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Ashton Fan

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. It has suddenly struck me that I have told you nothing about the current season. This is an omission which I will remedy unless someone else wishes to do so. We have had a number of successful debuts and have quite a few to look forward to in February when performances of Sleeping Beauty resume and during the rest of the season to come. One aspect of the post Christmas Beauties which will be of considerable interest will be the new Music Director's approach to the score as for many years we have had Russian conductors whose habit is to follow the dancers by accompanying then at the orchestra rather than propelling the performance forward..
  8. I think that management and the opera company met its match in Mr Russell Roberts because he had experience in working in other opera houses.He challenged the costs that had been allocated to the ballet company and won. Today the two companies are only required to cover their own costs which they do through a combination of ticket sales, sponsorship and state funding from Arts Council England. The part played by ACE funding is diminishing but all the time it is an element in either company's funding the companies have to guarantee that a proportion of the tickets are made available to the general public which means that a proportion of the tickets are not made available to members of the Friends of Covent Garden and are held back for public booking. I don't know the ins and outs of financing the Royal Ballet's international tours. Generally I think that the only requirement is that its costs are covered which means that sponsorship must play an important role in the touring. When I first went to Covent Garden the opera company shared the orchestra with the ballet company although it was often difficult to believe that that was the case as the quality of the musical performances was markedly different. It had a chorus and a very fine group of comprimario singers some of whom pursued significant international careers on the Continent but were deemed unsuited to sing the roles they sang abroad on the Royal Opera House stage because their names were not thought sufficiently exotic to justify the ticket prices.it also had some young singers starting out on their careers.During Colin Davies' directorship we saw an increasing number of indigenous singers taking leading roles this trend continued under Haitink that trend continued under the current Music Director the trend has been reversed and most of the time the comprimario singers are guests as well. Today the opera company shares the orchestra. It has a chorus but can hardly be said to have its own comprimario singers as so few appear with any degree of regularity. As far as I know the chorus have standard contracts of employment.
  9. The Bordeaux company is the second oldest in France and one of the few which continues to perform classical ballet including works created by twentieth century French choreographers and those like Lifar whose works are seen as part of the French tradition ,if only because they were originally staged at the Paris Opera. Reading between the lines it would seem that the financial pressures which have led to the need to cut the art's budget for the Bordeaux Opera may not be entirely unconnected with the decision to build a new football stadium. Now if course the stadium is wholly unimpeachable as it is provision for sport which is popular with a significant part of the local electors and taxpayers and it carries none of the stigma attached to the arts. Provision made for arts is easily characterised as elitist. When it comes to anything happening in a theatre described as an opera house it is by definition elitist and it is relatively easy to persuade those who know nothing of the companies resident in the building that one or other of them is eating up the city's budget. It is interesting to note that the opera company which must be much more expensive to run than the ballet company does not appear to have been required to accept cuts to its budget or to reduce its activities But then it would probably be a trifle embarrassing to have to cut the opera's activities when it has a man with a significant international reputation at its head and is almost certainly the artform which matters most to the local powers that be.Not only is opera important to the people that matter but classical ballet is perceived in much of Western Europe as hopelessly old fashioned when compared to contemporary dance in all its forms. One of the problems at Bordeaux is that Charles Jude insists on his company performing rather a lot of classical ballet including the nineteenth century classics and classics of the French repertory rather than contemporary choreography. This, no doubt,makes his company vulnerable to cuts as his sort of repertory has no appeal for politicians because it is perceived as staid and old fashioned and they get no benefit from being associated with it. Contemporary works on the other hand can assist the politician to create an image which associates them with the young, their interests and their exciting preferred art forms. The decision to try to solve Bordeaux Opera house's budget problems by cutting the ballet's personnel is the sort of carve up that was attempted at Covent Garden when the management there had budgetary difficulties in the 1990's. They got rid of at least one senior dancer. It was even suggested that the ballet company should be disbanded during the period when the Royal Opera House was closed for redevelopment and that it should resume on a part time basis when the house reopened.Both Anthony Dowell and Anthony Russell Roberts were so alarmed that they contemplated the company leaving the Covent Garden forever They investigated whether the company's royal charter required it to be resident at the opera house. I think that it was about this time that Russell Roberts discovered that the ballet company had been subsidising the opera company for years not only by its North American tours which the ballet management was aware of but in ways of which it was totally unaware in particular by the way in which the costs of performances had been allocated historically between the two resident companies.
  10. I seem to recall that Balanchine was of the opinion that ballet was the creation of the French or Italians and that Russians had no greater affinity with ballet than the people of any other country. He attributed the success of Russian dancers to the fact that the Russian emperors had been prepared to spend a great deal of money securing the services of the best European dancers and teachers and that the Russians had learned their lessons extremely well. When he returned to Russia with his own company Balanchine's response to being welcomed to "Russia the home of ballet" was, I believe, to assert that the home of ballet was America.
  11. Years ago when I was at school we had a very tough no nonsense language teacher who replaced a far older rather laissez faire one. Much later when she had got us working at the level she expected she explained that she had deliberately adopted the no nonsense style with us as she had found that it was possible to reassert authority with a group who you had initially subjected to strict discipline and then given a bit of freedom but that it was impossible to assert discipline over a group who had not been subjected to it in the initial stages of the teacher pupil relationship. I wonder whether, given the circumstances in which he took over at the Bolshoi and the state that the company was in at the time, Mr Vaziev's has based his management technique on a similar premise? I always think that it is very difficult to interpret accurately the true nature of the boss worker relationship in an organisation with which I am unfamiliar even though the whole thing is being conducted in my own language and I am aware of the general societal norms of acceptable behaviour. I think that it is even more difficult to assess this when the individuals are communicating in a foreign language and I am ignorant of both the general societal norms and the organisation's own culture.
  12. I am sure that you are right about Pavlova and Karsavina remaining a touchstone for Haskell and anyone else fortunate enough to see them. They were outstanding dancers made even more extraordinary by the fact that their technique and the ballets that they danced were so very different from what audiences in the West expected of ballet. A progrmme which included Fokine's Petrushka,Balanchine's Apollo and Nijinska's Les Noces would make the point about the extraordinary nature of the company's repertory very succinctly. Of course we should never overlook the part that Diaghilev played in the creation of the company's repertory. As far as the dancers are concerned I don't think that Ashton ever really got over seeing Pavlova in his youth. I am sure that you could make a strong case that Fonteyn was in large part a Pavlova substitute and that at one level for much of his career in choreographing for her he was choreographing for Pavlova. I don't disagree that there are some wonderful Russian dancers today but the versions of the nineteenth century ballets in which they appear are not always that interesting while their mannerisms in performance moving and posing are irritating and often distort the music. I prefer dance as movement rather than freeze framing.
  13. When considering Arnold Haskell's views on the outstanding merits of "Russian dancers" we should ask what he meant by those words? At a time when it is so easy to see dancers from virtually any country you care to name it is easy to forget that after the Revolution it became increasingly difficult for dancers to leave Russia even on a temporary basis and once Stalin came to power it was well nigh impossible.When Haskell wrote those words he did so in a world in which it was no longer possible for a dancer from the Mariinsky/Kirov to hop on a train to fulfill contracts in the West and then hop on another one to get back to her home theatre in time to appear in her scheduled performances. So who were Haskell's "Russian dancers" ? It is unrealistic to think that in 1934 he meant dancers of Russian origin trained in Russia as the supply had dried up. He knew that even before the First World War not all the dancers in Diaghilev's company were Russian in origin or in training,He would have known that.Lydia Sokolova had entered the company pre war as Hilda Munnings and had been known as Munningsova before she became Sokolova. Other British dancers who subsequently underwent this transformation included Alice Marks who became Alicia Markova and Patrick-Healey-Kay who became first Patrikieff, and then Anton Dolin. It seems me that when he wrote about "Russian dancers" Haskell simply meant dancers appearing in one or other of the Ballet Russes companies. If Diaghilev had problems in recruiting Russian dancers the problem was even more pressing for the various Ballet Russes companies which succeeded Diaghilev's.Of course the later Ballet Russes companies were able to employ the children of Russian emigres trained by White Russian teachers but those companies employed dancers from further afield.As to what made the dancers in those companies so special in Haskell's opinion I strongly suspect that Haskell was praising the "Russian dancers" as much for the ballets they danced as for their schooling and technique. After all at one time or another nearly all of the greatest choreographic talent that Russia had produced was working with one or other of those companies.
  14. Haskell certainly wrote those words but I think that he did so in 1934 so perhaps his statement needs to be put into context. In 1934 the company which became ABT had not been established, that had to wait until 1936. The SAB was set up in 1934 but it would be another fourteen years before NYCB would be founded.Meanwhile in Britain the Vic Wells company which eventually became the Royal Ballet was barely three years old but Sergeyev had already staged Coppelia for it in 1933 and went on to stage both Nutcracker and Swan Lake for it in 1934. While Danilova may not have had a completely unbiased, independent view on the subject of the development of ballet in Russia after the Revolution her views on what had happened there are.worth considering. In her autobiography she says that while ballet had once been a means of creating a mood and telling stories in Russia after the Revolution it had become a display of dance. In her opinion it was in the West that the appropriate approach to dance had been preserved and developed. At the end of the day what we like is a question of aesthetics and taste. It is all purely subjective as far as our preferences for dancers, schools and choreographers are concerned. But I don't subscribe to the idea that only the Russians can dance or that Grigorovich's reworkings of the classics bear repeated viewing while I can happily see works by the likes of Ashton, Balanchine, Robbins,Tudor, Fokine, Nijinska and Cranko and some MacMillan with great regularity.
  15. I avoid Grigorovich's Swan Lake and, like Volcanohunter, when I do go, it is to see a specific cast. In my opinion you need to see it once if only to appreciate the theatrical strength of the original structure with its carefully considered contrast in choreographed dynamics between the sections of dance, processions and mime. In particular it makes very clear how essential the short lakeside mime sequence is to the over all structure and balance of the ballet. The effect of Grigorovich's concept, building on earlier "improvements" to the text, is to turn it into a ballet which should more accurately be called Siegfried than Swan Lake as the dancer performing Odette/Odile is reduced to little more than a supporting character. For me it has the effect of reducing the great Petipa/Ivanov ballet to a rather bland and boring piece in which the role of Odette/Odile is strangely diminished and a few exceptionally talented male dancers have an opportunity to display their technique. As with many other versions of Swan Lake that I have seen it would be more accurate to describe it as based on an idea by Petipa and Ivanov than to suggest a closer connection to the original text. I am looking forward to seeing the Ratmansky reconstruction if only to see the ballet danced at the right speed after years of seeing Odette performed by dancers so obsessed by slowness that their performances seem to come from a different ballet from the one in which the corps de ballet is appearing. For years we have had to put up with Bintley's choreography for the waltz so I am curious to see what the reconstructed waltz looks like. After the initial push for "authnticity" and Ashton's death it would have been wonderful to have seen either of Ashton's waltzes replace Bintley's undistinguished offering.
  16. I don't think that I said that Bussell was crude or graceless. She had a beautiful unforced technique but her performances were bland and rather boring. They were interchangeable in a way that Sibley's and Beriosova's never were . I thought that Bussell showed extraordinary promise at twenty but that she stopped developing early on in her career and never really fulfilled her potential. I can't help wondering whether she would have been a more interesting dancer if she had stayed with SWRB for a couple of seasons or whether she would have been the same sort of dancer whatever had happened in her early career. Peter Wright has said that the original plan was that Bussell would go to SWRB for a couple of seasons to gain experience because she was not thought ready for Covent Garden. She certainly would have had more opportunity to dance and to appear in a wider range of works than she could have got at Covent Garden. She was with SWRB for about a year and then MacMillan gave her the female lead in Prince of the Pagodas.The rest is history.
  17. I don't live in France and while I suppose I could have waited until the casting was announced that would have meant taking a chance on the availability of train tickets at a time of day which suited me and finding a hotel room within a short walk of the theatre. The one thing that I was determined to do was to ensure that I got to the performances whether or not the Metro workers decided to go on strike as they do from time to time. I had a very enjoyable time and saw a lot of dancers who, up until now, have merely been names to me. I saw an approach to Petipa which should at least set stagers, dancers and audiences thinking about current performance practice and its suitability in the context of the few nineteenth century ballets in the standard international repertory. I can hope. Unfortunately as far as ballet performance are concerned we live at a time when overt technical prowess is esteemed above all else and dancers with loads of artistry and "enough technique" tend to be overlooked in favour of technicians. I don't think that the tendency over the last thirty plus years to treat the "traditional" text of Beauty in performance as a significant step on the way to abstract choreography by eliminating, or at least downplaying, all the quirky elements in its choreography so that it conforms to an ideal of pure classicism has helped the cause of dancers who don't simply set out to display their technique. Comments on this forum suggest to me that Sarah Lane is experiencing the same sort of problems at ABT that Belinda Hatley did at Covent Garden. In the RB context the director's choice was between the "Rolls Royce" technique but bland interchangeable characterisation of Darcey Bussell in ballets with any narrative content and Belinda Hatley who was a fine Ashton dancer and outstanding in roles like Lise and Swanhilde and made the role of Aurora interesting and nuanced. You know the outcome. I do hope that ABT manage to bring this production to London in the not too distant future.
  18. I had the good fortune to see four performances of this production in Paris. It is exhilarating to attend performances of this ballet which are not bogged down by its status as the "ballet of ballets". The combination of being treated as a monument to classical dance and the various "improvements " in technique and consequent tampering with Tchaikovsky's score to which it has been subjected since its 1890 premiere has, in my opinion, had the effect of rendering sections of it difficult to watch with any sense of pleasure. .The speed at which this production is danced, the attempt to reproduce the earliest recorded choreographic text combined with the use of period appropriate performance style has the effect of making the dance flow and turns a monument into a charming entertainment which is almost certainly what Petipa and Tchaikovsky intended it to be. It was fascinating to see it a few weeks after seeing one of Ratmansky's earliest attempts at reconstructing a Petipa ballet and strange to think that had Petipa died before he had completed his work on Sleeping Beauty it would have been the melodramatic ballets d'action like Le Corsaire for which he would have been known. Again what an extraordinary set of circumstances to be able to see Ratmansky's restoration of two of Petipa's greatest choreographic set pieces the Jardin Anime and the Garland Dance within the space of weeks. ABT's Beauty is clearly a far more rigorous attempt to restore a nineteenth century choreographic text than Le Corsaire was. There were elements in this Beauty that were new to me and details which are half hidden in the current text performed at Covent Garden. Perhaps they had failed to register because the Mariinsky's reconstruction used modern performance style but I don't recall seeing the King banning the use of spindles in his kingdom before. It was quite a surprise to discover how much some of the characters had to say for themselves. For once I could believe that the character of Catalabutte was closely modeled on a member of the imperial court and would have been recognisable to members of the ballet's earliest audiences. But one thing that was very noticeable was that the amount of detail the audience saw was very dependent on individual performers. I am not talking here about the differences in interpretation of two dancers but differences in the amount of the choreographic text the audience actually saw in individual performances. I suspect that these differences have more to do with the amount of work that individual dancers have to do in trying to forget the "traditional" version and remembering to dance the "historic" one than anything else. The dancers were consistent in whether they were supposed to be on full pointe or not,but in the Fairy Variations the finer details of the epaulement were variable. For example towards the end of dancing the Breadcrumb Fairy Gemma Bond showed the audience that she had her hands full of crumbs by clenching her fists and then releasing her fingers as she scattered crumbs where others merely wafted their arms about rather vaguely. Again there were marked differences in the performance of the Violente variation one dancer manged to show the sparks passing between her fingers others did not seem to try. Of the Auroras I saw Trenary was by far the best. When she danced with her suitors looked at them and smiled at them.She danced with elegant technique,musicality and appropriate characterisation. She reminded me of Ann Jenner. Both Murphy and Boylston seemed strong and athletic,proficient rather than charmingly elegant. They were technically assured but neither managed to give the impression of charm and apparent youth which I think are essential to the role In this production the Rose Adagio is not danced as a show stopper but as an integral part of the first act in which Aurora is introduced to her prospective suitors. Murphy seemed to be working hard to disguise her strength.Neither Murphy nor Boylston managed to make the Rose Adagio look normal and natural. During it Murphy stared straight past each of the princes as if they were not there while Boylston managed little better. I wondered whether the problem was that they were too familiar with the "traditional " version to be completely at home in the "historic" one and had too much to forget to be entirely comfortable in Ratmansky's reconstruction.Neither their second or third acts banished the impression of barely disguised power being reined in. I was surprised by Seo's technical problems in the first act particularly during the Rose Adagio. Her second and third acts were better. Is she a good dance actress rather than a classical ballerina? . I saw Whiteside,Gorak, Stearns and Gomes as the Prince but I don't think that any of those that I saw had complete mastery of their third act variation. None of them really managed to make it look elegant and effortless. I never stopped being aware of how many steps were in it. I wonder how many in the audience really appreciated what a technical tour de force the variation is and how much more difficult it must be to dance than the showy " traditional" version that we know so well. As far as the third act fairy tale characters are concerned they all had real charm to them. I even enjoyed Chaperon Rouge et Le Loup when up until now I have been inclined to think that Lydia Sokolova had got it right when she described it as the most boring variation she knew. As for me I am happy to have had the opportunity to see it. As to what it might turn into when everyone has complete mastery of the choreography and performance style? I think that the answer is that it will be pretty impressive. I hope that someone from the Royal Ballet saw it and that it will lead to some changes in performance practice at Covent Garden beginning with correct tempi and low legs. Petipa is a wonderfully musical choreographer when he is allowed to be. I do not want to create an international incident but I should be grateful if someone could explain what special gifts Misty Copeland possesses. True I only saw her twice as Princess Florine, but while it is a short role it is a role in which a dancer can display her technique and make a real impression without apparently trying. She made hardly any impression and apart from a rather stiff upper body I barely noticed her.
  19. An excellent site and a great idea. Might I suggest that you add Beaumont's "The Ballet called Swan Lake" to your bibliography?
  20. Given the number of abstract and near abstract ballets that are created and the number of ballets in which the dancers are dressed in the current standard ballet uniform it is easy to lose sight of the impact that stage design can have on what we see in performance and how we respond to it. Only a limited number of stage designers ever get the opportunity to design for ballet and even fewer have the experience of designing for narrative works. Ashton belonged to the generation of choreographers who experienced the choreographic and design revolution of the Ballets Russes as it was happening. The designers who he commissioned to design his ballets had, for the main part, also had that experience. Now in theory redesigning a ballet should have as little adverse impact on the choreographer's work as mounting a new production of an opera has on the composer's work. Indeed I believe that the push to redesign some of Ashton's ballets came from people who had far greater involvement in, and knowledge of opera than they did of ballet. So have any of the Ashton redesigns given his ballets a new lease of life? Here is what happened to three of his works. I shall begin with Daphnis and Chloe. The man who redesigned Daphnis and Chloe transformed it from a ballet giving the ancient story a contemporary setting with the old gods present in the modern,ever ancient Greek landscape as genii loci, to one set fairly and squarely in ancient Greece. My recollection of the new designs is that there was no hint at the Greek landscape and of course the dancers were dressed in archaic costumes. The new designs had the effect of reducing the impact of the choreography. The movements of the female corps and of Chloe herself were less expansive than they had been in the original designs, their costumes constrained their movement rather than amplifying it. This meant that in the opening section the audience was unable to savour the contrast between the male and female corps when they dance the same steps in unison and it destroyed the almost Bacchic swirl of movement at the end of the piece as the dancers rush across the stage and then turn and jump, reducing it to a very staid affair. The costume designs also failed to tell the audience anything about the character of Daphnis, Chloe. Dorkon or Lykanion. Now this does not matter with Daphnis or Chloe as the ballet is their story, but it does as far as Dorkon and Lykanion are concerned because they play small but pivotal roles in the action of the ballet.The effect of the redesigns was to kill the ballet.A similar fate befell Cranko's The Lady and the Fool which was done to death by a totally unnecessary redesign which had the effect of sucking the life out of it. Its new look deprived it of its charm and reduced the impact of the choreography. It left an audience who knew the work wondering why they had liked it so much. Then there was Les Rendezvous. Here the designer ignored the original setting of a park with a wall and gate which left a large area of the stage, where the wall should have been, empty. The new design had a backcloth with a tree which looked as if it new had escaped from a painting by Cirico The lack of a wall reduced the impact of the dancers'entrances as before the redesign they had entered the stage through the gate.As far as the costumes were concerned he chose 1950's dresses with polka dots for the women, gave the girls in the pas de quatre long pink gloves which looked like washing up gloves and dressed the men in 1920's style blazers and boaters. It certainly had a transformative effect on the ballet which is danced to music by Auber but not one that did anything for the ballet. Where the Chappell designs were at one with the music and created a mood which supported the choreography the redesigns pulled against the music and seemed to be little more than a random collection of visual effects. If the designer created a mood it was one of confusion. The new designs managed to make a nonsense of the ballet which they were supposed to enhance and revivify. Finally there is Cinderella which has had three redesigns since its premier. I have only seen photographs of some of the original designs so I have no idea what they were like in performance.I believe that they were disliked because they were not sufficiently like ballet costumes.The first redesign can be seen on the film of the ballet with Fonteyn and Somes in the cast, the second on the DVD with Sibley and Dowell. It seems to me that each redesign has given Cinderella prettier rags than the last and provided the Ugly Sisters with increasingly outrageous costumes. The most recent redesign, the first not to be authorised by the choreographer gives Cinderella the prettiest imaginable rags and dresses the Ugly Sisters in costumes that would be regarded as almost too outrageous for a traditional pantomime.The redesigns commissioned by Wendy Ellis are pretty disastrous. They have not destroyed the ballet but they have emphasised and perhaps encouraged a performance style which gives the audience a ballet somewhat different from the one which Ashton created. A sweet Cinderella,dressed in pretty rags and danced in a very charming, small scale manner, a Jester who is performed like a close relative of the Soviet ones,not a character with a soul whose facial expression you need to see,but a mere leg machine and a pair of Ugly Sisters who would be too broad,brash and vulgar for most provincial pantomimes. The people employed to redesign Ashton's one act ballets and those commissioning them, it seems to me, have shown a singular .lack of understanding of ballet design in general and of the particular ballets for which the designs were commissioned. It is probably why any rumour of a proposed ballet redesign, but particularly those by Ashton are met with horrified shudders. Ballet design is important It can create a mood. It can tell an audience when and where the action of a ballet is set. Good ballet design helps the dancers in performance. It remains a mystery why the importance of ballet design is not as well understood as it should be. It seems to me that it is not lack of opportunity but a lack of sensibility on the part of those commissioning the designers which is at the heart of the problem.If you are not aware of the essential elements of the relationship between choreography and its performance by dancers in costume as seen by the audience then you are going to make some very big mistakes. Choreographers like Ashton and Cranko were fully aware of the impact design had on the reception of their works, Somewhere along the way this understanding has been lost. A ballet like Swan Lake can survive bad designs. The length of time that Dowell's, bling laden, concept driven, ineptly designed production held the stage proves that but that does not mean that every ballet can survive such treatment.
  21. I do not think that Valses Nobles would benefit from having new designs. So far every attempt to redesign Ashton's ballets has proved to be a complete and unmitigated disaster. Rather than refreshing them the redesigns have left the redesigned ballets in a state far worse than they were with the original designs. Problems with Ashton ballets in performance rarely have anything to do with the costumes and design. Generally the problem is either the dancers's inability or unwillingness to dance in the appropriate style, which is unlikely with the Sarasota company, or, as a member of the audience, looking for things in his works which you are accustomed to see in the works of other choreographers and not looking at what he is actually doing. Ashton's choreography uses the dancer's body not just their legs.The dancers should have a pliant, fluid upper body as well as clean,bright, fast footwork. It is about a flow of movement and enchainements rather than a series of staccato steps. As far as the designs of Valses Noble are concerned Sophie Fedorovitch was the designer for several of Ashton's ballets and would have been fully aware of the effect that Ashton wanted his ballet to create in performance as far as mood and movement are concerned. I understand that she sat in on rehearsals of some of his ballets, and would revise her designs in the light of what she had seen. She clearly produced designs which satisfied Ashton on the page and on stage when they were seen in movement in performance. She was meticulous as far as her choice of fabric and the cut of her costumes were concerned and certainly would have have known whether or not her costumes were intended to enhance the theatrical impact of the dancing by enhancing the dancers's move. As far the performances at the Joyce are concerned it could be that you saw the wrong cast or part cast. In some of the ballets on show, the company is fielding three casts for some roles. People who know what Ashton's ballets should look like in performance were pretty impressed by the company's revival of Valses Nobles in 2014 so it does not sound as if it is the choreography or the designs which are the problem.. The individuals concerned had no need to be complimentary about the company if it was not deserving of praise. The reviews that I read at the time did not read as if they were being used as a stick to beat the Royal Ballet which appears only to revive Ashton's works out of a sense of duty rather than with any sense of enthusiasm or regard for the man and his works. As far as the rest of the programme is concerned David Vaughan described The Walk to the Paradise Garden as a masterpiece. It requires a master in partnering to bring it off but again in Ashton's ballets the audience should be oblivious to the difficulties it presents for the two main dancers. It should be swept along by its emotional response to the ballet and the ballet's beauty. You can play the game of spot the source material if you wish to, but it is what he does with the source material that really matters. The only one of the ballets on show that I have not seen is Sinfonietta which was made for the Touring Company. I suspect that its disappearance from the repertory had little to do with its quality and everything to do with the fact that the company for which it was created was disbanded in a cost saving exercise undertaken to make the Royal Opera House's books balance. It would be wonderful to think that the current Royal Ballet management team would expend as much effort on staging Ashton's ballets as the Webbs do but apparently the latest McGregor is far more artistically significant than having an active Ashton repertory with ballets ranging from Capriol suite to Rhapsody.
  22. I agree that Five Brahms Waltzes is as much about Duncan as it is about Ashton's style but it seems to me that Rojo's performance of the piece reveals the same problems that I see in the modern version of Monotones 2 and in other Ashton works in performance. A dancer or dancers who can not or are not prepared to dance in what appears to be a continuous flow of movement.In both cases I am left fully aware of the component parts of the two ballets but with little or no idea of the structure of the pieces in their entirety because the performers have chosen to break them up. This is the complete reverse of how they should be performed and what the audience should be aware of in performance. It is the overall effect of the choreography which matters rather than its component parts.
  23. In less than two years we shall be celebrating the bicentenary of Marius Petipa's birth. I can not help thinking that it would not hurt any of us to have a better understanding of what his choreography might have looked like in performance before the celebrations begin. That way we will have a better idea of just what and who we are celebrating and why we are doing so.Now of course we can not go back to the 1890's and there is always a possibility that we might not like what we saw if we could do so but I do not think that is a reason for not trying to restore to the stage something that Petpa,Ivanov and Tchaikovsky might just recognise as their work or at least something closely resembling it. Knowledge that a great deal of the choreographic text and scenario of Swan Lake has been altered over the years to accommodate fashions in performance style, "advances in technique" and political requirements leaves me curious as to what this ballet might look like if Petipa's narrative and floor plans were fully restored; the music was played at the speed expected by the choreographers and dancers adopted a period appropriate performance style. This would require dancers to abandon freeze framing poses, indulging their and the audience's taste for excessively slow tempi, extreme extensions and asymmetry. If we were to see performances in which the stager has restored the original narrative; the original characters; the choreographic text including mime and character dancing then we might have a real idea of Petipa's importance and why we are celebrating him. I am not sure that I would be that worried by an "over realistic" acting style which seems to me a minor detail in the great scheme of things. Having just experienced a Bolshoi Swan Lake which was little more than an almost abstract evocation of Swan Lake with Odette and Odile reduced to supporting roles I am all for any attempt to restore a nineteenth century Swan Lake to the stage and I am looking forward to seeing Ratmansky's Zurich production next year. It would be nice to think that a major company like the RB would respond to this interest in reconstructions by thinking very hard about the form that its new Swan Lake should take and attempt to restore the original act 1 waltz and get closer to the original performance style. In an ideal world the RB would have more than one version of Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet in its repertory each of which would be performed in the appropriate choreographic style. But that is another story and I know it is unlikely to happen. If you are interested my Swan Lakes would be the new one that I have described and the version that preceded the Dowell production. The RB danced it into the 1980's and it was full of wonderful Ashton choreography beginning with the act 1 waltz and ending with his own fourth act. As far as Romeo and Juliet is concerned it would be wonderful of the company were to acquire the Ashton version of the ballet. I am afraid that its current owner is unable to mount it in a style that does it justice.
  24. I think that whoever dances on the first night, this production is going to put the cat among the pigeons as far as Parisian audiences are concerned. They came to the nineteenth century Russian repertory rather late and most are convinced that the Nureyev productions of ballets like Beauty and Lac are the last word in how the Petipa classics should be danced.and look. I suspect that the reconstruction's choreographic text and performance style are going to be the main topics of conversation and controversy. The excerpts from this reconstruction that I have seen emphasise elements of the classical dance vocabulary that were of little interest to Nureyev in his stagings. Nureyev. like everyone else was very much a product of his time and place and during his formative years in Leningrad he was immersed in a dance world which was the product of those who created the Soviet style of male dancing and the Kirov performance tradition of the nineteenth century repertory. It is,in large part, the mid century Russian view of the Petipa ballets that Parisian audiences are used to seeing and perhaps believe to be authentic Petipa. As for me I am curious about the text and shall be interested to see a version which attempts to restore minor details like Petipa's musicality, his choreography his floor plans and something approaching nineteenth century performance practice. A Rose Adagio danced as an integral part of the ballet rather than an Olympic event will be a pleasant change. Perhaps it will convince Mr O'Hare that he needs to review the RB's current performance practice in this ballet by restoring the company's old musicality and speed and removing the "Rojoisms"which crept in during her time with the company. The most blatant of which was reducing the Rose Adagio to a mere display of technique performed with no concern for anything except how long she could hold her balance and how many of the suitors she could ignore. I can always hope.
  25. If you want to do some more investigation of Ashton's style then you could try comparing and contrasting Five Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan as danced by Lynn Seymour on whom it was created and then as performed by Tamara Rojo and White Monotones as danced by Derman, Silver and Deane and the recent recording on the Ashton Celebration DVD. As far as Five Waltzes is concerned it started life as a single waltz danced at a gala. Ashton added to it to create what we see today. In its current form it was first shown at a performance celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Rambert company and as such was an extraordinarily thoughtful gift as Rambert had been a devotee of Duncan and had, for a time, when she lived in Paris given Duncan style recitals. Marie Rambert was given a preview of the work at the end of which she is said to have burst into tears and said words to the effect of that's what it was like. Now with the best will in the world I can't see anyone saying that about Rojo's performance it is just too studied, too careful and lacking in any apparent spontaneity.The pauses between the waltzes for acting and self assessment do nothing for the piece. As danced by Seymour it is a fascinating piece and it is as danced by other dancers such as Belinda Hatley who dance it rather than "acting" it. BRB have performed it on the same bill as Dante Sonata which I have no doubt made Dante Sonata make great sense in the context of Ashton's output as a whole. As far as white Monotones is concerned I am not suggesting that the Derman cast was perfect. At the time they danced it I thought it a second rate cast and it reveals some of the problems that the company was beginning to experience. Deane is far too self contained and he sags. The reason that you should watch it is because it is danced as a continuous flow of movement rather than being "freeze framed". The comment, I believe by Bruce Sansom, about Monotones 2 that you had to choose points during the performance to stop imperceptibly so that the audience could catch up makes sense in the context of the earlier recording dating from the late 1970's. It makes no sense in the context of the modern recording which turns it into a ballet in which the dancers move from one pose to the next, freeze frame the pose, and move on. The company's current performance style is a subtle combination of changes in teaching methods at the school during the past thirty years, the company's recruitment and promotion practices and above all its programming and casting decisions over that time. Just as Balanchine's company became Balanchine dancers by dancing his ballets the Royal Ballet became a company with a unified style by dancing Ashton's ballets. When his ballets ceased to be central to the company's repertory it had a profound effect on what the company looked like in the performance of its entire repertory. Ashton's choreography is technically very demanding, often extremely exposed and generally provides real opportunities for the entire cast to dance. MacMillan's full length works provide juicy roles for the main characters, and sometimes give opportunities to fudge the steps and cover weaknesses by emoting, they often leave the members of the corps doing little more than being animated stage decorations each with their own backstory. This season Ashton's works have been given almost as much stage time as MacMillan's. In addition we are now seeing the effects of Gailene Stock's directorship of the Royal Ballet School in the quality of the dancers who are now being recruited by the company some of whom have had all their training at the school. As far as the future of the Ashton repertory and style at the Royal Ballet is concerned only time will tell.
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