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Royal Ballet 2019/20 Season

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Posted (edited)

The Gala opened with a full performance of the Firebird which pretty much ensured that every member of the company who was not cast in one of the divertissements to be performed during the second part of the and was not absent through injury or illness would be able to say that they had appeared in the Gala marking the centenary of Fonteyn's birth. The corps' understanding of the ballet increases with each performance listed for this revival and the performers of the principal roles gain in the strength and the depth of their characterisation with each performance they give. At this performance the egg  protecting the soul of the immortal Kostchei did not disintegrate before Ivan Tsarevich had dashed it to the ground as happened at Kish's debut in the role. In my experience this is a rare event and it is far more common to see the egg resolutely refuse to break when it is dashed to the floor. As to the performances Kish was possibly a bit to refined in the role as there was no hint of the unsophisticated almost peasant like character in his Ivan and  from the lack of wonder at the power of the Firebird feather he had been given you might have been  forgiven for believing that Kish's Ivan Tsarevich captured and subdued a Firebird on a daily basis. The role of the Firebird is a role which really suits Mendizabal; Calvert is fine as the Beautiful Tsarevna and Saunders is a decent enough Kostchei but he is not as malevolent as Avis and he does not spend as much time fighting against sleep as Marriott does. 

It was inevitable that the second part should begin with the Rose Adagio after which we were treated to an account of Fonteyn's career from 1936 and Apparitions the first significant role Ashton was to create for Fonteyn to Ondine his last major role for her made in 1958. The excerpts were not performed in the order of their creation. Instead we began with two solos which only survive at all because they were reconstructed  for Ashton's Farewell Gala in 1970, both of which were danced with commitment and beauty, and ended with the ballroom scene from Apparitions which made it possible to move from performances by live dancers to the film of Ashton's Salut d' Amour created for the Gala marking Fonteyn's retirement which was filmed for the BBC documentary series Magic of Dance. In between we saw excerpts from neglected ballets such as Façade,  Daphnis and Chloe and Ondine and some such as Sylvia which have come back into favour of late. It is only when you see so many of Ashton's creations for Fonteyn in a short space of time that you can see how much they owed each other and what a wide range she had as a performer. Each of the dancers who appeared in the neglected ballets made me want to see them revived in the near future. Magri  was fine as the act one Sylvia in the opening section of the ballet, but can she transform herself into the very feminine nymph of act two or the grand ballerina of act three? I should like to find out. Then there was the delightful Daphnis and Chloe which came up looking fresh and new and not at all like a "heritage work".Hayward's account of the Pas de l'Ombre from the first act of Ondine she looked wonderfully right in a way that other dancers have not . She made Ondine seem fresh and real rather than a dutifully performed role in an old fashioned ballet. All in all an evening full of fascinating snippets which I hope will mean that we will see the neglected works performed in full at some point in the not too distant future.

Edited by Ashton Fan

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On 6/10/2019 at 5:10 PM, Ashton Fan said:

At this performance the egg  protecting the soul of the immortal Kostchei did not disintegrate before Ivan Tsarevich had dashed it to the ground as happened at Kish's debut in the role. In my experience this is a rare event and it is far more common to see the egg resolutely refuse to break when it is dashed to the floor. 

....

In between we saw excerpts from neglected ballets such as Façade,  Daphnis and Chloe and Ondine and some such as Sylvia which have come back into favour of late.

Firstly, many thanks for this report -- everything I've read about this performance has made me sad that I couldn't be there.

Re: the fickle nature of props.  Yes, the only thing you can really depend on is that you cannot depend on them.

I cannot tell you how sad it makes me to see Facade, Daphnis, and Ondine referred to as "neglected ballets."  In general, dance is careless with its past, and it makes me nuts.

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Posted (edited)

Here are some further thoughts on the Gala.The programming decisions of the Royal Ballet management often suggest that they want the local audience to believe that with the exception of a few acknowledged masterpieces such as Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet, which even the most ardent MacMillan enthusiast can't ignore, very little of Ashton's work dating from the time when he was essentially Fonteyn's choreographer is worth reviving The Fonteyn Gala provided the best opportunity that local audiences have had in years to get any idea of the range of Ashton's output during that time. Ashton's "Fonteyn years" began  when Markova left the company  and it became necessary to find and develop a dancer to replace her and lead the company. That period in Ashton's creative life effectively ended with the creation of Ondine in1958, a point at which it was reasonable to assume that Fonteyn had entered the final stages of her career.

One of the great things about the Gala was that all of the pieces which were performed were cast with far more thought and care than is usual when a rarely performed Ashton work is programmed in a mixed bill. The only Ashton  work that does not suffer from poor casting at Covent Garden is Symphonic Variations over which Wendy Ellis exercises tight control. Unlike MacMillan's works which are pretty robust when it comes to casting Ashton's ballets need to be cast with the right sort of dancers if they are to be seen at their best. For once the Ashton pieces did not suffer from the effects of compromise casting or senior dancers being given the opportunity to "have a go" at roles for which they are manifestly unsuited. Seeing an Ashton role performed by a dancer who is not prepared to modify their performance style and to embrace Ashton's version of classroom steps and his pliant upper body and epaulement in performance is not "dancing" Ashton, even if the title of the ballet being performed suggests that he or she is doing so.

First Artist Romany Pajdak gave an account of the fragment which remains of The Wise Virgins which made me regret its loss. Like Dante Sonata its coreography is not at all like the Ashton we are used to seeing. It made me wonder what the rest of it might have been like, given the nature of the music which Ashton had used. The final solo from Nocturne as danced by Beatrice Stix-Brunell must have made a lot of the audience regret that no one had thought of reconstructing the ballet when there were still dancers around  who could have made its reconstruction possible. It seemed like the sort of ballet which would have found a natural home with the old touring company. 

While I can understand why we were only permitted to see the Fonteyn sections of Birthday Offering it is a great pity that it is not going to be seen in full during the 2019-20 season. Unlike 2012 when management seemed far more concerned with putting senior dancers on stage than finding a cast who would do the piece justice, the company now has dancers who could do so. At the Gala Kaneko danced Fonteyn's solo bringing out its beauty and wit while Lamb and Hirano dancing the pas de deux made it look like a choreographic jewel, even when seen out of context. I have already said something about the excerpts from Ondine and Sylvia which both made strong cases for their revival. I will add that Hayward seemed ideally cast as Ondine. It was almost as if the Pas de l'Ombre had been made for her. She brought out so much detail inherent in Ashton's choreography and made its relationship to the music to which it is set crystal clear. It had a theatrical impact which I have not experienced in other live performances of the entire work.

It would not have been possible to celebrate Fonteyn without making some reference to her partnership with Nureyev. I am not sure that the pieces selected were as well chosen as they might have been. The Balcony pas de deux was all but inevitable as it allowed Osipova and Hallberg to be part of the celebration. The problem in performance was that Hallberg's lifts seemed laboured and effortful rather than easy and expressive. Osipova seems to find MacMillan's choreography lacking in some way as she has taken to  embroidering it in performance which is distracting to say the least. Sadly their contribution to the Gala was not as compelling as it was, no doubt, intended to be. 

Of the nineteenth choreography which Nureyev's staged for the company his Le Corsaire pas de deux was the piece selected for performance. I am not sure that selecting a piece of choreography that is done to death in galas across the world was really an ideal choice. It seemed somewhat out of place in the context of this Gala. I understand the significance of the pas de deux for Fonteyn but I am not sure that the fact it was filmed by Czinner was sufficient to justify its inclusion. I should have thought that the choreography for Nikiya and Solor from Nureyev's staging of The Kingdom of the Shades or that for Raymonda and Jean de Brienne from his staging of Raymonda Act III would have been better choices as they have not been debased and reduced to gala fodder. The problem was that while Naghdi danced the choreography which Fonteyn had danced when performing the pas de deux Muntagirov danced the standard modern gala version and it did not quite jell. The Tango from Façade was sandwiched between the two Nureyev related excerpts and came up looking as funny and fresh as ever. It has done remarkably well for a work created as an ephemeral entertainment.

The ballroom scene from Apparitions was a revelation.  I saw the revival of Apparitions staged for Schauffus' ENB in the 1980's and I have to confess that it did not make much of an impression on me then. It had seemed tedious,dutiful and dull. From the account which Julie Kavannagh gives of the revival neither Ashton nor Beddells thought much of it either. I was really surprised to find the ballroom scene from Apparitions so interesting as a piece of choreography. It seemed to me that Cuthbertson and Ball were ideally cast in it. I should like to think that we shall be able to see a staging of the entire  ballet in the not too distant future. The problem with that hope is that it does not seem to fit in with O'Hare's ambitions for the company.

The quality of Ashton's choreographic output during his " Fonteyn years" as demonstrated by these carefully cast performances, yet again raises the question about why so much of Ashton's output is consigned to the Heritage section of the company's repertory where it can be safely neglected for years and dusted off for a significant anniversary? One of the reasons has to be the effect of long term neglect which easily persuades those who have never seen them that works by major choreographers which are rarely performed are defective in some way. But that does not explain why Ashton's most popular full length ballets such as  Cinderella and his first major post Fonteyn ballet, Fille, are not allocated regular revivals in the way that MacMillan's are or why so many of his one act works are not deemed worthy of revival. A friend has tried to persuade me that the problem with Façade was that most people would see it as hopelessly old fashioned. I am not convinced.

 

 

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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The post above by @Ashton Fan  made me curious about the Wise Virgins. There is a tiny clip with Fonteyn, filmed in 1970 Hall gives the ballet's premier date as 1940.  NB he typically introduces his clips with still shots, but there is video:  

 

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There's a lovely (quite small) book of black and white photos of Fonteyn by Gordon Anthony from 1950, which includes a number of pieces not performed any more, The depth of feeling about a number of these registers very strongly. Here's his words about The Wise Virgins. 

"Fonteyn was the very personification of the dawn of womanhood. With bare feet and flowing robes she was an Italian Renaissance painting come to life. The grace and beauty of the stylised movements of hands and arms suited her to perfection, and, giving full rein to her lyricism, she appeared literally to melt from one posture to another.....she seemed to surround herself with a great tenderness and peace."

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Gordon Anthony made some remarkable photos of dance artists at that time, and especially of Fonteyn.  You can tell from his comments how much sympathy he has with her artistry.

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Writing here from the States. Was the gala recorded for HD transmission or other distribution? Even with the various caveats expressed by those above, it had to have been an enviable program to see.

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Posted (edited)

It would be very interesting to know just how much adverse comment Alex Beard, the ROH's Chief Executive, and the Board have received as a result of the failure to record the Fonteyn Gala and make it  available to the general public either by streaming it to cinemas or  broadcasting it on television. The omission is odd as both the Ashton centenary and Darcey Bussell's retirement were marked by live televised performances from Covent Garden. While the Fonteyn centenary may not have been quite as significant as Ashton's, her career as a dancer was of great importance in the development of the company and its style as Ashton himself admitted.  In her biography of Ashton, "Secret Muses", Julie Kavanagh records the choreographer saying that without Fonteyn he would not have developed the lyrical side of his choreography.

Although the pieces selected for the celebration omitted a number of major works, and the Ashton repertory apart from a few later works made for dancers other than Fonteyn is largely neglected, the Gala still managed to suggest that Fonteyn is, and will remain, of greater significance to the company's artistic identity than other dancers including Darcey Bussell are ever likely to be.

The failure to record the Gala and make the recording available to a wider public than the ticket holders who were present in the theatre is not simply a missed opportunity to give the resident ballet company a higher profile with the general non-ballet going public than it currently enjoys and to generate income. It also runs contrary to the ROH's season long claims, made in the context of the new facilities available to the general public, that it wants to make the building, and presumably the works performed there, accessible to as wide an audience as possible, rather than simply wanting to sell tea and other refreshments to non-ticket holders.

 

 

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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11 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

The failure to record the Gala and make the recording available to a wider public than the ticket holders who were present in the theatre is not simply a missed opportunity to give the resident ballet company a higher profile with the general non-ballet going public than it currently enjoys and to generate income. It also runs contrary to the ROH's season long claims, made in the context of the new facilities available to the general public, that it wants to make the building, and presumably the works performed there, accessible to as wide an audience as possible, rather than simply wanting to sell tea and other refreshments to non-ticket holders.

I have no inside knowledge, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were rights issues involved here -- lots of artists, lots of other contributors -- it may have just been one thing too many to deal with.

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Only just now reading your replies and thank you for them. Sandik, that was my thought, also--with all those clips it may have been just too much work (not to mention money) to get clearances for all those clips in a short amount of time, and I have the impression the program for the evening was assembled rather late in the season.

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Promotions for the upcoming season have been announced! 

https://www.roh.org.uk/news/the-royal-ballet-announces-promotions-leavers-and-joiners-for-the-2019-2020-season

 

Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Luca Acri have been promoted to First Soloist. 

Romany Pajdak, Isabella Gasparini, Thomas Mock, and David Yudes have been promoted to Soloist. 

Annette Buvoli, Mica Bradbury, Ashley Dean, Chisato Katsura, Leo Dixon, and Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød have been promoted to First Artist. 

Katharina Nikelski, Amelia Townsend, Yu Hang, Harris Bell, Harrison Lee, Taisuke Nakao, and Sophie Allnatt will join the company as Artists.

As previously mentioned, Marcelino Sambé has been promoted to Principal, and Nehemiah Kish will be retiring.  

 

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Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, Emma Maguire, and Camille Brancher will all also be leaving the company. 

Gary Avis has been appointed to Senior Ballet Master, and Samantha Raine to Senior Ballet Mistress. 

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Congratulations to all of the promoted dancers 👏 ....

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Posted (edited)

Congratulations to all of the deserving .... but have to confess I'm shocked that Joseph Sissens - such a stunning dancer - has NOT been promoted.  

Here's a film of him doing a variation for James in La Sylphide when at the Royal Ballet School - https://vimeo.com/144978625

 

 

Edited by meunier fan

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Wow!  @meunier fan thank you for sharing that stunning video of Joseph!  Such a clean, precise, and lovely dancer!

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The Royal Ballet just sent out e-mail with a few programming changes for their fall, winter, and spring season:

Updates to Royal Ballet programming

There have been updates and changes to three productions in our Winter, Spring and Summer Seasons.

In Winter, there are updates and changes to New Cathy Marston / New Liam Scarlett (17 February - 4 March 2020). The title of the New Cathy Marston is now confirmed as The Cellist. Dances at a Gathering by Jerome Robbins replaces New Liam Scarlett.

If you have already booked for this production, you should have received a separate email with the option to amend your booking if you wish.

In Spring, the final ballet joining the mixed bill of Live Fire Exercise by Wayne McGregor and Corybantic Games by Christopher Wheeldon (2 – 20 April 2020) will be Prodigal Son by George Balanchine. Full details are in your Spring magazine, which will be with you in October.

In Summer, Monotones I and II by Frederick Ashton replaces Preludes by Alexei Ratmansky in the mixed programme with Tombeaux by David Bintley and Symphonic Dances by Liam Scarlett (3 – 13 June 2020).

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That is quite extraordinary, there should be an explanation for such radical changes.  Not happy about this at all, anyone know what's happening?

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55 minutes ago, Mashinka said:

That is quite extraordinary, there should be an explanation for such radical changes.  Not happy about this at all, anyone know what's happening?

Here is the same information on their web site: https://www.roh.org.uk/news/the-royal-ballet-announces-programmenews-for-the-royal-ballets-201920-season

Looks like they're responding to requests for ticket exchanges.

Sometimes they allow comments on their pages, but not on this one.

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I'm getting a flurry of emails from RB fans but speculation is just that, nobody has any inside information on this.  I'm gutted that we're not getting the Ratmansky. 

Dances at a Gathering fell flat when it was revived a few years ago, I'd rather hoped they'd drop it.  Looking on the bright side there are a number of young men who would look good in Prodigal Son.  It would be a wonderful first leading role for mega talented Joseph Sissons. 

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The RB web site states that

"Frederick Ashton’s Monotones I and II .... replaces Alexei Ratmansky’s Preludes in June 2020. This is due to last minute changes in Ratmansky’s commitments with American Ballet Theater"  - is this related perhaps to his new full length work for them ?

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Dropping a new ballet is unusual to say the least. As the revival of Scarlett's  less than satisfactory Swan Lake takes place at roughly the same time as his new work  was due to be premiered perhaps the problem is that he does not have enough time to create the new  ballet and undertake remedial work on his Swan Lake production. 

I am not sure that there are that many people in London who will be filled with joy by the announcement that Hallberg is to become a principal guest artist with the company. So far the little we have seen of him in London makes it difficult to see precisely why he should be given that status at this point in his career. I think that many people assume that  his presence in the company has more to do with Osipova wanting to dance with him than anything else. I am not sure that the company needs an exemplar of pure classicism as it has both Muntagirov who is young and Bonelli who  is probably entering his final years in princely roles on the books and several young men such as Bracewell, Clarke and Sissens who are clearly going places as far as such roles are concerned. I am not suggesting that Hallberg's reputation as a fine classical dancer is undeserved merely that his best days are almost certainly behind him. When he danced the balcony pas de deux with Osipova at the Fonteyn Gala he seemed blandly beautiful , failed to suggest any sense of passion or urgency in his dancing, struggled with some of the lifts and made the whole thing seem dull. His presence in the company will inevitably reduce opportunities for a number of extremely talented young men who need opportunities to dance and develop.

Edited by Ashton Fan

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Thinking about Mashinka's comments about how flat Dances at a Gathering seemed when it was revived during the 2007-8 and the 2008-9 seasons I can't help wondering what it was that made those recent performances seem muted and lacking in character when compared with the impact of the company's performances of it during the 1970's ? Of course it could simply be the cast which Robbins selected or perhaps the lapse of time has made those performances of more than forty years ago seem so full of character and emotional depth and that every passing year has enhanced their impact but I don't think that is the entire explanation. I suspect that there is far more to it than that.  

I seem to recall that several of the dancers involved in the company's  initial performances said that when Robbins rehearsed them they learned all the roles and were not told until just before the first night which role they would be dancing . This of course means that they were far more deeply immersed in the ballet and the interconnections of the various sections of the ballet  than any subsequent Royal Ballet cast would ever be as ballet schedules today do not usually allow that amount of time for in depth preparation. I can't help wondering whether an even more significant factor was that Robbins' handpicked cast was full of dancers with really strong stage personalities who seem to have been allowed a degree of interpretive freedom by the choreographer which is not possible forty plus years later when coaches from a trust safeguarding a choreographer's works are in charge of revivals. I seem to recall that Richard Buckle wrote that NYCB dancers who saw the Royal Ballet's original cast complained that they were acting the ballet rather  than dancing it. Perhaps the difference in the impact of the two sets of performances is simply that the most recent casts were coached to dance it in the ""correct" Robbins' style rather than in a manner gave them an opportunity to give their own interpretations of what they were dancing. I recall the Royal Ballet's initial cast suggested a group of people held together by invisible emotional ties. Perhaps it boils down to this forty years ago we had, thanks to Robbin's himself, the "tuppence coloured" version of his ballet whereas today we get the "correct " "penny plain " version.

I shall be going to see this forthcoming revival,even if it is a rather bland version of the ballet, because of the inherent qualities of the choreography.I shall go with the hope of seeing two casts selected from across the company's ranks  rather than simply from the most senior dancers in the company. It is always interesting to see the dancers an outsider chooses to cast if given a free hand.

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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19 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

When he danced the balcony pas de deux with Osipova at the Fonteyn Gala he seemed blandly beautiful , failed to suggest any sense of passion or urgency in his dancing, struggled with some of the lifts and made the whole thing seem dull. His presence in the company will inevitably reduce opportunities for a number of extremely talented young men who need opportunities to dance and develop.

For my part, this has been my reaction to Hallberg for more than a decade. The last time I saw him dance - the final scene from Onegin in a gala setting - he had to fake four lifts because he couldn't get his partner up into position. (For the record, I had seen other men manage with the same dancer.) It is extremely unfortunate that his guest appearances inevitably deprive other dancers of opportunities they probably deserve more than he does. Rather than taking away shows from local dancers, it would be nicer if he paid more attention to his neglected home base. 

Edited by volcanohunter

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