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  1. For those who may be interested there is a documentary about Petipa available on the french television channel Arte until the 29th December. It is called Marius Petpa le maitre francais du ballet russe. It is available in French and possibly German but as there is a lot of filmed dance the language should not be a problem. It includes Alban Lendorf dancing the original choreography for the Prince from act 3 Sleeping Beauty.
  2. I can understand that the cut in the ACE grant has had an impact on prices for both opera and ballet but in the past the need to raise revenue was dealt with by the simple expedient pf raising ticket prices across the board at the beginning of the season not with the sort of jiggery-pokery, price manipulation and mind games which the Marketing Department is currently employing. As far as the opera is concerned I am afraid that most of its problems are self inflicted. While it is true that operas cost a lot to stage and the drop in the value of the pound will not have helped the company's finances the real problem with the opera company lies largely with the decisions which have been made with respect to pensioning off old still serviceable productions and replacing them with exceptionally poor ones. It is arguable whether the organisation which stages opera at Covent Garden is a company at all as it consists of little more than a chorus, an orchestra and support services reduced to a bare minimum with no comprimario singers or really experienced in-house singers. In balletic terms this is the equivalent of an organisation which is essentially a corps de ballet an orchestra and ballet coaches without any soloists, first soloists and principal dancers claiming to be a ballet company' Depending on how you look at things the opera company has either had an extraordinary run of bad luck as far as its new productions are concerned or it has been run incompetently. However you look at things since the 2011-12 season it has managed to stage more than forty new productions very few of which anyone would willingly pay to see again. Both the Carmen and the Cosi being revived this season fall into that category. The reason why ticket sales for them have been so poor has nothing to do with the local audience disliking Cosi or Carmen as operas. There were plenty of people who naively were looking forward to a new Cosi when it was staged in 2016-17 but after seeing it do not want to repeat the experience. I am one of them. Staging a new opera production. like staging a new ballet or a new play is always a bit of a gamble because you don't know whether it really works until it has been placed in front of a live paying audience. But to stage so many new productions and have so few which are genuinely revivable takes some doing. A well run opera house should, at any one time, have at its disposal any number of good revivable productions of core repertory works which will still draw audiences and a few classic productions which even the most demanding of singers will be happy to appear in. The Zefferelli Tosca was just such a production as were the Visconti Don Carlos, the Mosshinskey Peter Grimes and the Copley La Boheme, and of these, only the latter production was built to last. When it was commissioned the director and designer were told that their Boheme had to last at least as long as the production it was replacing. Such productions enable a company to undertake worthy efforts such as taking a calculated risk by staging works like Henze's Boulevard Solitude which are unlikely to sell out. The ROH staging of Don Carlos and the full evening Les Troyens in the 1950's both started as calculated risks which paid off and helped to establish the prestige of the company .and raised it in less thantwenty five years to being seen as a world class company. Solid revvable bankable productions are an essential element of a company in financial and artistic good health as they guarantee a company a regular income stream season after season. A well run opera house should not need to make repeated trips to the bargain basement for its casts nor does it need to import its comprimario singers from half way round the world. It ought to be able to bank on at least 50% of its new productions being sufficiently good to justify one or more revival and a few being so good that they will make it to a third revival, the point at which a production begins to go into profit.Unfortunately very few of the Royal Opera's new productions have risen much above the level of third rate provincialism. The new productions tend to be ones in which the director ignores the guidance provided by the composer and librettist and replaces the opera they composed in their naivety , with the work they would have created if they had possessed the superior sensibilities and knowledge of the director. This may sound incredible but when it came to staging a new Idomeneo the opera management engaged a director who actually wrote in his programme notes that he disliked the opera and proceeded to demonstrate it with the production he staged. In replacing its older marketable productions it has staged any number of "exciting", "challenging", "accessible" and "relevant" productions but it has staged very few that bear repeated viewing let alone ones which people might look forward to seeing revived. Each failed new production represents money thrown down the drain and a great deal of money has been thrown away in recent years. As a result the opera organisation must be losing considerably more money than it can realistically hope to recoup in the immediate future. Evidence that the opera side of the organisation is in a bad way and that it is not that highly esteemed company it considers itself to be is provided by the fact that its new Lohengrin, with a good cast, failed to sell out and the first revival of its new La Boheme played to a half empty house at a weekend matinee at the end of its initial season. The fact that last summer was an exceptionally good one is no explanation for a poor house as keen opera goers ignore both good and bad weather if a work is being performed which they want to see. As far as La Traviata is concerned it is a pretty dull affair which just feels as if comes back annually. It is just possible that it has all but exhausted its potential audience in London and beyond. High ticket prices do not help to sell performances in old productions which are not classics of their kind. What the management laughingly described as Carmen bore little resemblance to the opera which Tchaikovsky described as a perfect opera. The new Boheme is a poor thing which did not sell out on its second appearance at the end of its initial season. The new Lohengrin was daft but not objectionable. Against the background of years of poor productions and the hike in ticket prices I don't think that it is any wonder that Pique Dame is not selling that well. Tchaikovsky seems to play a significant part in the staging of his opera which does not bode that well. I think that nearly everyone who has posted on this topic has expressed concern about the policies which the marketing department is pursuing. I don't think that I am looking back on the past with rose coloured spectacles but my memory of the old pre-closure opera house, was that its audience was far more socially and economically diverse and local than it is at present as far as the Amphitheatre audience was concerned. But then the management did not behave as if they were running a business.Ticket prices for the upper part of the house were kept affordable with the posh part of the house bearing the brunt of any price increases which were needed. This was a deliberate policy as both David Webster and his immediate successor wanted to keep the building genuinely accessible to those with a real love of opera and ballet. Performances were genuinely accessible to ordinary people on ordinary incomes. Postmen, shop workers, railway workers, secretaries, nurses, teachers and students could afford to attend performances. It did no cost an arm and a leg to try opera or ballet for the first time or to experiment with unfamiliar composers and choreographers because you were not going to bankrupt yourself in the process. Perhaps it is simply the fact that the newly Opened Up Opera House was unveiled at the time that we became aware of the jiggery-pokery being employed by the Marketing Department in its ticket pricing policy but somehow it does not feel as if the people running the newly refurbished opera house are as concerned with the needs of their core audience as they are with generating income at every turn. It is not simply that the new public areas still look and feel like an artist's impression of "Open Up". It is almost as if with its airport terminal look the ROH organisation is more concerned with processing people and parting them from their money than it is with the artistic activity in the building.Now while it may be true that last time I looked the large white stuccoed building on Bow Street was being still being described as an " opera house" rather than "Beard's Eatery" or "Alec's Grub " its anonymous airport style design and its bland, beige, boring décor in the new public areas suggests that its primary function is to feed and water passing tourists and get as much money out of them as it can. If you were cynical you might think that the entire "Open Up" project was only ever intended to give the illusion of accessibility to those not already in the know about ballet and opera while the management was actually trying to restore its pre-war exclusivity based on the ability to pay.
  3. FLOSS

    Elaine McDonald RIP

    I am saddened to hear of Elaine MacDonald's death there was a time when her name and that of Scottish Ballet were all but synonymous, That was a time when the company made regular visits to Sadler's Wells bringing an interesting Darrell based repertory with them. Not all of Darrell's ballets were masterpieces but many of them were well worth seeing particularly if MacDonald was dancing in them. I can suggest a reason for the neglect of Darrell's ballets and that is simply that his works displayed a level of ingenuity, inventiveness and sheer theatrical effectiveness that seem to be lacking in so much of the new work that is staged here and abroad. Neglect in whole or part is a fate suffered by several other British choreographers of note including Ashton, Tudor and Gore and several choreographers who worked here long enough to be part of the story of ballet in this country such as the two South Africans Staff and Cranko. Of course such neglect is usually explained away by describing the neglected works as old and emphasising their antiquity and finally by making the broad assertion that they would not appeal to modern audiences. As no one is going to stage them we shall, in all probability, never find out whether such statements are true or not. I often suspect that it is the fear that these "antique" works would show up the faults of works by younger choreographers like Wheeldon and Pita and those with choreographic pretentions such as Marriott which keeps them safely away from the stage rather than their age. It would be nice to think that Scottish Ballet might be prompted to stage a ballet like The Tales of Hoffman and some of the other Darrell works in which MacDonald appeared as a tribute to her. If the company were to stage a Darrell work as a tribute there is always the hope that it might prompt interest in some of the other works which he created.There are several of his works which I should like to see just out of interest beginning with his ballet "The House Party".
  4. The timings according to the most recent information on the ROH performance database are as follows:- 1) Les Patineurs 24 minutes (2011 performance) 2) Winter Dreams 54 minutes (2010 performance) 3) The Concert 29 minutes (2001 performance) The mixed bill has one hour forty seven minutes of dancing plus two intervals of either twenty five or thirty minutes. I hope this helps. As far as the website is concerned why would any of us expect somebody employed to provide information about performances to the ROH audience to think that timings matter when they clearly don't believe that ballet casting details are of concern to anyone? You have to remember that the Marketing Department has figures which prove to their satisfaction that all anyone wants to know about performances taking place at the ROH is whether they are opera or ballet. They may just concede that the average operagoer expects to be told who is singing but as far as the balletgoer is concerned all that most people attending performances want to know is that they are going to see a performance by the Royal Ballet. Remember they have the figures to prove it. They want those of us who do not conform to this ideal audience which their consultants have identified for them to change our ways as quickly as possible. The ideal audience members are far less needy as they do not require ROH staff to provide anything but the most basic services. Should anyone object that the ROH audience does not consist of two mutually exclusive groups of operagoers and balletgoers but includes a hybrid group who go to both opera and ballet the powers that be will vehemently deny their existence and redouble their efforts to eliminate that pesky group of nonconformists as quickly as possible through the useful mechanism of the dynamic pricing policy.
  5. FLOSS

    Best starting class for 7 nearly 8 year old

    I would not usually step into a conversation about ballet training but having heard both Anita Young and Elena Gurliadze speak at a London Ballet Circle meeting they said something which, while it may seem blindingly obvious, may help you. A member of the audience asked if ballet training was so good for the body why were there so many students at the SAB who were obviously injured? Their answers were very much practical and to the point and may be of help to you. They said that there were too many involved in dance training in countries where it is not regulated who had not been trained to teach ballet. They then spoke about training in general terms. I thought that what they had to say might be of help to you. Both agreed that when selecting a teacher you should always check to ensure that those giving classes are qualified as dance teachers and are registered with one or other of the specialist dance education providers. They also agreed that solid foundations were essential and that no element could or should be skipped. Although it could seem very boring to a young student, and even more boring today when children have access to the internet, it was essential that a student began training with the basics and was taught by a qualified registered teacher. They agreed that while the basics are far from exciting they are essential to building a student's strength and preparing the body for the more interesting aspects of the ballet syllabus. No student should run before they can walk. Please move the above post and my answer to the Doing Dance section of the Forum
  6. FLOSS

    New ROH cast sheets

    I agree with the criticism of the new cast sheets which seem designed to be far less legible than the ones they replace. I assume that they are part of the ROH "new brand" initiative. But do we really want triple bills given fatuous titles of the type devised by BRB such as "Fire and Fury", "Summer Celebration" or "Spring Passion " which give no indication of the range and type of ballets being performed ?.Given the way that those involved with marketing and customer experience seem to have taken charge of and tried to standardise so much of what members of the public experience when attending performances and reduce the services provided by the ROH organisation it can only be a matter of time before the powers that be insist that the AD should devise mixed bills that are far more homogeneous and more carefully themed so that they suit the title selected for them. What title would you give the Les Patineurs mixed bill ? "Winter Solstice" suggests itself but would not you have to replace the Concert with something more suited to the bill's title and of course if you chose an equally fatuous title such as "Winter Celebrations" you would, at the very least, have to lose Winter Dreams. In fact you might find that mixed bill became even more difficult to construct than they are at present.
  7. I think we have to understand that Petipa's career as choreographer at the Mariinsky falls into several distinct phases. First working as a sort of choreographer's mate to Perrot assisting him in staging and reviving works first staged in Paris and London all of which had far more mime and acting in them than we are generally used to seeing today. Marion Smith who wrote "Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle describes the structure of a Romantic ballet as very like that of an opera of the period and says that the proportion of mime to dance in the original Giselle is about 40% mime to 60% dance. This assessment is not mere guesswork on her part as it is supported by the structure of a ballet like Buornonville's Folk Tale which does not seem to have been subject to too much revision and by the discovery in Frankfurt of a notebook which once belonged to Henri Justament. its significance is that Justament was the last man to stage a revival of Giselle at the Paris Opera during the nineteenth century. The revival was staged, I think,in 1868 . The notebook contained the full dialogue for all the named characters in Giselle but its true value only became obvious when it was discovered that what Justament had written down fitted the music of the violin reduction of the score which was used when Giselle was first stage in St.Petersburg. The point about all this is that it makes it clear that what audiences expected to see when they went to the ballet was almost as much acting as dancing. It is not unreasonable to suppose that this was the sort of structural template which Petipa used when he began creating his own ballets or that he continued in that vein from La Fille du Pharon , his first choreographic success until 1890 when he found himself showcasing dancers whose main claim to fame was their formidable technical virtuosity and prowess. The ballets from this intermediate period are as much concerned with drama as they are with technical display as Petipa was still working in a choreographic style much closer to the French than we tend to be aware of today because the ballets from this period with which we are familiar have been revised and spiced up innumerable times to suit whatever were the current tastes in ballet . The current view of what the Petipa ballet of the late nineteenth century should look like in performance are the product of watching innumerable versions and improved, more audience friendly revised stagings of these works and the effect of the artistic tastes, or lack thereof, of individual dancers as to speed, dynamics, elaboration and the desire to display their "improved technique". I have read somewhere a comment made by Ekaterina Vazem, the first Nikiya, in which she says words to the effect that Perrot was a storyteller who was prepared to create choreography which was directed at being dramatically effective rather than displaying the ballerina. I can't help thinking that Petipa almost certainly followed a similar style at least initially. I know that his diary should not be taken at face value but in it Petipa laments the fact that he felt that he had betrayed the purity of the French school by incorporating so much of the Italian school in his choreography. This comment was clearly directed at the works he created for the Italian stars during the 1890's. This reinforces the idea that until they arrived and he began to create his Tchaikovsky ballets he was working in a vein not that far removed from Perrot's. However even in these Tchaikovsky ballets the display was not as obvious and pronounced as it is in performance practice today. There are fashions in ballet and taste and the average ballet goer today seems far more interested in circus than the sort of nuance in performance which was admired in St Petersburg at the time the ballets were made. The description of the Black Swan pas de deux as a "pas de action" makes considerably more sense in Ratmansky's reconstruction of Swan Lake than it does most modern stagings where it often seems to be treated more as an opportunity for competitive gala style dancing than story telling. Remember Legnani whose technical tricks were fully on display in Swan Lake thanked Petipa for making her an artist. Perhaps a useful exercise as far as this lack of obvious display in what we have come to expect to see performed as knock 'em dead display pieces might be to take a section of choreography by Ashton in which the dancer is expected to disguise its technical challenges and perform it as if it were normal and natural movement. Then imagine what the choreography might look like if during the thirty years after it ceases to be subject to copyright it is consistently performed in a style which emphasises its difficulties and any aspect of it that can be reduced to circus style display. Finally imagine how we would react if after all that time we were exposed for the first time to seeing it performed with its original musicality and dynamics. it would probably look extremely odd to us. I have not seen this reconstruction and am not going to do so until next year so I can only speak about the impression which Ratmansky's reconstructions of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty have had on me. I have been convinced by them because they have been performed at a speed which I recognise from my early experience of ballet going . When performed at the right speed in a period appropriate way they seem very stylish, light and beautiful. They suddenly make Petipa's musicality plain and obvious to all who care to see and that is most rewarding. To me it is a vast improvement on performances where the music sounds like a dirge because a dancer wishes to squeeze in an extra turn while another wishes to stick her foot in her ear. Danilova said that during the twentieth century ballet in Russia and in the West had taken different paths. She thought that in Russia ballet had become little more than a "display of dance". I would add that because of the awe in which we tend to hold the Russians because of their ability to consistently produce exceptional dancers many have been persuaded to accept their "display of dance" aesthetic and have sought to emulate it in their own performance of Petipa's ballets. As Ratmansky said his object in reconstructing these works is to get closer to what Petipa's ballets may have looked like in performance. By definition that is going to be disconcerting because it removes familiar text and characters and challenges so much of what we think we know about nineteenth century ballets and their performance, but then that is the point of the exercise. As far as the costumes are concerned you need to remember that Ratmansky has asked his designer to create an impression of what the original designs were like. The expectation at the time when La Bayadere was first staged was that ballerinas wore ballerina appropriate costume which were not affected by the idea that setting a ballet in ancient Egypt or somewhere in central India ought to result in their costumes reflecting the time or place in which the action was set. No leading ballerina would have expected to be required to lower herself by wearing costumes similar to those worm by specialist character dancers .To require that of the ballerinas would have been seen as the gravest insult They would all have been mortally offended if it had been suggested that their costumes should do more than subtly allude to when and where a ballet was set. The inappropriateness of ballerina's costumes exercised Fokine a great deal. You really should read his manifesto it will give you an insight into what was deemed appropriate in ballet design at the time that these ballets were created. We have to remember that as ballet goers we still live in a world in which Fokine's views on ballet aesthetics continue to have considerable influence on what we see or expect to see on stage in many twentieth century ballets. in !877 harem pants would have seemed perfectly indecent and I doubt that they would have been deemed respectable enough for the Imperial stage even at the point at which the ballet was notated which assume was soon after Petipa was forced to retire. I think that harem pants probably entered the world of ballet design with the Ballet Russes and Scheherazade which is another piece of Russian orientalism. Interestingly it seems to owe a debt to Le Corsaire in places.
  8. The Staatsballet website in its English version describes the production as a "reconstruction" and says it is based on "Petipa notation" which I take to mean the Sergeyev material now housed at Harvard. I trust this helps. I look forward to reading reviews from those who were there at the first night. From what little I know of the ballet's history it was given a radical overhaul some time in the 1930's, a revision of the text in which Chabukiani played a major role, so it will be interesting to learn how much of what we take to be Solor's choreography owes its existence to the revision. If the choreography is presented in its original form there will, of course, be no c. 1940 Soviet style Golden Idol and some of the material we are used to seeing in the second scene of the first act of Markarova's staging will now appear later in the ballet. I have read that Ratmansky is slightly less puritanical in his approach to the stylistic approach to the original choreography. It will be interesting to see if this is true and whether he has made any concessions to the modern ballet goers expectation that the male dancer should take a more active part in the ballet than may have been the case at the time the ballet was notated. Of course Ratmansky's directorial choices will depend on just how fully notated the ballet is and the constraints inherent in devising a text that will run for just under three hours with, I believe, only one interval. How refreshing to discover there are still ballet company's which do not have to accommodate the demands of the caterers working in the theatre in which they perform.
  9. Richard LH, Ashton acquired Serenade for the company in the early years of his directorship . It is part of its active repertory so with any luck it won't be too long before it is revived. The few recordings of Balanchine repertory available on DVD largely owe their existence to the "Dance in America" series shown on public service channels in the US. As far as I am aware there is no recording of Serenade available on DVD from that source and certainly no modern one from an official source. However a considerable number of Balanchine ballets were recorded in Montreal during the 1950's and 60's for transmission on Canadian television. If you think of Margaret Dale's work for the BBC you won't be too far off the mark. VAI has released them on DVD in a series called "Balanchine in Montreal". Serenade was issued on the first DVD in the series. While the series is best seen as an historic record of the company and its legendary dancers it contains some gems as the dancers bring a freedom and vivacity to their performances which have been lost as Balanchine has been transformed from major choreographer into all American genius. Of course they are in black and white and the images are not as sharp as they would have been if ICA had got its hands on them and cleaned them up, the camera does not capture everything but at least it isn't all of a fidget. How much of a problem that is for you will of course depend on what you are looking for in terms of image quality. For me they are a fascinating document of the company for you they may be unwatchable.
  10. I don't think that it's simply a question of the Les Patineurs programme being "seasonal" and therefore popular. After all Les Patineurs is a ballet which can be danced at any time of the year with success as it is still the highly entertaining work it was when it was first staged in 1937. It enables management to give opportunities to young and relatively inexperienced dancers to show what they can do without placing too much pressure on them as performers or damaging the effectiveness of the ballet. If you want to examine the work very closely it becomes pretty clear which roles are the preserve of the technically strong and experienced dancers and those which can be danced by a wider range of dancers, but the work is so cleverly constructed that you really have to look hard to identify which bits are which. As far as I am concerned I was quite happy to book for all three casts on the basis of the casting for the Blue Skater. I am more than happy to let the rest of the cast come as a pleasant surprise because of all the potential lurking in the lower ranks of the company. I shall not complain if, apart from those already named, no one higher than the rank of Soloist appears in it. I am expecting Kevin to use this revival as an opportunity to show us a range of dancers who have not, as yet, done that much except appear in the corps or get walk on roles. In that context the name Aumeer immediately springs to mind. I don't think that those who have been complaining about the lack of casting detail for this ballet will have much to complain about if dancers in the lower ranks such as Dubreuil , Serrano, Aumeer and Chisato are given their opportunity to reveal their potential. As far as the audience's apparent enthusiasm for this mixed bill is concerned I don't think that anyone will have anticipated such a strong demand for tickets. Six performances has become the norm for the company's mixed bills as the opera house audience generally prefers full length ballets of which they have heard to programmes which include unfamiliar works even if they offer the opportunity to see half the company's Principal dancers, and of course they don't generate as much income. I imagine that the audience for this programme will include people who were slow off the mark when it came to booking tickets for the Opera House Nutcracker; those with children who have declared themselves bored by Nutcracker because it does not have a decent story and those with children who have decided that they are far too sophisticated for such childish fare. There comes a time in the lives of most children taken to ballet performances as a Christmas treat when they are ready to move away from works which appear to have been created for children. All in all this triple bill is an ideal programme for such sophisticated grown up children and their accompanying adults, because even if the younger members of the party find Winter Dreams a bit boring it will almost certainly appeal to the accompanying adults as its casts provide the opportunity to see a range of dancers in the company's highest ranks, and there is always the Concert to look forward to. The lack of casting detail for Les Patineurs and the Concert, whatever the reason for it, gives Kevin the opportunity to make casting decisions for both works much closer to the date of the performance than is usually the case and should mean that he will give development opportunities to the company's junior dancers. Of course as far as the casting for the Concert is concerned those decisions are not necessarily entirely within his control. Perhaps the custodians of the Robbins repertory have yet to make their casting decisions. I can only hope that a similar level of enthusiasm develops for the two programmes which include the Two Pigeons as I should hate to see it disappear from the company's repertory again. I can't help thinking that it would be better for all of us, if, instead playing games with ticket prices the marketing department actually set about performing the function which the word "marketing" suggests is its responsibility, which is selling tickets.Whatever the marketing department does it is never going to convert the hard core loyalist ballet audience into an amenable one which books for the " Opera House Experience " of wining, dining and a performance which is, at best, merely of secondary importance. I can't help wondering what happens to a ballet company which loses its loyal following and becomes a provider of corporate entertainment and part of the local tourist industry? I am not suggesting that the presence of any one of us at a performance is essential to the continued existence of the Royal Ballet and its artistic integrity but I can't help wondering what would happen to a company which lost its supportive knowledgeable local audience and found itself performing to audiences who know and care little for the art form and only go to performances as part of the " Opera House Experience " or part of the "London Experience"? Comments on the Dansomanie Forum website about the machinations of the ROH's marketing department suggests that Parisian ballet goers associate a similar, although perhaps a less blatant, manipulation of ticket prices at the POB not only with the loss of a knowledgeable local audience but a diminution in the range of the repertory performed there , the number of performances of its nineteenth century repertory it gives and the neglect of works by Lifar and other choreographers which are part of the local tradition and the company's historical repertory. Of course it is possible that there was no causal connection whatsoever between the loss of the hard core Parisian " regulars" and these repertory changes and it is simply coincidence that they occurred at about the same time. Whether or not there was a causal connection between the POB's price rises and the neglect of the company's historical repertory there is no doubt in my mind that the policy indicated an indifference to the artform and the continuation of the classical tradition. Perhaps these first steps by the ROH's marketing department should raise serious concerns about the future of classical ballet at Bow Street. After all a quick fix which has apparently boosted the revenues of companies elsewhere might be particularly welcome to a marketing department which seems incapable of performing its basic job of selling tickets.
  11. Of course everyone is entitled to their view of whether or not a role carries prestige but I think that you might at least concede that when MacMillan created his Romeo and Juliet he chose specific dancers on whom to create the ballet's leading characters because he wanted his Romeo, Juliet and Mercutio to be as individual as he could make them seeing them as theatrical characters rather than merely so many opportunities to dance. In this he was greatly influenced by a recent production of the play in which realism rather than the play's poetry had been central to the actors' performances. I am afraid I tend to judge the importance of a role by how central it is to the over all theatrical effectiveness of a play,opera or ballet not on whether the character in question is mentioned in the work's title. Is it being suggested that because De Grieux is not mentioned in the title of the ballet that he is a secondary character in Manon or because only Lise is mentioned in the title of Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee that Colas is a minor character ? Just because Mercutio gets killed off at the end of the second act does not make him a minor character and the history of the role and the names of the dancers who played him during MacMillan's lifetime supports my assessment of the significance of the role. To my mind what can make him a secondary character in performance is tone deaf casting and minor issues such as casting dancers with strong stage personalities who can't actually dance the steps and resort to edited versions of them. Equal opportunities casting by which I mean casting against emploi may be wonderful for an individual dancer's fans but it has a deleterious effect on the theatrical impact of a ballet which was created by a choreographer who had decided to use emploi as a means of delineating the different personalities of the main characters who appear in his ballet. In this context Romeo as originally conceived is much closer to a demi- character dancer who can perform noble roles than a truly aristocratic noble dancer but Mercutio is definitely a demi-character dancer playing a well defined character. The original cast, or rather the dancers who MacMillan had intended should be the first cast included the company's greatest male technician of the time, David Blair the first Colas, as Mercutio and Christopher Gable a strong actor dancer with great stage presence, as Romeo. Mercutio's choreography was created for a demi-character dancer that is someone who can make the text he dances speak rather than someone who executes his choreography in beautiful classroom fashion but in doing so fails to fully realise the character who is supposedly portraying. Mercutio if danced as MacMillan created him is a fascinating character, quirky, witty, cynical. quick thinking and fleet of foot all of which is expressed in his choreography. In Mercutio's ballroom solo MacMillan seems to be embracing Ashton style classicism up to and including the markedly off centre turn which seems to be lifted from the Brian Shaw's solo in Symphonic Variations. A bit of choreographic borrowing which completely sums up the character when the dancer cast as Mercutio deigns to do it or perhaps it is more accurate to say is able to do it. Having recently watched the entire South Bank show about the creation of MacMillan's Mayerling it is clear that the emphasis in its performance has shifted quite considerable over the years. A ballet in which MacMillan freed the action from the conventions of nineteenth century ballet construction by completely eliminating the divertissement and ensuring that all the choreography carries the narrative forward seems to have been reversed by current performance practice. The inter-action between the Hungarian Officers and Mitzi Caspar in the tavern scene looks suspiciously like a divertissement as it is now treated more as an opportunity for technical display than choreography which has much connection with the narrative or characterisation. I suspect that MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet like his Mayerling has been subjected to a considerable amount of classicising over the years . The filmed sections of Mayerling with the original cast, suggest that a great deal of the work's originality and quirkiness has been lost over the years as what were once expressive movements have been transformed by the move to the display of classical perfection which tends to iron out the quirkiness in the choreography and removes, or at least plays down, quite a bit of the detailed natural body language which at one time was clearly part of the choreography. Imposing class room rules on choreography which was intended primarily as an expressive work transforms it into a more obviously classical ballet than is creator intended it to be and destroys its emotional impact. But there is more to it than that. Even after seven years as director when MacMillan created Mayerling he was still making his ballet on dancers steeped in Ashton's classicism. They all had exceptionally expressive upper bodies because they were Ashton dancers and they had been taught how to use knew how to use their eyes to convey their thoughts or had learned to do so. I suspect that as an even older ballet Romeo and Juliet has undergone even more transformation than Mayerling has simply because more than fifty years of performance tradition now overlays the original intention of the choreographer plus whatever "improvements" Lady M has decided to impose on it. It seems to me that far too many dancers performing Juliet have either never heard MacMillan's view that in performing Juliet a dancer should never be afraid of making ugly shapes or perhaps its simply that dancers can't break themselves of the habit of making beautiful shapes. How many Juliet's convey her revulsion at finding herself in the crypt? They raise their arms and gaze around and it is just so much stylised dutifully learned empty movement. I accept that the bodies which used to be in the crypt were removed from it years ago, presumably at Lady M's behest, so that today Juliet recoils at nothing rather than a dead body on a bier, but even so a great deal of detail has been rendered bland, beautiful and mechanical. Looking at the tomb scene from the perspective of performances of Romeo how many of them actually manage to make the audience feel Romeo's bleak despair at finding what he supposes to be Juliet's corpse or his inability to abandon her dead body because he can't accept her death? Again what once looked appallingly raw in performance is now at the beautifully expressive end of the spectrum. Just a comment about Campbell being cast as the idol It sounds to me as if the company is expecting to issue a new DVD of La Bayadere which suggests that the three Shades who dance solos in the Kingdom of the Shades in the streamed performance are likely to be equally distinguished.
  12. Kevin has said on a number of occasions that he can't promote everyone with talent but that he hopes to keep the company happy by giving his dancers opportunities and interesting repertory to dance which I have taken to mean that he does not intend to restrict leading roles to the company's senior dancers, This interpretation is supported by the casting decisions which have been made since he became director.The company is awash with talent and in particular it has a lot of young men who show real artistic promise. So far Kevin has managed to strike a good balance between giving established Principal dancer's their due as far as the number of performances they are given is concerned while giving young talent the opportunity to gain experience of performing leading roles and furthering their development as artists. Ensuring that young talented dancers get opportunities to dance major rules early in their careers before the thought of dancing a specific role becomes even more daunting than the technical demands that the role itself presents is always going to be a challenge in a company like the RB and was the reason that de Valois founded the old touring company. We need to remember that there are always practical factors to be taken into account when making casting decisions and they include suitability for a role based on stage personality, physical and technical shape, the dancer's height and the height of potential partners bearing in mind that being on point adds several inches to a female dancer's height.Sometimes, as here, impending and foreseeable retirement may be a significant factor in making casting decisions. As matters stand the company will soon have to replace three tall and therefore very useful and adaptable Romeos. Bonelli, Soares and Watson are all likely to retire in the not too distant future .However much they may be admired by sections of the audience age is catching up with both Watson who is forty two and Bonelli who must be fortyish while in Soares' case it is his increasingly variable technique which has ruled him out of a number of roles including Romeo. Something which he appears to have acknowledged in a filmed interview in which he said that he would be concentrating on dramatic roles in the future. The point here is that while Romeo may appear to be an acting role in many dancer's performances it was created by MacMillan in classical choreographer mode and it requires a clean and solid technique to do it justice. The minute a dancer's technique begins to slip it shows in performance. Looking at the range of dancers cast in this revival it seems to me that Kevin has set out to replace adaptable and useful dancers with dancers who he thinks are likely to be equally adaptable and useful to the company in the future. Now while Campbell is a fine dancer with a winning stage personality he is never going to be as useful as someone as tall as Clarke or Ball and at this revival Kevin is making provision for the future. So what of the Romeos who are new to the house this season? Both Clarke and Corrales are new to the role. Clarke is steadily acquiring roles and working his way up through the ranks of the company and to put it bluntly with his height he does not need special arrangements made for him. As far as Corrales is concerned it is almost certain that what attracted him to the RB was the wide range of roles it could offer him. Kevin is now in the process of giving Corrales the opportunities he joined the company to secure. Bracewell's performances of Romeo will be a house debut rather than a debut in role and I imagine the same is true of Hallberg as well. It seems to me that in giving both Ball and Clarke performances of Romeo with two different Juliets Kevin intends to increase their usefulness to the company. Unlike Campbell, Clarke and Ball don't need to have special casting arrangements made to accommodate their performances as Romeo. Of course it may simply be that knowing that Campbell has already danced the role of Romeo management has decided that this revival should be used to add a few more dancers who have experience of dancing the role of Romeo to the company's roster. Management may not have disclosed who is to dance Mercutio but that does not make it a secondary role. Mercutio was created for David Blair and it requires a dancer with good clean technique and a strong quirky stage personality to provide a suitable witty contrast to the dancer playing Romeo.There are three leading roles in Romeo and Juliet not two. Mercutio is the third. In the ballet the audience needs to see a real contrast between the character of the love smitten Romeo and that of the witty and cynical Mercutio. A difference which has often been eliminated in the anyone can do anything system of casting which seems to prevail at present. This approach leads to a bland uniformity of performance style rather than one with real spice and contrast. Benvolio is the secondary role in the trio of men who roam the streets of Verona and again it was specifically designed for promising dancers on the way up through the ranks . For years Mercutio was treated as the preserve of Principal dancers and the occasional exceptionally talented First Soloist who was an outstanding Ashton stylist such as Cervera. During MacMillan's time Mercutio was danced by the likes of Coleman, Wall, Jeffries and Dowell so it would scarcely be an insult to Campbell if he were to be cast in the role.
  13. The coaching elements were fine but I found the discussion section a real disappointment largely because the presenter seemed more concerned with signalling the ROH's virtue as a culturally sensitive organisation than in listening to what was being said by the two speakers. His question about authenticity and cultural appropriation seemed to come form nowhere and was pretty decisively dealt with early on when it was effectively dismissed by both speakers but he persisted in pursuing it rather than trying to extend the discussion about the work's origins. Setting Petipa's ballet in the context of all the other orientalist ballets which were staged in Paris in the 1830's and 40's which Petipa would either have seen or heard about;asking whether it had any relationship with a ballet called La Bayadere in which Taglioni had danced nearly half a century before and asking just how much of what we are going to see on stage is really the result of Chabukiani's revision of the ballet in the 1930's would have been far more interesting and useful.
  14. I don't think that the casting is at all unfair or surprising. I have a feeling that Campbell. Hay, Zucchetti and some other obvious absentees will be dancing Mercutio which it seems I must remind you is not an insignificant role and should really be danced by a Principal, a First Soloist or an exceptionally gifted junior dancer if it is to have its full theatrical impact and keep the narrative effectively balanced. I think that we should see this run of performances as building for the company's future. All of the new in-house Romeos are well under thirty, they may not be principal dancers at present but one or two of them give every indication of moving up to that level in the not too distant future. This may hurt but the truth is that it would be a wasted opportunity to give Hirano who is in his mid-thirties a crack at the role of Romeo when there are younger talented dancers who need to get the role into their bodies now rather than having to wait for a revival in three years time. As far as Watson is concerned it is a big dance. MacLeary is on record as saying that all Romeos are exhausted by the time they get to the balcony pas de deux and I can't help thinking that if he had not already decided to drop Romeo from his repertory then his most recent injury will almost certainly have made him think about whether he should leave the role to younger dancers. As far as Soares is concerned this is a ballet which while it has expressive choreography does not leave much opportunity for someone whose technique is best described as "variable" at this stage in his career to cover badly executed steps with acting. As an eminent critic recently wrote when this version of the ballet entered the repertory of Samadurov's company while the audience may not notice it in performance its choreography has been created using classroom steps. The steps have to be danced cleanly as steps and there is no hiding place for a dancer having an off day. If I recall correctly Soares is on record as saying that he is concentrating on character roles rather than more purely dancing ones .
  15. If I were a truly cynical person I would say that the nonsensical casting information for the Royal Ballet School/Two Pigeons mixed bill was evidence that the marketing department had set out to establish that it can sell ballet tickets without giving accurate casting details. As it is I think that it is evidence of the arrogance and indifference of the marketing department to both the hardcore ballet fan and the general public and that the slipshod approach of the person posting the casting details for these mixed programmes is simply its latest manifestation. By the way the nonsense is not confined to this programme. If you look at the casting for La Bayadere as it currently appears on the website the names of the dancers have not been listed in the consistent order of Solor. Nikiya and Gamzatti but at least it is a whole lot easier to unravel . I think that we shall all be very interested to learn what the Royal Opera House administration has to say about the nonsense currently to be found on its website in response to Bridiem's e-mail. I can't help wondering just how evasive the response is likely to be given its current corporate policy of dealing with enquiries by answering the question it would have liked to have received rather than the one that was actually asked. As far as casting is concerned I would suggest that the Winter season casting given on the Ballet Association website is likely to be an accurate account of who is dancing in both of the Two Pigeons programmes. It is because of its close links with the company that the Ballet Association is sometimes disparagingly described as " the Royal Ballet's supporter's club" but at times like this those links are likely to produce the accurate information which the ROH has failed to supply.
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