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Ashton Fan

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  1. I suspect that the choice of tour repertory at each theatre is, on the company's part, a mixture of unshakable faith in Acosta's Don Q, an almost obsessive drive to renew the company's repertory, the need to cover the cost of the tour and lack of rehearsal time to prepare anything else .Perhaps the management of the Kennedy Centre said that they wanted Don Q or said that they did not think that a mixed bill would shift enough tickets. The programme alteration is just as likely to have been initiated by the theatre as by the company. In 2013 Kevin O'Hare gave an interview to Sarah Crompton of the Daily Telegraph in connection with the 2013-2014 season in which he said that it would be fantastic if by 2020 every full length ballet that the company presented was "new in the last ten years" .In the 2013-2014 season the only Ashton works we got were Rhapsody and the Dream.Rhapsody was probably programmed more because it was planned to take it on the Moscow tour in 2014 than any great enthusiasm for Ashton's choreography on O'Hare's part. The Dream , in hindsight, seems to have been revived and cast with the US tour in mind. Rhapsody was memorable for a stunning debut by James Hay and Francesca Hayward the Dream was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I think it is kindest to say that casting Matthew Golding as Oberon did him no favours at all .Casting him with Osipova made little sense as it put two dancers together neither of whom had any prior involvement with the work. If it was intended to show them off and create an instant partnership then it failed on both counts. Osipova would have benefited from a more experienced Oberon who was actually suited to the role.It seemed to me that casting Golding was an object lesson in how difficult the role of Oberon is, as if we needed that, and drew attention to what Golding could not do, rather than what he could.It is perhaps not the best way to introduce a newly acquired principal dancer to an audience by showing him off in a work to which he is unsuited particularly if it is one that has been regularly revived with fine casts since its premier. I mentioned lack of rehearsal time as a factor in the programming decisions.The company must have lavished hours of rehearsal time on the new Shechter piece which had an unfortunate effect on the corps in Song of the Earth.The new McGregor will have eaten up a great deal of rehearsal time as well.The reality is that many of the works to which passing reference has been made as ballets that could have been included in a mixed bill have not been danced for some time and would require considerable time allocated to rehearsal to make them stage ready. The 2004 tour gave the impression that a great deal of the Ashton repertory was readily available for revival at any time but it needs to be remembered that 2004 was the centenary of Ashton's birth. The 2006 London season which celebrated the seventy fifth anniversary of the company's foundation was, understandably, heavily dependent on repertory that was of significance to the history of the company. But the revivals in those years did not result in regular performances of the revived works in subsequent years. Les Biches was last revived in 2005, The Rake's Progress in 2006 and Checkmate in 2007. Mason was criticised in some quarters for spending too much time on reviving "heritage works" but she did at least restore them to the living repertory and company memory. O'Hare seems to be moving towards the way in which Bintley programmes works which involves new works every year and in most years a limited number of revivals of works by Ashton and MacMillan. I think that many people here are curious about how the 2015 tour will go as far as repertory,casting and performances are concer.I do not think that it should be assumed that the revival of Fille this year and the revival of The Two Pigeons next season,which has taken everyone by surprise, is evidence that O'Hare has suddenly changed his mind about the direction in which he wishes to take the company. It could be that the cuts in government support for the arts and lack of apparent enthusiasm for Woolf Works despite the popular prices may force a review of his plans for the repertory.Woolf Works is unique in my experience as a new work which has not sold well.I can not recall a new three act ballet by a well known choreographer that has required advertisements on Tube stations, newspaper articles and mentions on serious radio news which usually deal with politics and genuine news items, to shift unsold tickets.,
  2. Like MacMillan with his "holy palmer's kiss" in Romeo and Juliet Ashton introduced at least one direct and one indirect reference to the spoken Shakespeare text In his ballet the Dream. The direct reference is to Puck's boast about putting a circle about the earth the indirect reference is to Puck's ability to transform himself. There is a short sequence and I am trying to remember precisely where. I think it is before Puck is sent to fetch the flower Love in Idleness when Puck is downstage and moves like an ape dancing. It is not always clear. It very much depends on the dancer. Wayne Sleep did not make much of it, too involved in showing off his technique,Brian Bertcher made it very clear. I imagine that even Ashton was stumped when it came to portraying Puck's boast about his ability to transform himself. How do you impersonate a joint stool? So he settled for something that would do just as well and would be picked up by those who knew their Shakespeare or at least knew A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. Caliban describes the activities of the spirits on the island on which the action of the Tempest takes place and says "...Sometimes like Apes that mow and chatter at me And after bite me..." Not quite as funny as impersonating a joint stool "then slip I from her bum and down topples she." but in the same area of supernatural activity. Well Zucchetti does not make much of this section of the choreography as Stojko and Kay certainly do. It's another one of those areas where Ashton puts in detail that builds the character for the audience but which a dancer who approaches ballet performances as being simply about technique will tend to gloss over as not being that important. I suspect that Hay will fall into the choreographic detail style of performer but on the basis of the single that I saw him in I can not say with absolute certainty.
  3. I imagine that the official version will be that they are bringing Carousel pas de deux because it is the last choreography that MacMillan created and its inclusion means that both programmes contain works by the company's two greatest choreographers.But the choice of this piece and the Beau Gosse solo may not be entirely unconnected with the fact that they were both recently performed at an Opera House gala. So it cuts down on rehearsal time which is probably at a premium at present.The revised Age of Anxiety programme will give you even more opportunity to see a lot of the company than the original programme would have done
  4. There is a fourth Puck Michael Stojko. Of the four potential Pucks. Zucchetti, in my opinion, is all technique and little else he tends to skip the little bits of mime that are physically incorporated into the dance about mowing apes and so on, or rather he does not make sure that they register. He does not draw a character in the way that the other three do He has been off injured and so unable to dance his performances in Fille. .It would have been interesting to see if he reduced Colas to technical display or whether he managed to create a character. Paul Kay is the company's best Ashton dancer in the roles created by Alexander Grant but he is also good as Puck. Stojko is good and so is Hay. Kay, Hay and Stojko get the balance right and dance the character rather than merely reproducing the steps and displaying their technique. Bottom will be either Jonathan Howells or Bennet Gartside.
  5. The management's decisions on what to tour and who to cast often seem decidedly odd. Last year the company took Manon to Moscow and certainly did not show their best casts.There is more than a bit of that on this tour too. I wonder whether O'Hare naturally lacks a good eye when it comes to casting or whether his inability to identify the right dancer for a particular role is attributable to spending too many years working in a company which is forced to engage in compromise casting because of its size? The mixed bill with divertisements will give you a great opportunity to see a significant part of the company .It will be interesting to read what you think about the works and the dancers.It is a great pity that you are getting to see so little of Muntagirov who is bringing you his gala" party piece" Beau Gosse. He almost persuaded me that I wanted to see the entire Train Bleu when he danced it a couple of years ago The Double Bill has some strange casting. The Dream has a reasonable cast on first night but the second cast of Osipova and Golding surprises me.It is as if O'Hare is more concerned about showing off his "star" dancer than what the performances will look like. Osipova will probably be better as Titania than last year because she has danced a few more Ashton roles but I do not see how Golding will have transformed his laboured, lumbering account of Oberon. He is just too big and slow to do justice to a role created on the young Dowell. The role should look light and mercurial which it does if it is danced sufficiently quickly but it looks heavy and ponderous if it is danced slowly and Golding could only manage slow last year.. We were only saved from being forced to endure him in Symphonic Variations this season, he was announced as appearing in every performance, because of last minute changes to the casting which everyone here assumes were required by the owner of the ballet rather than by management having a last minute change of mind. The cast for Song of the Earth is equally perplexing.The first night cast spares you Soares but it includes Nunez who brings very little to the role of the woman she is rather superficial in it. Morera in the second night cast brings far more to it and that cast has the benefit of Ed Watson. as the Messenger of Death.I can make no comment on the third cast Cuthbertson and Pennefather who are due to dance in it at the end of the Covent Garden season.Then there is the slight problem of the corps getting to grips with it. There seem to be rather a lot of newcomers to the ballet which has made the first run of performances a bit like an extended series of open rehearsals.
  6. It will be interesting to see whether O'Hare stands by what he has said about building the company up from the bottom up when it comes to a ballet that is to be broadcast. If he casts Pigeons according to type, based on the original cast, which he will be able to do rather than by compromise which is often forced on BRB , he will cast someone with the ability to dance like Seymour.This is a case of Ashton choreographing for Pavlova or rather Seymour as a Pavlova substitute. Morera,Nunez and Osipova are all more suited to the role of the Gypsy Girl whose allure is characterized by experience and choreographically by her attack and the obvious strength of her technique. In some ways it is almost soft, lyrical Romantic style Young Girl versus late nineteenth century Italian technique Gypsy Girl. I should be surprised if Lamb were cast in the Seymour role,She is an exceptional dancer and stunning in roles that suit her such as the Sylph and Manon particularly if she has the right partnerbut her Lise was far too serious and I thought that in the Winter's Tale she struggled to convince as Perdita because she was too sophisticated whereas Stix Brunell had no such problem. If O'Hare is serious about giving the younger dancers opportunities then Francesca Hayward who with James Hay made a stunning debut in Rhapsody in February 2014 might be in the running for the Young Girl.She has since made enthusiastically received debuts in Manon and Alice.The Hay,Hayward debut was one that had everyone who saw it leaving the auditorium at the interval grinning ear to ear and saying things along the lines that their performance would have been stunning as a debut by anyone with far more experience but for dancers that junior it was unbelievable. As far as casting Rhapsody for broadcast is concerned it will probably end up being a choice between McRae and Muntagirov. The 2014 performances were all very good but quite a few people who saw all three thought that the Hay, Hayward cast had the edge. Hay although described by Luke Jennings as dancing pretty much at the edge of his technique made everything appear effortless and elegant which is what Ashton would have wanted whereas McRae seemed to emphasize the technical challenge rather than minimizing it and Zucchetti emphasized the effort. I have just come back from an open rehearsal of Fille with Osipova, McRae and Kay which was so much fun and such a relief after all the earnest ballets that we have had recently. I Iove Song of the Earth but the Shechter is boring and too long. Today I saw a ballet made by a master working at the height of his powers.Everything works, nothing is too long.It is the ballet equivalent of stumbling across an oasis after a long journey through a desert.
  7. If the recent performances are anything to go by the company need the second run of Song of the Earth to get it right. There are new younger casts dancing in the corps and it has not quite jelled. I think that the same will apply to the Two Pigeons as the company has not danced it for thirty years and unlike the position before Gailene Stock became director of the school when Pigeons was performed quite regularly at the school's opera house matinee there is no one in the company under thirty five who will have any experience of dancing it. On the face of it the season is not very exciting but that could change once the casting is announced. I think that if Romeo and Juliet has lots of new casts using young dancers like Hayward, Nagdhi, O'Sullivan,Clark and Hay people will be reasonably happy.The same applies to the casting of Nutcracker and Giselle. I suspect that the decision to programme Nutcracker and Giselle may have something to do with the fact that Sir Peter Wright who mounted both productions will celebrate his ninetieth birthday next year.I hope that it means that the management want to get some of the younger dancers into the rehearsal room with him. I shall be disappointed if Two Pigeons is not treated as the preserve of the under twenty fives. It is a real test of stamina, artistry and style but it does not need a whole pile of mature dancers pretending to be young.It was made for young dancers and it would provide the perfect opportunity to give a group of very talented younger dancers the chance to show what they can do without being subject to comparisons with past performances real or imagined as those old enough to remember dancers like Wall,Seymour,Gable and Barbieri in the work will be so grovellingly grateful to see it again.Fourteen performances with the opportunity for the company to get Monotones I and II right is fine by me as is the opportunity to see Rhapsody again. None of the works which are due to be performed with Pigeons are mere fillers and both versions of that programme will take a considerable amount of coaching, if only because the company dances so little Ashton. As to the rest of the schedule I am pleased to see that the Winter's Tale is being revived but amazed that the management has decided to bring back Raven Girl which as far as I am concerned provides ample evidence of the limitations of MacGregor's "genius". They may need all those Nutcrackers to cover their losses. By the way I understand that his Woolf Works is not selling too well. Scarlett is talented and Asphodel Meadows is the real thing but at present he seems to be trying on a lot of other people's choreographic clothes. Currently he is trying out different aspects of MacMillan's choreographic territory. It would be nice if Frankenstein proves to be a break through work for him. I wonder if the full evening of Wheeldon will provide sufficient contrast.The revival of the Invitation is overdue and welcome. I think that whether or not this proves to be a good year for the company and its audience will depend very much on the casting decisions that management make. If we get casting according to suitability rather than seniority then I think most people will be happy.O'Hare has shown an unfortunate tendency to proximate casting seemingly favouring principal dancers however unsuitable over more junior ones which is the only explanation for the decision to cast Matthew Golding as Oberon last season and the announcement that he would appear in the Some's role in Symphonic Variations this season. Fortunately the owner of the ballet appears to have thought that he was not suitable for Symphonic and cast Muntagirov and Reece Clark instead.
  8. I have read the earlier thread about the fairies' names which calls into question Diaghilev's decision to call the Sleeping Beauty the Sleeping Princess. Perhaps I can provide the explanation for what seems, on first sight, to be an unnecessary and ill judged one. After all Diaghilev's enterprise which was always precarious financially failed on this occasion. I understand that the decision to change the ballet's name was made to avoid confusion with the pantomime the Sleeping Beauty. Pantomime was extremely popular on Britain at that time and remained popular, certainly until the late 1950's, In the 1920's the pantomime season went on for months and was not confined to a few weeks either side of Christmas so the concern was probably well founded. I know that I read this explanation a long time ago I think in Lydia Sokolova's autobiography Dancing for Diaghilev. Sokolova whose name was selected by Diaghilev was originally called Hilda Munnings. She was the most senior English dancer in Diaghilev;s company and danced roles such as the Chosen One in Massine's version of The Rite of Spring,the Miller's wife in Le Tricorne and one of the main roles in Le Train Bleu. I think the tennis player based on Suzanne Langlande. Sokolova says that she assisted Diaghilev when it came to dealing with English impressarios such as Stoll who owned the Alhambra where the Sleeping Princess was performed.. Her autobiography is well worth reading as is a book by John Drummond based on his interviews with a large number of dancers who had danced in the Diaghilev company which I think was called Speaking of Diaghilev. The interviews were used in a two part documentary about Diaghilev and his company shown on the BBC more than forty years ago.
  9. Although we were not told at the time there had been a clash of heads and Osipova had slight concussion.As McGregor seems to favour atmospheric lighting with dancers appearing and disappearing into darkness I sometimes think that he is very lucky that there are not more accidents. At the performance following the accident the audience was told that the new ballet would not be performed. If I recall correctly I think that the second cast were not at that point fully rehearsed and so the dancer in the second cast dancing the Osipova role was not available to cover for her. The audience was given the option of leaving and getting a complete refund or staying for the rest of the programme and getting a partial refund. At subsequent performances there was no problem as cover was available. It is very easy to get the wrong end of the stick if you are not present when such an unusual thing happens. I suspect that some people attending later performances got the impression that the refunds were being offered because Osipova was not dancing when it was the fact that management could not field a replacement dancer that led to the Opera House handing money back . The Opera House dislikes refunds and is rarely reduced to handing ticket money back. The only other time that I recall it happening was with a performance of William Tell, long before the internet and e-mail, when someone key went sick on the day of the performance. Even now Tell is not the sort of repertory piece where you can fly someone in from Europe at short notice.The audience turned up at the allotted time and found that Tell had been cancelled. Our options were a full refund or stay for a glass of wine and an unscheduled Boheme. Fortunately for everyone the Tell cast included a lot of local singers who had appeared in the Copley production in different combinations. As I recall it was rather a good performance.
  10. Anyone trying to get tickets for sold out performances at the Royal Opera House is best advised to follow the official route to getting tickets and not to try a try a resale site.People who know that they will not be able to get to a performance either give their tickets to friends or return them to the Opera House for resale because they know that there is a very good chance that they will be resold.There are a number of authorised ticket agents whose details can be found on the website. Everything else is at your own risk and could prove very expensive particularly if you are refused admission. or find that you have bought a £5 standing place when you thought that you were buying an expensive seat. The box office now has notices on the counter next to the terminals used by the ticket sellers which repeat the small print on the back of the ticket. It is the standard stuff that should surprise no one who attends the theatre with any regularity; that if you buy a ticket from an unauthorised seller you may be refused entry and that the management reserves the right to refuse admission.The fact that it has been thought necessary to display the notices in a "bold and compelling manner" suggests that quite a few people must have been ripped off recently by unauthorised sellers unless of course it is intended to discourage people trying to sell tickets to the returns queue. There have been plenty of stories about people being ripped off by "entrepreneurs" selling non existent tickets or cheap tickets at inflated prices in connection with pop concerts and sports events from resale sites but not that many stories about people paying over the odds for performances at Covent Garden.. The ROH has not, as yet, found it necessary to put up notices stating that the management reserves the right to make alterations to the published programme and that refunds are only given if a performance is cancelled but that is, perhaps, only.a matter of time. There were stories of ticket holders from abroad having rows with box office staff when Osipova was replaced as a result of injury sustained during a McGregor ballet .As Osipova seems more susceptible to injury than some, it may be that all the standard terms and conditions about cast changes and cancellation will soon be prominently displayed in the box office.
  11. Having sat through a couple of performances of Sir Anthony's Sleeping Beauty I did not go again until it was replaced..I did not find the Markarova production much of an improvement although it did not give the impression that the palace had hit a rock, was listing and about to keel over and sink beneath the waves. I think that at one stage it was a striking visual metaphor for what was proposed for the company. The problem with Markarova's production was that the choreographic text was not the one we were used and then there was that twee child. I know that Balanchine recalled taking that role as a student but that was not seen as sufficient excuse. for the role's inclusion in a Royal Ballet Beauty. The production was seen as the worst example of Ross Stretton's ignorance of and indifference to the Royal Ballet's history and repertory.I know that the day that Mason as Acting Director came on stage to announce a cast change she only got half way through introducing herself before the house broke into spontaneous applause. You would have thought that she had announced that Frederick Ashton had risen from the dead. As to who gets to stage the new Swan Lake we may find out in April when the new season is announced although it would be odd if they did Swan Lake next year even if it is a new production. I think on the basis of what I have seen of the revivals that Ratmansky has been involved in that he has too much respect for the nineteenth century classics and the men who created them to add the Soviet accretions of a Jester and a happy ending to any production of Swan Lake in which he was involved . I feel that looking to someone with no connection with the Royal Ballet to stage the new production would be seen as a rejection of the company's history and a dereliction of duty on O'Hare's part .Scarlett may not be such a bad choice. I can certainly think of worse. We may find that we are all pleasantly surprised by the choice of stager and the staging itself. It is an expensive gamble whoever mounts this long overdue new production..
  12. I know that a lot of balletgoers here will be pleased to hear an official announcement that Dowell's production is at last to be pensioned off. It has been heartily loathed by many since its premier. Some claim not to have darkened the doors of Covent Garden to see a company performance of Swan Lake since 1987. It's not the choreographic text so much as the designs and the coarse stage business in the Petipa acts that people object to. Updating the action to the end of the nineteenth century was a big mistake as it brought the work into the world of realism.It is interesting that Dowell now says that he originally thought it was going to be a medieval production and that it was the designer who came up with that bright idea. .Attempting to restore the choreographic text was laudable in theory but it had disastrous results in practice. The attempt to restore sections of dance and business that are described but not recorded led to the removal of the Ashton waltz and its replacement with limp uninspired dances with stools and a maypole by David Bintley. The stage business in Acts I, II and III introduced coarse, boorish behaviour and a tutor whose actions suggests that he should be on the child protection register.It has also led the corps, who by definition tend to be young and impressionable, to treat the first act as if it was a work by MacMillan. The chaperones behave as if they are characters in Manon and even the " supers" who are older and should know better have decided to join in the dance action . It also had the unfortunate effect of souring relations with Ashton which meant that Dowell was unable to use the Ashton choreography he did want to include..As a result the Neapolitan dance was not restored until after Ashton's death. The production is" bling" laden with gold everywhere you look.I think it is fair to say that the majority of those who are old enough to have seen the old production with its clean atmospheric designs, clear action and Ashton choreography felt let down by what replaced it. On paper attempting to restore action and dance which is not in the Stepanov choreographic notation seems like a good idea but in practice it meant losing an act which was coherent and ordered with two sections of substantial choreography in the Ashton waltz and the pas de trois,replacing it with what is best described as an incoherent mess of undistinguished choreography and unnecessary stage business. It could be that the original choreography for the section which includes the waltz was not recorded was because it was not that good. It is noticeable that it is the Petipa acts of this ballet rather than the Ivanov acts which have most frequently been altered. Did they lack the quality and inspiration of Ivanov's work? It does seem as if Petipa having seen how good Ivanov's initial staging of the lakeside section was decided to get in on the act when it came to staging the ballet in St Petersburg. But wisely he only choreographed the court scenes. Looking back at the Dowell directorship it is pretty clear that design was not his strong point. The effect of his Sleeping Beauty and his Swan Lake were both undermined by their scenery and fussy costumes. While Russel Roberts and he managed to kill the choreography of Daphnis and Chloe with costumes which destroyed the amplitude of the movement. I find it strange that so many people professionally involved with dance seem indifferent to the overall visual impact that a work has on an audience and fail to ask simple questions about visibility. In the case of the soon to be jettisoned Swan Lake it would have helped if Dowell had challenged the designer's vision more often. There is a very simple reason for the lakeside scenes being white acts .It is not just because the audience has to be reminded of the dancers' dual nature as swans and women. The scenes take place at night and the white costumes ensure that the dancers are visible.Unfortunately no one seems to have thought about the visibility of the dancing in Act III where the floor is dark and so are most of the costumes which can makes it difficult for example to see see the prince's choreography. As to who gets to stage the new production we shall see what we shall see.At the moment Scarlett seems a better option than the other in house choreographers.And remember the company is unlikely to ask Ratmanskey or any other Russian to mount the work as the Royal does not do Jesters and has its own performance traditions. After the Ross Stretton Sleeping Beauty staged by Markarova which lasted a nano second and was loathed by balletomanes and critics alike I do not think that a director would dare make that sort of "inspired"choice again, at least I hope not. . Whoever gets the job they will have a lot of choreographic choices to make. Restoring an Ashton waltz, there are two, a pas de douze for the main company and a pas de six for the old touring company, would be a good start.Keeping the Ashton Neapolitan Dance is non negotiable. Kevin O'Hare will be in for a lot of public criticism on the ROH website if that disappears again. In fact restoring all the previous production's choreography using the Ashton and Ivanov Act IV in alternate seasons would leave most people very happy.But I know that it is not going to happen. As long as it does not turn into Siegrfied's drug induced dream (Peter Darrell) and is not subject to any other reworkings, bright ideas and concepts I shall be reasonably happy that is until I see it.Then who knows? What do they say about getting and not getting what you wish for? There is only one thing worse than not getting what you wish for and that's getting it. But one thing that will make this production very different from the current one is that the audience will not feel that they have to suffer in silence if the choreographic text is poor or if the designs and lighting are inadequate. The website is likely to crash with adverse comments if the new production is not up to the mark.
  13. I think that there is a very simple explanation for the variation being described as "Spessivtseva's variation" by Dolin which has nothing to do with any suggestion that she had been the first to dance it. Years ago I saw a programme in which Markova said that when the Vic Wells Ballet were preparing to stage their first performances of Giselle (late 1933) with Nikolai Sergeyev as Ballet Master, he had discussed the variations that she might dance at this point in Act 1. There were two variations recorded in the Stepanov notation. Sergeyev let her choose the.variation that she would like to dance. She unhesitatingly selected the one that she had seen Spessivtseva dance which is why it is that version that is invariably danced in the West. I do not recall that she described it as the "Spessivtseva variation" but it would have been understandable had she done so.It seems quite natural to me that any one who had seen Spessivtseva dance it;someone who had danced with her in Giselle or who knew that Markova had chosen the variation in preference to other options and the reason for her choice might come to describe it as Spessivtseva's.
  14. Mashinka,I should be interested to hear more about your views on Wheeldon's W inter's Tale. As I am sure you are aware it was generally well received here being seen as a considerable advance on his Alice. Of course it could be that the response was, in part, a collective sigh of relief that it was not as bad as McGrepor's Raven Girl.
  15. Perhaps you would care to expand on what you find wrong with the production. I know that I think that it is worse than either of the other productions that the company has acquired and abandoned but then I am not keen on Don Q as a ballet. The Royal did not need them and it does not need this one. It has plenty of Ashton ballets that it has not danced for years, such as the Two Pigeons, which is great fun and has some beautiful choreography. Pigeons was made on young dancers and would give the exceptionally talented young dancers in the company an opportunity to develop their stage craft and artistry. Spending time, effort and money on reviving them would have made more sense than allocating resources to the mess that is Acosta's Don Q. The production makes me question O'Hare's artistic judgment . Did he think that because Nureyev and Baryshnikov had successfully mounted productions of Don Q that Acosta would be able to do so? The Cubans produce fine dancers but good training is not comparable to the rich artistic background that both Nureyev and Baryshnikov acquired during their time training and performing in Russia. Did he agree to it out of a sense of gratitude to Acosta who is soon to retire? Whatever the reason it does not, in my opinion, do much to enhance the reputation of either of them or the company. . Don Q is, for me, a ballet that needs to be danced with whole hearted vulgarity something that comes naturally to a company like the Bolshoi but not to the Royal or to the Mariinsky, for that matter,or it needs to be staged by someone like Ratmansky who has, in his staging for the Dutch National ballet, almost convinced me that the ballet is not that bad after all. But then he seems to have gone to the trouble of.researching descriptions of the original production and the notation which relates to a later production in an attempt to show us a Don Q which is closer to the Petipa original than the hotchpot that most companies perform today.Playing the music in the correct sequence does wonders for a performance as does good costume design.Well the Royal Ballet's production has an awful re-orchestrated score,fussy costumes and scenery, ill judged entrances and a poor choreographic text which means that the dancers have to work desperately hard to make any impact at all which is a pity because there is a lot of promise in the lower ranks of the company with dancers like Francesca Hayward, Yasmine Naghdi and Anne Marie O'Sullivan.
  16. In 2014 there were far more Ashton ballets in performance than is usually the case and there were also some fascinating offerings from the archives. During the summer Birmingham Royal Ballet performed an Ashton triple bill of Les Rendezvous, Dante Sonata and Facade. I went to Birmingham to see it because Dante Sonata is such a rarity that I had only seen it twice when the company first revived it after a gap of about fifty years. The ballet is fascinating because it is so unlike anything else that Ashton produced but it was two live performances of Les Rendezvous, followed a few months later by a BBC film of the same ballet from 1962 that sent me back to read Geraldine Morris's book. Now I knew that Les Rendezvous would not look like the ballet did when I first saw it in the 1970's because it has been redesigned in a manner which is totally insensitive to the choreographer's floor plan and the ballet's original setting and mood.But I was prepared for that. At one performance it was reasonably well cast with the lead female role given to a dancer who could manage the soft, almost Giselle like qualities, demanded by the ballerina's role in Les Rendezvous. At the other performance the dancer was hopelessly miscast or perhaps had ignored the coach.I expected some difference between the casts in the two live performances. What I was not ready for was how different the dancing in both live performances looked when compared to that in the filmed version which I saw a few months later. I did not expect them to look exactly the same but they looked like totally different ballets. In the 1962 film the dancers were light and very fast with lovely arms, little or no preparation for jumps and with light and shade in their dancing the live casts were, by comparison, slower and more deliberate and lacked the liveliness and the sense of fun that was somehow generated by the filmed performance. Seeing the film convinced me that I had not been mistaken when I had felt dissatisfied by the quality of the dancing in recent revivals. What did the book tell me? Morris begins her book by writing about the effect that the Russian "absolutist methods" of training have had on the ability of dancers to recognise differences in style and reproduce the work of older choreographers. The fact that pupils of these methods are told that what they are being taught will enable them to perform the step in question in any ballet she believes sends dancers on to the stage unable to distinguish between the danse d'ecole and the form of the steps as set by the choreographer.The idea that there is one fixed way of performing any step is a significant part of the problem in reproducing Ashton's style but so too, she points out, is the modern fashion of treating the pas de bouree as mere linking steps taking the dancer from one pose to the next where in Ashton these steps are often an integral part of the characterisation. She describes her methodology and devotes a whole chapter to the various influences on Ashton's choreography. Perhaps the most important part of the chapter is the discussion of the eclectic nature of the ballet training available in England in the 1920's and 1930's.She makes it clear that the dancers that he worked with had a shared aesthetic but because of the variety of training available to them, were more open and receptive, and better able to identify different styles than is the case today. She writes about Rambert and comments on the individuality of the dancers that she trained and her ability to identify, nurture and support young choreographic talent. She writes about de Valois and her choreography; the influence on Ashton of Nijinska, Petipa and Buddy Bradley but despite Alexander Grant's assertion that Massine was essential to understanding Ashton ,Massine is scarcely mentioned. She also discusses the impact on him of seeing Pavlova and Duncan dance. She devotes three chapters to in depth discussion of six ballets. A Wedding Bouquet and Les Illuminations are paired in Chapter 3; Birthday Offering and Jazz Calendar in Chapter 4 and finally in Chapter 5 Daphnis and Chloe and A Month in the Country. It is in the section on Birthday Offering that the reader is shown how little Ashton and the Royal Ballet relied on dancers with unified training and how much they depended on dancers who shared an aesthetic, ballet as a flow of movement, and a style which he had, in large part, created. She provides timings for the majority of the Ballerinas' solos in Birthday Offeriing which are considerably faster than we were treated to in the 2012 revival. The discussion of most of the ballets includes quite a lot of information about the design which should make it clear to anyone contemplating redesigning these, or any other of his works, that they will do far more harm than good to the work in question. Many of us are still recovering from the ill judged ancient Greek style designs for Daphnis and Chloe which killed the piece by restricting movement that had previously been amplified by the movement of the fabric used in the girl's skirts. I found that the book helped me to identify much of what was missing in many of the performances that I have seen in the last twenty years or so. It would be nice to think that some of those responsible for reviving Ashton's ballets in London would read this book and then look at some of the films from the 1960's and 1970's to see what is missing from current performances. I sometimes think that some of the coaches are so in awe of what today's dancers can do that they fail to notice what they can't do. I suspect that one of the reasons that dancers skimp on the detail is because it is very difficult to dance Ashton's choreography well and he does not let the dancer show how hard his choreography is. I think that this book is of use to anyone interested in Ashton's works whether or not they have seen all the ballets covered in the book. It would be nice to think that ballet is a sufficiently mature as an art form to recognise that just as you can not sing Mozart as if he was Puccini or play Handel as if he was Wagner that you should be sensitive to the choreographers aesthetic and style when you dance twentieth century ballets. As to how and why things changed even among those trained at the Royal Ballet School the de Valois syllabus was dropped when Merle Park became director of the school. A word of warning about the DVDs mentioned at the end of the bibliography. The author is not necessarily endorsing them as providing fine examples of how Ashton's ballets should be danced.
  17. I have no doubt that a close study of the rather patchy contents of the Royal Ballet's performance archive on the Opera House website would show that the Ashton casting rot set in at the time that Somes "retired" as repetiteur. I recall plenty of occasions during Dowell's directorship when hopes would be raised by the announcements of programmes only to be dashed when the casting was announced.The result was that on those nights, when the casting was half decent, the "regulars" would all turn up at the house in a sort of Ashton reunion. The current position is worse because during Dowell's time, although some of his casting decisions had more to do with keeping senior dancers happy than their suitability for particular roles, some works such as Scenes and Symphonic took longer to fall into the hands of dancers for whom the style was alien. During Dowell's directorship.there were plenty of dancers in the company who had worked with Ashton and who had the style in their bones; now the only two that come to mind are the character principals Rosato and McGorian. That is not to say that the company could not mount a very successful Ashton evening.The last Ashton mixed bill would have provided a series of exemplary performances if the first night cast for Symphonic had been retained for the entire run, if Pajdack had danced all the performances of Brahms Waltzes and only Month had been shown with two casts.I was amazed that O'Hare had put Scenes de Ballet on the same programme, because in the past the main male role in Scenes was usually taken by a dancer who took the Brian Shaw role in Symphonic. If it was intended to display the company's strength it did not work. It merely served to show how little the management understood about the practicalities of casting.But then what do I know? The worst example of miscasting that I can think of was the double cast of Birthday Offering where only Nunez and a couple of other dancers deserved to be on the stage. I thought at the time that if Mason had really wanted to show two casts she should have let Nunez lead a cast of some of the younger dancers who might at least have been prepared and/or able to dance in the required style. .
  18. The real difference between the two companies is that for Barbieri and Webb at Sarasota reviving Ashton's works is a labour of love while for the current management team at Covent Garden it appears to be a chore. Last year we were given Rhapsody and The Dream. I am not convinced that we would have seen either of them if the company had not been going to Moscow.The truth is that O'Hare seems to be more concerned with "refreshing" the repertory than he is with looking after Ashton's works. MacMillan's works have not suffered as much as Ashton's from poor casting decisions probably because the rights owner is a force to be reckoned with; the fact that she could withdraw the performance rights must be a powerful incentive to stay on the straight and narrow. Until last June I would have said that BRB was a dependable custodian of Ashton's works now I am not so sure.In October I went to a screening of Ashton's ballets which included Les Rendezvous filmed in 1962 and A Month in the Country filmed in 1978. The recording from 1962 was particularly interesting as I had been to Birmingham in June to see BRB in their Ashton mixed bill. The programme included two ballets with roles created by Markova, Les Rendezvous where the ballerina's role was clearly influenced by the Romantic style of Giselle, which she had been learning and Facade an earlier work where her role was reliant on her known technical skills and was, if anything, about confounding expectations.I saw two casts.At one performance the female lead had all the Romantic softness required in Les Rendezvous but none of the steel required to bring off the Facade role successfully at the other performance the dancer cast was clearly more of a Myrthe than a Giselle; she was fine in Facade but unsuited to the ballerina role in Les Rendezvous. The films were a revelation of how much the Ashton style has changed over the years. Even allowing for the studio conditions Les Rendezvous as danced by Brian Shaw and Doreen Wells as the lead couple with Petrus Bosman, Merle Park and Graham Usher in the pas de trois was so very fast and light. It looked completely different from what is currently served up under the title of Les Rendezvous and that's merely a comment on the dancing. The revised designs show a complete lack of concern for the ballet's setting and floor plan. But that is another story. There are some good Ashton dancers at Covent Garden but they are few in number and if there is a choice between casting one of them or a principal the principal, however unsuitable for the role, will be cast. How else can you explain the decision to cast Golding as Oberon in the Dream last year except that the management thought that it was more important to show a newly signed principal than to cast a dancer who would be able to perform the role in the appropriate style. You will have an opportunity to learn about Mr O'Hare's taste and judgment when the Royal Ballet visits you in the summer.It will be interesting to hear your comments on his choice of repertory and the direction in which he means to lead the company. What you think of the company's ability to dance Ashton will depend very much on the casting decisions which he makes.Every new director brings the possibility of change to repertory, dancers and style not all of which are intended not all of which are necessarily detrimental.But it is very easy to overlook what you have grown up with
  19. If recorded music and a bare stage with the occasional attempt at atmospheric lighting is the price that you have to pay for a chance to see these dancers perform some of Bournonville's choreography then it is a price that is well worth paying. I saw them in London last weekend. I can honestly say that five minutes of this Bournonville programme gave me considerably more pleasure than several performances of Acosta's Don Quixote have done. It is such a pleasure to see a performance of the work of a nineteenth century choreographer where you can be fairly certain that what you are seeing on stage is something that the choreographer himself might recognise. The dancing does not involve as much travelling across the stage as we expect from the nineteenth century ballets with which we are most familiar but then it was created for a theatre with a small stage. There is none of the twentieth century flashiness that has found its way into so much of the Russian repertory worldwide.The dancing is elegant, clean, full of petite batterie,wonderfully buoyant with unprepared jumps and is the closest that any of us are going to get to the French style of the early nineteenth century.It is so refreshing to see dancers performing nineteenth century choreography with a real sense of style where nuance rather than flashiness is the order of the day. No one is going to mistake this troupe for acrobats or gymnasts. There is greater equality between male and female dancers than we are used to in nineteenth century ballets.Male dancing did not go into decline in Denmark as it did in elsewhere. Bournonville was still a performer, and a very fine one, when he took charge of the King's Theatre and he made roles for himself; when he stopped dancing he continued to make ballets where the the male and female element are of equal importance. Rather than exaggerate the differences in male and female dancing by concentrating on some steps and movements as being the preserve of the male dancer and others the preserve of the female it is the contrast of the effect of the same step performed by dancers of the opposite sex that Bournonville shows us time and time again in his choreography. Bournonville prepared a large number of ballets for preservation but very few of them survived in performance beyond the nineteen twenties presumably because they were considered old fashioned by those in charge of the company.We may have a distorted view of the range of his works because of those decisions but what is left is well worth seeing. even if some of it is fragmentary. This programme is a mixture of fragments and "bleeding chunks".All the pieces, with the exception of The Jockey Race which is a reconstruction, have a continuous performing history. I find it difficult to pick out highlights but as the first piece of Bournonville that I ever saw I am always pleased to get a chance to see Flower Festival at Genzano. It was wonderful to see Sorella Englund's Madge at close quarters in the cut down version of Act 2 of La Sylphide that was shown. Any opportunity to see Conservatoire is always welcome even if it is only a small part of it.The finale from Napoli shows Bournonville at his best, even if,as some suggest, Hans Beck had a hand in it, it is still a delight. As for not knowing the dancers. I have never let that stand in my way when it comes to this company. It really does not matter.
  20. As far as Lacotte's reconstruction of La Sylphide is concerned there was not a much loved version whose validity the reconstruction would be seen as challenging which is why, for me, his decisions to put the female corps on pointe to meet the audience's expectations makes no sense. If you set about reconstructing a work that has not been seen for over a hundred years there is no need to stuff it full of anachronisms to make it palatable for a modern audience. I appreciate that the position will be different in the case of a ballet with an apparent continuous performance history particularly when that is combined with a self proclaimed reputation of perfect custodianship which has been fostered over the years. .
  21. From what I have seen of Lacotte's " reconstructions" he invariably gives the public what they expect to see rather than what they would have seen and so are best taken with several cartloads of salt. They may be fun to watch occasionally but they can't be taken seriously as attempts to stage nineteenth century works. The pointe work in the first act of La Sylphide tells us everything we needs to know about his approach to restaging. I seem to recall at the time that his La Sylphide was first performed that he was asked why he had put the female corps on point in act one and admitted that there was no historic basis for his decision and that he had only done it because that is what the audience expected. He did not seem too concerned that this negated trying to recreate something of the impact that Taglioni's pointe work had had on La Sylphide's early audiences. I found this Pacquita fascinating and would love to see similar work undertaken on Swan Lake. I seem to recall that someone found a record of the last revival of Giselle at the Paris Opera dating from the 1860's which was said to contain notation it would be interesting to see what that looked like and then of course there are those reconstructions of bits of La Vivandiere which surfaced round about the same time and bore little or no likeness to each other. I do not expect a DVD of this reconstruction but it would be nice.
  22. These two clips come from a two part documentary that John Drummond made for the BBC for the long defunct arts programme Omnibus. The documentary was shown in 1969 and has not been disinterred from the vaults since then. In order to make the programme Drummond interviewed twenty former Diaghilev dancers; the interviews were published in book form in Speaking of Diaghilev published by Faber and Faber. I would recommend reading this book as it gives you the chance to get an idea of what it was like to be part of the Diaghilev enterprise at first hand. Both Karsavina and Sokolova tried their hand at autobiography. Karsavina's Theatre Street is an account of her training and early career;written in idiosyncratic English it provides a vivid picture of the pre-revolutionary, pre-Vaganova world of Russian ballet.Dancing for Diaghilev ;the Memoirs of Lydia Sokolova provides an eyewitness account of the Diaghilev company written by a non Russian. Sokolova,born Hilda Munnings in Leytonstone East London and renamed by Diaghilev ,created a number of roles including the Chosen Maiden in Massine's Rite of Spring and one of the sporty types in Le Train Bleu. She also famously described the Little Red Ridinghood variation as the most boring variation in ballet. Her book gives an insight into the operation of the company up to its collapse on Diaghilev's death. Both books are well worth reading. Both Karsavina and Sokolova appear in the ICA DVD of the BBC's recordings of Les Sylphides and Giselle. Karsavina introduces Les Sylphides,danced by Markova, Elvin and Beriosova while Sokolova who coached the corps in this work appears in Giselle as Giselle's mother. The other indispensable book for those interested in Karsavina is Tamara Karsavina; Diaghilev's Ballerina by Andrew Foster which is full of finely reproduced photographs from Russian archives. Another important autobiography that should be read by anyone interested in Nijinsky and the Diaghilev company is the autobiography of Bronislava Nijinska. Finally while Richard Buckle's books on Nijinsky and Diaghilev are dated I think that they are worth reading alongside more recent scholarship, Buckle may not have been able to read Russian or have access to archives that are now open to scholars but he had met and had spoken to a lot of people who had been involved in the operation of the Ballets Russes and had been eyewitnesses its impact on the West. that it had on the West.
  23. I am not sure if any of you will be in London in the next couple of weeks but if you are intending to be here to see Osipova in Don Q you need to know that she fell during the first act on Saturday and was replaced after considerable delay by Takada who had already danced Kitri at the matinee.This puts Osipova's scheduled performances for the rest of the run in considerable doubt. It is unlikely that the company management will tell us very much about replacement casting until the last minute. As Takada is replacing Marquez who is off injured as well as dancing her own scheduled performances and Lamb, who is scheduled for Don Q at the end of the run, is standing in for Cuthbertson in Alice as well as dancing her own performances it will be interesting to see what casting solution the management come up with.There are a couple of brave casting decisions that they could make from within the company but one of the dancers who I would like to see as Kitri makes her debut as Alice on Christmas Eve. As I am talking about a possible replacement for Osipova it seems unlikely that a brave decision will be made. I shall be very interested to discover what you think of this production when it reaches your shores. I shall just say that my experience of seeing each of the three productions of Don Q that the company has mounted has increased my admiration for Ashton's choreography for the gypsies in Two Pigeons and for De Valois' taste and insight when she declined Nureyev's offer to mount a production of Don Q for the Royal Ballet.She knew what she was doing. The score is undistinguished and not improved by re-orchestration; the choreographic text is dubious at best and this Russian vision of Spain is totally alien to the sensibilities of the dancers.Acosta may be a great dancer but he is not,on the basis of this production, someone with great theatrical flair when it comes to staging a ballets.
  24. I think that you should be thankful that it's not Nunez Acosta again for the broadcast. There are four new pairings for Fille this time round, Morera and Muntagirov,Choe and Campbell, Marquez and Zucchetti and Osipova and McRae. All are unknown quantities. What will Muntagirov who seems born to dance princes and all the Dowell roles be like in this piece? Will all the pairings work equally well in the context of this ballet? The only pairing that are not a completely unknown quantity are Osipova and McRae who appeared together in Rubies to great effect. They were not only technically brilliant but witty. On the basis of those performances management probably think that the pairing is the one most likely to work from the outset with no imbalance between Lise and Colas. The other pairing which I think will work well from the outset are Marquez, Campbell. Lise is Marquez's best role.She gives a very honest straightforward account of the role; Campbell is a very adaptable dancer with a good clean technique who has clearly benefited from his time with BRB and there is unlikely to be any imbalance between them.There could be problem with the other pairings .Muntagirov could, like Dowell, turn out to be unsuited to the role of Colas being too much the gentleman and too little the farmer. As far as Choe and Zucchetti are concerned there could well be a significant imbalance between their performances of their respective roles. Choe is by nature and temperament a miniaturist; her performances in other works have, for me,lacked the necessary scale ; Zucchetti on the other hand never does things by half , the result could be that Choe scales up her performance as Lise as Zucchetti is unlikely to scale down his Colas or their performances will centre on Colas with a Lise who is a bit of a blank. Of course had the Ashton programme been intended for broadcast management might have shied away from the idea of giving as many people as possible the chance to have a go at Symphonic and might have checked to see what the corps were doing in Scenes but there again that was not an absolute certainty.Given the variability of the standard of performances in each of the ballets shown in the Ashton mixed bill, except Month which had two very good casts, it is probably a good thing for the Royal Ballet's reputation as a custodian of Ashton's works that the mixed bill was not streamed into cinemas.
  25. Ashton Fan


    Lamb and Pennefather also made their debuts in 2011 but the impact that they made in their first performance was so very different from that made by Nunez and Kish.They grabbed their chance and turned in performances that were outstanding both technically and emotionally. They have continued to build on their initial performances and are currently the best cast that the company can offer in this ballet, Unlike Nunez, Lamb does not seem to move as she does because she is reproducing what she has been taught but because that is what Manon is compelled to do. There is no gap between the performer and the character portrayed.The role of DeGrieux poses technical problems for most dancers but Pennefather has mastery of the role and like Lamb has subsumed himself in the role,There are quite a few people here who can only explain the decision to stream the Nunez cast in terms of name recognition and following. Francesca Hayward's debut brought another fine and convincing portrayal of Manon; again there was no gap between the dancer and the character that she was performing. Like Lamb every movement told you about the character rather than being a mere repetition of what had been taught in the rehearsal room. .At some points she reminded me of Sibley as she seemed to call attention to her arms at the same points that Sibley did, for example at her entrance and first pas in the brothel scene. Watson, her De Grieux, seemed to have more difficulty with his first solo than I recall from past performances, but once he was past that solo, the years rolled away and he was the young ardent student priest of the novel and MacMillan's ballet. Some people have described Hayward's success as surprising but I don't think that it came as a surprise to many people here. She was an excellent Sophie in Mayerling and made a stunning debut in the ballerina role in Rhapsody in February.Like Nagdhi she has beautiful arms and knows how to use them.She reminded me that when Manon was created there was not the division that you often see now between Ashton dancers who are precise and musical and MacMillan dancers who sometimes perform as if his ballets were all about emoting and sprawling; at the time of its creation the company was still essentially Ashton's epaulement, musicality and all. Muntagirov's debut as De Grieux was, as result of Cuthbertson's injury, with Lamb. Muntagirov was born to dance this role the choreography fits him like a glove.His first solo was danced with consummate ease and elegance, the first bedroom pas saw the restoration of details that I had started to think that I had imagined, and so it continued. But their performances were not merely the efficient reproduction of steps; they both used the choreography to create compelling characters . I also managed to see Yanowsky's second performance of Manon in this run. Her DeGrieux was Bolle who danced impeccably and seemed more involved with the role and character than before.This was a compelling performance by both dancers and if it turns out to be Yanowsky's last performance in this role it is one that she should be very pleased with;as pleased as the audience clearly was. Their Lescaut was Acosta, his Lescaut was much better than his DeGrieux, in large part because he does not bring the burden of past performances to the role. His DeGrieux is still a safe pair of hands but he has never been much of an actor and so can't fall back on characterisation to bolster his waning skills as a dancer. As to Osipova only time will tell whether Manon is really her role or not. She did not do anything wrong but for me she was a dancer reproducing steps rather than Manon, But then no dancer is equally good in every role even if die hard fans may , to the amusement of friends, insist their supremacy in every role.
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