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Ashton Fan

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  1. I do wish that the ROH's marketing department would buy themselves a thesaurus as they are working the words "excited ", "exciting", "thrilled"and "thrilling" to death. The truth about the forthcoming ballet season is that the two new works make it interesting and the works selected for revival come as no surprise at all and even when their casts are announced are unlikely to excite or thrill. With the casting which has been announced for the first booking period the season remains an interesting one rather than an exciting one. In my view the 2021-22 season as a whole is far too serious and would have benefited from considerably less earnestness and a bit more frivolity in the mix. A revival of Fille even if only for eight performances would have been a great improvement. The 2021-22 season is essentially a conservative one much of which is designed to generate income. It holds few surprises because most of its contents were originally programmed for the 2020-21 season. Kevin has promises to keep in terms of premieres and major debuts in Swan Lake. The Dante Project was supposed to be premiered this season and was intended to be the last work which Watson appeared in as a dancer and company member. At the same time a number of younger company members several of whom have recently been promoted to the rank of principal were prevented from making their scheduled debuts in Swan Lake by the pandemic which is why the ballet is being revived. I understand why Romeo and Juliet and Nutcracker are being programmed but not why there are quite so many performances of either ballet. I can't help thinking that another revival of Coppelia would have been in order if only to provide a choice of ballets at Christmas. The 2019 revival was very successful and left most people who attended those performances wondering why Coppelia had been out of the repertory for so long. Even if I end up disliking it I am intrigued by the thought that Wheeldon is making a ballet based on " Like Water on Chocolate" to me it seems as improbable and potentially as foolhardy as making a ballet based on Rostand's Cyrano Bergerac. The best news for me is the Ashton mixed bill and the fact that it does not include Marguerite and Armand. The return of Scenes de Ballet is welcome but I do wish Kevin would permit us to see a much wider range of Ashton's output rather than a selection of works which simply reflects his own likes and dislikes. Daphnis and Chloe would be at the top of my list for revival closely followed by his revivable works from the 1930's including Apparitions and A Wedding Bouquet.
  2. I don't want to put people off watching the streamed performance of this mixed bill. It is,I think, one of those programmes you will either love or hate according to your taste and expectations about dance. Those who are curious but unsure about whether they should invest in a ticket to watch the streamed performance of this programme can get a taster on You Tube in the form of rehearsals of the two works by Pite both of which I am pretty certain show the dancers due to appear in the streamed performance. All you have to do is search for "The Royal Ballet rehearses Crystal Pite's The Statement and Solo Echo".
  3. I strongly suspect that Kevin's taste runs to serious dance works rather than anything even daring to hint at fun and frivolity. I have little doubt that this first programme reflects his personal taste. I think that Within the Golden Hour was almost unavoidable because it was not going to need as much time to be stage ready as a new work would have required. The problem is it is little more than a solid piece of choreography that comes in handy when you are putting together a mixed bill. It is essentially a useful ballet rather than a work with hidden depths which reveals more about itself with repeat viewings and at the moment for me,at least, it is suffering from over exposure. I do wish Kevin had given more thought to the mood likely to be generated by the juxtaposition of the works selected for this programme. If he had done so we might have been spared quite such a depressing evening. Perhaps he felt that a familiar Wheeldon, a world premiere and two company premieres by living choreographers on a programme packaged as "21st Century Choreographers" with its evidence of creativity and promise of more would be sufficiently inspiring to dispel any sense of gloom. Well it did not work for me. The all too familiar Within the Golden Hour was followed by a family row for three dancers by Kyle Abraham and two works by Crystal Pite. The first of Pite's offerings was The Statement which struck me as something akin to a cartoon for dancers, the second was Solo Echo in which the choreography seemed to have little connection with the music which accompanied it. The dancers did their best with the works they had been given to perform. All four works had atmospheric lighting which simply added to the general gloom. Although I am sure that the current crop of earnest critics would not agree with me but I could have done with a large dose of dance fun and frivolity. I am afraid I left the theatre thinking how much better an all Ashton mixed bill of Les Patineurs, A Wedding Bouquet and Facade would have been for all of us.
  4. Sarasota's latest programme provided an opportunity to see three Ashton works long neglected in London. We should have had the opportunity to see Valses Nobles et Sentimentales as part of a mixed bill which was due to be staged in the Linbury last summer but Covid put paid to that. This made the opportunity to see a streamed performance of Valses Nobles et Sentimentales even more welcome. This ballet is one of a number of neglected works which Ashton revived towards the end of his life. I remember seeing it at Sadler's Wells in the late 1980's and I never understood why the SWRB did not keep it in its active repertory. Seen in isolation, which is how I saw it in 1987, I did not realise how much of a watershed the war had been in terms of Ashton's stylistic choices. Valses Nobles, together with Symphonic Variations and Cinderella can,and perhaps should, be seen as a manifestation of Ashton's post war statement about the central role which classical ballet and the ecole de danse played in his concept of dance. Valses Nobles was the second occasion on which he had used this particular Ravel score but where in his 1935 ballet for Rambert he had created a narrative work in 1947 there is no obvious story and the relationship between the dancers is elusive and hinted at, and what really matters is the dance. As the streamed performance gave me the opportunity to watch the ballet more than once I began to see any number of choreographic ideas that Ashton would use again in later works often to entirely different effect. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to see the work again and even more grateful to see it more than once. I almost feel that it is unfair to write about The Walk to the Paradise Garden as the only cast ever seen in it in London were the dancers for whom it was made. This is a considerable advantage for any dancer but the original cast had other advantages both Wall and Park were well suited in height and both had considerable experience in handling tricky lifts, not only in making them look normal and natural but in using them to expressive effect. Before I saw the performance I had seen a comment about the performance which suggested that the essence of this ballet was the Bolshoi lifts which it contains. But that is not what struck me when I first saw it in the 1970's. What I saw was a short and very effective narrative work. I am sure the technical challenges which the lifts used in the ballet present are the last thing Ashton intended the audience should be aware of in performance. I hope this is not seen as being unfair but to make this ballet work the dancers need to have complete technical mastery of the choreography so that the entire piece appears spontaneous and effortless . The audience should never be aware of any of the challenges the choreography presents in performance. I was pleased to have seen the piece again. I should certainly like to see it revived at Covent Garden say with Hayward and Bracewell. Finally Facade a ballet about dancing made for the Camargo Society first performed in !931. It wears its years well and it is always a pleasure to see it. Its neglect at Covent Garden is perplexing as it works with audiences who know a great deal about dance and those who know nothing. Perhaps the powers that be at the Royal Ballet are suffering from a bad case of earnestness and deem this ballet too frivolous. Thank goodness the Webbs are not of that opinion.
  5. I am saddened by Scarlett's death but equally I am certain that everyone has the right to a safe workplace where they will be free from bullying and sexual harassment. The Royal Ballet/ RBS investigation seems to have been a protracted affair. We heard that Scarlett had been banned from the theatre and many months later a formal announcement was made that the company was severing ties with him. I think that the fact that they did not drop his staging of Swan Lake may well say more about the amount of money spent on it than anything else. I don't think that the decision to sever ties with him would have been taken lightly. I think that the company would have found it very difficult to deal with the matter in any other way for two very basic reasons both of which must have loomed very large in the minds of all engaged in the process of investigating the allegations. First the reputation of the school as a safe place to undertake vocational training and second recollections of the length of time it took to dislodge Ross Stretton when serious allegations were made about his conduct and his casting methods. I don't think that anyone in the company's senior management team would have been ignorant of the circumstances surrounding Stretton's departure. They would know that David Drew had gone out on a limb to tell the board what they did not want to hear about Stretton and that it did not seem to be enough to prompt any sort of action or enquiry by the board . They would know that It seemed to have taken Lady MacMillan's threat to withdraw the MacMillan repertory to make Stretton's position untenable. If there was evidence to support the allegations made against Scarlett and if things had really changed since Stretton's time and management now took its obligations to its dancers seriously then a slap on the wrist was not going to be an adequate response. As to the nature of the allegations I seem to recall that when the Times first reported on the matter it referred to allegations that young male dancers were being asked for intimate photographs in exchange for roles in Scarlett's ballets that would usually go to more experienced performers. Now remember that RBS students work with the ballet company from time to time sometimes to dance and sometimes in walk on parts to gain stage experience. Whether those students are from White Lodge or the Upper School as an educational establishment the RBS is in law in loco parentis to its pupils and has a legal duty to protect them. Its child protection duties apply to its students whether they are in the school buildings or in the theatre, This is why the director of the school was so quick to announce the result of the investigation in so far as they related to the school. It must have come as a great relief to him that no child protection issues had been raised in respect of the school or its pupils. As far as the company was concerned it had to act decisively if it was to make it clear that certain types of behavior were not acceptable and would not be tolerated whoever was involved.
  6. Perhaps I am being naive but this stage I interpret the Royal Ballet's silence as reflecting nothing more significant than the fact that the death of anyone in their mid thirties is unexpected. While I am sure that the management team has prepared any number of tributes for the deaths of major figures in the world of British ballet I don't think they would have anticipated this death. As far as company members are concerned it is just possible that most of them are still processing the news and coming to terms with it and as Janet has pointed out twitter does not provide the opportunity to say much, let alone anything nuanced. Scarlett had shown real promise as a choreographer while still at the Royal Ballet School. One of the unusual things about his works from a very early stage was his ability to get his dancers on and off the stage in choreography that was interesting in its own right. The exits and entrances he devised for his casts never looked like the logistical exercises they can often appear to be in works created by young choreographers. He was working within an recognisable classically based tradition and yet he had an increasingly identifiable voice and as he showed in his work for the school he had the ability to make works which showed young dancers of different ages and thus of different levels of expertise to their best advantage. At the age of twenty six a special choreographic post was created for him and he seemed to be on track for a bright future as he made well received ballets for his home company and companies abroad. Then allegations were made about his conduct and the golden future disappeared. The Royal Ballet School and the company were sufficiently concerned by the allegations made concerning the choreographer's conduct to undertake an investigation into them. This was no more than you would expect any employer or any institution engaged in training children and young people to do in such circumstances. The internal enquiry revealed no child protection issues in connection with his conduct towards the RBS students who had worked with him on various projects. The Royal Ballet chose to sever its ties with him and he lost his post as resident choreographer which indicates, to me, that there were significant concerns about his conduct towards company members or at least some individuals in its ranks. Various people have commented on the lack of criminal charges arising from the investigations but I think that does no more than indicate that the actions which the enquiry revealed did not cross the line from misconduct into criminality. I have no idea what employment law is like in the US but in the UK it is perfectly possible for an employer to find that an employee is guilty of misconduct sufficiently serious to amount to breach of his employment contract where the behaviour complained of does not amount to criminal activity. The employee has a remedy in law, if he feels that he has been treated unfairly, and that is to take his former employer to the Industrial Tribunal. As to why so little was said at the time about the enquiry's findings it seems more than possible to me that giving any sort of detail would have made those who had complained of his actions almost instantly identifiable and opened them up to harassment from the press, in a sort of double victimisation. I think that most members of the company will mourn the loss of a young choreographer with such obvious talent and potential regardless of what they think of him as an individual. His death seems such a waste.
  7. I am sorry to learn of Liam Scarlett's death as he was a young choreographer who during a short career managed to create a number of striking dance works which plenty of people many years his senior who describe themselves as choreographers would have been pleased to have made. I can't help feeling sorry for his family. His death must have come as a real shock given his age. As far as the Times' headline is concerned I wonder what happened to the old idea that you should not speak ill of the death? But of course the paper is now a part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire and has been for many years. Perhaps the only surprise is not the headline but that it took so long for the Times, which once had a reputation as a journal of record and a publication where serious journalism was undertaken , to find its place in the gutter along with Murdoch's other tabloid rags.
  8. Reading through the names does not suggest to me that there is any great need to worry about the long term viability of the company. The dancers named are largely performers who have probably come to the conclusion that having reached a certain age and without any realistic possibility of further further promotion or of dancing in the foreseeable future the offer of voluntary redundancy represented an offer they would have been foolish to refuse. As the redundancy is voluntary the payment that each dancer will receive is likely to be quite generous and very useful for anyone who has been planning what they will do when they stop dancing. As far as the company as a whole is concerned it may well make things more secure for the apprentice dancers of 2020 and may, perhaps, make it easier to offer apprenticeships in 2021.
  9. A new recording of de Valois' production of the ballet is due to be issued on the 23rd October 2020. The cast in the recording is headed by Nunez and Muntagirov with Avis as Dr. Coppelius. Although Coppelia was the first nineteenth century ballet the Vic Wells company ever danced it has had a somewhat patchy performance history since the company acquired its royal charter and became the Royal Ballet with lengthy periods of neglect followed by enthusiastic rediscovery for relatively short periods. Last Christmas gave audiences the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the work and once again raised the question why Coppelia does not have the regular place in the repertory it deserves.The cast selected for the streamed performance are excellent, even if Nunez is perhaps a trifle mature for the role of Swanhilde at this stage of her career, and does not bring the same freshness to the comedy of the second act that Hayward did on the opening night. Avis makes the role of Coppelius his own rather than trying to follow Helpmann's interpretation of the role while Muntagirov is charm itself and makes Franz's solo look ridiculously easy.
  10. The event held in October 2019 has been placed on the Foundation's website. It is of interest because a large part of the afternoon was devoted to coaching a section of Foyer de Danse which dates from the early 1930's when Markova was working in London and appeared at Rambert's Ballet Club. There is a film of this early Ashton work made by a ballet enthusiast which has tantalised people for years because it is clearly incomplete and many have thought it was too fragmentary to work on. On the basis of what was shown last October it seems that Ursula Hageli has solved many of the problems with the film . Using a computer she was able to slow the film down and found that by doing this the choreography fitted the music. In her opinion, presumably based on the handful of bars which were left without choreography, the only sections of the stage action which are missing are the dancers' entrances and exits which were not filmed. However as the work was made for Rambert's Mercury Theatre which had an exceptionally small stage and a limited number of options as to how to enter or leave it devising something to provide stage action to fill those bars of music should not prove an insurmountable challenge preventing the work being revived. The biggest obstacle is likely to be Kevin's limited enthusiasm for such works. As to whether it would be worth reviving the ballet? It was still in Ballet Rambert's active repertory when the company visited Australia in the late 1940's which suggests that it would be worth seeing restored to the stage. The second part of the event was devoted to a gala piece which Ashton made for Park and Eagling in 1975 which they only danced about three times and about which they admit to remembering very little. It is still of interest.
  11. While I am not a great Cathy Marston fan the Cellist may be of interest as it was made on Cuthbertson, Ball and Sambe all of whom are on top form in their created roles. My problem with it in the theatre was that I thought it could have done with some serious editing and that Marston had wasted a large number of talented dancers who seemed to have little reason to be on stage except to populate it as moving scenery and occasionally to act as props. My main interest in this DVD will be in Dances at a Gathering which again provides an opportunity to see a lot of the company's dancers but this time used to considerable effect. I was lucky enough to see the Royal Ballets original cast in the work and the impact of those performances has remained with me ever since. When it was announced that D A A G was replacing the previously advertised new ballet by Liam Scarlett I bought tickets for every performance which I could attend and I was not disappointed by either cast. This is a recording that I am likely to buy. It is due to be issued on the 22nd January 2021. There are rumours that last season's revival of Coppelia which was streamed to cinemas with a cast led by Nunez and Muntagirov will find its way onto DVD. I hope it proves to be true because while I would have preferred to see a recording of the performance given by the first night cast led by Hayward, Campbell and Avis a new recording of Coppelia is to be welcomed.
  12. While I am not a great Cathy Marston fan the Cellist may be of interest as it was made on Cuthbertson, Ball and Sambe all of whom are on top form in their created roles. My problem with it in the theatre was that I thought it could have done with some serious editing and that Marston had wasted a large number of talented dancers who seemed to have little reason to be on stage except to populate it as moving scenery and occasionally to act as props. My main interest in this DVD will be in Dances at a Gathering which again provides an opportunity to see a lot of the company's dancers but this time used to considerable effect. I was lucky enough to see the Royal Ballets original cast in the work and the impact of those performances has remained with me ever since. When it was announced that D A A G was replacing the previously advertised new ballet by Liam Scarlett I bought tickets for every performance which I could attend and I was not disappointed by either cast. This is a recording that I am likely to buy. It is due to be issued on the 22nd January 2021. There are rumours that last season's revival of Coppelia which was streamed to cinemas with a cast led by Nunez and Muntagirov will find its way onto DVD. I hope it proves to be true because while I would have preferred to see a recording of the performance given by the first night cast led by Hayward, Campbell and Avis a new recording of Coppelia is to be welcomed.
  13. These are the latest Royal Ballet performances to be made available to a worldwide audience during shutdown. Romeo and Juliet is being shown today at 7pm London time and will be available for a further fortnight. Now I know that I often feel that MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet is in danger of being done to death and that I would appreciate it much more if it were rested for several seasons and replaced, say by Ashton's version, but this is a performance that I shall be watching as the leading roles are taken by Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball. It was a revival of this ballet a couple of seasons earlier which made London audiences sit up and take notice of both dancers as potential company principals. The ballet is strongly cast and if I recall correctly Juliet's Friends at this performance included at least one dancer who was almost certainly making her final appearance in that role. Sleeping Beauty is being shown on 24th July at 7 pm and will also be available for a further fortnight. The cast is led by Fumi Kaneko and Federico Bonelli. It goes without saying that this is a ballet which gives the audience the opportunity to see a lot of the company in action. This performance is of great interest as Kaneko was replacing a senior dancer at short notice and had, I think, only made her debut as Aurora a few days earlier with a different partner. Kaneko is another dancer to watch and whose career is likely to be of interest.
  14. The latest Royal Ballet DVD will be issued on the 17th July 2020. It contains performances of three ballets which entered the company's repertory towards the end of the 1960's. Concerto has an interesting cast which includes Hay and O'Sullivan in the opening section and Naghdi and Hirano in the central section of the work. The performance of Ashton's Enigma Variations has the best cast that the company has mustered in years with Saunders as Elgar, Morera as Lady Elgar, Gartside as Jaegar and Hayward as Dorabella. In fact this revival was exceptionally well cast and coached with only one dancer in three casts whose presence on the stage I would question. It came as a pleasant surprise to discover that the company had three Troytes in its ranks. Finally to round off what in the theatre was a good old fashioned style mixed bill full of contrasts rather than three ballets with some sort of uniting theme there is Nureyev's Raymonda Act III. This was one of Nureyev;s earliest stagings of versions of the Petipa classics and was heavily influenced by the activities of Russian folk dance groups of the period. I have not seen the recording because I was in the theatre when the performance streamed . This means that I have no idea whether the recording suffers from an over busy camera but on paper the recording provides an excellent opportunity to see a good cross section of the company in ballets which for years were staples of its repertory.
  15. I don't see how anyone can do anything other than guess about when companies might be able to perform again. I believe that the experience from 1919 in Minneapolis and Saint Paul makes it clear that shutting down early means you come out of a pandemic much quicker and with much less. economic damage than you do if you delay shutdown. As both the US and the UK were slow to lock down we are likely to be stuck with the virus for much longer than say Germany which acted very promptly. Until we know what the real extent of the infection is and its rate of reproduction in our respective countries we can't really start talking about how and when companies will resume performing. What is clear is that until we know that the rate of "R" is well below one anyone talking about when the theatres might reopen is asking a question very similar to "How long is a piece of string? " I suspect that places of public entertainment where people gather in large numbers and sit close together in confined spaces will be the last to reopen quite simply because they seem designed to be infection hot spots. Public Health authorities will be reluctant to see them reopen until they are satisfied that the virus is well and truly under control. It is one thing to gradually ease restrictions on the range of shops which can reopen with social distancing if they are thought to attract a limited number of customers drawn from a relatively small geographic area quite another to allow places which can't really impose social distancing because of the way they function and were designed to reopen . It becomes an even bigger problem if they tend to attract audiences from across a wide geographic area as this brings the danger of importing fresh infection. However pressing their financial needs no company is going to want to be accused of creating an infection hot spot by reopening prematurely. Of course it is not just the audience drawn from a wide geographic area sitting close together that presents the potential for spreading the virus and boosting its reproduction rate the working conditions of the performers also present opportunities for it to spread as they scarcely allow for social distancing in any form. Dancers cannot keep six feet apart when rehearsing or performing and nor can musicians sitting in the pit. Watching what happens in Germany and Italy and comparing the two when it comes to announcing that they are reopening their opera houses and when they actually succeed in doing so might give a clue as to what we might expect.
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