Leigh Witchel

Who is an "Ashtonian" dancer today?

67 posts in this topic

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!

Duprot is drop-dead cute, but I'm not sure whether she's got that Ashtonian swiveling speed. (I'd have to see her more often. I'd love to.)

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This thread is fascinating to me; but being such a novice I'm only posting here in order to bump it and perhaps attract a few more current opinions from those who know more than I. Hint, hint.

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I never saw the RB in its Ashton heydey but the two dancers who currently move me most in roles in his ballets are Nao Sakuma and Natasha Oughtred, both of BRB.

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Nao Sakuma! yes, I couldn't agree more. In my opinion, and I speak as someone who saw the RB when Ashton was around, the torch of Ashtonian style has somehow been handed to BRB probably thanks to David Bintley. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the Birmingham company it is fair to say they are better Ashton performers there than in London.

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It's good to see this topic being revived. Back in 2006, Herman Stevens raised a question:

How do you revive the style?

He gives a couple of good answers to his own question. That was 6 years ago. Since then, is anything systematic being done to "revive" Ashtonian dancing, or are we still coasting along depending on luck, the coaching of a few dances who worked with Ashton, and some current dancers naturally given to the style?

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It's good to see this topic being revived. Back in 2006, Herman Stevens raised a question:

How do you revive the style?

He gives a couple of good answers to his own question. That was 6 years ago. Since then, is anything systematic being done to "revive" Ashtonian dancing, or are we still coasting along depending on luck, the coaching of a few dances who worked with Ashton, and some current dancers naturally given to the style?

The latter I'm afraid, but with a new director that may change. Bear in mind that Mason was a MacMillan dancer and the rep in recent years has reflected this. I've read Ashton didn't much care for her, if that is true then by mostly ignoring his works she has extracted her revenge.

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It's good to see this topic being revived. Back in 2006, Herman Stevens raised a question:

The latter I'm afraid, but with a new director that may change. Bear in mind that Mason was a MacMillan dancer and the rep in recent years has reflected this. I've read Ashton didn't much care for her, if that is true then by mostly ignoring his works she has extracted her revenge.

A ridiculous statment. Read or watch the current interviews. She has done anything but extract revenge.

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If you look at the ballets revived during Mason's directorship you will find that she restored a significant number of Ashton's works to the active repertory. Having restored Sylvia to its original three act form she ensured that it was seen during several seasons. Although we got to see a wider range of Ashton works than we did during Dowell's directorship not all of it was well danced.Both Ashton and MacMillan controlled the quality of the performances of their ballets by deciding who appeared in them Today the company management makes most, if not all, of the casting decisions. It is probably fair to assume that on occasion the need to keep the principal dancers happy by giving them roles that they would like to dance outweighs artistic considerations.

The revival of Birthday Offering in Mason's final season seemed to be a prime example of what can go wrong when you cast dancers according to their position in the company rather than their suitability for particular roles .Rojo was given the Fonteyn role in one cast and Nunez in the other. Rojo was very stiff and gave the impression that she was counting throughout rather than listening to the music and as a result the choreography did not look particularly good;whereas when Nunez danced, it made the impact that it should. The majority of the dancers made heavy weather of their variations.It might have been better not to have revived it because the revival did few of the dancers any favours.An intriguing alternative would have been to select Nunez and some of the younger members of the company for the second cast. I do not think that that would have been possible but it would have been a great improvement on what we saw..The lower ranks of the company have, for the main part, been trained at the RBS if only for a short time. The younger dancers might have had a better idea of the style and would almost certainly have listened to their coaches.

But just as you begin to despair something happens at a performance and your hope is restored,at least in part. That something was the appearance last February for a single Saturday matinee performance of James Hay and Francesca Hayward in Rhapsody. Ashton's Rhapsody is probably the most unlikely ballet for a debut at an early stage in a dancer's career and to put two relatively inexperienced dancers on in it seemed a little rash even to those who had seen the pair in other roles. While it may be true that Hay was dancing far closer to the edge of his technical ability than either McRae or Zucchetti had been,his dancing was elegant and seemed effortless. Francesca Hayward brought lyricism, natural musicality and bright, clean footwork to the Collier role.It would be nice to think that we might see it revived in the 2015-2016 season with this cast but,as the company does not take its role as custodian of the Ashton repertory seriously,it seems unlikely.

The problem for the Ashton repertory is that, apart from ballets like the Dream and Month,it is not performed with any degree of frequency. The rights to Ashton's ballets are held by a number people who have varying levels of interest in the revival of the works that they own while MacMillan's ballets are owned by a single individual who is active in promoting them. Although the company needs to develop its dancers it is now run by a team who seem to have little or no interest in using works such as Les Patineurs and Les Rendezvous as a means of developing its dancers. As dancers are more likely to see exemplary performances of MacMillan's works than they are of Ashton's his works continue to be performed at a consistently high level while the standard of performance of Ashton's works is far more variable.

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Welcome, AshtonFan, and thank you for that very incisive post! As you note, casting is so important, and (in the little RB dancing of Ashton we see over here) often the casting looks, well, alphabetical. Some years ago, I started reading the term Heritage Ballets ("We must preserve our Heritage Ballets," or, more usually, "We'll have one Heritage Ballet program a year"). I thought that was a terrible idea. It dumps them all into a little barrel labeled Heritage Works, and they are no longer part of the repertory, just ballets that Must be done so that we keep our heritage. Which is, I would think, one sure way of losing the Heritage.

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Well, I'm certainly guilty of using the term "heritage work" -- my dance historian heart wants to keep underlining that there are indeed works in the repertory that exemplify certain styles or periods, works that are worth reflecting on and preserving in living conditions. But I do understand Alexandra's point -- the goal is certainly not to freeze these things in dusty albums, but instead is the opposite.

If the main question here is 'who is an Ashtonian dancer today?,' then my tag-along question is 'who is making new work that uses those same qualities?'

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Thanks for posting, Ashton Fan. If you haven't already found it, you can find my much Ballet Alert! Ashton discussion here.

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Ashton Fan has a good idea about using the younger soloists and corps members in Ashton works. For the plot-less ballets, it seems like they would be less expensive to tour (set expenses would be less). Many companies have a junior "second" company just for this purpose. Wouldn't it be great if RB sent a group of 20 to various towns in the UK to show these works?

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Of the dancers at ABT, I would say that Gillian Murphy is their best Ashton ballerina. I've seen her do Sylvia, The Dream and Cinderella.

Looking forward to seeing Nunez at ABT doing Cinderella in July 2015.

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Any thoughts on dancers who might excel in this repertory who are currently working in companies where it isn't a part of the rep?

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I think that I first noticed the ominous words "Heritage Works" being used at about the time that Ross Stretton was appointed director of the Royal Ballet.The words suggested that such ballets are something of an irrelevance and that it does not matter whether they are performed or not. Stretton's programming suggested that he felt that the works that de Valois and Ashton had worked so hard to acquire and the ballets that they had created were irrelevant in the twenty first century.

I can't help thinking that if Russian dancers in the throes of their reaction to the late nineteenth century style of ballet with its apparent over emphasis on technique were prepared to describe Petipa's works as classics and to dance in them at the same time as they appeared in Fokine's revolutionary works then we should feel able to do the same with the greatest works of the twentieth century If they were described as twentieth century classics their non performance might become an issue as far as the reputation and standing of ballet companies is concerned..A company's failure to programme its twentieth century works and perform them regularly with carefully selected and coached dancers would become something that artistic directors would have to justify.It would certainly become a ground for criticism of the company's artistic policies.Who knows it might result in a wider range of works being performed than is currently the case.

As far as the enquiry about Ashton dancers is concerned are you discussing dancers who dance in the appropriate styleand are good in the roles which the are given or dancers who are cast in Ashton's works regardless of their suitabilty?

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Of the dancers at ABT, I would say that Gillian Murphy is their best Ashton ballerina. I've seen her do Sylvia, The Dream and Cinderella.

Looking forward to seeing Nunez at ABT doing Cinderella in July 2015.

I too look forward to Nunez this Summer, but I would also add Julie Kent as a fine example of an Ashton Dancer at ABT.

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It's looking like I might be the only person here who doesn't think that the term "heritage ballet" implies a kiss of death. I shall have to think of a better way to plead my case...

In the meantime, I was asking about dancers that you think might have the skills to excel in the Ashton rep who currently aren't dancing any of those ballets. I'm always interested in hearing about people who are doing well at what they're doing, but I'm even more curious about what else they might be able to do.

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In the meantime, I was asking about dancers that you think might have the skills to excel in the Ashton rep who currently aren't dancing any of those ballets. I'm always interested in hearing about people who are doing well at what they're doing, but I'm even more curious about what else they might be able to do.

I can't picture the context in which it would ever happen, but I would be intrigued to see what Tiler Peck might achieve in Ashton. Perhaps Sylvia or Fille Mal Gardee...certainly some of his plotless works....

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In the meantime, I was asking about dancers that you think might have the skills to excel in the Ashton rep who currently aren't dancing any of those ballets. I'm always interested in hearing about people who are doing well at what they're doing, but I'm even more curious about what else they might be able to do.

I can't picture the context in which it would ever happen, but I would be intrigued to see what Tiler Peck might achieve in Ashton. Perhaps Sylvia or Fille Mal Gardee...certainly some of his plotless works....

Who knows ... it could well happen at Vail methinks ... at least in small chunks given that it is a hotbed of experimentation and cross-boarder dance enlargements. I have a feeling Ms. Peck would be game. Perhaps Woetzel himself checks in here ... You never know ... The power of suggestion is, of course, potent. ... Might well be worth a quick (and suggestive) email to the management ... with a link of course :)

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We had an Ashton programme at the RB recently that was a great disappointment, I've never seen Symphonic Variations danced so badly and even Scenes de Ballet fell flat, particularly sad as they were Ashton's favourite ballets.

The French dance Fille rather better in Paris than the RB do in London which leads me to think that the speed and intricacy of Ashton's choreography might suit them rather well, that particular style of choreography would be a good fit for the Danes too who have that historical link with his R&J. Diana Cuni is someone I would have loved to see in an Ashton work.

Back to that Ashton programme, it picked up at the end with a stunning performance from Osipova who I imagined would put a lot into a familiar Russian theme, but she went beyond good. Early days yet but she could have the makings of the Ashton dancer so desperately needed in London.

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I think that the audience is entitled to expect the RB to field their best Ashton dancers for performances of Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet. Unfortunately Mr O'Hare seems to think differently. It seemed that greater thought was given to casting and preparing Month, a work with which the company is familiar, than was given to Scenes or Symphonic. For my money Francesca Hayward should have been in Symphonic rather than cast as Vera or even more daringly,on the basis of her performance in Rhapsody, given the chance to dance the ballerina role in Scenes. She is one of the few who really look and move like an Ashton dancer. I should be interested to know which casts you saw Mashinka as the performances were, to put it mildly, variable.

Something that I find totally inexplicable is that ,unlike the past, no attempt seems to be made to build on experience.In the past dancers who had previously danced in Symphonic would be cast in revivals, but that never seems to happen now;and there are still dancers in the company who have danced it before. Given the amount of time and effort that must go into reviving Symphonic the current management's policy, which given the number of permutations seen in this revival,seems to be of giving everyone a chance to have a go, makes very little sense but says a great deal about their attitude to Ashton's works. Another example of this failure to build on experience is Monotines. A great deal of tiime and effort must have gone into reviving Monotones I and II. It makes no sense that it has not been scheduled this year. Most of the casts are still in the company and they had got so close to getting it right and a further run of performances might well have done it. But of course there is no need.They have got that piece of the heritage on DVD, time to move on.It probably will be revived at some point in the future with an entirely new cast who will almost get there and then it will be put back in the cupboard marked job done!

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The French dance Fille rather better in Paris than the RB do in London which leads me to think that the speed and intricacy of Ashton's choreography might suit them rather well, that particular style of choreography would be a good fit for the Danes too who have that historical link with his R&J. Diana Cuni is someone I would have loved to see in an Ashton work.

Yes - and I'd love to see Alban Lendorf as Colas

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It's looking like I might be the only person here who doesn't think that the term "heritage ballet" implies a kiss of death. I shall have to think of a better way to plead my case...

No you're not, Sandik; I also see no negative connotations in "heritage ballet".

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The topic started as an attempt to identify Ashton dancers It would be so much easier to answer this question if both the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet programmed Ashton's works with greater regularity and covered a wider range of them than they do. Then there is casting.There are very few dancers who are equally effective in everything.If you can get it wrong by casting dancers in order to give them something to do,Soares and Galeazzi in the Thais pas de deux for example, or because they want to dance particular roles Guillem in Month in the Country and Margueritte and Armand then you can do almost as much damage by deciding that the corps' work in Scenes de Ballet should be used as a learning opportunity and that Symphonic Variations can take any number of cast changes without detriment to the performance experienced by the audience.

I do not think that it is true to say that there are no Ashton dancers at the Royal Ballet but there is ample evidence that management casting decisions are more about seniority or giving dancers the opportunity to have a go than they are about suitability. As management gives away as little as possible about casting when tickets first go on sale you have to take pot luck about the quality of the performance that you will eventually see. If you had gone to the first performance of the recent Ashton mixed bill you would have come away very satisfied with the performance of Symphonic Variations if you had come to the next performance you would have been far less satisfied by Symphonic because only two of the dancers from the first performance were on stage.On the other hand you would have been far more impressed by the performance of the Five Brahms Waltzes.

Morera is probably the best all round Ashton dancer at present .She has the right musicality and because she has mastery of the choreography she is able to forget the steps and simply dances the ballet She is excellent in the ballerina role in Rhapsody and as Fairy Autumn and Diana. She is very good as Lise, Titania and Fairy Godmother. She is very good in Symphonic and in the Neapolitan Dance.In the last revival of Birthday Offering she danced her variation with real understanding and musicality, not something that could be said about most of the dancers on stage.

Of the male dancers two of the best Ashton dancers are Paul Kay and Ricardo Cervera neither of whom are principals.Kay is by physique and temperament a demi character dancer. He is one of the best Ashton dancers because he does not simply reproduce steps, he knows that mastery of the steps is just the beginning. His Jester, Alain, Puck and Blue Skater are all excellent. He is the sort of dancer that Ashton created so many of his on.He dances the Jester as a character rather than a close relative of a Soviet jester,all technique and nothing else. He is definitely not a mere leg machine. His Alain is beautifully characterised; his Puck brings out the text that is hidden in the choreography; his Blue Skater is not simply an opportunity to display technique. and he can actually dance the choreography including the section that McRae could not manage. His Kolia is perhaps,now, a trifle mature but still excellent. Cervera is a fine Colas and Tiranio and used to be excellent in the Neapolitan dance.He has been understudy for Oberon but never,as far as I know,danced it while Matthew Golding who I thought was hopelessly miscast, too tall and slow, has.

As far as the rest of the dancers are concerned Nunez is generally regarded as a fine Lise , She was the best thing in Birthday Offering when it was last revived. Both Rojo and Nunez appeared in the Fonteyn role but while Nunez danced the ballet, Rojo appeared to be counting and merely reproducing steps. Nunez is a fine Lykanion and excellent in Symphonic. Her Sylvia showed great technical command but was bland.

Yanowsky is a fine Lady Elgar, Natalia Petrovna,, and Fairy Winter,She is a wonderfully squiffy Josephine and although not an ideal height for Sylvia she has shown far more of what the ballet can be in performance than anyone else has done. Lamb was fine in Thais with Bonelli and in Cinderella but far too serious as Lise.

Bonelli is a fine Daphnis,and Baliaev and much better in the Thais pas de deux than Soares. Pennefather is a fine Aminta and

Baliaev.They are both excellent in Symphonic..Watson is a fine Oberon,and is good in Enigma Variations and White Monotones.

Dancers to watch out for Francesca Hayward who made a stunning debut in Rhapsody with James Hay in February and followed that up with an excellent Vera; Yasmine Naghdi who along with Hayward has musicality and epaulement;James Hay stunningly elegant in the main male role in Rhapsody, very good as Kolia and in the Brian Shaw role in Symphonic; Vadim Muntagirov who made a wonderful debut in the Some's role in Symphonic. If he did not look so happy at the second and third performances that could well be because of what was going on with the rest of the cast. Symphonic is an extraordinarily difficult ballet to get right with a good cast to dance it with a less than ideal cast must be hell. Finally nineteen year old Reece Clarke who made an auspicious debut in the main role in Symphonic variations.

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