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Irmgard

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  1. Please, please, please continue to watch ballets and let us know how you react to them! Apart from paying tribute to the wonderful performances I am privileged to see, I would hope that my reports enhance your viewing pleasure by pointing out some of the lovely details to watch out for. Yes, I do have specialist knowledge but the biggest pleasure of having that knowledge is to share it with others.
  2. The matinée audience on Thursday was of a respectable size but nowhere near what this emotional rollercoaster of a performance deserved. Jurgita Dronina is Abbé Prévost’s “very young” Manon, looking barely more than a child as she emerges from the coach and runs towards her brother with the most dazzling of smiles. As she gazes out at the auditorium in wide-eyed wonderment, it is as if she is seeing all of Paris laid out at her feet. This is no ballerina pretending to be an adolescent – she simply IS. Dronina has added so many fine details to her performance since last year that it was hard to watch anything else on stage, even when she was at the back, for fear of missing something. Isaac Hernandez as Des Grieux responded as I have never seen him before: once he has seen her, never taking his eyes off her and, when they are finally alone, she could not take her eyes off him so that the chemistry between them was electrifying. His solo, while still lacking a degree of finesse, was imbued with passion and everything was directed to her, with his eyes continually coming back to her. Then a magical moment: after he gently and tenderly kissed her hand, she let her arm linger in the air for a moment and then sank back in her chair with a feeling of sheer bliss. Then came a pas de deux with all the spontaneous, rapturous abandon I had longed to see at their performance in Milton Keynes. As he led her gently from the chair, her gorgeous bourrées shimmered, as if quivering with excitement. I noticed even more freedom in Dronina’s beautifully pliant upper back and neck, especially in the arabesque when she rolls her head towards him as he turns her to face him: their faces were so close it was if they were going to kiss. In fact, there were so many moments like this in their growing intimacy and, for her, growing ecstasy as Hernandez lifted her with great passion, his very secure partnering allowing each lift to draw a more ecstatic response from her upper body, arms and head. The last lift before the final embrace was breathtaking: as he ran forward, she did a sort of backbend with a sense of complete rapture throughout her whole body. In the following bedroom pas de deux, Dronina’s Manon showed her childlike playfulness, so sweetly demonstrated in her gentle teasing of her travelling companion, the Old Man. Perfectly reflecting the ravishing sounds drawn from the orchestra by Gavin Sutherland, the rapturous young love between Manon and Des Grieux developed into a deeper passion but always with a sense of youthful abandon, especially as he spun her round in the off-balance arabesque, culminating after he has left to post his letter with that delightful moment when she hurled herself onto the bed which looked completely spontaneous. Indeed, everything about Dronina’s performance looked spontaneous, with nothing calculated or planned, bringing a wonderful freshness to MacMillan’s inspiring choreography. This performance benefited from the chilling presence of Fabian Reimair’s dissolute and dangerous Monsieur GM. If there was anyone in the audience not aware of MacMillan’s foot fetish before this performance, they would be left in no doubt about it as Reimair first fondled the legs and feet of Lescaut’s Mistress, played as a delightfully dizzy airhead by Rina Kanehara, and then became obsessed with Manon’s in an erotically charged pas de trois aided and abetted by the darkly manipulative Lescaut of Daniel McCormick. Dronina responded with her beautifully seductive développé and exquisitely pointed feet. She played on his obsession later in her Act II solo, when she tantalised GM with her delicious dégagés, again with those beautifully stretched feet, while Des Grieux looked on helplessly. Before the pas de trois, there was more wonderful detail with the coat as she could not stop stroking the fur until, in a gesture as much seductive as proof of ownership, Reimair placed the necklace ever so slowly around her neck and there was a little shiver of ecstasy as she feels the diamonds touch her skin. After the pas de trois, the way she impulsively rushed to put on the coat again was like a child with a new toy and reinforced just how young Manon is while demonstrating that it was life’s luxuries she could not forego, even if it meant abandoning her beloved Des Grieux. Act I was brought to a stunning conclusion by a very realistic fight between an anguished Des Grieux and Lescaut as Lescaut forces him to accept the money GM has paid for Manon. I was once told by the legendary Ashton dancer, Julia Farron, that Margot Fonteyn had such an aura about her that, whenever she entered a room, all eyes would be on her, and this is the effect created by the Act II entrance of Reimair and Dronina. And always, there was Hernandez, never taking his eyes off her and trying to attract her attention, always resolutely ignored by her until he interrupts her hypnotic dance with the other men, when her distress that GM might see them together was so real. When they are finally alone, with DG expressing his love for her through his dancing, the moment her facade crumbles was intensely moving. During the card game which followed, I loved the way she continually tried to distract GM from Des Grieux’s clumsy cheating by showering him with kisses and caresses in a very playful way. After Manon and Des Grieux escape, their pas de deux was initially so carefree it was as if the interlude with GM had never happened and they were back to their magical first encounter. Until, that is, Des Grieux tried to make her give up her bracelet and then the Manon who cannot live without luxury returned. With Reimair as GM, his shooting of Lescaut in front of Manon was particularly chilling and ruthless, bringing forth an almost unbearable outpouring of grief from Manon. As they arrive in the New World, Dronina’s Manon is already very weak and disoriented, so much so that she cannot even walk down the gangplank without the tender support of Des Grieux. From this moment on, she cannot bear to be parted from Des Grieux and pushes away the advances of Streeter’s brutal Gaoler to return to Des Grieux each time. After the Gaoler’s vicious sexual assault, Dronina curls into a foetal position as if to soothe her abused body. As Manon and Des Grieux escape, having killed the Gaoler, I love the way the mists swirl onto stage with a sense of foreboding, perfectly reflecting the Dies Irae theme in the music, and Dronina makes it clear from her anguished body language that the parade of people from her past represents her hallucinations. There followed the most heartbreaking final pas de deux, full of despair yet affirming their extraordinary love for each other as Dronina again could not bear to be parted from Hernandez for a single moment, hurling her broken body into his arms with every last ounce of her strength until, following that last, intensely moving off-balance arabesque of utter despair, her body becomes achingly sad and limp as he catches her in one final lift and tenderly lays her on the ground before realising she has died. Well, this really has turned into L’Histoire de Manon but I hope I have helped anyone going to the Saturday evening performance to recognise what a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience it will be.
  3. This will be a very brief post before I head back into London for the Royal Ballet dress rehearsal, thus sadly missing the debut a day early of McWhinney and Frola, before this evening’s performance by the wonderful partnership of Takahashi and Cirio. Both performances yesterday deserve more detailed reports so I will try to do this tomorrow morning or after the evening performance by Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez. At the matinée, Dronina enchanted me all over again with her exquisite Manon. After their performance in Milton Keynes, I expressed a wish that Hernandez would be more rapturous and yesterday afternoon my wish came true! Although his dancing still lacks a degree of finesse, it was filled with such passion that I found all the pas de deux breathtaking and, during the final pas de deux, I felt my heart pounding at the impending tragedy! I am therefore looking forward to tomorrow evening’s performance to see if it reaches even greater heights! The otherwise glorious performance by Begoña Cao and Aitor Arrieta in the evening was slightly marred by the unsupportive conducting of Orlando Jopling. Conducting the score for the first time at the Coliseum, I do not know if he was overwhelmed by its vastness but he appeared to be conducting a concert performance of the score. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the ravishing sounds coming from the pit but they lacked the impetus needed for MacMillan’s exhilarating but exhausting pas de deux. However, nothing could diminish the heart-breaking final moments. It is just a shame that the exceptional partnership of Cao and Arrieta only received the one performance. More about it tomorrow!
  4. Having seen so many visceral, heartrending performances (five out of six) during the company’s autumn tour, about which I wrote extensively, and of course the thrilling final performance of “Swan Lake” on Sunday, I was surprised to be somewhat underwhelmed by Alina Cojocaru’s and Joseph Caley’s opening night performance. I am sure there will be many who disagree with me, as luckily most of the near-capacity audience loved them and therefore the company received the rousing ovation it richly deserved, even if the houselights were brought up far too early. I felt there was not enough chemistry between the leads and, although I cannot fault the dancing (except to say that Cojocaru’s unflattering pointe shoes distracted from the filigree footwork of the choreography), I felt both pas de deux in Act I lacked the rapturous abandon I saw from the other casts, and even the final pas de deux was a bit too carefully danced for my taste. However, Cojocaru’s eye make-up in Act III was superb and really opened up her eyes, making them appear huge which added to her already gamine-like appearance. It took a while for me to warm to Jeffrey Cirio’s Lescaut in Act I (having immediately fallen for his Des Grieux previously!) but his characterisation deepened and, with his flawless technique, the drunken solo in Act II was nothing short of brilliant, as was his pas de deux with his long-suffering but indulgent mistress, Katja Khaniukova. From her first appearance in Act I, she was a very high class courtesan with her particularly elegant yet seductive and vivacious dancing which certainly caught the eye of James Streeter’s Monsieur GM. Her characterful and stylish solo in Act II, when she is trying to distract Des Grieux, demonstrated her exceptionally exquisite footwork. It was extraordinary to see a full house of other Lescauts and Mistresses in the ensembles and, in the very elegant trio of dancing gentlemen, Thursday night’s Des Grieux, Aitor Arrieta, along with Ken Saruhashi and Daniel McCormick who will both be dancing Lescaut. There was also the loveliest line-up of Courtesans: Crystal Costa, Adela Ramirez, Rina Kanehara, Jia Zhang and Anjuli Hudson, and it was wonderful to see the sublime technique and vibrant personalities of Costa and Ramirez given full comic rein in their warring duet in Act II. In fact, watching the vivacious Ramirez, I find it curious she has not been cast as Lescaut’s Mistress! In Act III, the beginning of the dance of the deported prostitutes was full of the pathos and hopelessness I remember being so moved by ten years ago although it was not sustained throughout and I was more conscious of the choreography rather than the emotion by the end. However, Act III benefitted from the chilling Gaoler of Fabian Reimair, oozing power and lust as he inspected the new arrivals and chose Manon for his pleasure, resulting in a particularly brutal assault, and the look of shock and surprise on his face as he is stabbed (probably only visible to those of us on the left side of the auditorium) was unforgettable. Although overall this performance showed the company in top form, it was the sublime music, so superbly played by the orchestra under the miraculous baton of maestro supremo Gavin Sutherland, which touched my soul and tugged at my heartstrings.
  5. Absolutely! McWhinney and Frola are a stunning combination!
  6. Beggars, courtesans, dancing gentlemen, townsfolk, deported prostitutes - there may not be as much for the ladies as in "Swan Lake" but there is still plenty for them to dance! However, this extremely hard-working company is used to such an intense performance schedule.
  7. As of today, Dronina should be dancing both her performances! Frola is a fantastic Des Grieux (see my previous post of his performance in Southampton) and I am looking forward to seeing him again with Alison McWhinney.
  8. I, too, would have to watch that DVD again as I really can't remember all the details from so long ago! However, it would not surprise me if there were slight differences in the staging although in the main it is definitely Ashton's.
  9. For the last “Swan Lake” of the season, the dancers and musicians pulled out all the stops to give a performance that was almost as flawless and certainly as sublime as the miraculous partnership of Begoña Cao and Aitor Arrieta. Conductor Gerry Cornelius understands dancers and the support they need and he drew from the orchestra the most exquisite sounds, especially from the violin and cello soloists in the Act II pas de deux, which was ravishing, and the hauntingly beautiful Act IV. From the moment the delightful, nimble-footed Adriana Lizardi and Barry Drummond led on the very spirited group of villagers, it was clear this was going to be a performance to treasure. While I would have liked more Ashton style from most of the ladies in the Pas de Douze, there was the lovely lyricism of Emily Suzuki’s dancing and some very stylish partnering and dancing from the gentlemen. There followed an absolutely delicious pas de trois with beautiful style and joie de vivre from dream team Crystal Costa, Adela Ramirez and Ken Saruhashi. These are quality dancers who imbue even the smallest step with artistry and musicality, as per the very first temps levé in which they all stretched the left foot exquisitely to the nth degree which, for me, was one of the many moments when I inwardly gasped at the sheer beauty of their technique. All three solos were shot full of character and style, leading to a most joyous and thrilling coda. Ramirez also shone in the sparkling Neapolitan in Act III, along with Rhys Antoni Yeomans, with Ramirez especially demonstrating the original Ashton ports de bras and both of them dazzling with their beautifully executed intricate footwork and sunny smiles. Ramirez was also on the cast sheet as a cygnet but she was replaced by Francesca Velicu, joining an outstanding cast of Crystal Costa, Jung ah Choi and Rina Kanehara in a seemingly effortless and perfectly synchronised performance of this fiendishly difficult choreography. And so to the glorious Prince Siegfried of Aitor Arrieta, who has added even more characterisation and detail to the already finely nuanced performance I saw in Bristol. Arrieta is himself still so young that his bewilderment, beautifully portrayed, over his mother’s wish for him to marry is totally believable. His elegant dancing is so effortless, with the silken sheen of his beautiful arabesque line and the oh so soft landing of his jumps into melting pliés, that it is easy to forget how difficult the Act I solo really is. There was the usual problem of audience chatter and lights from mobile phones spoiling the beginning of Act II but the magnificent Von Rothbart of Fabian Reimair rising majestically and sinisterly from the swirling mists brought the audience to a stunned silence as he skillfully manipulated his huge wings. In fact, there was such power and authority to the way he did this that I wondered if it had been the inspiration for the opening section of Khan’s “Dust” in which Reimair manipulated the arms of the dancers on either side of him as if they were wings and he was trying to take flight. Like Dronina, Cao’s Odette/Odile has reached stratospheric heights and everything I wrote about her enchanting Odette in Bristol and the breathtaking beauty and delicacy of her dancing applied even more at this performance. The electrifying chemistry with Arrieta was even more evident than in Bristol, when he replaced Souza as Cao’s prince only a few hours before curtain-up, and led to new levels of tenderness in the flawless Act II pas de deux which was of such moving intensity that I was brought to tears for the second Sunday in a row. Just before the pas de deux, when Arrieta returned to the stage in search of her, I loved the way he actually looked at the other swans and showed his disappointment each time he could not find his Odette (something he repeated in Act III when the exceptionally lovely line-up of princesses did not include her). Then there was a moment of pure magic as he raised his arms as if in despair and Cao gently placed her hands on his right arm in that perfect Cao arabesque. This was so much more moving than those Siegfrieds who just stick their arms out so that Odette can balance. There followed the most limpid of solos from Cao in which Tchaikovsky’s haunting music flowed throughout her entire body and then the most gorgeous ports de bras I have ever seen as she joins in the balancé steps with her wonderful corps de ballet of swans at the end of the coda. The Act III pas de deux became truly dramatic with Reimair wielding a hypnotic power over the whole court and conspiring with the incandescent, sensual Odile to totally bewitch the already beguiled Siegfried. And I doubt there are many Odiles who can toss off a perfect set of thirty-two fouettés while maintaining a dazzling and triumphant smile throughout! As to Act IV, I can pay no higher compliment to the immaculate ensemble of swans, and to ballet mistress Hua Fang Zhang who no doubt was responsible for meticulously maintaining the standard, that when I am asked for my five best performances of 2019, ENB’s corps de ballet of swans in Act IV will be amongst them, as no doubt will be this performance by Cao and Arrieta, whose Act IV was heartbreaking in its dignity and despair. An honourable mention as well for the fabulous death throes (something I don’t usually notice) of Reimair’s mesmerising Von Rothbart. I can only reiterate what I said after their performance in Bristol, that I cannot comprehend why such a world-class partnership as Cao and Arrieta have proved to be were only granted one out of ENB’s thirteen performances at the Coliseum. For those unlucky enough not to be part of the capacity audience yesterday, I would recommend grabbing any unsold tickets for their “Manon” on Thursday evening as fast as you can!
  10. Thursday afternoon marked the London debut and only performance during the run of the partnership between Shiori Kase and Ken Saruhashi and it was a class act from start to finish. Both of them are possessed of the most refined and elegant technique and musicality which always makes them a huge pleasure to watch and, together, something very special, as appreciated by the ecstatic applause they received from the capacity audience. ENB has been very stingy for many years with the number of curtain calls their wonderful dancers and orchestra are accorded, bringing up the houselights far too early when it is evident, as it was yesterday afternoon, that the audience wanted more! Saruhashi has an innate nobility, which makes him a natural for princely roles, while also making Siegfried a many-layered character, so gallant in partnering the ladies in the Pas de Douze, responding thoughtfully although negatively to the request of the lovely Queen of Sarah Kundi that he considers marriage, and being totally believable in his instant captivation by the exquisite Odette of Kase. In Act III, he partners the prospective fiancées with care but it is clear his mind is elsewhere and then, being the consummate actor that he is, even imbues his walk upstage to start his solo with his innermost thoughts. He makes the fiendish solo in Act I a soliloquy of the most heartfelt yearning with every arabesque and port de bras not only beautifully executed but an expression of his inner turmoil. There is not much for Siegfried to do in Act II, apart from partner Odette, but Saruhashi continues his masterful portrayal through his wonderfully eloquent mime and his protective, tender and almost awestruck partnering of this fragile swan maiden. As I reported from Bristol, Kase is the most regal of Odettes yet displays great vulnerability and once again I was struck by the delicacy and breathtaking grace of her dancing. Her beautifully slow, controlled half-turns in attitude were an absolutely joy to behold and her face was so expressive, whether imploring Siegfried not to shoot her fellow swan-maidens or Von Rothbart (the regal but sinister Daniel Kraus) or continually searching Siegfried’s face to reassure herself of his love. Her lovely solo was both limpid and soulful. The Act III pas de deux can become just an exhibition of party tricks but this sublime couple made it a portrait of the most sensual of seductions, with Siegfried completely and utterly in thrall to Odile. What I loved was the moment when Kase came out of her supported backbend when the audience could not see her face or Saruhashi’s but it was clear from the electricity of their body language, even in this static pose held for just long enough, that he was looking deep into her hypnotic eyes. The talent Kase has for holding poses to the nth second of the music was also notable in the delicious series of échappé relevé in her solo, holding the last one ever so slightly longer in a moment of triumph. The Coda brought the house down and, if Kase did not give the phenomenal multiple turns to her final fouetté that she pulled off in Bristol, she still gave a spectacular display of rock solid singles and doubles. Accompanied by the soulful dancing of the swan maidens, Act IV was heartbreaking, with Kase’s Odette remaining dignified and regal to the end and Saruhashi’s Siegfried broken by his inadvertent and devastating betrayal. A totally engaging performance to introduce the many, mainly well-behaved, schoolchildren in the dress circle to the joy of ballet. There were elements of yesterday’s performance which did not live up to the highest of standards set by the two stars but the exceptions included another sparking Neapolitan with exemplary footwork and joie de vivre from Katja Khaniukova and Joshua McSherry-Gray and another sublime Act IV from the corps de ballet of swans who seem to be going from strength to strength at each performance, despite their arduous performance schedule. As per the query in a previous post, the Cast Sheet continues to perpetuate an error in assigning the Polonaise in Act I to the six couples who perform the Waltz (Pas de Douze) who exit hot on the heels of the Queen Mother. It is the (very upmarket yet uncredited) fourteen peasants who perform the Polonaise which is the last ensemble dance in Act I, stylishly led at this matinee by Anjuli Hudson and Pedro Lapetra.
  11. I'm not sure but if enough people pester them, it would be in their interests to do so!
  12. Takahashi has another performance on 11 Jan and it really is worth ringing the box office to see if there are any returns or unsold box seats. Plus, I have been informed that they may be selling standing passes!
  13. As I was not able to see their performance in Bristol, I was extremely pleased to be at the Coliseum debut of the partnership of Erina Takahashi and Francesco Gabriele Frola on Saturday afternoon (5th). Takahashi’s Odette/Odile is always something special, with her beautiful fragility as Odette and breathtaking fireworks as Odile, and she was perfectly matched by the passion and elegance of Frola. I have been a fan of his since his unforgettable performance in “No Man’s Land” when he first joined the company in September. Here is a dancer who is able to convey a wealth of emotions through his whole body, which made his Act I solo particularly soulful with his beautiful sense of line and ports de bras, and his musicality at one with the gorgeous playing of the orchestra under the baton of maestro Gavin Sutherland. Before that, he engaged well with the villagers and courtiers in celebrating his birthday and I liked the affectionate mother-son relationship with the radiant and regal Queen of Sarah Kundi who thus seemed surprised and hurt rather than annoyed when he tells her he is not ready to consider marriage. At the lakeside, Frola’s Siegfried was instantly attracted to the captivating Odette of Takahashi as she used beautifully clear and elegant mime to tell her story and he responded with equally eloquent mime. The ensuing pas de deux was sublime, as was Takahashi’s delicate solo with her hallmark exquisite footwork and beautifully sustained balances, perfectly matching the musical line. In Act III, her Odile was electrifying and, in the entrée of the pas de deux, her astonishing balance in arabesque was probably the longest I have seen any Odile make without one wobble but, instead of just being a party trick, Takahashi imbued it with a sense of triumph over the Prince so that it breathed instead of just being static, and of course her series of single and double fouetté turnsin the Coda were immaculate! Frola was equally impressive, especially in his joyous solo, and so all the fabulous turns he pulled off in the Coda expressed his ecstasy at finding the girl he loved and therefore made his heartbreak palpable when the deception is revealed. Act IV was simply sublime from all concerned. Apart from a sparkling Neapolitan from Katja Khaniukova and Victor Prigent and the always watchable Jung ah Choi in various dances, I felt most of the dancing in Acts I and III was not particularly distinguished but I did notice a refinement to the Czardas and Mazurka which had been missing at the performances I saw in Bristol, and I also felt that the ensemble dancing of the swans in Act II had gained in style and precision. Since I was sitting a few seats away from Derek Deane, no doubt the company has had the benefit of his guiding hand for the London performances! For the performance on 6 January, Gerry Cornelius stepped in for the indisposed Gavin Sutherland to conduct with great sensitivity and drawing ravishing sounds from the orchestra as befitted the utterly sublime Odette/Odile of Jurgita Dronina. Before trying to describe her mesmerising performance, I would like to commend the whole company for a quality performance. Although some of the ladies still lack the Ashton style of the Pas de Douze, there was excellent dancing and partnering from the gentlemen. The villagers were led by the effervescent Barry Drummond and Anjuli Hudson and, as has happened each time I have seen her this season, my eye was drawn to the lovely style of Emily Suzuki. The pas de trois at this performance was exquisitely danced by Crystal Costa, Katja Khaniukova and Shale Wagman. Costa seems to have been born dancing en pointe, such is the quality of everything she does, with beautiful line and footwork and a ballon as uplifting as her dazzling smile. She gave a masterclass of Petipa style in her delightful solo. Khaniukova shone in the second solo, with a charming flirtatiousness and lovely, delicate footwork. Shale Wagman danced with great zest and virtuosity and my one criticism of him would be that he should try not to lose his sunny expression on the big jumps. In Act II, I was even more impressed by the improvement in style, musicality and precision of the corps de ballet of swans than I was on Saturday and this performance benefitted from the elegance and grace of Alison McWhinney and Precious Adams as Lead Swans and a quartet of cygnets (Crystal Costa, Katja Khaniukova, Adriana Lizardi and, replacing the indisposed Adela Ramirez, Francesca Velicu) who, while not quite reaching the flawlessness of their original quartet I saw in Bristol, came extremely close to it. Lizardi replaced Ramirez in the Neapolitan dance, giving a charming performance with Rhys Antoni Yeomans, and another highlight of Act III was a sizzling Spanish dance with particularly sensual dancing from Emily Suzuki and Stina Quagebeur to which Erik Woolhouse and Fernando Coloma responded with great panache. Isaac Hernandez was Siegfried. I understand there was a lot of criticism in the press of his opening night performance and I myself was disappointed in his performance I saw in Bristol. However, it seems he may have taken on board some of the criticisms and I was pleased to see an improvement in his engagement with others onstage and an effort to imbue his dancing with a more emotional quality but there is some way to go before he reaches the artistic levels of his colleagues in the role or to even begin to reach the stratospheric level of Dronina. What I will always praise him for is his excellent partnering of her and I thought there was an extra degree of tenderness to this at Sunday’s matinee. Having already used so many superlatives for Dronina’s performance in Bristol, I can only state that they applied even more to this performance where she reached such levels of beauty in her dancing that my breath was continually taken away! She even made her first appearance during the overture into a thing of rare beauty and I loved the look of terror on her face as she sensed the approach of Von Rothbart (a very sinister James Streeter) before she saw him, something she repeated when he separated her from Siegfried in Act II. At this performance I noticed even more use of her head and neck with her lovely eyes continually seeking reassurance from Siegfried that his love for her was real. During the pas de deux she was so meltingly soft and hauntingly vulnerable that it brought tears to my eyes and the one image that stays in my mind was the most gorgeous developpé just before the first series of petits battements serré into the single supported pirouette. She unfolded her leg with such beauty of movement, ending perfectly on the last note of that phrase of music. Her solo was exquisite and reinforced my previous thoughts that she is the most feminine of Odettes with a softness to every movement which she keeps for her Odile while throwing off all the expected fireworks, including beautiful fouetté turns, so that it makes perfect sense that Siegfried would mistake her for Odette. Hernandez seemed galvanised by her and added some virtuosic jumps that I do not remember seeing in Bristol, so that they both received prolonged applause by the end of the Coda. If Act II took my breath away, Act IV tugged at the heartstrings, especially the opening when the swans emerge from the swirling mists. Again, I congratulate them all on a sublime performance of this mini masterpiece by Ashton (so much more rewarding than the latest or the previous Act IV by the Royal Ballet). Once again, Dronina’s mime was heartbreaking but this time there was an urgency as she ran towards the lake and, as she was stopped by the other swans, she appeared to collapse over them and there was a most wonderful, utterly defeated droop to her body and neck as they led her back to their protection. I was also touched by the way she haltingly folded herself into the ‘dying swan’ position before Siegfried ran on to find her, again showing the hopelessness of her situation, as did her drooping body as he held her in supported attitude derrière. The battle with Von Rothbart was especially exciting as she appeared to kick at him as she was carried aloft by Siegfried in the supported jetés. I love the fact that the loyal swans are the focal point of the final moments of the ballet as they bow to the spirits of their queen and her prince united in death so that the ending is as sublime as the music. Deservedly, the performances this week are sold out but it is always worth telephoning the box office for returns or for the occasional unsold box seats which you have to ask for specifically as they are not sold on the website.
  14. Slight error! The Prince's Act 1 solo was actually first introduced by Nureyev in 1962 but was fully incorporated into Ashton's 1965 reworking of the production.
  15. Yes, it is Ashton's Act IV from his 1963 production for the Royal Ballet. As well as the Neapolitan and the Pas de Douze (waltz in Act I), I believe the Spanish dance and possibly the Fiancees' are also his. The Prince's Act I solo is sometimes attributed to Ashton but it was actually introduced by Nureyev in 1965. The company also used to do Ashton's pas de quatre in Deane's proscenium version but this was cut some time ago.
  16. Cesar Corrales and Jia Zhang in “Le jeune homme et la mort” (ENB) Luana Georg in her farewell performance of “Giselle” with Sergei Upkin and Estonian National Ballet in Mary Skeaping’s production Begoña Cao, Aitor Arrieta and Junor Souza in “Manon” (ENB) Begoña Cao and Aitor Arrieta in “Swan Lake” (ENB) Fernanda Oliveira, Aitor Arrieta and Ken Saruhashi in “Song of the Earth” (ENB) As I mostly attend dress rehearsals of the Royal Ballet, I can’t really count them as performances but Vadim Muntagirov is always the highlight of whichever ballet he appears in. I also loved Jurgita Dronina in everything I saw her dance with ENB this year but her partners did not always match her artistry, otherwise her performances would have tied for second place in my list as nothing (for me) can beat those electrifying performances by Cesar Corrales and Jia Zhang!
  17. After two days’ off following their run of double-performance days, the company looked revitalised and refreshed for their performance on Boxing Day to the delight of the capacity audience. And if the music did not quite reach magical heights under the baton of Orlando Jopling, there were plenty of magical performances onstage. I particularly liked Sophie Mucha as the young Clara. I believe this must be at least her third season performing the role, her experience showing in her beautiful dancing and assured stage presence. She is also not much shorter than Shiori Kase, as her grown-up counterpart, making the transition totally believable, as well as her young girl’s infatuation for the very gallant Nephew of Francesco Gabriele Frola. It is always a delight to watch Alison McWhinney as Louise, the older sister, both in her charming pas de deux with suitor Skyler Martin and her deliciously delicate dancing in Mirlitons, partnered by the genial Drosselmeyer of James Streeter. I was very happy to see the gorgeous Lead Snowflakes of Crystal Costa and Adela Ramirez again and, in fact, all the Snowflakes gave a scintillating account of the choreography, including beautiful legato ports de bras and footwork on the exiting step after their quicksilver dancing to the marvellously in-tune “Ah’s” of the choir. As Clara, Shiori Kase enchanted from her first entrance and, after battling with the wickedly mischievous Mouse King of Daniel Kraus, her pas de deux with her beloved Nutcracker, danced admirably by Daniel McCormick, was heartmeltingly beautiful. Despite the rather plodding tempo taken for the pas de trois that opens Act II, Kase conveyed a wonderful sense of rapture during all the tricky partnering so securely done by Streeter and McCormick. Then, as the Nutcracker transforms into the Nephew, Frola’s devastating smile was enough to light up the whole Coliseum. The divertissements offered a Spanish dance of great panache by Jung Ah Choi, Anjuli Hudson and Pedro Lapetra, an exhilarating Russian dance from Ken Saruhashi and, despite the music being barely audible, Fabian Reimair channelling his “Golden Slave” to give a virtuosic turn to the Arabian dance, supported by a quartet of sultry harem ladies. The tempo taken for the entrée of the grand pas de deux was ‘la plus que lente’ but Kase and Frola gave a sublime account of the choreography, both bringing a glittering majesty to it, with Kase’s innate musicality filling out the extended phrases with her graceful ports de bras and elegant line. I can give no higher praise to the marvellous partnering by Frola than to say that not once did I notice the mechanics of it. Kase’s Sugar Plum Fairy solo was a lovely confection of exquisite footwork and beautifully sustained balances and then both she and Frola were so electrifying in their series of pirouettes, fouetté turns etc. in the coda, that the audience burst into spontaneous applause long before they reached their final pose. In all, an extremely enjoyable way to spend Boxing Day.
  18. Despite reservations seasoned balletgoers may have about Eagling’s “Nutcracker”, it has the power to enchant and engage children, as it did during the matinée on 19 December, when all the children around me, dressed in their Christmas finery, sat in rapt silence throughout. And what a pleasure not to be surrounded by adults munching their way through crisps or sweets or swigging wine, as happened at so many of the performances of other ballets I saw on tour this autumn! I did feel that the staging of both the skating scene and the party scene was rather lacking in ambience this year, with too much slapstick in the skating scene and a lack of genial elegance at the party, apart from the gracious hosts, James Streeter and Stina Quagebeur. This was not helped by the sluggish conducting of Orlando Jopling who failed to bring out the delicacy and magic of the score which I have heard so many times in the past from this superb orchestra. I felt it most keenly in the short overture to Act II which is supposed to represent the journey to the Kingdom of Sweets. As travel is by balloon in Eagling’s production, it most definitely felt like a lead balloon at this performance! So I applaud those dancers who managed to give sparkling performances, in spite of this. In particular, Anjuli Hudson, as Louise, and an uncredited Rentaro Nakaaki, as her suitor, brought great charm to their little pas de deux in the party scene, and Crystal Costa and Adela Ramirez were the most glittering of snowflakes, drawing in the audience with their radiant smiles and giving this beautiful (imported) choreography the touch of class it deserves. Hudson also fluttered beautifully in Mirlitons, partnered by the benevolent Drosselmeyer of Daniel Kraus, and Daniel McCormick threw off a thrilling Russian dance. New in the role to me was William Simmons as the Mouse King who gave a particularly stylish account of the choreography and had fun with the role without being too scary for the younger children in the audience. But the stars of the show were most definitely the three leads, with Erik Woolhouse transcending his mask to bring a touching tenderness to the pas de deux for the Nutcracker and the enraptured Clara at the end of Act I and, with Kraus, partnering Clara so securely as to make the pas de trois at the start of Act II look effortless. Ken Saruhashi was the handsome, very elegant Nephew and proved the perfect partner for the glorious Clara/Sugar Plum Fairy of Katja Khaniukova, both bringing a serene nobility and grandeur to the entrée of their grand pas de deux in Act II. From her first entrance in Act I, I was entranced by Khaniukova’s exquisite footwork, making even something as deceptively simple as running across the stage look special. She has the advantage of being perfectly believable as an adolescent girl, with a naturalness to her acting, especially her reactions to the fight between the mice and the soldiers. As well as the tenderness of her pas de deux in Act I with the injured Nutcracker, Khaniukova brought such a soulfulness to her dancing here that it seemed Tchaikovsky’s music is part of her DNA. I also loved her gracious use of the upper body and ports de bras, as well as her meltingly beautiful bourrées, particularly in her wonderfully delicate Sugar Plum solo. She and Saruhashi pulled out all the stops in the coda with plenty of fireworks, including her impeccable series of single and double fouetté turns, yet always remaining the most serenely regal of couples. As I am writing this on 23 December, I would also like to mention that the lovely Connie Vowles gave her last performance with ENB this afternoon. Her dancing has given me great pleasure in the two years she has been with the company, especially her delightful Lead Sylph in “La Sylphide” last season, and I wish her every success in the future.
  19. I believe the choir is made up of the children who have just been dancing onstage.
  20. It has just been reported on Facebook that the former prima ballerina of Scottish Ballet has died. RIP
  21. Thank you very much! I do enjoy writing them (when I have the time!) and I try to point out dancers who usually get overlooked by the press.
  22. It's hard for me to choose just one Odette/Odile but with Cao/Arrieta you get the best chemistry. There is also the cast of Takahashi/Frola who apparently gave fabulous performances although I was unable to get to Bristol in time for theirs. However, if I had to see just one it would most likely be Cao/Arrieta.
  23. It beggars belief that such a star dancer should only be given one Manon and one "Swan Lake" at the Coliseum. With thirteen London performances of "Swan Lake", I think they could have been shared out more evenly amongst the principals as Shiori Kase also only gets one performance. Glad I managed to see both dancers in Bristol! Just reading other comments about the wonderful Neapolitan dance, it was choreographed by Ashton for two of his favourite dancers, Alexander Grant and Julia Farron around 1952. When I spoke to Julia Farron a few years ago, she told me that, for her retirement, the company put on a special performance of "Swan Lake" just so that she could make her farewell dancing the Neapolitan! It does make you realise how fabulous the footwork of the dancers of that era must have been.
  24. After a white-knuckle drive down the M4 to Bristol on a wet and very blustery Thursday afternoon, it was lovely to be greeted by the sunny smile and charm of Adriana Lizardi as the lead villager in the matinée performance of “Swan Lake”. With her sense of style and lovely footwork, she set the standard for the ladies in the ensemble dances, although it was not met by everyone. Indeed, in the glorious Ashton waltz in Act I, I was surprised by the stiffness in the backbends and rather perfunctory ports de bras of most of the ladies and so my eye was continually drawn to Emily Suzuki for the sheer quality of her dancing, with beautiful use of the feet and head, pliant backbends and ports de bras that flowed – definitely a dancer to watch! The pas de trois was beautifully danced by Shale Wagman, Jung ah Choi and Adela Ramirez with great style and exquisite footwork from all and a particularly thrilling coda. The radiant Choi shone in the first solo with beautifully clear beats and ballon. The always charming Ramirez is the only dancer I have seen in recent years who can make the second solo both flirtatious and demure at the same time while highlighting the delicacy of Petipa’s choreography. Prince Siegfried at this performance was Aitor Arrieta substituting at very short notice for the indisposed Junor Souza. Although it was obviously too short notice to change the cast sheet, I felt it was hugely disrespectful to Arrieta not to make an announcement at the start of the performance, along with the other announcements about recording etc. There was also some sloppiness regarding the cast sheets because, when I picked mine up at the front desk, it was for the previous evening’s performance. It turned out there were a few at the bottom of the pile which were correct but I wonder how many out-of-date ones were handed out! Similarly, at the Saturday matinée, I heard the man behind me saying he was sure, through his binoculars, that the Odette was Japanese (and it was indeed Shiori Kase) but the programme said she was Romanian! Obviously the wrong cast sheet had been placed in his programme and goodness knows how many others! I also noticed typing errors in dancers’ names which I find unforgivable. Arrieta’s nobility was evident from his very first entrance and he danced with all the elegance and beautifully clean technique that I have come to expect from him. Although not credited on the information sheet, the interpolated solo at the end of Act I was actually introduced by Nureyev to the Royal Ballet in 1962 and retained by Ashton when he revamped the company’s production a few years later and is a testament to Nureyev in his absolute prime. It is therefore to Arrieta’s great credit that he gave such a stylish and beautifully phrased account of the fiendishly difficult adagio choreography, and did Nureyev proud. There is a dilemma for theatres over the pause between Acts I and Il, especially when the orchestra pit has been extended into the stalls, i.e. whether to bring up the house lights and have those who did not listen to the announcements think this is an interval and get up to leave, or to leave the lights down which means that people do not hear when the delicate overture to Act II starts. At this performance, although not advertised as a schools’ matinée, there were many school parties filling the seats (the ones surrounding me seemed to be about nine years old) who had obviously been primed to be quiet once the music started (and were much better behaved about this than the adults at other performances). Conductor Orlando Jopling got round the problem of starting Act II by turning to the audience and placing his finger on his lips, at which all the children gradually stopped chattering which meant that this was the only one of the four performances I saw when I was able to enjoy the whole of that overture in complete silence! I have seen neater and more stylish performances of Act II by the ENB corps de ballet of swans than the ones I saw this week but this hardly mattered when the Odette was danced by the miracle that is Begoña Cao. I have loved her Odette/Odile since I first saw her dance it around ten years ago at the Coliseum (partnered by a very young Esteban Berlanga) and I would not have thought it possible for her to improve on the perfection of that performance but she did. With her exquisitely limpid ports de bras, shimmering bourrées, and elongated attitude penchée, she has the most swan-like physique of any of the company’s Odettes, all used to sublime effect in portraying the regal yet vulnerable swan queen. From the moment Arrieta saw her, it was clear he was enchanted and their pas de deux recalled the wonderful chemistry in their recent performances of “Manon”, with him partnering her with great tenderness to gradually gain Odette’s trust. I have to mention Cao’s beautiful arms just before the start of the pas de deux, where her body is lying along her front leg. As she folded her arms over her feet, there was a truly magical moment where they fluttered as if completely unencumbered by bones. Another moment to watch out for is the series of pirouettes at the end, each one preceded by tiny batterie against the ankle which, in Cao’s case, were breathtaking in their delicacy and beauty, and enhanced her air of vulnerability. The highlight for me in Act IIl, apart from the pas de deux, was a joyous rendering of the Neapolitan Dance by Katja Khaniukova and Victor Prigent, with delicious footwork and joie de vivre. However, it was the electrifying pas de deux by Cao and Arrieta which stole the show. Cao’s Odile is all wicked sensuality, dazzling Arrieta with her smile and her huge expressive eyes and it was clear he could not take his eyes off hers. Cao used her phenomenal elongated attitude penchée, in which her foot was level with the top of Arrieta’s head, as if ensnaring him in a trap from which he obviously did not want to escape. Just as Cao’s Manon luxuriated in her sensuality, so did her Odile in a beautifully seductive solo which had just enough of Odette’s softness to make it believable that she could deceive her prince. The fireworks in the Coda from both Arrieta and Cao brought forth ecstatic, spontaneous applause from the audience, as did many other moments in the performance, which is one of the joys of being amongst children seeing ballet for the first time. Ashton’s exquisite choreography for Act IV (shrewdly acquired by Derek Deane for his proscenium production) was for me the highlight of the swans’ dancing at all the performances with its haunting melancholy as they all emerge from the swirling ‘mists’, and their uniformity of style and movement perfectly matched the music. Cao and Arrieta were unforgettable here: he all remorse and she summoning up supreme dignity as she forgives him. This was an exceptional performance which I am sure will stay in the minds of the audience for a long time and will have made ballet fans of many of the children. It is therefore incomprehensible to me that Cao was only given one performance during the two-week tour and, as the Coliseum casting has just been announced, only has the final Sunday performance. As with her Manon, grab a ticket if you can! What a difference a change of conductor makes! Thursday evening’s performance was in the hands of Maestro Gavin Sutherland who galvanised the orchestra and gave the music that lightness of touch which the dancers need to support them in the intricate footwork of the many solos and the lift to send them soaring in the aerial steps. Unfortunately, I have to draw a veil over the pas de trois in this performance which, apart from a diagonal of beautiful double cabrioles from Erik Woolhouse in the Coda, for the most part lacked style and finesse. However, the waltz brought forth some lovely dancing from both ladies and gentlemen, responding to Sutherland’s wonderful phrasing of the music. Prince Siegfried was Ken Saruhashi, whose outstanding debut I saw in Liverpool in 2014. His Siegfried is a fully rounded character, both regal and thoughtful as he ponders his mother’s command for him to marry. His Act I solo, with his beautiful arabesque line and soft pliés captured that elusive quality of yearning which is the essence of the solo but escapes so many Siegfrieds. His Odette/Odile was Rina Kanehara who had made her debut the previous week. She is possessed of a formidable technique which meant she sailed through all the difficulties of both roles and tossed off an impeccable series of fouetté turns in Act II, throwing in a few doubles for good measure. However, she never let the brilliance of her technique overshadow the gentleness of her Odette and I particularly liked the way she used her eyes: wide-eyed apprehension in Act II, turning to tenderness as she learns to trust Siegfried, sparkling in Act III as she entrances him and haunted in Act IV when she has been betrayed. Again, in Act III the other highlight was a sparkling Neapolitan danced by Crystal Costa and Barry Drummond in true Ashton style (another clever acquisition by Deane for his proscenium version), with both of them filling the stage with their sunny personalities. There was also a fiery Spanish dance by Amber Hunt, Stina Quagebeur, Francisco Bosch and Fernando Coloma but I have to express my disappointment at the Czardas and Mazurka where, apart from all the lead couples in the Czardas and a couple of dancers such as Quagebeur in the Mazurka at other performances, these were danced with no understanding that they developed from Court dances of Hungary and Poland, respectively, and need to be danced with a degree of finesse and hauteur (and, for the ladies, no bouncing!) which was sadly missing, although the men certainly looked as if they were enjoying throwing themselves around! Once again, Act IV brought forth the most beautiful dancing from the swans and a very poignant finale from Saruhashi and Kanehara with the wonderfully sinister Von Rothbart of Shevelle Dynott doing his best to thwart them. On Friday evening, Arrieta and Costa were outstanding in their solos in the pas de trois. They both have such clean footwork and amazing ballon which makes their energy seem boundless. Francesca Velicu, completing the trio, brings a sweetness to her dancing and is lighter than air in the pas de deux section but is rather imprecise in her footwork and ports de bras. Siegfried was Isaac Hernandez. With all his attributes, he should make an excellent prince but qualities such as nobility and projecting beyond the stage seem to elude him completely. When his mother tells him he must marry, he looked like a sulky teenager rather than someone contemplating his destiny. It appears he does not know what to do with his arms, letting them swing aimlessly at his side when walking. He has the most beautiful entrechats but otherwise tends to not bother about his feet and has a bad habit of dropping his back when landing from jetés. I had high hopes for the Act I solo which he started with a beautifully stretched foot but thereafter it was just a series of adagio steps in which he looked uncomfortable. I find it sad that such huge potential does not seem to be being nurtured so that the standard of his whole performance matches the pyrotechnics he displayed in Act III. However, whatever his artistic failings, there is no doubt of his skill as a partner, presenting the divine Jurgita Dronina to perfection. She is the most feminine of Odettes and totally captivating in her fragility and vulnerability, responding to every touch by Siegfried. Physically very different from Cao, I found it fascinating to compare the way they both play to their strengths to produce such outstanding characterisations. Whereas Cao’s elongated attitude penchée said everything about her Odette and Odile, with Dronina it was the supported attitude leaning back against Siegfried which revealed her character. In Act II, her very expressive eyes had a vulnerability about them which flowed through her whole body, as if she was not quite sure she could trust him. In Act III, as he wrapped his arms around her, the look on her face was like the cat who got the cream, with a posture indicating a preening triumph. In Act IV, there was an almost crumpled feeling of hopelessness in the droop of her neck and upper body which was intensely moving. And while Cao’s bourrées shimmered, Dronina’s undulated. In fact, there was a beautiful softness to all her dancing, even in Act III where it was clear Odile was seducing Siegfried by being as much like Odette as possible, although this did not prevent her from giving us an immaculate series of fouetté turns. I also found her mime to be exemplary and beautifully clear. When she explains her situation to Siegfried in Act II (where Hernandez looked distinctly uncomfortable in his gestures, ‘mumbling’ them), and she says “my mother’s tears” I found this to be very moving, as it was in Act IV when she repeats “tears” while explaining Siegfried’s betrayal to the other swans. Although she does not have Cao’s ‘boneless’ arms, I loved the proud arch of her back in Act II, especially in arabesque with her arms stretched out behind her, and even sustaining it in the half-turns in attitude, which reminded me of a swan gliding along with its wings ‘lifted’. As well as a performance to treasure from Dronina, this performance was also notable for a flawless cygnets’ dance. Although there were individually lovely cygnets in other performances (and I much admired Choi’s beautiful échappés on Saturday afternoon), it was in this one that everything was perfectly synchronised, including the tricky series of pas de chat with legs all at the same height at the same time and soft landings in perfect unison. Congratulations to Crystal Costa, Adela Ramirez, Katja Khaniukova and Adriana Lizardi for giving it the wow factor! The radiant Adela Ramirez also delighted in the Neapolitan dance, along with the excellent Rhys Antoni Yeomans, and there was a very spirited Spanish dance from Jia Zhang, Angela Wood, Aitor Arrieta and Daniel McCormick. On Saturday afternoon, Anjuli Hudson was a delightfully stylish lead villager, and my eye was again drawn to the beautiful dancing of Emily Suzuki in the waltz which also featured some very fine dancing and partnering from the gentlemen. Joseph Caley was nobility personified from his first entrance as Siegfried and danced with a wonderful elegance, especially in the Act l solo, although I would have liked a little more expressiveness from him, especially as his Odette/Odile was the lovely Shiori Kase whose every movement spoke volumes. Her Odette was so regal that there was no doubt she was queen of the swans. And yet, there was a touching vulnerability about her that made her pas de deux with Caley, in which he made her look as light as swansdown, very poignant. Her solo was a lovely blend of delicate, precise footwork and sustained balances, such that I realised the photograph of her being used to advertise “The Nutcracker” does not do justice to the very pretty, expressive line of her arabesques and attitudes. Her Odile was glittering and full of confidence, especially in the Coda in which not only did she give us the full complement of thrilling fouettés but ended the last one with at least a triple turn, if not a quadruple! In Act IV, her Odette forgave the very remorseful Siegfried with a touching dignity and their final pas de deux was heartbreaking. The corps de ballet of swans also rose to the occasion with a particularly haunting quality to their dancing which obviously touched the souls of the audience, many of whom were applauding on their feet even before the curtain had fallen. I hope in this very long post I have whetted appetites for the London performances!
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