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Ashton Fan

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  1. A few comments about Ashton's Sylvia. Much as he did in 1951 with his version of Daphnis and Chloe, Ashton seems to have set out to rehabilitate a great ballet score which did not have a great choreographic text attached to it. In both cases Ashton chose to follow the original narrative which the music had been written to accompany rather than adopting a new story line. It is almost as if he was setting himself a choreographic examination. Sylvia is both a display piece for the ballerina and an affectionate, if somewhat tongue in cheek, tribute to the ballet conventions of the French ballet of the 1870's. I would not be at all surprised to learn that the ballet created by Merante was intended as an affectionate tribute to the POB of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century whose repertoty seems to have been awash with anachreonic ballets and ballets based on classical myths. As far as the ballerina role is concerned it is a real test of technique because while it may not be stuffed full of obvious crowd pleasing technical tricks the choice of steps and their combination is a real challenge which exposes the technical weaknesses of anyone who attempts to perform it. The dancer has to have complete command of the choreographic text and the role's musicality and be able to use the choreography to display the emotions which Sylvia experiences in each act. The ballerinas who danced Sylvia at the Mariinsky described it as the most difficult role they had ever danced while Yanowsky who gave by far the most successful account of the role in London in 2004 said that it was exhausting to perform as it was like dancing three different ballets in one evening . Now of course the fact that a role is difficult does not make it a great one but for the audience it is a genuinely rewarding experience to see it performed by a dancer who is in complete command of its every aspect. Created to display Fonteyn's technique and the breadth of her abilities as a ballerina it still represents a real challenge to the dancer. As far as source material and influences are concerned Ashton began his dance training with Massine who used the Cecchetti method. When Massine left London Ashton studied with Marie Rambert for whom he made his earliest works. Then he went to work for de Valois' young Vic Wells company. It is almost certain that it was the presence of Nicholai Sergeyev staging the five Petipa ballets for the company which de Valois chose to call the classics which first brought Ashton into direct contact with Petipa's choreography over anything like an extended period. Ashton was always very open about the influence that Petipa had on his work. Once when asked why he spent time watching the Fairy variations as he knew the choreography extremely well he described watching them as "Taking private lessons with Petipa". It is interesting that one or two of you have noticed that there seems to be a similarity between the choreography in Sylvia and that of Corsaire and Raymonda. I don't believe that Ashton would have had direct knowledge of, or access to, either of those ballets in performance as they were not among the nineteenth century ballets which de Valois selected for her young company. Remember you could not just hop on a train or plane to travel to Russia to attend ballet performances during the 1930's or 1940's as you can today.. Ashton may have heard about these ballets from Karsavina who was living in London or Violetta Elvin, the Bolshoi trained member of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company. However I think that it is far more likely that Ashton only knew of them indirectly through his knowledge of the Diaghilev repertory. We have to remember that Ashton and his 1952 ballet audience had a far more comprehensive knowledge of the Diaghilev repertory than we have today. In 1952 there can have been few ballet goers who had not seen at least one production of Scheherazade staged by former members of the Diaghilev company. Some had probably seen several. Scheherazade was still a viable theatrical work and a staple of London Festival Ballet's repertory in the mid 1970's. If that staging is anything to go by watching a work staged by a ballet master with direct experience of performing the work in question is a far more theatrically rewarding experience than watching a modern staging by one of Fokine's descendants where everything seems staid. It seems to me that the immediate source for the images and the choreography which Ashton created for Orion are Scheherazade,the choreography for the male corps de ballet in the Polovtsian Dances and that for Kotschei's male followers in the Firebird but that it is Fokine who was recycling choreography and images from Corsaire and Raymonda. It is true that Orion's choreography looks like it belongs to a lost Diaghilev orientalist ballet but I am sure that these are deliberate allusion to Fokine's choreography. In the same way I think that Ashton was alluding to Nijinsky's L'Apres Midi d'un Faun when he gave the sacrificial goats choreography which includes the occasional flat on movement and pose. When it is danced with wholehearted commitment and understanding Sylvia proves to be a fine work in performance but it is not, and was never intended. to be a dramatic action ballet. Aminta is not an action hero but a lovelorn shepherd who is rewarded for his devotion to Eros.Sylvia is a nymph who is punished for her lack of respect for the god of love but is nonetheless rescued by him and after her trials and tribulations finds herself transformed in the third act into a Petipa style ballerina. I think that Clement Crisp's assessment of the ballet as a paper thin excuse for a lot of fine dancing is absolutely spot on. Interestingly audiences seem to be warming to it with each performance. As far as Osipova is concerned her first performance in a new role always gives me the impression of being work in progress. I will reserve final judgment until her final performance when I have no doubt it will look very diffferent. I will simply say that her first two acts seemed to be spot on but that her third act was not as musically brilliant as it needed to be.
  2. I take it as read that, if only to ensure that the company breaks even financially each year, we will see a number of nineteenth century ballets each season and that unfortunately one of them will almost inevitably be Nutcracker. What I take issue with is management's failure to ensure that the company's twentieth century masterpieces are given a regular airing. I specifically referred to the company's twentieth century masterpieces because I was thinking about the totality of its twentieth century repertory and not just the works created for it by Ashton and MacMillan. The imbalance between the time allocated to the performance of the Ashton and MacMillan repertory is a problem. Some works seem to be far more fragile than others when it comes to reviving them after a relatively long period. However it is not just those works that concern me, the major Diaghilev works are also neglected. It would be a dereliction of duty if works like Les Noces and Les Biches which Ashton pulled back from the brink were lost on Kevin's watch through neglect. Les Noces did not seem as tight theatrically as it used to be when it was last revived for the simple reason that the dancers' movements were not always as connected to the music as they need to be. For years successive directors appeared to understand that works like Noces , Biches and even Song of the Earth need regular airings if they are to remain part of the company's living repertory. The last time that the company danced Song of the Earth it was programmed twice in the same season and it was only towards the end of the second run that it began to hold together as an effective theatrical piece.
  3. Dear Mashinka I don't criticise O'Hare for commissioning new works. I do not criticise him because quite a few of his new commissions have proved to be turkeys but I can see no reason for reviving those that prove to be duds. It is almost as if Kevin hopes that if the audience sees works like Raven Girl, Strapless and Untouchable enough times we will be persuaded that they have been transformed into swans. Commissioning new works is always a bit of a gamble but you can improve the odds if you exercise a degree of control over your commissions. In an Insight event held in Australia during the RB's summer tour Kevin said that he does not like to intervene in any way with the works he has commissioned. I think that this amount of artistic freedom which sounds very good in the context of the creation of a work like a Winters Tale does not sound quite so good in the context of works like Strapless or Carmen. This lack of supervision goes a long way to explain how works like the Wind and Carmen make it onto the stage at all and how a work like Frankenstein which is a curate's egg of a ballet find their way onto the stage in the form they do. Bits of the latter work well but there are bits that would have benefited from considerably more oversight than it in fact received. There is a continuum of involvement in a commission by the person who is paying for it from oversight to interference. Oversight can often be helpful. I suspect that Mim Rambert's high success rate with the new works which she commissioned was because she exercised a degree of control over what her creatives were doing and what she was paying for. I fear that Kevin's patchy record is in large part attributable to the fact that he just lets his creatives get on with it. I also criticise Kevin for failing to get the balance right between the company's twentieth century masterpieces and its new works. I too welcome his more adventurous casting policies and his attempts to make the company the creative force it was set up to be. However I do not share, what I take to be, your optimism about the likely success of the 2020 season when we are promised a programme of works created since he took over the directorship of the company. I am sure that everyone on this site would be interested in your views of the current state of the RB .
  4. The RB's season ended several months ago. Before I say anything about the Ashton mixed bill I will say that it seems to me that the most significant events this season have been Yanowsky's retirement as a company member and the appointment of four character principals. Yanowsky is the last of Dowell's Principal dancers and her retirement as a company member marks the end of an era. She had an extraordinary wide range of repertory and it is difficult to imagine anyone will have the opportunity to emulate her because of the artistic choices being made by management which ignore major works in favour of new pieces of very variable quality. In terms of length of tenure Nunez has become the senior Principal dancer but while she can turn in technically impeccable accounts of the roles which she performs, like Zerbinetta, she always plays herself. She rarely manages to take the audience to the heart of a role in the way that Yanowsky did in performance after performance. Where they shared roles, as they did in the case of Odette/Odile, Nikiya, Myrthe, Manon, Black Queen and Sylvia, Yanowsky's performances always had the edge. She presented the audience with a performance in which the choreography was danced as part of the creation of a vivid character rather than simply being a technically flawless reproduction of the role's choreography enhanced by the occasional bit of freeze framing.Somehow I can't imagine Nunez in roles like the Hostess in Les Biches, the Bride in Les Noces and Lady Elgar roles originally danced for the company by Beriosova which became Yanowsky's unchallenged property. But as O'Hare seems in thrall to the creators of new dance works and shows only limited interest in the great works in the company's back catalogue we may not have to worry about who comes to own the roles in Biches, Noces and Enigma Variations as they have all been out of the repertory for far too long. It has came as something of a relief to learn that the company's management has had second thoughts about ending the appointment of character principals. Articulating the idea that such dancers were superfluous to requirements seemed to begin at about the time that it was announced that the RDB was letting a number of its older dancers go which suggested that the idea had emerged at one of those events at which artistic directors from across the world get together to discuss developments and mutual problems in the world of dance. I don't think that many of the regular audience thought that it was a viable option but you never can tell with artistic directors. Bennet Gartside gave an interesting account of how the proposal was handled when he spoke to London Ballet Association. His immediate response was that he assumed that the company was planning to change its repertory completely as the proposal was not an option unless they did.The announcement that Arestis, McNally, Gartside and Whitehead had been appointed character principals was not only recognition of their undoubted talents but the clear statement that full length narrative works which were created for companies which understood the value of character dancers are not to be dropped from the repertory any time soon.. The absence of Kish and Golding from the ranks of active principals during the season did not seem to adversely affect the quality of performances but it did provide valuable development opportunities for a number of the younger men who have been rewarded for their efforts by promotion. Ball, Clarke and Sambe all progressed a rank. The season also gave Anna Rose O'Sullivan the opportunity to show what she can do.Her performances in a wide range of purely classical soloist roles has indicated that she is one to watch. It was disappointing that Kevin sounded as if he found it necessary to refer to significant company anniversaries in the context of the revivals of Sleeping Beauty and Symphonic Variations. It began to sound increasingly as if he thought that he needed to justify his decision to stage the older works he had selected for performance.
  5. I think that one of the main problems with the MacMillan repertory is that we only ever get to see a limited range of his work. We get to see the three full length money spinners on a triennial basis but apart from them we are more likely to see a work such as Judas Tree than we are to see much of his classical choreography.I am not sure whether this one sided approach to his choreographic output is solely attributable to Lady M's views as to where MacMillan's greatness lies.She seems to believe that his most significant contribution to the development of ballet was his desire to achieve a sort of gritty realism in his works and to push at the boundaries of what ballet was deemed capable of doing. Cultivating his image as an iconoclast who challenged the conventions of classical ballet and overturned a repertory in which ballets about fairies played a prominent part is, of course,risible as it ignores the staple repertory of the first half of the twentieth century; the range of works created by Ashton and the works of two of the choreographers who played a significant part in MacMillan's development namely Antony Tudor and Roland Petit. The worst thing about this carefully cultivated version of the choreographer is that it has the effect of suggesting that MacMillan's classically based works, some of which have not been seen in decades are not worth reviving and that their neglect is totally justified. I went to two of the performances in the Clore studio as well as two Insight evenings. I saw Sea of Troubles an evocation of Hamlet which MacMillan made for a small company performing in small venues which had been formed by a couple of dancers who had previously worked for the Royal Ballet companies and " Jeux" a piece that Wayne Eagling had stitched together from some choreography MacMillan had created for a film. I think that "Sea of Troubles" suffered from being performed in an area that was probably two or three times the size of the area in which it was originally staged. This slowed the action down and generated lengthy pauses as dancers who had left the performing area needed time to return to it. The occasional lengthy pause between the sections made it feel more episodic than I suspect was originally intended. As for the style of dance movement employed it was expressionist and on occasion came perilously close to being characterised as little more than rolling about on the floor. I actually found myself thinking that Helpmann had made a far better job of making a dance work based on Hamlet than MacMillan had managed. I found Jeux much more interesting. It had far greater coherence and it had a cast which included Muntagirov, Naghdi and Gasparini. Of the two other Insight evenings I saw one showed dancers from the guest companies endeavoring to get to grips with unfamiliar choreography the other brought together current and former members of the RB to discuss dancing the roles of Romeo and Juliet. The Insight event in which sections of "Gloria " and "Baiser de la Fee" were rehearsed demonstrated the technical demands the choreography makes on the performer and the advantage enjoyed by dancers for whom works like "Gloria" are regular repertory pieces. The event with dancers talking about Romeo and Juliet fell a bit flat. Listening to retired dancers and current members of the RB talking about dancing a ballet like Romeo and Juliet will only take you so far. Once you have heard several dancers say that MacMillan ballets demand truthfulness rather than artifice and that you leave something of yourself on stage at the end of a performance you have essentially learned everything you need to know about dancing in one of MacMillan's major narrative works. The most interesting event for me was the screening of a documentary made by the former dancer Lynne Wake who danced with SWRB/BRB before going to work for Kevin Brownlow the film historian and expert on silent film. Her documentary had originally consisted of interviews with dancers who had worked with MacMillan during his early years as a choreographer. It has now been re-cut to include film clips of the ballets which the interviewees were talking about.The documentary covers works that I saw in my early days of ballet going and others which have only ever been titles and dancers whose work I had heard about but had never seen. The ballets documented included Laiderette, House of Birds, Solitaire,Danses Concertantes, The Burrow, The Invitation, Baiser de la Fee and his version of Agon. We were told that the filmed performances which were used in the documentary were made by Esme Wood who was married to someone senior in the company's administrative team. The films had been handed over to the British Film Institute for safe keeping but by the time that Lynne Wake approached the BFI to gain access to them the BFI had come to believe that the films had been donated to it and were its property. The BFI had demanded quite a substantial sum for access to the recorded material which would have made it impossible to include excerpts from the films in her documentary . It was only when someone found the receipts which proved that the company had paid for the film stock that the BFI backed down and Wake was given access to the material. We were told that the film of Baiser de la Fee used in its reconstruction, was found in a biscuit tin at the Opera House. Most of the films had been transferred to DVD but the transferred images could not be used as they were just so many white blobs on a black background. Wake almost abandoned the idea of using the film but when she inspected the negatives she found that they had crisp clear images. The problem was that the negatives have no sound track. However when she spoke to Antoinette Sibley and Merle Park they were both relieved that the film with soundtrack was not being used as the sound track on the film had not been properly synchronized with the movement which it was supposed to accompany. The film of Baiser is the only record that there is of the ballet. Although both MacMillan and de Valois were enthusiastic proponents of ballet notation in the early days it was not possible to record everything as there was only one notator available. Ballets created for the Touring Company were only notated if they were transferred to the Covent Garden stage. It was only possible to revive MacMillan's original version of Baiser because it had been filmed. Not all of the early ballets included in the film would work today.I strongly suspect that The Burrow was very much a ballet of its time and depended for its impact on its original cast, which included Lynn Seymour, and the cast's and the audiences's shared knowledge of what had happened during the Nazi occupation of Europe. I certainly thought that "The Invitation" lacked real impact when it was recently revived. I can't say how much this lack of impact was attributable to the cast not including Seymour and Gable and how much was attributable to MacMIllan's later challenging works desensitising us. As the revival was strongly cast I think I will go for the desensitising option. There are other ballets mentioned in the film which would still work today and should be revived such as Danses Concertantes and MacMillan's Agon. I can only assume that the reason for their neglect has more to do with the fact that they are, in Lady M's eyes, the wrong sort of MacMillan ballet. Solitaire is charming and tuneful, hangs on by a fingernail at Birmingham and is obviously not the right sort of MacMillan work as it is not "challenging". Danses Concertantes suffers the same weakness. It is a quirky enjoyable take on the vocabulary of classic dance which fits the score perfectly. I suppose that Lady M may have come to feel that she has exhausted the income generating capacity of the works which she has been reviving regularly. Next April we shall have the opportunity to see excerpts from House of Birds, Danses Concertants and the full Laiderette in performances given by a group of dancers described as Viviana Durante's company who are in reality a handful of dancers from the RB including Francesca Hayward and Ed Watson and Ballet Black. We can always hope that at least Danses Concertantes might find its way back onto the Covent Garden stage and that MacMillan's Four Seasons might not be far behind it .
  6. At the last count there were, I think, four recordings of Royal Ballet casts in the ballet. The first recording dates from 1966 it has Fonteyn and Nureyev in the lead roles,Blair as Mercutio,a very young Dowell as Benvolio and a young Mason as head Harlot. Many regret that there is no recording of the ballet with Seymour and Gable the dancers on whom it was created. Technically the company is still said to be performing the same production today as it did at its premiere however even a cursory glance at these recordings shows that the costume designs which originally were famously not standard ballet costumes have over the years morphed into more conventional ballet costumes and that the stage designs have also been altered. The changes to sets and props occurred while the opera house was being redeveloped. The modifications were probably essential if the ballet was to be performed on other London stages such as the one at the Royal Festival Hall.. Strangely however not all of the detail has been restored since the company returned to its home stage. Birmingham Royal Ballet retains far more of the staging's original detail than the Royal Ballet can boast. In addition to the initial recording which was filmed at Pinewood studios there are three recordings of performances at Covent Garden, The first was made in 1984 with a cast headed by Ferri and Eagling with Jefferies as Mercutio. The second dating from 2006 has Rojo and Acosta in the leading roles and Jose Martin as Mercutio. The third was made in 2012 and was originally seen as a live streamed performance. The dancers in this latest recording are Cuthbertson, Bonelli with Alexander Campbell as Mercutio. I think that some believe that the issue of the latest DVD was prompted by the ROH's acquisition of its own DVD recording label.
  7. I hope to get to see this film, if only to see Simon Russell Beale as Beria. It sounds as if his performance is a cross between his Richard III and his Kenneth Widmerpool which, if true ,I should count as worth the price of admission in itself. A great deal of what sounds highly improbable in the film's story line is not that far removed from what happened in the period immediately following Stalin's death when Russia was ruled by a gang of three. His death prevented the next great purge which was to be precipitated by the "discovery" of the doctor's plot. The doctors had already been arrested in readiness.
  8. Perhaps I am being naive but I had assumed that Vaziev was appointed because of his experience running other companies and his lack of connection with the Bolshoi and its factions. I suspect that his main management strength, as far as those who summoned him back to Russia are concerned, is the time that he spent at La Scala which established that he had the management skills to deal with a company with an entrenched working culture. Perhaps they think that those skills are needed to address the factionalism in the Bolshoi which culminated in the acid throwing incident in which Filin was injured. Ballet companies which do not have a mandatory retirement age present problems to anyone who has to run them as they make succession planning incredibly difficult.I have no idea what the age profile of those in the upper ranks of the Bolshoi look like in reality but, from my limited knowledge, there seem to be a number of artists who are fast approaching the time when decisions have to be about what roles they will dance in the future if only to ensure that the company is able to prepare its new generation of leading dancers adequately and develop the talented young dancers who it seems continue to flock to the Bolshoi in preference to the Mariinsky. As I understand it in the US and in some other countries a new AD is able to dispense with the services of dancers he does not want. Vaziev is not able to do that at the Bolshoi. He has to plan for the future while dealing with the present. At some point he has to put young dancers on the stage to dance roles like Odette /Odile and Siegfried to give them the performance experience that they need in order to become the great dancers that some of them undoubtedly will become. Transitional periods are tough on the mature dance artists who are coming to the end of their careers and on their devoted fans. Perhaps Vaziev is favouring the company's young talent for purely artistic reasons and for the health of the company. Perhaps he also sees it as a way of ensuring that the company rapidly becomes his artistically. A company of talented young dancers whose boss has given them the chances that they want is likely to be much easier to run than one in which there are factions and dancers who harbour resentment. I don't think that any of us are in a position to know whether Vaziev is making the right decisions for the company. Only time will tell. As far as his casting decisions are concerned. Experience suggests that few Artistic Directors escape criticism on that front at some point during the course of a season and sometimes throughout entire seasons. The same applies to repertory choices.
  9. I believe that Gomes gave a performance as Oberon in the Dream in 2012 after Polunin left the company. It was not clear that his guest appearance was actually necessary as there were quite a lot of dancers in the RB and the BRB who knew the role including Joseph Caley who had given some excellent performances of the role and Cervera who had understudied the role and was an Ashton specialist. If I recall correctly at the time it was generally understood that his appearance with the company was at Cojocaru's request. As far as Part taking class with the RB is concerned it does not necessarily follow that she will be working with the company. As Mashinka says there is a lot of home grown talent which makes it unlikely that the company will feel the need to engage her. It is not just the likes of Hayward and Naghdi who have to be accommodated but there are several dancers at First Soloist level who will expect to get a crack at the major classical roles and more junior dancers who having shown considerable artistic development during the last season who will also expect to take their place in the sun in the not too distant future. But you never can tell what management will decide to do. Perhaps we should wait to see what announcements, if any, appear on the company's web site.
  10. mnacenani, While it is good to know that Osipova is happy at Covent Garden and will continue to dance there for the foreseeable future I am not sure that everyone who attends performances by the Royal Ballet would actually feel that her continued presence as a member of the company was essential to its continued artistic health. She is of course a star, which means that for many her performances are above the sort of criticism which other dancers receive as a matter of course. I can think of a number of dancers for example Morera, Hayward,Naghdi and O'Sullivan whose absence would almost certainly be regarded as having a much more significant impact on the company and its long term artistic development than hers would have.
  11. Mashinka, There is an article on the RAD website about MacMillan and Benesch notation which suggests that all but seven or eight of MacMillan's earliest ballets were recorded in Benesch notation and are capable of revival. The first MacMillan ballet to be notated was Solitaire in 1956 everything he created after that was recorded in Benesch notation much of it by Monica Parker. Both House of Birds and Danses Concertantes dating from 1955 were notated when they were revived in 1963. The existence of a physical record means that a ballet like House of Birds could be revived if a company and Lady M wanted to stage it .The problem is that I don't think that there is any great evidence that anyone is that interested in bringing back any of MacMillan's early works apart from Solitaire which gets dusted off very occasionally by BRB. Presumably it was deemed suitable to mark the current MacMillan anniversary because it is part of the company's history as it was made for one of BRB's predecessor companies. That early connection might well have persuaded Lady M that it would do her husband's reputation as a choreographic rebel little or no harm. As there are people working for the company who remember Solitaire from their own time as dancers and the company has not departed as radically from the work's original musicality and performance style as the Covent Garden company has done I imagine that BRB made a good job of the revival. However giving Solitaire an occasional airing to mark a significant MacMillan anniversary does not make it a repertory piece. If I am right about Solitaire's current status then the next time it will see the light of day is in 2027 when MacMillan centenary is celebrated. I first saw Danses Concertantes when it was danced by the RBS during the 1970's as part of their end of term main stage performance. It was still a Royal Ballet repertory piece as late as 1995 so there are plenty of people around who danced in it which means that it should be relatively easy to revive it. A snippet was used at the last Genee Competition held in London. The young South African who won the gold medal was the only one to dance it in competition and he made a very good job of it. I have memories of seeing MacMillan's Agon in the 1970's. I remember rather liking it . I think that it had disappeared from the repertory some time before the company acquired Balanchine's ballet of the same name. As far as 6.6.78 is concerned I know that I have seen it but I remember nothing about it. I wonder how much of a problem the resident company's current performance style would present in successfully reviving one of MacMillan's early works ? The company which originally danced The House of Birds was one whose repertory was firmly classically based and whose house style was Ashton's. The company's current performance style, musicality and dynamics are very different from what they were when the bulk of MacMillan's ballets were created. You don't have to look very hard to find evidence of the effect of this shift in style in ballets which have remained in the repertory. The company dances far more slowly than it did in the 70's and 80's and not everyone has the musicality, clean footwork, or ability as a terre a terre dancer which its dancers then had . Many of its non RBS trained dancers seem to prefer to execute steps in classroom style rather than as the choreographer modified them and few of its dancers are brave enough or have the ability to dance in what must feel like a dangerously off balance fashion or use their upper bodies as expansively as the RB's dancers once did. The result is that we rarely see Symphonic Variations with the Brian Shaw role danced as it should be with the dancer doing off centre turns as he gazes to the heavens and we rarely see MacMillan's Mercutio as he choreographed it. Eliminate the off centre turns and the other quirky and unusual elements in Mercutio's choreography and you eliminate MacMillan's carefully crafted character and turn Merctio into a conventional classical role which is little more than a plot device and about as compelling and interesting . Neither Ashton nor MacMillan could have anticipated the changes in performance style and musicality which have taken place since the 90's. If MacMillan's neglected ballets were to be performed in the company's current performance style the audience would not necessarily see the connection which MacMillan created between the music and his choreography which was what made the works so worth watching when they were new. I suspect that few people recognise the importance which musicality plays in the ability to to dance Ashton and MacMillan really well. It's not a question of counting but of listening to the music. I wonder whether Fin du Jour failed to work when it was revived because it was too much of its time and place or whether it was other factors which were at play? I know that at a time when the company as a whole had been trained to listen to the music to which they were dancing Park, who was in the original cast, was always picked out as being exceptionally musical and I always thought that Penney was very musical. I don't recall that the RB's revival cast struck me as particularly suited to their roles and that the men had extreme difficulty in executing the lifts which both Eagling and Deane had tossed off as if they were nothing. As a result I wonder whether the reason for the failure of both revivals was not the work's weakness but is attributable to remediable factors such as casting and/or inadequate rehearsal time and/or perhaps a failure to get anyone who had been involved in the original performances into the rehearsal studio ? Any one of these factors would have been sufficient to explain the failures. I have to admit that Fin du Jour would not be on my list of works requiring urgent revival. I fear that my comments about the possible causes of the failure of Fin du Jour's revival apply to a revival of pretty much any ballet created before 1990. The fact that the powers that be at the RB don't want to make the older repertory seem dated by demanding that the dancers perform them in period appropriate style and permit performers to dance the works in the currently fashionable,slow,high extension, stop, start,freeze framing style means that few of them are danced in a style which their creator's would recognise. With their musicality, dynamics and use of body distorted and their architecture askew only the floor plan of some of the works is accurate in performance .
  12. Until now MacMillan has generally been the preserve of the RB and to a lesser extent the BRB as far as UK companies are concerned. As the Royal Opera House Board refused to agree to MacMillan making a ballet using a major orchestral score he was forced to create The Song of the Earth in Stuttgart. Although the work was almost immediately staged by the RB and acknowledged as a masterpiece he encountered problems from the same source when he wanted to create a ballet to Faure's Requiem, this time because of the work's supposed religious content. As a result the works were created in Stuttgart and are part of that company's historical repertory as is My Brother My Sisters. Song is occasionally revived by them. As far as the likelihood of seeing Requiem is concerned it is not usually out of the RB's repertory for any length of time so I expect to see it back in the not too distant future. As far as seeing MacMillan's ballets in the UK today is concerned Lady M decides which companies should be permitted to dance her late husband's work. Perhaps she has not deemed other British companies worthy or perhaps they just have not approached her about staging some of the works which don't need a cast of thousands. The first and most obvious thing is that you need to know of a work's existence if you are going to think about staging it and then you have to decide whether the work is viable today.The longer a ballet is out of the repertory the more likely it is that people will assume that there must be something wrong with it or a company somewhere in the would be dancing it . When the neglected ballet is by an eminent choreographer who has an active advocate the stronger the assumption will be that there is good reason for the work's neglect and that it must be deeply flawed. Unfortunately as Mashinka has said Lady M promotes MacMillan's turkeys aka his "challenging" works and fails to revive works which would enhance his reputation and might even appeal to the directors of other companies who might contemplate reviving them. It seems to me that Lady M has done her late husband few favours by promoting his "challenging" works like Judas Tree and Different Drummer and neglecting his more accessible, more audience friendly, classically based works such as Solitaire; Soiree Musicales created for the School , but surely capable of being a fine ending to a triple bill; the quirky Danses Concertantes; Triad; Verdi Variations which eventually became part of Quartet, or Concerto which looks so innocuously simple and yet exposes every technical flaw in its cast and the large scale Four Seasons which was hailed as a company show case at the time of its premiere but has not been seen for the best part of forty years.I suspect that one of the reasons for the neglect of Seasons is the demands it makes on a company as it calls for ten principal dancers to do it justice. By the time of its second production the company was in decline which no one involved with the company seemed able to arrest and reverse. It is only recently that the company has had the strength and depth to contemplate reviving it but it does not look likely that this will happen.It must have been notated and members of the original cast are still around and compos mentis but if they leave it any longer it will, I assume be deemed incapable of revival. What these ballets have in common is that they reveal MacMillan to have been a a fine classical choreographer which does not exactly fit the image of the man which Lady M seeks to promote. If a wide range of MacMillan's works are to be seen they need to be performed and it seems to me that this MacMillanfest is something of a missed opportunity.Lady M has got other companies involved which means that people in the rest of the country may get the chance to see some MacMillan in live performance, but apart from Baiser de la Fee and Sea of Troubles, both of which I am pleased to see, there is nothing which has been out of the repertory for any length of time. Perhaps this event will encourage one or two companies to ask about some of the missing MacMillan repertory and think about staging it but I have no great hopes that this will happen. While there are some works like Playground, My Brother My Sisters, Valley of Shadows and Rituals which have been undisturbed for some time and should never be revived there are at least two others which should be consigned to oblivion, Different Drummer, which shows what ballet can't do and Judas Tree which shows what ballet should not do and is, as Mashinka says, "an awful thing". If reviving Winter Dreams is the price we have to pay for their perpetual retirement from the repertory, I for one would be prepared to pay it. There are several works which I think deserve to be revived such as Solitaire, Triad, Quartet, Verdi Variations as a gala piece, Soiree Musicales, and The Four Seasons and some which need to be reassessed such as Danses Concertantes; Symphony and Fin du Jour, which defeated the company when it was last revived. Perhaps some of MacMillan's neglected classically based works will not prove to be neglected masterpieces but we should at least have the opportunity to see them while their revival is still a practical option. I am sure that I am not the only one who thinks what we are permitted to see of MacMillan's output is too skewed towards Lady M's assessment of her late husband's place in the development of British ballet. The problem is that by concentrating on a limited range of works and emphasising the way in which he differed from Ashton in taste and output and portraying him as an unappreciated genius not only is our understanding of his work distorted but Lady M is failing to explore and exploit the full range of his legacy. It seems to me that by ignoring MacMillan's work as a classical choreographer she is doing the ballet audience and her late husband a great disservice.
  13. I am not sure whether I would describe the bulk of the works to be performed during the MacMillan fest as rarities, although Sea of Troubles certainly is one.It was made for a small company that was run by a dancer called Susan Crow who danced with SWRB/BRB before branching out on her own. I wonder what Baiser will look like after all these years? Unfortunately I don't recall much about it except being slightly disappointed by it when the RB danced it years ago. It would be nice to think that it turns to be a piece of real interest, if not a masterpiece, but as someone pointed out to me a significant number of the twentieth century's major choreographers have had a go at making a ballet using Stravinsky's score beginning with Nijinska and including Ashton and Balanchine, none of which have survived in the repertory, it suggests that there is a problem with the score. The most interesting thing about this celebration is that companies other than the RB are involved in it with ENB dancing Song of the Earth, Northern Ballet dancing Gloria, BRB dancing Concerto and Elite Syncopations being danced with dancers drawn from the RB and from the other companies involved in the celebration.Looking at ticket sales for the main stage MacMillan mixed bills it would appear that the only programme which is nearly sold out is the one which does not include Judas Tree. This suggests that the ballet going public is not as sure about the artistic status of Judas Tree as Lady M and that it was somewhat unwise to include the work in two of the mixed bills which are being performed. I wonder whether it will be necessary to reduce ticket prices for those two programmes to shift the tickets? So far the ballet company seems to be doing somewhat better than the opera company as far as ticket sales for the Autumn booking period are concerned. It would seem that ticket sales for La Boheme have been incredibly slow as advertisements for performances have already begun to appear on Tube stations. While I might anticipate that it would be necessary to advertise a revival of a very old production or a production which was badly received by the critics and not much liked by the public when it was new, it is really incredible to see advertisements for a new production of such a popular opera. The general opera going public is not normally that fastidious about new productions when the opera is a staple of the repertory composed by Puccini.
  14. From what little I have read about the way things are done in Putin's Russia the possibility of being arrested and charged with embezzlement is a fate which many run, including those who receive state funding for the arts. It is of course serious for the individual concerned. The prospect of being imprisoned in Russia is not something which anyone would want to face. However such allegations seem to have become a commonplace way of removing those who are rivals and those who are perceived as causing the regime difficulties and as such, are not that different from the allegations of high treason which were so favoured by Henry VIII as a means of dealing with his problem courtiers and those who stood in his way. There is a possibility that these current allegations have as little real legal substance as the allegations and trial procedures of the Henrican regime. What is happening in Russia could be characterized as a " civilized" form of purge . It has a veneer of respectability as the process appears to be concerned with ensuring that state funds are not misused and it is "civilised" because the defendant does not end up being shot. As I don't believe that Russia has any schemes comparable to the White Sea Canal project, the chances are that a prisoner will eventually emerge from the prison system although few will be as well treated as the man who arranged for acid to be thrown at the Bolshoi's former AD.
  15. Altongrimes I hope that the following may be of assistance to you in your quest to discover the contribution which Italy has made to the development of ballet. I am not aware of a book in English about the history of Italian ballet, ballet in Italy or the contribution which Italians have made to the development of ballet as an art form. I think that there are a number of reasons for that. The first is that, unlike France, where you can produce a fairly persuasive book on the development of ballet in France by concentrating on dance activity in Paris that is not possible for Italy. Before the Risorgimento and Unification the peninsula was a patchwork of states each of which had its own theatrical traditions, its own cultural preferences and is own rules on censorship. The major centres of ballet at La Scala,Milan, and the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, did not share the same tastes so you have to write about both and explain changing tastes in both centres. Then there is the fact that Italian ballet activity was not confined to the peninsula. There were Italian ballet dancers working across Europe and at one point in the eighteenth century there were Italian ballet masters working in Copenhagen and St.Petersburg. Writing about the major Italian dancers who appeared as guest artists in Russia is much easier and more likely to attract funding than writing about the efforts of Italian ballet masters in Italy and Europe. Now the two countries which played the greatest part in the development of classical ballet in the nineteenth century and thus of ballet as we tend to think of it today it today were France and Russia both of which were, and remain, very centralised states. Although by the time we get to the nineteenth century the Paris Opera was being run on a commercial basis while the Russian state was supporting the activities of the Imperial Theatres and companies the two states were similar in that there were identifiable centres of ballet training in Paris and St Petersburg respectively which were recognised as centres of excellence and whose artists influenced what went on elsewhere in their respective countries. That does not seem to have happened in Italy, even after unification, it remained and remains a country of distinct regions with their own regional dialects,culture, history and tastes, and their own theatrical culture and tastes. Perhaps the real problem is that we don't know enough about balletic activity in nineteenth century Italy. If ballet was only ever able to play second fiddle to opera, by providing diverting dances during the course of an opera performance, which is the impression we tend to have of ballet on the peninsula how do we explain how Luigi Manzotti came to create Excelsior or its international success? What we can say is that the development of Blassis' system of technical training combined with later advances in shoe construction which occurred in Milan enabled dancers trained in Northern Italy to achieve a technical level that seemed beyond the capabilities of their Russian contemporaries. During the 1880's and 1890's the Imperial Theatres imported a series of Italian trained dancers as guest artists who arguably changed the course of dance history in Russia and the rest of Europe. Brianz and Legnani are the most famous of them but there were others such as Antoinetta Dell'Era who today is all but forgotten, although I suspect that there may be considerably more of her technical skills recorded in the Stepanov notation of Sleeping Beauty than is generally acknowledged today. The first of the late nineteenth century Italian guest ballerinas was Virginia Zucchi who probably had a greater influence on the long term development of ballet in Russia than either Legnani or Brianzi because she persuaded a generation of young ballet goers that the art form was capable of doing far more than merely entertaining. Her dramatic range as a dance actress convinced those who saw her that "a dancer as an artist could be the equal of a Bernhardt or a Duse". She was as successful in portraying Fenella in La Muette de Portici which had been one of Elssler's great roles, as she was in playing Lise in La Fille Mal Gardee which Petipa revived for her. Alexandre Benois described her performances as revelatory. Among the ballet goers who saw her were the men who were some who went on to collaborate with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. As far as ballet in Italy in the twentieth and twenty first century is concerned it continues to produce very fine dancers although the resident ballet company at La Scala is in a losing battle with the opera company as far as stage time for performances is concerned. |I leave it to you to read about court masques in the renaissance courts of Italy especially Mantua and how they fed into court entertainments elsewhere in Europe . Here are a couple of suggestions for further reading;- 1) The Divine Virginia : A Biography of Virginia Zucchi by Ivor Guest. Unless you are an Italian speaker you will need an Italian dictionary for the following book. 2) Storia della danza italiano dalla origini ai giorni nostri edited by J. Sasportes pub 2011 Once you have identified a few people whose activities in dance interest you whether as dancers or ballet masters then you could try the on-line Dizionario Biografico. Again an Italian dictionary will be required.
  16. The London audience for the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi is far more mixed than the Covent Garden audience which usually attends ballet performances there. It is composed of Russians living locally, foreign visitors; people who only attend ballet performances when the Russians are in town and a small sprinkling of "regulars" whose interest in the artistic health of one of the world's great ballet company's outweighs other factors such as ticket prices,audience behaviour and K.Sergeyev's textual choices. As Mashinka says the prices charged for performances by visiting Russian companies appearing in Bow Street deter a lot of the local ballet going audience. In addition to the deterrent effect of the pricing I know a lot of "regulars" who won't go near a Russian Swan Lake because of a combination of the "amateur audience" and the text danced. As far as the text is concerned lots of regulars don't much admire performances which seem to be more like evocations of Swan Lake than the ballet which Petipa and Ivanov created. However wonderfully stylistically cohesive, and beautifully refined the Mariinsky corps de ballet is there are quite a lot of Covent Garden "regulars" who don't find that its performance or that of the dancers cast as the Swan Queen and her prince compensate adequately for the presence of the intrusive jester and the all dancing Rothbart; the loss of key mime passages which prevents anything approaching effective story telling or the substitution of a happy ending for the original tragic ending and apotheosis. I think that a few more "regulars" will be found to have braved the ticket prices and audience behaviour to see La Bayadere. Ticket sales have been far slower than usual. Swan Lake sold out but there were still tickets available until a few weeks ago.La Bayadere has only recently sold out. I think that there were actually special offers for Don Q. Although there are only two performances Anna Karenina took ages to sell out and both performances of the "Contrasts" mixed bill which includes Paquita are each said to have over a hundred tickets available for both performances.I hope that the poor sales don't put further visits in jeopardy.
  17. Natalia, The following post is one which I hope will answer your questions. I did see the Symphonic Dances mixed bill and I started a separate thread about it which has the unoriginal title "Symphonic Dances Mixed Bill 2016-17 season".. I also saw the mixed bill which included the new Crystal Pite,called "Flight Patterns" which you asked about.It also included Dawson's "The Human Seasons" and Wheldon's "After the Rain". As far as this mixed bill is concerned it proved to be surprisingly controversial not because of the new work but the Dawson piece which was first seen at Covent Garden in 2013 when,while it was not universally liked, and was criticised by some of the professional critics for the way in which the women who danced it were handled it passed without too much adverse comment.David Dason has been pursuing a successful career as a choreographer in Germany. "The Human Seasons " is not the only ballet of his to be seen in London as ENB have staged "A Million Kisses to my Skin" and his "Faun" was shown as part of a recent Diaghilev inspired programme. Perhaps I am missing something but I have not found any of them to be the sort of ballet that I would travel any great distance to see. The Human Seasons is one of those almost interchangeable abstract works which you feel you have seen somewhere before almost as soon as the curtains open and the dancers begin to move.It is the sort of ballet which seems to have been created and staged, to fill a gap in a mixed programme rather than because the choreographer has had an original idea.There is a certain amount of running around for no obvious reason; the relationship between the music and the dancer's movements is not always clear;the costume design and lighting has the effect of making the dancers disappear into the background and it is never entirely clear whether this is a deliberate effect or not and it contains a certain amount of choreography in which the women in the cast seem to be treated as objects rather than people. The casts seen in this revival were all new to the work. For some reason the professional critics seem to have taken more notice of it this time than they did when it was new or perhaps less of their criticism was edited.At this revival there were complaints about its lack of choreographic content and the way in which it seemed to involve a great deal of physical manipulation of the women including the men dragging them across the floor and swinging them around face down near the floor. I found it a rather tedious piece which did not do anything to hold my interest. I never found out how it was connected with the Keats poem which was reproduced in the programme. After the less than enthusiastic reviews from the professional critics everything got very heated. The stager took to twitter and suggested that the dancers involved had not been fully committed to performing the ballet. The choreographer announced on twitter " I have decided not to show my work any longer, in London, if I can help it." which he subsequently withdrew replacing it with a more emollient message about the pleasure he derived from working with the company. Presumably he thought about the damage he might be doing to himself if he ruled out possible future links with the company. At least one person who appears to have no known connections with ballet in the UK weighed in and wrote a scathing attack on the Royal Ballet comparing it unfavorably with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, accusing it of failing as a classical company and being out of touch with the latest choreographic developments. As far as I could see the dancers had done all that was humanly possible with the choreography, but the ballet failed to engage me intellectually or move me emotionally. . It seems to me that Wheeldon's "After the Rain" has been seen a bit too often for its own good. At this revival the first section did little for me it was well danced by the casts I saw which included Calvert in the first cast and Heap in the second cast.I think that for many in the audience it was the second part which had most impact. In the first cast this section was danced by Nunez and Soares in the second cast it was Yanowsky and Clarke who danced it.Nunez and Soares danced the choreography very beautifully but while we were given a series of beautiful images and poses it was all a bit too slick and devoid of any real feeling. The Yanowsky, Clarke pairing was totally different and entirely involving. I don't think that this was just because we knew that we would not see these two dancers together on many more evenings. It was because of their artistry. Watching them dance together it is difficult to believe that Clarke is a relatively inexperienced junior dance. They danced exactly the same choreography as Soares and Nunez but somehow it seemed to have far greater emotional depths to it rather than simply being a carefully contrived, well constructed piece of choreography or a slick production number it seemed to have many layers of meaning to it. . Then we had the final piece the first work which Cristal Pite has created for the company. Perhaps I should say that hers is not the first "refugee themed" ballet which has been staged in London during the last couple of seasons. Hofesch Schechter created a dull worthy piece called "Untouchable" in which a large group of dancers are moved across the stage in one direction and just when you think it is all over they move back to where they began from and then they are moved back across the stage again for the last time. It is very exciting as the dancers shout something inaudible which I was assured was about Nigel Farage a local politician.This masterpiece which some of my friends have taken to calling "Unwatchable" and others "Unspeakable" is due to be revived next season. Akram Khan has given London his modern reworking of"Giselle" in which the heroine is a migrant seamstress. Many claim to have been immensely moved by it but its emotional impact escapes me entirely. Wayne McGregor has given us his entirely forgettable Multiverse . It begins with a pas de deux in which McRae and Kay rush jump and turn at great speed until the point of exhaustion.This second section includes a set ion which fragments of the Raft of the Medusa are projected and the corps de ballet seems to be in danger of being crushed. I have told you this so you will appreciate that the ballet audience which saw Flight Patterns has seen more than its fair share of refugee themed dance works.in the same way that since 2014 the opera audience has been plagued by First World War themed productions. Pite's Flight Patterns was totally different from the earlier refugee themed dance works which we have already seen.It was entirely effective as a piece of dance theatre . The designs and the lighting were excellent and when sections of the stage were left in darkness you were not left thinking that it was either incompetence on the lighting designer's part or an attempt on the company's to cut its electricity bill.Kristen McNally led the cast and while there were other dancers who were given tiny sections when they stepped out of the corps only McNally and Sambe had choreography and movement which could be described as solos.It centres on the communal experience of being displaced and homeless. The dancers are a group who for the audience are virtually indistinguishable as they shuffle slowly across the stage, first in one direction, then in another in what seems to be an endless numberless line of refugees. McNally breaks out of the crowd she appears distraught and seems to be holding a child in her arms which turns out to be a coat. the other dancers fill her arms with their coats. Eventually a gap appears at the back of the stage it seems to be snowing there. The dancers slowly all pas through the gap leaving Sambe and McNally behind, Sambe moves and seems to hesitate about whether he should leave her.He begins to move away from her.It does not sound like much but it is a very compelling dance work. Pite and her designers seem to understand how to create compelling images which will resonate with an audience a gift which few others engaged in making dance works seem to share.. And now for something completely different.I don't think that I need to say anything more about Mayerling except that the finest performances which I saw during this run were given by Bonelli and Morera. While companies rarely remain in a stable state for any length of time when a dancer like Yanowsky announces her retirement it brings home how short a dancer's career is and raises the question of how long it will be before Morera announces her departure. Neither dancer is the standard ballerina type and yet it is difficult to imagine what the company would have been like without them.
  18. The casting I expect to see this evening is the one which danced on Friday evening they are as follows :- The Dream Titania Akane Takada replacing Lamb who is injured. She made her debut in the role on 2nd June. . Oberon Steven McRae Puck Valentino Zucchetti Bottom Benet Gartside Helena Itziar Mendizabal Demetrius Thomas Mock Hermia Claire Calvert Lysander Matthew Ball Peaseblossom Gemma Pitchley-Gale Cobweb Emma Maguire Moth Elizabeth Harrod Mutardseed Romany Pajdak Symphonic Variations Marianela Nunez Vadim Muntagirov Yuhui Choe James Hay Yasmine Naghdi Tristan Dyer Marguerite and Armand Marguerite Zenaida Yanowsky Armand Roberto Bolle His Father Christopher Saunders A Duke Gary Avis Admirers of Marguerite Matthew Ball, Reece Clarke, David Donnelly, Nicol Edmonds, Kevin Emerton, Thomas Mock, Fernando Montano, Erico Montes I would not usually bother with the list of admirers as they merely decorate the stage but I think that the list is of interest in much the same way that the cast for the pas de six in the streamed performance of Giselle was of interest in that it represented a snapshot in time of dancers some of whom have advanced to the top of the company and others who may well do so. In this list the dancers to look out for are Ball who actually dances a few steps in this work and Reece Clarke who is the tallest of the group and who is dancing the male lead in the second cast of Symphonic with Cuthbertson. There are quite a few people who have expressed regret that Clarke is not dancing Armand in place of Bolle but presumably that would have caused all sorts of problems as far as ensuring that Symphonic did not become a training opportunity in the way it did when it was last revived. The general feeling is that Naghdi, Ball and Clarke will all move up a rank when the promotions are announced at the end of the season.
  19. I assume that this mixed bill was intended to show the range of work and styles which ballet is capable of encompassing, The inclusion of Wheeldon's Strapless revealed what it can't do and certainly showed the difficulties which choreographers face when they choose a story which is unsuitable for ballet or one for which the choreography's vocabulary and style is unsuited. The programme opened with Forsythe's "Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude" which the company danced for a couple of seasons at the turn of the century but then disappeared from its repertory. It was danced with extraordinary speed and energy by the first cast of Nunez, Muntagirov, Takada, Stix-Brunell and McRae but even here Muntagirov managed to display the effortless elegance and beauty of movement for which he is admired by the London audience.The first cast was exhilarating the second cast, Mendizabal, Sambe, Hayward Stix-Brunell and Hay, was a bit more relaxed about the whole thing and brought out the wit in the choreography which was not really obvious in the more driven burn the stage account given by the first cast. Mendizabal is never going to be Nunez but she gave a fine account of the choreography. Sambe gave a bouncy account of the lead male role while Hay gave an ultra elegant and effortless account of the choreography which McRae had danced. Hayward and Stix-Brunell who had the benefit of working together from the beginning of the rehearsal process rather than being a last minute pairing due to injury danced as if they were a single performer.Both casts were well worth seeing. Tarantella, new to the company, followed before the interval. Here we were given three casts and the order in which they danced had more to so with what else they were dancing and learning than the quality of their performances. The first cast of Sambe, a ball of energy, and Hayward full of effortless technical skill, character, charm and wit brought the house down on the first night.The second cast was a bit of a disappointment largely because Hinkis held back preferring to give a safety first account of her choreography rather than a the sort of performance it demands.Perhaps Hinkis' overly careful approach to the piece had a dampening effect on Campbell and his account of the choreography.He danced as if he wanted everyone to forget that physically he is too stocky to be danseur material and the result was that while it was accurate it was anaemic,dull and characterless. How much his performance was influenced by his partner's rather subdued overcareful account of her role and how much it reflected a desire on his part to distance himself from the character nature of the role is difficult to say. The third cast of Naghdi and Zucchetti was the most intriguing as Naghdi has said of herself that she is by nature an allegro dancer. This cast sailed through the choreography with consummate ease their account was witty, fun and more musically astute than the first cast had been, Sambe is not as musically perceptive as Hayward is. The third cast had wonderful stage presence and made the whole thing look like a tongue in cheek homage to Bournonville and not simply a piece created on dancers with abundant stage presence,personality and technical skill.. Unfortunately Tarantella sent the audience out on a high and raised expectations which Strapless was never going to be able to fulfill. The audience left the auditorium feeling that all is well with the company and its repertory only to return to it to watch a ballet which should have been given a decent burial after its initial run. In fact there are some who would argue that it really should not have got as far as the main stage in 2016 when it was premiered. It appears to be a co-production with the Bolshoi and was clearly intended as a vehicle for Osipova. I can't imagine what possessed Wheeldon to think that the story of the creation of Sargent's portrait of Madame X and the scandal it caused would be a suitable subject for a ballet. Perhaps it was the exhibition of Sargent portraits at the National Portrait Gallery or the book about the portrait's creation but a choreographer of Wheeldon's experience should have been able to see that it presented insurmountable problems for anyone who wanted to turn it into a ballet. How do you create a ballet about an enthusiastic social climber who wants her portrait painted by an eminent portraitist and who suffers social ostracism because in its original form the portrait suggested that she was a woman of loose morals ? It is not just a case of the past being a foreign country where things are done differently somehow the choreographer has to make the audience interested in that foreign country and his social climbing "heroine" and her fate at the hands of a society which required everyone to maintain a veneer of respectability by conducting affairs discretely. How do you persuade an audience to be interested and involved in such a story? The ballet was strongly cast throughout but neither the cast led by Osipova nor that led by Cuthbertson managed to breathe life into this balletic corpse although they did everything that was humanly possible to do so. I saw both casts and to my mind Cuthbertson managed to make a bit more of it than Osipova had done. Even in its shortened form the ballet felt far longer than the forty minutes which the cast sheet suggested it would take to perform. By the time we got to the cafe scene which is full of local Parisian colour with its dancing waiters and its demure can can dancers my mind had begun to wander. I began to wonder what de Valois' Bar aux Folies Bergere had been like and I came to the conclusion on the basis of what I had read about it that I would far rather be watching "Bar" than the ballet which I was watching. At later performances I stayed outside and talked to people who were doing the same thing. The final piece on the bill was Liam Scarlett's new ballet Symphonic Dances made for a leading female dancer and a mixed cops de ballet.I think that some people, not knowing the music, may have expected a gentle valedictory piece because it was created on Yanowsky who is about to retire from the company. It's not what we got. What we got was a substantial slice of interesting choreography which made no technical concessions to anyone appearing in it. Not only did it underline the important part that both Yanowsky and Morera play in the artistic life of the company it shone a spotlight on the dance talent in the junior ranks. I managed to get a ticket for the Insight evening held the day after the ballet's premiere at which Scarlett was interviewed by Mason. He did not throw any light on the ballet itself but he did explain the prominence he had given to the men in the corps. He said that he had wanted to give the male members of the corps some challenging choreography because of the great technical strength of the company's current male dancers. The ballet is opened by the leading female dancer, Yanowsky on the opening night, Morera a few nights later, who then leaves the stage. Later she returns and one of the men dances with her. Yanowsky danced with James Hay while Morera danced with Giacomo Roverro, one of the company's apprentices. The man's dance is one that suggests that the lead woman is an object of adoration , with Hay and Yanowsky, the height difference almost suggests a mother and child relationship. With the Morera, Roverro pairing the height difference is lacking and so a mother and child relationship did not immediately spring to mind. The result is that the choreography looks markedly different with the two casts but it does not reduce its effectiveness. The middle section brings the male corps to the fore they dance together for some time before the female lead joins them. She dances with the corps as part of it and at some points they lift and present her to the audience. In the third section she dances with one of the men in a conventional pas de deux. Yanowsky's partner was Reece Clarke while Morera was partnered by Matthew Ball.I don't think that the final pas de deux was intended to say something about the place of the female dancer. I think that everyone in the audience would have felt cheated if they had not had the opportunity to see Yanowsky dance with Clarke for the last time or to see Ball dance with Morera as both men are such promising dancers. At the very end of the ballet the lead woman flings herself to the floor and the screen which has been part of the decor descends and obliterates the audiences final view of her. Is the ballet about anything? Scarlett said that the ballet meant whatever we chose to see in it. It is true that there are a few minor sections where Scarlett's imagination seems to flag but those sections seemed to be less obvious as the run progressed, presumably the result of the dancers settling into their choreography. The casting of the ballet meant that both lead dancers had their own male corps dancing with her The female corps were not cast in the same way, some of the female dancers appeared in both casts.The response to this ballet suggests that it will be revived.It will be interesting to see it with new casts. Only time will tell whether it lasts for a few seasons or whether it has real staying power. According to Scarlett his mother's response to his new work was that it was "one of his better efforts". Juxtaposing these two works in a single mixed bill made me wonder about what we can look forward to in the future from Wheeldon who is in his mid forties and Scarlett who has been making ballets for twenty years but is still only thirty or thirty one. It brought home to me that while Wheeldon has made a couple of full length works for the Royal Ballet which have been successful his dance vocabulary appears limited and he is not that able to create characters who describe their unique qualities and express their emotions through a subtle combination of natural body movement and dance in the way that Ashton, Tudor, Cranko, MacMillan and even de Valois could. It is as if he is blind to the possibilities which expressionist dance presents. His creation of Leontes seems so dependent on Ed Watson that I doubt that he would have thought of Leontes' movements and body language without him. I find that these "Watsonisms" are even more effective on other dancers than they are on Watson himself. Scarlett seems to have access to a wider dance vocabulary than Wheeldon and whatever you think of Frankenstein his pas de deux seem to arise more naturally from the narrative than Wheeldon's do. Wheeldon's pas de deux occur because there should be one at this point in the ballet not because they are required by the action or the character's emotional state at that point in the narrative. While they may be interesting from a purely technical point of view they seem devoid of any emotion, be it burning passion or good old fashioned lust. This apparent inability to express a range of emotional states through dance does not matter in the reconciliation pas de deux in Winter's Tale where a certain reticence and reserve may be appropriate at that point in the narrative nor in Alice which is more entertainment than ballet but it is a weakness in other works. I can't help wondering what the future holds for these two choreographers and for the audiences at the Royal Opera House. I have a feeling that people are beginning to think that Scarlett might just be the next really interesting choreographer rather than simply a useful company choreographer. The interview he gave was extremely interesting.. He appears to be very conscious of the company's creative and choreographic heritage without being overwhelmed by it or feeling that everything has to be overturned. When he was asked about the new Swan Lake he said that he was conscious of the responsibility involved in staging it and that he was still doing his research and reading. There is a rumour which may be totally unfounded that there may be more Ashton choreography in it than just the Neapolitan Dance.
  20. As was said in the section about streamed performances Jewels may not be the greatest of Balanchine's works but it is a piece which enables a company to display the range of talent within its ranks and I would add that even if it is Balanchine not on absolutely top form it is considerably better then most other choreographers manage at their best. As I have already said the Royal Ballet used to dance Balanchine with a distinct foreign accent,they no longer do so, but they are no longer a company which can be guaranteed to dance Ashton as stylishly as they once did. It may not be clear from what I have told you about the Royal Ballet this season but the company is going through a period of transition which is more obvious than that occasioned by the departure of Rojo, Cojocaru, Galeazzi and Benjamin.Then it was clear who the dancers leading the company would be as they were, for the main part, already in post as principal dancers. At this point it feels that a generational change is taking place as all the remaining experienced female principals are in their thirties Cuthbertson the youngest is about thirty two and Morera the oldest is in her very late thirties while the two recent appointees are in their twenties and it is likely that any dancers newly appointed to the rank of principal will be no older than their mid twenties. With Yanowsky's imminent retirement, Soares, who has never been that stylish, obviously struggling in exposed roles and questions about how long Watson will continue dancing some people are beginning to treat casting announcements like auguries indicating who the likely candidates for promotion and principal status are as they not only tell us who we are going too see in performance but indicate who among the junior ranks have caught the eye of management and stagers. With the late Gailene Stock at the school and the company's repertory given considerable coherence by Mason some of which has survived O'Hare's somewhat uncritical pursuit of new repertory we seem to be entering one of the Royal Ballet's better periods. We had a good mixture of experience and promising talent on show during the performances of Jewels with the company fielding three casts for Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds with only two dancers in the main roles appearing in more than one cast. In both cases the doubling up probably reflects management's need to give a dancer like Hristov some leading roles and to feed McRae's ambitions rather than a lack of talent or the youth and comparative inexperience of much of the of the company. Everywhere you look there is real talent and potential. It seems unfair to describe the casts as first, second and third cast as it suggests that there were marked qualitative differences between the performance of each when in fact it was one of those occasions on which the placing of a particular cast in sequence had little or nothing to do with the dancers' abilities or the quality of their performances. If anyone who saw all three casts had a favourite their selection was almost certainly based on the fact that one of the casts included dancers in whom they are particularly interested rather than any great difference between their performances. The casts were as follows;- 1) Emeralds with Nagdhi Ball,Mendizabal and Edmonds with Acri,Gasparini and Hinkis in the pas de trois;Rubies with Heap, Takada and Campbell; Diamonds with Cuthbertson and Muntagirov. 2) Emeralds with Stix-Brunell, Hristov,Morera and Hirano with Hay, Maguire and Crawford in the pas de trois; Rubies with Hamilton, Lamb and MCrae; Diamonds with Nunez and Soares which was the streamed cast. 3) Emeralds with Choe,Hristov, Hayward and Zuchetti with Richardson,O'Sullivan and Stock in the pas de trois;Rubies with Storm-Jensen, Magri and Sambe; Diamonds with Ccuthbertsom and Muntagirov. Salenko and McRae. also danced Diamonds during the run. All the casts in Emeralds brought something special to their performances and each managed to capture the elusive mood of the piece as well as to make it their own. It is a ballet which with the wrong cast I have found you watch out of a sense of duty and ask yourself whether in reality it is one of those pieces which died with the departure of the original cast as it can seem so dull. In these performances it became a fascinating work to be watched with real pleasure because of the theatrical life which the casts breathed into it. Much as I admired the cast of Emeralds which was streamed because it included Morera, Stix-Brunell and Hay who is one of the most interesting and elegant of the company's make dancers I found the cast which included Naghdi and Ball was the most interesting as it showed so much promise. Naghdi has shown extraordinary assurance and maturity in every performance she has given this season and these performances were no exception.This run gave Matthew Ball the opportunity to reveal his increasing elegance as a dancer and partner while Mendizabal gave one of her best performances so far with the company. Gasparini and Stock seemed completely at home in the pas de trois while Acri who was slightly less assured improved markedly during the run. The cast which included Choe and Hayward was also well worth seeing as its pas de trois was danced by Richardson who shows great promise and O'Sullivan who has made her mark in each classically based role in which she has appeared this season. At the first performance of the run Rubies was danced by Heap,Takada and Campbell. They were all good Heap brings real vigour and dynamism to the her role while Takada surprised me by the stylish individuality and character which she brought to her performance. Hamilton's performance in the evening suggested that she was treating the role as the Balanchine equivalent of Ashton's "Popular Song" which should be performed as if those involved in it are terminally bored by their routine and each other and are merely going through the motions of giving a performance The evening cast was the one who were seen in the cinema and while Hamilton seemed very assured in her performance, presumably the result of the time she has spent in Dresden, she seemed rather under-powered when compared with Yanowsky who used to dance the role, and Heap and Storm-Jensen who danced it during this revival.The youngest cast of Storm-Jensen, Sambe and Magri certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves at the performances they gave and they were the cast who consistently brought out the choreography's close relationship to show numbers. Depending on the performance you attended Diamonds was danced by Cuthbertson and Muntagirov, alternating with Nunez and Soares during the early part of the run and in the latter part of it by Salenco and McRae. Cuthbertson does not have the crystalline quality which Nunez brings to the Farrell role. Her approach is softer and slightly more lyrical she had the best of the three partners on offer in the supremely elegant Muntagirov who makes every gesture however simple look as if it his natural expression rather than something he has worked on in the rehearsal room. At the moment if you get Nunez in a ballet which is concerned with technical display then the chances are you will be stuck with Soares as her partner. I can understand why Nunez favours him as a partner as he is thoroughly dependable but I can only say that if you thought the performance which you saw him give in the cinema was laboured it was much better than any of those he gave earlier on in the run. Then he hardly seemed to be in control of what he was required to dance.. When he was promoted to principal dancer he said that he had been told that he had to polish up his technique but I don't think that he ever really did so. It seems to me that for some years he has been delivering edited highlights of roles like Lescaut and to some extent Rudolf while making up for his technical deficiencies by emoting. I think that he is about thirty six but his dancing is nowhere near as good as Bonelli's who is a few years older than him. The final cast of Diamonds was led by Salenko and McRae whose account of the choreography was very clean and accurate but for me lacked the effortless elegance which Muntagirov brings to his dancing and partnering. Somehow I can never stop being aware of the effort which McRae puts into his performances particularly the effort involved in transforming himself and his body from that of a demi- character dancer into a danseur. His dancing and his partnering are admirable but they are not effortlessly elegant in the way that Muntagirov's and Hay's are. Salenko clearly had good training but, and perhaps this is because she is a guest, she never seems to display much individuality in her performances which tend to be accurate but not compelling.With the number of smaller dancers in the company's ranks her regular presence as a guest becomes increasingly inexplicable.
  21. Helene, It is very interesting to read your views on the streamed performance. I should certainly like to read more of your thoughts on the quality of the performances which were on show. At one time the Royal Ballet used to dance Balanchine with a strong local accent. It does not do so to the same extent now but then it does not dance its Ashton repertory as idiomatically as it once did. I think that generally this run of Jewels has proved to be the most successful that the company has mounted and in large part that is because it now has the dancers to do Emeralds justice.All the ballets were multi cast and it was able to muster three casts for Emeralds each of whom caught the elusive quality of the ballet. I am not sure that we would all have agreed that the cast for Rubies which appeared in the streamed performance was the best of the run but then I think that when it comes to streamed performances management feels that it is under an obligation to show the company's senior and best known dancers as for many people living outside London this is the only opportunity that the audience has of seeing dancers of whom they have heard.Lamb can be a very cold remote dancer and she did not really thaw out with McRae. I think that a lot of people were disappointed that Osipova was not paired with McRae for this revival.Although it may not have been quite what Mr B. intended, what they did with the Rubies pas de deux when they appeared in it had to be seen to be believed.
  22. The following may be of interest to those who are unable to access the Royal Ballet's streamed performances but would like to see something of the company's work.Giselle danced by Nunez and Muntagirov, streamed in 2016, was issued on DVD in March 2017. In response to enquiries made by company fans it has been announced that the following steamed performances will be issued on DVD as follows;- 1) Anastasia with Osipova in September 2017 2) Sleeping Beauty with Nunez and Muntagirov in April 2018 3) Nutcracker with Cuthbertson, Bonelli, Hayward and Campbell at Christmas 2018
  23. I don't believe that the ROH accepts returns by phone. The website says that original tickets have to be returned before they will be put up for resale. There was a time when the opera house did not insist on having the original ticket handed back to the box office and the result was that there were occasions on which there was more than one person claiming the right to occupy a seat each of whom was in possession of a ticket for the seat in question because not only had the original purchaser asked the box office to resell the ticket but they had also sold the ticket on to some innocent purchaser. I think that the current system was devised to prevent this.and to avoid the embarrassment involved in holding an inquest into who is in possession of the valid ticket and thus entitled to be present at the performance.
  24. The 10th June is an evening when Osipova is due to dance in Marguerite and Armand. Polunin has " decided to withdraw" from the performances he was due to dance so there is a reasonable chance that some tickets will be returned for resale. The news that Polunin has withdrawn is very recent so you are unlikely to see a great deal of activity on the website for a few days at least as you have to return the actual tickets to the box office. Of course the possibility is that the casting for Marguerite and Armand was not what persuaded patrons to buy tickets. My advice is just keep watching the website and bear in mind all three casts announced for the Dream are well worth seeing.Although it has also been announced that Lamb has withdrawn from Mayerling on the 11 th May due to injury. There is a possibility that the casting for the Dream could turn out to be a game of musical chairs...
  25. While it will be interesting to see who management chooses to replace Polunin Marguerite and Amand is only of real interest in those performances which, for London audiences, mark Yanowsky's retirement as a member of the company. The choreographic substance of this mixed programme lies in the first two ballets on the bill, The Dream and Symphonic Variations. Marguerite and Armand is merely a vehicle. although it is currently said to be the most frequently performed of Ashton's ballets. The management has a number of options as far as casting a replacement Armand is concerned. They could ask if the Mariinsky could possibly spare Xander Parrish but if they were being really brave they would take a chance on someone young and exciting from within the ranks of the company such as Matthew Ball who has come on in leaps and bounds during this season. Clarke is unlikely as he is already cast in the Some's role in Symphonic Variations. Both Clarke and Ball are cast with more senior dancers next season. Clarke is to dance Aminta to Cuthbertson's Sylvia and is due to partner her SPF in Nutcracker while Ball is due to partner Choe at he beginning of the run of Nutcracker and Naghdi towards the end of the run. In addition there is considerable speculation about whether either Naghdi or Hayward will be making their debuts in Giselle in the new year. I will finish by writing briefly about the run of Sleeping Beauties which ended in mid March with a performance by the husband and wife team of Bonelli and Kobayashi. Bonelli's prince was, as usual, wonderfully elegant and Kobayashi's account of Aurora has visibly matured and improved. As I had expected it provided an opportunity to see a few more debuts including, the somewhat unlikely casting in the act 3 pas de trois Florestan and his Sisters of Reece Clarke who is 6 ft 3 ins as Florestan. It is one of those apparently innocuously simple pieces of Ashton choreography which undo those who do not have a secure technique. It is generally something of a challenge for tall dancers but while it is generally better suited to dancers who are more compact it is a role in which many dancers struggle. As originally cast he was to dance with two tall dancers but due to illness or injury he ended up with a tall sister in Stix-Brunell and shorter one in O'Sullivan.It could have been less than special but it turned out to be very good and rather stylish.
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