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Ashton Fan

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  1. Here are some further thoughts on the Gala.The programming decisions of the Royal Ballet management often suggest that they want the local audience to believe that with the exception of a few acknowledged masterpieces such as Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet, which even the most ardent MacMillan enthusiast can't ignore, very little of Ashton's work dating from the time when he was essentially Fonteyn's choreographer is worth reviving The Fonteyn Gala provided the best opportunity that local audiences have had in years to get any idea of the range of Ashton's output during that time. Ashton's "Fonteyn years" began  when Markova left the company  and it became necessary to find and develop a dancer to replace her and lead the company. That period in Ashton's creative life effectively ended with the creation of Ondine in1958, a point at which it was reasonable to assume that Fonteyn had entered the final stages of her career.

    One of the great things about the Gala was that all of the pieces which were performed were cast with far more thought and care than is usual when a rarely performed Ashton work is programmed in a mixed bill. The only Ashton  work that does not suffer from poor casting at Covent Garden is Symphonic Variations over which Wendy Ellis exercises tight control. Unlike MacMillan's works which are pretty robust when it comes to casting Ashton's ballets need to be cast with the right sort of dancers if they are to be seen at their best. For once the Ashton pieces did not suffer from the effects of compromise casting or senior dancers being given the opportunity to "have a go" at roles for which they are manifestly unsuited. Seeing an Ashton role performed by a dancer who is not prepared to modify their performance style and to embrace Ashton's version of classroom steps and his pliant upper body and epaulement in performance is not "dancing" Ashton, even if the title of the ballet being performed suggests that he or she is doing so.

    First Artist Romany Pajdak gave an account of the fragment which remains of The Wise Virgins which made me regret its loss. Like Dante Sonata its coreography is not at all like the Ashton we are used to seeing. It made me wonder what the rest of it might have been like, given the nature of the music which Ashton had used. The final solo from Nocturne as danced by Beatrice Stix-Brunell must have made a lot of the audience regret that no one had thought of reconstructing the ballet when there were still dancers around  who could have made its reconstruction possible. It seemed like the sort of ballet which would have found a natural home with the old touring company. 

    While I can understand why we were only permitted to see the Fonteyn sections of Birthday Offering it is a great pity that it is not going to be seen in full during the 2019-20 season. Unlike 2012 when management seemed far more concerned with putting senior dancers on stage than finding a cast who would do the piece justice, the company now has dancers who could do so. At the Gala Kaneko danced Fonteyn's solo bringing out its beauty and wit while Lamb and Hirano dancing the pas de deux made it look like a choreographic jewel, even when seen out of context. I have already said something about the excerpts from Ondine and Sylvia which both made strong cases for their revival. I will add that Hayward seemed ideally cast as Ondine. It was almost as if the Pas de l'Ombre had been made for her. She brought out so much detail inherent in Ashton's choreography and made its relationship to the music to which it is set crystal clear. It had a theatrical impact which I have not experienced in other live performances of the entire work.

    It would not have been possible to celebrate Fonteyn without making some reference to her partnership with Nureyev. I am not sure that the pieces selected were as well chosen as they might have been. The Balcony pas de deux was all but inevitable as it allowed Osipova and Hallberg to be part of the celebration. The problem in performance was that Hallberg's lifts seemed laboured and effortful rather than easy and expressive. Osipova seems to find MacMillan's choreography lacking in some way as she has taken to  embroidering it in performance which is distracting to say the least. Sadly their contribution to the Gala was not as compelling as it was, no doubt, intended to be. 

    Of the nineteenth choreography which Nureyev's staged for the company his Le Corsaire pas de deux was the piece selected for performance. I am not sure that selecting a piece of choreography that is done to death in galas across the world was really an ideal choice. It seemed somewhat out of place in the context of this Gala. I understand the significance of the pas de deux for Fonteyn but I am not sure that the fact it was filmed by Czinner was sufficient to justify its inclusion. I should have thought that the choreography for Nikiya and Solor from Nureyev's staging of The Kingdom of the Shades or that for Raymonda and Jean de Brienne from his staging of Raymonda Act III would have been better choices as they have not been debased and reduced to gala fodder. The problem was that while Naghdi danced the choreography which Fonteyn had danced when performing the pas de deux Muntagirov danced the standard modern gala version and it did not quite jell. The Tango from Façade was sandwiched between the two Nureyev related excerpts and came up looking as funny and fresh as ever. It has done remarkably well for a work created as an ephemeral entertainment.

    The ballroom scene from Apparitions was a revelation.  I saw the revival of Apparitions staged for Schauffus' ENB in the 1980's and I have to confess that it did not make much of an impression on me then. It had seemed tedious,dutiful and dull. From the account which Julie Kavannagh gives of the revival neither Ashton nor Beddells thought much of it either. I was really surprised to find the ballroom scene from Apparitions so interesting as a piece of choreography. It seemed to me that Cuthbertson and Ball were ideally cast in it. I should like to think that we shall be able to see a staging of the entire  ballet in the not too distant future. The problem with that hope is that it does not seem to fit in with O'Hare's ambitions for the company.

    The quality of Ashton's choreographic output during his " Fonteyn years" as demonstrated by these carefully cast performances, yet again raises the question about why so much of Ashton's output is consigned to the Heritage section of the company's repertory where it can be safely neglected for years and dusted off for a significant anniversary? One of the reasons has to be the effect of long term neglect which easily persuades those who have never seen them that works by major choreographers which are rarely performed are defective in some way. But that does not explain why Ashton's most popular full length ballets such as  Cinderella and his first major post Fonteyn ballet, Fille, are not allocated regular revivals in the way that MacMillan's are or why so many of his one act works are not deemed worthy of revival. A friend has tried to persuade me that the problem with Façade was that most people would see it as hopelessly old fashioned. I am not convinced.




  2. The Gala opened with a full performance of the Firebird which pretty much ensured that every member of the company who was not cast in one of the divertissements to be performed during the second part of the and was not absent through injury or illness would be able to say that they had appeared in the Gala marking the centenary of Fonteyn's birth. The corps' understanding of the ballet increases with each performance listed for this revival and the performers of the principal roles gain in the strength and the depth of their characterisation with each performance they give. At this performance the egg  protecting the soul of the immortal Kostchei did not disintegrate before Ivan Tsarevich had dashed it to the ground as happened at Kish's debut in the role. In my experience this is a rare event and it is far more common to see the egg resolutely refuse to break when it is dashed to the floor. As to the performances Kish was possibly a bit to refined in the role as there was no hint of the unsophisticated almost peasant like character in his Ivan and  from the lack of wonder at the power of the Firebird feather he had been given you might have been  forgiven for believing that Kish's Ivan Tsarevich captured and subdued a Firebird on a daily basis. The role of the Firebird is a role which really suits Mendizabal; Calvert is fine as the Beautiful Tsarevna and Saunders is a decent enough Kostchei but he is not as malevolent as Avis and he does not spend as much time fighting against sleep as Marriott does. 

    It was inevitable that the second part should begin with the Rose Adagio after which we were treated to an account of Fonteyn's career from 1936 and Apparitions the first significant role Ashton was to create for Fonteyn to Ondine his last major role for her made in 1958. The excerpts were not performed in the order of their creation. Instead we began with two solos which only survive at all because they were reconstructed  for Ashton's Farewell Gala in 1970, both of which were danced with commitment and beauty, and ended with the ballroom scene from Apparitions which made it possible to move from performances by live dancers to the film of Ashton's Salut d' Amour created for the Gala marking Fonteyn's retirement which was filmed for the BBC documentary series Magic of Dance. In between we saw excerpts from neglected ballets such as Façade,  Daphnis and Chloe and Ondine and some such as Sylvia which have come back into favour of late. It is only when you see so many of Ashton's creations for Fonteyn in a short space of time that you can see how much they owed each other and what a wide range she had as a performer. Each of the dancers who appeared in the neglected ballets made me want to see them revived in the near future. Magri  was fine as the act one Sylvia in the opening section of the ballet, but can she transform herself into the very feminine nymph of act two or the grand ballerina of act three? I should like to find out. Then there was the delightful Daphnis and Chloe which came up looking fresh and new and not at all like a "heritage work".Hayward's account of the Pas de l'Ombre from the first act of Ondine she looked wonderfully right in a way that other dancers have not . She made Ondine seem fresh and real rather than a dutifully performed role in an old fashioned ballet. All in all an evening full of fascinating snippets which I hope will mean that we will see the neglected works performed in full at some point in the not too distant future.

  3. The casting for the Concerto mixed bill seems to be missing at present. The casting information which I have seen suggests that Mr O'Hare may have decided to let his dancers have a go at Enigma Variations rather than treating it as a ballet which really needs a near perfect cast to enable the audience to experience the ballet as Ashton created it. It is one those Ashton works like Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet where casting really matters and you either field a near perfect cast or you abandon the idea of reviving it. The Royal Ballet's revival at the end of Mason's directorship had a less than perfect cast and when BRB brought their revival of the ballet to London a couple of years ago what you saw was, to be polite about it, variable in quality.If you went to Sadler's Wells on the first night that the mixed bill was being performed you saw a very well danced Theme and Variation and a lacklustre Enigma and if you went to the matinee the following day you saw a good account of Enigma and a lacklustre account of Theme.

  4. The full details of the 2019-20 season are now on the ROH website with the exception of a "heritage" programme in the Linbury which was announced in the Friends handbook but has not as yet found its way on to the website. I assume that it will not be added to the website until its contents have been finalised. At present the only indication of the programme's contents is a blurry picture which suggests it may include Dante Sonata. Details of casting for the Autumn season are not, as yet, available on the website but they are due to be added to it this week. The Autumn season is very long and is likely to be very expensive for any committed ballet goer as it includes performances of Manon, Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, which will provide a large number of debuts as it has been rested for such a long time, and a mixed bill of Concerto, Enigma Variations and Nureyev's staging of Raymonda Act III. 

  5. I think that the Royal Ballet is old enough as an institution to allow itself to have more than one choreographer's version of Romeo and Juliet and more than one stager's version of Swan Lake available to it. As far as Romeo and Juliet is concerned my second version of Romeo and Juliet would certainly be Ashton's as staged for ENB in the mid 1980's rather the than the edited highlights version in which Osipova and Vassiliev appeared in London a few years ago. I found the work fascinating as it reveals a version almost entirely unaffected by Lavrovsky's balle. The one point at which Lavrovsky intrudes is in the interpolated "Ulanova run" where Juliet runs to Friar Laurence's cell. But it would have to be danced with a real understanding of Ashton's style, his vision and his aesthetics. His version is concerned with the personal tragedy of the lovers and his response to the score  is to create a version of the ballet which is poetic rather than one full of bombast,sword fights and an inordinate amount of emoting.

    Although I am disappointed by the company's failure to mark the Fonteyn centenary adequately and particularly its failure to revive works inextricably connected with her such as Ondine and Daphnis and Chloe next season,the revival of Coppelia is a welcome surprise. As Nunez is the only dancer still in the company who danced Swanhilde  when the company last performed the ballet this revival should guarantee opportunities for debuts for dancers like Hayward, Magri, Naghdi, O'Sullivan and Stix-Brunnell with a long list of likely candidates for the role of Franz.

    I fear that the season is going to be an expensive one not simply because there has been yet another round of price rises but because it guarantees that a lot of promising dancers will make significant  debuts in major roles. These debuts are particularly important as some of the leading dancers who have headed the company over the last twenty years are approaching retirement. Some of the new generation of dancers making their debuts this season are likely to be their successors .

  6. Of course we shall have to wait until the new production is unveiled to find out what approach Ratmansky has actually taken but I should have thought that, given what he has done with his other productions of nineteenth century ballets, this Giselle will, at the very least, be historically informed but that whatever his approach the iconic Bolshoi high  lifts will be retained. In a televised masterclass broadcast on the BBC about forty years ago Markova said that the text at that point in the ballet originally showed Giselle hovering above the ground. Somehow I can't see them being restored.The words "new look" used in the description of this production are wonderfully ambiguous.

    They could describe a production which is historically informed in some of its elements which while it restores a bit more of the mime does not alter the familiar choreographic text that much or one which uses a choreographic text firmly based on the Stepanov notation with supplementary material enabling extensive passages of mime to be performed. Up to this point the Bolshoi appears to have been far more ready to accept full blown reconstructions of nineteenth century ballets than the Mariinsky has been. However the ballets selected for reconstruction at the  Bolshoi have not been works which have had a continuous performing tradition there or a text to which both audiences and coaches are emotionally attached and in which coaches have a great deal of professional capital invested as custodians of an authentic text and tradition.

    Giselle is a core repertory piece with a local tradition which probably means that even with Vaziev's backing Ratmansky will be far more circumspect about what he changes than he would be working with another company.I am sure that whatever form the production takes it will be much more than a mere re-staging. I certainly intend to see the streamed broadcast of it.

  7. I have to say that I was also under the impression that Ratmansky's production of the Sleeping Beauty for ABT was an attempt to stage  the ballet using the earliest notated version of the choreographic text which dates from the early years of the twentieth century and that the fish dives in the third act pas de deux were a concession to audience expectations. If Ratmansky had been engaged in an attempt to stage the "Sleeping Princess" as seen in London in 1921 I should have expected at the very least to have seen not only Bakst inspired designs and the fish dives but  Nijinska's choreography used for Violente's variation in the Prologue and an attempt to stage a pas de trois in act 3 rather than the  Jewel Fairies. Nijinska's choreography for the fifth Fairy Variation would have been easy to reconstruct as de Valois included it in her 1977 production of The Sleeping Beauty which was filmed for television in1978. She was rather attached to that version of the variation as it was the one she herself had danced. There are several former members of the Royal Ballet Company still alive who danced it in that form who would be perfectly capable of providing any additional assistance that might be required in reconstructing it. As far as the choreography of the Ratmansky reconstruction is concerned, in performance, the decision about whether the fish dives were to be performed and the version of the prince's variation which was to be  danced  seemed to lie with the dancers themselves.

    As far as Ratmansky's Giselle is concerned if it is an attempt to reconstruct the ballet based on the Harvard notations, it will be interesting to see whether or not he dares to abandon the high lifts in favour of the original ground skimming ones which Markova spoke about in a masterclass on British television the best part of forty years ago. The modern version is far more spectacular than the earlier version and from a purely practical perspective there is only so far a stager/ choreographer dare go in revising the text of a favourite ballet if it means denying the audience the sight of those sections of the text which they have come to love and to which they are most attached. The nature and extent of this problem was exemplified in the reaction to Vaziev's reconstruction of The Sleeping Beauty for the Mariinsky all those years ago.

  8. Although it is unlikely to be the case I should like to think that the delay in announcing the 2019-20 season has been caused by Mr O'Hare realising that he needs to mark Fonteyn's centenary with some carefully planned programmes in the forthcoming season as the anniversary of her birth seemed to have taken him by surprise this season. The gala in May was not announced when details of the current season were published last year and the limited number and the meagre nature of the Fonteyn themed events arranged this season make them feel very much like  afterthoughts . I know that the delayed announcement is far more likely to be connected with Pappano's availability than anything else but it would be nice to think that there was a valid artistic reason for it being late.

  9. Although Nikiya's death does not stand out in modern stagings of La Bayadere in the way Petipa clearly intended it should I don't think that special lighting effects are the solution to any lack of  theatrical impact that you may experience in the death scene.  The reasons for the scene's relative lack of impact it seems to me have little to do with how the scene is lit as they are connected with the choreographic contents of the act and the aesthetic tastes of the modern audience. Indeed I can't help thinking that special lighting effects might simply serve to confuse the issue as the death occurs in broad daylight and by convention special lighting effects are generally reserved for vision scenes, scenes set at night and supernatural interventions. 

    It seems to me that the real problem with the act in which Nikiya's death occurs is that it is not the act which Petipa devised as it now includes a significant section of choreography which has nothing to do with advancing the narrative and everything to do with displaying the technical prowess of the dancers performing it. The sad truth is that the structural balance of the act in which Nikiya's death occurs was destroyed when choreographic material from the final act was added to an act which was originally created to be largely about Nikiya and to culminate in her death. In most modern stagings  Nkiya's death has to compete with an extended section of bravura dancing which was added to it  in the 1920's when the final act was abandoned. The problem is made all the worse because the modern audience has a real appetite for choreography which is essentially a display of dance and technical prowess and expressive choreography can seem pale and insipid when placed in juxtaposition to a display of fireworks. The other problem is that in modern stagings the corps de ballet who are on stage as the tragedy unfolds in front of them seem remarkably impassive and unconcerned by what they are witnessing and do not really seem to react to Nikiya's death. 

    Having seen Ratmansky's reconstruction of the ballet it is obvious that the entire  act which ends with Nikiya's death was intended to belong to her alone. Her death was meant to be the culmination of the act and if it does not have to compete with a preceding firework display it is just that  The pas d'action in which her death occurs, as staged by Ratmansky, is so similar to the concluding section of the first act of  Giselle with the guilty aristos removing themselves from the scene as quickly as they can, the grieving lover bent over the body and the concerned bystanders grouped to create an affecting stage picture that it is difficult to believe that the similarities are simply the result of the stage conventions of the period.

    Special lighting effects are required for the Shades scene because it is Solor's drug induced vision and for the final act which depicts the vengeance of the gods but these acts are concerned with something other than the day to day lives of the characters. Night scenes, visions and  supernatural interventions require special lighting effects but a death occurring in broad daylight during the celebrations connected with the forthcoming marriage do not. One thing that modern stagers who retain the bravura choreography could do to improve the theatrical impact of Nikiya's death is to make the bystanders react to it

  10. I am sure that some of you are aware that the Frederick Ashton Foundation was established a couple of years ago. I am not sure whether you are aware that the foundation has, for the last three years or so, been running a series of master classes in which sections of rarely performed Ashton ballets and gala pieces have been coached and performed in front of a paying audience. Most of the coaching sessions held from  the 2016-17 season onward have been filmed and most of them are now available to view on the foundation's website. Some of the choreography being coached will be familiar to you but much of it will not. These filmed coaching sessions include:-

    1) Darcey Bussell coaching a piece Ashton originally created  for Donald MacLeary and Svetlana Beriosova which I think was simply called "Raymonda pas de deux", with Donald MacLeary intervening in the session from time to time ;

    2) Anthony Dowell coaching Reece Clarke in the Prince's moody solo created for act 2 Sleeping Beauty and coaching Vadim Muntagirov in " The Dance of the Blessed Spirits ";

    3) Dowell coaching sections of the Fisherman's choreography devised for a staging of Le Chante du Rossignal which was seen in both New York and London;

    4) Merle Park coaching Hirano and Hinkis in "The Walk to the Paradise Garden";

    5) Monica Mason coaching the Spanish Dance which Ashton devised for act 3 of the Helpmann 1963 production of Swan Lake, the choreography of which remained part of the RB's standard choreographic text of the ballet until Dowell staged his own production of the ballet in the 1980's.

    These recordings are readily accessible on the Frederick Ashton Foundation website. Not only do they provide the opportunity to discover choreography which you may never have seen before but, in some cases, they provide the opportunity to watch some of the company's younger dancers who may at present merely be names to you.

    Go to the Frederick Ashton Foundation website click on "News and Events" and simply scroll down the page until you find them. There is a rather disappointing snippet of a section of Foyer de Danse which was filmed at a session held in 2011 the sessions held from 2016-17 season onward are much fuller and thus far more satisfying.

  11. I have to say I am curious about Mr Tissi who was plucked from the obscurity of the corps to dance Siegfried in Ratmansky's reconstruction of Swan Lake at La Scala and then chose to follow the AD when he returned to Russia. However I am far from sure whether that curiosity is sufficient to get me through the doors to endure the company's dreary Swan Lake. As I assume that we are being treated to the dull production of Don Q which the Bolshoi brought to London two years ago I don't feel that tempted by that either. Don Q is far from my favourite ballet but until the Bolshoi's last trip to London I had always felt secure in the knowledge that the company could be relied upon to deliver a performance of unrestrained high voltage vulgarity. The current production really demands dancers of the starriest type to make it live. It will be interesting to see how the performances of the resident company's dancers in  Don Q and those of the guests compare. At the moment I am more tempted to go to the entire run of the  RB's mixed bill and give the Bolshoi a miss .Six performances of the entire Firebird score, three new casts in Month at least one of which looks good on paper and six performances of Symphony in C in which, as far as far as I can see, the casts never completely repeat plus the Fonteyn Gala is far more tempting. 

  12. Shrainer made her debut as Kitri when the Bolshoi were last in London and it was far from a success. Last year's streamed Coppelia showed the real Shrainer but that London debut did no one any favours, not the company, not its audience and certainly not the dancer. An AD  who can give a dancer a prestigious debut she is not ready for is perfectly capable of throwing other dancers on cold in London. Neither the choice of repertory nor the casting make this Bolshoi season seem that tempting.


    I very much doubt that the Royal Ballet company is more expensive to run than the resident "opera company" although it has on- costs which the opera side of the organisation no longer has because today the "Royal Opera Company" is merely a chorus, an orchestra, a few essential support staff, plus an artistic director and a music director who is, I believe, paid a salary and performance fees. Apart from the Auld Jebsen artists who are essentially apprentices the Royal Opera has no comprimario or house singers on its books which means it has to hire singers for every named role which cannot be safely allocated to a member of the chorus each time it stages an opera. I find it difficult to describe an organisation which, when it stages Falstaff, has to hire singers for the relatively minor characters of Bardolph and Pistol, as an opera company, let alone think of it as a world class one. It is not how major European houses such as Munich and Vienna operate, 

    If the resident ballet company's operating costs were higher than those of the opera company Anthony Russell Roberts would not have felt compelled to reform the way in which the ROH dealt with the operating costs of the two resident companies .  When he arrived at the Opera House and  began to work for the Royal Ballet he found much to his surprise that the ballet company's operating costs were much higher than he had expected them to be based on his experience working at the Paris Opera. He discovered that the accounting system in place at the ROH at that time aggregated the operating costs of the two resident companies and then allocated them  between the companies according to the number of performances each had given. This had the effect of forcing the ballet company to shoulder a considerable part of the opera company's operating costs. He was understandably very proud of the fact that he had forced the opera company to shoulder all its costs and had relieved the ballet company from unwittingly paying for the opera company's activities. The basic facts are that opera is far more expensive to stage than ballet. The wages bill for the opera chorus is going to be much higher than the comparable bill for the corps de ballet. If only because the chorus is composed of performers who are older and more marketable than the dancers in the lower ranks of the ballet company are. When it comes to the  contracts of international singers taking major roles such as the Countess and Susana some years ago you were talking of fees of £25,000 per performance. Although I have no idea what the top dancers at the Royal Ballet or anywhere else are paid I doubt that there are any dancers who can command fees comparable to those of opera singers. Kevin's policy of allowing his dancers to guest abroad is a very shrewd one as it gives his top dancers a base from which to operate, something which Durante said she missed when she went freelance; allows them to top up their earnings; keeps them happy and enables him to give young dancers opportunities they would not otherwise have,

    As far as ticket sales and ticket prices are concerned last season Lohengrin was slow to sell and not all performances sold out which suggests that the Holten regime did the company's artistic reputation a great deal of long term damage. As to how the losses which the opera company has sustained are being covered the games which the Marketing Department has recently been playing with the prices of ballet tickets and the re-categorisation of seats for the resident company's performances suggests to me that the ballet company is once again being used to provide financial support for an opera company whose financial problems are largely self-inflicted. Comparing the prices which are being charged for the resident  company's Romeo and Juliet and the prices being charged for the same seats for the Bolshoi season is a very interesting exercise particularly as the Hochhausers will expect to make a percentage for all their efforts. 


  13.  It was noticeable that all the casts were far more at home in The Two Pigeons than they were when it was revived in 2015. Indeed the corps now seem to be enjoying their choreography rather than approaching it with an air of caution. I hope that ticket sales have been good enough to ensure that it is revived in future seasons as it is a gem of a ballet and at these performances it began to look as if it was part of a living performing tradition rather than something which is only half alive and requires more committed performances.

    Morera  still stands head and shoulders above the other Gipsy Girls because she has the choreography so embedded in her muscle memory that she has the freedom and time to make the choreography live by varying its dynamics within the music. Magri is pretty good in the role as well.  The Takada, Hay cast is very well balanced and captures the essence of the ballet.Takada dances the Young Girl and uses her arms in a way which reminded me that the role was created on a genuine ballerina rather than simply on a soubrette. Hay is a wonderful dancer everything he dances is beautifully finished and in character.

    I don't think that the Young Girl is a natural role for Naghdi in the way it would have been for Hayward. Fortunately by the Saturday matinee Naghdi had toned her portrayal  down quite a bit. Whether the role is not for her in the way that Lise was not for Sibley because as Ashton put it she was "too sophisticated" for it or whether there are other reasons for it not reallly working only time will tell. I should have thought that she was more suited to Ashton the classical choreographer of Cinderella and Sylvia than the lyricism of Two Pigeons. It seemed to me on Saturday that Naghdi  was still trying too hard to flesh out her character and acting, with a backstory, rather than following the instructions on the tin. Perhaps if you grow up with MacMillan and dance far more of his choreography than you do that of  the "Founder Choreographer"  it is difficult to break the habit of acting a role rather than simply dancing it in the appropriate style. I seem to recall that Cojocaru was criticised for acting as if she was in a MacMillan ballet when she tackled Chloe in 2004. It probably did not help that Naghdi was preparing Kitri which is as far removed from Ashtonian lyricism  as you can get while she was preparing for her debut as the Young Girl. One of the problems is that only those  who saw Stix-Brunell with Ball in 2015 or saw her with Clarke this season have seen accounts of the Young Girl and the Young Man  which really  get to the heart of the ballet. Stix-Brunell is pitch perfect as the Young Girl and sufficiently irritating to make  the Young Man's departure feel inevitable without making her totally obnoxious. Unfortunately at her first performance Naghdi made the Young Girl so irritating it came as  something of a surprise that Alex Campbell's Young Man chose to return to he/

    How the mixed bills were dealt with by the dance critics at the Guardian and the Financial Times does not auger well for the  future of dance criticism directed at the general reader rather than a specialist reader. Instead of giving the reader an impression of what the performances of The Two Pigeons were like we were told that the ballet should be dropped.Both the newly appointed dance critics appear to be on a mission to reform the tastes of London ballet goers as they were happy to dismiss Ashton's Two Pigeons as old fashioned and demanded it should be put back in storage and forgotten. It would appear that they want us to see earnest works which are challenging and  relevant which sounds to me like more Pina Bausch and Wayne McGregor and little or no Ashton. Fortunately if Kevin is to pay due tribute to Fonteyn's centenary, if somewhat belatedly, next season he will be forced to stage more Ashton and with any luck we might get to see Daphnis and Chloe again.

  14. is As far as I am aware Yoshida's entire career has been spent dancing classically based choreography. Her repertory was essentially the Royal Ballet's core repertory of the nineteenth century classics, Ashton and some MacMillan. While she was with BRB she danced in works by David Bintley  but he is not a choreographer who rips up the rulebook and devises strange movements without any apparent underpinning anatomical knowledge or understanding of the strains he is placing on a dancer's body. He certainly is not working with a relatively unprepared body. McGregor's choreography seems to be driven by what he can do physically without any apparent system of physical preparation for mere mortals in the company who have to perform it. Bintley is a choreographer who stays well within the range of movements learned and then perfected in the classical classroom. Indeed some would accuse him of being far too conservative in that respect. Yoshida is an exemplar of what you can do with a solidly based technique, a profound understanding of different choreographic styles and true artistic imagination.

    Guillem danced a far wider range of styles than Yoshida and retired at fifty but she insisted on time between performances of classically based repertory and  contemporary works to enable her body to adjust to the different demands they make on the body and so avoid injury. She had the advantage of fame and seniority which gave her enough artistic clout to  insist on this transition time but that is not true of the majority of dancers in the company who during the course of a day will move from rehearsal to rehearsal and style to style and then perhaps dance in a completely different one in the evening .

    Some female dancers have exceptionally lengthy careers because they are in a position to select their repertory and demand time to transition between styles. I lost count of exactly how old Leanne Benjamin was when she retired because she has admitted that at one point she took a couple of years off her age because she thought her real age sounded a bit too old to be dancing the repertory she was performing. Her strategy was to drop the really exposing classical roles retaining only Giselle and then to concentrate on her major MacMillan roles while appearing in a wide range of new works including some by McGregor. By the time she took on works by McGregor and other contemporary choreographers she had already had a very full career; she knew what her body needed to prepare for the new repertory and she  would have had nothing to lose if she had suddenly been forced to retire through injury caused by dancing works in contemporary style. This is far from true of the majority of dancers. Of course all female dancers have one advantage over their male colleagues. They are not required to lift other dancers. I am not sure that many male dancers will ever be able to  emulate Alexander Grant who was still dancing Alain, as opposed to performing walk on character roles, on his fiftieth birthday. It was a fully rounded portrayal as opposed to an edited highlights account of the character and his choreography. But  while the dance vocabulary was classically based it was being used to create character and express emotion rather than being presented as an example of technical beauty and perfection.


  15. could be used It would appear that the ROH still has not managed to put the limited amount of casting information it has deigned to make available on its website into any semblance of order. At present it is simply a jumble of names with what appear to be the cast for Firebird, in no particular order, plus a few randomly selected names with no indication as to what those dancers might be performing. Anyone who is interested in who is dancing what could do a lot worse than to look on the Ballet Association website where casting for all the performances of the three ballets to be danced is given in full

    l think that the announcement of Soares' departure at the end of the season and his Guest Principal status next season simply means that there is nothing in the company's repertory from now until the end of the season which could be used to mark his departure rather than an indication that a continuing professional relationship with the company is on the cards . His announcement at the end of last season that he was going to concentrate on dramatic roles suggested that at that point he thought that he had a few more seasons left in him. I suspect that management did not consider his retirement imminent when the current season was being prepared. If Bussell's and Yanowsky's departures are anything to go by long serving Principals who intend to retire at the end of the following season are asked what they would like to dance as their last performances. Soares' departure will no doubt prompt a great deal of speculation as to who else is likely to retire soon and who will replace them from within the company as it is all but certain that any new Principals will be internal appointments.

    The current management  was seemingly taken by surprise by the Fonteyn centenary this year. There was no announcement pf any special event or performances to mark it when the season was unveiled last year. A "Fonteyn Gala" has belatedly been announced  which it would appear is being cobbled together from what is readily to hand. The gala programme will include the  Firebird which is programmed in the final mixed bill of the current season and I suspect that the  ballet excerpts associated with Fonteyn which are to be included in the company's mixed bill in Japan will be pressed into service for the Covent Garden celebrations. It has been announced that the "Tribute to Fonteyn" to be danced in Japan will include the Rose Adagio so presumably we shall be treated to a preview of the excerpts to be shown there which makes the "Gala" seem more like an open rehearsal than anything else. As to what else will be included we shall of course know on the night itself but I think that it is safe to assume that the "Tribute" will be used as an opportunity to display the range and depth of the company's current Female Principals. If this is the case the Sylvia grand pas de deux will be included as the  company has four Principals who have that in their repertory and three who have danced the full  ballet. Other possibilities include the Ondine pas de l'Ombre; the Cinderella ballroom pas de deux and the closing pas de deux from Daphnis and Chloe, The balcony pas de deux  from Romeo and Juliet might be controversial even now as it still raise hackles among older ballet goers in London who feel that Seymour and Gable were robbed of the opportunity to dance at  the premiere.



  16. I thought it was the Hochhaussers who set the ticket prices for the companies for whom  they act as impresarios rather than the ROH whose theatre they hire for the guest season, although it may have increased the cost of the rental. As to the reason for the alteration of seat classification for individual ballets and all round price hikes by the ROH's marketing department, my money is on the need to bail out the opera company financially rather than paying for the bland airport-style extension. I hope that I am wrong about this as Anthony Russel Roberts managed to separate the two resident companies' finances which up to the point he acted had seen the ballet company covering not only its own costs but a large chunk of the opera company's costs as well, not simply through its tours but by the way in which performance costs were allocated between the two compnies.

    While I accept that the drop in the value of the pound will have  had an adverse impact on the opera company's finances most of its problems are self inflicted and have  a great deal to do with all those " exciting" and "challenging" new productions which it staged during Holten's tenure as artistic director and are now his legacy. No AD can hope to have a hundred percent record as far as new productions are concerned but Holten's track record has been spectacularly poor, if not, abysmal  and there have been far too many trips to the bargain basement as far as casting is concerned. I can't help thinking that an opera company which can not sell all its tickets for a new production of Lohengrin as soon as they become available and which plays to about 60% capacity at a Saturday matinee performance of the first revival of its new La Boheme has got major problems of its own making. 


  17. Mashinka I agree with you about the reason for Acosta's appointment as AD being deemed newsworthy. His celebrity will of course raise the profile of the company he will lead ; his presence will ensure that the company's work is given more coverage than it enjoys at present but his popularity does not alter the harsh financial climate in which his company will be operating. His presence may boost goodwill for the company and attract more sponsorship for its work  but he will be expanding his company's repertory and reaching out to his new audience in an economic and financial climate which is far more challenging than the ones in which Sir Peter Wright and David Bintley were working.

    Acosta has said that he wishes to expand the company's repertory and it will be interesting to see if he can resist the temptation to stage his Carmen for BRB as the size of the cast needed for it is one which would not challenge the company's resources and it would be a relatively cheap addition to its repertory. Staging new productions is expensive and the goodwill and sponsorship which his appointment will generate could dry up very quickly if he makes major mistakes about new commissions or additions to the company's repertory; makes too many mistakes about revivals; the construction of a season's programme or the contents of individual mixed bills. The honeymoon period which a new director can expect to enjoy during his first couple of seasons can be brought to an abrupt end by decisions and actions which display a lack of sensitivity to a company's  established corporate culture and its artistic identity. It is a question of judging the amount of change that an established organisation can absorb in a short space of time without alienating its dancers, its support staff or its established audience. The point here is that BRB is not simply an organisation which dates its foundation to the year the company moved to Birmingham. If you look for the origins of BRB's artistic identity and its corporate "foundation myth" you have to go back beyond the establishment of de Valois' Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet to the foundation of the Royal Ballet itself. 





    The higher profile has just manifested itself. As I posted my latest contribution Acosta's appointment  was announced on the BBC Radio 4's seven o'clock news which only ever mentions the more important news headlines. I don't think that Kevin O'Hare's appointment as Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet was deemed worthy of mention as a headline. In fact I doubt that his appointment made it into any BBC news programme at all, not even on BBC Radio Humberside which serves his home town.

    It would seem that Acosta has announced that he wishes " to attract a new and more diverse audience to the ballet". I know that the search for the " new more diverse audience" is the ballet equivalent of the holy grail and that every artistic director is hoping to find it but somehow it does not sound like a trite cliché when Acosta is reported to have said it. I have a feeling that he might just succeed where others have failed simply because of who he is. But there is more to it than that. It is all too easy for a non specialist journalists, on the rare occasion that they write a story about classical ballet, to produce a non-article filling it with clichés and standard reference points such as the cost of the most expensive seats, all of which contributes to the idea that ballet can, and should be dismissed as an elite and somewhat esoteric artform, which could never be of interest to ordinary people. It is just much more difficult, if not impossible, to do that when writing or making a news item about Acosta. As Mashinka says of Acosta "when it comes to classicism he keeps the faith" which should mean that there is a great deal to look forward to from BRB in the future.



  19. Acosta's appointment will certainly give the company a higher profile than it has at present. It might even persuade the critics to make the occasional visit to Brum rather than waiting  until the company comes to London to write about its dancers and their performances. It will be interesting to see to what extent this appointment  will produce changes in the company's core repertory and its artistic identity. It almost certainly means that fewer Bintley ballets will be performed than at present but will Acosta be tempted to stage more works himself ? His work with the RB does not exactly instil confidence in his skills and judgement as a stager or choreographer.  I can't help wondering what Acosta's directorship will mean for the future of the company's important historic repertory which includes ballets created by De Valois and Ashton which were revived after years of neglect during the directorships of Sir Peter Wright and David Bintley ?

  20. I have now had an opportunity to watch the entire documentary and while I agree that it is more than a little muddled in its approach I suspect that the emphasis on the Tchaikovsky ballets is simply the result of the fact that it seems to be aimed at a general audience rather than a specialist one. For many people Swan Lake is the only Petipa ballet they have heard of, it is certainly his most popular work. It is unfortunate that the finished product looks in places as if it was cobbled together from pre-existing material available from French and German sources and that the rest of the documentary was constructed round it. However it is the first documentary in years to be made about a long dead choreographer which has been aimed at a general audience which has been made available to viewers across Europe. It is possible that Danish television produced a Bournonville documentary for his bicentenary but if they did its availability appears to have been far more limited. The documentary is quite daring in that it contains footage in which individuals emphasise the precision and technical skill required to dance the original steps which calls into question the idea that technique has "improved" so much since Petipa created his ballets that their choreographic text should be altered to accommodate these improvements" . I thought that the material about the Ratmansky reconstructions, the technical demands the original choreography makes on the dancers who perform it and the opportunity to see some of the original Sleeping Beauty designs made it worth watching. We can always hope that it might have an effect on future stagings of Petipa's ballets

    There is a documentary film about the man who created the animated drum dance. Its creator was a man called Alexander Shiryaev who was a leading character dancer at the Mariinsky during Petipa's later years. He had wanted to film members of the company performing solos but permission was refused so he spent a great deal of his spare time travelling around the Russian Empire filming peasants performing local dances. He did however manage to film the solo "Le petit corsair" which preserved a solo not included in the Sergeyev collectionl. Its preservation on film enabled  Ratmansky to restore the solo to his reconstruction of Le Corsaire. The documentary about Shiryaev is called " A Belated Premiere" it can be found on the internet divided into four parts. It is well worth watching.



  21. For those able to access it there is a documentary available on the French Arte channel until the 29th December called Marius Petipa le maitre francais du ballet russe. It includes Alban Lendorf performing the original choreography for the Prince's solo from act 3  Sleeping Beauty; some of the original designs for La Bayadere and coloured posed photographs of some of the original cast of the Sleeping Beauty. The choreography ranges from sections of Ratmansky reconstructions to Nureyev, Duarto and Lacotte's reimaged Fille du Pharon,


  22. ,The sad thing is that lots of school students are attending  performances of the current mixed bill to see Infra because it is on the GCSE dance syllabus. They dutifully sit through Unknown Soldier, an earnest and worthy  piece by Alistair Marriott, which  again reveals his choreographic pretentions and his lack of talent. They then watch Infra and, it appears, have to leave before Symphony in C which is by far the best thing in the programme. The problem with Infra is that it is a marmite ballet you either love it because you believe that Wayne MacGregor is one of the greatest choreographers of our age or you loathe because you think that he is little more than a choreographic charlatan and you worry about the long term effects on the dancers' bodies of appearing in his dance works. Interestingly so far Mr Muntagirov has not appeared in any of his works. If it is his decision not to appear in MacGregor's works  it shows a great deal of common sense on his part and that he has the artistic clout within the company to decline the offer. Being concerned about the long term consequences for dancers of performing  MacGregor's choreography  and moving in his choreographic style using his dance vocabulary is clearly not confined to a particular age group as former dancers who enjoyed thirty year injury free careers and young choreographers working in the classical style are equally concerned. As far as that  part of the audience who stay on to the end are concerned there has been a  palpable sense of relief as the curtain has risen  on Symphony in C. One of the newspaper critics who is clearly not a fan of classical choreography  gave Unknown Soldier a fairly positive review and simply dismissed Symphony in C as a " tutu ballet " saying nothing about the cast's performance.. Presumably in her eyes Balanchine's response to the Bizet score is far too full of  joie de vivre, if not down right frivolous, to be considered acceptable company for the other works in the programme.




  23. Laurent, 

    When Nureyev staged "The Kingdom of the Shades" for the Royal Ballet in 1963 the company danced it with thirty two Shades and, as far as I am aware, continued to do so until 1985 when they last performed it. Now while it is true that during MacMillan's directorship the Covent Garden company was reduced in size because the Board wanted to make economies, and as always it was the the ballet company which was expected to take the cuts, the cuts did not affect the company's ability to perform Nureyev's staging with a full complement of Shades. It was only when the company acquired Makarova's staging of the full length ballet in 1989 that it began dancing the Shades section of the ballet with a mere twenty four dancers in the corps. I had always assumed that the reduced number of Shades was directly attributable  to the fact that Dowell had  acquired Makarova's 1980 staging for ABT which had only had twenty four Shades and that it had nothing to do with the state of the RB at that time. I had always understood that the forty eight Shade version of the ballet was not one that had survived in the Russian performing tradition and that it was something of a one off.

    As far as the Stepanov  notations in the Sergeyev collection are concerned the fact that they do not include a full text of every ballet which was recorded is hardly a revelation. I have not seen the material which has been produced to accompany Ratmansky's Berlin production so I don't know what he has to say about just how complete or incomplete the notated text of the ballet is and the other source material which he has used in staging this production such as contemporary accounts of the ballet in performance and in particular accounts of the 1900 production and its stage history. He has been very scrupulous with other reconstructions in giving details about the state of the text which he has used, where there are gaps and what material he has used to fill them and when he has only had a floor plan to work with. I don't understand why you appear to believe that the fact the notation may be incomplete and in parts may be little more than an aide memoire is so significant as far as Ratmansky's reconstructions are concerned. I don't think that anyone has ever suggested that what he has staged is exactly as Petipa first staged it, merely that it is an attempt to get closer to the original text and see what it might have looked like in performance. Do you think that the whole reconstruction movement is pointless  or do you think that a later, mid twentieth century version of La Bayadere represents the best of Petipa? I am curious to know why you seem to be so vehemently against the attempt to recover a text which Petipa might recognise? Even restoring a choreographic text to its original position in a ballet can have a marked effect on the work as a piece of theatre. No one except the company's own management is going to deprive the POB of its Nureyev stagings of the Petipa classics.

  24. Mashinka, I always understood that the Hochhausers had a large say in what the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky bring to London, The choice of repertory is, to be  kind about it, excessively conservative, if not down right dull. I agree about the RB's awful block programming system. Wasn't that a programming innovation introduced by Dowell after his time with ABT ? I seem to recall that we were told, at the time it was introduced, that it made it easier for the company to plan although I have always thought that it was some sort of cost cutting exercise.

  25. When Nureyev staged the Kingdom of the Shades for the Royal Ballet in 1963 the three Shades were danced by Park, Seymour and Mason. Later both Bergsma and Parkinson as well as Mason danced the variation which Naghdi is shown dancing in the film. The sequence Nureyev chose for the Shades' variations in London enabled him to show  a marked stylistic and personal contrast in the way in which each of his chosen dancers presented her variation. Beginning with Park's crystalline, speedy footwork providing a contrast with both Fonteyn and Seymour, the second Shade; the sequence then continued with Seymour's almost romantic style approach to her variation with softer, rounded arms and finished with Mason who gave an account of her variation in which you saw both its steel and its beauty. Although I did not see the three named dancers in their allotted solos on the first night, over the years I saw each of them dance the variations which Nureyev had given her on that occasion. Each of them was unforgettable in their allotted variations.

    The company continued to cast Nureyev's Kingdom of the Shades with soloists who contrasted in the way that the original cast had done pretty much until the staging was dropped from the company's repertory. It always seemed to me that Nureyev had set out to display the range of stylistic approaches available in classical dance as if they were the range of colour on an artist's palette The first time I saw Markarova's production of the entire ballet I felt disappointed by her staging of the Shades' scene because compared with Nureyev's staging it lacked, and still lacks, grandeur as the corps consists of a mere twenty four Shades as opposed to the thirty two Nureyev had used. In addition the soloists' variations seemed, and still seem, monochrome in comparison with the way in which Nureyev had staged them. As they are performed today the seem more concerned with displaying the performers' technical skills than displaying the relationship between the music and the choreography. I am sure, that when it was first staged by Markarova, the variations were danced more quickly and looked far more like flows of movement than current performance practice seems to dictate.  

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