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Scenes de Ballet/Winter Dreams/Sinfonietta


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#31 Lolly

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Posted 15 January 2003 - 12:13 PM

Alymer, that is interesting about the two short men and two tall men in Scenes de Ballet. I am not sure there are very many tall men in the company at the moment though - they all seem to be about 5'10" except for Darcey and Sylvie's partners.

I read the programme notes last night and it said the four men represent the seasons and the twelve women represent the months - fascinating juxtaposition having the natural world shown in this way next to the mathematical inspiration of Euclid. And the months are arbitrary anyway, I think? They don't have four seasons everywhere either. (Out of my depth here!:P )

#32 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 January 2003 - 07:20 PM

An odd thing has occurred to me while this thread has been going on. I recalled that my first teacher, dancing under her real name of Ella Lauterbur, and a student at the old School of American Ballet, made her professional debut in the original production of "Scenes de Ballet", choreography by Anton Dolin. It was part of a Broadway theatrical revue called The Seven Lively Arts, and was first done in 1944. Judging from combinations she used to give, and from my later working with Dolin, I have come to realize what sections of this production must have looked like. It was much simpler than Ashton's, and because it was done in wartime, there were no men but Dolin in the cast.

#33 sylvia

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 08:21 AM

I saw the triple bill for a second time last night. I am in love with Scenes de Ballet. I've been working my way down in performances, from the balcony, to the stalls circle and then the front of the orchestra stalls and definitely the best view is from above where you can see the shapes the corps form. But the view up close isn't any less complete and it's nice to appreciate the details of the production - the set looks like something out of those surreal paintings that populate math classes. I've had a change of heart about the costumes - the pearl hats and gloves on the girls are charming! I thought Miyako Yoshida was fantastic in the lead role - better than Alina IMHO. I don't know, she just brings a maturity (in the best sense of the word!) to the role, like she knows exactly how it should be danced. Though this being the first time I've seen this ballet, I have no idea if it's actually being danced the 'right' way! Anyway, her smile was simply irrepressible and I hope she has years of dancing left with the RB (she has years of dancing wherever she is). Ivan was just wonderful, but I have to admit I prefer Johan Kobborg in just about everything! I'm a bit mystified by the reviews - some say he was excellent, others say he was kinda off! Bethany Keating in the corps really caught my attention - she has this quality that really draws your eye to her. I preferred the first cast of male dancers to this one - Bennet Gartside, Martin Harvey, Valeri Hristov and Thomas Whitehead. I have to say, it's a tribute to the choreography for me to admit I'd rather be in the amphi where I could barely recognise anyone rather than be up close and be distracted by this or that dancer!

Just some recollections from the pre-performance talk, Monica Mason that there were some minor variations in the notation, exactly where the arms were placed and how they moved from one position to another as Ashton had adapted the choreography slightly to suit different dancers. But with Chistopher Carr staging it, Leslier Collier who had learned it from Antoinette Sibley and Sibley herself who had worked with Ashton rehearsing the ballet, they were very confident and delighted with the end result. Mason also said that the ballet was completely new to the entire cast - unsually no one dancing had ever danced it before so it had to be taught from scratch. The lead ballerina was required to be very small and compact so it was suited do dancers like Miyako and Alina which is why we won't see tall leggy dancers like Darcey Bussell in it. Lolly's right in that most of the men in the company are about the same height but they managed to cast girls of different heights - tall, medium and small.

Winter Dreams on the other hand is much better close up. Darcey Bussell is so incredibly moving in this, her tumult of emotions ranging from fear of her own emotions, to love, to terrible despair. She used her long, langorous body to wonderful effect and I can't imagine anyone else in the role. (Will be curious to see Sylvie Guillem and Nicholas Le Riche's debut this evening). I have some misgivings about Inaki Urlezaga - he has only one expression on his face and that is a rather pained one. I think the only other dancer to really grab my attention was Edward Watson as the sisters' brother - he was so fleet-footed and fun to watch while remaining true to his character - a doting father, an argumentative husband! And Anthony Dowell - I cannot imagine anyone else in this role other than him. His hurt, his realisation that he had lost Masha, that his touch meant nothing to her, his humiliation was so beautifully portrayed. It's nice to see him getting involved in dancing again - secondary casts have been announced for the RB's Manon and he will be dancing Monsieur GM (to Sylvie's Manon) and I can't remember where I read this but also debut as Armand's father when Sylvie does Marguerite and Armand (on tour I think).

Monica Mason spoke a little about Winter Dreams, about how she was present at the first rehearsal and saw how MacMillan about to create this new pdd, Irek Mukhamedov who spoke no english and having to work this first time with this great choreographer, and a very young Darcey Bussell all quaking in their shoes! But she said Irek was very respectful and eager to please MacMillan. When MacMillan asked him to repeat him throwing his jacket and cap, you could see Irek experimenting with how he would throw it, something different everytime, how he would take Darcey's hand, "this way, or maybe this way, no this way" and it was a joy for her to watch this artist at work.

Sinfonietta - well I went into this with utter dread after the rehearsal and first night, and if I hadn't paid so much I probably would have skipped it and gone home. But it was ok. I said before I love the first movement and the finale. It's fun and joyous, lots of jumping and the ending is quite exhilirating. It's everything else in between that I don't like much. I guess I find lots of moments very childish and silly like the head-upper shoulder stands all the guys do at the end of the first movement. I think it had the opposite effect that Scenes had on me. It was better for me to see it up close so if I couldn't enjoy the choreography I could at least enjoy the dancers and their dancing (if that distinction makes any sense!) I hope there's another cast of Sinfonietta (unlikely given the cast size I guess). I guess I found the fast, frenetic bits great fun and the slow parts, the pdd etc very boring. Zenaida Yanowsky stood out in this the most - I don't know why but she makes almost everything a joy to watch. The Janacek music is fantastic though and the brasses were still singing in my head long after I left for home.

Monica Mason's talk on Sinfonietta was very interesting. She said that the company were very happy to add Sinfonietta to the repetoire as Anthony Dowell had tried for a long time to get Jiri Kylian to work with the RB. When Ross Stretton, a close friend of his came in, he snapped his fingers and Jiri said yes. So when Stretton left, one of Mason's first calls was to Kyilan asking if they could still stage the work "because it was me" she said with a smile. And he said yes of course. She said it was a popular piece, with the audience and especially with the dancers because it makes you feel like a child again, the way you feel when you're wearing wellies and splashing in puddles.

Someone asked a question about the balance of heritage and new rep in the company in the RB compared with other companies and Mason gave a very long and detailed answer. She said while it's not an excuse, what the RB can perform is dictated by the Royal Opera. They set out their schedules 5 years in advance and this puts constraints on the "slots" left for the RB to fill. They obviously need more rehearsal time for a new work than an old one and while the Opera can be a little bit flexible 5 years down the line, everything for the next 2 years is pretty much set in stone. So Monica has very sketchily planned out the seasons for the next 5 years.

What also had to be considered was what works hadn't been seen in some time, by the audiences, and what hadn't been danced by the dancers. This is a point that I don't think has been brought up very often in discussions. She said that the dancers may turnover every 5-6 years. They joined the Royal Ballet primarily because of the heritage repertoire and expected to dance these works. There was also the fact that the longer a work has not been performed, the longer it would take to restage it. She gave the example of Ondine which had not been staged for many years and Dowell decided a few years ago that it should be seen again, so for many in the audience this was a new full-length ballet for them. She's mindful of not repeating ballets like Swan Lake year after year and and also said that she does not want the RB to be a museum and that new work was the life-blood of a company, that it is essential for dancers to allow them to develop. While the company would love to have 3 or 4 new works a year all these factors and constraints have to be taken into consideration and make planning extremely difficult.

All this is from memory - I wish I'd taken notes! If I've made any mistakes please say. It was such an interesting talk - Monica seems to do all of them now and she's a lovely, articulate speaker, I wanted to post as much I as I could remember.

#34 Alexandra

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 09:11 AM

That was a lovely review, Sylvia -- thank you! (I have to admit I'm glad you're loving Scenes de ballet :) )

I'm also very grateful to you for reporting on Monica Mason's talk in such detail. What she was makes a lot of sense and it also sounds very honest -- not something we can assume these days, unfortunately. Everything you've reported makes me feel hopeful of the company's future. (Of course, I wasn't there, and if others have different impressions, please, do chime in!)

#35 Alymer

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 04:13 PM

Sylvia, I was very interested in what Monica Mason had to say, but I'm amazed by her comment that the ballerina role in Scenes de Ballet is suited to "very small and compact dancers". I don't know if you ever saw Fonteyn but although she wasn't very tall, I don't think that description "very small and compact" could ever have been applied to her. Incidentally, the second cast was Moira Shearer, who in those days was considered to be on the tall side while the third cast ballerina was Beryl Gray, who is tall by any standards. Nor do I imagine Sibley would thank Monica for that description. But I could imagine Guillem, who is tall, being wonderful in the role.
However, she chose to dance Masha in Winter Dreams, and very interesting it was too. I find it fascinating to watch her in a role I know well with another dancer. She brings such intelligence to her dancing and her technique is so strong and clean that you clearly see steps that previously got lost, or were scrambled through in the general melee. And still her dancing is always fluent and musical. She's not just performing 'steps'; every one is there for a purpose so that you get a dramatic whole with logic and coherence. And before you ask, there were no excessively high extensions.
I find Le Riche one of the most fascinating male dancers around today. Not that he's necessarily the best technician - although you don't get to be an Etoile in Paris without being pretty gifted in that department - it's his tremendous theatricality. He seems to take on an extra dimension when he's on stage so that even sitting still on a chair with his back to the audience he draws your eyes. In the big 'Farewell' duet which was the starting point of the ballet, he doesn't have the knock down, drag out passion that Mukhamedov brought to the piece, but it's totally convincing as Vershinin in Chekov's play, and all the more interesting for that. I have a feeling that something may have gone wrong in the very last moments (from my seat I couldn't see all the stage) as his last diagonal seemed a little off and he seemed to be keeping his weight off his right foot during the curtain calls. I hope he'll be OK for Monday in Paris.
Jane Burn was the Irina - very nice indeed her only problem being that Tamara Rojo was so very good in the other cast. Isabel McMeekan was Olga - again a nice performance but she's perhaps too young and pretty to be totally believable.
Despite all those good performances at 52 minutes, for me the piece is far, far too long and lacks a proper structure. As my husband put it; it's a divertissement.

#36 sylvia

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 05:46 PM

I'm also relieved that Monica was assistant AD while Stretton was director. She also mentioned that Winter Dreams was not originally in the triple bill, that he had planned something else and she and other members of the company had to convince him to change it. It did make me wonder what this season would have looked like had he been left to his own devices! :)

Alymer, now I'm confused as to what I heard Monica say! Definitely she said compact, and that the ballet or choreography was not suited to Darcey because she is tall - maybe I'm imagining the "very small" bit. Alina's as tiny as you get but Miyako is taller than she looks on stage. I don't know if I could imagine Sylive Guillem in the lead ballerina role.

I was at the performance tonight as well. Scenes was wonderful of course. I saw four empty seats in front of me - I felt very sorry for the latecomers for missing it. It also helped me figure out Ricardo Cervera's charm. He really pays attention to his ballerina - the way he turns his head, he really looks at them. His gaze would follow Alina slightly as she moved from him to someone else while the other guys would just look like they were concentrating on turning her or whatever. It's just these little touches that make him stand out, make the ballet more special, that make it look like it is he who is dancing the lead role.

Winter Dreams - I was a little disappointed in the cast at first. I agree I thought Isabel McMeekan would be too young for Irina but she was okay. Jane Burn was really lovely as Irina, better than Tamara Rojo. Tamara I felt didn't quite belong in this ballet - too different, too exotic maybe. I think I preferred Darcey as Masha, but Sylvie Guillem and Nicholas Le Riche had this frission that was missing with Darcey and Inaki. Nicholas has this command, this power in his dancing that we don't see too often at the Royal Ballet that is beautiful to watch. I agree with everything Alymer said about Sylvie's Masha, though I think it was more muted than Darcey's. There were so many moments I liked that I missed - like when Kulygin her husband (Dowell) tried to touch Darcey she would visibly cringe, not just once but throughout that pdd. I missed this in Sylvie, as lovely as she was. Still the pdd was gorgeous, so passionate. I did notice that Le Riche had a bit of an awkward landing towards the end I spent the rest of it wondering if he was ok. At the stage door we were told he had injured himself, though he seemed ok when he finally came out.

#37 sylvia

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 05:16 AM

I'll stop labouring this point now since it's probably not hugely important but just to clear the muddle I'm at a Manon Insight Day now and Monica Mason again used Scenes de ballet as an example about casting to/against type and said the ballerina role is suited for smaller, compact dancers and the choreography would be unsuited to a taller dancer like Darcey Bussell. In retrospect I should have asked her about Fonteyn, Shearer and Gray. Ah well, missed opportunity, but I'm having the most lovely time today. There's another masterclass this afternoon! :)

#38 Lolly

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 02:55 PM

I am getting behind on my reviews! I saw the second performance too (Thursday) - and was at the PPT. Monica Mason was a fascinating speaker and I hope she felt supported by the huge amount of applause she received. I remember her talking about the need for a small and compact dancer for Scenes, but I thought she meant the principal man as well as the girl. She said it was because of the type of movement required by the choreography - quick and precise - so I assume longer legs means it takes longer to complete the movement. That is what I understood from what she said. I was interested when she talked about the choice of works to be danced too. The person who asked the question seemed a bit critical that we only had one new work last season (Tryst) but Monica calmly explained the situation with the opera and the need for balance with revivals and new works. She said the dancers want to be here because of the Ashton and Macmillan works in our heritage so the company has a duty to dance them. I felt that she was really considerate of the dancers wishes as well as the audience - she wanted the dancers to have good things to dance. She said she went to a planning meeting not long after she became director, and the opera had a big stack of paper as their planning and she has a single sheet of paper! So she felt pressured to come up with plans further in advance, I think she said she has sketchy plans until 2005. She talked about the need for adequate rehearsal time for each type of ballet, for example a new work would need an extra orchestra rehearsal, she said how many rehearsals each type needed, so many piano, so many orchestra and a general but I can't remember numbers I am afraid. I too wish I had taken notes - it was a very informative talk. I have to say too that Monica is absolutely beautiful.:)

The performance was great. I still am fascinated by Scenes de Ballet and wished that I had seen it from higher in the theatre this time. I am pleased it is back in one of the other triple bills later in the season - the one with the new Bintley, so I must make sure I have a seat with a different view for that. There were so many little things in the choreography that made me think, "I must remember that" but I didn't write them down and so have forgotten them now.:) It is so intricate, there is so much to look at.

Winter Dreams is lovely but seeing it twice in a few days is probably a bad plan - this time I thought it was too long, I got very fidgety.

Sinfonietta is so exciting and joyful, I love it. Has there been another cast yet? As wonderful as the cast I have seen is, I would love to see some of the other dancers get a go. It looks such fun, but completely exhausting. Bennet Gartside really stood out, he had such a clarity in his movements. And Ricardo Cervera was again the one to watch - he is so involved in whatever he is doing. The finale is great, it looks like there are a lot of (intended) near misses as the dancers dart around the stage!

I don't have another ticket for this bill. I am sad to say this but if Winter Dreams was the last ballet I would probably go again and leave before it began. I really want to see Scenes and Sinfonietta again and am slightly mollified with the knowledge that I will see Scenes in another bill, but not Sinfonietta, and I am quite sorry about that.

This term I am having a hard time reconciling the classes I need to go to, with the performances I want to see. I have to miss one to do the other. Because I went to the opening night of this bill, I missed learning a dance myself. On the other hand I do feel terribly lucky to be able to see such great ballets danced by such great dancers, practically whenever I like. It's a happy time.:)

#39 Shirley

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 03:19 AM

It has been great to read so many reviews of this bill. I, however, don't find Winter Dreams too long at all and find the interaction between all the characters fascinating, even when they are seated at the dinner table. It would be interesting to find out what they are all talking about when they are round the table.

#40 sylvia

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 04:41 AM

Winter Dreams I thought was fine as long as I was sitting! :) I don't find the character of Irina so engaging so it's probably her solos that I wish i could speed up. Having said that her concern for Kulygin was so touching.

#41 anoushka

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Posted 20 January 2003 - 11:17 AM

Dear me I really musn't leave it so long to review, but seeing the Triple again with only three days gap, I think I needed to get some perspective!

The second watching of Scenes de Ballet confirmed to me how much I liked it! I am certainly glad we'll have another chance to watch this one, I'd like to see it from higher up-both times I was at stage level so didn't see the patterns of the dancers properly.

Winter Dreams was still lovely, and I could watch Sir Anthony dance all night. He's just so wonderful, and his pas de deux with Darcey Bussell was heartbreaking.

Sinfonietta also got better and better the more I watched it. I really wish I could see it again. The pace is so fast and I love all the jumps which just see to sail across the stage.

It was also great to hear Monica Mason talking about the possiblilty of new works versus perfomance of heritage pieces, and so on. Especially as it was a total shock to me that she'd speak! xx


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