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  1. Did you know that an LFB performance of the Schaufuss production, which was filmed for television, is available complete on youtube? It stars the divine Evdokimova. Just search for la sylphide evdokimova and it should come up - happy memories!
  2. I attended the first of ENB’s two double bills on Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon. Having already seen the programme in Milton Keynes, I still find the new production of “La Sylphide” vastly inferior in both design and content to the beautiful, award-winning Schaufuss production previously in the repertoire and I feel it a great shame, for whatever reason, that this jewel could not have been restored to the company for which it was made, especially having seen the delightful performances by Queensland Ballet a few years ago. Apart from containing less choreography, the Act I costumes grate, particularly the hard character shoes worn by the girls, and the Act II set is particularly dismal with its huge boulders rather than the idyllic woodland glade created by David Walker. I am glad that the ending in which the sylph is taken up to sylph heaven (such a favourite device of the Romantic era with theatres keen to show off their stage machinery) has been restored, having been omitted in Milton Keynes perhaps due to lack of space, but the funeral procession of sylphs as this happens is something I could do without (it is not in the Schaufuss version) as bourrées travelling forward in 5th position hardly ever look good in profile and, trying to cross the vast width of the Coliseum stage, can end up looking like a step-drag step rather than the floating vision they are supposed to represent. My gripes about the production aside, there were some very fine performances to enjoy and I take my hat off to the company, having only finished its run of 34 ‘Nutcrackers’ the previous Saturday, for the energy and enthusiasm with which they performed. I had seen most of the Wednesday cast in Milton Keynes and again warmed to Daniel Kraus’s endearing Gurn who makes you glad he gets the girl in the end. Francesca Velicu’s Effy still needs to work on clarity in her mime and in her footwork but was quite touching at the end when she realised her happiness lay with Gurn. Ciro Tamayo, as James, had developed more of a character than when I saw him in Milton Keynes and his dancing was superb. Jia Zhang brought beauty and a deliciously Romantic style to the role of First Sylph. As the sylph of the title, Erina Takahashi was a pure delight with her exquisite, effortlessly light dancing and charm. I cannot understand why ENB’s website lists the sylph as one of the ‘five femme fatales’ of ballet! The clue being in the word ‘fatale’, the term femme fatale surely implies a cruel female who uses her seductive powers to lure men to their death, which is hardly a description of this childlike woodland spirit who has watched James hunting in the glade since he was a child (as Takahashi’s mime so clearly describes) and is heartbroken at the thought of him giving his love to another but who has no thought of harming him! There is no ‘dark side’ to the sylph in the original libretto and I am glad that none of the sylphs I have seen has been played as anything other than captivating and capricious. The huge disappointment in this performance was the Madge of guest Eva Kloborg. Having been privileged to see the great Niels Bjorn Larsen in the role a number of times, I expected someone with the same heritage to bring the same power and depth of characterisation to the role but sadly Kloborg’s Madge had neither weight nor depth. This was even more evident when I watched Laura Hussey’s superb Madge at the Thursday matinee. Her command of the stage, whether as the limping crone or at her moment of triumph over James, was totally thrilling and her mime was equally powerful, so that one could almost hear the words she was uttering. Aaron Robison was the hapless James and it was wonderful to see him make full use of the stage area with his impressive, joyful dancing and beautifully stretched feet, especially in the beaten jumps. His characterisation was a delight, being the true Romantic vision of a rather affable chap who yearns for the unattainable and, when he sat slumped on a tree stump at the end of Act II, head in hands as he realises what he has lost, I actually felt sorry for him, which of course the audiences of the period were expected to do. His Effy was beautifully performed by Connie Vowles whose lovely, stylish dancing was matched by totally natural acting aided by great clarity in all her mime. His Sylph was Alison McWhinney who was even more enchanting than when I saw her in Milton Keynes and, like Takahashi, her dancing was of the utmost delicacy, particularly her beautiful footwork. So, although I would dearly love to see all these artists in the Schaufuss production, I will happily sit through a few more performances of the current one next week to enjoy their work again and see a few artists new to me in these roles. As for “Song of the Earth” I have to confess that when I first saw it performed by the Royal Ballet many years ago, including at least one performance by the great Marcia Haydee, I could take it or leave it because I felt the choreography did not reflect the profundity of the music. Now, possibly thirty years since the last time I saw it, I am very grateful that Lady MacMillan granted ENB permission to perform it because in Milton Keynes, Covent Garden and at the Coliseum I have quite simply fallen in love with the ballet due to the mesmerising performances I have seen. It has been lovingly staged by Grant Coyle and it is very clear that the dancers consider it a privilege to dance so that each person onstage succeeds in bringing out the beauty of every step, as well as the meaning of the text and the music. From the first exuberant entrance of the men in the First Song, this was a transcendental experience at both performances I saw this week. Making his debut at very short notice as the Messenger (of Death) on Wednesday evening was Henry Dowden who was in full command of the choreography and the demanding partnering. Aitor Arrieta as the Man, muted his usual charisma in the First Song as if to say any one of the six men could have been chosen by Death but, once he has been chosen, his is a magnetic portrayal. In the brief interlude of gaiety before the Sixth Song, Senri Kou was sunshine itself in the Third Song as she was manipulated in acrobatic fashion by the quartet of men. I was very interested to see what Jurgita Dronina would bring to the role of the Woman as I have only ever seen her in story ballets and, as she said to me afterwards, it is an entirely new style for her. As expected, the quality and artistry of her dancing shone through, as well as a deep feeling for Mahler’s score (gorgeously played under the baton of Maestro Gavin Sutherland) that made her beautiful use of the upper body and ports de bras achingly so at times. She excelled in the Sixth Song, particularly in the pas de deux with Arrieta towards the end and, as he leaves her and she gradually slides down his body to lay on the floor, her despair was palpable. Another highlight for me was the softest of bourrées weaving across the stage and then that final slow-motion walk where she, Dowden and Arrieta were in perfect unison, to the glowing celeste and the singer’s fading “ewig” – breath-taking! Kudos to Arrieta for partnering another of the company’s ballerinas in a second performance of MacMillan’s complex choreography less than twenty-four hours later which, for me, was the most sublime one I have seen, from the effervescent Adela Ramirez in the Third Song, the lovely pas de deux from James Forbat and Connie Vowles in the Fourth Song, through to the trio of named characters who were a dream team for me. The only slight downside was the singing in which, at times, it was audible that the voices were tiring. It is a huge ask for singers to perform Mahler’s epic song cycle twice in less than twenty-four hours and I am amazed Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker agreed to it although the opportunity to perform multiple times a song cycle that is not often performed even in concert halls must be extremely tempting! Joining Arrieta in my dream team were Ken Saruhashi as the Messenger and Fernanda Oliveira as the Woman, surpassing the superb performance they gave in Milton Keynes. Saruhashi has developed his persona even further to give a performance so nuanced and multi-faceted that he is fast developing into a true dramatic dancer. Likewise, the innately musical Oliveira brought a beauty and an almost unbearable poignancy to MacMillan’s choreography which took the Sixth Song, in particular, to another level and made the final moments both heartrending and uplifting at the same time. This team gives their last scheduled performance tomorrow afternoon and I would urge anyone in the vicinity to take advantage of one of the many ticket offers and spend sixty-five minutes in pure ballet heaven and you will have the bonus of the lovely Alison McWhinney in “La Sylphide” which follows.
  3. Just to let you know that the programme does include the text of the songs (not so on tour where the texts were handed out separately) and it does cover all three ballets. Finished on time this evening (around 10.30pm).
  4. If anyone was hoping to see Shiori Kase's lovely Sylph, the ENB website has now confirmed that she will not be dancing (she sustained an injury just after Christmas) and her performances are being covered by Alison McWhinney and Rina Kanehara. I am sad not to see Kase again but glad to have the chance to see at least one of these other artists again.
  5. On Thursday (4January), I watched both shows and was struck by how spirited they were, even though they were the 30th and 31st shows at the Coliseum and most of the dancers and musicians have been in every performance. The three principal roles at the matinée were taken by the same dancers I saw on 21 December (Fernanda Oliveira, James Forbat and Guilherme Menezes) who somehow managed to improve on that glorious performance. In Oliveira’s and Forbat’s grand pas de deux in Act II, the spectacular ‘bum’ lift was even more breath-taking in the speed with which Oliveira was lifted on high by Forbat and then carried across the stage so securely , reinforcing what a superb partner he is. Once again, the audience broke into prolonged applause and cheering well before the final pose. New to me was the Drosselmeyer of Junor Souza, who made his debut in the role this season. He and Menezes (as the Nutcracker) made Oliveira look light as a feather as they tossed and swung her around with astonishing ease in Eagling’s challenging choreography at the start of Act II and I could not help smiling at the sheer exuberance of this trio. Souza also partnered with great tenderness the enchanting Adela Ramirez as Louise in ‘Mirlitons’. Her exquisite footwork had already impressed me in her pas de deux with the uncredited William Simmons during the Act I party scene. I hope all the children from Tring onstage were making mental notes of what a beautifully stretched foot looks like as, in all three performances I saw, I was disappointed by the poor use of the foot by all the children. Eagling’s choreography for them is not complicated but does place emphasis on clean, neat footwork and I felt this was lacking this season. Highlights of the Act II divertissements for me were an especially sensuous Arabian Dance courtesy of Shevelle Dynott, Isabelle Brouwers, Sarah Kundi, Emily Suzuki and Stina Quagebeur, and Jung Ah Choi bringing a spikiness and cheekiness to Eagling’s martial arts-inspired Chinese Dance, ending in a brilliant set of fouetté turns. As in other ballets I have seen during the past year, I was impressed by the stylish dancing and sunny presence of Connie Vowles, this time as both Lead Snowflake and Lead Flower. In the evening performance, Adela Ramirez once again enchanted with her glorious dancing and radiant stage presence as a Lead Flower. Louise was danced by Anjuli Hudson who was delightfully charming in the Act I pas de deux although I could not identify her excellent partner. It has always puzzled me why the cast sheet for this production never credits Louise’s three suitors in Act I even though they have quite a lot of dancing to do, especially the kilted one, but lists the four girls who are really no more than a ‘backing group’ in the Russian Dance (another thrilling performance from Pedro Lapetra and likewise from Daniel McCormick in the matinée). Hudson also charmed in ‘Mirlitons’ with her delicacy and grace, partnered by Fabian Reimair who gave another masterly performance as Drosselmeyer. This was my first chance to see new corps de ballet recruit Fernando Carratala Coloma as the Nutcracker and, from his first jeté onto the stage, I was struck by the refinement and power of his dancing. He was an excellent match, both physically and artistically, for Aaron Robison’s Nephew, and his Act I pas de deux with Jurgita Dronina’s Clara was heart-melting in its joyfulness and beauty, greatly helped by Gavin Sutherland garnering an extremely passionate reading from the orchestra (which he did throughout the performance). As with the afternoon cast, Coloma, Dronina and Reimair made the pas de trois at the start of Act II look effortless and brimming with youthful joy. The grand pas de deux really was a grand affair with Dronina looking every inch an imperial princess and Robison beautifully presenting his ballerina who tossed off an impeccable series of single and double fouetté turns during the coda. Dronina, as with some of her other ENB colleagues, has the ability to just ‘be’ Clara rather than having to act like a young girl and therefore her reactions during the battle with the mice were totally natural and believable. Touches which I found particularly endearing were the thrill that seemed to go through her whole body when she sees the Nutrcracker without his mask for the first time and realises he is her adored Nephew (or rather Drosselmeyer’s Nephew!) and, when the snow begins to fall, her face lights up with childlike glee and she tries to catch some of the flakes. But the crowning glory of her performance was the Sugar Plum solo, danced to the shimmering celeste accompaniment played by Julia Richter. Her delicate footwork, particularly in the opening series of steps en pointe, and her lovely use of the upper body and ports de bras brought out the prettiness of what is extremely challenging choreography, making it a magical experience. So, although I agree with some of the other posts on this thread about problems with the production, I feel privileged to have seen two such glorious performances, particularly of the grand pas de deux, on the same day. Judging by the thunderous ovation at the end of both performances, the rest of the audience felt the same way.
  6. I am so pleased to see some more posts here about ENB's 'Nutcracker' - mine was beginning to feel decidedly lonely! And if my post encourages people to see some of the dancers who do not receive as much official publicity as others, so much the better. With regard to the designs, provided this does not breach Forum protocol, I can report that, prior to the Board approving Eagling's production, he showed me a portfolio full of wonderful designs and ideas (that would have been truly magical) which he was about to show the Board but apparently the budget would not cover them (if anyone remembers the TV documentary made at the time, the dancers' salaries were also hit by the budget cuts) and what we see now is the result. I know Eagling has never been completely happy with it (he mentioned the transformation of the Christmas tree to me on several occasions). It probably is time for a new production but, as there is still much to admire in this one and budget may still be an issue, perhaps a revamp in the decor and changes to the staging which Eagling has made in subsequent productions for other companies may be the cheaper option. However, for the moment, I am looking forward to my post-Christmas trip to see what other casts can bring to the present production.
  7. CCL, I did a rather lengthy report of the three performances I saw in Milton Keynes which you should be able to find somewhere on here which I hope will give you some insight into the first double bill. It is a rather long programme but you certainly get your money's worth. I am looking forward to seeing Dronina in "Song of the Earth", who was injured during the Milton Keynes week, and seeing at least one of the other marvellous casts again. I will also be seeing the double bill with 'Jeune homme' , not only to see the fabulous Cesar Corrales but also, for me, the peerless Jia Zhang as the woman. She first danced it in 2011, when she was 3rd year corps de ballet, and was only one of two females chosen by Luigi Bonnino (who staged the Petit programme for ENB) to dance the role. She is quite simply breath-taking! I am also looking forward to seeing Begona Cao add another femme fatale to her repertoire! As to "La Sylphide", for me the new production is not a patch on the previous one by Schaufuss both for choreographic content and design but the company dance what they are given extremely well and, although only the guest artist's performances as Madge are mentioned on the casting so far, if you get to see Stina Quagebeur, you are in for a real treat!
  8. I have seen better overall performances of this production than the show I saw on the evening of 21 December but there were many individual performances which reminded me why I am always happy to see Eagling’s ’Nutcracker’, now in its eighth season. On the downside, I noticed a lack of style and quality in the ensemble dances, particularly the exiting step for the Snowflakes. Originally, the ports de bras and upper body movements lusciously filled out the enchanting music but now, with a few exceptions, the step seems perfunctory. Similarly, the Waltz of the Flowers had a spectacular moment when the girls launch themselves at their partners, turn in mid-air and are caught by their partners with the front foot in retiré which was breath-taking in its precision during the first few seasons. Now the front foot seems to drift into retiré after the girls have been caught. Likewise, Eagling choreographed a step in which the girls are slid along the floor by their cavaliers on the pointe of the front foot and then brought upright into arabesque. The ‘slide’ has now all but disappeared. The party scene in Act I was always a rather amiable, elegant affair but, in the last few years, has been beset by tiffs and tantrums of the pantomimic variety – and that is just the adults! Thank goodness for the gracious and graceful Mother of Stina Quagebeur who led the dance for the ladies with impeccable style, particularly in her use of the upper body and ports de bras. Making a welcome guest appearance as her husband was Grant Rae, who retired from the company in the summer. Together, they displayed the finesse that used to be de rigueur in this scene. I have seen better young Claras and Freddies than the two at this performance but it is always a delight to watch Alison McWhinney as Louise, especially in the charming pas de deux in the party scene where she was partnered by the uncredited Laurent Liotardo. On the upside, what I will remember from this performance was the radiance and exhilaration of some of the individual performances. Particularly radiant was Anjuli Hudson as a Lead Snowflake and Lead Flower along with Jung Ah Choi and Jia Zhang (whose mesmerising femme fatale in ‘jeune homme’ I am looking forward to seeing again in January) and a couple of other ‘flower girls’ who I could not quite identify from my seat. Pedro Lapetra danced up such a storm in the Russian Dance and its reprise in the finale that he would not look out of place in the famous Moiseyev Dance Company. Adela Ramirez was both radiant and exhilarating, bringing her wonderful flair to the Spanish Dance, and showing how the final jump into retiré I previously mentioned should be done. She was caught so perfectly by Daniel McCormick that a man a couple of rows in front of me let out a whoop of surprised delight. All the major roles were taken by seasoned artists in the production and their experience showed in some hugely satisfying performances, starting with James Streeter’s mischievous Mouse King, obviously enjoying being in command of his entertaining troop of mice. Drosselmeyer was Fabian Reimair, who has performed the role since the first season, as well as numerous Nutcrackers (including an eye-watering number of them a few years ago due to injuries amongst his colleagues) and sensual harem-masters in the Arabian Dance. He presided over Act I with a warm benevolence and carried off all the magic tricks with aplomb. In Act II, he partnered Alison McWhinney’s prettily fluttering Louise in the Mirlitons pas de deux with a charming tenderness and a reassuring security which was also evident in the pas de trois with Clara and the Nutcracker at the beginning of the Act. Guilherme Menezes was new to me as the Nutcracker. I have admired the elegance of his dancing since he was a student and, despite wearing a mask throughout, he brought a wonderful tenderness and pathos (when indicating his injury sustained in the battle) to the Act I pas de deux with Clara, in which he partnered her superbly, as he also did in the Act II pas de trois. He was well matched with the always aristocratic James Forbat as the Nephew so that it was not impossible to believe they were one and the same character. Forbat and his Clara, Fernanda Oliveira, performed such a ravishing entrée to the grand pas de deux, including a flawless ‘bum’ lift, that the audience burst into spontaneous applause long before the final pose. Oliveira enchanted from her first appearance in Act I when there was a look of wonderment on her face as she realises she has magically become a young lady and yet there was still enough of the child in her to make her fright at her first encounter with the Mouse King and his troops believable. She has the prettiest développé in the company and it is an absolute joy to watch her leg unfold either to the front or side, perfectly reflecting the quality of the music. To watch her joyful abandon in the Act II pas de trois, safe in the hands of her very secure partners, is to experience the exhilarating freedom that classical ballet can have, and her solo in the grand pas de deux was the delicate, delicious confection needed to send us home with ‘visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads’ to borrow from the famous Christmas poem.
  9. Thank you , Sim. I'm only sorry that I did not manage to post it in time to encourage others to make the trip to Bristol and that I could not stay for the Saturday matinee to see Alison McWhinney's enchanting Juliet again.
  10. I missed my opportunity to post about “Romeo & Juliet” at Festival Hall this summer, where I saw four performances, so I missed paying tribute to some of the wonderful artists who left the company at the end of the season. Luckily, I was able to see three memorable performances in Bristol last week. At the Thursday matinée, I was to have seen Begoña Cao make her return to the stage, following her maternity leave, in a classical role and a role in which she excels. However, it was not to be as she had to withdraw from her performance and let me know personally this was due to a pulled calf muscle. Sadly, this meant that James Forbat lost his one scheduled Romeo as it would have been too complicated to switch partners. I was surprised that not only had the cast sheet not been amended but there was no announcement at the start of the performance which seemed disrespectful not only to Cao and Forbat but also to Jurgita Dronina and Aaron Robison who replaced them at very short notice. As they also did the Friday performance, I will concentrate on the other roles at the matinée. The scenes between the Capulet and Montague servants have always been a highlight for me in this production but the new influx of dancers did not appear entirely comfortable with the bawdiness of Nureyev’s choreography for them and I really missed Grant Rae, one of the sixteen dancers who left last season, as the uninhibited, cheeky leader of the Montague servants. It was therefore a delight to see Junor Souza easing himself back, after a protracted absence due to injuries, as leader of the Capulet servants, aided and abetted by a sparkling Adriana Lizardi. Souza has, of course, been a magnificent Tybalt and Romeo in the past and it was a joy to have his powerful presence enlivening the crowd scenes as they descend into Shakespeare’s “civil brawls”. I was also enchanted by the lovely Angela Wood as a radiant, gently flirtatious Rosaline obviously enjoying Romeo’s attentions but letting him know with the help of her delightful friends (Precious Adams and Jia Zhang at the matinée and Sarah Kundi and Zhang on Friday evening) that she would not yield easily. During her lovely solo in the ballroom scene before the wheel of fortune, her dancing was especially classy in a delicious series of enveloppés in which the working foot is brought into retiré before it is slipped into 5th en pointe. Erik Woolhouse made a very good debut as Mercutio, skilfully managing the fast and furious choreography, if not yet being the scene-stealer this character can be. Considering it was also Henry Dowden’s debut as Benvolio, the little pas de trois in Act II for them and the Nurse (the always watchable Jennie Harrington), when they try to relieve her of Juliet’s letter, worked very well and provided an amusing diversion. Daniel Kraus brought his Latin good looks and temperament to the role of Tybalt, contrasting his hot-headedness with a warm tenderness in his scenes with Juliet and, in the ballroom scene, subtly suggesting that he is more to the regal Lady Capulet of Sarah Kundi than just her nephew-in-law. His two sword-fights, first with Mercutio and then with Romeo, had all the (extremely well behaved) primary school children around me on the edge of their seats. In fact, from their rapt attention peppered with spontaneous bursts of applause, it was clear that this production had worked its magic on them and the rest of the audience. Thursday evening’s cast also changed as the scheduled Alison McWhinney and Joseph Caley had danced the previous evening due to the indisposition of Erina Takahashi. Happily, Takahashi was recovered enough to dance the Thursday evening performance and, watching the youthful freshness of her Juliet, it is hard to believe she has been dancing the role since the ballet re-entered the company’s repertoire in 2005. Her Romeo was Jeffrey Cirio, making his debut in the role. When I saw him in “Song of the Earth” in Milton Keynes and at Covent Garden, I thought he was rather bland, especially compared to the magnetism of Ken Saruhashi, as the Messenger. However, his Romeo was eminently appealing, being sweet and gentle and most definitely Shakespeare’s dreamer of dreams (reminiscent to those of us of a certain age of Leonard Whiting in Zefirelli’s classic film). His exquisite, neat footwork brought a much-needed elegance to Nureyev’s fussy choreography and he proved a perfect match for Takahashi’s delicacy and charm. Blazing through this performance like the brightest comet was the Mercutio of Pedro Lapetra. He is a natural comedian and yet has the power to move me to tears in Act II when his friends do not realise Tybalt has fatally wounded him. A lot of Nureyev’s choreography for him in the ballroom scene, when he is trying to distract the guests, is silly rather than comic and yet Lapetra’s fleet footwork and his virtuosic leaps and turns, coupled with his marvellous comic timing, make this a truly funny scene. Along with the charming Benvolio of Guilherme Menezes and Laura Hussey as the Nurse, the letter-stealing scene in Act II was also a comic highlight. Countering all this was the brooding arrogance of James Streeter’s Tybalt, whose anger visibly intensified as Mercutio continually made a fool of him during their sword-fight, inevitably ending in the vicious throw of the dagger which kills Mercutio. It was here that I particularly liked Cirio’s faithfulness to Shakespeare’s grief-stricken Romeo in being extremely reluctant to fight Tybalt until he is goaded beyond endurance. In all, this was a very impressive debut in a deeply satisfying performance. On Friday evening, I was privileged to experience one of the greatest performances by a Juliet that I have ever seen in any production. I had the great pleasure of working with Jurgita Dronina, albeit extremely briefly, when she danced Mary Skeaping’s Giselle with the company at short notice in January. I was impressed by her artistic integrity in her desire to be faithful to and embrace the production and, of course, by her beautiful dancing and dramatic intensity, all the qualities which also made her Juliet breathtaking. I saw her debut at Festival Hall in August and her unscheduled performance on Thursday afternoon but Friday evening transcended even those outstanding performances. She was greatly helped by very strong casting in all the other roles and her extraordinary musicality, which flows throughout her entire body, was in such accord with that of Maestro Gavin Sutherland that he drew from the orchestra even more moments of spine-tingling beauty than the previous day. Her Romeo, Aaron Robison, partnered her extremely sensitively, making Nureyev’s awkward choreography for the balcony and bedroom pas de deux and their first meeting alone in the ballroom scene look ravishing, seamless and charged with emotion. In other scenes, he had great fun with his friends, although I would have preferred him to take a more aristocratic approach, but his dramatic abilities came to the fore in a heart-stopping duel with the magnificent Tybalt of Fabian Reimair. Pedro Lapetra repeated his fabulous Mercutio and was joined by James Forbat as a very noble Benvolio with a wicked sense of fun in the comic scenes. Aitor Arrieta was the handsome and elegant Paris at this performance and was so obviously in love with Juliet that he could hardly take his eyes off her from the moment she is introduced to him. He was so warm and loving, treating her with such tenderness and patience that his death at the hands of Romeo seemed particularly unfair. Reimair, as Tybalt, blazed onto the stage at the beginning of Act I with such power and virility that it was no wonder there is a sexual chemistry between him and Lady Capulet, subtly indicated in their dance together in the ballroom scene and when she is calming him down after his thwarted attempt to kill Romeo at the ball. His Lady Capulet was Stina Quagebeur, whom I have long admired as one of the company’s finest character artists and who complemented perfectly Dronina’s intensely instinctive Juliet with her own finely detailed interpretation. In fact I was struck by how perfect they were as mother and daughter, expressing various emotions in the same way, not just the primal scream of Lady Capulet over Tybalt’s dead body which is later repeated by Juliet on realising that Romeo is dead but also after the bedroom pas de deux: with every fibre of her being expressing Dronina’s grief that Romeo must leave her, she leans her head against the pillar in utter hopelessness and despair. Quagebeur does exactly the same thing when she believes Juliet is dead. What Nureyev’s choreography lacks in finesse, he makes up for with an intense theatricality, especially the scene following the bedroom pas de deux which is a gift for the supreme acting talents of Dronina, Quagebeur and Laura Hussey as the Nurse. Dronina is so laden with grief at Romeo’s departure that at first she does not comprehend what the Nurse is telling her. As it dawns on her that she is being told to marry Paris (symbolised by the wedding dress), Dronina’s reaction turns from disbelief to horror then to anger and it is at this point that Quagebeur enters and grapples with her daughter, ending in a cruel slap. The look on the faces of the three women is pure theatrical magic, with Dronina in complete shock and Quagebeur trying to suppress her horror at taking out on her daughter her pent up grief at the death of Tybalt. From this moment on, she freezes and, when Lord Capulet arrives and the dress has been forcibly put on Dronina, he has to literally pull the benumbed Quagebeur away from her daughter. From then on the ballet is dominated by Dronina’s increasingly heartbroken Juliet. There were so many wonderful details in her mesmerising performance but I shall just mention a few from the scenes immediately following this one. She makes the dance with her parents and Paris, to solemnise her engagement to him, heartrending as she is continuously looking beseechingly back to or up at her father who steadfastly ignores her silent pleas. At the end of the dance, when Paris lifts her so that her parents can kiss her feet, Dronina’s whole body, including her feet which remain unstretched, is limp and heavy with despair in contrast to the moment in Act I when Romeo lifts her, and her beautifully stretched feet beat together in happy excitement while he sways her from side to side. When deciding whether to kill herself with the dagger or trust Friar Laurence’s potion, Dronina is the only dancer I can recall having seen in this production who realises that a potion bottle from this era would break if thrown to the floor (and this is the point where I usually cringe at the sound of plastic hitting the floor) and so she skims it across the floor. When Juliet wakes up in the tomb, Nureyev does not allow much time for her to discover that Romeo is dead before killing herself, as he is keen to show the reconciliation of the two houses. However, as with the many wonderful Juliets who have appeared in this production, Dronina packs so much emotion into her final moments that I was left completely stunned. It takes a great artist to make Nureyev’s flawed choreography look like great choreography and Dronina, like a number of other Juliets, especially in recent years, is such a one.
  11. If you are referring to Corrales, sadly he is injured.
  12. I made the trip up the M1 to see three performances of ENB’s new double bill at Milton Keynes, despite these two ballets making strange bedfellows. The epic “Song of the Earth” is difficult to programme with other works because its length (65 minutes) and its abundance of beautiful dancing, not to mention the ravishing music, make it almost a programme in itself. Adding this relatively short production of “La Sylphide” afterwards made for a very packed programme and, while not an entirely successful pairing, the audience certainly received their money’s worth, hence my rather long report and I thought it would be easiest to group together the three performances of each ballet that I saw, rather than run through each separate show. I have not seen “Song of the Earth” since the 1980s and so my memories are of the original Stuttgart cast and the first and second generation of Royal Ballet dancers coached by MacMillan himself. At the Thursday matinee, the performance was dominated by the Woman of Fernanda Oliveira, making a stunning return to a classical role after being plagued by knee problems for much of this year. I have always found her to be an exceptionally musical artist and, especially in the final, half-hour song (“The Farewell”), she seemed to have absorbed Mahler’s profound music into every fibre of her being, as well as the essence of the poems. To watch her fill out every millisecond of a port de bras or a developpé devant en pointe was breathtaking and reminded me of what a ravishing Manon she was in 2009. The ease with which she sailed through the complexity of MacMillan’s choreography was a joy to behold and demonstrated that here is a true MacMillan dancer. She was well matched by Ken Saruhashi as the Messenger. At once both elegant and dynamic, he was a mesmerising presence throughout the ballet whether subtly stalking his prey or joining in with the high jinks of the fifth song, “The Drunken Man in Spring”. Aitor Arrieta completed the trio of leading dancers as a slightly subdued but always stylish Man. The radiant Adela Ramirez was the featured dancer in the third song, “Of Youth”, and she gave a ballerina performance of sheer class and joie de vivre whether dancing by herself or being manipulated by the excellent quartet of men. Throughout the ballet, my eye was continually caught by the serene elegance and stage presence of Anjuli Hudson but this was an extremely satisfying performance from all concerned, apart from the mezzo soprano who appeared to be having a few intonation and tonal problems. At the Saturday matinee, I was treated to another ravishing performance by Fernanda Oliveira, replacing an indisposed Jurgita Dronina. I would not have thought it possible for her dancing to be more beautiful than it was on Thursday but somehow there was an added poignancy to its beauty. Likewise, Saruhashi gave another outstanding performance as the Messenger. New to me was Skyler Martin as the Man. Although a little stiff in the upper torso, he gave a handsomely virile performance and was an excellent and sympathetic partner. Adela Ramirez enchanted once more in the third song and the set of aerial cartwheels where she is manipulated by her wonderful quartet of men (Menezes, Liotardo, Drummond and Kraus) was truly spectacular in its precision. Erina Takahashi, on Saturday evening, brought her exquisite delicacy to the central role. Watching this sylph-like creature, it is hard to believe that she is in her twenty-first year with the company, having graduated straight from ENB School in 1996 followed by a meteoric rise to principal by 2000. In contrast to Oliveira’s Woman who yearns to escape the inevitability of death, Takahashi seems resigned from the outset and there is a quiet acceptance which haunts her dancing. Jeffrey Cirio, as the Messenger, gave a stylish account of the choreography although did not seem to have the same deep grasp as Saruhashi of the music or the comedy of the fifth song. Isaac Hernandez, as the Man, seems more intent on the steps at present than in creating a persona, and both his technique and partnering lack a certain elegance which I remember being a hallmark of the dancers who undertook this role in the MacMillan years. At this performance, the delightful Senri Kou was the featured dancer in “Of Youth” and demonstrated a serene assurance as she was manipulated by the men, as well as a “porcelain” (to quote the song) beauty to her own dancing. My eye was also caught by the radiance of Jung Ah Choi as one of the ensemble dancers and again by Anjuli Hudson and by her partner, Erik Woolhouse, whose spectacular leap onto the stage in the first song seemed to hover in the air, and who went on to partner Hudson with a princely elegance. In all, I think these performances were a worthy tribute to MacMillan and it was wonderful to hear the ENB Philharmonic enthusiastically rise to the genius of Mahler’s music whether under the baton of guest conductor Misato Tomita or Maestro Gavin Sutherland. I was amazed that the same singers (Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakkar) did all three performances, knowing how vocally taxing this song-cycle (or song-symphony as Mahler himself called it) is! I will certainly be seeing as many performances as possible of this intriguing work at the Coliseum in January. I am a great fan of the production of “La Sylphide” mounted by Peter Schaufuss for the company in 1979 which I saw many times, often with the incomparable Eva Evdokimova in the title role, and I also have fond memories of the interpretations of Elisabetta Terabust and Deborah Weiss. This previous production also had the advantage of exquisite designs by David Walker who had such a fine understanding and empathy for the Romantic period, particularly in Act II. There was also extra dancing for the Sylph, James, Effy and Effy’s friends and a lovely pas de trois for the Sylph, Effy and James before the Reel in Act I which I missed most of all from this new production. I was not impressed by Melby’s Act I costume designs, particularly for the girls who seemed very constrained in rather stiff jackets and unflattering tam o’shanters with the obligatory feather sticking up, not to mention some rather garish yellow tartans. I was also surprised to see Effy and her friends in hard character shoes, instead of the soft shoes of Schaufuss’s production which highlighted their exquisite footwork, particularly in Effy’s solos. That being said, there is much to enjoy in the production, even if the cast I saw on Thursday afternoon has some way to go before looking comfortable with the mime, which lacked clarity and definition, and characterisation. The performance was therefore dominated by the magnificent Madge of Laura Hussey, making another welcome return as guest character artist, who gave a masterclass in how mime and acting combine to create a truly great character. James was danced by Ciro Tamayo whose lovely, open beats, in true Bournonville style, were a joy to behold although he gave little in the way of James’s character. Francesca Velicu looked sweet as Effy but her mime was indeterminate and her footwork, even given the uncompromising character shoes, was not clearly defined. As the Sylph, Rina Kanehara was delightfully playful and danced very prettily but I would like to see her characterise the Sylph slightly more as a creature of the woods and develop more pliant pliés. In fact, dry pliés seemed to be the norm with this cast, instead of the super-soft ones of the Romantic period. Another surprise was to see James actually holding the Sylph in arabesque at the end of the big ensemble dance in Act II when the whole point is that he cannot touch her (Schaufuss had his Sylph balance against the kneeing First Sylph in his production to maintain this illusion). I cannot report on this performance without mentioning an incident in Act I in which one of the children (all excellent) danced too close to the edge of the stage and found himself in the safety net over the orchestra pit. With a little help from the clarinettist beneath him, he managed to haul himself upright and attempted to climb back onto stage whereupon the quick-thinking Amber Hunt stepped forward and pulled him up. She and her partner carried him offstage to spontaneous applause from the astonished audience while the rest of the dancers and orchestra hardly missed a step or a note of music. He appeared again in the wedding procession in Act II, apparently unhurt apart from perhaps a slightly bruised ego, and thoroughly enjoyed his applause during the bows at the end. The whole episode was handled with calm professionalism by all onstage and in the pit. Alison McWhinney, who enchanted me with her Giselle and Juliet earlier this year, took the title role at the Saturday matinee as if to the manner born. There is a genuine sweetness which infuses her dancing and, for this role, she added a delightful coquetry which made her irresistible to James. Aitor Arrieta, in the first acting role I have seen him undertake, was an extremely likeable James who highlighted his dilemma over whether to choose his earthly or spiritual love. He had a lovely chemistry with both McWhinney and the poignant Effy of Anjuli Hudson whose mime was clarity itself and who used it to portray heartfelt emotion. Her solo was full of exquisite footwork and her feet stretched beautifully, as far as her shoes would allow! The Gurn of Danny Kraus was so in love with her and so sympathetic (as well as dancing a very fine solo in impeccable Bournonville style), that one felt sure Effy and Gurn would have a very long and happy life together, as predicted by Madge. At this performance, Madge was performed by Sarah Kundi, successfully adding another character role to her repertoire, not as an ugly crone but more as a faded beauty of a gypsy who brought the full force of her magical powers to bear on the hapless James. I was captivated at this performance by the entrance of the First Sylph, Connie Vowles, in Act II. With dry ice obscuring her feet, her bourrées were so smooth that she really did appear to float, which was truly magical. The evening performance marked the return to the stage of Shiori Kase, who has been absent for over a year due to injury, in a role she seems born to dance. Her Sylph was both ethereal and playful, with a childlike innocence that was utterly enchanting and, if not quite as weightless yet as the divine Evdokimova, she came a pretty close second. The moment when she tells James she will die if he marries Effy was beautifully understated and really tugged at the heartstrings. Her dancing and musicality made this a performance to treasure and she was rewarded at the end by not only the applause of the audience but also of all her colleagues on stage. Her James was the very genial Joseph Caley who, although not yet in the same league as Kase, gave a very believable account of his romantic dilemma and delivered some fine dancing. The acting honours of the evening have to go to the beautiful Stina Quagebeur who transformed herself into a fragile and totally believable ancient woman in Act I and whose every movement and crystal clear mime gestures were infused with meaning. Despite being played in murky lighting and behind a scrim, the scene in which she ‘cooks’ the magic scarf and relates to her coven her treatment by James and her plans for revenge was not only clear but finely detailed. The moment when she drew herself up to her full height in triumph over the vanquished James, not only her facial expression but also her whole body language expressed exultation and was pure theatrical magic.
  13. The entrechats sixes are not part of Skeaping's production and I made this clear to all concerned at ENB. However, when such a young dancer makes such a passionate and mesmerising debut as Albrecht, I can forgive his faux pas (no pun intended) on this occasion!
  14. Sebastian, thanks for pointing this out. That 'unsigned' article is mainly lifted from the programme note I wrote in 1984 and first appeared in the 2007 or 2009 programme as an anonymous article. I did ask that it not be used this time because, as you rightly mention, there is at least one mistake in it, including referring to Heine's "Poem". (as you will see in my article posted elsewhere on here, I changed this to Heine's "text". In fact, three out of the four paragraphs in the unsigned article are almost directly quoted from my 1984 article and I have learned a lot in the intervening years! When Mary first staged the ballet in Sweden, the Opera House still had the old 'lever mechanism' and Skeaping used this for the moment when Giselle should appear to hover over her grave and drop petals onto Albrecht (also used in "La Sylphide" when the Sylph shows James the bird's nest etc.). The ballerinas in Sweden told me that it was an extremely uncomfortable contraption! Needless to say, when creating the touring production for ENB, Skeaping came up with another method! Quintus, indeed the Wilis SHOULD be seductive and, in my one opportunity to address the company about this, I mentioned that they are similar to the anti-heroine of Heine's poem "Die Lorelei", enticing men to their doom, a rather early example of fatal attraction! This is also why David Walker and Mary Skeaping insisted that they always look beautiful in their costumes and jewelry. Even Skeaping's opening scene in Act II should show that the gamekeepers are at once attracted and terrified of the vision of the Wilis that appears to them. There is one moment in the Skeaping production when Myrtha flies around the gamekeepers, enticing and then rejecting them, which Summerscales did exceedingly well on opening night. However, once they have caught their prey (Hilarion and Albrecht) then vengeance takes over!
  15. I think it was pre-Soviet times! Mary based Giselle's mad scene on that danced by Pavlova (taught by Petipa in 1903) and Spessivtseva whose Giselles both died of a broken heart. In my study on the ballet (which I will hopefully publish this year), I quote Markova who was taught the role by Sergueyev and, of course, saw both Pavlova and Spessivtseva in performance: " Giselle did not die, as one sometimes sees today, by stabbing herself...Giselle dies - so Sergueyev told me - from complete emotional and physical shock; in other words from a broken heart" ("Markova Remembers" 1986). "...she seized her lover's sword and tried to stab herself. The weapon was snatched from her before she had made more than a slight wound, so shock and anguish were really the decisive factors in her death". ("Giselle and I" 1960). So it seems Mary was continuing a very long tradition that may or may not have started in Russia, as it was Fanny Elssler's mad scene (first seen in Russia in 1848 and thought to be more dramatic than Grisi's) that provided the 'template' for this scene in all subsequent revivals by Petipa, eventually being notated by Sergueyev.