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Irmgard

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  1. American Ballet Theatre brought "Lilac Garden" to Sadlers Wells a few years ago (cannot remember the exact date but less than ten years ago). Reverently danced although perhaps lacking the underlying tension. I had the huge pleasure and privilege of watching Tudor himself rehearse Leslie Browne in this piece in New York in 1980/81 (again I cannot remember the exact year) - my most treasured ballet experience!
  2. My main reason for attending a third performance of this programme was to see Jia Zhang as the Queen in "The Cage" on Thursday evening. As expected, she delivered a searing performance, her body language and amazing, ultra-long legs seeming to say "mess with me at your peril" from the outset as she ruthlessly stalked the stage. It was also another chance to watch the extraordinary transformation of Jurgita Dronina from her exquisitely beautiful swan-like dancing in "Approximate Sonata" to gauche and ultimately remorseless killer insect. I marvelled again at the marriage of the choreography with the music, which surely could not have been bettered had Robbins commissioned a score directly from Stravinsky, and it was a pleasure to hear it played so stylishly by the ENB Philharmonic string section under the baton of Maestro Gavin Sutherland. Apart from Dronina, I also enjoyed the vivacious interpretation of the 4th Sonata by Precious Adams and Aaron Robison in “Approximate Sonata”. I was tempted to give “Fantastic Beings” a miss but sat through it for a third time, mainly to see the wondrous partnership of Junor Souza and Begona Cao, even more ravishing in their pas de deux on second viewing, and the effervescent dancing of Ken Saruhashi and Crystal Costa (unaccountably not given a place in the front line for the bows). I felt the ‘role’ given to Erina Takahashi was a waste of her formidable talent. I did appreciate the phenomenon of Alison McWhinney slowly rising en pointe into what I can only describe as the vertical splits with only the tips of her fingers for support but, apart from these small moments, I have to agree with others that I did not really see the point of reviving this work. If the company wanted to do a work by an American choreographer that was energetic and used a lot of dancers, my choice would have been Glen Tetley’s “Voluntaries” which also has the advantage of being set to great music by Poulenc. Or, perhaps, it would have been good to see a more intimate piece of his, “Sphinx”, (again to great music by Martinu) which was in LFB’s repertoire in the 1980s and would have been a fitting tribute to the late, lamented Elisabetta Terabust, a stalwart of the company for so many years. Both works are notated but, alas, it seems Tetley is all but forgotten these days.
  3. I forgot to mention in my rather long post that I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning and end of 'Sonata' on Tuesday evening, as danced by Rina Kanehara and Guilherme Menezes. They had such a rapport and the same cheeky sense of humour which made them utterly charming. Their incisive dancing brought the rhythms much more sharply into focus, thus emphasising the counterpoint of the movements that Forsythe was so keen to portray.
  4. Apart from “The Cage”, this is one of those programmes in which it appears that every expense was spared when it comes to costumes. “Fantastic Beings” uses the unisex unitard so beloved of contemporary dance in the late 1970s and the two Forsythe pieces are performed in not very imaginative variations on practice clothes. In 2016, “Fantastic Beings” suffered from following the far more memorable and engaging “Broken Wings”. This time it opens the programme but I still failed to take much pleasure in most of its choreography, despite being danced with great enthusiasm and commitment by all concerned. The lighting appears slightly less lugubrious than previously but still obscured faces and the subtle detail I am told is on the costumes. At times it also did the choreography no favours. At the first performance I saw on Monday evening, the highlight for me was the sensual, elegant dancing of Begona Cao and Junor Souza in a pas de deux that promised much but was cut short far too soon. This seems to be a feature of the piece. Barton gives us ‘dance bites’, many of which initially intrigue, then fails to develop them so that they are almost instantly forgettable. An exception was the quirky role danced cheekily and with great humour by Ken Saruhashi who appears at various times during the piece. It was also good to see Crystal Costa, back to full dance strength, effortlessly owning the stage whenever she appeared. The orchestra has a great time with the highly percussive score but, for me, the choreographic interest dried up at least fifteen minutes before the music finished. Having attended a very entertaining masterclass by William Forsythe on “Approximate Sonata 2016”, in which he spoke eloquently about counterpoint in both music and movement, I was expecting great things but was disappointed that the ‘music’ was no more than a pulsating beat overlaid with an electronic sound. I have to concur with Capybara in a previous post that it was a shame he did not use any of the pieces of music to which the dancers rehearsed. A point in fact was the 2nd Sonata, danced in the masterclass to the entrée of the Act III pas de deux from “Swan Lake”, but which lost the feeling of counterpoint when danced against just the electronic sound. However, it was very clear for me to spot Forsythe’s take on the Act II pas de deux in the 3rd Sonata, especially when danced as it was by Jurgita Dronina on Monday evening. Her innate musicality and the expressive way she uses her body, and her feet in particular, along with the delicate head and finger movements, instantly said “Odette” to me and brought a sublime beauty to the choreography. Similarly, on Tuesday evening, Erina Takahashi also brought a flavour of her own haunting interpretation of Odette to the piece although, as I had been told the previous evening, Forsythe gave each cast variations on the choreography so that no two interpretations would be the same. On Tuesday evening, the 3rd Sonata took on a much more rhythmical and dynamic appearance, danced by Begona Coa and Francisco Bosch who took the risks Forsythe encouraged them to in the masterclass, and to see Cao slowly rise onto pointe and extend her long limbs was itself a masterclass in the glories of classical technique. Although I would not describe “The Cage” as a masterpiece, it is certainly a masterwork by a great choreographer and, in my opinion, is what the Germans call a “gesamtkunstwerk” in which choreography, music, design and lighting all come together to create a total work of art. Amazingly created in 1951, its overt sexuality and at times unballetic posturing must have been quite shocking for American audiences at the time. Indeed, the extreme sway back with ribcage thrust forward while on bent knees with parallel feet used by Robbins for his female creatures predates by eleven years the same posture used by MacMillan in his “Rite of Spring”. It is Robbins’s ability to tell a story completely through movement without any extensive programme notes to explain it which is the strength of this absorbing piece, along with the movement perfectly reflecting the dynamic and rhythm of Stravinsky’s concerto for string orchestra, elegantly played by the ENB Philharmonic. On Monday night, Begona Cao was the imperious Queen presiding over events and, although this is a relatively small role, her body language, again those long limbs in particular, made it electrifying. Dronina, in a chic black bob, was the Novice who we first see released from her cocoon, and her struggle to find her balance reminded me of a newborn foal struggling to its feet. Dronina really does seem to have the ability to inhabit any character, even one as strange as this, helped greatly by her huge, expressive eyes. Her journey from novice to fully-fledged member of the hive via her first kill, her first sexual experience shown in an initially tender pas de deux with James Streeter as the Man, to her killing and feasting on him with her fellow females was extraordinary, and all accomplished in approximately thirteen minutes! On Tuesday evening, Isabelle Brouwers added another Queen to her repertoire and, while not yet having Cao’s authority, did admirably in controlling proceedings. Katja Khaniukova as the Novice was almost unrecognisable in her black bob and excellent make-up and really relished creating her character through Robbins’s innovative movements. There was a wonderful chemistry between her and Fabian Reimair in the pas de deux so that, somehow, her final snapping of his neck had a feeling of regret to it. A word of praise for the twelve ladies who made up the rest of the hive, difficult to identify by name with their wild hair and make-up, who managed to look both savage and elegant at the same time with their stabbing movements en pointe. Lastly, Forsythe’s new piece for twelve male dancers to two pieces from his playlist (hence the title) reminded me of the period after class and before rehearsal when the dancers practice their ‘party pieces’ – jumps and turns – in almost dance-off fashion and to each other’s encouragement. The sheer exuberance of their skillful dancing was toe-tappingly enthralling and a great way to end the evening. My only complaint was the poor lighting which obscured their faces and their names emblazoned on the back of their t-shirts and which made it difficult to identify some of the dancers I do not know so well or to see how much they were personally enjoying this chance to entertain us.
  5. From all the clips posted on Facebook last night, it appears an extremely energetic William Forsythe joined in the 'dance-off' during the curtain calls for "Playlist" at the Friday evening performance! Hoping for but not expecting a repeat performance when I see it on Monday.
  6. Irmgard

    Flowers in Giselle

    The Petipa Society has got it slightly wrong. It was Nathalie's sister, Louise, who was the mistress of a wealthy patron of the Opera, a banker named Agaudo. He persuaded the powers that be to include a pas de deux for Nathalie in the ballet in an attempt to upstage Grisi. It was actually in the premiere, not after it. Gautier and Adam were furious about it. When Burgmuller's publisher reissued a waltz used in the pas de deux, announcing it as the waltz from "Giselle", he was promptly sued by Adam's publisher!
  7. In 2012, during the furore surrounding Wayne Eagling's departure, I posted on here about my personal (very positive) experiences of working with Eagling and ENB. I was taken to task by one of the Moderators for not signing my full name to the piece, as I had made a few criticisms of the Board, which I was very happy to rectify. If you are saying that you have first-hand knowledge of abuse under Eagling's directorship, perhaps you would be kind enough to put your full name to your post (which I believe is one of the rules of using this Forum for posts which might be considered inflammatory). However, if you are only surmising abuse from the TV documentary (which, as I pointed out at the time and Jan McNulty has mentioned here, was filmed over a long period of time and heavily edited - again I have some personal experience as I was around when filming started) then perhaps you should clarify this. Irmgard Berry Adviser to the Mary Skeaping Estate
  8. It was heartening to arrive at the Coliseum yesterday half an hour before the matinee to find the main foyer buzzing with excitement and queues at the ticket desk. The stalls, at least, looked much fuller than for either performance on Thursday but there was still room for the company dancers to sit out front to watch the incomparable pairing of Cesar Corrales and Jia Zhang in ‘jeune homme’. Once again, their searing performance was rewarded with a very enthusiastic and prolonged ovation and, speaking to Corrales afterwards, he said he could feel the support of the audience throughout the performance. There is little more I can add to what I wrote about their Thursday performance except that once again it was mesmerising in its intensity and that this ideally cast couple raised the temperature considerably on a grey Saturday afternoon. I doubt there will be anything in ENB’s UK performances for the rest of the season to show off Corrales’s spectacular talent so perfectly. Therefore, I am extremely grateful I was able to see both unforgettable performances. As for the stunning Jia Zhang, I would hope that her riveting performances will lead to more featured roles for her. Personally, I would love to see her as the Lilac Fairy in the June performances of “Sleeping Beauty”. “La Sylphide” was given an extra boost by Gavin Sutherland in the pit bringing out the subtleties of the music and giving it an extra buoyancy. Although the Romantic style still eludes some of the corps of sylphs, especially in the ports de bras, there is no doubt they all responded to the joyous sounds coming from the pit with a sparkling performance. I was so pleased to finally see Aitor Arrieta’s charismatic James on the Coliseum stage, having thoroughly enjoyed his beautiful dancing in Milton Keynes. On the Coliseum stage he gave full rein to his spectacular, stylish leaps. There was a touching chemistry between him and his lovely Sylph, Alison McWhinney, who never fails to impress with her captivating charm and exquisite Romantic dancing. The performance was dominated by the magnificent Madge of Stina Quagebeur, who I also had not seen in this role since Milton Keynes. I was astounded by how even more finely detailed her character has become and my eyes were drawn to her from the moment she hobbled on to sit beside the fire. From the looks of hatred she shot at James whilst telling fortunes to her final triumphant laugh as the curtain falls, it was clear from every action and her wonderfully clear mime that her only thought was of revenge against him. This was a remarkable portrait by a remarkable artist and I would love to think her formidable talents may be let loose on Carabosse during the forthcoming performances of “Sleeping Beauty”. Finally, a word of praise for the children appearing in the production for their always enthusiastic dancing which was, especially amongst the girls, of a higher standard than that of the children in ‘Nutcracker’.
  9. For those of us privileged to be at the Coliseum, Thursday afternoon was one of those rare occasions when we realise we are in the presence of genius. I am, of course, referring to the unforgettable debut of Cesar Corrales in “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort”. Sadly, the house was poorly sold but it was heartening to see empty seats and boxes in the Stalls being occupied by ENB dancers who were taking advantage of the thirty-five minutes required to transform the stage from Paris to Scotland to support their colleague and still have time enough to prepare for “La Sylphide”. Their enthusiastic ovation was evidence of the admiration and affection in which Corrales is held by his fellow dancers. His profound technical and dramatic artistry is all the more remarkable, given that he is still only twenty-one! Corrales was the embodiment of the tortured artist, imbuing every second of the virtuosic choreography with searing emotion as he battled with and finally succumbed to Death’s lure. Death was the peerless Jia Zhang, chosen by Luigi Bonino when he first staged Petit’s work for ENB in 2011. Zhang had made a sensational debut as Myrtha in “Giselle” in 2010, sadly seen only by Woking audiences, during her second season with ENB but, apart from reprising ‘jeune homme’ in 2013 and now, she has inexplicably languished in the corps de ballet since then. From her first sensual swivel of her hips, it was clear that Death would triumph over the Man. Coolly manipulative and exultant, Zhang wrapped her extraordinarily long, expressive limbs around Corrales’s body, enticing him, rejecting him and dominating him. The result was electrifying and resulted in what must surely rank as one of the most erotic performances ever seen on this stage. It is sad that Zhang and Corrales will only give one more performance of this work (Saturday afternoon) which, particularly due to their astounding interpretation, is timeless. The Royal Ballet will be lucky to have the extraordinary talent of Corrales from next season which I hope will be nurtured and cherished. “La Sylphide”, which followed, featured another lovely performance from Erina Takahashi and Ciro Tamayo in the leads, and Anjuli Hudson as Effy, the first time I have seen her in the role at the Coliseum. As well as her exemplary footwork and Romantic style, hers was a beautifully detailed interpretation of a love-struck young girl who is puzzled and then devastated by her fiancé’s betrayal, particularly poignant when she collapsed into the arms of James’s mother (the dignified Stina Quagebeur) when she realises he has left her, and again when she looks beseechingly at her before accepting Gurn (the very appealing William Beagley). In Thursday’s evening performance, Joseph Caley made his debut in ‘jeune homme’ and he was in full command of the choreography, if a little careful in its execution, but gave a rather pale interpretation, especially in comparison with Corrales. This was a shame, as Death was the extremely sultry Begoña Cao, making a long-awaited return to the stage in a dancing role (her actual debut in the role was the previous evening). She used her long limbs and hugely expressive eyes to full advantage to provoke, taunt and tantalise Caley in a sexually charged performance that was always enthralling without ever descending into melodrama. Sadly, Caley only has the one performance, as it would have been interesting to see if he could rise to Cao’s level of dramatic intensity, having totally nailed the choreographic challenges. The evening was also my one and only chance to see Aaron Robison and Jurgita Dronina as James and his sylph. Robison is a wonderfully natural actor with totally believable reactions to events as they unfold. I particularly liked the way he sprang out of his chair with excitement when he thought the sylph had returned, barely able to disguise his disappointment when he saw it was Effy (the charming Connie Vowles) who had awoken him. His dancing is exhilarating and expansive, and his sympathetic partnership with Dronina is fast becoming a must-see. Although not blessed with the exceptional ballon of the late, great, Evdokimova, Dronina nevertheless creates the illusion of being a creature of the air through her innate understanding of the Romantic style, in particular her delicate, fluttering bourrées which make her appear to hover, and her exquisite use of the foot resulting in pretty, noiseless running and landings from jumps. She also has a beautifully expressive upper back and neck, especially when she droops with sadness or looks up coquettishly at James. Her sylph is playful, beguiling, utterly enchanting and ultimately very touching. From the moment James wraps the magic scarf around her arms, we can see her pain as the poison begins to affect her and her wings fall off. When she realises she is blind, terrified, she reaches her arms out to find James and I loved the way, full of remorse, he grasps her searching, trembling hands to reassure her. Such is her artistry that her eyes really do appear sightless and, in her final moments, she struggles to stand en pointe as her strength fails, before collapsing lifeless into the arms of the surrounding sylphs: heartbreaking!
  10. 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!
  11. 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.
  12. 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).
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
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