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  1. I have just unearthed my copy of the Ballet Annual for 1953 and it makes for really interesting reading for those who have grown up in a dance world in which punters have to be persuaded to attend mixed bills by offering cheaper tickets for them than are the norm for full length works. In the early fifties a programme of one act ballets was the norm and the creation of a three act ballet could be regarded either as the inevitable consequence of the company's opera house residence or a grave risk. Somehow it is comforting to know that even sixty five years ago Sylvia was at the centre of a sort of culture war between those for whom the creation of a full length ballet particularly one set to French nineteenth century ballet was seen as a retrograde step and those for whom it was almost a natural development. Today the dispute seems to be between those who want ballet as a serious art form to be didactic and earnest or at least to have a half decent plot and those who have no objection to a ballet being as light as a souffle and intended to amuse and entertain as long as it has a serious dose of choreography with steps. Looking through the 1953 edition of Ballet Annual a number of photographs enable me to add a few names to the list of those who appeared in the ballet during its initial seasons apart from Fonteyn and Somes. They include :- Violetta Elvin and John Field, Nadia Nerina and Alexis Rassine, Beryl Grey and Philip Chatfield The only dancer in this group whose performance is mentioned in the text is Beryl Grey who was described as having " the advantage of height in the impersonation of the huntress and her performance is entirely her own. It has all her ease and beautiful phrasing". If it does nothing else I should have thought that this list lays to rest the idea that the role was really only intended for compact dancers who were called Margot Fonteyn . I do wonder whether Ashton made any choreographic adjustments to accommodate Grey ? I am going to wait to see tomorrow's cast again before I write about the three casts at any length. But here is a general comment about the choreography which any one dancing Sylvia has to master and make her own. Although if it is danced well it looks wonderfully elegant and easy it is in reality extremely challenging. Ashton does not make it easy for the ballerina by giving her a lot of big flashy steps to perform of the type which impresses an audience. He strews the entire ballet with combinations which really test the dancer's full technical armoury. If I recall correctly the dancers who performed the role at the Mariinsky all said that it was the most difficult thing they had ever danced. Personally I did not think that Osipova looked nervous at the beginning of the performance but she would have had every right to do so as Yanowsky is on record as described dancing the role as being like performing three different ballets in one evening. As far as the coaching is concerned I imagine that nearly everyone else is working on getting Nutcracker stage-ready at present. Whatever you may think of Bussell as a performer of this or any other role she has the distinct advantage, as far as Sylvia is concerned, of having recent experience of dancing the full three act ballet. She is well placed to provide advice on how to pace a performance of the role and she is available to coach it. On looking at the performances of the lead roles the coaches seem to have made pretty good job of it. Bussell may not have been a great Ashton dancer herself but on this showing she seems to have a good idea of what it should look like in performance. I suspect that differences in individual performances will probably turn out to have more o do with the individual dancer's musicality than anything else.
  2. Wulff Thank you for the information about Sylvia originally plying Orion with "instant" wine in act two. It makes all the ceremonial at the beginning of act three when the arrival of the statue of Bacchus is greeted with fanfares, is then carried round the stage and the corps later dance around it make far more sense than it does in the current version. If Bacchus has intervened to make "instant" wine for Sylvia then all that ceremonial thanksgiving is understandable, as is the fact that Orion and his followers are unwittingly reduced to a state of unconsciousness by drinking what they believe to be grape juice. However if all that has happened in the second act is that Sylvia has encouraged Orion and his followers to drink too much ordinary wine and they have succumbed to its effects the rejoicing over Bacchus' powers seems a bit excessive. I find the suggestions that Ashton's ballet would be improved if Aminta had more to do extremely interesting because that is precisely the sort of thing that happened to the male roles in the works of the nineteenth century choreographer the bicentenary of whose birth we shall be celebrating next year. If at some point in the future the owner of the copyright to Sylvia agreed to allow a stager to revise the ballet by building up Aminta's character wouldn't it have the effect of distorting the narrative, disrupting the score's integrity and altering the ballet's impact? It would shift the focus of the ballet from Sylvia its eponymous heroine, whose punishment for lack of piety and rescue by the god she insulted is the excuse for the entire creation, onto Aminta. If Aminta were transformed into an action hero surely he would have to fight Orion to secure Sylvia's freedom? This, in turn, would render Eros' appearance at the end of the second act unnecessary and a great deal of the choreography of that act redundant. Someone would have to find appropriate music and create new choreography for Aminta the hero. Transforming Aminta from a passive devotee of Eros into a man of action would inevitably necessitate the creation of new choreography for Orion as well and, at some point, these improvements would lead to a review of Sylvia's role and revision of her choreography as well. Sylvia might well find herself transformed from the strong active resourceful heroine which Merante and Ashton intended her to be, into the usual damsel in distress, passive heroine of nineteenth century ballet . Here in a nutshell you have the fate of those Petipa ballets in the active repertory across the world today in which roles and choreography have been so radically altered that their creator would not recognise them. Just as there are those who praise Petipa for being such an innovative choreographer because he appears to have foreseen every shift in taste and choreographic development which occurred during the twentieth century we should be praising Ashton for foreseeing all the "improvements" in technique which have occurred since his death. The ballet was created as an entertainment. Ashton breathed new life into it the score "saving" Sylvia just as Delibes had asked him to do. He gave it new choreography incorporating elements of ridiculous fantasy and allusions to a number of Diaghilev ballets which his audience would have known well and created a role for his ballerina which displayed her artistry to the full. The ballerina's role continues to present a challenge to today's dancers as it calls for extreme musicality and effortlessness rather than a display of extreme flexibility, effort and sheer physical strength in which it is permissible to distort music to fit the dancer's movements and displays of technique. All the named roles, with the exception of Sylvia and Eros, are just roles, types totally devoid of character and motivation. We are not invited to examine the childhood trauma which made Orion the man he is. Aminta does not have a character in the MacMillan sense of the word . In Merante's ballet he is a passive individual because all of Merante's interest,and that of the POB's audience, is focused on the star of the show the ballerina who is dancing the eponymous heroine Sylvia. We are stuck with that version of the story in this ballet because that is the version Ashton chose to use to display Fonteyn's skills. Remember that at the time that this piece was made star billing in the full length ballet had been the preserve of the ballerina for just over a century. I have seen three versions of the ballet and for me Ashton's is by far the best as it accepts the libretto's limitations and makes a virtue of them. For me Bintley's version is far too complicated to work as an effective piece of theatre, I am sure that Janet will object to this assessment but that is my opinion of the work, while the French version is far too abstract to work for me.I am not arguing that no one should attempt to make a new version of Sylvia. I am simply saying that it should not be a radical reworking of Ashton's ballet with bits of his choreography standing out like a good deed in a naughty world.
  3. There is no official recording of the work although the Stuttgart company made a recording of the ballet as long ago as the mid 1970's with a cast which included Marcia Haydee as Tatiana. Heinz Close as Onegin and Egon Madsen as Lensky. If I were trying to find a recording of a specific ballet or excerpts from it on the Internet I should try putting a few of the names of well known interpreters into my search engine.
  4. Magri is more experienced than Heap and is returning to the role whereas this is Heap's first season as the Rose Fairy. Heap may not be a natural fit and obvious casting for the role but its demands will stretch and develop her as an artist. She seems to be one of those dancers who prefer performance and projection to safety first careful non-performances. I don't mean that she is slapdash in her dancing simply she tries to make something of the choreography she has been given. This was very noticeable in the disaster that was Acosta's Carmen where she was not satisfied with merely reproducing the choreography but wanted to make it work as a piece of theatre and came very close to succeeding. If I were an AD intent on developing Heap's performance in the key roles she already dances;looking at her potential as one of the contrasting Shades in Bayadere and trying to determine when she might be ready for her first Odette/Odile this is precisely the sort of role I would be giving her to dance.
  5. If you want to blame anyone for the "silly" story then you should blame Torquato Tasso who wrote a play called Aminta in the sixteenth century; Merante who created the ballet in which Aminta is no longer a man of action but a passive creature wholly dependent on the gods to rescue Sylvia for him; Delibes who wrote the music and the audience of the Paris Opera for whom, to borrow Balanchine's phrase, "ballet is woman" and men's presence on the stage was only grudgingly accepted when it was absolutely necessary. But then perhaps you should not blame them at all as they did not set out to create anything other than a delightful entertainment.The ballet in Ashton's 1952 version is very much an entertaining display piece for a great ballerina created to show her artistic range. Because it was a vehicle for Fonteyn at the height of her powers, it depends for much of its effect on the dancer's artistic sophistication and intelligence. It helps if she has the sort of extraordinary musicality which was, perhaps, Fonteyn's greatest gift. Perhaps It should now be treated as a company classic with performances in it used as evidence of the company's general artistic and technical health because like the great late nineteenth Russian ballets which de Valois described as "the classics" it represents a real artistic challenge to every dancer in the company who appears in it even if they are not in a named role as the choreography exposes them all to scrutiny in terms of their technique, musicality and artistry. Not even Orion can hide a lack of technical competence by acting his socks off. Aminta apparently has little to do but in the first act but he has to establish his presence and his choreography provides him with no hiding place. It is full of those apparently simple steps which are extraordinarily difficult to perform really well and he is presented to the audience as a moving sculpture who is seen from every possible angle. He has to be perfect or his first act goes for nothing. As for Sylvia the role's choreography is not concerned with the transitory currently fashionable ideas about artistry as the display of naked physical skill exemplified by whether a dancer can stick her foot in her ear or how many pirouettes she can squeeze in if she distorts the music enough. It is a ballet about balance,dancing as a flow of movement, the individual dancer's nuanced response to the music to which she is required to dance; her ability to dance in the required style with a relaxed upper body, beautiful epaulement, beautifully clean footwork and total fearlessness. As you can see it places no great demands on the dancers cast in any of the named roles. The story is set in the world of ancient Greece and classical myth which Tasso did not necessarily take that seriously. As to how seriously Merante took the story, the nature of the music suggests that the answer is not that seriously either. It is not a rousing melodrama of daring do like the original Corsaire which in its first incarnation seems to have been more dependent on the acting skills of its cast than their technical skills. The original Sylvia was intended to be a charming entertainment much like its predecessor Coppelia. Ashton's ballet represents a conscious decision to inhabit the world of late nineteenth century French ballet convention. The Ironsides went out of their way to produce designs which belong to the same world. They are deliberately rather than inadvertently old fashioned . The ballet is deliberately old fashioned in its structure, designs and staging because it was created as an evocation of French ballets of the 1870's. I suppose that it depends on what function you believe that Ballet design has/ In a world in which knickers and vests seem to be the order it is easy to regard stage design as little more than stage decoration and costume design as little more than the provision of pretty costumes in whatever currently pass as fashionable colours and shades. Good ballet designs tell the audience where a ballet is set and by their style tell the audience whether what they are about to see is serious or a comedy and by helping to create the ballet's mood they assist the dancers in the performance of their allotted roles. All of Ashton's ballets were created with careful consideration given to how their sets and costumes would look in the theatre and what they tell the audience about the action of the ballet. Some costumes tell the audience about the individual characters who wear them but in every case the choice of clothing style will say something about the type of ballet it is watching, its setting and its mood. The choice of costume style, its cut and the material from which costumes affects the quality of the movement which the audience experiences in performance a fact that has tended to be overlooked when ballets are redesigned. Only a handful of Ashton ballets have been redesigned since his death and none has been improved by the undertaking. So I for one shall not be voting for this ballet to be redesigned any time soon. As a francophile and a man who discovered the world of classical ballet in his teens rather than experiencing it from his early childhood Ashton appears to have been far more interested in its history and accepting of its conventions than someone in a position to take it all for granted almost from birth. As far as Sylvia is concerned Ashton went so far as to claim that he had made his version at the prompting of Delibes who had appeared to him in a dream begging him to save his ballet.In these circumstances perhaps we should see this ballet as an affectionate homage to the lost world of the ballet pompier of the 1870's rather than criticising it for not being something it was never intended to be,such as a didactic work or a gritty realistic one influenced by French cinema and the ballets of Roland Petit. It is almost as if, at some level, Ashton was creating a ballet history for the young company now resident at Covent Garden with two nineteenth century inspired ballets, his Petipa style Cinderella and this affectionate recreation of a very specific form of French ballet, the ballet pompier. I know that it was very remiss of the Paris Opera audience of the 1870's to treat ballet as a mere entertainment but that is how it was regarded. I am not sure that the score can support a more complex narrative than the one which it was created to accompany. Ashton' s decision to reject a convoluted modern version of the story in favour of the original libretto gives us the strong resourceful Sylvia of Merante's original and his apparently ineffectual Aminta. But as the plot, such as it is, requires that Sylvia should mock Eros and insult him in order to justify her abduction by Orion and the action of the second act. Aminta's reverence and respect for Eros must be accepted as sufficient reason for the god's intervention to restore him to life . I leave it to you to decide whether Eros' rescue of Sylvia is more Aminta's reward for his fidelity to the god than for Sylvia's fervent prayers to him. As far as last night's performance is concerned I will simply say that the ballet now seems to be acquiring a local performance tradition the naiads and dryads of the first act seemed to have far greater understanding of who they were supposed to be portraying than I recall at earlier revivals, In the last act the nine Muses who accompany Apollo seemed far more comfortable about carrying their identifying symbols and far more conscious about who they were portraying. As for the sacrificial goats they are there because the score includes the sound of goats bleating.They are intended to be amusing and their frequent adoption of flat on poses is, I think, intended as an allusion to Nijinsky's attempts to create an archaic form of movement for his ballet L' Apres Midi d'un Faun. The tongue in cheek reference to the choreographer and his seminal work probably did not go down that well in 1952 because Nijinsky had only died two tears before.I shall say something about individual performances when I have seen all three casts.At present I will just say that Muntagirov has set the bar extremely high for the other Amintas we are due to see this season. As to giving Aminta more dancing what music would you use and what choreography would you cut? Remember the ballet was made before the arrival of Nureyev in the West and it was originally designed as a vehicle for the ballerina with one of those very dansant scores that almost told the corps what steps they should be dancing. Aminta and Sylvia are types rather than individual characters
  6. The first real ballet of the season as far as I am concerned and so it would seem for many others. I am pleased to see that the ballet has sold so well this time round as this should mean that it will be revived in future seasons as I rather hope to see Naghdi in the title role as, if her Aurora is anything to go by, she has the sort of musicality and artistry that the role demands. When the ballet was revived in 2004 I was bored by Bussell and underwhelmed by Nunez and if I had only seen them I would have said that the revival was more of a resurrection than the restoration to the stage of a viable theatrical piece. It was Yanowsky who persuaded me that it was a great ballet but that if it is to work it needs a dancer with the musical and artistic intelligence to use the text which Ashton created for Fonteyn. In other words it is a display piece for a ballerina which requires a dancer with the stamina and the ability to do much more than merely reproduce the text as set. Yanowsky said that the role is exhausting because it is like dancing in three different ballets in one evening. She pointed out that Sylvia displays very different sides to her "character" in each act. This was not always that obvious in either Bussell's or Nunez's 2004 performances. But Nunez is now a mature artist and I am looking forward to seeing her give a far more creative, artistically perceptive account of the role than she managed in 2004. In Act 1 Sylvia is the huntress follower of Diana who vehemently rejects love, mocks Eros and is transformed by him into a lovelorn girl just in time to be abducted by Orion a hunter who seems to have escaped from a long forgotten minor work created for one of the Ballets Russes' successor companies. Act 2 Orion's island set somewhere near the eastern lands of the Ballets Russes. Here Sylvia rejects the vast riches which Orion offers her and transforms herself into a seductress in order to escape his clutches. Yanowsky played this scene very wittily and it was great fun. Finally in Act 3 she undergoes a final transformation into one of Petipa's Italian star ballerinas. Here she must be brave and confident enough of her skills to use that music with real ingenuity not simply following it but playing with it holding back a little here and rushing forward to finish on the note as artistic perception suggests. This final pas is a touchstone of the dancer's artistry and musicality.As far as the sacrificial goats are concerned well I think that their choreography deliberately incorporates passing references to Nijinsky's Faun. As with many other Ashton ballets the more familiar you are with the choreography the more you see in it. It has a wonderful score and is the closest we are likely to get to seeing a genuine Empire ballet pompier. I am truly grateful that it is being revived and hope that it secures a more permanent place in the company's repertory.A six year absence is far too long for this work. Perhaps we can hope that Cinderella might be revived next season.
  7. I somehow doubt that we shall see any part of Stravinsky's Nightingale on the Opera House stage any time soon. The choreography you saw yesterday was created in 1983 for the staging of an opera double bill of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol which dates from 1914 and Ravel's L'Enfant et le Sortilege written in the 1920's to a libretto by Colette.Both operas had designs by David Hockney and were directed by John Dexter.I believe that Rossignol was originally staged in a manner not unlike the staging of the original version of Le Coq d'Or with singers performing the musical text and playing no direct part in the stage action which was allocated to dancers of the Diaghilev company. Stravinsky later reworked the music into a one act ballet Le Chant du Rossignol. In 1925 Alicia Markova appeared in a new staging of the ballet performing Balanchine's choreography. There is archive material about this staging on the internet which includes Markova talking about it and teaching a section of the choreography. In the Royal Opera's 1983 staging of the opera the Fisherman was sung by Philip Langridge and danced by Anthony Dowell while the Nightingale was sung by Phyllis Bryn-Julson and danced by Natalia Markarova. All the other roles were taken by singers. Staging an opera like the Nightingale is not a cheap undertaking as it has quite a lot of named characters in it who have to be individually cast. I suspect that the choice of L'Enfant as the companion piece represented an attempt to keep costs down as the voice types required in both operas are similar. I have no doubt that the afternoon event was of considerable interest but I should like to know whether the choreography taken out of its theatrical context made that much sense as the likelihood of the opera company staging a production of the Nightingale is unlikely for two reasons. The first is the cost of staging it and the second is the difficulty of making the opera relevant or accessible to today's opera audience. As far as the Ashton choreography is concerned I can't imagine it finding a home in any revival because it is far too balanced and obviously classically based to satisfy the aesthetic requirement that every element of an opera production should educate and challenge the audience out of its middle class complacency.
  8. I went to see this triple bill full of hope and expectation as far as the first two thirds of it were concerned. The Illustrated Farewell is a ballet in two sections one old, one new and they have not been that well glued together.The joins are there for all to see, There were a lot of talented dancers on stage but Twyla Tharp did not rise to the challenge and use them effectively. I don't think that Tharp was particularly original in the choreography she created for McRae and Lamb. There was fast footwork for McRae and references to other forms of dance but none of it struck me as particularly interesting or theatrically effective.If the first section looked like a lot of rather aimless choreographic doodling perhaps the second half would have some substance to it.There are a significant number of talented young dancers on stage in the second section including Sissens among the men and Naghdi, O'Sullivan and Chisato among the women but while it has some sort of structure it only very intermittently gives this quality cast something to do which is worthy of their talents. Naghdi was lovely but had very little to do in a piece that struck me as pretty typical of the sort of classically styled choreography that so many choreographers churned out in the seventies and eighties. I wonder how much money The Wind cost to stage? I ask because I don't think that the company has really got its money worth with Mr. Pita's new work and it certainly has not acquired a work worthy of Osipova's talents or those of the other fine performers who find themselves cast in it. Now I am pleased that Arthur Pita likes silent films and that he admired Lillian Gish's performance in The Wind but that does not mean that its narrative was necessarily going to make an effective ballet. I do hope that no one falls so deeply in love with Gance's Napoleon that they decide to stage that masterpiece of the silent cinema as a ballet. Pita handles the narrative reasonably well, but the story is pretty simple and he is assisted by colour coding the main characters of the drama in standard Western fashion. There is no room for ambiguity or surprise in this ballet.You know that Whitehead is playing the villain as soon as you see him arrive on stage and that he is going to be very, very villainous because he is dressed in black. Soares who plays the husband has precious little to do while Osipova discovers that in this place in the middle of nowhere much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed. Osipova has a lot of suffering to do in this ballet driven to the brink of madness by the isolation and her treatment at the hands of Whitehead's villain. The problem is that the husband the villain and the wife are stock characters from the world of melodrama. They are little better than cardboard characters totally lacking in psychological substance. Their choreography tells the audience nothing about them as individual characters and when Osipova suffers she suffers by semaphore. Unfortunately I am not convinced that the second cast will fare any better. I spent some time during the performances of both works thinking about what the company could have staged for the dancers cast in these works. Dances at a Gathering for the whole cast of the Tharp, Four Schumann Pieces for Sissens, the quality of his movement reminds me of Dowell, with Muntagirov leading a second cast, and if you want an American dance work about Frontier life that works the company could try to acquire Graham's Appalachian Spring. I have to confess that I did not stay for "Unwatchable". I sat through it when it was new and I don't feel the need to endure it again.All in all a disappointing evening at Covent Garden. I sincerely hope that no one is contemplating reviving Mr Worldly Wise believe me there are good reasons for its neglect.
  9. Dancers in Training

    Penelope, There are at least two schools of thought about the part that teachers play in the development of dancers .Danilova's opinion was that " Great dancers are born, good dancers are taught by good teachers and good teachers are teachers who are good psychologists and know how to restrain one pupil and encourage others by helping them overcome their fear of failure." Baryshnikov said "Dancers are made not born" but then he had been taught by the great teacher Alexander Pushkin. Obviously the rate of a student's development as a dancer varies from child to child. There are some students who stand out, even to the untrained eye, when they are still very young. It is generally factors such as the quality of their movement, their musicality, or their precocious ability to command the stage which mark them out from their fellow students. Some are singled out as having something special about them almost from the day that they enter the school. I have always assumed that this was true of Sibley. There are some who give their best performances in class and others who don't seem to register with staff in class but are transformed and come alive on stage. I have always assumed that this was true of Karen Donovan who, as I recall, went into her main stage RBS performance without a contract but had one by the time that it had ended. Then there are some who don't seem that promising to their teachers. Melissa Hamilton is a case in point and has said that coming from Northern Ireland where she had few opportunities for serious ballet training she was a long way behind students who had the opportunity to receive training on a regular basis. She went to Elmhurst where, she says, the teachers saw little potential in her because she was so far behind her classmates. It was only when Masha Mukhamedov taught the class as a temporary replacement for the usual teacher that Hamilton came into contact with a teacher who saw potential in her.Hamilton has said that when Masha Mukhamedov told the other teachers that she had a potential ballerina in her class and named Hamilton the announcement was met with a degree of scepticism. When Irek's wife moved to Greece Hamilton followed her to continue training with her and after winning a US ballet competition and being offered a contract with ABT's junior company she eventually joined the Royal Ballet. Even within an institution with a couple of hundred years experience of training and developing dancers the powers that be don't always get the match between teacher and student right. Nureyev said in the Foy documentary that when he joined the Vaganova Academy he was put into the director's class. Nureyev felt that the director could do little for him as a teacher and was afraid that if he stayed in his class he would be called up into the army. Nureyev managed to get into the class of the great teacher Alexander Pushkin's, which put him in the director's bad books. He said that Pushkin explained little, but that he emphasized artistry and insisted that every movement had to have meaning. He described the combinations which Pushkin used in his class as "delicious" saying that they made you want to dance. In every form of training there are students who are quick learners seeming to understand everything immediately they are told and others who need far more help,support and attention.Those who not only show a rapid grasp of what is required of them and only need one correction to incorporate what is required in their own performance, possess real musicality and are performers tend to get on rather rapidly.Do schools recognise students with obvious potential at an early stage some film clips may provide an answer. The first can be found in a documentary made about Anthony Dowell called "All the Superlatives" which interestingly was able to include a section of a boys' class which included the teenage Dowell; the second was a documentary about the RBS made during Park's directorship which included a section with the young Bussell and the young Wheeldon and then there is one I recently stumbled across of Darcey Bussell visiting White Lodge and talking to some of the girls. A couple of the young students in the film looked incredibly like Hayward and Naghdi. It is not all perfect of course and schools are always in a state of transition simply because of the students passing through them. In an article published in the Observer in 2012 about why British trained dancers were not making it to the top of the RB a former teacher at the school was reported as saying that instead of helping students who were struggling the school tended to assess them out.The former teacher said that it was up to a school to do the best they could with their students and that in her experience such students often developed into very interesting dancers. I leave it to you to decide whether this is still a problem but I think that it is always the case that students need to find the right school and the right teachers for them.Robert Parker at Elmhurst has said that he had the experience of almost being assessed out and that experience influences the way that he approaches dealing with students who are slipping behind. He tells them and their parents and provides the student with the support and assistance that they need. It would be inappropriate to make generalisations about the approach taken by individual directors to the development of the student dancers in their care, Each director's approach will be influenced by their own experience of being trained, their time working as a professional dancer and teacher and the state of the school, the quality of its graduates and its students'rates of employment on graduation, at the point at which they become the school's director. Gailene Stock became director of the RBS at a time when the school's technical standards had slipped and the employment rate of its graduates was disappointingly low. During her directorship technical standards were improved and the graduate's employment rate was running at 100 %. Opportunities for RBS students to gain stage experience fluctuate according to the repertory which the company is performing. As you know White Lodgers get the chance to appear as guests and rodents in Nutcracker while students at the Upper School get opportunities to obtain stage experience when the company performs late nineteenth century classics like Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, These ballets provide opportunities for final year students to appear with the corps as courtiers and other characters and as dancers to supplement the numbers in the corps. In the past students have been offered contracts and have joined the company during their final year without graduating. It will be interesting to see whether this will happen quite so often now that Kevin has put an apprenticeship scheme in place. I hope that this throws a little more light on the topic.
  10. Is it me but I seem to recall that Gloria was better lit in the past.The area at the back of the stage was not bathed in Stygian gloom when it was first danced by the RB nor when it was last revived by the company Unfortunately on the night I saw Northern Ballet in Gloria it looked as if the ROH had forgotten to feed the meter. Is this some improvement which Lady M has imposed on it? Is it another one of those revisions which Lady M tells us, from time to time, that Kevin had always wanted to make but strangely never got round to doing during his lifetime? There again it could be an error or yet another manifestation of the modern taste for atmospheric lighting. The performances in Gloria were good. The dancers, having had the benefit of performing the work on a number of occasions, had clearly got to grips with, and mastered, the difficulties which the ballet presents particularly when it comes to partnering. However for me this ballet and several others to be seen during this MacMillanfest are ones which summon ghosts to the stage, and unfortunately I can't expel memories of past performers and performances at will. At present the dancers in Gloria are a bit too careful as if they are more concerned with not being caught out making a mistake than giving the sort of courageous, dangerous full on performances where the correct reproduction of the choreography is only a starting point and not an end in itself. Perhaps they are still in the process of appropriating the the ballet and making it their own. The most obvious example of this cautious approach to the choreography is towards the end of the ballet when one of the women is thrown across the stage and into the wings.As this was one of the few ballets in which I admired Wendy Ellis' performance this passage is seared into my memory. I have never seen this section performed so carefully and so close to the wings before. It still comes as a surprise to those members of the audience who are unfamiliar with the work but the lack of distance traveled does a great deal to reduces that section's impact. Elite Syncopations came up looking as fresh as paint. This too is a ballet of ghosts. It is a ballet of which I find that a little goes a long way. I find it a little too ingratiating and the humour a bit too broad and heavy handed and deliberate to want to see it that often.It as if MacMillan had to work really hard to produce an amusing ballet. Perhaps it's the Spurling costumes that put me off as much as anything. Anyway for me a little of this work goes a long way and generally after a couple of performances I have had enough. I enjoyed the performances of the two casts I saw and of the guest dancers. I particularly liked that of Precious Adams in Mason's old role. As for the "home team" I look forward to seeing James Hay dancing Coleman's role in its entirety and seeing a bit more of Elizabeth Harrod in this and other ballets. As I had not seen the original version of Baiser de la Fee I took the opportunity of talking to people I know who saw the original cast dance it . I asked them about the revival's apparent lack of impact. They seemed to think that the vital element that was missing from Scottish Ballet's account of the work was a lack of real individual characterisation and contrast between the two female roles and the way they moved. I was told that none of the original cast played their roles as generic types. MacLeary was not a standard ballet youth and neither the Fairy nor Bride were presented as generic ballet characters by the dancers who created the roles. It was perhaps unfortunate that the two dancers cast as the Fairy and Bride in the revival looked very similar and moved in a similar way. The most obvious contrast between the women in the original cast was height. But I was told that the essential contrast and the one which MacMillan presumably wanted to see was closely connected to the different quality of movement which the original female cast brought to their characters. The Fairy as danced by Beriosova was all compelling authority, stage presence and pure imperial classicism while the Bride as danced by Seymour was all creamy lyricism, flowing movement and as a great dance actress she invested her character's search for her love with real poignancy. Perhaps Scottish Ballet will be able to breathe life into the ballet when they find themselves able to establish the contrast between the two female characters as they make the ballet their own. Who ho can say? Having gone to the trouble of restoring Baiser to the stage I should hate to see it abandoned again without another company giving it a shot. It certainly made more of an impact on me than the revised version which MacMillan devised in the 1980's. It obviously has no continuous performance tradition. I wonder what part, if any, the two surviving members of the original cast actually played in restoring the ballet to the stage? Perhaps it is one of those ballets which are incapable of outliving its original cast or its initial run. Every choreographer creates such works. But perhaps looking at the film of the original cast might provide clues as to what is missing. Perhaps the individual dancer's style and manner of moving should be seen as an integral part of MacMillan's creation rather than their personal idiosyncrasies? As I say I should certainly like to see another company have a shot at it. Preferably one like the RB which has a strong tradition of performing as dance actors. As for Judas Tree. I have tried it on a number of occasions and it still seems terribly confused and confusing. It is as if MacMillan could not make up his mind what he wanted this ballet to be. I think that it shows that he was not the consummate story teller his fans claim that he was. It is a great pity that the decision was made to revive it when there are other MacMillan ballets more deserving of being restored to the stage such as Danse Concertantes, The Four Seasons, Symphony and Triad. But of course the problem is that none of these works show MacMillan as a man who pushed at ballet's boundaries rather they show him as a very inventive choreographer and apparently we can't have that.
  11. fashionista, I have no information as to when, or if, this film is due to go on general release here. If you are anxious to see this or any other film there is a website which lists all the films showing in London cinemas it has a proper address but I have found that simply googling "film listings uk" provides access to a site which gives an a-z of films showing in the UK and another which gives access to an a-z of films showing in London with full details of cinemas and screening times. I hope this information helps. As far as the film itself is concerned most of the coverage so far has been more interested in the extreme response of some members of the Orthodox church to the film in Russia than in its contents. It seems to have had some official backing as people who are close to, or part of Putin's artistic establishment such as V. Gergiev have been involved in its creation. Someone has suggested that it was made in order to create a loss for tax purposes but that seems rather far fetched to me as it presupposes that the country has an effective system of tax collection and that everyone is equally liable to taxation.From what I have read and heard while that may be the theory in Russia it may not be true in practice. Be that as it may, it is quite extraordinary to contemplate a situation in which by allying itself closely with the Russian Orthodox church the current regime under Putin finds the centenary of the October Revolution a political embarrassment. Who would have imagined that in 2017 Russian cinema would have produced a historical biopic about Nicholas Romanov and his affair with "Notrethilde" or that it would have caused so much controversy ? Clearly no one close to Putin had thought through the political consequences of the regime's public contrition for the murder of the imperial family nor the effect of the canonisation of the Tsar and his immediate family.I imagine that when the project was first suggested it seemed so simple and straightforward. Make a film to be shown across Russia which will have the effect of airbrushing away all those uncomfortable historical facts connected with the revolution and its aftermath; distance the current regime from its communist past and assert its legitimacy and its connection with pre-revolutionary Holy Russia. Rehabilitate Tsar Nicholas and the imperial past and it is as if the events of the past century had not happened. I wonder when we shall find out if it is actually any good as a film as opposed to a propaganda exercise?
  12. I think that Moscow is in a time zone which is two hours ahead of London time.
  13. Some suggestions for sources of information about the company and apologies in advance if you have already thought of them.Even if the following publications don't say anything about who danced what in Plymouth they may give you some idea about who was in the Markova-Dolin company and their place in its hierachy. 1) The V and A has an extensive theatre museum holding. The staff might be able to help you as you are able to be specific about the information you want. 2) The Local Newspaper. Does it have an archive of some sort? Perhaps its not housed locally but is at Colindale. 3) The Dancing Times. It may not say much about performances in Plymouth but it will probably contain details about the London performances the company gave which may give you some idea of the company's personnel. I doubt that its back numbers have been stored electronically but you never know. Does someone know if there is any UK library which has its back numbers as part of its stock? 4) J.P. Wearing's "The London Stage 1930-39" which I believe chronicles all theatrical activity in London during the period and may provide information about the company's personnel when it appeared in London. There should be public libraries in the UK which hold it. 5) A recently published book about the development of ballet in Britain during the war, "Albion Dances", it covers events nearly a decade later but the Bibliography might give you some useful hints about where to look for the sort of information you want. 6) I believe that all of Alicia Markova's personal papers are held at the Gotlieb Centre Boston University. The staff there might be willing and able to assist you. If not the bibliography in the recent (2014) Markova biography might assist. As I said before I apologise if you have already considered these potential sources of information. I shall be interested to know how you get on. I am particularly curious about how helpful "The Dancing Times" proves to be and how accessible its archive is.
  14. As has already been noted the company is staging a new production of Swan Lake in the summer booking period and it will come as no surprise to me if there are another twenty plus performances of the new production in the 2018-2019 season as well as the company will be keen to recoup its costs as quickly as possible and for those who have made role debuts to consolidate and develop their interpretations. A new production of any of the Petipa nineteenth century classics requires a major investment of time and money.It may be only two years since Dowell's production was pensioned off but that does not make the new Lac any less of a major undertaking for the company. I am not going to speculate about who is likely to be cast with whom except to say that I shall be surprised if any one who made their debut as Aurora or the Prince last season does not find themselves in the leading roles in Lac which means that a lot of coaching needs to take place. Depending on what choice is made about the choreography for the waltz and act 3 divertisements there could be some very interesting opportunities for dancers who do not appear as Odette/Odile and the Prince in the initial run. The one thing that is certain is that no one will want the new Swan Lake to look under rehearsed or like a series of extended stage rehearsals on its first night or in its next three or four performances. I suspect that it is the demand for rehearsal time made by the new production that in large part explains the bare-bone casting details for Elite Syncopations . The ballet uses a lot of dancers a dozen of whose names appear on the cast sheet and eight of whom get to do the bulk of the dancing in various combinations. In these circumstances saying as little as possible about who is to dance at each performance is a wise move as it saves management having to issue amendments to the advertised cast at every turn. I don't intend to speculate on casting but those who indulge in such activities might like to try to work out who they think will dance the section originally performed by Derman and Sleep a very tall girl and a very short man. As for me I shan't worry about casting as the company has a lot of very talented up and coming dancers who need to be given performance time. The ballet is not a great favourite of mine and it is likely to be improved in my eyes, at least, by not being cast with all the usual suspects. As far as the casting for Manon is concerned might I remind everyone that neither the roIes of Lescaut nor that of his mistress are minor ones. They were originally created by MacMillan at de Valois' suggestion because she thought that Manon needed a bit of light relief among all the emoting, death and suffering in the ballet. The fact that the original cast were David Wall and Monica Mason should indicate to everyone that they are not insignificant roles and that they need dancers who are technically strong and have real stage presence. Lescaut needs to have clean sharp footwork and be as excellent as a partner as he is as a soloist. His mistress needs real technical power. I am inclined to see it as a nice juicy role for for Naghdi rather than as a secondary one. The fact that it has not always been cast from strength in the past does not make the role a minor one. As far as Lescaut is concerned I have to say that I am rather relieved to find that Soares' name does not appear anywhere in the Manon casts. He has always been a variable dancer and the prospect of him giving yet another edited highlights account of Lescaut was not something that I was looking forward to seeing. Once again the casting information if going to play havoc with my bank balance. But better that than be faced with casts who render a series of performances virtually unwatchable. I shall have to make choices but at least I am not faced with casts which immediately eliminate any desire I might have had to see the ballets programmed for performance.
  15. In October 2015 there was a Petipa Colloquium in Bordeaux which had speakers from France, Russia and the US including Marian Smith the author of "Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle" which revealed how very close in structure Romantic ballets were to operas of the period with their ensembles and solos; Schott who has written about Balanchine and Petipa and is the author of "The Sleeping Beauty the Making of a Legend " and Doug Fullington who has worked on reconstructing Petipa's ballets for a number of Western companies using the Mariinsky notated records which N Sergueyev brought to the West in the 1920's. It was extremely interesting and I had thought that there might be a similar conference in Marseilles in 2018. But from information which I stumbled across on a French website I know that the request for academic papers for the 2015 conference had cut off points for receipt and assessment which ended in September 2014. As there is nothing comparable on the site for this year it seems unlikely that there will be any academic events in France next year. I hope that I am wrong about this because the Bordeaux conference was very well organised and brought together a number of experts on Petipa his life and works; ballet in Russia and France during the nineteenth century and Western experts on reconstructing nineteenth century ballets including Claudia Jeschke who I understand is an expert on another significant player in the world of nineteenth century ballet Henri Justament. If he is known at all today, it is as the man who staged the last nineteenth century revival of Giselle at the POB. His significance lies in the vast quantity of material which has survived from his work as the stager of ballets. This material is now housed in a number of European archives. It is a potential source for the reconstruction of ballets now believed completely lost, the reconstruction in an early form of ballets which Petipa later restaged and reworked in Russia and patching and supporting material for works where the Stepanov notation of a Petipa restaging is incomplete . From what I have read it looks as if the Bordeaux event was the first of a number of Franco -Russian Petipa conferences the rest of which have been held in Russia. It appears that the Petipa Conference in St Petersburg from 10th- 12th March 2018 is a follow up to the 2015 event.The direct answer to the question about events connected with the Petipa bicentenary at present at least, is there is nothing happening in France and nothing in Britain either. While I can believe that the bicentenary might be overlooked and there will be no major exhibitions in this country I find it hard to believe that it will be overlooked in France. There again 2018 might see a major ballet exhibition at the V and A as a follow up to opera exhibition which is currently on there. We have no way of knowing what form the RB Insight events might take throughout 2018. Will the company treat the new Swan Lake as an opportunity to put on some Petipa themed events, which might be embarrassing as there is precious little Petipa in most production of the ballet. Perhaps it have some free standing Petipa bicentenary based Insight events ? Who knows ? Let us hope that they don't ascribe the Golden Idol and his choreography to Petipa as happened when the company put on the Insight event "How Ballet Evolved" .
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