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Ashton Fan

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  1. I think that it is quite reasonable to assume that if the Royal Ballet's Artistic Director casts a dancer with considerable name recognition in a role in a ballet when the company is on tour that you are indeed going to see someone who is thought to bring something special to the work they are performing and that dancers whose performances are preserved on DVD are thought by management to deliver exemplary accounts of the roles and works they have been recorded performing. Unfortunately that is not always the case . Other factors seem to come into play when such decisions are made . Seniority frequently seems to trump suitability in casting decisions while the decisive factor often seems to be which dancers' performances are likely to produce the highest sales. All of this may be understandable but it can cause confusion when it comes to deciding whose performance to see or whether a particular work is worth seeing again after you have seen a disappointing performance given by a well known dancer. At present Ashton's ballets seem to be under greater threat from bad casting decisions than MacMillan's are.
  2. Some interesting comments about a programme which to me looks more like a ragbag of odds and ends devised to display examples of the works of choreographers currently working with the company than a serious attempt to construct a programme of dance works which will display the company's dancers to best advantage.It is not as if the company has no such works in its back catalogue that could be pressed into service but that is almost certainly the problem. The works I am thinking about including Ashton's Thais pas de deux and The Walk to the Paradise Garden would definitely fall into the category of "heritage" works and the danger with them is that they might show up the quality of the most recent pieces chosen for performance. I have no criticism to make about Kevin's choice of dancers all of whom I would pay good money to see in pretty much anything. I am far from convinced by his choice of repertory particularly when it comes to excerpts from McGregor's dance works which don't seem to me to lend themselves to being presented out of context. The same could be said of Scarlett's ballets. I find nysusan's comments about the Five Brahm's Waltzes to the effect that if Rojo could not convince her about the piece no one could, rather odd. Rojo was undoubtedly a talented dancer but I have never thought of her as providing a benchmark against which to assess other dancers' performances in any Ashton ballet for the simple reason she seemed unable or unwilling to dance his choreography idiomatically. I thought her totally miscast in Five Brahms Waltzes. She was a fine interpreter of dramatic roles created by other choreographers but her performance of Ashton's evocation of Isadora Duncan was far from being her finest hour artistically. I thought that she had only been cast in it in 2004 to give her something to do during the Ashton centenary celebrations. She had not improved when I saw her dance it again some years later. The main problem for me was that I was never really convinced that she could dance Ashton idiomatically and in Five Brahm's Waltzes lnstead of just getting on and dancing the choreography she seemed intent on trying to act being Isadora. The ballet created on Lynn Seymour was devised as an evocation of Duncan's dancing and first danced in full at a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Rambert Company. Both Ashton and Rambert had seen Duncan dance indeed Rambert had been such a great Duncan enthusiast that when she was a medical student in Paris she had given Duncan style dance recitals. Ashton gave her a preview of the work and Rambert is reported to have burst into tears saying "That's exactly what it was like". When the piece was danced by Seymour nothing in the dance text was exaggerated, there were glimpses of the iconic Duncan gestures and poses but no exaggerated freeze framing and the whole piece took just under seven minutes to perform whereas when Rojo appeared in it she took the best part of ten minutes to get through it. She overdid the famous Duncan gestures and poses and took it into head to insert obvious pauses between each of the waltzes. I don't know whether it is true that the pause she inserted between the fourth and fifth waltz went on for a full minute but the pause seemed interminable and by slowing it down she managed to make the whole piece seem ponderous while simultaneously failing to give the appropriate weight to the movement which Ashton had choreographed. Watching the ballet for the first or second time it can seem disconcertingly odd as it has little or no connection with Ashton's classicallyt based ballets which are for the most part the ballets with which we are most familiar. It is only when you have the opportunity to see Five Brahms Waltzes in the context of the reconstruction of his wartime ballet Dante Sonata premiered in 1940 that you really become aware of Duncan's influence on his choreography although the surviving fragment from his ballet The Wise Virgins also reveals her influence. At the end of the war Ashton switched to a more overtly classically based vocabulary and style and Duncan's influence dwindled.
  3. Luke is Peter Schaufuss' son. I don't recall him being that outstanding when he appeared with Queensland Ballet in his father's staging of La Sylphide a few years back but a lot can happen in a couple of years. Perhaps he has developed since he was last seen in London Ashton himself staged the revival of his Romeo and Juliet for London Festival Ballet in 1985 with the assistance of Niels Bjorn Larsen who had danced the role of Tybalt in Copenhagen in 1955. Larsen brought a film of the ballet to London as the work had not been notated. I believe that Ashton made some changes to the ballet's text . According to Katherine Healy, the first cast Juliet, Ashton, spent a lot of time working with her including teaching her stage craft. He spent much less time working with other casts, largely because he had convinced himself that the critics were not going to greet the revival with any degree of enthusiasm. My recollection of the revival is that if you saw the first cast the ballet looked good but if you saw later casts they were less Ashtonian in their approach and performance style. The real interest in the ballet is that it is far less the story of two young people crushed by societal pressure and much more a personal tragedy. Ashton's Romeo and Juliet is a version of the ballet which does not rely on Lavrovsky's staging in the way that later Western stagings seem to do. He responds to the score in his own way and this produces a staging which does not slavishly follow Lavrovsky in the way that Cranko and MacMillan do. Schaufuss edited the ballet when he staged the work in London with his pwn company a few years ago. I hope that Sarasota sees the full version rather than the pared down one. If you are interested in reading about Healy's experience of working with Ashton then try to get hold of a book called "Following Sir Fred's Steps" which I think was published by Dance Books. It contains papers given at a conference about the Ashton repertory held at the University of Roehampton during the 1990's including the one she contributed to it.
  4. Who knows the precise basis on which Miss Hayward has found herself featured on the front page of Vogue? Appearing in Cats probably has a great deal to do with it but then if the publicity for the film has the effect of giving her greater name recognition I doubt that Kevin O'Hare will complain about it. i don't expect that he will complain if name recognition translates into more ticket sales and a higher profile for the company's artists and the art form as a whole. Although he talked about Hayward's film appearance as a once in a lifetime opportunity for her and said how much he had enjoyed appearing in Bugsey Malone when he was young I imagine that he saw it as a way of getting free publicity for her and the company. At the moment the ROH board seem very keen on both resident companies being seen as being accessible and non elitist and her film appearance would fit in with that very well. Unfortunately the current pricing policy is somewhat out of step with this ideal.
  5. MacMillan employed a writer called Gillian Freeman to draw up the scenario for Mayerling. I believe that she read everything she could find on the subject of the deaths at Mayerling and the main characters involved. Needless to say she did a great deal of reading . As far as Mitzi Caspar is concerned her actions in the second act suggest that she betrayed Rudolf to Taafe telling him about the Crown Prince's involvement with the Hungarian officers and their political schemes. Whatever you may think of the ballet MacMillan did not set out to create a documentary ballet. As was perhaps inevitable characters are broadly depicted and sometimes have to stand in for other historical characters In real life Rudolf suggested that Mitzi should die with him in a suicide pact.It was only when she refused that he decided to ask Mary Vetsera to die with him. Caspar is said to have told the authorities that Rudolf was planning to kill himself but they ignored her report. I could of course say that the fact that the audience is left with the impression that Mitzi is betraying Rudolf just shows the weaknesses of ballet as a narrative form because it can only tell a story through choreographed movement which can rarely convey the subtleties of personal motivation. But MacMillan would have been well aware of this limitation when he made the work as he had been making ballets for more than twenty years. So perhaps he set out to show the audience something different. When he shows Mitzi engaged in activity which is at best ambiguous and at worst looks like out and out betrayal perhaps what he had in mind was to show us that Rudolf had good reason for his paranoia and for feeling that he could not go on. As Prime Minister Taafe spent a lot of time trying to persuade the Czechs, rather than the Hungarians, not to pursue nationalist policies which would have further divided the Empire. All we really need to know is that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a state in which the authorities were always engaged in surveillance of all levels in society. Perhaps in the great scheme of things the precise nature of Caspar's involvement with the authorities does not really matter and all we need to know is that she was in touch with them.
  6. As Mashinka has hinted to give "Sissi" a greying wig might have helped the audience but it would have destroyed MacMillan's portrait of her as a woman totally concerned with her image and her personal appearance.
  7. It would be very interesting to know just how much adverse comment Alex Beard, the ROH's Chief Executive, and the Board have received as a result of the failure to record the Fonteyn Gala and make it available to the general public either by streaming it to cinemas or broadcasting it on television. The omission is odd as both the Ashton centenary and Darcey Bussell's retirement were marked by live televised performances from Covent Garden. While the Fonteyn centenary may not have been quite as significant as Ashton's, her career as a dancer was of great importance in the development of the company and its style as Ashton himself admitted. In her biography of Ashton, "Secret Muses", Julie Kavanagh records the choreographer saying that without Fonteyn he would not have developed the lyrical side of his choreography. Although the pieces selected for the celebration omitted a number of major works, and the Ashton repertory apart from a few later works made for dancers other than Fonteyn is largely neglected, the Gala still managed to suggest that Fonteyn is, and will remain, of greater significance to the company's artistic identity than other dancers including Darcey Bussell are ever likely to be. The failure to record the Gala and make the recording available to a wider public than the ticket holders who were present in the theatre is not simply a missed opportunity to give the resident ballet company a higher profile with the general non-ballet going public than it currently enjoys and to generate income. It also runs contrary to the ROH's season long claims, made in the context of the new facilities available to the general public, that it wants to make the building, and presumably the works performed there, accessible to as wide an audience as possible, rather than simply wanting to sell tea and other refreshments to non-ticket holders.
  8. I have to say that I agree with you about Stix-Brunell indeed I find her neglect more than a little odd. I assume that she is not dancing Aurora because she is going to appear as the Lilac Fairy with one or more casts in Sleeping Beauty and will be given Prologue Fairies and Florestan's Sister to dance as well. After her fine account of the Young Girl in Two Pigeons with only a single performance in both seasons that it has been revived I should have thought that she was all but guaranteed at least one performance as Swanhilda. She seems more suited to the role to me than Magri who is to appear in it. Perhaps Stix-Brunell is down as an understudy for Swanhilda and has been promised Odette/Odile later in the season. Her stop-start career has always been something of a mystery to me as she has seemed near perfect to me in pretty much everything that I have seen her dance.
  9. It's almost time for the company's leavers, joiners and promotions to be announced. Speculation is rife on other Forums as to who should be promoted. We already know that Sambe has been promoted to Principal from next season as the company seems to have been forced into making an announcement to that effect after he gave an interview to the Times newspaper. It is all very strange as Sambe's interview was almost certainly arranged by some part of the ROH organisation. After successful debuts as Colas and Oberon last season when he was also supposed to make his debut as Albrecht but was prevented by injury from doing so, followed by equally successful debuts as Romeo with O'Sullivan as his Juliet, and as Basilio dancing opposite Naghdi's Kitri, the announcement will have come as no surprise to anyone. Although Kish's retirement creates a second vacancy at Principal level I think it unlikely that Kevin will appoint a second male Principal this year. The most likely promotions, it seems to me, are that Clarke and O'Sullivan will become First Soloists next season. Clarke has been collecting Principal roles in core RB repertory almost from the day he joined the company beginning with the Somes role in Symphonic Variations. While O'Sullivan has had similar opportunities to acquire repertory she has danced successfully in a wide range roles. When Sleeping Beauty was last revived two years ago her roles included Princess Florine, at least three Prologue Fairies, and one if not both of Florestan's Sisters, at various times during the run. The casting for the first booking period tends to support the idea that O'Sullivan will be promoted. Having recently made a successful debut as Juliet in her first full length ballet, O'Sullivan is due to make her debut as both Aurora and Swanhilda as well as dancing Dorabella for the first time in the opening months of the season. I am not convinced that there will be a third First Soloist appointed. I think that the really interesting promotions, by which I mean that there is more talent than there are rewards available, will come with promotions from First Artist to Soloist. Here dancers like Donnelly, Dubreuil, Sissens and Yudes must be in the running for promotion as much for their potential as the performances they have given over the last season or two. But at this level it is entirely possible that management may feel the need to reward consistently top quality performances in supporting roles over several seasons by more mature dancers. If that is the case, then dancers like Gasparini and Pajdak may be in the running. This season Pajdak has been in virtually everything. She has led the female corps down the ramp in La Bayadere made her debut as Nurse and danced an extremely wide range of supporting roles in Don Q and other ballets. I am not reading anything into the fact that she danced one of the excerpts performed at the Fonteyn Gala but it is interesting that, as a First Artist, she was selected to do so.
  10. I hope that some on this site will find the following information of interest. Opus Arte has announced that in July 2019 it will issue an all regions DVD covering the syllabus for the Enrico Cecchetti Diploma. It is expensive but the DVD contains the best part of four hours of material based on the syllabus for the diploma. The initiative is supported by the current Artistic Directors of the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet and I understand that the DVD includes a section in which Kevin O'Hare and David Bintley talk about the Cecchetti Method. There is an introduction by Darcey Bussell who is the current President of the RAD. The dancers seen on the DVD are James Hay, Chisato Katsura and Romany Pajdak from the Royal Ballet and Ruth Brill, Brandon Lawrence and Lachlan Monaghan from Birmingham Royal Ballet.
  11. Here are some further thoughts on the Gala.The programming decisions of the Royal Ballet management often suggest that they want the local audience to believe that with the exception of a few acknowledged masterpieces such as Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet, which even the most ardent MacMillan enthusiast can't ignore, very little of Ashton's work dating from the time when he was essentially Fonteyn's choreographer is worth reviving The Fonteyn Gala provided the best opportunity that local audiences have had in years to get any idea of the range of Ashton's output during that time. Ashton's "Fonteyn years" began when Markova left the company and it became necessary to find and develop a dancer to replace her and lead the company. That period in Ashton's creative life effectively ended with the creation of Ondine in1958, a point at which it was reasonable to assume that Fonteyn had entered the final stages of her career. One of the great things about the Gala was that all of the pieces which were performed were cast with far more thought and care than is usual when a rarely performed Ashton work is programmed in a mixed bill. The only Ashton work that does not suffer from poor casting at Covent Garden is Symphonic Variations over which Wendy Ellis exercises tight control. Unlike MacMillan's works which are pretty robust when it comes to casting Ashton's ballets need to be cast with the right sort of dancers if they are to be seen at their best. For once the Ashton pieces did not suffer from the effects of compromise casting or senior dancers being given the opportunity to "have a go" at roles for which they are manifestly unsuited. Seeing an Ashton role performed by a dancer who is not prepared to modify their performance style and to embrace Ashton's version of classroom steps and his pliant upper body and epaulement in performance is not "dancing" Ashton, even if the title of the ballet being performed suggests that he or she is doing so. First Artist Romany Pajdak gave an account of the fragment which remains of The Wise Virgins which made me regret its loss. Like Dante Sonata its coreography is not at all like the Ashton we are used to seeing. It made me wonder what the rest of it might have been like, given the nature of the music which Ashton had used. The final solo from Nocturne as danced by Beatrice Stix-Brunell must have made a lot of the audience regret that no one had thought of reconstructing the ballet when there were still dancers around who could have made its reconstruction possible. It seemed like the sort of ballet which would have found a natural home with the old touring company. While I can understand why we were only permitted to see the Fonteyn sections of Birthday Offering it is a great pity that it is not going to be seen in full during the 2019-20 season. Unlike 2012 when management seemed far more concerned with putting senior dancers on stage than finding a cast who would do the piece justice, the company now has dancers who could do so. At the Gala Kaneko danced Fonteyn's solo bringing out its beauty and wit while Lamb and Hirano dancing the pas de deux made it look like a choreographic jewel, even when seen out of context. I have already said something about the excerpts from Ondine and Sylvia which both made strong cases for their revival. I will add that Hayward seemed ideally cast as Ondine. It was almost as if the Pas de l'Ombre had been made for her. She brought out so much detail inherent in Ashton's choreography and made its relationship to the music to which it is set crystal clear. It had a theatrical impact which I have not experienced in other live performances of the entire work. It would not have been possible to celebrate Fonteyn without making some reference to her partnership with Nureyev. I am not sure that the pieces selected were as well chosen as they might have been. The Balcony pas de deux was all but inevitable as it allowed Osipova and Hallberg to be part of the celebration. The problem in performance was that Hallberg's lifts seemed laboured and effortful rather than easy and expressive. Osipova seems to find MacMillan's choreography lacking in some way as she has taken to embroidering it in performance which is distracting to say the least. Sadly their contribution to the Gala was not as compelling as it was, no doubt, intended to be. Of the nineteenth choreography which Nureyev's staged for the company his Le Corsaire pas de deux was the piece selected for performance. I am not sure that selecting a piece of choreography that is done to death in galas across the world was really an ideal choice. It seemed somewhat out of place in the context of this Gala. I understand the significance of the pas de deux for Fonteyn but I am not sure that the fact it was filmed by Czinner was sufficient to justify its inclusion. I should have thought that the choreography for Nikiya and Solor from Nureyev's staging of The Kingdom of the Shades or that for Raymonda and Jean de Brienne from his staging of Raymonda Act III would have been better choices as they have not been debased and reduced to gala fodder. The problem was that while Naghdi danced the choreography which Fonteyn had danced when performing the pas de deux Muntagirov danced the standard modern gala version and it did not quite jell. The Tango from Façade was sandwiched between the two Nureyev related excerpts and came up looking as funny and fresh as ever. It has done remarkably well for a work created as an ephemeral entertainment. The ballroom scene from Apparitions was a revelation. I saw the revival of Apparitions staged for Schauffus' ENB in the 1980's and I have to confess that it did not make much of an impression on me then. It had seemed tedious,dutiful and dull. From the account which Julie Kavannagh gives of the revival neither Ashton nor Beddells thought much of it either. I was really surprised to find the ballroom scene from Apparitions so interesting as a piece of choreography. It seemed to me that Cuthbertson and Ball were ideally cast in it. I should like to think that we shall be able to see a staging of the entire ballet in the not too distant future. The problem with that hope is that it does not seem to fit in with O'Hare's ambitions for the company. The quality of Ashton's choreographic output during his " Fonteyn years" as demonstrated by these carefully cast performances, yet again raises the question about why so much of Ashton's output is consigned to the Heritage section of the company's repertory where it can be safely neglected for years and dusted off for a significant anniversary? One of the reasons has to be the effect of long term neglect which easily persuades those who have never seen them that works by major choreographers which are rarely performed are defective in some way. But that does not explain why Ashton's most popular full length ballets such as Cinderella and his first major post Fonteyn ballet, Fille, are not allocated regular revivals in the way that MacMillan's are or why so many of his one act works are not deemed worthy of revival. A friend has tried to persuade me that the problem with Façade was that most people would see it as hopelessly old fashioned. I am not convinced.
  12. The Gala opened with a full performance of the Firebird which pretty much ensured that every member of the company who was not cast in one of the divertissements to be performed during the second part of the and was not absent through injury or illness would be able to say that they had appeared in the Gala marking the centenary of Fonteyn's birth. The corps' understanding of the ballet increases with each performance listed for this revival and the performers of the principal roles gain in the strength and the depth of their characterisation with each performance they give. At this performance the egg protecting the soul of the immortal Kostchei did not disintegrate before Ivan Tsarevich had dashed it to the ground as happened at Kish's debut in the role. In my experience this is a rare event and it is far more common to see the egg resolutely refuse to break when it is dashed to the floor. As to the performances Kish was possibly a bit to refined in the role as there was no hint of the unsophisticated almost peasant like character in his Ivan and from the lack of wonder at the power of the Firebird feather he had been given you might have been forgiven for believing that Kish's Ivan Tsarevich captured and subdued a Firebird on a daily basis. The role of the Firebird is a role which really suits Mendizabal; Calvert is fine as the Beautiful Tsarevna and Saunders is a decent enough Kostchei but he is not as malevolent as Avis and he does not spend as much time fighting against sleep as Marriott does. It was inevitable that the second part should begin with the Rose Adagio after which we were treated to an account of Fonteyn's career from 1936 and Apparitions the first significant role Ashton was to create for Fonteyn to Ondine his last major role for her made in 1958. The excerpts were not performed in the order of their creation. Instead we began with two solos which only survive at all because they were reconstructed for Ashton's Farewell Gala in 1970, both of which were danced with commitment and beauty, and ended with the ballroom scene from Apparitions which made it possible to move from performances by live dancers to the film of Ashton's Salut d' Amour created for the Gala marking Fonteyn's retirement which was filmed for the BBC documentary series Magic of Dance. In between we saw excerpts from neglected ballets such as Façade, Daphnis and Chloe and Ondine and some such as Sylvia which have come back into favour of late. It is only when you see so many of Ashton's creations for Fonteyn in a short space of time that you can see how much they owed each other and what a wide range she had as a performer. Each of the dancers who appeared in the neglected ballets made me want to see them revived in the near future. Magri was fine as the act one Sylvia in the opening section of the ballet, but can she transform herself into the very feminine nymph of act two or the grand ballerina of act three? I should like to find out. Then there was the delightful Daphnis and Chloe which came up looking fresh and new and not at all like a "heritage work".Hayward's account of the Pas de l'Ombre from the first act of Ondine she looked wonderfully right in a way that other dancers have not . She made Ondine seem fresh and real rather than a dutifully performed role in an old fashioned ballet. All in all an evening full of fascinating snippets which I hope will mean that we will see the neglected works performed in full at some point in the not too distant future.
  13. The casting for the Concerto mixed bill seems to be missing at present. The casting information which I have seen suggests that Mr O'Hare may have decided to let his dancers have a go at Enigma Variations rather than treating it as a ballet which really needs a near perfect cast to enable the audience to experience the ballet as Ashton created it. It is one those Ashton works like Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet where casting really matters and you either field a near perfect cast or you abandon the idea of reviving it. The Royal Ballet's revival at the end of Mason's directorship had a less than perfect cast and when BRB brought their revival of the ballet to London a couple of years ago what you saw was, to be polite about it, variable in quality.If you went to Sadler's Wells on the first night that the mixed bill was being performed you saw a very well danced Theme and Variation and a lacklustre Enigma and if you went to the matinee the following day you saw a good account of Enigma and a lacklustre account of Theme.
  14. The full details of the 2019-20 season are now on the ROH website with the exception of a "heritage" programme in the Linbury which was announced in the Friends handbook but has not as yet found its way on to the website. I assume that it will not be added to the website until its contents have been finalised. At present the only indication of the programme's contents is a blurry picture which suggests it may include Dante Sonata. Details of casting for the Autumn season are not, as yet, available on the website but they are due to be added to it this week. The Autumn season is very long and is likely to be very expensive for any committed ballet goer as it includes performances of Manon, Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, which will provide a large number of debuts as it has been rested for such a long time, and a mixed bill of Concerto, Enigma Variations and Nureyev's staging of Raymonda Act III.
  15. I think that the Royal Ballet is old enough as an institution to allow itself to have more than one choreographer's version of Romeo and Juliet and more than one stager's version of Swan Lake available to it. As far as Romeo and Juliet is concerned my second version of Romeo and Juliet would certainly be Ashton's as staged for ENB in the mid 1980's rather the than the edited highlights version in which Osipova and Vassiliev appeared in London a few years ago. I found the work fascinating as it reveals a version almost entirely unaffected by Lavrovsky's balle. The one point at which Lavrovsky intrudes is in the interpolated "Ulanova run" where Juliet runs to Friar Laurence's cell. But it would have to be danced with a real understanding of Ashton's style, his vision and his aesthetics. His version is concerned with the personal tragedy of the lovers and his response to the score is to create a version of the ballet which is poetic rather than one full of bombast,sword fights and an inordinate amount of emoting. Although I am disappointed by the company's failure to mark the Fonteyn centenary adequately and particularly its failure to revive works inextricably connected with her such as Ondine and Daphnis and Chloe next season,the revival of Coppelia is a welcome surprise. As Nunez is the only dancer still in the company who danced Swanhilde when the company last performed the ballet this revival should guarantee opportunities for debuts for dancers like Hayward, Magri, Naghdi, O'Sullivan and Stix-Brunnell with a long list of likely candidates for the role of Franz. I fear that the season is going to be an expensive one not simply because there has been yet another round of price rises but because it guarantees that a lot of promising dancers will make significant debuts in major roles. These debuts are particularly important as some of the leading dancers who have headed the company over the last twenty years are approaching retirement. Some of the new generation of dancers making their debuts this season are likely to be their successors .
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