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Royal Ballet 2016-17 Season

Ashton Fan

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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..

Edited by Ashton Fan
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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.

Edited by Ashton Fan
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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.











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

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.


I was reminded this year (doing some research for a background essay) that Fonteyn first met her husband in Oxford in June -- she was performing in Nutcracker when the company went on tour.  It really does make bank for many American companies, but that's a more recent phenomenon.



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.


His company was here in Seattle a couple weeks ago, with "Atomos."  While the dancers were extraordinary, I was left cold in several places as they shot through the material.  And I wondered as well about the development money -- this work used 3-D technology in a big section, with several screens hanging in the performance space.  I cannot say that the tech did things that the choreography could not do on its own.

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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. 



Edited by Ashton Fan
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The company gave three performances of Sleeping Beauty in December each of which was very encouraging for the run of performances which begins later on this month.Mason favoured the idea of engaging Russian conductors for performances of the Petipa ballets. The great drawback in doing this was that Russian conductor's tend to follow the dancers rather than propel their performance forward by adopting the tempi indicated by the composer.


In an interview which he gave to Gramophone Magazine the company's new music director indicated that he felt that it was important to follow Tchaikovsky's metronome markings. It will be interesting to see whether he sticks to that idea in performance. On the face of it we might be about to return to something very close to concert hall tempi in performance which was the norm at least up until the point at which De Valois' second production of Sleeping Beauty was pensioned off.The real question is what sort of a conductor is the Music DIrector in real life?. It would be nice to  think that he will produce the sort of music performance which provides a strong framework and support for the dancers in performance.There are  some very interesting and potentially exciting debuts due to take place over the next few weeks.


The Artistic Director is now in his fifth year at the helm and I can't help wondering what his artistic balance sheet really looks like. It is true that we seem to be on the verge of a seeing some excellent dancers come to the point at which they will be leading the company. A lot of talented dancers have been recruited into the company in  recent years. Even if his decisions about the ballets to be commissioned and the choreographers who should create them have, with one or two notable exceptions, failed to produce much of an artistic return on the money and other resources invested in them I have no doubt that he will be praised for the able dancers which the company now contains.But I am not entirely sure that that praise would be entirely justified.





Edited by Ashton Fan
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Thank you so much for your detailed reports. Ever since I discovered ballet the Royal Ballet has been my favourite company (along with NYCB) and videos of RB dancers from the 50s, 60s and 70s have shaped my tastes and opinions. Unfortunately I have never been able to actually see the company live, so it makes me very happy to at least read this kind of posts. :)

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I am pleased that you have found my reports of interest. I had not intended to go to the revival of Woolf Works but I have acquired a ticket from a friend who can't go so I may say something about it in due course. As far as Sleeping Beauty is concerned it is only about a week until the run resumes. it will be interesting to see how. if at all, the Spring break and the performance of McGregor's very unclassical choreography impacts on the performances throughout the run.


There is a lot to look forward to in the series of Sleeping Beauty performances which resumes on the 15th February when Nunez and Muntagirov dance the ballet together.Each performance of the run offers opportunities for dancers from every level in the company to make deuts which are significant for them as their first step on the ladder or to the future health of the company showing that it is once again an organisation capable of renewing and regenerating itself. An  essential element  for any company which somehow  got lost during MacMillan's directorship and has taken a long time to restore.


There are Principal dancers making their debuts as Aurora and her prince and more junior ones waiting to do so.Hayward and Campbell, newly appointed Principals, make their joint debuts as Aurora and the prince at the matinee on the 16th February,while Osipova makes her long delayed debut as Aurora with Hirano as her prince on the 25th February in the evening. I think that the debuts which are of greatest interest  to the fans are those of Hayward and Campbell at the matinee on the 16th of February and.Naghdi and Ball  making their joint debuts as Aurora and the prince at the matinee on the 18th February. Having said that I think that those who had the good fortune to see Clarke when he replaced Matthew Golding in the Michael Somes' role in Symphonic Variations have been eagerly awaiting his princely debut ever since. He makes his debut. with Cuthbertson as his Aurora on the evening of the 18th.


I am certainly looking forward to all of the publicised debuts and to the opportunity to see Takada and Hay as Aurora and her prince again. Hay gave an exemplary account of the choreography of Florestan in the Florestan and his sisters pas de trois at the performance on the 21st December and then followed that up by making his debut as the prince two days later with Takada. Hay danced and characterised the role with exceptional skill. The prince's act 2 moody solo was danced as if it had real meaning and emotional depth rather than as if it was a choreographic minefield. It was created for Nureyev and it is full of his favourite steps and combinations but it is capable of being far more than a tricky technical patch and should be danced with real expressiveness.Hay managed to do what many others have failed to do convincingly. He is reported as saying that there comes a point in Ashton's choreography when, as a dancer, you have to stop worrying about the technical problems which it presents and just get on and dance it. It is  a formula which works and it would be nice to think that other dancers might adopt a similar approach to Ashton where doing the steps is never enough.


Perhaps I should explain that Takada made her debut as Aurora to considerable

acclaim when the ballet was last revived.Clement Crisp was particularly taken with her performance.Hirano has already made his debut as the prince.


I am sure that there are those who are already speculating on who might be appointed to the rank of Principal dancer when Yanowsky retires. It will be interesting to see what effect dancing the lead roles in Beauty will have on the dancers already mentioned.Promotions at the end of this season will be of particular interest this year as they will give an even stronger indication of the direction in which Kevin O'Hare intends to take the company. On the basis of the performances that they have given so far this season I expect that O'Sullivan, Heap and Sambe are likely to be among those promoted.



Edited by Ashton Fan
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i went to Woolf Works about ten days ago and I have to confess that when it comes to McGregor's works I think  I must be tone deaf or perhaps blind because his ballets seem little more than cleverly lit slickly packaged dance works which you either get or you don't.Others claim to be greatly moved by the first and third works which make up the trilogy which is Woolf Works but while he has acquired a bit more dance vocabulary it does not add up to that much. The first piece takes themes from Mrs Dalloway and if you have read the book or can bring yourself to read the copious programme notes  you can recognise some incidents from the book. We move between Clarissa as she is now and incidents from her youth. Ferri,the mature Clarissa emotes and is carried about by Gary Avis. A set of three large picture frames  are used to indicate past and present and serve as the window ledge from which Septimus throws himself to his death after a number of encounters with a soldier who died in front of his eyes. The ballet marks a considerable development in McGregor's output as in this piece some of the men wear recognisable clothes rather than knickers and vests and the other unbecoming costumes which are the hallmark of the truly seriously committed, dance maker. Ferri has to do little apart from wander about and allow herself to be carried from point "a" to point "b".


The second "ballet" Orlando brings us back to McGregor's familiar territory of strange snappy movements and complicated lighting schemes. In this work men and women wear ruffs some wear farthingales and some wear britches they move and the light moves and so they appear and disappear as the light moves. This is an exploration of androgeny, or so I am told.


The last piece opens with a reading from Virginia Woolf's suicide note to her husband in which she explains that she can't bear another bout of mental illness. There is a back projection of the sea and the dancers from the other two ballets form a sort of corps making shapes including one which looks as if it is derived from Matisse's bathers. which enclose the Woolf character and then finally engulf her. The ballet ends with Woolf, Ferri at the performance I attended, lying alone on the stage, dead.


I am afraid that I am too conscious of the mechanics and in particular how limited McGregor's dance vocabulary is and how dependent he is on lighting schemes to give his works impact that I don't find myself able to enter into his universe in the way that I can with more traditional choreographers. I am conscious , all the time, that McGregor has something up his sleeve.The other problem is that I don't believe in any choreographer who feels compelled to write lengthy programme notes, or needs to do so to tell us what he has created.   

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McGregor's familiar territory of strange snappy movements and complicated lighting schemes ...


Thanks, Ashton Fan, for your reports and backstories. Must say I did like McGregor's Chroma done by San Francisco Ballet dancers here a few years ago. Some story or abstract dialectic almost seems to be about to jell but never quite ... surfaces.


Good to hear about James Hay and Marcelino Sambe – very graphically incisive dancers whose work comes over well on Royal Ballet videos.

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I think that everyone liked Chroma when it was first shown at Covent Garden It raised all sorts of expectations which I don't think have been fulfilled.The problem for me is that few of McGregor's subsequent pieces have been that compelling or involving.It is one thing to produce works which live and die in a single season which individual audience members see only once and quite another to produce works which bear repeat performances during their initial season and in subsequent ones.Strangely I think that an essential element of an effective dance work is that you can remember some aspects of its dance elements, its form and movement after you have left the auditorium and perhaps some elements of the design. With McGregor it tends to be the design which you remember not what the dancers have been doing because when it comes to dance movement there is a lot of sameness and few arresting ideas or images. 


No creative artist can be on top form all the time but you hope that they will produce works which are varied and interesting rather than pieces which recycle a limited vocabulary  and lead you to feel that they are self plagiarists when you encounter their third new piece for a company. Another little problem is that McGregor does not have a very good batting average when it comes to making new works.Quite a few of his subsequent works have been pretty dire but somehow they have an afterlife, having failed once they are brought back at dirt cheap prices. Raven Girl is a prime example of this type of ballet. A ballet created to a newly written "modern fairy story" it opened with Ed Watson as a postman  cycling around the stage after which he had next to nothing to do and quickly disappeared from the action. The story was basically about a girl, half human half bird, a perpetual outsider and her encounters with the world who eventually finds her place in the world when she meets the Raven prince. A few people wittered on about having been present at the creation of a masterpiece but most people I know thought that they had just seen a disastrous  waste of dancers with nothing to redeem it.


After its initial season many hoped that we had seen the last of it.But then there was to all intents and purposes a sales campaign with a small exhibition about the ballet and what appeared to be its visual source material. I think that the graphic novel was actually written in conjunction with the creation of the "ballet" rather than pre-dating it.The exhibition was far more interesting than the ballet itself and perhaps it persuaded the suggestible and the unwary that it was an intriguing dance work. It was recently revived and who knows it may be revived again.


I think that Mason probably thought that by making McGregor Resident Choreographer it would somehow stimulate creativity in the company while Kevin O'Hare keeps him as evidence of his own credentials as an imaginative forward thinking Artistic Director.He is living proof that the Artistic Director is the head of a  vibrant creative ballet company and that is clearly how Kevin wants to be seen,.


Kevin's comments at the recent international dance conference suggests that he has very muddled thinking about his company and which bits of its historical repertory are "classics". It has, or at least had, Nijinska's Les Noces, arguably the greatest work of the Diaghilev era, as part of its living repertory. It is one of those works which always  needs to be in the bodies of the majority of the company if it is to survive as a living piece of theatre, Song of the Earth is another.Les Noces was last revived in 2012 and because of the passage of time since its last revival it did not come back looking as sharp as it should, the large groups were not quite as precise as they should have been.But what does that matter if you have the "genius" of Wayne McGregor ?

Edited by Ashton Fan
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Thanks for the thoughtful discussion of McGregor -- I went back and looked at my notes from his earlier visit to Seattle (when it was Random Dance Co) and remember thinking that he balanced the human and technical elements well, which I don't think this latest work managed.


Sometimes people peak, and they don't keep developing even though they keep making work.  It's frustrating and sad, but there it is.

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 Sleeping Beauty had three performances before Christmas. We have now  embarked on the second and most important part of the run.These performances are important not only because they give an indication of the technical health of the company but for the number of debuts scheduled between now and early March. They are interesting because of the opportunities being given to young dancers to dance major roles in the ballet which for years has been the company's calling card. The problem is that apart from those due to dance Aurora and her Prince we don't find out who is dancing the Lilac Fairy or Bluebird and Princess Florine until we pick up the cast sheet  just before the performance.Before the run began I wondered who was going to dance some of those roles and while I assumed that Calvert, Heap and Stix-Brunell would have further opportunities to dance Lilac Fairy the real question for many of the regulars was how far down the ranks would the company be prepared to go to cast these roles? Well we now have some answers and they are very positive ones.


Perhaps I should say that as far as I am concerned the  most positive thing that has come with the resumption of  the run of Sleeping Beauty performances are not the debuts but the presence of a non Russian ballet conductor in the pit. The Music Director is conducting these performances and the effect has been transformational. Koen Kessels  apparently believes, somewhat eccentrically, that Tchaikovsky was rather a good composer and that his markings should be observed in performance. He has even gone so far as to give an interview to Gramophone Magazine in which he uses the word "symphonic" several times as he explains how wonderful Sleeping Beauty's score is.  This has meant that instead of torturing the score to accommodate Ms X's personal technical foibles and her desire to treat the Rose Adagio as an Olympic event,thus  reducing Tchaikovsky's score to superior Pugni it is being taken seriously and not being treated as so much aural wallpaper and is being performed at a tempo that both the composer and  choreographer might recognise. Freeing the company from the "expertise" of the Russian ballet conductors who have been conducting the Tchaikovsky ballets  since 2003 means that we are not being treated to performances of Beauty which suggest that the dancers are wading through treacle.We may not have period appropriate performance style but  we can hope..I have spent time writing about this change because it has had such a positive effect on all the performances of the ballet which I have seen since Christmas.


The first of the post Christmas debuts came last Thursday when Francesca Hayward made her debut as  Aurora with Alexander Campbell making his house debut  as her Prince. Campbell is not very tall, but he has a strong technique and is an able and considerate partner and acquitted himself well. As far as Hayward's account of Aurora is concerned all the steps were there but it was a rather small scale account of the choreography rather lacking in grandeur and without the personal elements which we have come to expect from her in her debuts  in other roles. We have become used to Hayward doing far more than merely reproducing steps  so the lack of personality at this performance came as a bit of a surprise. Having since found out that Hayward was far from well when she made her debut and has since gone off sick with a bug which seems to be doing the rounds I am not going to say whether the performance showed the potential for greatness in the role. I shall  simply say that  I can't wait to see her next performance in the role and while she may not be scheduled to dance the role again during this run, after missing her Monday performance through illness, that next performance may be sooner than anyone has planned as last night's Cuthbertson, Clarke performance was cancelled because Cuthbertson is ill, which suggests that others may be struck down in due course. At the evening performance we had the opportunity to see Campbell again partnering Takada.Takada has little or no personality when compared with  her prince or Naghdi or Hayward. As this was at least her fifth performance it would have been nice to feel that there was rather more to her Aurora than the precise reproduction of the choreography.


Last Saturday Naghdi and Ball made their joint debuts as Aurora and her Prince and made an unscheduled appearance in the roles last night when they replaced Cuthbertson and Clarke. Naghdi's Aurora is young and vivacious in act one and very gracious to all of her suitors, her balances are rock solid she is elegant and suitably grand in the third act and she is exceptionally musical throughout.It is as if her feet are caressing the notes.If I have any criticism of her account of the role it is that she is not sufficiently distant in the vision scene. But that really is nitpicking on my part. Matthew Ball joined the company in 2013/14 season and so far he has made his mark dancing roles like Lensky, Romeo and the Artist in Two Pigeons. This Winter he has been dancing his first classical roles, first as the SPF's cavalier and now as the Prince in Beauty. Although management policy has seemed to be against partnerships Ball has partnered Naghdi in each one of these roles except for Two Pigeons when he danced with Stix-Brunell.He is a young dancer with a good technique, excellent partnering skills and great maturity in performance, Naghdi and Ball look good together, they complement each other and they are well on the way to producing real grandeur in performance..Last night the audience may have begun the evening disappointed by the cast change but they left the theatre very pleased by what they had seen.The pair are due to dance the roles again on Saturday and I shall not complain if they make further unscheduled appearances during the run.


The evening performance gave us another new Prince, Reece Clarke ,with Cuthbertson as his Aurora.Like Ball, Clarke joined the company in the 2013/14 season. He made  a strong impression on those who saw his RBS main stage appearance as Jean de Brienne in Nureyev's staging of Raymonda Act III ;he was plucked from the corps to replace Matthew Golding in the male lead in Symphonic Variations and those who saw him in either role have been waiting for his first performances in the classics. Like Ball he made his debut as the SPF's cavalier at Christmas but Sleeping Beauty is his first full length ballet. He proved to be an exemplary partner,presenting Cuthbertson with real skill. He danced elegantly and only flagged slightly towards the end of his second solo.As with Ball there is the occasional slight miscalculation that an older more mature dancer might not make, which reminds you just how young and inexperienced he is, but these lapses are minor in comparison with what he achieved in performance.  Again like Ball and Hay this Prince has a personality rather than being a cardboard cutout.In addition to the debuts already mentioned with another due on Saturday evening when Osipova makes her debut as Aurora, there have been many other debuts which are of interest and people who I have not seen in specific roles before.


Audiences have seen Carabosse performed by McNally, Arestis, McGorian, and Foskett all different and all worth seeing and Cowley has made her debut; the Queen performed by McGorian,McNally and Arestis; Lilac Fairy danced by Calvert, Heap, Stix-Brunell all more assured than in 2014 and a very promising debut from Storm-Jensen;Bluebird and Princess Florine danced by Hay and Takada who are elegantly effortless; Campbell and Haywood characterful; Naghdi and Zucchetti very stylish; Kobayashi and Zucchetti and Sambe and O'Sullivan. Of  these casts the  Zucchetti, Kobayashi combination is the least interesting because Kobayashi brings no personality to the role while the Sambe, O'Sullivan one is one of the most delightful.


As far as the pas de trois known as Florestan and his Sisters is concerned the choreography for Florestan has been the undoing of many a hopeful up and coming male dancer's reputation.It is one of those Ashton solos which look simple and innocuous and yet are a  minefield for the unwary.Zucchetti is good in it  but it is unusual to see it really well danced. But both Hay and Sambe have given outstanding accounts of the choreography. Both make it look easy but Hay adds elegance to the mixture.Of the other men dancing Florestan, Ella was quite good, in what I take to be his debut, while Edmonds has been the least successful. Of the women appearing as Florestan's sisters Naghdi, Magri,Maguire, Stix-Brunell and O'Sullivan have made strong impressions and give the roles real style and Heap who is really too tall for the pas has been pretty good as well.


While the Fairy Variations no longer look as if they have been cast by drawing names out of a hat there are some variations which seem to be short of more than a few candidates and others which are over subscribed. Crystal Fountain in particular seems to present casting problems the choice still seems to lie between Choe and Cowley neither of whom bring much character to it.Chisato has also appeared in this role but failed to make much impression. She is a very talented dancer and it is to be hoped that she will be given something more suited to her talents. On the basis of how the dancers appearing as Crystal Fountain/Candide perform the role this fairy apparently confers the gift of blandness.Golden Vine/Violente on the other hand has seen fine performances full of personality and temperament from Naghdi, O'Sullivan among others while the Fairy of the Songbirds is definitely oversubscribed. Both Magri and O'Sullivan have been outstanding in pretty much everything they have done during this run.It will be fascinating to find out who Kevin intends to cast in the streamed performances and even more interesting to see who actually makes it to the stage next week.Given the state of the company it would make a lot of sense for Kevin to programme Beauty in the next two seasons I'm sure that it would cause howls of outrage and the accusations that he was showing no initiative but it would really get the company where it needs to be.The alternative  would be to restage the old Swan Lake production which preceded the one which Dowell staged which with all its Ashton choreographic interpolations provided more dance opportunities than the company could manage at the time it was finally pensioned off.





Edited by Ashton Fan
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2 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

Thank you so much for this detailed report. Sadly, it has been some years since I last saw the production for myself, except at the cinema, but the state of the Royal Ballet's Beauty is a crucial indicator of the health of the art form in general, so I always read about the performances with great interest.


I always think that Beauty is a great way to see what a company can do classically.  The clarity of the material is such a specific gauge of skill.

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6 hours ago, Helene said:

And, of course, style, both individually and for the company.


You know, when it comes to SB, I always think of skill and style as two sides of the same coin.  I don't always have this sense about other ballets -- I'll have to think about this.


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Osipova made her Covent Garden debut as Aurora a week ago with Hirano as her self effacing prince. I think that it is safe to say that  her account of the role divides opinion. Clement Crisp likened her Aurora to the sun, but to others her Aurora is more like a force of nature. Whether you find her Aurora, too big,too bold,and ebullient, rather than vivacious may well depend on whether or not you like a star turn because there is no doubt that for many in the audience she is a star and thus above all criticism.


In act one she is more Princess Kitri than Princess Aurora in large part because she fails to disguise her strength and her stamina and appears overly concerned with displaying her technique and the height of her jumps.The difficulty with this approach is that if you over emphasise technical display in act one then you have nowhere to go when you get to act three. Her Vision scene was quieter and restrained. When I saw her I found that her act three lacked nuance, variety and grandeur. By emphasising her technical skills throughout act one she had robbed herself of the possibility of making her act three a statement of Aurora's newfound authority. The problem is that Osipova, like McRae, is really a demi-character technician and unlike some demi-character dancers, neither of them seem to have the ability to escape their natural emploi, disguise their natural affinities  and transform themselves into the type of dancers they dearly wish to be.


Yesterday saw Salenko and McRae as Aurora and her Prince. I had not intended to see this cast but as a friend had a spare ticket I went out of curiosity. I had not seen Salenko in a classical role and it is some years since I have seen McRae in this ballet.The tempo adopted by the conductor did not help but the whole performance felt leaden.The Vision Scene was one of the dullest that I have seen in a long while. In Act three McRae provided the audience with technical fireworks which seemed more than a little misplaced and totally out of character for a prince in a late nineteenth century ballet for whom effortless elegance is generally considered to be the norm. Throughout the ballet Salenko reproduced Aurora's choreography accurately and, efficiently but it was a dull account of the role.


At the same performance Mendizabal made,what I believe, was her debut as the Lilac Fairy. She struggled with the choreography but the conductor took the solo painfully slowly. David Donnelly made his debut in the Florestan pas de trois.On the basis of what he did with the first section of Florestan's choreography he is not ready for it yet.But its choreography has defeated more experienced dancers.. It is one of those Ashton roles which look so simple in a good performance but are in reality a technical minefield and if management does not give  youngsters a chance how will they learn? A few days earlier we had what,on paper, looked like equally unlikely casting. Matthew Ball, not the first name that would have sprung to my mind  when casting the Bluebird made his debut in the role.He was pretty good. Mendizabal as Princess Florine was efficient. I have tickets for one more cast more for the prince, Bonelli, than his Aurora. I wonder whether there will be any further significant debuts?


On Friday normal musical service was resumed when, once again, we had a Russian specialist ballet conductor in the pit. He made the music very four square and rhythmically regular,; in the Prologue he ironed out the contrasts in rhythm and speed between one variation and the next and transformed a score which had been fascinating in its variety under Mr Kessell's baton into one which sounded and felt more like the product of a professional ballet composer it was so regular and dansant.


Over the years there has been some discussion among older "regular" ballet goers  about the reason for the Fairy Variations being so dull. These "regulars" have come up with various explanations the most popular of which is that the company no longer casts Principal dancers in these variations on a regular basis,closely followed by concerns about the quality of the coaching available.While I don't doubt that casting and coaching have played a part in the less than satisfactory performances of the Prologue Fairies over the years, on the basis of what I have experienced over the last few days it is clear that the choice of conductor plays an even more significant part in the quality of the performance which the audience experiences in the theatre than most people, including the company's management, realise. It will be interesting to see whether any further action is taken on the musical front as far as the Tchaikovsky ballets are concerned. 



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The RB only reveals the barest details of casting.It has finally announced the missing details of the Ashton mixed bill which will round off the ballet season.In the Dream Sambe will dance Oberon to Hayward's Titania and Campbell will dance Oberon to Morera's Titania. In addition Polunin will be dancing Armand to Osipova's Marguerite. The ROH has only seen fit to announce the fact that Polunin is to appear in Marguerite and Armand.Personally I think that the details about who is to dance Oberon will be of far greater interest to the regular ballet goer than the fact that Polunin will be appearing in Marguerite and Armand. In fact the casting for Oberon will probably come as a great relief to many as there were fears that we might have to endure Matthew Golding lumbering round the stage in order to see Hayward dance Titania.

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Having seem Mr Golding dance Oberon, I should like to say his performance in no way resembled 'lumbering'. for a dancer making his debut it was a reasonable performance,   In the fifty plus years I've been watching The Dream I have seen dancers with far greater knowledge of Ashton's choreography do worse.

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Mashinka. You may know considerably more about inadequate performances of Oberon than I do. I prefer to avoid them if at all possible. I know that I spent a great deal of Dowell's directorship being delighted at the prospect of performances of Ashton mixed bills, being appalled by the proposed casts  and saving money by staying away from them. The result seemed to be that the Ashton mixed bills with half decent casts at Covent Garden ended up being gatherings of ballet goers who knew and cared what Ashton's ballets should look like in performance which people who I knew from my earliest ballet going years seemed to crawl out of the woodwork to attend .I also went to see a lot of performances by SWRB/BRB which under Sir Peter Wright seemed far more able to conjure up interesting mixed bills with much better casts than the company resident at Covent Garden seemed able to manage although it was generally understood that the resident company had first choice of the school's graduates



.Wright seemed to have a much better understanding of how to develop dancers through his choice of  repertory and a much better grasp of the ballets which his dancers and his audience needed to experience in performance. Perhaps the fact that Wright came to be involved in classical ballet in his late teens via Kurt Joos gave him a greater appreciation of the special qualities of classical dance and choreography created using the idiom than someone who is introduced to ballet as a young child  and grows up in a world where it is a given.I should like to think that Kevin O'Hare had learned some of Sir Peter's system for developing dancers from his time working for him. The ballets in this year's repertory with Fille, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Jewels occupying a significant part of the season suggested that he had.


However next year's rep suggests that his commitment to giving the youngest dancers in his company the development opportunities that they need may not be that strong. I know that next season is being treated as a significant MacMillan anniversary season but I am not sure that is necessarily that beneficial for maintaining technical standards throughout the company.The early performances of the new Swan Lake will reveal what damage, if any, the MacMillanfest has inflicted on technical standards as his full length ballets tend to treat the corps as background stage dressing, albeit each with his or her backstory, rather than giving them really challenging choreography to dance.


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