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  1. Kate, if you have time I would recommend that you search out the recording of the full ballet performed as part of the Queen's Silver Jubilee Gala held at the ROH. The film is somewhat murky and would not be any good if you need to show it to others as part of your presentation but it is well worth watching if you want to learn about the ballet in performance during Ashton's lifetime after Nureyev's influence had been assimilated by the company. The cast is led by Park and Wall. It is a strong one as most of the cast had been dancing the ballet on and off for the previous ten years. I think that only Eagling is a newcomer. Ashton would have selected the cast and coached them and that has a great impact on the quality of the performance you see. In this performance the ballet it is not merely the beautifully modulated elegant piece that it so often seems to be when performed by dancers on a flying visit to Ashton's vision of the celestial, or something more. The current craze for overly intrusive camerawork prevents you watching the ballet which Ashton created and intended it to be seen as an expression of the sublime. Symphonic Variations like every other ballet Ashton created is a work of choreographic surprises and in this case one of real emotional depth. I leave it to you to decide whether it contains a bit where Ashton "goes completely mad" which Dowell insists is to be found in every work he made. In this recording as in the one made for Granada a year later which had a cast led by Sibley and Dowell you get a feeling for the work's inherent theatricality, beginning with the impact of the central man's first movements, after the choreographer has built up the tension by keeping the audience waiting while the women dance and later the point at which the sideman, Coleman, performs off centre turns gazing to heaven. I think that the recording reveals the ballet's theatrical impact because the dancers selected were already steeped in Ashton's style and were able to dance his choreography naturally and idiomatically ; they had almost certainly been coached by Somes with Ashton providing the finishing touches with what in filmed coaching sessions appeared to be minor, inessential "nit picking" corrections most of which involved almost imperceptible changes to how dancers held themselves and how they moved. These corrections transformed good performances into ones which dazzled with the beauty and emotional depth which they brought to dancers' performances. But I suspect that the real secret is that the camera was far more static in 1977 than in later in-house filmed accounts of the ballet which means you see the work as a whole as Ashton intended rather than in the cameraman's cut. Somehow the early recordings seem to dwell on those aspects of a ballet which an audience was likely to want to watch rather than the somewhat arbitrary selections served up in modern recordings. Who knows,perhaps in 1977 Ashton gave instructions about how his ballet should be filmed. As the curtains open the dancers are, left to right, Eagling, Wall and Coleman. The women are Jenner, Park and Penney.The cast were Ashton dancers who had been immersed in Ashton's choreographic style from the day they entered the company. As Collier said in a recent interview at that time everyone in the company was an Ashton dancer because his choreography was ubiquitous. Dancers performed his choreography when they appeared in works he had created and when they danced the two most frequently performed of the nineteenth century classics, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty both of which contained divertissements and additional choreography by him. There is a BBC recording of the triple bill danced in 2007 when Bussell retired. The the middle section of the programme was a performance of Symphonic Variations. Part of the performance can be found on YouTube. It preserves a performance given by a cast headed by Marquez and Bonelli. It is largely of interest because of the performances of the two side women Hatley and Morera two dancers who like the entire 1977 cast had Ashton in their DNA. The men are Ondiviela, Bonelli and McRae the women are Hatley. Marquez and Morera. The problem for me with the cast on the recommended DVD is not everyone dances Ashton as idiomatically as I would like to see. In my eyes it is a good rather than a great performance but that, I recognise , is a matter of personal taste. Something which may be of interest to you is a comment made by Anita Young who danced with the company during the 1970's and now teaches at the RBS. She said that when she watches Symphonic Variations she knows its choreographic source as everything in it comes straight out of the Cecchetti method of classical ballet but she can't work out how Ashton managed to transform the familiar classroom steps, positions and poses into something which is such a perfect expression of the music that you can't imagine any other choreography set to it.
  2. presPerhaps we need to remember that dancers like Takada and Sambe are of interest not only to the ROH's audience but to audiences in their home countries. It is quite possible that any filming that is due to take place at their forthcoming performances is being undertaken in the context of programmes or news items about them being made for their respective home audiences and that the filming has nothing to do with recordings to be shown here. Some years ago , before Takada had been appointed a Principal dancer, I saw a group of Japanese men who looked like a television crew as they included a man armed with a portable television camera and another armed with a microphone much in evidence in the foyer area of the opera house on the occasion of one of Takada's major debuts. I assumed that the debut explained their presence in the building that evening. Perhaps the recent developments in her career are deemed worthy of a short documentary or news item. As far as Sambe is concerned I seem to recall that he recently received a gong of some sort from the Portuguese government in much the same way that Xander Parish did from the British government. The difference being that while Portuguese television may think that the subsequent developments in Sambe's career are of interest and thus newsworthy British television companies and television journalists do not think that Parish's career in Russia is of much interest to any part of their audience presumably because it is art rather than sports related.
  3. The problem about an early weekday start is that for some people a regular 7 pm start for three act ballets would make it almost impossible for them to attend performances as they have to come from work. For many of those working outside London a standard 7:30 pm start makes it possible to attend performances without having to take time off to do so. If you live outside London the very occasional early start for an opera can be accommodated by taking time off to attend it but a regular early start for long ballets would make it impossible to attend all but a few performances in any one season.The Charing Cross service that I used to use when I lived outside London was only a half hourly service at peak times and after 10:30 pm the service thinned out with a last train at about midnight. If it was an opera performance I often used to have to use the last train which was a stopping service which took at least an hour and a half to complete a journey which at peak times took less than an hour. I was just grateful that the standard 7:30pm starting times at both the ROH and ENO enabled me to experience a wide range of the opera and ballet repertory and that I was able to get home even if it might mean that I would not get to bed until nearly 2 am. The truth is there is no ideal starting time that will meet everyone's needs.
  4. , pf late,I know that at one time I used to find it odd that Sir David Webster who had a professional background in retail and some experience of running concerts during the war had been put in charge of the ROH in 1946 as its General Administrator. Today I can't help thinking that we could do with someone with a similar background running the place rather than the sort of arts apparatchiks who move effortlessly from one arts organisation to the next with generic transferrable skills such as the ability to read a balance sheet and a proven ability to persuade sponsors to part with their money rather than any particular enthusiasm for the artform in question.The arts bureaucrats who have been running the ROH since the resident companies returned to the opera house in 1999 may, for all I know, have been enthusiastic opera and ballet goers but somehow, of late, they have seemed to lack insight and understanding about how the regular opera and ballet goer thinks and what they need by way of customer service. Perhaps this is because they themselves long ago ceased to have to buy their own tickets and have lost touch with what the customer experience of doing so is like. A friend has told me that in his communications with the "Dear Leader" and the minions employed in the Marketing Department he has gleaned the information that a significant part of the ROH's customers today are people who only buy tickets for specific dates which mark significant family events such as anniversaries, granny's birthday or the Christmas trip to see Nutcracker rather than people with a compulsive habit which has to be fed. I am also told by someone who attended the " Dear Leader's" visit to the Ballet Association that the ROH count patrons who buy as many as six tickets a year as "regulars" which might explain why the website has not been designed to make life easy for anyone who wants to make multiple purchases on one occasion. Of course the website's design could be a cunning plan to make life difficult for people who might want to make multiple purchases for opera performances with stellar casts. The trouble is I don't think that anyone in a senior management position at the ROH, anyone ;involved in the design of the website or employed to communicate with the potential audience is that clever and of course there are far easier ways of preventing a repeat of the Forza debacle. So I am forced to the conclusion that the problems with the new website are yet another example of the utter cluelessness of many employed in senior management positions at Covent Garden.
  5. A cliché which is trotted out at regular intervals is that you learn from your mistakes.I can't help wondering what lessons, if any, those in charge at Covent Garden will draw from their failure to sell many tickets for Frankenstein at the price they originally set for them. Will they recognise that they misjudged the likely demand for seats and that they got the pricing completely wrong or will they decide that the fault lies with the ballet company? As they seem incapable of admitting their mistakes I suspect that much of the blame will be attributed either to the director's decision to programme too many performances of Frankenstein or to the fact that he programmed it at all. I hope that the financial hit that the company has suffered as a result of this Frankenstein revival does not lead to the AD losing the degree of autonomy he currently enjoys about which ballets to programme and the number of performances each ballet and mixed programme is to have. The simplest way of making money for the company would be to adopt the balletic equivalent of the programming policy pursued by the resident opera company which every season stages umpteen performances of crowd pleasing starter operas such as La Traviata, La Boheme and Tosca, although I think that by now it must have exhausted its potential audience for them as everyone within a hundred miles of London who wishes to hear them has done so. I hope that the Marketing Department will take some responsibility for the part it played in all of this as I, for one, do not look forward to a season with a range of repertory almost entirely restricted to the nice little earners in the company's repertory. The thought of wall to wall performances of Swan Lake and other equally popular money spinners does not fill me with any enthusiasm.
  6. At one time the ROH used to sell unsold tickets for both ballet and opera at reduced prices to Friends in the last hour or so before curtain up on production of a valid membership card. I bet if you asked why they don't re-establish the practice or set up a modern day equivalent such as allowing Friends to buy unsold tickets a day before Students are allowed to buy them the ROH would deny that they had ever done such a thing in the past. Corporate memory is a fragile thing as it depends on the long term retention of staff who know" how things are done" and a willingness on the part of senior management to maintain established systems which have the effect of making people who provide a regular source of income feel valued however small their overall contribution to the organisation's funds may be. I can't help thinking that the ROH suffers from the presence of too many "new brooms" most of whom would be much happier if they were dealing with a much more standardised clientele than the one they currently have and that the corporate aim is force the audience to conform to their expectations of how their audience should behave which seems to involve systems which require the ROH to do as little as possible to meet the audience's expectations about the services which the organisation should provide for it. At one time I used to think that it was very odd that a man whose previous professional experience had been in running a department store had come to be the first General Director of the Royal Opera House, I don't today. Today it makes perfect sense that a man who had wartime experience of running concerts and other cultural events but whose career was largely spent in selling goods to the shoppers of Liverpool and meeting their expectations should have been given the job of running a theatre which was for the first time to be the home to permanent ballet and opera companies. I think that his professional experience gave him a much better grasp of what "accessibility" and "affordability" really mean than an Arts Council apparatchik can ever hope to have. I don't think that he would have countenanced changes which have the effect of reducing services to his audience apparently without looking for effective alternatives or that he would have allowed the theatre's pricing policy and the allocation of tickets to become so horribly wrong. But then his professional experience was in commerce selling goods to ordinary people. A world in which someone who wishes to be a success starts from the position that the customer is always right rather than one in which the customer is wrong and an inconvenience.
  7. Lengthy operas have an early starting time to avoid the overtime issue. I seem to recall that years ago, at some point during the early years of Dowell's directorship, when the company was still dancing the de Valois production of the Sleeping Beauty, we were told that we were to be charged more for its performances than other full length ballets. The reason given was that the text that was then danced meant that the ballet's finishing time was a lot closer to 10:45 pm than 10:30 pm and this resulted in additional costs in the form of overtime payments. In later seasons the ballet was cut to ensure that its performances finished before 10:30 pm and did not attract overtime. The main victim was the Hunting scene, where among other things we lost the Farandole danced first by the peasants and then by the peasants and the courtiers and I think that some of the panorama music was cut as well. The unimproved opera house had the machinery needed to stage the Prince's journey to find Aurora using nineteenth century technology in the form of a panorama. This is something which the improved opera house cannot manage, which is a great pity as although it was very low tech it was a lot better than the current solution of having the Lilac Fairy's boat weave about among the hanging cloths which are supposed to represent foliage. But then perhaps its just that I find low tech Victorian stage effects such as the ship leaving the harbour and the storm in Ondine far more effective than the shipwreck which ends the Bolshoi's Le Corsaire which I am sure the machinists of the nineteenth century Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres would have found toe curlingly embarrassing. I don't think that computer generated effects could solve the problem of how to stage the boat ride in the Sleeping Beauty. They produce a very unsatisfactory effect when it comes to the destruction of the temple in La Bayadere.
  8. If the ticket prices and advertising are anything to go by the Marketing Department underestimated the demand for Don Q while it overestimated the likely demand for performances of Frankenstein. I assume that its estimate of likely demand was based on tickets sales in their initial seasons . The problem is that while the bulk of the ballet audience may have resigned themselves to a not entirely successful staging of Don Q when the management offered the prospect of some very interesting casts the same magic can not be worked on a ballet which had some very serious problems of structure. focus and pace when it was new and has been revived with none of its weaknesses addressed. In its first season it was a new ballet which excited interest because it was the first full length work of a young choreographer. However the ballet has not generated interest because it is no longer a novelty and it is now clear that its weaknesses have not been addressed in an effective manner. If Scarlett could have brought himself to make the cuts that were really needed then perhaps word of mouth and a few really positive reviews would have generated better ticket sales for the performances scheduled after the first night. Unfortunately the changes which were made did not really involve the work's structure or its focus and the result is unsold seats. Perhaps something positive may come of this if it dissuades the Marketing Department from setting such "dynamic" ticket prices for ballets which are unknown quantities as far as ticket sales are concerned. Perhaps, but this is too much to hope, they might revert to a simpler approach to ticket pricing like the one the ROH used to use. if the hike in prices is a result of the cut in the ACE subsidy it would be fairer to everyone if the ROH said as much rather than allowing the antics of the Marketing Department to alienate a large number of the resident ballet company's loyal followers.
  9. It would be interesting to know exactly who decides the number of performances each ballet programme is to receive and the factors which are considered in arriving at that decision. Presumably previous demand is a significant factor and unfortunately whoever it is who decides has got their calculations wrong with both Don Q and Frankenstein. I just hope that the failure does not have the effect of reducing the AD's autonomy in making decisions about what ballets to programme at a time when it seems the Marketing Department is out to generate income at all costs. Frankenstein is a flawed work but I don't think that it would have helped if Scarlett had created a one act Frankenstein and had subsequently added a further two acts to it. The three act Anastasia was created in that way because MacMillan wanted an instant three act ballet for the company and his solution was to add to a one act work he had created for Berlin. It is not that good a ballet and it depends on the performance of the dancer cast as Anastasia for its success. His successful full length works are far less dependent on a single performance. Anastasia is not revived that often because without an outstanding dance actress to carry it there is little of interest in it. The choreography for the supporting characters contains little to distract you from the performance of the title role while the Kschenssinska pas de deux provides more challenges than most dancers can cope with. Watching the pas de deux performed is rarely a pleasurable experience. Frankenstein may not be a perfect ballet but how many full length works are? It is not as if the work is a complete disaster in the way that MacMillan's Isadora certainly was. Three act narrative works can take several revivals and revisions to settle into their final familiar form. MacMillan and others provide evidence that even experienced choreographers are capable of making one act and full length turkeys.However I am far from believing that this work is an out and out turkey. I see it as an interesting apprentice work. One of the ballet's principal weaknesses, it seems to me, is that Scarlett loved the original novel too much to be an effective and ruthless butcher when it came to transforming the literary work into a serviceable libretto for his ballet. But he is not the first choreographer to fail to cut characters or scenes which are inessential to an effective retelling of a story in balletic terms. The fact that the ballet needs some serious pruning has not put me off going to see this revival.The problem with the initial scenes is that they go on for far too long. The prologue is unnecessary while the choreography for Victor and Elizabeth does little to develop their characters pr to develop our understanding of their relationship. Although the steps alter from act to act the overall impression is that the same pas de deux is being performed in each act.For me the ballet only starts to work as a piece of theatre from the point at which Victor brings the creature to life and then rejects him. Once you get beyond the numerous introductory scenes and get to the heart of the story, the choreography for the named characters works after a fashion but it is not enough to make to turn Frankenstein into an effective piece that deserves a place in the repertory. Scarlett still has not made enough changes to shift the focus onto Victor's rejection of his creation and give us an understanding of why the Creature behaves as he does. The designs are strong. While the music is more like a film score than anything else it is serviceable and it does its job of supporting the action of the ballet. By the time we arrive at the nightmarish ball in the final act the score has morphed into Prokofiev. A flawed work? Yes. An interesting work? Perhaps, but only as an apprentice work.Yes. Just bear in mind if this revival fails to sell enough tickets the blame is unlikely to be attributed to the Marketing Department's decisions on pricing. As far as casting ballets with the company's best known dancers is concerned it might well sell tickets but it would be no guarantee that the audience would see an outstanding account of the ballet in question. I am far from convinced that the presence of Nunez and Muntagirov in its initial season would have improved the ballet as she is not much of a dance actress. The ballet's problems seem to me to be ones of structure and focus and those are things which no dancer however stellar their reputation or however large their fanbase is, can remedy..
  10. I recall very little of the ENB revival except that it did not work and that all the critics scrambled around for an explanation for the failure of a work of which they had once clearly thought so highly. As it was a ballet which had Helpmann portraying its central character and a young Fonteyn in the leading female role I assumed that it was the lack of dancers with theatrical gifts similar to those of the original cast which was the reason for the revival's lack of success. It needed dancers with stage presence and glamour who compel the audience's attention and have the willingness and ability to play the roles as Ashton had created them. Without the right type of dancer there were major gaps at the centre of Apparitions which had nothing to do with the designs or the material used for the costumes. I think that Les Patineurs has a similar problem when it comes to the White Couple whose romantic pas de deux should be the ballet's centrepiece but today it is rarely anything other than the ballet's low point . The lack of a glamorous couple leaves a hole in the work but because there is so much else of choreographic interest in the work it is merely a disappointment rather than a disaster, with Apparitions the lack of a suitable cast was little short of a disaster. It is good to know that the Sarasota revival worked well. With any luck it will persuade Iain Webb to start work on Foyer de Danse as he has said in interview that he wants to stage it. As far as the Royal Ballet companies are concerned it should make it difficult for the powers that be at the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet to ignore the revival completely. It might even make the Ashton Foundation stir itself and do a session on Apparitions at one of its events. I don't know why they have chosen to shift the emphasis of their events from the obscure and rarely performed to repertory pieces. It is not as if there aren't plenty of Ashton ballets that could do with a bit of "rediscovery" because no one has bothered to revive them in years. If the Foundation want to make people think about who Ashton the choreographer was and the range of his output it would run sessions on works like Illuminations, Capriole Suite, Façade, Jazz Calendar and Daphnis and Chloe.
  11. I think that the company is going to struggle to get the mixed bill in, in much under three hours even with two intervals of twenty five minutes each. I hope that they have factored in the amount of time that it will take to change the stage for each work.The timings for the ballets in the mixed bill according to the ROH Performance Database are as follows:- 1) "The Firebird" 48 minutes when performed in 2012. 2) "A Month in the Country" now takes 45 minutes to perform as opposed to the 41 it took at its premiere. 3) "Symphony in C" may take 34 or 35 minutes. I hope this information is of assistance.
  12. penelopesimpson, I don't know where you live and so I don't know whether it would be a practical proposition for you to attend the meetings of London Ballet Association or London Ballet Circle both of which hold their meetings at venues in central London. The meetings of both organisations are open to non-members. As to the difference between the two groups the Ballet Association's interest is focussed on the Royal Ballet Companies and the Royal Ballet School, with the result that it is sometimes disparagingly described as " the Royal Ballet's supporters' club". The Ballet Circle's interests are more wide ranging and not focussed on a particular company or group of dancers. Of course when it comes to the choice of guest speakers there is a considerable overlap between the two organisations. Both groups publish reports of their meetings.
  13. eSometimes biographers disagree about why events occurred and their significance. This is perhaps inevitable because not only will each writer's focus be on the individual whose biography they are writing but they are unlikely to be looking at exactly the same source material, either because they deem it irrelevant to their researches or they have not been granted access to it. Having said that I think that in general if I have to choose between two or more accounts of Ashton's choreography; his reasons for creating a ballet in a specific style on a particular subject or theme ; his choice of dancers and who was in the studio with him as he devised his choreography I am likely to prefer Julie Kavanagh's account of those matters over that of anyone else. If only because I think that Kavanagh is more likely to be right about such matters as her primary focus is on Ashton and his ballets rather than on one of the interpretative artists involved in their creation. I should have thought that Kavanagh had far more to lose in reputational terms than Daneman from being found to be inaccurate or partial in her account of the creation of a particular ballet.as it was Ashton's reputation as a choreographer which led to her major in depth biography being written in the first place. When we consider the conflicting accounts of the creation of Cinderella it helps if we remember that Kavanagh was writing an account of Ashton's life and Daneman was not.According to Kavanagh Ashton intended the role of Cinderella to be shared by Fonteyn and Shearer because it was not practical to expect a dancer in a new three act ballet to perform the lead role on consecutive nights. As we know Fonteyn became injured and it was Shearer rather than Fonteyn who danced at the premiere. Kavanagh says that Fonteyn only found out that she was to share the lead role with Shearer from the press. She reports Fonteyn saying that the news " …. hit me like a slap in the face". I had always understood that a good part of Cinderella's choreography was created on Shearer rather than Fonteyn and that it explains the dance vocabulary he used and why the choreography draws attention to Cinderella's feet as much as it does. My understanding is that it was not until Birthday Offering that Ashton decided to create choreography which drew attention to Fonteyn's feet. I am sure that I read somewhere that Ashton had described the creative process as one in which Shearer had "dragged" the choreography out of him. Shearer danced the role in the first season while Fonteyn did so in the following year.Those who saw both dancers in the role say that it was Fonteyn who made Cinderella a character by the pathos and innocence she brought to her interpretation of the role. "Artistry" is an elusive concept which is sometimes employed to excuse technical weaknesses but on other occasions it is simply used to explain why one performer is judged to have achieved greater effect in a role than a talented colleague has done. The early history of Ashton's version of the ballet seems to provide two examples of artistry and expressiveness being found to be more effective than undoubted technical prowess. The first was in his choice of the dancer to play the Jester where the young and inexperienced Alexander Grant, later described by at least one eminent Russian critic as a "great actor- dancer" was chosen in preference to Brian Shaw who was for many years the company's outstanding Bluebird and much stronger technically. The second occasion is when Fonteyn finally came to dance the role and was judged to have brought something extra to her portrayal of Cinderella. There are a couple of film documentaries floating about on the internet which are of interest to those who want to know more about Fonteyn and her influence on the company and its development. The Patricia Foy documentary has some interesting footage including the finale of Façade with a young Fonteyn as the Debutante and Ashton as the "Dago",which I think must come from the Rambert archives. It gives you some idea of what Ashton was like as a dancer and why dancers said that if he demonstrated something it was all but impossible to replicate the movement he had demonstrated. It also includes de Valois, Ashton, Helpmann and Nureyev talking about her as an artist. I think that the unidentified American voice on the film must be that of Robert Gottlieb as his name appears on the credits but he does not appear as a "talking head". The Tony Palmer documentary is also of interest because although it uses much of the footage used in Foy's film it includes both Parkinson and Sibley describing the effect that they felt Fonteyn's continued presence in the company had on the careers of the younger dancers within its ranks.
  14. " As has been said a report will be prepared and posted in due course. As you may imagine the person or persons who were the invited guest speakers will be anxious to ensure that the report that has been prepared is an accurate account of what was said and that anything that might, on second thoughts , have been indiscreet, is removed before it is published on the site. The process is rarely completed in a few days as the dancers and other guests are busy people. However I suspect that this report may be turned round quicker than most are as it is Alex Beard's opportunity to demonstrate that he listens to the audience's concerns. If you google "Ballet Association-Official Website" you will find a section headed "Reports". If you click on that link you will find that you have access to reports from as far back as meetings held in 2001. The report of the 2019 meeting at which Matthew Ball spoke is already on the site. I am sure that the report of Mr Beard's meeting with the Ballet Association will be posted on the site as soon as possible. As the meeting only took place this week I don't think that it is appropriate to say that we have to be patient.
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