Leigh Witchel

Who is an "Ashtonian" dancer today?

67 posts in this topic

I'm going to pull my final observation from the thread on A Week at the Royal Ballet:

I think my only regret about this week is, though I’m a even more familiar with Ashton’s choreography than I was at the start of the week; I’m no closer to an understanding of Ashtonian dancing style. The company is filled with international dancers and it’s not being cast; perhaps it doesn’t even exist in the company any more. It’s not that the performances are bad, but there is no dancer or dance I can point to and say, “I think that’s how Ashton envisioned it.”

Can anyone more familiar with the company speak to this? I know there was plenty of good dancing during the week; that's not at issue. Was there anyone in the casts I saw (or currently dancing with the company) that you can point to and say, "That's the way it was intended to look. That's Ashtonian."

Jane? Lynette? Alymer? Anyone?

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Miyako Yoshida is often talked of as being excellent in Ashton - am sorry you didn't see her in Scenes de ballet Leigh. Ricardo Cervera, first soloist, is one of the few dancers I've read about who has been described as a dancer with Ashton qualities. I saw Vanessa Palmer, a soloist, in a Cinderella masterclass where she demonstrated the difference in upper body movement Ashton brought in her Fairy godmother solo to how it might otherwise have been danced, and as someone who is getting her ballet education from the current RB, it was the first time for me the difference WAS very obvious! She said she was one of the last few who had received coaching by Ashton (she was a student or in the corps at the time I think) and am sure I remember reading she got praise by the critics for that particular role.

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It may not be dancing per se, but to me, the little I have seen, Jonathan Howells seems to be outstanding in Ashton characters--I remember his Alain especially. That is another important part of Ashton, I think, the ability to portray a character through dance movement.

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Sarah Wildor. Alas, she no longer dances with Royal Ballet.

Giannina

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Jamie Tapper was spectacular in a fast-paced solo in Les Rendezvous a few years ago, so I would hope that she's even better now, as a Principal.

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Let's hope that not only the Royal BAllet but also other ballet companies begin showing us more Ashton. I love his ballets.

San Francisco Ballet has had Ashton in the rep for decades -- Fille, and also the Dream pas de deux and maybe some more. (Fille was acquired by Michael Smuin and has always been popular here.)

We have some dancers who're good at Ashton. Tina LeBlanc was a fast-footed, great-hearted Lise with the Joffrey before she came to SFB, and warmer and sweeter when she danced it here. I'd love to see her do it again. Elizabeth Loscavio was an enchanting Lise, WHAT pretty leaps. Also Kristin Long, who was gorgeous in the corps when they did it last, has the epaulement and hte bounding leapz and the sunny, unaffected temperament to make the role beautiful in an extremely satisfying way.

Our dancers were not very effective in the Dream pas.

But last year we saw some Ashton new to us. Julie Diana! alas, she's left SFB and joined Pennsylvania Ballet, where I hope they value her, since we've lost one of our MOST important dancers, was perfect for the Thais pas de deux -- her looks are right, her face is right -- like a dark-haired Sibley, with huge eyes, bee-stung lips and a very long neck -- but even more her musicality, her breathing, and her manners (which are almost convent-bred).

She was very fine, though not perfect, as the lead in Symphonic Variations.

She is an SAB product, but she CAN do an Ashton arabesque, square, and with the right feeling in the back, exquisitely modelled through the ribs. Her travelling sissonnes were not as startling as a real Ashton dancer would have made them -- but then they didn't have much time to steep themselves in the style, since they were coming right off their 2-program Balanchine tribute.

And Elizabeth Miner, who danced one of the "side ballerinas" in the second cast of Symphonic, also had the right look, very good head positions, a high breast-bone, the right feel for the line. Although Miner came from SAB, she had Ashton training while still living in Portland, OR, from ELizabeth Remington.

And Brett Bauer was a glorious piece of sculpture in the White Monotones, nobly proportioned, glacially calm; everything he did was immaculate. It was more a way of being than a chain of doings.

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I was thinking about replying to this, and kept coming up with names of people no longer dancing. Sarah Wildor. Bruce Sansom. Muriel Valtat - a first soloist who left a couple of seasons ago, she always did a very beautiful account of the Fonteyn solo in Birthday Offering. I saw Trinidad Sevilliano as Chloe in the 90s....that was very beautiful, and she just seemed to look so right.

Of the dancers there now, Yoshida has the speed and the precision but is ultimately more Petipa than Ashton, perhaps. Ricardo Cervera, who I don't think I've seen this season yet. He was scheduled to do the Devil's Holiday variation in the latest mixed bill, but didn't. Cervera did the "Lord of the Sea" role in Ondine very persuasively a couple of seasons back. Jonathan Howells was a very fine Alain.

I think I will have to diasagree with Natalia about Jamie Tapper. She was very light and bright in Les Rendevous when she first joined, but never seemed to settle in the Ashton repertory. She looks more at home in different, sometimes more modern work - Wayne McGregor made a very quirky solo for her last season in Qualia, and she looked much more imprressive in that than any Ashton.

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What about Lauren Cuthbertson? Admittedly I have not seen her in many Ashton ballets but her beautiful rendition of Summer Fairy in Cinderella last year made me want to see her do more Ashton.

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I think we are more likely to know whether we have any Ashton dancers at the Royal Ballet by the end of the season when they've had a chance to dance a number of his ballets.

In recent years the only one I could cite with any confidence would be Bruce Sansom, and that because he was so classical.

One thing he (Ashton) was very definite about in his ballerinas was that they should have beautiful legs and feet - though on the other hand he was fascinated by Trinidad Sevillano who had nice, but not beautiful, legs. But again, I've not seen a better Chloe since Fonteyn! However good feet are a must I think.

On the whole I think you could safely say that he liked beautiful line ( remember line?), lots of epaulment, musicality and a certain reticence of manner. Not cold, think rather fire under ice.

I would hope he would like Tamara Rojo and Nao Sakuma from BRB (quite the best in Scenes de Ballet) and perhaps among the men Thiago Soares and Chi Cao; the first for his theatricality and the second for his fine technique and somewhat reserved, even mysterious, stage personality.

But like all choreographers it was a question of what appealed to his eye, and we can't do more than guess at that. What is certain though is that his dances, properly performed, provide beautiful showcases for many dancers, whether or not the performer would have counted as an ideal cast in his eyes.

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Ricardo Cervera, who I don't think I've seen this season yet. He was scheduled to do the Devil's Holiday variation in the latest mixed bill, but didn't. 

He missed the first 2 performances I think but danced the pdd with Laura Morera last Wednesday. (Martin Harvey danced the solo.) I think I remember reading he covers the roles of Oberon and Puck in The Dream.

Lynette, you didn't see first cast of Wedding Bouquet? :dunno:

Re Miyako, I guess am still glowing from seeing her in Scenes de Ballet last week - she was absolutely amazing, her dancing was so bright and she lit up the stage like no one else.

I saw Nao Sakuma guest with the RB in Scenes in the last run, sitting in the directors box at a rather extreme angle right over the stage. I know it's a ballet that's supposed to work from any angle but this is a rather odd one to watch it from. (It doesn't work for me from the stalls either - not the same without all those lovely patterns!) I did like her a great deal though and she was incredibly touching in Two Pigeons with BRB a few weeks ago.

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He missed the first 2 performances I think but danced the pdd with Laura Morera last Wednesday. (Martin Harvey danced the solo.) I think I remember reading he covers the roles of Oberon and Puck in The Dream.

Lynette, you didn't see first cast of Wedding Bouquet? :dunno:

Yes...he was in Wedding Bouquet, I should have remembered. It was in a very small role though, I'm puzzled that they aren't using him more this season. Curious to hear what you say about covering both Oberon and Puck - rather different sorts of roles ? I didn't know that covers were officially announced anywhere.

I do agree re Nao Sakuma, she was very impressive guesting with the RB in Scenes last season sometime.

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Yes...he was in Wedding Bouquet, I should have remembered. It was in a very small role though, I'm puzzled that they aren't using him more this season.  Curious to hear what you say about covering both Oberon and Puck - rather different sorts of roles ? I didn't know that covers were officially announced anywhere.

I do agree re Nao Sakuma, she was very impressive guesting with the RB in Scenes last season sometime.

I assume he was scheduled to dance one of the Goats in Sylvia as there's a picture of him rehearsing it with Christina Salerno in the programme, but for whatever reason he's been off for the last few weeks.

I remember now where I read about him covering in The Dream. It's not officially announced but this question is often asked at the Ballet Association talks http://www.balletassociation.co.uk, to get an idea of what the dancers might be dancing I guess.

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He missed the first 2 performances I think but danced the pdd with Laura Morera last Wednesday. (Martin Harvey danced the solo.)

And again last night (Thurs 25/11) which was the filmed performance - hopefully when it's televised copies will be winging it across the Atlantic so you can judge for yourselves :D

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Now that I'm back from performances of 'Sylvia' and "Cinders'....

I loved Christina Elida Salerno & Jose Martin as the Goats in 'Sylvia'...ditto Martin as the Jester in 'Cinders'....and, especially, I was bowled over by the beauty & gentle style of Caroline Duprot as Persephone in 'Sylvia'. Am I the only one here who sees a strong facial & 'body-type'/stylistic resemblance between Caroline Duprot and Sarah Wildor? I'd love to see more of Duprot's dancing...not quite sure if she has the technical 'goods' to dance Lise in 'Fille' but she certainly has the 'look'!

Needless to say, Cojocaru & Kobborg were sublime in the opening night 'Cinders'...but Marquez & Putrov were pretty darn good in an earlier 'preview'!

How could I have forgotten?: Huge kudos to Martin Harvey as Eros. What a dancer! He was the highlight of that particular cast (Bussell/Cope et. al.), as far as I'm concerned. Nunez was the better exponent of Sylvia but, even so, I kept wishing for a Yoshida or Benjamin in the role.

Hopefully, this 'Ashton 100' year will inspire the RB to foster a greater appreciation & teaching of his style....dainty, quick steps...elegance...etc, etc.

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Am I the only one here who sees a strong facial & 'body-type'/stylistic resemblance between Caroline Duprot and Sarah Wildor? 

Well, Natalia, I think you're certainly the first who's mentioned it! I haven't seen all that much of Caroline Duprot, but so far I have to say I can see no resemblance between them at all, physically or stylistically - I'll keep what you say in mind the next time I'm watching her, though.

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Jane, both Wildor & Duprot have absolutely gorgeous ('angelic') faces and are shortish & 'feminine' (not stick thin). Here is a link to Duprot's headshot and bio on the ROH website:

http://info.royaloperahouse.org/ballet/ind...ccs=252&cs=1227

When I first saw Duprot -- or, rather, the dancer who I later identified as Duprot through programme photos -- as the front-stage-center Dryad in the opening dance of 'Sylvia,' I could swear that I was looking at Sarah Wildor ca-1994, when I first saw Wildor in a tiny role in 'Mayerling' (Rudolf's sister) during the USA tour. Compact, ravishing of face, angelic air, kewpie doll like. Not too many dancers like that, nowadays.

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I would never have made the connection between those two dancers. I find the line of Duprot's neck and shoulders very distintive and rather odd.

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Jane/Lynette:

All I can say is that Duprot is a gem & I found myself riveted to her every move...well, whenever Eros wasn't dancing :). Back at the hotel, I was delighted to see, when perusing my 2004/05 RB Souvenir Programme, that Duprot is already being given significant soloist roles...there's a photo of her as Olga in last year's Onegin. Bravo!

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I'm going to pull my final observation from the thread on A Week at the Royal Ballet:

It’s not that the performances are bad, but there is no dancer or dance I can point to and say, “I think that’s how Ashton envisioned it.”

Did Ashton really have a style before he started choreographing for Fonteyn? I have always felt about Ashton that it was she (Fonteyn) who gave him a style--and it was all about her particular way of moving. (With Balanchine and Farrell it was the opposite---he gave HER a style). Daneman touches on this in her book when she quotes Ashton as saying "Had I not been able to work with Margot I might never have developed the lyrical side of my work. As it was, it developed into a personal idiom". When I saw ABT's revival of "Symphonic Variations" recently, the ballet cried out for Fonteyn---and perhaps we won't see the Ashtonian style until we have a clone of Fonteyn.......He took her attributes and turned them into his Style.

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Actually, I find Sarah Lamb very similar to Sarah Wildor. Caroline Duprot is very different from Wildor, in fact I would not have even thought of that comparison without seeing it mentioned here. She is POB trained and it shows. Her compatriot Cindy Jourdain is more Ashtonian than she is.

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Did Ashton really have a style before he started choreographing for Fonteyn?  I have always felt about Ashton that it was she (Fonteyn) who gave him a style--and it was all about her particular way of moving.  (With Balanchine and Farrell it was the opposite---he gave HER a style).

Yes, he certainly did - you have only to look at Les Rendezvous, unmistakably Ashton, and made before he'd ever worked with Fonteyn. Of course one, very important, aspect of his style developed after he started working with her, but it was by no means the whole of him - he had already absorbed many of his most telling influences before he set eyes on her, and other aspects of his style appeared when he worked with other dancers.

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Nunez is fantastic. Misa Kuranaga of Boston Ballet also has the Ashtonian style as she demonstrated in her performances of Lise in Boston's Fille this past spring.

--Andre

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I'm going to pull my final observation from the thread on A Week at the Royal Ballet:

It’s not that the performances are bad, but there is no dancer or dance I can point to and say, “I think that’s how Ashton envisioned it.”

I somehow missed Leigh Wichel's reviews when first posted and the recent posts drew my attention and real interest in his appreciation and observations on the performances of Ashton’s ballets in recent years. Ashton’s works were kept alive and authentic after he was forced to leave his Directorship, by the intense rehearsal discipline placed on the dancers by the super efficient guardian of Ashton's repertoire and martinet Michael Somes. When he had a reputedly ferocious argument with Kenneth MacMillan and was asked to leave, the rot set in.

Though there were notably good Ashtonian dancers in Antoinette Sibley and Merle Park to carry on the tradition and other dancers also, the dominance of the MacMillan repertoire and his clan of co-workers, soon eroded the elegance, charm, wit and ultimately style(which Ninette de Valois liked to call English) that Ashton had given to the RB. Having had the good fortune to watch the RB often two or three performances a week throughout the 1960's I thought those great times where Ashton supervised and created the outstanding repertoire including a number of excellent MacMillan works, would last for ever.

Although Monica Mason has pulled the company out of the doldrums into a renewed period of very good performances, the subtleties of creating a role in the Ashton manner has somewhat diminished and that dancers need to acquire greater feeling for his particular brand of musicality.

If you are counting you are not listening and you are certainly not feeling the music in every movement as Ashton required. Matching movement and mood to music was Ashton's forte. He did not apply steps on top of music for virtuoso effect. In my opinion he required the dancer to miraculously express the musical shape and form in character and in a connatural manner inhabit the music from fingertip to toe. Ashton's epaulement is continuously unique in the manner in which it is related to the movement of the torso and legs. Seemingly contra movements are blended in effective harmonious ways, which seemingly grow organically from the music. and his off centre sideways movements when perfectly achieved at speed, take a performance beyond the routinely very good and capture the extraordinary choreographic expression that is particular to Ashton.

How do you revive the style? That is the question that needs to be resolved. I do think that it needs to be learnt from school where as far as I know this did. does not happen. In Russia students learn combinations and the appropriate style from the theatre’s repertoire in class.

In restaging or reviving ballets. the RB needs in my opinion to use as many possible former principal dancers as coaches, in the manner of other companies, who then work in conjunction with the repetiteur responsible for the particular work.

Perhaps this is now happening, as I see former dancers credited as working on a particular production. Perhaps to many disparate styles are present among the dancers in the company and where what was once almost second nature, is now almost lost in terms of Ashton’s very particular style.

So perhaps whilst there are excellent dancers who dance Ashton ballets very well, do they meet the style(that so called English style) that the choreographer intended? Sometimes, almost. Do NYCB today dance in the style that George Balanchine set on his original casts?

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