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2015-16 season

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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.



Edited by Ashton Fan
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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.

Edited by Ashton Fan
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4 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

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.


That's my strategy as well, as well as many of my colleagues.  Nutcracker -- full employment for dancers!

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