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Ashton Fan

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  1. l suppose that I have to begin with the very first ballets that I saw for the simple reason it was a mixed programme danced by Ballet Rambert which made me want to find out more about the art form and expand my knowledge of what ballet was and what it was capable of being. Looking back I count myself extremely lucky that my aunt decided to take me to see a performance given by Ballet Rambert as a birthday present because had the second ballet I saw been my first encounter with the art form I think that I might have been put off ballet for life. My recollection is that the Rambert mixed bill included both Glen Tetley's "Pierrot Lunaire" with Christopher Bruce as Pierrot and Antony Tudor's "The Judgement of Paris." They will therefore have to be the first two ballets on my list. if you want to know what my second encounter with ballet was it was seeing "The Stone Flower" at the Kirov and it was not Prokofiev's s core which i found so off putting. I had come to ballet with innocent ears and had no preconceptions about what a ballet score should sound like by which I mean that I did not think that if the score was not by Tchaikovsky or Minkus it was "difficult" and not really suited to ballet. I suppose it might have helped if I had seen a full length ballet before I saw "The Stone Flower " but I am not convinced that it would have helped that much. I don't think that it was my lack of knowledge of the conventions of full length ballets which was the problem. It seems to me that it was the extremely earnest nature of the narrative and the structure of the ballet itself which were the problems. Far too much of the score was allocated to setting the scene and in establishing the characters the most important part seemingly being the need to establish the extraordinarily virtuous nature of the hero and the unbelievable wickedness of the baddies. What with that and the time taken up by the virtuous hero toiling away in the mine the denouement felt particularly rushed. Even at that age my limited knowledge of the rudiments of theatrical structure led me to think that perhaps you should not find yourself squeezing half the narrative into a quarter of the score. The experience was not enough to put me off ballet going but if it had been my initial encounter with ballet, and if I had had less experience of theatre going, it might have been the first and last time that I attended a ballet performance. I know that I was extremely lucky because not long after that I went to live in a town which the Royal Ballet Touring Company visited on a regular basis. The company danced a wide range of the company's pre-war repertory and although it was disbanded early on in MacMaillan's directorship I had the opportunity to see many works which were not part of the regular repertory at Covent Garden. The core repertory of the Touring Company included ballets by de Valois, Ashton, MacMillan and Cranko. The older Ashton ballets which it danced included Facade, Les Rendezvous and Les Patineurs. I think that it is Les Patineurs which fired my interest not only in Ashton's ballets but in Massine's as well. It has to be my third ballet .The fourth and fifth ballets which were significant in fuelling my ballet going habit were some of the first ballets that I saw at Covent Garden a matinee performance of Sleeping Beauty with a cast led by Sibley and Dowell and a performance of Serenade danced by a cast headed by Beriosova and MacLeary. The five ballets which made me a balletgoer are: 1. Pierrot Lunaire. 2. The Judgement of Paris. 3. The Sleeping Beauty. 4. Serenade. 5. Les Patineurs. and to see eady knew that I
  2. I think that the real problem with the Ashton repertory is the personal tastes and artistic vision of the artistic directors of the two Royal Ballet companies who decide which ballets we shall be permitted to see each season. If they were doing a good job of programming the full range of his choreographic output by ensuring between them that all of the major ballets were revived on a regular basis and even the minor pieces were given the occasional airing then perhaps other companies might wish to stage more of them. The problem is the programming policies of those two directors ensure that only a bare handful of Ashton ballets enjoy anything like core repertory status.Kevin O'Hare seems to want to go down in company history as a director who added to the company's repertory rather than as a conservator of the non MacMillan works in the company's twentieth century back catalogue. David Bintley as an active choreographer has seen his company as a vehicle for his own sub-Ashtonian creations rather than as a repository of choreographic treasures and curiosities , The neglect of the works which BRB has brought back from near oblivion is little short of scandalous since both he and his predecessor Sir Peter Wright have been responsible for award winning revivals and restorations of important works from the thirties and forties. Only time will tell what happens to the older ballets in Birmingham's repertory when Acosta takes up the directorship there in January 2020. Will he be at all interested in ballets which he has never seen which would not have suited him as a dancer or will he start staging works with which he is familiar from his days in Cuba? The great advantage that both Balanchine and Robbins enjoy is that there is a consensus among the US dance community devoted to classical ballet about the quality and significance of their dance output. Although there may be doubts about the quality of individual works no one who wants to be taken seriously in the world of dance has, to my knowledge, ever suggested that the bulk of their works are old fashioned and should be shelved in favour of works by the current generation of choreographers. Balanchine has the additional advantage of being almost synonymous with classical ballet in the US. Things are somewhat different when it comes to the Ashton repertory in the UK where he seems to be far game for those who would much prefer that the Royal Ballet were dancing works by MacGregor and his contemporaries.Indeed there are some critics who can't resist describing Ashton's works as old fashioned whenever the opportunity presents itself as it has in the last couple of weeks with the company's latest triple bill of Concerto, Enigma Variations and Raymonda Act III. "Sepia coloured" and "old fashioned" were pressed into service to criticise rather than describe the rarely revived Enigma Variations which rather misses the point that the ballet is a late 1960's portrayal of the characters whom Elgar described in his score and an evocation of the late Victorian world. You might ask whether this process of downplaying the Ashton legacy was deliberate or accidental and perhaps a meeting which Jeremy Isaacs, General Director Covent Garden 1987 -1996 , described in his autobiography provides some sort of answer. He says that soon after Ashton's death in 1988 he had a meeting with Kenneth and Lady MacMillan at which she pressed her husband's claims to have his work given preference in programming as he was still capable of creating new works for the company. She added that Anthony agreed to this. This, I think, marks the point at which the company which Ashton had helped to establish and whose artistic and stylistic reputation he had forged became the company whose MacMillan repertory became more important to its artistic identity and its financial stability than that of its Founder choreographer. Then there were those who wanted to speed up the process of reducing Ashton's influence on the company's performance style. Speaking at a conference about Ashton and his works held in the late 1990's, John Percival reported that dancers were being encouraged by their colleagues to "camp up" their performances of Ashton's choreography. That sort of thing does not help Ashton's cause nor does the fact that few if any of his works are danced at the right speed probably because the school abandoned teaching the Cechetti system years ago. Unfortunately Ashton danced too slowly becomes heavy and stodgy and fails to capture the imagination..
  3. I am very sorry to hear of McRae's injury and wish him a speedy recovery. Being realistic about his injury it seems unlikely that he will be fulfilling his dancing commitments in the ballets in which he has been cast during the first booking period and this raises the interesting question of who will replace him in his current scheduled performances ? His injury leaves three leading roles to be allocated of which the prince in Sleeping Beauty is probably the most important in terms of career progression because of the place the ballet has in the company's history. Who gets to dance those roles is of interest not because of a lack of potential replacements within the company's ranks but the sheer number of talented young male dancers who might be cast in his stead. The first night of the mixed bill which includes Raymonda Act III is only a few days away and although Clarke is already cast in Concerto on the nights that McRae was scheduled to dance I can't help hoping that Clarke, rather than Hirano, will get to dance Jean de Brienne as he was very stylish in the role when he danced it on the main stage at his year's graduation performance. As Kevin seems very keen to give junior dancers their chances, Clarke was only a First Artist when he danced the prince in Sleeping Beauty when it was last revived, so perhaps we shall get to see someone like Sissens in one or more of these roles ? The disappointment of not seeing McRae will, I am sure, be ameliorated by seeing the next dancer or dancers to be given their opportunity to display their talents and their artistry.
  4. Hallberg is due to partner Osipova in Onegin, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake and I would not be at all surprised to see them in Dances at a Gathering as well. As far as the role of Onegin is concerned I had understood that the Cranko Trust had a far firmer hand when it came to questions of casting the right type of dancers in leading roles than the decision to cast Hallberg in the title role suggests is the case. it is certainly casting against type and it makes the decision to casting Muntagirov as Onegin appear almost uncontroversial. Although I shall be happy to be proved wrong I don't see either man as ideally suited to the role and in Hallberg's case it is not just the challenge of being cast against type that is the problem there are also some pretty tricky lifts which he will need to master. If he can't make them l look effortlessly expressive he is unlikely to make much of an impact as Onegin. As far as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are concerned Osipova is not an obvious choice to dance classical roles, she is a one off, whom you either accept on her terms or you don't. It is strange to see her choose to appear with a partner who even in his current physical state will show up her lack of purely classical credentials but then perhaps it is as a friend suggested to me, she simply likes the idea of working with a totally unobtrusive partner.
  5. Thinking about Mashinka's comments about how flat Dances at a Gathering seemed when it was revived during the 2007-8 and the 2008-9 seasons I can't help wondering what it was that made those recent performances seem muted and lacking in character when compared with the impact of the company's performances of it during the 1970's ? Of course it could simply be the cast which Robbins selected or perhaps the lapse of time has made those performances of more than forty years ago seem so full of character and emotional depth and that every passing year has enhanced their impact but I don't think that is the entire explanation. I suspect that there is far more to it than that. I seem to recall that several of the dancers involved in the company's initial performances said that when Robbins rehearsed them they learned all the roles and were not told until just before the first night which role they would be dancing . This of course means that they were far more deeply immersed in the ballet and the interconnections of the various sections of the ballet than any subsequent Royal Ballet cast would ever be as ballet schedules today do not usually allow that amount of time for in depth preparation. I can't help wondering whether an even more significant factor was that Robbins' handpicked cast was full of dancers with really strong stage personalities who seem to have been allowed a degree of interpretive freedom by the choreographer which is not possible forty plus years later when coaches from a trust safeguarding a choreographer's works are in charge of revivals. I seem to recall that Richard Buckle wrote that NYCB dancers who saw the Royal Ballet's original cast complained that they were acting the ballet rather than dancing it. Perhaps the difference in the impact of the two sets of performances is simply that the most recent casts were coached to dance it in the ""correct" Robbins' style rather than in a manner gave them an opportunity to give their own interpretations of what they were dancing. I recall the Royal Ballet's initial cast suggested a group of people held together by invisible emotional ties. Perhaps it boils down to this forty years ago we had, thanks to Robbin's himself, the "tuppence coloured" version of his ballet whereas today we get the "correct " "penny plain " version. I shall be going to see this forthcoming revival,even if it is a rather bland version of the ballet, because of the inherent qualities of the choreography.I shall go with the hope of seeing two casts selected from across the company's ranks rather than simply from the most senior dancers in the company. It is always interesting to see the dancers an outsider chooses to cast if given a free hand.
  6. Dropping a new ballet is unusual to say the least. As the revival of Scarlett's less than satisfactory Swan Lake takes place at roughly the same time as his new work was due to be premiered perhaps the problem is that he does not have enough time to create the new ballet and undertake remedial work on his Swan Lake production. I am not sure that there are that many people in London who will be filled with joy by the announcement that Hallberg is to become a principal guest artist with the company. So far the little we have seen of him in London makes it difficult to see precisely why he should be given that status at this point in his career. I think that many people assume that his presence in the company has more to do with Osipova wanting to dance with him than anything else. I am not sure that the company needs an exemplar of pure classicism as it has both Muntagirov who is young and Bonelli who is probably entering his final years in princely roles on the books and several young men such as Bracewell, Clarke and Sissens who are clearly going places as far as such roles are concerned. I am not suggesting that Hallberg's reputation as a fine classical dancer is undeserved merely that his best days are almost certainly behind him. When he danced the balcony pas de deux with Osipova at the Fonteyn Gala he seemed blandly beautiful , failed to suggest any sense of passion or urgency in his dancing, struggled with some of the lifts and made the whole thing seem dull. His presence in the company will inevitably reduce opportunities for a number of extremely talented young men who need opportunities to dance and develop.
  7. You can add to the list performances of Marguerite and Armand which are included in a mixed bill called "Alina at Sadler's Wells" which will be performed at the Wells between the 20th and 23rd February 2020. I find the fact that today this work is said to be the most frequently performed of Ashton's works almost as unsettling and unbelievable as the fact that so few of his works are being programmed. Mr. O'Hare clearly understands the need to perform the company's nineteenth century repertory and to do those works justice in performance but when it comes to the twentieth century repertory he is, at best, ambivalent. He understands the need for regular performances of MacMillan's successful full length works as they generate a regular income for the company and certainly attract dancers to it but another reason for their regular revival is that they benefit from the presence of an active advocate for them. MacMillan's works are not thought to need excuses or explanation when it comes to programming them and they most certainly do not fall into the "heritage works" category whereas it would seem that with the exception of Symphonic Variations and perhaps Fille, Ashton's works do. Their presence in a programme requires an explanation about the importance of "heritage works" to the company's artistic identity. The problem is that it is perfectly possible to have an insight event about the importance of Ashton to the company without apparently recognising the need to perform his ballets on a regular basis. I suspect that Kevin would think that the loss of a few Ashton works through neglect was a price worth paying for the presence in the company's repertory of a handful of reasonably successful works by MacGregor. As it is MacMillan is seen as far more important to the company than Ashton could ever be. No one seems to be that concerned about devising some sort of plan that would ensure that Ashton's works and other major twentieth century ballets such as Les Noces and Les Biches were performed on a regular basis and were part of the regular churn of the active repertory. If Kevin had thought about the Fonteyn centenary, rather than adding a gala as an afterthought , he might have used it as an opportunity to publicise some of the Ashton repertory and followed it up by including a couple of the ballets from which excerpts were shown in the following season's repertory. I feel sure that there were plenty of people who would have loved to have seen revivals of Ondine and Daphnis and Chloe this season. However next season should be exciting as it seems that it is going to be full of works which have been made or acquired since he became Artistic Director. I am not sure how that is going to work financially but perhaps that is the explanation for the exceptionally high ticket prices for much of this season's repertory.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
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