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Irmgard

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  1. Sadly the variations were never meant to be included, they only named them because they were the two girls Franz was mucking around with who later appear in Act III in these roles. It was a real shame, especially as Adela Ramirez, who is a First Soloist, and has been with the company for twenty-two years, was not featured in anything else, apart from being one of the rock-solid pirouette girls in "Etudes"!
  2. Cast sheets were available from all the programme sellers but you have to ask for one - they don't make it obvious! Other audience members also commented on the lack of the speech at both shows on Saturday. Even if we couldn't be treated to the orchestral 'postlude' of "Bolero" with accompanying film for time constraints, it would have been nice to have the streamer shower at the end of "Etudes".
  3. Witch Boy has been notated so could be revived. Anastasia (Act III) was done by ENB in 1989 (I think with Lynn Seymour guesting). If it was done with Echoing, that would have been a very heavy programme!
  4. Switch Bitch was created by company member Trevor Wood, I believe for a tour to small theatres with a very small cast of dancers. I remember it being entertaining enough but of its time and not really being worthy of revival.
  5. For me, the matinée performance almost eclipsed the first night, with its showcasing of newer talent in the company as well as its established stars. Miguel Angel Maidana, who impressed me as Birbanto in “Le Corsaire”, took on the role of the victim in “Swansong” and gave an excellent interpretation if not quite matching Jeffrey Cirio’s soulful performance which he repeated in the final performance on Saturday evening. It was an absolute pleasure to see Stina Quagebeur bringing her elegance and grace to the role of Lady Capulet in the “Romeo and Juliet” excerpt, as well as that frisson with the brooding Tybalt of Fabian Reimair which suggests there is more to their relationship than just being related by marriage. Emma Hawes was a delightfully skittish Juliet, partnered by the noble and tender Paris of James Forbat. It was therefore a revelation to see her in the “Carmen” pas de deux with Aitor Arrieta as Don José, which literally sizzled with a palpable, overwhelming chemistry and was almost the highlight of the first half for me. In the evening, she was back to her skittish side, in a joyous rendition of the “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” solo from Balanchine’s “Who Cares?”, which was given a cheeky, carefree performance by Precious Adams in the afternoon. “Three Preludes”, while not reaching quite the heights of Fernanda Oliveira and Junor Souza in both evening performances, was a stunning showcase for the woefully underused Jian Zhang, partnered with quiet elegance by Skyler Martin. Shiori Kase, who was single cast as Swanilda for all three performances, was even more charming and spirited at the matinée with Junor Souza as her Franz (mistakenly identified on the cast sheet as Brooklyn Mack, who only did the evening performances) who brought a real sense of fun and affection to the role. Fernanda Oliveira and Joseph Caley gave a dreamy rendition of “The Man I Love” by Derek Deane, as did Erina Takahashi and Isaac Hernandez in the evening performances, despite the singer being out of tune and occasionally out of synch with the orchestra at both performances on Saturday. My highlight of the first part of the matinée was the (shortened) central pas de deux from “Broken Wings” by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, with Katja Khaniukova as Frida reminding me why this is my favourite new ballet of the past decade if not longer. With very strong support from James Streeter as Diego Rivera (although it was a shame Irek Mukhamedov was not available to recreate their extraordinary chemistry), Khaniukova was transcendent and demonstrated why she has been nominated for a Critics’ Circle award for her interpretation of this role (and I did find it strange that ENB would not want to highlight this by casting her for the opening night of the galas), being at times vulnerable, coquettish, playful and most definitely a young girl in love whilst performing Ochoa’s quirky choreography with a crystalline clarity. The sight of her being tossed around by Streeter in the joyous lifts, as if she were as light as a feather, was both breathtaking and uplifting. Sharing the ballerina role with Kase in “Etudes” at the matinée, Khaniukova demonstrated why she has also been nominated as best female classical dancer, with her diagonal of chaîne turns almost as spectacular as Kase’s with their lightning speed, and giving a ballerina sheen to the challenging solo. In the evening, she was back to being part of the ensemble as a ‘white tutu girl’ but that incomparable Russian style of hers, especially the carriage of her upper back and arms, was showcased in her very elegant, shimmering Diamond variation in the Jewels pas de cinq. The matinée performance of “Etudes” also had Alison McWhinney as the most delicate, meltingly beautiful sylph, reminding me of her exquisite performances as the Sylphide in 2017/18. As I said after watching Kase and Khaniukova in “Le Corsaire”, they surely represent the next generation of lead ballerinas for ENB and I would add the lovely McWhinney to that roster. Jeffrey Cirio, replacing the injured Ken Saruhashi, repeated his stunning tour de force at both the matinée and evening performances of “Etudes” bringing the galas to a rapturous end for which it was absolutely fitting that almost the entire audience in the Stalls, where I was sitting (and I assume in the other levels of the theatre), rose to its feet with the hugest of ovations for this spirited company. With all those onstage joining in the applause, some of the loudest cheers were for the orchestra which once again demonstrated why live music is so essential to spur on the dancers to give such exceptional performances, especially when directed by a conductor as in tune with the dancers’ needs as Maestro Sutherland is. I think the audience would have been happy to applaud for a lot longer, had the curtain not been brought down to allow the dancers to depart on their extremely well deserved break.
  6. After a lovely afternoon at the reunion for the 70th anniversary alumni group held at ENB’s new headquarters, catching up with friends and colleagues, some of whom I had not seen since the last reunion ten years ago and a few not seen since the 1980s, as I watched the opening night of the gala performances, I was astonished by the vitality of the dancers (and orchestra!) at the end of the six-week Coliseum season with its punishing schedule both onstage and in the rehearsal room. I was reminded of Artistic Director Wayne Eagling’s off-the-cuff speech at the 60th anniversary reunion in which he remarked that although he spent his performing career with the Royal Ballet, there was always a certain enviousness of the spirit which pervaded ENB, which Tamara Rojo also mentioned in the opening film, and this company spirit has certainly been evidenced in abundance not only throughout all the ‘Nutcrackers’ and ‘Corsaires’ I have seen but especially in the three gala performances. As to the gala pieces themselves, I felt rather sad that there was no real acknowledgement of the company’s great Ballets Russes heritage, with no works by Fokine represented and only a nod to Massine with a (fabulous) solo by guest artist Sergio Bernai that used the music from “Le Tricorne” but choreography by the great Antonio instead of Massine, but perhaps this exclusion was due to constraints on performing rights. This may have also been the reason for a heavy bias towards repertoire from the second half of the company’s seventy years. The opening of “Dust” (without the dust on this occasion!) was given its usual superlative performance by Fabian Reimair as the man wracked by shellshock with Erina Takahashi and ‘artists of the company’ working in mesmerising unison as what I prefer to regard as wings rather that the “Wave” referred to on the cast sheet. “Swan Song” has always been a very special ballet for me as I personally knew the original cast of Matz Skoog, Kevin Richmond and Koen Onzia and was at the first UK performances of the work. It took on an extra poignancy last year with the death of Kevin Richmond at a cruelly young age. Watching James Streeter, Matthew Astley and the incredibly versatile Jeffrey Cirio, it was a very fitting tribute to the original team and I felt Cirio was a worthy successor to Onzia in the role of the victim, beautifully capturing the bewilderment, frustration and above all a sense of innocence which made Onzia so unforgettable in the role. I could have done without the ENBYouthCo romping about to the wine festival music from Adam’s score of “Giselle” in banal choreography. There was no real explanation of the purpose of this youth group in the otherwise very informative programme and they were certainly eclipsed by the polished dancing of English National Ballet School in the reel from “La Sylphide” (despite the odd costumes which seemed to belong neither to Schaufuss’s sublime production nor the most recent one by Frank Andersen). Francesco Gabriele Frola gave a very elegant account of Balanchine’s solo for Apollo and it was interesting for me to see that, as this role was triple cast over the three galas (Aitor Arrieta and Daniel McCormick being the others), each dancer brought a different quality to the choreography. The ballroom scene from Nureyev’s “Romeo and Juliet” featured a radiant Alison McWhinney as Juliet and was a wonderful reminder of her heartbreaking performances in 2015 and 2017. She also shone brightly in the Diamond variation from the jewels pas de cinq from McMillan’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty”. The excerpt from Khan’s “Giselle” was memorable for the astonishing, rhythmical drum solo and I was surprised that the orchestral player responsible was not given credit on the cast sheet. The absolute highlight of the first half for me was the sublime performance given by Brazilians Fernanda Oliveira and Junor Souza of the first prelude from “Three Preludes” by Ben Stevenson. I have loved this ballet for years, when mixed bills were a stalwart of the company’s performing schedule, but never have I seen it danced as such a hauntingly beautiful expression of the melancholic music by Rachmaninov. Not only was every movement they made, either separately or in pas de deux, seamless and absolutely ravishing, but also their souls seemed to be perfectly in tune with each other. This really was a stellar performance and made me long to see the complete ballet again. In what I believe was her first performance of the pas de deux from Petit’s “Carmen” Tamara Rojo could not erase from my memory the steamy eroticism (which I felt was lacking in her partnership with Frola) of Begoña Cao and Fabian Reimair in their performances in 2011. Shiori Kase was an absolute delight as Swanilda in what I felt was a slightly odd choice of excerpt from “Coppélia” and I would have loved to have seen her in perhaps the final pas de deux instead. It was great to end the first half with an excerpt from the exuberant dance-off which is William Forsythe’s “Playlist”, displaying the exceptional virtuosity of the company’s male dancers, complete with vocal encouragement from their colleagues in the wings. Only a fabulous performance of the company’s signature work “Etudes” could top that, and this is what we were treated to, with all dancers on scintillating form, especially Shiori Kase in the ballerina role with her jaw-dropping diagonal of speeding up chaîné turns which by the end resembled the speed of an electric drill! The solo which followed was delivered with such assurance and elegance, as well as her beaming smile, that it belied its fiendish difficulty. Erina Takahashi also delighted with her exquisite sylph in which she truly appeared as an other-worldly creature of the air. Joseph Caley delivered his customary beautifully clean technique and Frola impressed, as always, with the height of his jumps but the standout male performance for me came from Cirio in a truly virtuosic dance display, including the fleetest of batterie, as well as a smile which lit up the whole auditorium. Fernanda Oliveira joined the line-up for the finale, a revision caused by the late withdrawal of Alina Cojocaru from the performances, and I felt it was very fitting for all three ballerinas – Takahashi, Kase and Oliveira - who have between them led the company for most of the season so far, to share the prolonged ovation from the very enthusiastic audience. It did strike me that an omission from the programme was a pas de deux from one of the classics, which Dame Beryl Grey mentioned as being the mainstay of the company in her taped interview, and I would have loved to see these crown jewels of the company perhaps in the white or black pas de deux from “Swan Lake” with the partner of their choice (as they have such a wonderful line-up to choose from currently!), especially as there were three performances of the gala programme. It would have also given us a preview of what is to come later in the season. Only the Friday night audience was treated to the wonderful ENB Philharmonic’s stirring performance of “Bolero” under the baton of the incomparable Gavin Sutherland while more memories of the company’s glorious history were projected onto the frontcloth. What was so lovely about this opening night was that the audience was full of people previously and currently associated with the company instead of the usual celebrities rolled out on these occasions for publicity purposes. These included two past Artistic Directors of the company, Wayne Eagling and Matz Skoog, choreographers of the some of the ballets performed plus Christopher Hampson and Michael Corder,(whose award-winning ballets for the company were sadly not represented), and star dancers Thomas Edur, Agnes Oaks and Daria Klimentova, to name but a tiny few! As as postscript, I did think this was one occasion when the company's annual pointe-shoe Christmas tree, created by dancer Amber Hunt, could have been left up beyond the run of "Nutcracker", celebrating as it did this year the company's seventy-year repertoire.
  7. Was at the run-through last night. Yes, all the excerpts (some VERY short) are in the first half and then the second half is taken up with "Etudes". Running time approximately three hours.
  8. He doesn't reject Gulnare - he buys her first and then buys Medora. They both go off with his entourage just before the end of Act I but only Medora is rescued. Gulnare is therefore in the harem when Medora is brought there by Lankendem at the start of Act III and is presumably in a different costume from the rest because she has become his chief wife! Such is the absurdity of the plot that, if Ali had not rescued her along with Medora, she would have remained alive and well instead of drowning in the shipwreck! As always with this production, best not to try to make sense of the plot!
  9. According to the casting published by ENB, Cojocaru was only ever going to do the Sylph section of "Etudes" in the gala. As well as the excerpt from "Broken Wings" at the matinee, Khaniukova is also doing the ballerina solo in "Etudes" at that performance only and one of the solos in the 'Jewels' section from Act III of "Sleeping Beauty" at the Saturday evening performance. Otherwise, she is a member of the ensemble in "Etudes" in the two evening performances.
  10. I'm with you there! Especially as the vacancies at Principal level created by the departures of Laurretta Summerscales and Begona Cao have not been filled.
  11. T Yes, she is still with the company and I am pretty sure she was a flower girl last night.
  12. I am not sure I will be able to find enough superlatives for last night’s performance (13 January), led by a stellar cast and Maestro Sutherland, who I believe is unique in being able to make the score sound as if it comes from the pen of one, rather than the myriad composers that it does, drawing a particularly impassioned reading from the orchestra. Never has the Act II pas de deux sounded lovelier, no doubt inspired by the charismatic partnership of Jeffrey Cirio and Katja Khaniukova whose sublime chemistry made this a magical expression of the love between Conrad and Medora and confirmed that, stripped of all the complexities of the plot, the ballet is essentially a love story. Before I try to put into words their totally enthralling performances, I would like to mention the others in this impressive cast. While not as soulful as the Gulnares of Kase or Khaniukova (and no-one imbues the backbend lifts in the Act I pas de deux with as much despair and sorrow as Khaniukova), Emma Hawes brought a sweetness to the role with her delicate dancing and was especially charming in her solo in the jardin animé scene. She had a perfect partner for the Act I pas de deux in Junor Souza in another towering performance as Lankendem, whose characterisation of what should be the most unlikeable character in the ballet was as vibrant as his sensational dancing. I still regret that we have not been given the chance to see his phenomenal Ali this season. Francesco Gabriele Frola was initially a very likeable Birbanto, particularly in his Act I dance with the radiant Adela Ramirez, and there was a real sense of comradeship between him and Cirio until it all turned sour with their argument over the freeing of the slave girls in Act II, during which Frola’s blood really did boil. Personally, I felt that his death was the most realistic and shocking of all the Birbantos I have seen, leading again to my wish that the whole ballet was treated in a more dramatic way. As with his Conrad, his dancing, especially the extraordinary height of his jumps, was thrilling but always imbued with an exceptional finesse. The same applied to Daniel McCormick’s Ali, with his ever-growing confidence in the role, especially his silky-smooth but explosive solo. In fact, finesse of technique and artistry was the hallmark of all these leading performances, and nowhere was it more in evidence than in the richly detailed interpretations of Cirio and Khaniukova who took the whole ballet to another level, making me forget everything I dislike about the plot. Of course, their dancing was out of this world technically, with Cirio's thrilling solos and Khaniukova being particularly exquisite in Act III, but it was the way they used the choreography in Acts I and II to express Conrad and Medora’s love for each other which made it so special. In her first scene, when Medora is ostensibly dancing for the Pasha, it was clear that everything was directed towards Conrad and the two of them could barely take their eyes off each other. This was also evident in the Act II pas d’action and led naturally to the pas de deux which was so tender and loving that it brought tears to my eyes. This is a dream partnership which first enchanted me when they stole the show (for me) in the secondary roles of Ben and Clementine in “Cinderella” at the Albert Hall and, as I wrote after their fabulous début performance together in “Le Corsaire” in Milton Keynes, their Critics Circle nominations for Best Female and Best Male classical dancers are richly deserved. It therefore seems incomprehensible to me that Khaniukova is the only female dancer at First Soloist level upwards who is not highlighted in the first night of the 70th Anniversary galas at the end of this week and only the matinée audience will be lucky enough to see her as Frida, the role for which she received one of her two nominations, in the excerpt from “Broken Wings”.
  13. By a stroke of good fortune, I was able to attend the matinée performance on 11 January and witness again Fernanda Oliveira’s dazzling Medora with a completely different cast, as she was replacing Cojocaru. Considering the cast change was only announced a few days ago and, given the company’s hectic rehearsal schedule, they must have had little time to rehearse together but the performance of the three leads in the Act II pas d’action was astonishingly polished and assured. Jeffrey Cirio brought nobility and a quiet dignity to his Ali and, as always, the brilliance of his technique, especially in his firecracker of a solo, was imbued with impeccable elegance, as was his partnering of Oliveira, with whom he was extremely well matched, despite this being a chance pairing. Likewise, Isaac Hernandez, in his only performance of the run, proved an excellent partner for her. Being slightly taller than Joseph Caley, her partner for her scheduled performances, the lifts were slightly higher and this made the upside down lift in the Act II pas de deux even more breath-taking, especially as they were able to hold the position for just that little bit longer so that it really registered. I was also impressed by the tenderness he displayed towards her, especially during this pas de deux, which she reciprocated, and there was a palpable chemistry between them throughout the ballet. There is a raw energy to his dancing which made him a believable leader of a gang of pirates, and this made his fight with Birbanto very realistic, especially when he continued to attack the other pirates to bring them into line. Erik Woolhouse, on top form, was even more extraordinary in the role of Birbanto than his performance which I saw in Milton Keynes, more than matching Hernandez in hot-headedness and showing some splendidly virtuosic dancing to boot. It was a joy to see the diminutive Adela Ramirez, as the Lead Villager, dance up a storm with him in Act I, in a wonderful mixture of vivacity and coquettishness. With Woolhouse being so tall, the two overhead lifts were jaw-dropping in the height achieved. It is one of my regrets with this season’s casting that we have not been treated to her incomparable performance of the first Odalisque solo which I remember so well from 2016. In less than twenty-four hours, Shiori Kase changed from Medora into Gulnare, a role in which she enchanted me in 2016. As with the previous evening, her flawless technique and artistry raised her performance to another level, especially with her ability to move from delicate, legato movements to electrifying fouetté turns and pirouettes with the same serenity, and her charm was given full rein in her Act III solo. As with last night’s cast, she and the Medora of Oliveira were an excellent match physically and artistically. As to Oliveira, her performance was even more radiant and assured than on Thursday afternoon, with a particularly breath-taking balance in attitude derrière in the jardin animé scene which was so secure that it looked like she could have held it for the rest of the ballet. The fiendish pirouettes à la seconde also looked smooth as silk, as did the series of fouettés into attitude in Act III. My delight in the performance was completed by a sparkling rendition of the score by ENB’s fabulous orchestra under the baton of Gavin Sutherland who received a huge ovation from the packed matinée audience, as did the whole company.
  14. Friday evening (10th) was another hugely enjoyable feast of dancing from ENB. Erik Woolhouse, making his London début as Ali, made an initial spectacular jeté onto the stage, seeming to suspend in the air, but for me the rest of his dancing was not as electrifying as in Milton Keynes, perhaps due to nerves, but it was still an outstanding performance. Brooklyn Mack was all bravado and flashing smiles as Conrad but there was an untidy element to his dancing which was disappointing, especially after witnessing the exceptional finesse of Francesco Frola’s dancing the previous evening, who also gave depth to the character. I felt Mack sometimes played too much to the audience and I did not feel any tenderness from him towards his beautiful Medora. Miguel Angel Maidana, in his second performance as Birbanto, impressed me even more with his dancing. He might have been slightly shorter than most of the other pirates but he is a human dynamo! He also impressed me with his characterisation, making the moment he first sees Gulnare and his immediate attraction to her more obvious. He was helped greatly in this by a standout performance from Katja Khaniukova as the forlorn Gulnare. This consummate dancer-actress also galvanised Aitor Arrieta into finding more menace in his characterisation of Lankendem, which made their pas de deux in Act I very moving in a ballet which is otherwise bereft of much deep emotion. While always partnering her to perfection, Arrieta’s body language showed him controlling her every move, almost wrenching her back every time she tried to escape and forcing her to display her beauty which she tried to avert, even when veiled, with an inclination of her head imbued with sadness. This infinite sadness of her body language made the moments when he held her aloft in a deep backbend achingly beautiful. Her solo in this Act, in which her Gulnare could not help but take pleasure in dancing, was memorable for a set of beautifully soft changements en pointe amongst other delights. In Act III, when it appears Gulnare has taken to life as the Pasha’s chief wife, her solo in the jardin animé scene was exquisite, starting with the fleetest of runs en pointe. Her soulfulness was perfectly contrasted with the brilliance and fearlessness of Shiori Kase’s superb Medora. These two dancers are so perfectly matched physically and in the flawlessness of their classical technique that Medora and Gulnare could be sisters in this ballet, especially given their wonderfully natural interaction at every opportunity in Act I and III. Kase definitely gave the ballet its heart, with her love for Conrad shining through at every opportunity, but she was not averse to teasing the Pasha charmingly in her Act I solo while making the fiendishly difficult choreography look effortless. Her pirouettes and fouetté turns were even more electrifying than her performance I saw in Milton Keynes, as were her gorgeously serene balances, especially in the jardin animé scene, and her pointework was, as always, a thing of beauty in its delicacy. In fact it was these two lovely ballerinas who stole the show for me. Kase is listed as a Principal and Khaniukova as First Soloist but, on the evidence of their performances last season and so far this year, promotion for both of them must be imminent as the company’s next generation of Lead Principals.
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