works for the company, most of which have turned out to be second rate, than performing and maintaining the company's repertory of twentieth century masterworks, or acquiring as regular repertory pieces any of the major works created elsewhere in the last fifty years. Strangely in all this MacMillan's three successful full length ballets have not suffered neglect. The company has proved itself capable of programming revivals of them with such regularity that there seems to be a timetable for their revival which raises the question of why something similar can not be done for the company's founder choreographer? It must be difficult for any AD running a company with a significant repertory of masterpieces to get the balance right between encouraging the creation of new works and maintaining the historical repertory I can't help thinking that an AD who wanted to achieve a balance between new works, the nineteenth century classics and twentieth century masterpieces would find a way of doing so. What makes the whole thing so frustrating is that Mason pulled so many ballets back from oblivion and now O'Hare is letting them drift back into the shadows.I have heard one or two people suggest that this is because the current AD is more concerned about his legacy than he is about his duty to make the historic repertory available to the current audience but then perhaps the problem is that while the new works don't look too bad if they are seen in isolation when they are seen in close proximity to major works they tend to look weak if not inept.I hate to think what the 2020 season will look like if Kevin only programmes new productions and works created during his directorship. A season which includes Acosta's Don Q possibly his Carmen;Scarlett's new Swan Lake,Frankenstein, Sweet Violets and The Age of Anxiety; Wheeldon's Winter's Tale, Strapless, In the Golden Hour and After the Rain;McGregor's Woolf Works, Limen, Infra and Live Fire Exercise; Dawson's Human Seasons and Schechter's Untouchable does not seem that attractive to me and could prove to be a very cheap season. It seems to me that the real problem as far as the Ashton repertory at Covent Garden is concerned is that his works suffer from not having the active advocate that MacMillan has in Lady M..I am pleased to see that Sylvia is being revived but I can only guess at why Marguerite and Armand is back again so soon.It suggests either that someone significant is retiring and wants to dance it or that someone has agreed to dance in that ballet as a guest artist.From something that Francesca Hayward said in interview last night it would seem that the ballet has now become a work that dancers want to appear in as she said that she hoped that she would have the opportunity to dance it when she is older.We shall discover the reason for its inclusion in the 2017-18 season when the casting is announced, at the moment it just seems part of a very odd mixed bill. It is good that Giselle is being revived as it should mean that some of the dancers who should have been given the opportunity of working with Peter Wright when it was last revived may now have the chance of doing so but in many ways I wish that his production were less of an edited highlights account of the ballet.I find the Skeaping production which the ENB dance is far more satisfying.As far as the new Swan lake is concerned from the notes in the handbook for the 2017-18 season it seems that some of Ashton's choreography will be seen in Scarlett's new Swan Lake I assume that this means that at the very least we shall see Ashton's Neapolitan Dance but I hope that we get his Waltz , his dance of the prospective brides and his Pas de Quatre as well. Having just seen the Ratmansky reconstruction of Swan Lake in Zurich which was delightful because its period appropriate performance style gives the audience has an opportunity to experience something approaching what Petipa and Ivanov intended their audience to see I think that a company like the RB should really have at least two productions of the ballet in its repertory. One a scrupulous reconstruction danced in period appropriate performance style and a second more modern version with whatever choreographic interpolations the company has acquired over the years.In the RB's case their second version would be a version of the ballet as danced in the 1970's probably the one danced during Morrice's directorship which included Ashton's Act I waltz which requires twelve good classical dancers,in Act III his dance of the prospective brides, his Pas de Quatre, Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance and Maria Fay's Czardas, and his Act IV. As in earlier years the new season will, no doubt, look considerably more interesting when the casting is announced and even if the new Swan Lake proves to be less than choreographically ideal there will be debuts and the debuts of dancers like Hayward, Naghdi, Stix- Brunell, and possibly Heap as Odette/Odile and Ball,Clarke and Hay as the Prince will persuade me to buy tickets. As Scarlett has ,so far, chosen good designers for his ballets there is every hope that the new Swan Lake will not be the bling laden design disaster that Dowell's production proved to be.
  6. I can only begin to guess at the problems that Mr Webb will face in trying to restore Les Apparitions to the stage. According to the Royal Opera House Performance Database it disappeared from the SW / RB repertory in 1953 although an excerpt from it was danced at the Ashton Gala in 1970. It was last performed in London during Schaufuss' directorship of English National Ballet when it was revived by Ashton assisted by Jean Bedells. The revival was not a success. Critics old enough to be familiar with the work wondered whether its lack of effectiveness was attributable to the ballet's theme, style, or contemporary tastes,or whether it was the costumes that were at fault. It was suggested by some that perhaps the Beaton designs were too old fashioned for modern tastes or that the use of cheap materials in recreating the costumes had helped to undermine the work's effectiveness. In 1994 Katherine Sorley-Walker writing about the generally poor quality of the Royal Ballet's Ashton revivals, insensitive casting and coaching, also mentioned ENB's revival of Les Apparitions, She said that the work belonged to a time when the concept of ballet was totally different and that the quality of its performance in revival had completely distorted the ballet. If I recall correctly,Kavanagh's biography of Ashton says that Ashton and Jean Bedell's who assisted him in the task of restoring Les Apparitions to the stage both tried to distance themselves from the project by having their names removed from the details of the staging made available to the public. She suggests that the problem was that the dancer who was cast in the Fonteyn role of the Woman In the Ballgown, was resistant to Ashton's direction and coaching which of course means that anyone saw those performances did not really see Ashton's Les Apparitions at all. This was not a problem confined to Ashton's Les Apparitions it was probably true of many of the performances of Ashton's Romeo and Juliet which was revived for ENB in 1985,if Katherine S. Healy's account of her involvement with the ballet both as the first cast Juliet coached by Ashton himself and later involved with coaching other later casts is to be believed. She describes a second less detailed account of the choreography and Ashton's characterisation developing influenced by the dancers' experience of performing Nureyev's version of the ballet.Perhaps Markarova's account of the Fonteyn role in Les Apparitions was similarly affected by her attachment to the Vaganova system. I think that if anyone can get Les Apparitions onto the stage in a form that Ashton would recognise as his work it is the Webbs as they have a real affection for the choreographer and his style. Anothe early Ashton ballet that I believe that Webb has expressed an interest in reviving is Foyer de Danse of which I have only ever seen tantalising film clips. I can't help wondering whether the Royal's AD will express any interest if either of them is staged successfully. Unfortunately I don't foresee any great interest as I often feel that the RB management's attitude towards the founder choreographer is somewhat ambivalent and that many revivals are staged out of a sense of duty rather than any enthusiasm for the works themselves and that indifference to the quality of the works as experienced by the audience goes a long way to explain the truly eccentric casting to which most of them have been subjected over the last thirty years. After all if a sufficiently bad job is done in casting them in a short time London audiences may come to believe that what they are seeing at Covent Garden is the best that can be done with Ashton's ballets and interest in them may wane.
  7. Osipova made her Covent Garden debut as Aurora a week ago with Hirano as her self effacing prince. I think that it is safe to say that her account of the role divides opinion. Clement Crisp likened her Aurora to the sun, but to others her Aurora is more like a force of nature. Whether you find her Aurora, too big,too bold,and ebullient, rather than vivacious may well depend on whether or not you like a star turn because there is no doubt that for many in the audience she is a star and thus above all criticism. In act one she is more Princess Kitri than Princess Aurora in large part because she fails to disguise her strength and her stamina and appears overly concerned with displaying her technique and the height of her jumps.The difficulty with this approach is that if you over emphasise technical display in act one then you have nowhere to go when you get to act three. Her Vision scene was quieter and restrained. When I saw her I found that her act three lacked nuance, variety and grandeur. By emphasising her technical skills throughout act one she had robbed herself of the possibility of making her act three a statement of Aurora's newfound authority. The problem is that Osipova, like McRae, is really a demi-character technician and unlike some demi-character dancers, neither of them seem to have the ability to escape their natural emploi, disguise their natural affinities and transform themselves into the type of dancers they dearly wish to be. Yesterday saw Salenko and McRae as Aurora and her Prince. I had not intended to see this cast but as a friend had a spare ticket I went out of curiosity. I had not seen Salenko in a classical role and it is some years since I have seen McRae in this ballet.The tempo adopted by the conductor did not help but the whole performance felt leaden.The Vision Scene was one of the dullest that I have seen in a long while. In Act three McRae provided the audience with technical fireworks which seemed more than a little misplaced and totally out of character for a prince in a late nineteenth century ballet for whom effortless elegance is generally considered to be the norm. Throughout the ballet Salenko reproduced Aurora's choreography accurately and, efficiently but it was a dull account of the role. At the same performance Mendizabal made,what I believe, was her debut as the Lilac Fairy. She struggled with the choreography but the conductor took the solo painfully slowly. David Donnelly made his debut in the Florestan pas de trois.On the basis of what he did with the first section of Florestan's choreography he is not ready for it yet.But its choreography has defeated more experienced dancers.. It is one of those Ashton roles which look so simple in a good performance but are in reality a technical minefield and if management does not give youngsters a chance how will they learn? A few days earlier we had what,on paper, looked like equally unlikely casting. Matthew Ball, not the first name that would have sprung to my mind when casting the Bluebird made his debut in the role.He was pretty good. Mendizabal as Princess Florine was efficient. I have tickets for one more cast more for the prince, Bonelli, than his Aurora. I wonder whether there will be any further significant debuts? On Friday normal musical service was resumed when, once again, we had a Russian specialist ballet conductor in the pit. He made the music very four square and rhythmically regular,; in the Prologue he ironed out the contrasts in rhythm and speed between one variation and the next and transformed a score which had been fascinating in its variety under Mr Kessell's baton into one which sounded and felt more like the product of a professional ballet composer it was so regular and dansant. Over the years there has been some discussion among older "regular" ballet goers about the reason for the Fairy Variations being so dull. These "regulars" have come up with various explanations the most popular of which is that the company no longer casts Principal dancers in these variations on a regular basis,closely followed by concerns about the quality of the coaching available.While I don't doubt that casting and coaching have played a part in the less than satisfactory performances of the Prologue Fairies over the years, on the basis of what I have experienced over the last few days it is clear that the choice of conductor plays an even more significant part in the quality of the performance which the audience experiences in the theatre than most people, including the company's management, realise. It will be interesting to see whether any further action is taken on the musical front as far as the Tchaikovsky ballets are concerned.
  8. Just to alert you to a number of cast changes to the Royal Ballet's streamed performance of Sleeping Beauty the most significant of which are as follows:- Prologue:- Song Bird Fairy Francesca Hayward is replaced by Meaghan Grace Hinkis Fairy of the Golden Vine Helen Crawford is replaced by Anna Rose O'Sullivan Act 3:- Florestan and his Sisters James Hay is replaced by Marcelino Sambe and Beatrix Stix-Brunell is replaced by Anna Rose O'Sullivan. Bluebird and Princess Florine Francesca Hayward is replaced by Akane Takada. Everything else is as advertised. You can have great fun spotting Yasmine Naghdi who has recently made a very successful debut as Aurora. In this performance she now appears in the Prologue as the Fairy of the Woodland Glade,in Act 1 as one of Aurora's Friends and in Act 3 in the Florestan divertisement. Hayward is still off due to illness and Stix-Brunell due to injury. I know nothing about the absence of either Crawford or Hay.
  9. Sleeping Beauty had three performances before Christmas. We have now embarked on the second and most important part of the run.These performances are important not only because they give an indication of the technical health of the company but for the number of debuts scheduled between now and early March. They are interesting because of the opportunities being given to young dancers to dance major roles in the ballet which for years has been the company's calling card. The problem is that apart from those due to dance Aurora and her Prince we don't find out who is dancing the Lilac Fairy or Bluebird and Princess Florine until we pick up the cast sheet just before the performance.Before the run began I wondered who was going to dance some of those roles and while I assumed that Calvert, Heap and Stix-Brunell would have further opportunities to dance Lilac Fairy the real question for many of the regulars was how far down the ranks would the company be prepared to go to cast these roles? Well we now have some answers and they are very positive ones. Perhaps I should say that as far as I am concerned the most positive thing that has come with the resumption of the run of Sleeping Beauty performances are not the debuts but the presence of a non Russian ballet conductor in the pit. The Music Director is conducting these performances and the effect has been transformational. Koen Kessels apparently believes, somewhat eccentrically, that Tchaikovsky was rather a good composer and that his markings should be observed in performance. He has even gone so far as to give an interview to Gramophone Magazine in which he uses the word "symphonic" several times as he explains how wonderful Sleeping Beauty's score is. This has meant that instead of torturing the score to accommodate Ms X's personal technical foibles and her desire to treat the Rose Adagio as an Olympic event,thus reducing Tchaikovsky's score to superior Pugni it is being taken seriously and not being treated as so much aural wallpaper and is being performed at a tempo that both the composer and choreographer might recognise. Freeing the company from the "expertise" of the Russian ballet conductors who have been conducting the Tchaikovsky ballets since 2003 means that we are not being treated to performances of Beauty which suggest that the dancers are wading through treacle.We may not have period appropriate performance style but we can hope..I have spent time writing about this change because it has had such a positive effect on all the performances of the ballet which I have seen since Christmas. The first of the post Christmas debuts came last Thursday when Francesca Hayward made her debut as Aurora with Alexander Campbell making his house debut as her Prince. Campbell is not very tall, but he has a strong technique and is an able and considerate partner and acquitted himself well. As far as Hayward's account of Aurora is concerned all the steps were there but it was a rather small scale account of the choreography rather lacking in grandeur and without the personal elements which we have come to expect from her in her debuts in other roles. We have become used to Hayward doing far more than merely reproducing steps so the lack of personality at this performance came as a bit of a surprise. Having since found out that Hayward was far from well when she made her debut and has since gone off sick with a bug which seems to be doing the rounds I am not going to say whether the performance showed the potential for greatness in the role. I shall simply say that I can't wait to see her next performance in the role and while she may not be scheduled to dance the role again during this run, after missing her Monday performance through illness, that next performance may be sooner than anyone has planned as last night's Cuthbertson, Clarke performance was cancelled because Cuthbertson is ill, which suggests that others may be struck down in due course. At the evening performance we had the opportunity to see Campbell again partnering Takada.Takada has little or no personality when compared with her prince or Naghdi or Hayward. As this was at least her fifth performance it would have been nice to feel that there was rather more to her Aurora than the precise reproduction of the choreography. Last Saturday Naghdi and Ball made their joint debuts as Aurora and her Prince and made an unscheduled appearance in the roles last night when they replaced Cuthbertson and Clarke. Naghdi's Aurora is young and vivacious in act one and very gracious to all of her suitors, her balances are rock solid she is elegant and suitably grand in the third act and she is exceptionally musical throughout.It is as if her feet are caressing the notes.If I have any criticism of her account of the role it is that she is not sufficiently distant in the vision scene. But that really is nitpicking on my part. Matthew Ball joined the company in 2013/14 season and so far he has made his mark dancing roles like Lensky, Romeo and the Artist in Two Pigeons. This Winter he has been dancing his first classical roles, first as the SPF's cavalier and now as the Prince in Beauty. Although management policy has seemed to be against partnerships Ball has partnered Naghdi in each one of these roles except for Two Pigeons when he danced with Stix-Brunell.He is a young dancer with a good technique, excellent partnering skills and great maturity in performance, Naghdi and Ball look good together, they complement each other and they are well on the way to producing real grandeur in performance..Last night the audience may have begun the evening disappointed by the cast change but they left the theatre very pleased by what they had seen.The pair are due to dance the roles again on Saturday and I shall not complain if they make further unscheduled appearances during the run. The evening performance gave us another new Prince, Reece Clarke ,with Cuthbertson as his Aurora.Like Ball, Clarke joined the company in the 2013/14 season. He made a strong impression on those who saw his RBS main stage appearance as Jean de Brienne in Nureyev's staging of Raymonda Act III ;he was plucked from the corps to replace Matthew Golding in the male lead in Symphonic Variations and those who saw him in either role have been waiting for his first performances in the classics. Like Ball he made his debut as the SPF's cavalier at Christmas but Sleeping Beauty is his first full length ballet. He proved to be an exemplary partner,presenting Cuthbertson with real skill. He danced elegantly and only flagged slightly towards the end of his second solo.As with Ball there is the occasional slight miscalculation that an older more mature dancer might not make, which reminds you just how young and inexperienced he is, but these lapses are minor in comparison with what he achieved in performance. Again like Ball and Hay this Prince has a personality rather than being a cardboard cutout.In addition to the debuts already mentioned with another due on Saturday evening when Osipova makes her debut as Aurora, there have been many other debuts which are of interest and people who I have not seen in specific roles before. Audiences have seen Carabosse performed by McNally, Arestis, McGorian, and Foskett all different and all worth seeing and Cowley has made her debut; the Queen performed by McGorian,McNally and Arestis; Lilac Fairy danced by Calvert, Heap, Stix-Brunell all more assured than in 2014 and a very promising debut from Storm-Jensen;Bluebird and Princess Florine danced by Hay and Takada who are elegantly effortless; Campbell and Haywood characterful; Naghdi and Zucchetti very stylish; Kobayashi and Zucchetti and Sambe and O'Sullivan. Of these casts the Zucchetti, Kobayashi combination is the least interesting because Kobayashi brings no personality to the role while the Sambe, O'Sullivan one is one of the most delightful. As far as the pas de trois known as Florestan and his Sisters is concerned the choreography for Florestan has been the undoing of many a hopeful up and coming male dancer's reputation.It is one of those Ashton solos which look simple and innocuous and yet are a minefield for the unwary.Zucchetti is good in it but it is unusual to see it really well danced. But both Hay and Sambe have given outstanding accounts of the choreography. Both make it look easy but Hay adds elegance to the mixture.Of the other men dancing Florestan, Ella was quite good, in what I take to be his debut, while Edmonds has been the least successful. Of the women appearing as Florestan's sisters Naghdi, Magri,Maguire, Stix-Brunell and O'Sullivan have made strong impressions and give the roles real style and Heap who is really too tall for the pas has been pretty good as well. While the Fairy Variations no longer look as if they have been cast by drawing names out of a hat there are some variations which seem to be short of more than a few candidates and others which are over subscribed. Crystal Fountain in particular seems to present casting problems the choice still seems to lie between Choe and Cowley neither of whom bring much character to it.Chisato has also appeared in this role but failed to make much impression. She is a very talented dancer and it is to be hoped that she will be given something more suited to her talents. On the basis of how the dancers appearing as Crystal Fountain/Candide perform the role this fairy apparently confers the gift of blandness.Golden Vine/Violente on the other hand has seen fine performances full of personality and temperament from Naghdi, O'Sullivan among others while the Fairy of the Songbirds is definitely oversubscribed. Both Magri and O'Sullivan have been outstanding in pretty much everything they have done during this run.It will be fascinating to find out who Kevin intends to cast in the streamed performances and even more interesting to see who actually makes it to the stage next week.Given the state of the company it would make a lot of sense for Kevin to programme Beauty in the next two seasons I'm sure that it would cause howls of outrage and the accusations that he was showing no initiative but it would really get the company where it needs to be.The alternative would be to restage the old Swan Lake production which preceded the one which Dowell staged which with all its Ashton choreographic interpolations provided more dance opportunities than the company could manage at the time it was finally pensioned off.
  10. I hope that this does not confuse the issue but I have attended at least one interview in which Sarah Lamb has spoken about the "plastique of a role" which suggests that for her the word is not so much a description of the characteristics of an individual dancer but sensitivity to, and an understanding of, the stylistic requirements of individual roles or of a body of works created by an individual choreographer. So for her it is the balletic equivalent of recognising the stylistic differences between Mozart and Puccini and having the sensitivity and ability to perform the works of both composers in a stylistically informed manner. If I recall correctly the interview in question was one in which she said that a totally different plastique was required when dancing the Sylph in La Sylphide to that needed when dancing Odette/Odile. So for her, at least, it is the awareness of, and sensitivity to, how the dancer should use his or her body when performing a role rather than the general characteristics of the individual dancer in performance and is very much concerned with what the dancer is showing the audience. Lamb's readiness to use the word is almost certainly the result of her very Russian training.
  11. I think that everyone liked Chroma when it was first shown at Covent Garden It raised all sorts of expectations which I don't think have been fulfilled.The problem for me is that few of McGregor's subsequent pieces have been that compelling or involving.It is one thing to produce works which live and die in a single season which individual audience members see only once and quite another to produce works which bear repeat performances during their initial season and in subsequent ones.Strangely I think that an essential element of an effective dance work is that you can remember some aspects of its dance elements, its form and movement after you have left the auditorium and perhaps some elements of the design. With McGregor it tends to be the design which you remember not what the dancers have been doing because when it comes to dance movement there is a lot of sameness and few arresting ideas or images. No creative artist can be on top form all the time but you hope that they will produce works which are varied and interesting rather than pieces which recycle a limited vocabulary and lead you to feel that they are self plagiarists when you encounter their third new piece for a company. Another little problem is that McGregor does not have a very good batting average when it comes to making new works.Quite a few of his subsequent works have been pretty dire but somehow they have an afterlife, having failed once they are brought back at dirt cheap prices. Raven Girl is a prime example of this type of ballet. A ballet created to a newly written "modern fairy story" it opened with Ed Watson as a postman cycling around the stage after which he had next to nothing to do and quickly disappeared from the action. The story was basically about a girl, half human half bird, a perpetual outsider and her encounters with the world who eventually finds her place in the world when she meets the Raven prince. A few people wittered on about having been present at the creation of a masterpiece but most people I know thought that they had just seen a disastrous waste of dancers with nothing to redeem it. After its initial season many hoped that we had seen the last of it.But then there was to all intents and purposes a sales campaign with a small exhibition about the ballet and what appeared to be its visual source material. I think that the graphic novel was actually written in conjunction with the creation of the "ballet" rather than pre-dating it.The exhibition was far more interesting than the ballet itself and perhaps it persuaded the suggestible and the unwary that it was an intriguing dance work. It was recently revived and who knows it may be revived again. I think that Mason probably thought that by making McGregor Resident Choreographer it would somehow stimulate creativity in the company while Kevin O'Hare keeps him as evidence of his own credentials as an imaginative forward thinking Artistic Director.He is living proof that the Artistic Director is the head of a vibrant creative ballet company and that is clearly how Kevin wants to be seen,. Kevin's comments at the recent international dance conference suggests that he has very muddled thinking about his company and which bits of its historical repertory are "classics". It has, or at least had, Nijinska's Les Noces, arguably the greatest work of the Diaghilev era, as part of its living repertory. It is one of those works which always needs to be in the bodies of the majority of the company if it is to survive as a living piece of theatre, Song of the Earth is another.Les Noces was last revived in 2012 and because of the passage of time since its last revival it did not come back looking as sharp as it should, the large groups were not quite as precise as they should have been.But what does that matter if you have the "genius" of Wayne McGregor ?
  12. i went to Woolf Works about ten days ago and I have to confess that when it comes to McGregor's works I think I must be tone deaf or perhaps blind because his ballets seem little more than cleverly lit slickly packaged dance works which you either get or you don't.Others claim to be greatly moved by the first and third works which make up the trilogy which is Woolf Works but while he has acquired a bit more dance vocabulary it does not add up to that much. The first piece takes themes from Mrs Dalloway and if you have read the book or can bring yourself to read the copious programme notes you can recognise some incidents from the book. We move between Clarissa as she is now and incidents from her youth. Ferri,the mature Clarissa emotes and is carried about by Gary Avis. A set of three large picture frames are used to indicate past and present and serve as the window ledge from which Septimus throws himself to his death after a number of encounters with a soldier who died in front of his eyes. The ballet marks a considerable development in McGregor's output as in this piece some of the men wear recognisable clothes rather than knickers and vests and the other unbecoming costumes which are the hallmark of the truly seriously committed, dance maker. Ferri has to do little apart from wander about and allow herself to be carried from point "a" to point "b". The second "ballet" Orlando brings us back to McGregor's familiar territory of strange snappy movements and complicated lighting schemes. In this work men and women wear ruffs some wear farthingales and some wear britches they move and the light moves and so they appear and disappear as the light moves. This is an exploration of androgeny, or so I am told. The last piece opens with a reading from Virginia Woolf's suicide note to her husband in which she explains that she can't bear another bout of mental illness. There is a back projection of the sea and the dancers from the other two ballets form a sort of corps making shapes including one which looks as if it is derived from Matisse's bathers. which enclose the Woolf character and then finally engulf her. The ballet ends with Woolf, Ferri at the performance I attended, lying alone on the stage, dead. I am afraid that I am too conscious of the mechanics and in particular how limited McGregor's dance vocabulary is and how dependent he is on lighting schemes to give his works impact that I don't find myself able to enter into his universe in the way that I can with more traditional choreographers. I am conscious , all the time, that McGregor has something up his sleeve.The other problem is that I don't believe in any choreographer who feels compelled to write lengthy programme notes, or needs to do so to tell us what he has created.
  13. I am pleased that you have found my reports of interest. I had not intended to go to the revival of Woolf Works but I have acquired a ticket from a friend who can't go so I may say something about it in due course. As far as Sleeping Beauty is concerned it is only about a week until the run resumes. it will be interesting to see how. if at all, the Spring break and the performance of McGregor's very unclassical choreography impacts on the performances throughout the run. There is a lot to look forward to in the series of Sleeping Beauty performances which resumes on the 15th February when Nunez and Muntagirov dance the ballet together.Each performance of the run offers opportunities for dancers from every level in the company to make deuts which are significant for them as their first step on the ladder or to the future health of the company showing that it is once again an organisation capable of renewing and regenerating itself. An essential element for any company which somehow got lost during MacMillan's directorship and has taken a long time to restore. There are Principal dancers making their debuts as Aurora and her prince and more junior ones waiting to do so.Hayward and Campbell, newly appointed Principals, make their joint debuts as Aurora and the prince at the matinee on the 16th February,while Osipova makes her long delayed debut as Aurora with Hirano as her prince on the 25th February in the evening. I think that the debuts which are of greatest interest to the fans are those of Hayward and Campbell at the matinee on the 16th of February and.Naghdi and Ball making their joint debuts as Aurora and the prince at the matinee on the 18th February. Having said that I think that those who had the good fortune to see Clarke when he replaced Matthew Golding in the Michael Somes' role in Symphonic Variations have been eagerly awaiting his princely debut ever since. He makes his debut. with Cuthbertson as his Aurora on the evening of the 18th. I am certainly looking forward to all of the publicised debuts and to the opportunity to see Takada and Hay as Aurora and her prince again. Hay gave an exemplary account of the choreography of Florestan in the Florestan and his sisters pas de trois at the performance on the 21st December and then followed that up by making his debut as the prince two days later with Takada. Hay danced and characterised the role with exceptional skill. The prince's act 2 moody solo was danced as if it had real meaning and emotional depth rather than as if it was a choreographic minefield. It was created for Nureyev and it is full of his favourite steps and combinations but it is capable of being far more than a tricky technical patch and should be danced with real expressiveness.Hay managed to do what many others have failed to do convincingly. He is reported as saying that there comes a point in Ashton's choreography when, as a dancer, you have to stop worrying about the technical problems which it presents and just get on and dance it. It is a formula which works and it would be nice to think that other dancers might adopt a similar approach to Ashton where doing the steps is never enough. Perhaps I should explain that Takada made her debut as Aurora to considerable acclaim when the ballet was last revived.Clement Crisp was particularly taken with her performance.Hirano has already made his debut as the prince. I am sure that there are those who are already speculating on who might be appointed to the rank of Principal dancer when Yanowsky retires. It will be interesting to see what effect dancing the lead roles in Beauty will have on the dancers already mentioned.Promotions at the end of this season will be of particular interest this year as they will give an even stronger indication of the direction in which Kevin O'Hare intends to take the company. On the basis of the performances that they have given so far this season I expect that O'Sullivan, Heap and Sambe are likely to be among those promoted. ,,
  14. I know that the people who visit the forum have a great enthusiasm for dance and that those who visit this section of it are interested in what is happening at the Royal Ballet and its dancers past and present. I suspect that some of you might be interested in the web sites of two London based organisations which give their members some insight into the world of classical ballet by arranging talks by company members and others. The organisations in question are the London Ballet Association, sometimes disparagingly referred to as the "Royal Ballet's supporters' club", and the London Ballet Circle. Now while it is true that the Ballet Association is very much an organisation whose primary focus is the Royal Ballet it is also interested in the Royal Ballet School and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and many of its members are also Ballet Circle members. Ballet Association invites speakers from all levels of the company including the most recent recruits. While the accounts given by the men about how they came to be involved in dance have a certain sameness about them, both Watson and Hay foe example,had their initial experience of ballet classes as a result of their sisters going to classes what tends to stand out is the differences in the availability and type of training to be found in different countries. The number of boys starting serious dance training later than we might perceive to be the norm and doing well is another notable factor. Ballet Circle invites a wider range of speakers to its meetings than Ballet Association does.Its speakers include not only those with Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School connections but those working at English National Ballet and other English companies;directors and dancers from foreign companies;the occasional dance critic and people like Maina Gielgud whose training,career as dancer, director, stager and coach are far too wide ranging to categorise easily. Both organisations publish sanitised accounts of the interviews on their respective websites after the interviewee has had the opportunity to remove anything that he or she said which now seems a bit too indiscreet, but even in their expurgated form they can be extremely interesting. The quality of the reports is inevitably variable as some interviewees are better raconteurs than others and not everyone has good interviewing skills but you may find something of interest among them. One thing that really stood out at the meeting of Ballet Association held earlier this week is that dancers like Gary Avis who was the speaker are just as taken by the excitement generated by the presence of so many talented dancers at every level of the company as the regular ballet goers are.It is good to know that the experienced professionals feel that there is something rather special happening in the company at the moment in terms of creativity and performance.
  15. The company gave three performances of Sleeping Beauty in December each of which was very encouraging for the run of performances which begins later on this month.Mason favoured the idea of engaging Russian conductors for performances of the Petipa ballets. The great drawback in doing this was that Russian conductor's tend to follow the dancers rather than propel their performance forward by adopting the tempi indicated by the composer. In an interview which he gave to Gramophone Magazine the company's new music director indicated that he felt that it was important to follow Tchaikovsky's metronome markings. It will be interesting to see whether he sticks to that idea in performance. On the face of it we might be about to return to something very close to concert hall tempi in performance which was the norm at least up until the point at which De Valois' second production of Sleeping Beauty was pensioned off.The real question is what sort of a conductor is the Music DIrector in real life?. It would be nice to think that he will produce the sort of music performance which provides a strong framework and support for the dancers in performance.There are some very interesting and potentially exciting debuts due to take place over the next few weeks. The Artistic Director is now in his fifth year at the helm and I can't help wondering what his artistic balance sheet really looks like. It is true that we seem to be on the verge of a seeing some excellent dancers come to the point at which they will be leading the company. A lot of talented dancers have been recruited into the company in recent years. Even if his decisions about the ballets to be commissioned and the choreographers who should create them have, with one or two notable exceptions, failed to produce much of an artistic return on the money and other resources invested in them I have no doubt that he will be praised for the able dancers which the company now contains.But I am not entirely sure that that praise would be entirely justified.