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Ashton Fan

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  1. It would seem that Hamilton is now back with the RB as her contract with Dresden was short term rather than permanent.It will be interesting to see what Hamilton is given to dance in the first part of the season as the ballet repertory for first booking period consists of Alice,Sylvia,Nutcracker, a mixed bill including a new piece by Twyla Tharp and a sort of national MacMillanfest involving other companies as well as the RB performing a range of his choreography. We should know in a few weeks what the casting looks like. I think that she is likely to be cast in the tall girl role in Elite Syncopations, given something in the mixed bill, possibly the Queen of Hearts and one of the goddesses who appear in the last act of Sylvia. Hamilton is a fascinating dancer in the right role but in the past there have been occasions when the fact that she was a latecomer to classical ballet training has been all too obvious.In a role like the Queen of the Dryads her performance would be a mixture of movements of creamy beauty and control and within a few bars of music she would be struggling for technical mastery of the trickier elements of the choreography. As she appears to be a woman of steely determination I imagine that she will have used her time in Dresden to work on developing her technique and stagecraft but unless her technique has improved a great deal I don't think that she will be cast as Sylvia. . I know that RB performances can hardly be described as accessible in North America but if any of you do get an opportunity to see the RB performance of Jewels it will be interesting to hear what you think of it. While the cast involved in the streamed performance were the first cast to dance it during the course of the run the quality of the later casts was so high that it seems unfair to describe them as second and third casts with all that seems to imply about the quality of their performances. Tierney Heap appeared in the same role as Hamilton in the second cast and to my mind she brought considerably more to it.
  2. As someone pointed out to me during the lengthy run of Sleeping Beauty the company has been short of two male Principal dancers during the entire season and yet I don't think that anyone has really noticed their absence as far as the quality of the company's performances is concerned. What the audience probably has noticed is that a number of obviously talented young men have been given their first opportunities to dance the princely roles in Nutcracker and Beauty.and some have had the opportunity to dance in Jewels as well. It will be interesting to discover whether these opportunities were part of a development plan for them or whether their appearances in these roles was simply a pragmatic response to the absence of the more senior dancers. Perhaps we shall find out when the casting for the first booking period is announced. While I don't like making predictions I would not be at all surprised to find Hayward cast in the performance of Alice which is due to be streamed next season. She made a very successful debut in the role when it was last programmed and both Cuthbertson and Lamb have already been seen in streamed performances. Perhaps Bracewell will be given a shot at dancing Jack and the Sugar Plum Fairy's cavalier. I think that we will almost certainly have debuts in Sylvia.There are not that many performances of the ballet but if management means to keep the ballet as part of the company's living repertory then we should see one, if not two, debuts in the title role during this run.It might also decide to try out Ball and Clarke as Aminta. Given the way in which O'Sullivan danced in Sleeping Beauty as Fairy of the Songbirds and Golden Vine, Florine and one of Florestan's Sisters I shall be surprised if she is not given a debut as Sugar Plum Fairy over Christmas. In 2018 we have revivals of Giselle and Manon, with any luck that will mean debuts by both Hayward and Naghdi in Giselle and Naghdi making her debut in Manon. I can't help wondering whether Watson will dance Manon with Hayward as he did when she made her debut All in all the season is bound to become really interesting once the casting is announced. As far as the new Swan Lake is concerned it is announced as having choreography by Petipa and Ashton. What that means is anyone's guess merely the Neapolitan dance or some more substantial bits of his choreography ? We have a long time to wait for the answer. I just hope that if it is bad news we don't have to endure it for too long. A production using the choreographic text from the Dowell production with Bintley's pedestrian waltz replaced by one of Ashton's versions and the restoration of the Peasant girl's pas set by De Valois would be more than acceptable but an occasional outing for Ashton's last act would be better. If it ends up with even more Ashton in it then I think that the London audience will probably see it as a tribute from one great choreographer to the man who he said gave him "private lessons" whenever he watched the Fairy Varitions
  3. I think that John Lanchbury did an excellent job for MacMillan in finding music that would work in the context of the ballet which the choreographer was creating. MacMillan sent a copy of Gillian Freeman's treatment of the narrative and his timings to Lanchbury in Australia so that he knew the action that the music was required to accompany and its duration. In return Lanchbury selected and supplied not only the music requested but additional music for each section, should it be needed, and suggestions for cuts should they be required. It can't be easy to find enough pre-existing music by an individual composer. even one as prolific as Liszt which can be stitched together in such a way that it furnishes a suitable score for a full length ballet like Mayerling. The score does its job and I don't think that it is reasonable to expect much more of it. You will be surprised by how much of the score sticks after you have seen the ballet a couple of times.While I understand what you say about the score I think that its"film music" quality is connected to Liszt's popularity with audiences and his influence on composers which continued well into the twentieth century. I think that a lot of composers who turned their hand to composing film music were influenced by him or at least recognized that the mass audience found music written in his style both accessible and attractive. You really should try to watch the South Bank Show documentary about the making of Mayerling. If you do you will find from extracts of performances by the original cast that Wall danced the role with great clarity and finesse. I have no doubt that Polunin was splendid as Rudolph because of the clarity of his dancing combined with his skills as an actor. If you watch the documentary you will see that Wall acts every scene as much as he dances them but that his acting is essential to his performance rather than being used to cover technical inadequacies Rudolph is a dancing role and not really one that is best suited to a dancer whose technique has begun to fray at the edges and is forced to fall back on his partnering skills and resort to emoting to carry the day. Soares gets away with it but seeing the role " danced" is a totally different experience The review of Polunin's performance singles out Rudolph's first solo for special comment. It is as dependent on silky smooth transitions and weight adjustment as is De Grieux's first solo in Manon. I can't help thinking that Rudolph's initial solo must have been made on Dowell as MacMillan originally intended to make the ballet on him and worked on the ballet with Dowell for a couple of weeks before he withdrew and was replaced by Wall. Like everything else created on Dowell lesser mortals have to find their way to do justice to choreography made to display his unique qualities, even when it is only a small section of a much longer ballet. You said that you gave up watching Alice part way through which is a pity because the most entertaining sections are in the second half.I don't think that Alice is a great work. It is more of an entertainment than a ballet but the staging and special effects are impressive and the way in which the Cheshire cat is staged is both inventive and amusing and really captures the spirit of the text. The best bits of the ballet/ entertainment are in the second part so perhaps you should give it another try. My problem with the work is that Wheeldon is not a good enough butcher and the result is that he found himself staging elements of the story which do not work in balletic terms.Some of the choreography seems to be there in order to give individual dancers something to do rather than to reveal more about their character or to move the narrative on. The White Rabbit's solo is a case in point, it seems to be there because Wheeldon has suddenly remembered that he has got Ed Watson in the cast and that he needs to give him some choreography to dance. Again the pas de deux at the end of the ballet seems to come out of nowhere.There appears to be no narrative reason for it except that we are now at the end of the ballet and the audience expects to see a pas de deux to round off the performance. Perhaps with more performances, which we will get next season, one of the younger dancers will transform the work completely and the final pas de deux will suddenly seem to be there for a narrative reason rather than to act as a full stop.It could happen.It has taken other narrative works several seasons to really run in and for roles to be developed to their full potential. Having moaned about the weaknesses of Wheeldon's Alice there are bits that work really well in theatrical terms. It is as if towards the end of the work he was suddenly inspired or perhaps the truth is that when we get to the sequence for the corps as playing cards and the scenes which involve the Queen of Hearts, the reluctant hedgehogs and the send up of the Rose Adagio we have arrived at the incidents which he actually wanted to stage. I went to the performance of Alice at which Francesca Hayward made her debut in the title role and because I left it rather late to buy a ticket I found myself sitting among a group of Russian ballet goers from St Petersburg who sat stony faced through the first part of the ballet but came back for the second half which they found very funny, including the send up of the Rose Adagio. The problem for me is that unlike a ballet by Ashton or MacMillan the choreography does not feel as if it is the only way in which the story could be told.The movement and its relationship to the music does not feel inevitable. But Alice was Wheeldon's first narrative work and I have to say that Hayward managed to make the the ballet work far more effectively than other dancers have managed to do so far. Perhaps the answer is that a new dance work which brings families to the theatre is a good thing in itself as it may lead to an interest in the art form. But somehow I can't help thinking that children deserve to see really good choreography when they see their first ballet and that rather than a work which only works intermittently, regular revivals of Coppelia, Ashton's Cinderella and Fille with performances scheduled during school holidays and at weekends would be a much better way of developing the next generation of ballet goers.
  4. Mnacenani I think that all the titles which you cite as having universal appeal and thus ideal for staging as ballets are concerned with thwarted love a theme which MacMillan wanted to move away from as he felt it was far too conventional and limited the development of the art form. In a television documentary which can still be found on the internet MacMillan talks about the creation of Mayerling and his wish to abandon the subject matter and conventions of the traditional ballet with a ballerina at its centre and a narrative of thwarted love. It would appear that he was influenced in his approach to ballet making by the French ballets he saw in the immediate post war period. Although he does not name him I suspect that MacMillan is referring to the influence on his narrative ballets of Roland Petit. Thus while his contemporaries writing for the British theatre in the 1950's and 1960's were engaged in abandoning the conventions of the "well made play" as unsuited to the material which they wanted to present on stage MacMillan was on a similar quest for ballet, looking for greater realism, a wider range of narrative and pushing at the boundaries of the art form. Whether or not you think that abandoning the conventions of the "well made ballet" based on nineteenth century models in a search for greater psychological realism paid off and was successful depends very much on your response to MacMillan's three major full length narrative works. As our response to the works of individual choreographers is the product of our experience of watching ballet and dance works and our expectations are formed by that experience our response to individual ballets will vary and not everyone will find that Macmillan's choreography with its mixture of classroom steps and expressionist movement is to their taste. But whatever your response to them, it is clear that dancers want to perform the meaty roles in Manon and Mayerling and the paying public enjoys them sufficiently to buy tickets to see performances of them. It seems to me that the fact that these ballets are revived on a triennial basis is testimony to their continuing popularity with audiences and dancers alike and that perhaps MacMillan got something right when he made them.. As far as Mayerling is concerned there is no fixed rule about how the role of Rudolph has to be interpreted. The three dancers who appeared as Rudolph in the first season gave very different but very persuasive accounts of the role .As I recall it David Wall, the role's creator, played Rudolph in a way which made the audience feel some sympathy for the character and his sufferings while Jefferies played him far less sympathetically. From his first appearance on stage Jefferies' Rudolph was already in deep trouble emotionally and clearly "mad bad and dangerous to know". MacMillan's full length ballets leave room for the individual dancer's interpretation of a role. Romeo and Juliet probably provides the widest range of options in performance as it works equally well as pure dance,Sibley and Dowell's approach or as dance drama, the approach of Seymour on whom Juliet was created, and the approach favoured by most dancers today. And yes the choreography for the corps in Romeo and Juliet is dull, repetitive and rather boring. As this is a common feature in all of MacMillan's full length narrative ballets it suggests to me that he was not that interested in the "spear carriers" and did not expect the audience to be that interested in them or their choreography either. Perhaps both Grigorovitch and MacMillan share at least one thing in common as choreographers creating dance dramas the shared belief that divertisements are out of place in such ballets and that if the main characters are to carry the story they need to be in the foreground with the "supers" kept in the background and never given anything to dance that might distract from the main characters and the dramatic action of the ballet. So far the current revival has given the audience four varied interpretations of the role. On Friday Watson gave the audience a distraught unbalanced and potentially very dangerous Rudolph who is already clearly disintegrating physically and emotionally as the ballet opens with a fine supporting cast.Since the ballet was originally prepared with great care and considerable thought was given to which characters were essential to the narrative in what was the equivalent of a film scenario treatment by Gillian Freeman I think that we need to accept that there are no superfluous characters in it. Thus each of the women with whom we see him interact and dance tell us more about him. It is the nature of their interaction with him that counts rather than their names. I will simply say that all the women who appeared in the Watson cast were excellent. Yanowsky was a wonderfully glacial Empress;Hayward a terrified Stephanie; Lamb a slippery, manipulative Larisch; Nunez made Caspar an essential character; and Osipova was outstandingly good as Vetsera. Campbell restored the role of Bratfisch to the status of an essential character while Avis was a compelling Bay Middleton and the Hungarian Officers forever lurking in the curtains during scene changes included a number of dancers who look set for bigger, better things in the near future. Saturday afternoon gave the audience Bonelli's Rudolph who is almost too well balanced to make the action of the entire ballet seem possible or credible when the ballet opens. The opening of course gives Bonelli's Rudolph further to fall. We saw his disintegration begin in the final scene of the first act.His scenes with Morera were compelling and the action of the final scenes of the ballet make it clear that the suicide pact is a total folie a deux. When I watched Soares account of the first solo I wondered yet again how he can still be a principal dancer as his dancing seems so ragged and under powered. But when he began the first pas de deux he made it all look so easy and as the ballet progressed the dancers playing the women in his life seem to have more time and more space in which to perform their roles and the freedom of performance which only comes with a truly great partner and the effect is so compelling and Soares' acting is so good that I forgot what an ordeal the initial solo had been. By then it had become an essential part of his Rudolph.His Vetsera Cuthbertson is excellent in what was a long promised debut in the role. Bank Holiday Monday and I was back in the theatre to see McRae as Rudolph with Lamb as his Vetsera a cast which I had doubts about when I booked as McRae can find it difficult to submerge himself in the character he is playing and stop being "Steven McRae the great technician".In the end I bought a ticket because the early May Bank Holiday afternoon is usually cold and damp rather than with a great sense of enthusiasm for the prospective performance. A friend who had attended the open rehearsal and is far from being a McRae fan told me how impressed she had been by his performance of Rudolph which she described as "one of the best danced accounts of the role she had seen in years." All I can say is that she was not exaggerating. McRae danced the choreography with such clarity and precision that he restored subtle details which other Rudolph's have seemingly ignored or glossed over for years. While I think that McRae's decision to play the tavern scene as if he was tipsy was a mistake the rest of his performance was outstanding and thrilling as a first attempt. Lamb can be very variable in performance and whether she is stunning or merely technically sound depends very much on who is partnering her.On Friday night she had been an excellent, slippery, manipulative Larisch to Watson's Rudolph what was her Vetsera going to be like?. Some of Lamb's best performances to date have been with Pennefather who helped reveal all sorts of detail in her performances in roles as varied as the Sylph and Manon. It would seem that dancing with McRae has the same effect on her.Her Vetsera has clearly been well schooled by Larisch, she knows what will intrigue and excite Rudolph and during the initial section of their first pas de deux she seems to be gauging the effect that she is having on him.All in all a performance which I am glad that I attended. You almost seem to be suggesting that the company should be programming works which are part of Osipova's standard repertory and yet would not that defeat the object of the exercise as far as she is concerned and disrupt the development of the younger members of the company of which she is now a member? When it was announced that Osipova was joining the Royal Ballet I think that we were given the impression that she wished to have an opportunity to spread her wings and dance roles that she might not be given at the Bolshoi where, as I understand it, the rules of emploi are still applied quite rigorously. Surely suggesting that she should be dancing roles like Kitri for example puts her back in the emploi straight jacket from which she was trying to escape? I think that we have to assume that Osipova is appearing in works she wishes to dance in rather than being forced to do so.Far from being a mistake to cast her in the role of Vetsera it would appear that even the exceptionally hard to please critic Clement Crisp was impressed by her performance as he has gone so far as to describe her as the best in the role since Seymour herself and you cannot hope for higher praise than being compared favourably with one of the greatest dance actresses of the last century. I have to say that I have not been that impressed by some of the more recent creations Osipova has danced in particularly those which have been part of the independent programmes in which she has appeared. As far as the Royal's repertory is concerned I do not think it likely that she is being cast in modern creations in order to sell tickets. I think it far more likely that she dancing in works in which she wishes to appear and that she wants to have works made on her as well as appearing in the company's wide ranging standard repertory. Mnacenani I should be interested to know which pieces you would describe as "silly contemporary works" to see whether they are similar to mine. I will start with Wheeldon's "Strapless" which Kevin O'Hare has said needs some tweaking where I should have thought that radical surgery was required with no guarantee of success. If it had not been announced as a co-production with the Bolshoi the kindest thing would have been to put it out of its misery. . I do not know whether you have had a look at the schedule for the 2017-18 season but Giselle and Manon are being revived in 2018 and we are to have a new production of Swan Lake at the end of the season.
  5. Constructing an effective mixed bill is an art in itself. It is not simply a question of selecting the right dance works for an evening as even the sequence in which they are performed can have a significant impact on the audience's response to the programme as a whole. Comments on French ballet websites about programming at Covent Garden suggest that French audiences find mixed programmes containing contrasting elements something of an anglo saxon eccentricity and much prefer, or are used to seeing, programmes with a significant unifying element to them. A programme of dance works set to Chopin's music by a number of different choreographers would not be the subject of comment about the lack of variety whereas a programme of contrasting works by a single choreographer would almost certainly be criticised for its lack of a unifying element. Perhaps the problem in this case was opening with the Cunningham.
  6. Mashinka. You may know considerably more about inadequate performances of Oberon than I do. I prefer to avoid them if at all possible. I know that I spent a great deal of Dowell's directorship being delighted at the prospect of performances of Ashton mixed bills, being appalled by the proposed casts and saving money by staying away from them. The result seemed to be that the Ashton mixed bills with half decent casts at Covent Garden ended up being gatherings of ballet goers who knew and cared what Ashton's ballets should look like in performance which people who I knew from my earliest ballet going years seemed to crawl out of the woodwork to attend .I also went to see a lot of performances by SWRB/BRB which under Sir Peter Wright seemed far more able to conjure up interesting mixed bills with much better casts than the company resident at Covent Garden seemed able to manage although it was generally understood that the resident company had first choice of the school's graduates .Wright seemed to have a much better understanding of how to develop dancers through his choice of repertory and a much better grasp of the ballets which his dancers and his audience needed to experience in performance. Perhaps the fact that Wright came to be involved in classical ballet in his late teens via Kurt Joos gave him a greater appreciation of the special qualities of classical dance and choreography created using the idiom than someone who is introduced to ballet as a young child and grows up in a world where it is a given.I should like to think that Kevin O'Hare had learned some of Sir Peter's system for developing dancers from his time working for him. The ballets in this year's repertory with Fille, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Jewels occupying a significant part of the season suggested that he had. However next year's rep suggests that his commitment to giving the youngest dancers in his company the development opportunities that they need may not be that strong. I know that next season is being treated as a significant MacMillan anniversary season but I am not sure that is necessarily that beneficial for maintaining technical standards throughout the company.The early performances of the new Swan Lake will reveal what damage, if any, the MacMillanfest has inflicted on technical standards as his full length ballets tend to treat the corps as background stage dressing, albeit each with his or her backstory, rather than giving them really challenging choreography to dance.
  7. I have just come back from Zurich where I saw two performances of this production. I do not intend to give a detailed account of the production as Amy did a sterling job when she described what she saw in Milan nor do I intend to give a blow by blow account of the choreography. It was all so familiar and yet so different. At regular intervals I saw elements not only of the Dowell production but of the productions which preceded it but those familiar sections were performed with a different emphasis and accent as everything was performed in period appropriate style. This had the effect of making the performance of the choreography emphasize dance as a flow of movement rather than movement from pose to pose.As legs are kept low and are often curved and limbs are not stretched to the nth degree the dancing looks softer in performance than we have become used to in this ballet. One of the first things that struck me about the performances which I saw was that in this version Odette does not engage in Swan impersonations and the music is not distorted in order to accommodate the dancers and their desire to exhibit their muscular control and their technique. This meant that for the first time in years I saw an account of the first lakeside scene in which Odette and the corps de ballet actually seemed to be appearing in the same ballet as far as tempi were concerned rather than at the brisk tempo indicated by the composer when the corps were dancing and at a "as slow as you can you go" sort of speed during the pas de deux or pas de trois as it is here.While the floor plan for act 1 scene 2 is pretty much the same as it is in the Dowell production it looks and feels very different in performance simply because of the speed at which it is danced..It is lighter, faster and far less like the monumental classical ballet which modern productions tend to make it and it contains no overhead Bolshoi style lifts. In the second act the pas d'action is just that, it tells the story through dance and mime and it does not degenerate into competitive dancing towards the end of the pas. Siegfried's choreography can be seen as an expression of his pleasure at having found the girl of his dreams rather than an expression of his bravura technique. Odile's choreography is used for narrative and expressive effect. It is not simply an opportunity for the dancer to display her bravura technique to the audience, it is the means by which she first distracts Siegfried when Odette appears at the window and then entrances and beguiles him. I think that Ratmansky is right where his staging gives Siegfried the possibility of catching a glimpse of Odette at the window as it explains Odile's subsequent actions, touching his forehead and thrusting herself between him and the apparition at the window. At the end of the pas when Siegfried swears eternal love for Odile both Rothbart and Odile laugh at him before they rush off, the laughter is in the score. The act ends with Siegfried collapsing distraught at his mother's feet which does not look at all heroic .It is easy to see why in later post revolutionary productions the prince rushes off into the night when he discovers that he has betrayed Odette. It makes him look more like a man of action and less like a wimp. The last act begins with four swans entering and then looking out onto the night waiting for Odette's return and they are followed by another four swans who do the self same thing but facing in the opposite direction. Odette arrives and tells them what has happened and that Siegfried has abandoned his love for her.The rest of the act is very similar to the Dowell production. I have seen seen the Mariinsky reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty which restored the original sumptuous designs but performed the original choreographic text using modern "improved" technique and the Bolshoi reconstructed Corsaire "seen through twenty first century eyes" in live performance. I have seen the Ratmansky reconstructions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake in live performance and the Munich Paquita in a streamed one. All three of these were performed in period appropriate style and at tempi which the choreographer and his composers might have recognised. While it might be nice to stage reconstructions of nineteenth century ballets with expensive designs I don't honestly think that the success of a reconstruction is dependent on expensive costumes and designs. What really matters in the initial stage is the choreographic text and how it is performed. Ballets are expensive to stage and at a time when the majority of ballet goers, dancers,coaches and artistic directors have yet to be convinced of the relevance and value of reconstructing the great ballets of the past it seems to me that the bulk of the effort has to go into reconstructing choreographic texts and recruiting dancers who can perform these works in period appropriate style with the same sort of facility we expect of those dancers performing in current performance style. It seems to me that there is little point in staging a reconstruction of any nineteenth century ballet if the stager is not going to insist on period appropriate performance style and observing the tempi set by the composer. that way there is a possibility that the audience will experience something approaching the choreographer's musicality. Seeing the Mariinsky's Sleeping Beauty was fascinating as far as the designs were concerned but what we were saw in performance bore little resemblance to what was staged in 1895 as it was being performed in the most modern style rather than in a style and at a speed which might have allowed the audience to experience Petipa's musicality.I have to say that what I have seen so far makes me eager to see more reconstructed Petipa and then there is the Justament archive.There is always a possibility that some of the great French ballets of the nineteenth century could be revived,
  8. The RB only reveals the barest details of casting.It has finally announced the missing details of the Ashton mixed bill which will round off the ballet season.In the Dream Sambe will dance Oberon to Hayward's Titania and Campbell will dance Oberon to Morera's Titania. In addition Polunin will be dancing Armand to Osipova's Marguerite. The ROH has only seen fit to announce the fact that Polunin is to appear in Marguerite and Armand.Personally I think that the details about who is to dance Oberon will be of far greater interest to the regular ballet goer than the fact that Polunin will be appearing in Marguerite and Armand. In fact the casting for Oberon will probably come as a great relief to many as there were fears that we might have to endure Matthew Golding lumbering round the stage in order to see Hayward dance Titania.
  9. Unfortunately as 2017 marks the twenty fifth anniversary of MacMillan's death it was inevitable that we were going to have rather a lot of his ballets programmed during the entire year. I am just grateful that we have had so few of his "challenging" works scheduled for performance and that Lady M. has not managed to persuade the management to disinter Isadora. As far as the Ashton repertory is concerned I am not sure that It has been specifically singled out for neglect as we have not seen much of the Diaghilev repertory either since Mr. O'Hare became AD. It would seem that he is more concerned with commissioning new works for the company, most of which have turned out to be second rate, than performing and maintaining the company's repertory of twentieth century masterworks, or acquiring as regular repertory pieces any of the major works created elsewhere in the last fifty years. Strangely in all this MacMillan's three successful full length ballets have not suffered neglect. The company has proved itself capable of programming revivals of them with such regularity that there seems to be a timetable for their revival which raises the question of why something similar can not be done for the company's founder choreographer? It must be difficult for any AD running a company with a significant repertory of masterpieces to get the balance right between encouraging the creation of new works and maintaining the historical repertory I can't help thinking that an AD who wanted to achieve a balance between new works, the nineteenth century classics and twentieth century masterpieces would find a way of doing so. What makes the whole thing so frustrating is that Mason pulled so many ballets back from oblivion and now O'Hare is letting them drift back into the shadows.I have heard one or two people suggest that this is because the current AD is more concerned about his legacy than he is about his duty to make the historic repertory available to the current audience but then perhaps the problem is that while the new works don't look too bad if they are seen in isolation when they are seen in close proximity to major works they tend to look weak if not inept.I hate to think what the 2020 season will look like if Kevin only programmes new productions and works created during his directorship. A season which includes Acosta's Don Q possibly his Carmen;Scarlett's new Swan Lake,Frankenstein, Sweet Violets and The Age of Anxiety; Wheeldon's Winter's Tale, Strapless, In the Golden Hour and After the Rain;McGregor's Woolf Works, Limen, Infra and Live Fire Exercise; Dawson's Human Seasons and Schechter's Untouchable does not seem that attractive to me and could prove to be a very cheap season. It seems to me that the real problem as far as the Ashton repertory at Covent Garden is concerned is that his works suffer from not having the active advocate that MacMillan has in Lady M..I am pleased to see that Sylvia is being revived but I can only guess at why Marguerite and Armand is back again so soon.It suggests either that someone significant is retiring and wants to dance it or that someone has agreed to dance in that ballet as a guest artist.From something that Francesca Hayward said in interview last night it would seem that the ballet has now become a work that dancers want to appear in as she said that she hoped that she would have the opportunity to dance it when she is older.We shall discover the reason for its inclusion in the 2017-18 season when the casting is announced, at the moment it just seems part of a very odd mixed bill. It is good that Giselle is being revived as it should mean that some of the dancers who should have been given the opportunity of working with Peter Wright when it was last revived may now have the chance of doing so but in many ways I wish that his production were less of an edited highlights account of the ballet.I find the Skeaping production which the ENB dance is far more satisfying.As far as the new Swan lake is concerned from the notes in the handbook for the 2017-18 season it seems that some of Ashton's choreography will be seen in Scarlett's new Swan Lake I assume that this means that at the very least we shall see Ashton's Neapolitan Dance but I hope that we get his Waltz , his dance of the prospective brides and his Pas de Quatre as well. Having just seen the Ratmansky reconstruction of Swan Lake in Zurich which was delightful because its period appropriate performance style gives the audience has an opportunity to experience something approaching what Petipa and Ivanov intended their audience to see I think that a company like the RB should really have at least two productions of the ballet in its repertory. One a scrupulous reconstruction danced in period appropriate performance style and a second more modern version with whatever choreographic interpolations the company has acquired over the years.In the RB's case their second version would be a version of the ballet as danced in the 1970's probably the one danced during Morrice's directorship which included Ashton's Act I waltz which requires twelve good classical dancers,in Act III his dance of the prospective brides, his Pas de Quatre, Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance and Maria Fay's Czardas, and his Act IV. As in earlier years the new season will, no doubt, look considerably more interesting when the casting is announced and even if the new Swan Lake proves to be less than choreographically ideal there will be debuts and the debuts of dancers like Hayward, Naghdi, Stix- Brunell, and possibly Heap as Odette/Odile and Ball,Clarke and Hay as the Prince will persuade me to buy tickets. As Scarlett has ,so far, chosen good designers for his ballets there is every hope that the new Swan Lake will not be the bling laden design disaster that Dowell's production proved to be.
  10. I can only begin to guess at the problems that Mr Webb will face in trying to restore Les Apparitions to the stage. According to the Royal Opera House Performance Database it disappeared from the SW / RB repertory in 1953 although an excerpt from it was danced at the Ashton Gala in 1970. It was last performed in London during Schaufuss' directorship of English National Ballet when it was revived by Ashton assisted by Jean Bedells. The revival was not a success. Critics old enough to be familiar with the work wondered whether its lack of effectiveness was attributable to the ballet's theme, style, or contemporary tastes,or whether it was the costumes that were at fault. It was suggested by some that perhaps the Beaton designs were too old fashioned for modern tastes or that the use of cheap materials in recreating the costumes had helped to undermine the work's effectiveness. In 1994 Katherine Sorley-Walker writing about the generally poor quality of the Royal Ballet's Ashton revivals, insensitive casting and coaching, also mentioned ENB's revival of Les Apparitions, She said that the work belonged to a time when the concept of ballet was totally different and that the quality of its performance in revival had completely distorted the ballet. If I recall correctly,Kavanagh's biography of Ashton says that Ashton and Jean Bedell's who assisted him in the task of restoring Les Apparitions to the stage both tried to distance themselves from the project by having their names removed from the details of the staging made available to the public. She suggests that the problem was that the dancer who was cast in the Fonteyn role of the Woman In the Ballgown, was resistant to Ashton's direction and coaching which of course means that anyone saw those performances did not really see Ashton's Les Apparitions at all. This was not a problem confined to Ashton's Les Apparitions it was probably true of many of the performances of Ashton's Romeo and Juliet which was revived for ENB in 1985,if Katherine S. Healy's account of her involvement with the ballet both as the first cast Juliet coached by Ashton himself and later involved with coaching other later casts is to be believed. She describes a second less detailed account of the choreography and Ashton's characterisation developing influenced by the dancers' experience of performing Nureyev's version of the ballet.Perhaps Markarova's account of the Fonteyn role in Les Apparitions was similarly affected by her attachment to the Vaganova system. I think that if anyone can get Les Apparitions onto the stage in a form that Ashton would recognise as his work it is the Webbs as they have a real affection for the choreographer and his style. Anothe early Ashton ballet that I believe that Webb has expressed an interest in reviving is Foyer de Danse of which I have only ever seen tantalising film clips. I can't help wondering whether the Royal's AD will express any interest if either of them is staged successfully. Unfortunately I don't foresee any great interest as I often feel that the RB management's attitude towards the founder choreographer is somewhat ambivalent and that many revivals are staged out of a sense of duty rather than any enthusiasm for the works themselves and that indifference to the quality of the works as experienced by the audience goes a long way to explain the truly eccentric casting to which most of them have been subjected over the last thirty years. After all if a sufficiently bad job is done in casting them in a short time London audiences may come to believe that what they are seeing at Covent Garden is the best that can be done with Ashton's ballets and interest in them may wane.
  11. Osipova made her Covent Garden debut as Aurora a week ago with Hirano as her self effacing prince. I think that it is safe to say that her account of the role divides opinion. Clement Crisp likened her Aurora to the sun, but to others her Aurora is more like a force of nature. Whether you find her Aurora, too big,too bold,and ebullient, rather than vivacious may well depend on whether or not you like a star turn because there is no doubt that for many in the audience she is a star and thus above all criticism. In act one she is more Princess Kitri than Princess Aurora in large part because she fails to disguise her strength and her stamina and appears overly concerned with displaying her technique and the height of her jumps.The difficulty with this approach is that if you over emphasise technical display in act one then you have nowhere to go when you get to act three. Her Vision scene was quieter and restrained. When I saw her I found that her act three lacked nuance, variety and grandeur. By emphasising her technical skills throughout act one she had robbed herself of the possibility of making her act three a statement of Aurora's newfound authority. The problem is that Osipova, like McRae, is really a demi-character technician and unlike some demi-character dancers, neither of them seem to have the ability to escape their natural emploi, disguise their natural affinities and transform themselves into the type of dancers they dearly wish to be. Yesterday saw Salenko and McRae as Aurora and her Prince. I had not intended to see this cast but as a friend had a spare ticket I went out of curiosity. I had not seen Salenko in a classical role and it is some years since I have seen McRae in this ballet.The tempo adopted by the conductor did not help but the whole performance felt leaden.The Vision Scene was one of the dullest that I have seen in a long while. In Act three McRae provided the audience with technical fireworks which seemed more than a little misplaced and totally out of character for a prince in a late nineteenth century ballet for whom effortless elegance is generally considered to be the norm. Throughout the ballet Salenko reproduced Aurora's choreography accurately and, efficiently but it was a dull account of the role. At the same performance Mendizabal made,what I believe, was her debut as the Lilac Fairy. She struggled with the choreography but the conductor took the solo painfully slowly. David Donnelly made his debut in the Florestan pas de trois.On the basis of what he did with the first section of Florestan's choreography he is not ready for it yet.But its choreography has defeated more experienced dancers.. It is one of those Ashton roles which look so simple in a good performance but are in reality a technical minefield and if management does not give youngsters a chance how will they learn? A few days earlier we had what,on paper, looked like equally unlikely casting. Matthew Ball, not the first name that would have sprung to my mind when casting the Bluebird made his debut in the role.He was pretty good. Mendizabal as Princess Florine was efficient. I have tickets for one more cast more for the prince, Bonelli, than his Aurora. I wonder whether there will be any further significant debuts? On Friday normal musical service was resumed when, once again, we had a Russian specialist ballet conductor in the pit. He made the music very four square and rhythmically regular,; in the Prologue he ironed out the contrasts in rhythm and speed between one variation and the next and transformed a score which had been fascinating in its variety under Mr Kessell's baton into one which sounded and felt more like the product of a professional ballet composer it was so regular and dansant. Over the years there has been some discussion among older "regular" ballet goers about the reason for the Fairy Variations being so dull. These "regulars" have come up with various explanations the most popular of which is that the company no longer casts Principal dancers in these variations on a regular basis,closely followed by concerns about the quality of the coaching available.While I don't doubt that casting and coaching have played a part in the less than satisfactory performances of the Prologue Fairies over the years, on the basis of what I have experienced over the last few days it is clear that the choice of conductor plays an even more significant part in the quality of the performance which the audience experiences in the theatre than most people, including the company's management, realise. It will be interesting to see whether any further action is taken on the musical front as far as the Tchaikovsky ballets are concerned.
  12. Just to alert you to a number of cast changes to the Royal Ballet's streamed performance of Sleeping Beauty the most significant of which are as follows:- Prologue:- Song Bird Fairy Francesca Hayward is replaced by Meaghan Grace Hinkis Fairy of the Golden Vine Helen Crawford is replaced by Anna Rose O'Sullivan Act 3:- Florestan and his Sisters James Hay is replaced by Marcelino Sambe and Beatrix Stix-Brunell is replaced by Anna Rose O'Sullivan. Bluebird and Princess Florine Francesca Hayward is replaced by Akane Takada. Everything else is as advertised. You can have great fun spotting Yasmine Naghdi who has recently made a very successful debut as Aurora. In this performance she now appears in the Prologue as the Fairy of the Woodland Glade,in Act 1 as one of Aurora's Friends and in Act 3 in the Florestan divertisement. Hayward is still off due to illness and Stix-Brunell due to injury. I know nothing about the absence of either Crawford or Hay.
  13. Sleeping Beauty had three performances before Christmas. We have now embarked on the second and most important part of the run.These performances are important not only because they give an indication of the technical health of the company but for the number of debuts scheduled between now and early March. They are interesting because of the opportunities being given to young dancers to dance major roles in the ballet which for years has been the company's calling card. The problem is that apart from those due to dance Aurora and her Prince we don't find out who is dancing the Lilac Fairy or Bluebird and Princess Florine until we pick up the cast sheet just before the performance.Before the run began I wondered who was going to dance some of those roles and while I assumed that Calvert, Heap and Stix-Brunell would have further opportunities to dance Lilac Fairy the real question for many of the regulars was how far down the ranks would the company be prepared to go to cast these roles? Well we now have some answers and they are very positive ones. Perhaps I should say that as far as I am concerned the most positive thing that has come with the resumption of the run of Sleeping Beauty performances are not the debuts but the presence of a non Russian ballet conductor in the pit. The Music Director is conducting these performances and the effect has been transformational. Koen Kessels apparently believes, somewhat eccentrically, that Tchaikovsky was rather a good composer and that his markings should be observed in performance. He has even gone so far as to give an interview to Gramophone Magazine in which he uses the word "symphonic" several times as he explains how wonderful Sleeping Beauty's score is. This has meant that instead of torturing the score to accommodate Ms X's personal technical foibles and her desire to treat the Rose Adagio as an Olympic event,thus reducing Tchaikovsky's score to superior Pugni it is being taken seriously and not being treated as so much aural wallpaper and is being performed at a tempo that both the composer and choreographer might recognise. Freeing the company from the "expertise" of the Russian ballet conductors who have been conducting the Tchaikovsky ballets since 2003 means that we are not being treated to performances of Beauty which suggest that the dancers are wading through treacle.We may not have period appropriate performance style but we can hope..I have spent time writing about this change because it has had such a positive effect on all the performances of the ballet which I have seen since Christmas. The first of the post Christmas debuts came last Thursday when Francesca Hayward made her debut as Aurora with Alexander Campbell making his house debut as her Prince. Campbell is not very tall, but he has a strong technique and is an able and considerate partner and acquitted himself well. As far as Hayward's account of Aurora is concerned all the steps were there but it was a rather small scale account of the choreography rather lacking in grandeur and without the personal elements which we have come to expect from her in her debuts in other roles. We have become used to Hayward doing far more than merely reproducing steps so the lack of personality at this performance came as a bit of a surprise. Having since found out that Hayward was far from well when she made her debut and has since gone off sick with a bug which seems to be doing the rounds I am not going to say whether the performance showed the potential for greatness in the role. I shall simply say that I can't wait to see her next performance in the role and while she may not be scheduled to dance the role again during this run, after missing her Monday performance through illness, that next performance may be sooner than anyone has planned as last night's Cuthbertson, Clarke performance was cancelled because Cuthbertson is ill, which suggests that others may be struck down in due course. At the evening performance we had the opportunity to see Campbell again partnering Takada.Takada has little or no personality when compared with her prince or Naghdi or Hayward. As this was at least her fifth performance it would have been nice to feel that there was rather more to her Aurora than the precise reproduction of the choreography. Last Saturday Naghdi and Ball made their joint debuts as Aurora and her Prince and made an unscheduled appearance in the roles last night when they replaced Cuthbertson and Clarke. Naghdi's Aurora is young and vivacious in act one and very gracious to all of her suitors, her balances are rock solid she is elegant and suitably grand in the third act and she is exceptionally musical throughout.It is as if her feet are caressing the notes.If I have any criticism of her account of the role it is that she is not sufficiently distant in the vision scene. But that really is nitpicking on my part. Matthew Ball joined the company in 2013/14 season and so far he has made his mark dancing roles like Lensky, Romeo and the Artist in Two Pigeons. This Winter he has been dancing his first classical roles, first as the SPF's cavalier and now as the Prince in Beauty. Although management policy has seemed to be against partnerships Ball has partnered Naghdi in each one of these roles except for Two Pigeons when he danced with Stix-Brunell.He is a young dancer with a good technique, excellent partnering skills and great maturity in performance, Naghdi and Ball look good together, they complement each other and they are well on the way to producing real grandeur in performance..Last night the audience may have begun the evening disappointed by the cast change but they left the theatre very pleased by what they had seen.The pair are due to dance the roles again on Saturday and I shall not complain if they make further unscheduled appearances during the run. The evening performance gave us another new Prince, Reece Clarke ,with Cuthbertson as his Aurora.Like Ball, Clarke joined the company in the 2013/14 season. He made a strong impression on those who saw his RBS main stage appearance as Jean de Brienne in Nureyev's staging of Raymonda Act III ;he was plucked from the corps to replace Matthew Golding in the male lead in Symphonic Variations and those who saw him in either role have been waiting for his first performances in the classics. Like Ball he made his debut as the SPF's cavalier at Christmas but Sleeping Beauty is his first full length ballet. He proved to be an exemplary partner,presenting Cuthbertson with real skill. He danced elegantly and only flagged slightly towards the end of his second solo.As with Ball there is the occasional slight miscalculation that an older more mature dancer might not make, which reminds you just how young and inexperienced he is, but these lapses are minor in comparison with what he achieved in performance. Again like Ball and Hay this Prince has a personality rather than being a cardboard cutout.In addition to the debuts already mentioned with another due on Saturday evening when Osipova makes her debut as Aurora, there have been many other debuts which are of interest and people who I have not seen in specific roles before. Audiences have seen Carabosse performed by McNally, Arestis, McGorian, and Foskett all different and all worth seeing and Cowley has made her debut; the Queen performed by McGorian,McNally and Arestis; Lilac Fairy danced by Calvert, Heap, Stix-Brunell all more assured than in 2014 and a very promising debut from Storm-Jensen;Bluebird and Princess Florine danced by Hay and Takada who are elegantly effortless; Campbell and Haywood characterful; Naghdi and Zucchetti very stylish; Kobayashi and Zucchetti and Sambe and O'Sullivan. Of these casts the Zucchetti, Kobayashi combination is the least interesting because Kobayashi brings no personality to the role while the Sambe, O'Sullivan one is one of the most delightful. As far as the pas de trois known as Florestan and his Sisters is concerned the choreography for Florestan has been the undoing of many a hopeful up and coming male dancer's reputation.It is one of those Ashton solos which look simple and innocuous and yet are a minefield for the unwary.Zucchetti is good in it but it is unusual to see it really well danced. But both Hay and Sambe have given outstanding accounts of the choreography. Both make it look easy but Hay adds elegance to the mixture.Of the other men dancing Florestan, Ella was quite good, in what I take to be his debut, while Edmonds has been the least successful. Of the women appearing as Florestan's sisters Naghdi, Magri,Maguire, Stix-Brunell and O'Sullivan have made strong impressions and give the roles real style and Heap who is really too tall for the pas has been pretty good as well. While the Fairy Variations no longer look as if they have been cast by drawing names out of a hat there are some variations which seem to be short of more than a few candidates and others which are over subscribed. Crystal Fountain in particular seems to present casting problems the choice still seems to lie between Choe and Cowley neither of whom bring much character to it.Chisato has also appeared in this role but failed to make much impression. She is a very talented dancer and it is to be hoped that she will be given something more suited to her talents. On the basis of how the dancers appearing as Crystal Fountain/Candide perform the role this fairy apparently confers the gift of blandness.Golden Vine/Violente on the other hand has seen fine performances full of personality and temperament from Naghdi, O'Sullivan among others while the Fairy of the Songbirds is definitely oversubscribed. Both Magri and O'Sullivan have been outstanding in pretty much everything they have done during this run.It will be fascinating to find out who Kevin intends to cast in the streamed performances and even more interesting to see who actually makes it to the stage next week.Given the state of the company it would make a lot of sense for Kevin to programme Beauty in the next two seasons I'm sure that it would cause howls of outrage and the accusations that he was showing no initiative but it would really get the company where it needs to be.The alternative would be to restage the old Swan Lake production which preceded the one which Dowell staged which with all its Ashton choreographic interpolations provided more dance opportunities than the company could manage at the time it was finally pensioned off.
  14. I hope that this does not confuse the issue but I have attended at least one interview in which Sarah Lamb has spoken about the "plastique of a role" which suggests that for her the word is not so much a description of the characteristics of an individual dancer but sensitivity to, and an understanding of, the stylistic requirements of individual roles or of a body of works created by an individual choreographer. So for her it is the balletic equivalent of recognising the stylistic differences between Mozart and Puccini and having the sensitivity and ability to perform the works of both composers in a stylistically informed manner. If I recall correctly the interview in question was one in which she said that a totally different plastique was required when dancing the Sylph in La Sylphide to that needed when dancing Odette/Odile. So for her, at least, it is the awareness of, and sensitivity to, how the dancer should use his or her body when performing a role rather than the general characteristics of the individual dancer in performance and is very much concerned with what the dancer is showing the audience. Lamb's readiness to use the word is almost certainly the result of her very Russian training.
  15. I think that everyone liked Chroma when it was first shown at Covent Garden It raised all sorts of expectations which I don't think have been fulfilled.The problem for me is that few of McGregor's subsequent pieces have been that compelling or involving.It is one thing to produce works which live and die in a single season which individual audience members see only once and quite another to produce works which bear repeat performances during their initial season and in subsequent ones.Strangely I think that an essential element of an effective dance work is that you can remember some aspects of its dance elements, its form and movement after you have left the auditorium and perhaps some elements of the design. With McGregor it tends to be the design which you remember not what the dancers have been doing because when it comes to dance movement there is a lot of sameness and few arresting ideas or images. No creative artist can be on top form all the time but you hope that they will produce works which are varied and interesting rather than pieces which recycle a limited vocabulary and lead you to feel that they are self plagiarists when you encounter their third new piece for a company. Another little problem is that McGregor does not have a very good batting average when it comes to making new works.Quite a few of his subsequent works have been pretty dire but somehow they have an afterlife, having failed once they are brought back at dirt cheap prices. Raven Girl is a prime example of this type of ballet. A ballet created to a newly written "modern fairy story" it opened with Ed Watson as a postman cycling around the stage after which he had next to nothing to do and quickly disappeared from the action. The story was basically about a girl, half human half bird, a perpetual outsider and her encounters with the world who eventually finds her place in the world when she meets the Raven prince. A few people wittered on about having been present at the creation of a masterpiece but most people I know thought that they had just seen a disastrous waste of dancers with nothing to redeem it. After its initial season many hoped that we had seen the last of it.But then there was to all intents and purposes a sales campaign with a small exhibition about the ballet and what appeared to be its visual source material. I think that the graphic novel was actually written in conjunction with the creation of the "ballet" rather than pre-dating it.The exhibition was far more interesting than the ballet itself and perhaps it persuaded the suggestible and the unwary that it was an intriguing dance work. It was recently revived and who knows it may be revived again. I think that Mason probably thought that by making McGregor Resident Choreographer it would somehow stimulate creativity in the company while Kevin O'Hare keeps him as evidence of his own credentials as an imaginative forward thinking Artistic Director.He is living proof that the Artistic Director is the head of a vibrant creative ballet company and that is clearly how Kevin wants to be seen,. Kevin's comments at the recent international dance conference suggests that he has very muddled thinking about his company and which bits of its historical repertory are "classics". It has, or at least had, Nijinska's Les Noces, arguably the greatest work of the Diaghilev era, as part of its living repertory. It is one of those works which always needs to be in the bodies of the majority of the company if it is to survive as a living piece of theatre, Song of the Earth is another.Les Noces was last revived in 2012 and because of the passage of time since its last revival it did not come back looking as sharp as it should, the large groups were not quite as precise as they should have been.But what does that matter if you have the "genius" of Wayne McGregor ?
  16. i went to Woolf Works about ten days ago and I have to confess that when it comes to McGregor's works I think I must be tone deaf or perhaps blind because his ballets seem little more than cleverly lit slickly packaged dance works which you either get or you don't.Others claim to be greatly moved by the first and third works which make up the trilogy which is Woolf Works but while he has acquired a bit more dance vocabulary it does not add up to that much. The first piece takes themes from Mrs Dalloway and if you have read the book or can bring yourself to read the copious programme notes you can recognise some incidents from the book. We move between Clarissa as she is now and incidents from her youth. Ferri,the mature Clarissa emotes and is carried about by Gary Avis. A set of three large picture frames are used to indicate past and present and serve as the window ledge from which Septimus throws himself to his death after a number of encounters with a soldier who died in front of his eyes. The ballet marks a considerable development in McGregor's output as in this piece some of the men wear recognisable clothes rather than knickers and vests and the other unbecoming costumes which are the hallmark of the truly seriously committed, dance maker. Ferri has to do little apart from wander about and allow herself to be carried from point "a" to point "b". The second "ballet" Orlando brings us back to McGregor's familiar territory of strange snappy movements and complicated lighting schemes. In this work men and women wear ruffs some wear farthingales and some wear britches they move and the light moves and so they appear and disappear as the light moves. This is an exploration of androgeny, or so I am told. The last piece opens with a reading from Virginia Woolf's suicide note to her husband in which she explains that she can't bear another bout of mental illness. There is a back projection of the sea and the dancers from the other two ballets form a sort of corps making shapes including one which looks as if it is derived from Matisse's bathers. which enclose the Woolf character and then finally engulf her. The ballet ends with Woolf, Ferri at the performance I attended, lying alone on the stage, dead. I am afraid that I am too conscious of the mechanics and in particular how limited McGregor's dance vocabulary is and how dependent he is on lighting schemes to give his works impact that I don't find myself able to enter into his universe in the way that I can with more traditional choreographers. I am conscious , all the time, that McGregor has something up his sleeve.The other problem is that I don't believe in any choreographer who feels compelled to write lengthy programme notes, or needs to do so to tell us what he has created.
  17. I am pleased that you have found my reports of interest. I had not intended to go to the revival of Woolf Works but I have acquired a ticket from a friend who can't go so I may say something about it in due course. As far as Sleeping Beauty is concerned it is only about a week until the run resumes. it will be interesting to see how. if at all, the Spring break and the performance of McGregor's very unclassical choreography impacts on the performances throughout the run. There is a lot to look forward to in the series of Sleeping Beauty performances which resumes on the 15th February when Nunez and Muntagirov dance the ballet together.Each performance of the run offers opportunities for dancers from every level in the company to make deuts which are significant for them as their first step on the ladder or to the future health of the company showing that it is once again an organisation capable of renewing and regenerating itself. An essential element for any company which somehow got lost during MacMillan's directorship and has taken a long time to restore. There are Principal dancers making their debuts as Aurora and her prince and more junior ones waiting to do so.Hayward and Campbell, newly appointed Principals, make their joint debuts as Aurora and the prince at the matinee on the 16th February,while Osipova makes her long delayed debut as Aurora with Hirano as her prince on the 25th February in the evening. I think that the debuts which are of greatest interest to the fans are those of Hayward and Campbell at the matinee on the 16th of February and.Naghdi and Ball making their joint debuts as Aurora and the prince at the matinee on the 18th February. Having said that I think that those who had the good fortune to see Clarke when he replaced Matthew Golding in the Michael Somes' role in Symphonic Variations have been eagerly awaiting his princely debut ever since. He makes his debut. with Cuthbertson as his Aurora on the evening of the 18th. I am certainly looking forward to all of the publicised debuts and to the opportunity to see Takada and Hay as Aurora and her prince again. Hay gave an exemplary account of the choreography of Florestan in the Florestan and his sisters pas de trois at the performance on the 21st December and then followed that up by making his debut as the prince two days later with Takada. Hay danced and characterised the role with exceptional skill. The prince's act 2 moody solo was danced as if it had real meaning and emotional depth rather than as if it was a choreographic minefield. It was created for Nureyev and it is full of his favourite steps and combinations but it is capable of being far more than a tricky technical patch and should be danced with real expressiveness.Hay managed to do what many others have failed to do convincingly. He is reported as saying that there comes a point in Ashton's choreography when, as a dancer, you have to stop worrying about the technical problems which it presents and just get on and dance it. It is a formula which works and it would be nice to think that other dancers might adopt a similar approach to Ashton where doing the steps is never enough. Perhaps I should explain that Takada made her debut as Aurora to considerable acclaim when the ballet was last revived.Clement Crisp was particularly taken with her performance.Hirano has already made his debut as the prince. I am sure that there are those who are already speculating on who might be appointed to the rank of Principal dancer when Yanowsky retires. It will be interesting to see what effect dancing the lead roles in Beauty will have on the dancers already mentioned.Promotions at the end of this season will be of particular interest this year as they will give an even stronger indication of the direction in which Kevin O'Hare intends to take the company. On the basis of the performances that they have given so far this season I expect that O'Sullivan, Heap and Sambe are likely to be among those promoted. ,,
  18. I know that the people who visit the forum have a great enthusiasm for dance and that those who visit this section of it are interested in what is happening at the Royal Ballet and its dancers past and present. I suspect that some of you might be interested in the web sites of two London based organisations which give their members some insight into the world of classical ballet by arranging talks by company members and others. The organisations in question are the London Ballet Association, sometimes disparagingly referred to as the "Royal Ballet's supporters' club", and the London Ballet Circle. Now while it is true that the Ballet Association is very much an organisation whose primary focus is the Royal Ballet it is also interested in the Royal Ballet School and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and many of its members are also Ballet Circle members. Ballet Association invites speakers from all levels of the company including the most recent recruits. While the accounts given by the men about how they came to be involved in dance have a certain sameness about them, both Watson and Hay foe example,had their initial experience of ballet classes as a result of their sisters going to classes what tends to stand out is the differences in the availability and type of training to be found in different countries. The number of boys starting serious dance training later than we might perceive to be the norm and doing well is another notable factor. Ballet Circle invites a wider range of speakers to its meetings than Ballet Association does.Its speakers include not only those with Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School connections but those working at English National Ballet and other English companies;directors and dancers from foreign companies;the occasional dance critic and people like Maina Gielgud whose training,career as dancer, director, stager and coach are far too wide ranging to categorise easily. Both organisations publish sanitised accounts of the interviews on their respective websites after the interviewee has had the opportunity to remove anything that he or she said which now seems a bit too indiscreet, but even in their expurgated form they can be extremely interesting. The quality of the reports is inevitably variable as some interviewees are better raconteurs than others and not everyone has good interviewing skills but you may find something of interest among them. One thing that really stood out at the meeting of Ballet Association held earlier this week is that dancers like Gary Avis who was the speaker are just as taken by the excitement generated by the presence of so many talented dancers at every level of the company as the regular ballet goers are.It is good to know that the experienced professionals feel that there is something rather special happening in the company at the moment in terms of creativity and performance.
  19. The company gave three performances of Sleeping Beauty in December each of which was very encouraging for the run of performances which begins later on this month.Mason favoured the idea of engaging Russian conductors for performances of the Petipa ballets. The great drawback in doing this was that Russian conductor's tend to follow the dancers rather than propel their performance forward by adopting the tempi indicated by the composer. In an interview which he gave to Gramophone Magazine the company's new music director indicated that he felt that it was important to follow Tchaikovsky's metronome markings. It will be interesting to see whether he sticks to that idea in performance. On the face of it we might be about to return to something very close to concert hall tempi in performance which was the norm at least up until the point at which De Valois' second production of Sleeping Beauty was pensioned off.The real question is what sort of a conductor is the Music DIrector in real life?. It would be nice to think that he will produce the sort of music performance which provides a strong framework and support for the dancers in performance.There are some very interesting and potentially exciting debuts due to take place over the next few weeks. The Artistic Director is now in his fifth year at the helm and I can't help wondering what his artistic balance sheet really looks like. It is true that we seem to be on the verge of a seeing some excellent dancers come to the point at which they will be leading the company. A lot of talented dancers have been recruited into the company in recent years. Even if his decisions about the ballets to be commissioned and the choreographers who should create them have, with one or two notable exceptions, failed to produce much of an artistic return on the money and other resources invested in them I have no doubt that he will be praised for the able dancers which the company now contains.But I am not entirely sure that that praise would be entirely justified.
  20. I usually attend a handful of performances of Nutcracker most years to see debuts in role. It provides one of the few opportunities to see junior members of the company in advertised roles rather than stumbling across them unannounced in a divertisement in a full length ballet. I also revisit dancers from time to time.Among the casts which I had booked was the one in which Morera was to appear as the Sugar Plum Fairy.By the time that she appeared on stage Morera had lost her advertised partner, Golding(M),his replacement Bonelli and so I saw the unscheduled debut of Campbell in the role.I am not sure how much taller he is than McRae, if indeed he is taller, but he is certainly not an ideal height to partner Morera as he can only just reach high enough when she is on pointe and has her arm extended. Not ideal perhaps but he partnered her very ably and elegantly and performed his solos very cleanly and crisply. She delivered one of the best accounts of the SPF that I have seen, giving a very precise account of the choreography which she gave light and shade by exploiting the dynamics of the music. I suspect that it was his performances in Nutcracker and Pigeons which helped Campbell to his promotion.He is clearly very adaptable and seems to have a wider range than McRae who whatever role he is dancing is always, for me at least, Steven McRae technician. It was very interesting to see Morera and Campbell's nuanced account of the pas de deux and compare it with Salenko and McRae's more straight forward account of the pas. Takada made her debut as SPF, perhaps I was expecting too much after seeing her debut as Aurora , but she failed to make much of an impression on me in the role. She can do the choreography but I want something more than a simple reproduction of the steps however accurate it may be, but I have to accept that the original choreography is a test of any dancer's technique. Perhaps Anna Rose O'Sullivan debut as Clara will prove to be a more significant event.I made a note to see her when the ballet was next revived. The revival of Raven Girl did not tempt me at all.I saw this modern fairy tale when it was new and I did not think that there was anything that MacGregor could do to make it a viable piece of theatre. The fact that the tickets were being sold at popular prices suggested that management did not have much faith in it either. The Wheeldon mixed bill of After the Rain, Strapless and Within the Golden Hour was a great disappointment to me.An evening of tedium which for me showed just how limited the scope of Wheeldon's choreography is. After the Rain was enlivened by the appearance, at some performances, of Yanowsky and Clarke in the opening pas de deux. As for Strapless well it appeared to be an unhappy mixture of off cuts from Wheeldon's staging of American in Paris which provided Parisian local colour and third rate MacMillan style choreographed sexual encounters. None of which added up to a decent narrative work let alone a vehicle for Osipova which I suspect it was originally intended to be. Within the Golden hour seemed to work up to a point with the first cast who were reasonably tall and hardly at all with the second cast who were short. The performances of Giselle were to many a missed opportunity as the only debut was given to Takada. I think that most people would have liked to have seen either Hayward or Naghdi, but preferably both make their debuts as Giselle along with Takada quite simply because the opportunities for them to work on the ballet with Sir Peter must be somewhat limited given his age. What we were given were some exceptional casts in the pas de six. A number of injuries resulted in a number of unscheduled appearances and pairings in the roles of Albrecht and Giselle.There were a number of fine performances of the role of Giselle.Takada made an impressive debut in the role dancing with two different Albrechts, Soares and Kish. I saw her second performance at which she danced with Kish. What was missing was the presence on stage of a world class Myrthe except when Nunez danced it. I saw Tierney Heap as Myrthe at a single performance. Her portrayal is still work in progress but it is pretty impressive and she seemed more authoritative than any of the others who turned up as Myrthe during the course of the run. It was not clear whether the number of different Myrthes was part of the building up the company initiative or whether it was desperation which gave us Calvert,Crawford, Mendizabal and Kobayashi. Whatever the reason it seemed to me that selecting a smaller number of Myrthes, regardless of their age and position in the company, based on their technique and stage presence and giving them intensive coaching would have been have produced better results.When management knows that it has a dancer who will be good in a role although they don't fit neatly into the "type" who is usually cast in a particular role then there is no harm in casting them in the role but that is a very different situation from casting dancers in a role which most regular audience members can see won't work.There has been far too much approximate casting and under casting in roles like Myrthe and Lilac Fairy at Covent garden in the last thirty years. The revival of the Winters Tale gave the audience the opportunity to see the two casts who danced in the original run of the ballet.The revival brought a new cast to the stage led by Calvert and Soares as Hermione and Leontes with Hay and Hayward as Florizel and Perdita. I still think that the ballet could do with cutting and that the bucolic jollifications of the second act would be much improved if they took up less time, were not so relentlessly driven and provided greater contrast in choreography between that for the royal couple and the shepherds.The recognition scene has been extended but could still do with a little more time being given to it so that it makes an appropriate theatrical impact. The dancing and acting of all three casts was exemplary. Hay and Hayward gave a very interesting account of their choreography. The new Scarlett work was a curate's egg of a ballet. There were some good ideas in it; there were bits of choreography which worked and large tracts of it which did not. I think that part of the problem was that Scarlett loves the book too much to be able to identify what must be cut and what needs to be expanded to make it work as a piece of theatre. The audience is given too much information which it does not need and insufficient information which it does need. The introduction is interminable;the inn scene looks like an unhappy cross between the orgy scene in the Rake's Progress and the scene with Mitzi Caspar in Mayerling;most of the scene in the dissecting theatre is risible; the creation of the monster needs more thought given to it as does showing the audience why the Creature behaves as he does. The second act is not bad but the Creature should be given an entrance so that the audience is aware of his presence throughout the act even when it can't see him.The last act probably does not need that much work done on it.It will be interesting to see what it looks like after it has been staged in San Francisco. I think that the general feeling is that the casts did everything that could have been asked of them and more. I know there were a lot of people who were impressed that someone as young as Scarlett had the ambition to create a three act ballet. I am afraid that I was more struck by the fact that no one in the company's management appears to have been actively involved in overseeing the project or perhaps it is a case of no one wants to accept responsibility for it. Who knows? As far as the mixed bill of Obsidian Tear, The Invitation and Within the Golden Hour is concerned I did not find that it worked . The new MacGregor seemed to be yet another ballet in which a number of fine dancers are wasted. The Invitation had fine performances both Hayward and Naghdi were outstanding with their respective casts, But it seemed to me that the whole idea behind the creation of the ballet is hopelessly dated. MacMillan's "shabby little shocker" may have been seen as expanding the range of stories which ballet could tell. It was no doubt challenging but our views of rape and predatory men are somewhat different today.There are other better MacMillan ballets to revive than this one.Within the Golden Hour did not really hold its own in this programme.It seemed to be little more than pleasant lighting effects.
  21. So far this season the bulk of the repertory which the company has danced has been classical or classically based which I am sure was planned to ensure that the company was in fine fettle technically when it embarked on its lengthy run of Sleeping Beauty, If you look at the Opera House website you will see that there are some exciting debuts in the offing.Unfortunately we don't find out who the Lilac Fairy,Bluebird and Princess Florine are to be until we get the cast sheet at the theatre.I just hope that the performances of Woolf Works don't adversely affect the plans by producing a spate of injuries. I have chosen not to attend the revival of Woolf Works as I find that it contains little of interest apart from evidence that McGregor has expanded his limited dance vocabulary by adding a few classical steps to the mix. I certainly don't find the three dance works sufficiently involving to carry the emotional impact which some claim for them. As far as the performance history of the Nutcracker in Britain is concerned it was one of the three nineteenth century classics which were staged for Markova by the Vic Wells Company in 1934.When she left the company in 1935 de Valois lost her only ballerina and was forced to develop one from among the ranks of her own company. The choice,as we know, fell on Fonteyn who was only sixteen years old. In 1937 the company staged a second production of the Nutcracker which is described as Act tII on the Opera House performance database. This suggests that it was essentially a staging of the Kingdom of Sweets. Now de Valois may have selected a number of nineteenth century ballets for her company to establish and maintain its technical standards, she may even have chosen to describe them as "classics" but she did not expect them to dominate the repertory. The company which she had founded was to be a creative company rather than a museum one. I have no doubt that the company danced the nineteenth century classics including Nutcracker but I suspect that for much of the time it was in the form of excerpts danced as part of a mixed bill.The full length ballet only came to dominate the repertory when the company moved to the Opera House after the war.The database shows that the first production of Nutcracker staged to be danced at the Royal Opera House was Nureyev's in 1968. That ballet was not only performed at Christmas and it certainly was not performed annually as the Christmas show. You can get some idea of the impact which Markova's departure had on the company when you compare the choreography of Les Rendezvous made in 1934 when Markova was in the company with that of Les Patineurs made several years after her departure. In Les Rendezvous you have a ballet very much focussed on the technical skills of the ballerina and her partner.In Les Patineurs made in 1937 the White pas de deux made for Fonteyn and Helpmann is at the centre of the ballet but it is intended to be charming rather than a display of technique.It is the Blue Skater and the two Blue girls who dance with him who give a bravura technical display but when you look closely at what they dabce the girls appear only to have one technical trick each.and it is the Blue Boy, originally danced by Harold Turner, who has the greatest technical skills.
  22. Until Dowell's directorship the Royal Ballet was not a company of which it could almost invariably be said "If it's Christmas it must be Nutcracker", It was Festival Ballet/English National Ballet which pursued that programming policy. When he was ENB's Artistic Director Wayne Eagling explained how financially reliant his company was on its London season to make the money which allows it to deal with the deficit it runs up on its regional tours. I have no reason to believe that it was not as reliant on its London performances of Nutcracker from its earliest days or that it is any less financial reliant on those performances now.Today the Royal Ballet is well and truly on the Nutcracker bandwagon and rarely dismounts. I often wish that the AD would be a bit more imaginative and give us a Nutcracker holiday and stage Ashton's Cinderella and Fille or Coppelia during the holiday period. But it was inevitable that we would see Sir Peter's Giselle and Nutcracker during the course of 2016 as he celebrated his ninetieth birthday in November. But before Nutcracker there was the MacGregor Triple Bill of Chroma,a new ballet and Carbon Life.. Here I have to make a confession. With the exception of Chroma I find his ballets induce complete amnesia once I leave the auditorium and that I have invariably forgotten what the choreography looks like. If I remember anything about them it is usually their design rather than the performances.I find that MacGregor has an incredibly limited and therefore repetitive dance vocabulary. I know that he is a choreographer of genius because of the pretentious titles he gives his dance works and the lengthy essays in the programme in which he or one of his acolytes proclaim his genius. I am one of those who thinks that the emperor has little or no clothing but everyone in the arts media circuit keep "puffing" away and his name crops up on arts programmes which rarely talk about dance He must be a genius because he is interested in neurology and he uses long polysyllabic latinate words.He is clearly an important person as he has recently appeared on Desert Island Discs. Why was I at the first night? Well I quite like Chroma and there is always the possibility that he might make something else which I might like or might make clear what all the fuss is about.This time I found that the performance of Chroma did not have that elusive something which I had found in it in the past while Carbon Life which I had not impressed me in the past seemed much the strongest piece of the three. The new ballet took on far more than ballet or perhaps this choreographer is capable of doing. The critics said that it was an attempt to capture the zeitgeist but even those critics acknowledged that the ballet was a dud. I should dearly love to know how much one of his new ballets costs to develop and stage. Christmas 2016 was yet another festive season during which Nutcracker was performed at both the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum. The Royal Ballet gave its family audience the option of three performances of Sleeping Beauties in December while English National Ballet revived Mary Skeaping's 1971 production of Giselle after Christmas.I have already said that Nutcracker is far from being my favourite ballet but I wanted to see Morera's account of the second act pas de deux again. I wanted to reacquaint myself with Nunez's rendition now that Soares is not her inevitable partner and there were a significant number of debuts.I am sure that many of you have seen Sir Peter's Nutcracker in one of its streamed performances so I will say little about it except to remind you that in his version Clara and Hans Peter Drosselmeyer's nephew are given quite a lot to dance in both acts. The first night gave us Cuthbertson as the SPF and Bonelli as her cavalier. After his problems with the pas de deux in Anastasia I wondered what we might be in for but here he was transformed into his usual reliable self. He danced his choreography well and presented his ballerina beautifully.Cuthbertson and Bonelli were impressive in the pas de deux. Hayward and Campbell look good together and danced the secondary roles with great charm.Hayward has the rare capacity to light up the stage and make each member of the audience feel that she is dancing just for them. All in all things looked good for their joint debuts in the grand pas de deux in late November.I wonder whether they will ever dance the secondary roles again ? If they do they will block the development and progress of the talented dancers in the lower ranks of the company. The first performance turned out to be rather special as it marked the resident company's celebration of Sir Peter's ninetieth birthday. He spent his actual birthday, the 25th November, with his former company, BRB, which performs another production of Nutcracker which he created for it. On the 25th November Nunez and Muntagirov danced the grand pas de deux. The secondary roles were taken by O'Sullivan, another young dancer to watch, and Hay who was due to make his debut as the prince in Sleeping Beauty just before Christmas.It was a great pleasure to see Nunez partnered by a truly elegant classical dancer rather than Soares whose performances tend to be lacklustre and sometimes short on choreography.. O'Sullivan is comparatively new to the role of Clara. i think that she made her debut in the role last year. I saw her debut.She was good then now she is impressive. In this production Clara and Hans Peter dance in the Kingdom of Snow scene,they both dance in the Spanish dance and the Russian dance. In addition Clara has classical choreography to dance as she dances both with the Mirlitons and with the Rose Fairy during the section which includes the Waltz of the Flowers. Nunez and Muntagirov later appeared with Maguire and Acri as Clara and Hans Peter.Acri is another dancer who has progressed greatly during the past twelve months. On the 15th December they appeared again with Moreea and Bonelli as the SPF and cavalier.Morera's account of the choreography is exemplary. She always makes it appear elegant, simple and easy.She was on top form and when she dances as well as this I am inclined to regret the roles that she will never dance like Aurora. i know that she does not have a perfect ballet body but you don't notice the imperfections while she is dancing you only notice the perfection of her performance. Given the difficulty which the company has experienced in casting the Lilac Fairy in recent years, treating the role as a development opportunity and choosing inexperienced junior dancers such as Hamilton and Calvert rather than experienced dancers it is strange that the company has not reverted to the old practice of casting Principal dancers in the role. It is strange that no one has given Morera a shot at the role.She has the stage presence and I can't imagine that she does not have the technique. Clara and the Rose Fairy are the sort of roles which can be highly indicative of who is being developed for more interesting roles.It does not work for everyone Loots never progressed beyond Clara and Maguire seems to be the current perpetual Clara but the fact is that she is exemplary in the role.Naghdi turned up several times as the Rose Fairy and showed off her brilliant clean footwork and her luscious epaulement and pliant back. Magri was almost as good in the role and is clearly another dancer to watch. I found Calvert rather disappointing in the role and began to wonder what she would be like as the SPF later on in the run? 29th November was the day on which Hayward and Campbell made their debuts in the grand pas de deux with O'Sullivan and Hay as Clara and Hans Peter.It seemed to me that Campbell concentrated slightly more on presenting his ballerina than he did on his own choreography. They both gave very fine and elegant accounts of the choreography which showed complete mastery of the text and its technical difficulties. Another really special performance. Everyone at the performance wondered why Clara and Hans Peter had to walk off stage at the end of the first act. I think that most people assumed that the sleigh had malfunctioned. On Christmas Day we discovered the reason.The performance had been filmed by the BBC as part of a documentary about the company's staging of Peter Wright's production. During the course of the documentary we discovered that Collier had been coaching them in their roles. Both Collier and Sir Peter seemed very pleased with the couple's first performance. The same cast danced the ballet at the Christmas Eve matinee and they were. if anything, even better. Hayward has brilliant footwork, lush epaulement and a pliant back. She dances expansively and seems to be fearless when it comes to being off balance. Like Naghdi she seems to be something of a throwback stylistically. Over the Christmas period three more couples made their debuts as the SPF and cavalier At the matinee on the 27th December Stix- Brunell and Edmonds .made their debuts in the grand pas with Gasparini and Ella making their debuts as Clara and Hans Peter .In the evening Naghdi and Ball made their debuts in the grand pas with Stock and Sambe in the supporting roles and at the matinee on New Year's Eve Calvert and Clarke made their debuts while Gasparini and Ella made their second appearance as Clara and Hans Peter. If I had any doubts about any of the couples making their debuts in this ballet I think it would have been the Calvert Campbell one which I would have picked out . Not because of Clarke's youth as he has already proved himself to be a fine dancer with a strong technique who can command the stage but because of Calvert who has had something of a chequered career because of cartilage problems.I would have had very few doubts about the Stix-Brunell Edmonds pairing; I was surprised by my responses to their performances. In any other season I should probably have found the matinee performance by Stix-Brunell and Edmonds good enough for a first attempt. This season that was not really enough.Hayward and Campbell had already set the bar extraordinarily high and in the evening Naghdi raised it even higher.Up until the matinee Stix-Brunell had been one of those dancers who I have felt could be relied upon to produce a performance. I have seen her produce fine performance in ballets where more senior dancers have failed to deliver the goods.I don't know what the problem was but this performance was uncharacteristic of her. She is a dancer who generally can be relied upon to dance the ballet rather than merely reproducing the steps. On this occasion she seemed uncharacteristically tentative Edmonds performed his duties as a cavalier well but was very careful in dancing his solo.Later I heard that he had recently returned from injury. I hope that is the explanation for the quality of the performance. I think that there would be quite a few people who would be sorry to discover that Stix-Brunell is not really a classical dancer. Fortunately there would still be an extensive repertory available to her if she turns out not to be one.. The Calvert Clarke cast delivered the goods. Clarke is the tallest man in the company and is already making his mark. He gave a wonderful account of the choreography for Jeanne de Brienne in Nureyev's staging of Raymonda Act 3 at his RBS graduation performance. I believe that he was allowed to go back to the school to appear in it. He won plaudits when he replaced Matthew Golding in the Somes role when Symphonic Variations was last revived. His appearance came as a great relief to those who love Symphonic.He is one of four brothers who have trained at the RBS and his dancing is elegance itself. He is a strong partner and this may well have boosted Calvert's confidence. His account of the choreography made every aspect of it look easy and elegant. When I see him dance I really wonder how long Soares can hold onto his position as a Principal dancer. Calvert gave an unadorned account of the choreography but she was clearly in command of the text. All in all Calvert gave me a very pleasant surprise and both dancers gave a very satisfying account of the choreography. I understand that Bussell and Saunders coached the pair. I wonder whether the difference in approach to this grand pas, plain and unadorned, or nuanced and coloured has as much to do with the generation to which the coaches belong as it does to the individual taste and confidence of the dancers performing it. Gasparini and Ella gave a good account of their roles at their debut and an even better one at their second performance. Of the three couples new to the grand pas who made their debuts after Christmas Naghdi and Ball were the best of the three. Ball is in his early twenties and a couple of years younger than Naghdi.I have seen him in several roles but apart from appearing as a partner in classical choreography for the corps I have not seen him in any Petipa based nineteenth century choreography in which everything you do is so exposed. I think that the fact that they dance together so much must be of great assistance and boosted their confidence in this testing choreography as they seemed to dance with greater freedom than any of the other debutant couples who I saw during the run.The only time that I was aware of Ball's comparative inexperience was for a couple of seconds when he was partnering Naghdi which I don't suppose many people noticed.He danced his solo with elegance and musicality.She seems to have a maturity and style which you would be pleased to see in a much more experienced dancer but is unexpected in someone of her age and experience.She has a pliant back lush epaulement and dances with great precision and musicality. She danced her solos with great sophistication and bravery as she decorated her footwork by playing with the dynamics of the music to which she was dancing.A very rare occurrence at any performance of the role let alone a debut. I am looking forward to their joint debut in Beauty. There is some footage on the ROH website of them being rehearsed by the AD himself in the act 3 grand pas at a very early stage of their preparation for their joint debut at the matinee on the 18th February. Of Stock and Sambe as Clara and Hans Peter I will simply say that they danced beautifully and it is a tribute to the quality of their performances that I can remember much about them after such a stunning debut by the dancers who I think most of the audience went to see. After I bought the tickets I wondered whether I had over indulged and seriously contemplated returning a few of my tickets for resale. I am so glad that I did not do so. I have never enjoyed this production as much as I have this year. I am really pleased by the prospect of the performances of Sleeping Beauty which are yet to come. There were three immediately before Christmas one of which gave the Opera House audience the first sight of Hay in a major nineteenth century classical role as the Prince with Takada as his Aurora. It is wonderful to know that that the company is so full of talent that the AD is going to have difficulty in giving his dancers a sufficiently wide variety of work because there are so many of them are deserving. As a friend of mine said a few days ago "Kevin's got the dancers.Now it's the choreographers who are letting the company down." i'm not sure that I completely agree with that view but it would be good if one of them came up with something that really works as piece of theatre using classically based vocabulary.
  23. The 2016-17 season did not look that exciting when it was announced but once the casting was published I discovered a large number of performances which I felt that I could not afford to miss. Fille required multiple visits as did Anastasia, rather surprisingly as I know it is not a long lost MacMillan masterpiece,although the way the tickets sold there may have been some who thought it was.Nutcracker demanded several visits because of the number of dancers making their debuts as the Sugar Plum Fairy which gives the opportunity to see named dancers in a very testing piece of classical choreography. . This is the first season for many years that we have not had wall to wall performances of a MacMillan cash cow opening the season and clogging up the schedule until Nutcracker kicks in. I should like to think that the Artistic Director chose to open the season with Fille as part of a policy to realign the company and restore its identity as a classical company but it does not seem likely when I look at some of the other works scheduled for the season. The opening performance of Fille was danced by Morera and Muntagirov as Lise and Colas,Kay as Alain,and Whitehead as Simone. They were all exceptionally good although I thought that Whitehead was a bit too much the tough peasant and not quite in tune with the character which Ashton had created. But it was so wonderful to see the clog dance performed so well that I was prepared to forgive the slight mismatch in characterisation.Later in the run we saw Muntagirov repeat his Colas with Nunez as his Lise;Campbell made his debut as a Principal dancing Colas with Marquez as his Lise in her farewell performances with the company and Hayward made her debut as Lise with Sambe making his debut in a major role as her Colas. I hope that you will understand it if I don't say that much about dancers who are well known in their roles in this ballet.Morera is still an extraordinary Lise and I shall be sorry when she finally relinquishes the role as she brings so much subtle detail to it. Kay is the one of the great exponents of the roles made for Alexander Grant. It would be wonderful if that were formally acknowledged by the company by a promotion to Principal a rank which Grant held for years.It might improve the status of the roles. Thomas Whitehead was new to me as Simone and his portrayal developed at every performance I saw him give. He gave quite a few more than he had originally been allocated as he replaced Moseley in his scheduled performances. He may not use Ronald Emblem's clogs but he actually dances the clog dance rather well, rather than approximating it or mugging to cover technical deficiencies. By the time he appeared with the Hayward,Sambe cast he had got the right balance between the tough wily peasant widow and the concerned and loving mother and was something of an old softy in the very last scene. Muntagirov dances Colas beautifully and elegantly and charms with his youth which is exactly what Karsavina said was the essence of the role. I liked seeing Nunez dance with him but I think that I preferred his performances with Morera who gives the character a bit more bite than Nunez. Morera's Lise is a cunning, wily peasant Nunez's is a charmer. Both are valid interpretations.It was good that Marquez was able to give her farewell performances in her best role. Campbell,her Colas,danced the role impeccably with great charm and brilliantly clean footwork and was clearly besotted with her. I think that you may understand if I say that I think that we are in danger of taking Hayward's ability as a dancer for granted. Perhaps that was inevitable with a dancer whose first big role was the ballerina role in Rhapsody but the result was that it was Sambe whose debut made the greatest impact at their debut in the ballet because up until now he has been making his mark in minor roles. Their performances were outstanding technically and very touching with the Fanny Elssler pas de deux danced as an expression of their feelings for each other rather than as the mere bravura technical display piece which is how McRae and Osipova had danced it at the last revival. Hayward is a very musical dancer with a lovely unforced jump, good elevation, beautiful line and old fashioned RB epaulement. Sambe has fine elevation and line and is a wonderfully secure partner. I think that everyone who attended the performance felt that they had seen something very special. I have no illusions that the three act version of Anastasia is anything other than a flawed work which depends entirely for it success or failure on the performance of the dancer taking the title role.It is also a ballet over which the original Anastasia, Lynn Seymour, casts a long shadow. The casting of both the title role and the Kshessinskaya pas de deux was interesting.The Anastasias were Osipova,Cuthbertson and Morera and the dancers in the technically demanding pas de deux created on Sibley and Dowell were Nunez and Bonelli, Lamb and McRae, and Takada and Hay. The question was whether anyone would succeed in making much of the roles they had been given? The ballet started out as an expressionist work to music by Martinu created by MacMillan while he was working in Berlin. When he became the Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet he decided to create a three act work using the Berlin piece showing Anna Anderson in an asylum as its third act. The first two acts are set to Tchaikovsky symphonies. The first act shows the Imperial family on holiday and ends with the telegram announcing the outbreak of World War I. The second act ends with the outbreak of the Revolution The first two acts can appear pretty boring unless they have been cast with dancers who can flesh out their roles. I am far from convinced that it was sensible to have three supporting casts as the best Tsar and Tsarina were in one cast and the best trio of Grand Duchesses were in another. Osipova did not make much of an impression in the first two acts but was quite effective in the expressionist third act. Cuthbertson was far more effective in acts 1 and 2 in portraying the teenage risk taking Anastasia depicted in the choreography than Osipova had been and was better in act 3 as well. It was Morera who really managed to create a three dimensional character which made her performance stand out and almost convinced me that it was a viable and effective work.Much as Benjamin did when she danced the role. The ballet contains an exceptionally difficult classical pas de deux in the second act. Created on Sibley and Dowell,the Royal Ballet's finest classical dancers, it portrays the Imperial Theatre's Assoluta, Kshessinskaya, and her partner. As she was famous for her pointwork the pas contains quite a bit of pointwork. When it was danced by the original cast some critics said that the choreography looked as if it was from a long lost Petipa ballet. Today some audience members say that the choreography makes it look as if MacMillan did not like his dancers. I think that the problem for the modern dancer is that the choreography was meant to be danced as a flow of movement rather than a series of opportunities for holding poses and contains a number of features which appear in late nineteenth choreography..It is pastiche Petipa and in theory it should pose no problems for classically trained dancers with fine techniques. The first cast pas de deux was danced by Nunez and Bonelli who looked incredibly awkward and made the choreography look like a heavy handed Petipa pastiche, Where Sibley had danced the role with a fascinating musicality. lightness and a strangely compelling allure Nunez's performance was without nuance and was basically a "Here is the choreography" performance. Now being Antoinette Sibley seems to be infinitely easier than being Anthony Dowell because where he should have shown elegant ease and facility in transition Bonelli looked awkward and inelegant. I don't know whether these dancers improved at later performances. The second cast pas de deux was danced by Lamb and Mc Rae .Lamb was a marginal improvement on Nunez and she persuaded us to look at her feet. While McRae had considerably more assurance than Bonelli he did not make as much of the choreography as I expected him to because he seemed compelled to show us that he had finished each step in correct classroom style before he began the next one which gave the choreography a strange stop start effect when it should just flow. I also began to notice McRae's short arms and his lack of epaulement. The best performance came from the third cast couple Takada and Hay who it seemed just got on and danced it.I was far less aware of the technical challenges than I was with the older more experienced dancers, Takada made her footwork sparkle and picked up and used the allusions to other ballets which are in the epaulement.Hay partnered well and sustained the impression that his solos were flows of movement rather a series of separate steps. He even managed to show the audience the period appropriate stylistic elements which MacMillan had included to give the pas the period detail he thought it required. I was not expecting this performance to be topped by anyone. However I was given the opportunity to see a second performance by Morera which meant that I saw Naghdi's unscheduled debut dancing with Hay in the classical pas de deux made with,I believe,a couple of rehearsals. It was quite extraordinary because they made the whole thing look elegant and nuanced. Naghdi made her choreography look simple and rather elegant and the only point at which the limited preparation time was obvious were in a couple of period appropriate lifts which clearly need adequate rehearsal to make them look good. I found myself going to far more performances of Nutcracker than I usually do. Nutcracker is not my favourite ballet. I love the music but I think that the only production that comes anywhere near matching the quality of the music is the one which Nureyev staged for the Royal Ballet in the late 1960's which managed to make the ballet one which pleased both children and adults. That version did not seem to have the obsession with technique for its own sake which seems to be part of Nureyev's subsequent stagings. I tend to think that De Valois' assessment of the relative merits of the Nureyev staging and that by Sir Peter was right. She said that she did not mind who was really responsible for the choreography in Nureyev's production of the ballet it was the best staging of the ballet that she had seen. It has to be admitted that Sir Peter has added layer upon layer of detail to his staging over the years but his production does not usually tempt me to buy more than a couple of tickets for the entire run.. But this time there were quite a few debuts which I did not feel inclined to miss as this would be the first chance of being certain to see the named dancers in a purely classical role..I will tell you what I saw in a day or two.
  24. On present showing it seems that Kevin O'Hare stands a better chance of getting the development of young dancers right than anyone else who has been at the helm at Covent Garden quite simply because he was a dancer at SWRB rather than at the Royal Ballet and experienced Sir Peter Wright in action developing his dancers.We shall see whether he continues in this vein but the signs look good at present. Whatever some of those who have read his autobiography on your side of the Atlantic may think of him, Sir Peter is held in high regard here for all the work that he has done for classical ballet in this country and in particular his rebuilding of a touring company called the SWRB and its repertory after the experimental New Choreographic Group proved to be something which even sophisticated audiences outside London did not want. During his time at SWRB he made an extraordinarily wide range of ballets available to audiences in London and the regions by reviving old repertory pieces such as de Valois' Job, The Rake's Progress; Checkmate and The Prospect Before Us; Massine's Boutique Fantasque and Choreateum;Cranko's Card Game and Les Brouillards;Joos' The Green Table;Howard's La Fete Etrange and early Ashton which no longer had a place at Covent Garden such as Les Rendezvous. Les Patineurs and Capriol Suite. He is held in high regard for his ability to spot talent and develop it in a consistent,methodical and supportive manner rather than in the "Flavour of the Month" manner employed by successive Artistic Directors after Ashton's tenure. It is to be hoped that Kevin O'Hare will stick to the consistent,methodical supportive system so far the signs look good.Of course the Artistic director at Covent Garden can't completely shield his young dancers from the glare of publicity or provide them with the security of eight performances in successive weeks of a single role but he can arrange the casting so that the least experienced dancers don't get press nights or a single make or break performance. The system now in place at Covent Garden seems to be geared to try to avoid giving dancers a single, make or break, performance of a new role. So although Naghdi and Ball only had one performance of Romeo and Juliet before the general public they had a performance at a school's matinee before their official debuts in the role. Although management does not seem to favour regular partnerships Naghdi and Ball were cast together in Romeo and Juliet last season, danced together as the SPF and cavalier in Nutcracker at Christmas 2016 and are due to make their joint debuts in the Sleeping Beauty in February. I shall say something more about the 2015-16 season at some point but I think that what I have said so far gives you some idea of how the company is developing,changing and renewing itself. and that most of you will be more interested in what has happened since the start of the 2016-17 season.
  25. Before I say anything about the current season I think that I should say something about the 2015-16 season if only to put what is happening now into context. The 2015-16 season gave London ballet goers the opportunity to see how Kevin O'Hare was going to put his plan to build the company up from the bottom into effect and who was going to be given development opportunities in the process. Years ago Fonteyn said in an interview that she did not envy young dancers who had to wait so long for their chance to dance major roles that they became almost impossible to dance because so much was expected of them as performers and so much depended on whether those few performances which they were given, went well or not.Whereas when she had been given her first opportunities in major roles not much was expected of her. Were we now going to see young dancers given their opportunity and how would they do? Romeo and Juliet which opened the season and the Rhapsody programmes .provided some answers. The season opened with Romeo and Juliet. The performances by established dancers were pleasant enough some were exceptionally well danced but none of the performances which I attended were that exciting dramatically. Would the dancers making their debuts be any different? The answer came when Matthew Ball and Yasmine Naghdi made their official debut in the ballet. This cast grabbed the audience by the scruff of the neck and forced them to be involved in the drama being played out on stage. It was one of the best performances of the ballet that I have seen in a very long time. It would have been difficult for Hayward's debut as Juliet to have the same impact as she had a very uninvolved Romeo in Matthew Golding.He is tall and strong but he is not much of an actor and he did not seem very comfortable with some of the choreography such as the pas de trois immediately before Mercutio, Benvolio and he enter Juliet's home. The critics commented on this performance ranged from saying that Hayward had done everything that a Juliet can do on her own to a hope that she would have better luck with her next Romeo. One of the positive thing about the Monotones Two Pigeons pairing was that the company brought back most of the dancers who had danced Monotones at its previous revival, allowing them to build on their previous experience dancing the ballets. If I had to choose between the two casts of Monotones 2 I think that the cast led by Arestis had the edge over that led by Nunez, if only because they gave the ballet a greater sense of the flow of movement which was originally an essential element of the work than the Nunez cast managed. For me the Nunez cast was too freeze frame in its approach. Perhaps Arestis had been developing her performance over the years since she appeared in it at her main stage RBS performance. Green Monotones looked to have settled in well on both its casts Of course It was Two Pigeons that I was looking forward to seeing most of all.The initial run of Two Pigeons started with one or two odd casting decisions. A friend of mine came away from the McRae, Salenko cast with a very long face and somewhat concerned that the rest of the run might be just as unsatisfactory. She said that while the cast had reproduced the steps they had failed to capture the spirit of the ballet or its style. When I saw them I did not feel inclined to disagree with her. The Choe, Campbell cast was better but Choe, like Salenko, performed the Young Girl as a generic,small scale sweet soubrette role rather than the charming but infinitely irritating young woman who Ashton and Seymour created.Campbell was extremely effective and got better with each performance, his footwork got sharper and cleaner as the run progressed and on occasion he was able to perform David Ashmole's trick of holding the Gipsy Girl aloft one handed. The Cuthbertson, Muntagirov cast were initially outclassed by their Gipsy Girl in the form of Laura Morera who, I believe first danced the role at her RBS main stage performance. She knows, understands in her bones, how Ashton should be danced and that it must not be danced cautiously but with daring and intense musicality.I think that Muntagirov found it difficult. it is not just that he is tall, Ashmole was tall too, but Ashmole was dancing at a time when dancers were expected to dance at a tempo which was far closer to the speed at which the composer expected his music to be performed than is currently fashionable. Cuthbertson was not the first person who I would have thought of when casting this ballet either. However both dancers improved with each performance and by the time that they came to the streamed performance they were pretty good. Of all the casts who danced the ballet before Christmas I thought that the cast led by Hay and Takada, while not perfect, came closest to capturing the spirit of the ballet as they caught the element of melancholy in the work. Takada was the first of the girls to get close to getting the epaulement right.The ballet was created on a dancer with wonderful arms and she positively drooped and wilted when Hay ran off after the Gipsy Girl. Hay had no problem with Ashton's clean footwork. It looked wonderful from the outset. With this cast the reconciliation pas de deux really registered as it should. After Christmas the ballet was paired with Rhapsody, This gave the audience the opportunity to see one new cast in Pigeons on the last evening of the run and it was for me by far the best, The dancers were Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Matthew Ball who both gave fine accounts of their roles. Stix-Brunell gave us a far more fully rounded character than any of the other dancers cast in the role had managed. She used her arms well and her epaulement was more expansive than others had been. At times she reminded me of Seymour. Matthew Ball was outstanding as the Young Man. He danced the role as if the choreography had been made on him. Rhapsody gave the audience another opportunity to see Hay and Hayward in the ballet which had brought them to notice in 2014.and to see Choe and Zucchetti and McRae and Osipova.Hay and Hayward were the cast which made the whole thing look elegant and easy.The Choe, Zucchetti cast were less successful than I had expected them to be. Zucchetti seemed to have some trouble with the steps on occasion. McRae managed to make it all look very difficult while Osipova looked as if she found the ballerina role far from straightforward at times but then the ballerina is required to do some pretty difficult things as far as being off balance is concerned.Unless you are really at home in the style and can dance it idiomatically it looks awkward. At least Osipova tried. I am not sure that Choe did. These two programmes in particular gave some positive indication that the AD intends to do what he said he would as far as developing his dancers is concerned. Some of us were sad that he could not manage to give a few more of the young hopefuls a chance to dance Giselle,although nearly everyone turned up either in the pas de six or as Moyna or Zulme.
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