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Irmgard

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  1. Sadly she is unable to do the Albert Hall performances. Hopefully she will be back next season!
  2. Yes, Nureyev shows Friar Laurence handing a letter to a friar to deliver to Romeo and then adds a scene to show him being killed by rogue soldiers on his way. Nureyev also added a scene showing Benvolio reaching Romeo to tell him Juliet is dead. Nureyev really did try to follow Shakespeare's play as closely as possible - even more so than Prokofiev!
  3. I found Saturday’s matinée (11May) to be a mixed bag, featuring ravishing performances from the leads but some disappointments elsewhere. I will deal with my disappointments first. I have not seen MacMillan’s ballet live for many years and so my first viewing of the current run yesterday afternoon was inevitably coloured by the numerous performances I have seen of Nureyev’s version for ENB. This was especially true of the music in which I am used to being completely swept away by its passion from the opening notes of the overture onwards when the ENB Philharmonic is under the galvanising baton of Gavin Sutherland. Disappointingly, I found Koen Kessels to be almost pedantic in his interpretation, right from those first notes. Too often I heard notes rather than the phrases which give the music the drive it needs and I never felt the spine-tingling sensation the music usually gives me. An example was the wonderful rise and fall of the musical phrases as Juliet sits on her bed contemplating her predicament, which has always suggested to me the rise and fall of her breathing, increasing in intensity before she flies to Friar Laurence. Sadly, this afternoon I did not get that feeling from the orchestra. I also missed the vibrant crowd scenes which are the highlights of Nureyev’s production. (I should say here that my dream “Romeo and Juliet” would feature Nureyev’s crowd scenes, Cranko’s ballroom scene and Juliet’s run to Friar Laurence, and MacMillan’s pas de deux, preferably conducted by Maestro Sutherland!). I remember from my original viewings of MacMillan’s first scene my irritation at the ladies constantly sweeping the square with their brooms and this has not gone away! Nureyev gives us the much more dramatic, clearly delineated Capulet servants versus Montague servants firstly exchanging insults before escalating into physical combat, and I would have loved more of this boisterousness turning to dangerous physical aggression from the townsfolk in this scene. I missed the sense of menace that used to be the hallmark of the Dance of the Knights in MacMillan’s production. I remember this as testosterone seething away under a very thin veneer of respectability, reflecting the violence of renaissance Italy, with weight being given to every step by the men, and then the ladies sweeping forwards in an equally aggressive manner, as if saying “we are the Capulets, mess with us at your peril”. The steps were there, but not the intent. In fact, I found there was a surprising casualness to most of the supporting roles, from the rather ineffectual Prince of Verona to Lord Capulet who seemed to stroll around the stage, even his exit after Juliet has refused Paris, rather than move with any sense of purpose. (Michael Somes was never a great actor in romantic roles but I do remember his wonderful, commanding presence as Lord Capulet!). My definitive Paris was the late, lamented Julian Hosking. This golden-haired Adonis was a born aristocrat who radiated charm and he bestowed such loving tenderness on Juliet that, in some performances, I would wonder why she chose the Romeo on offer instead of him! Tomas Mock started well, in the little scene before the ball, showing a genuine tenderness towards Juliet, but then seemed to retreat into himself and made little impression after that. I am all for different interpretations of roles, but the laid-back Tybalt of Matthew Ball did not do it for me. I did not get the feeling from him of Shakespeare’s hot-headed youth always spoiling for a fight, especially when he discovers Romeo at the ball, nor did he appear to be seething the following day when he seeks out Romeo in the town square. With an honourable mention for the sunny, acrobatic dancing of Valentino Zucchetti in the mandolin dance and the charming Benvolio of James Hay, the performance for me firmly belonged to the three leads. Marcelino Sambé was everything I want in a Mercutio – witty, cheeky, a beautifully projected personality with the power to move in his death scene (in which his face expressed genuine shock that he had been fatally wounded) and, of course, dancing of the highest quality. In fact, with Cesar Corrales as Romeo, Sambé and Hay completed a dream team for the pas de trois before the ballroom scene and were the epitome of three high-spirited best friends, always getting into scrapes or playing practical jokes, evidenced in their high jinks with the Nurse, a delightfully understated performance by Romany Pajdak. After an extended absence this season, Cesar Corrales blazed back onto the stage for his debut as Romeo at full strength both dramatically and technically. He is an artist who completely immerses himself in a character, always subjugating his formidable technique to create a real person whom we care about. From the moment he appeared, pursuing Rosaline, his magnetism and charm captivated, with a devastating smile that lit up the auditorium. His Latin good looks and temperament make him a natural for Shakespeare’s impetuous youth caught up in the volatility of life in renaissance Verona. Just as his Romeo was totally believable and immediately engaging, so was the naïve yet headstrong Juliet of Francesca Hayward. When Corrales saw her in the ballroom, he did not take his eyes off her from that moment on and, when she finally looked into his eyes, it was electrifying, as both these exceptional artists made full use of the stillness to leave us in no doubt that they were immediately infatuated with each other. I have always found the interpolation into the ballroom scene of the Act III Aubade, so that Romeo can have a solo while Juliet plays the mandolin, to be rather jarring harmonically but, of course, it was beautifully danced. Watching Corrales, I realised that however ostensibly MacMillan created this role for Christopher Gable, there is no doubt how influenced the choreography for this solo was by Nureyev at the peak of his youthful powers, containing steps at which Nureyev excelled and which he would use again and again in his own choreography. However, while Nureyev always reminded us he was Nureyev, Corrales always reminded us he was Romeo, using the solo as an expression of his love for Juliet, and he has a natural elegance and beauty of line that always slightly eluded Nureyev. The balcony pas de deux which followed was, quite simply, breath-taking as an expression of youthful passion, (even if the sound from the pit did not quite reflect this) and I loved the way Hayward used the ‘limping’ step (a series of a very quick, low jeté onto pointe followed by a coupé over) to express the fluttering of her heart at his touch. I hope in her next performances, she will have complete trust in the superb partnering skills of Corrales to let her rapture flow throughout her whole body, going beyond her fingertips and toes, and making it even more pliant, as I feel she is a very worthy successor to the passionate performances of Alessandra Ferri I remember so well. The brief marriage scene was an absolute delight as the two of them could not bear to be parted from each other, reminding us of their extreme youth. Corrales gave further proof of his maturity as an artist with an almost unbearable outpouring of grief over the dead Mercutio (reminding me of his amazing Albrecht grieving over the dead Giselle in 2017 when he was not even twenty-one). It therefore seemed completely natural that he would have no hesitation in violently attacking Tybalt, who seemed to be caught completely unawares, in a heart-stopping sword-fight. At the beginning of Act III, I loved the way he woke up, his body heavy from sleep, and then tried to steal out of the bedroom without having to say goodbye to Juliet. The ensuing pas de deux was intensely moving in its despair. Because the other characters were underpowered (in my opinion), Juliet carried the next scene by herself, and the tiny Hayward was wonderful as the bewildered, then angry girl as she is forced to agree to marriage with Paris. Her wonderful sense of stillness was used to great effect as she sat on the bed, trying to decide what to do. Of course, the final scene in the crypt was heartbreaking and mesmerising as Corrales rushed in, quickly dispatching Paris, and being overwhelmed by grief as he desperately tried to bring the the apparently dead body of Juliet back to life. His taking of poison was all the more moving for being so understated. Hayward’s final movement of reaching towards his now dead body after she stabbed herself was intensely moving in its gentleness and hopelessness and brought the performance to a close with an awed silence from the audience. This was certainly a performance to treasure from these lovely dancers and I am thrilled to have a ticket for their third performance as I cannot wait to see them develop their partnership even further.
  4. Thank you very much for this! I thought it might be for comfort at first because both Cao and Khaniukova almost caress the jacket and then sniff it (as they 'sniff' Rivera on their first encounter - something Ochoa was very specific about in her masterclass) but this reference to yet another of her paintings shows how much there is to discover in this ballet, as I found on each of my six viewings of it this time round! A DVD would certainly be very welcome!
  5. No, not possible. As far as I could see, having watched it six times (!), Francesca Velicu and Emily Suzuki danced the same 'role' each time, whether or not they ended up being the chosen one. When Francesca Velicu was the chosen one, Precious Adams did the 'role' I have mentioned Sarah Kundi dancing in the other performances so she seemed to be the only one dancing different choreography when and when not dancing the chosen one but, as far as I remember, she did not dance the 'matriarchal' role (as I have named it) during the one show I saw when Emily Suzuki danced the chosen one. Therefore, until they step out of the circle, it really is impossible for the audience to tell (and the order of this is obviously carefully worked out before each show so that the dress/es are handed to each other in the correct order).
  6. By a stroke of luck, I was able to attend the last performance of this triple bill yesterday evening at Sadler’s Wells. It means I have been able to see five out of Khaniukova’s six performances as Frida in “Broken Wings” and it has been a joy and a privilege to watch her develop the character since I first saw her in the masterclass at Markova House two weeks before opening night. While she has captured Frida’s zest for life, especially in the vivacious pas de deux with Barry Drummond as the Young Boy and in her mischievous interplay with the skeletons, it is her depiction of tragedy and Frida’s dogged determination to overcome it which I feel has matured in her interpretation over the past ten days. The miscarriage scene was especially heartrending as she seemed to cling on to the ribbon with all her might, as was the despair on her face and in her body language as this was ripped from her hands. After she has caught Diego with his mistress and puts on his jacket as if for comfort, the ensuing pas de deux with the skeleton in the green skirt (Junor Souza) was particularly violent last night, as if Frida were fighting with herself (the skeleton wears the yellow headdress of flowers which Diego had placed on her head earlier to symbolise their love) to rid herself of her demons, i.e. her failing health and increasing disability. Above all, I was moved by the final pas de deux at the moment when, to the plangent piano solo exquisitely played by Julia Richter, Diego tries to attract her attention and the far-away look on her face, especially in her eyes, indicates she is already lost to the world. There is a brief flicker of recognition and a playful kiss, reminiscent of their first meeting, and a last attempt to ‘fly’ (which Khaniukova does with a wonderful awkwardness to show that, in reality, Frida’s leg had been amputated by this point) before she collapses. As with all the performances I have seen, the bird (Adriana Lizardi) fluttering above her tomb is a totally uplifting experience after this gentlest of deaths. Khaniukova has shown in these performances what an exceptional artist she is, both technically and artistically, and I hope this will lead to her being featured more regularly when it comes to casting major roles in ENB’s repertoire. Another exceptional artist who proved that she has the ability to make something special out of the smallest of roles is Jia Zhang who appeared as the stag/deer in this performance, making her encounter with Frida and her death something very moving. It has also been a delight to have the great Mukhamedov back onstage, a dream partner for Khaniukova and for Alison McWhinney as the Mistress, perfectly capturing Diego Rivera’s larger than life personality. My one regret is that I was only able to see one performance by the magnificent Begoña Cao as Frida but I hope this work will be revived soon or that the company acquires the planned full-length version by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. As a point of interest, she posted on her Facebook page that five of her ballets were being presented in five different countries last night – quite an achievement! “Nora” received another quality performance from Jeffrey Cirio, Junor Souza and, above all, Crystal Costa, not forgetting the crucial contribution from the Five Voices. I note that some members on here have mentioned that they did not think Torvald looked like an abusive husband and that they looked too happy together. This is where I think Quagebeur has scored, in showing that domestic abuse in the form of controlling behaviour is insidious in nature and it may take a very long time for the victim to realise that he/she is being abused, as it does in Ibsen’s play. For Nora, as we learn from the play, this comes after many years of being treated as the “little woman” with no mind of her own and being the child-like creature her husband desires. For the first time last night, I noticed how much the set reflects Nora’s transformation. During the final pas de deux with Torvald when she resists his advances, the black curtains gradually enclose the box representing their home, leaving only the small ‘doorway’ through which she finally leaves. As this also closes, and Torvald is left alone, the structure of the house he has created breaks up (this I have noticed at all other performances), as if his carefully constructed world has come crashing down around him. The evening finished with another awe-inspiring performance from the dancers and orchestra of ‘Sacre’, featuring Precious Adams once more as the chosen one in her visceral interpretation of the sacrificial dance. This was the third time I had seen her and my only regret was that I had not seen Emily Suzuki once more so that I would have seen two performances each by all three of the chosen ones. It seems invidious to single out dancers for special praise in such an otherwise ensemble piece, but I have been very impressed by the athleticism of Pedro Lapetra and Eric Woolhouse (sadly absent last night) amongst the men, and the beauty yet rawness of movement of Sarah Kundi as one of the more featured females who has found herself flung against James Streeter’s face to sit astride his shoulders at most of the performances I have seen and who has an almost matriarchal gravitas as the chosen one seems to plead for her help. As always, the star for me was the music, superbly conducted by Gavin Sutherland, and it was rather wonderful to see the mutual admiration between the orchestra and the dancers as they applauded each other during the curtain calls. Having been intrigued by the two red dresses, I watched very carefully last night and it appears that the second dress Is actually inside the first dress and the girls very discreetly separate the two while they are grouped in the tightly-knit circle before the selection begins.
  7. On Monday it was the wonderful Emily Suzuki and she chose not to. At the 'Creatives' session on Tuesday, the two representatives of the Pina Bausch Foundation did say there was room for interpretation within the choreography. Quite frankly, I find bearing a breast adds nothing to the performance. It was very much the trend in the 1970s to feature nudity within new works (strangely, complete nudity for male dancers, apart from Pilobolus, quickly went out of fashion because part of the male anatomy refused to be choreographed, leading to a famous headline by dance writer Deborah Jowitt!) so that element of the piece is very much of its time.
  8. Petperj, you are absolutely correct! There were two red dresses although I don't think we are supposed to notice this. Certainly from the stalls point of view the dancers take great pains to hide the second dress and I only noticed because I was looking for it specifically after you mentioned it. I did not see when they fetched the second one (presumably as the girls gathered into the circle) but the girl who throws the 'used' one into the wings (Anjuli Hudson) was was well hidden by the others and the whole thing was done very discreetly (but obviously not discreetly enough for your sharp eyes!). I was actually quite relieved about this because last week I was thinking how unhygienic it was for the chosen one (another searing performance last night by Precious Adams) to have to put on a dress that has been ground into the dirt by not one but two people lying on it and then tossed around by dancers who are inevitably perspiring a lot by that point! The ballet as a whole still does nothing for me apart from increasing my admiration for the energy and commitment of the amazing dancers of ENB (something which has been a hallmark of the company for the 40+ years I have been watching them). I don't think there is anything more I can say about "Broken Wings" except that Khaniukova and Mukhamedov gave another heartrending performance. Since it has been announced that Lopez Ochoa is creating a full-length version for Dutch National Ballet, I can only hope it will be a co-production with ENB! With regard to the Grayson Perry frontcloth, this has definitely been there for all the performances and is raised about five minutes before the scheduled curtain-up. However, as there have been a few delayed starts due to the getting the capacity audiences into their seats, it may be that it has sometimes been raised about ten minutes before the actual curtain-up. There is a little note at the bottom of the cast sheet to indicate it is by Grayson Perry and was commissioned for the 2016 triple bill (the people behind me last night thought it was by Frida Kahlo!).
  9. I haven't notice the second red dress so far but I have been sitting in the stalls so perhaps that is why. I shall look out for it tonight!
  10. Are you sure it was the red dress which was thrown off stage? The 'white' dress she wears up until that point is thrown offstage. Whoever is dancing the chosen one is informed during the afternoon of the performance by the repetiteurs from the Bausch Foundation (as far as I am aware) although those dancing it in the run are informed during rehearsals, just not which shows they will be doing (a bit difficult on them to let friends etc. know, especially when the shows sell out like they have this time!) The edges of the soil have to be visible - if they went as far as the side curtains, these would need cleaning after each performance, otherwise there is a chance the dirt would rub off on anyone brushing against the curtains in the other pieces.
  11. I made another trip to the Wells last night for what I believe will be the final debuts in the programme. Fabian Reimair gave his one and only performance as Diego Rivera in “Broken Wings”. Barely recognisable in the obligatory fat-suit, he gave us a completely believable human being, flawed but thoroughly likeable, even when tempted away from Frida by the beguiling Adela Ramirez as the mistress. I hope Reimair will take it as a compliment that, although he did not have quite the charisma of Mukhamedov in the role, he came a very close second! His very secure partnering made all the quirky lifts in his first encounter with Frida look effortless and there was a palpable chemistry between the two of them. Khaniukova goes from strength to strength in her increasingly confident and captivating portrayal of Frida. For me, she has always been a most soulful dancer, witnessed in her only performance in ENB’s “Giselle” (Skeaping version) in Belfast in 2017, repeating the entire role again in Ukrainian National Ballet’s production just ten days before her debut as Frida. She is also capable of great technical brilliance and brio, as seen in her show-stopping performances in Ivan Putrov’s gala last Sunday. (With another gala in Kiev this coming Sunday, life must seem like a whirlwind for her at the moment!) She uses all of these facets of her dancing and personality to further enrich her remarkable interpretation of Frida. There was even more passion in her dance with the skeleton in green, which to me represents her final struggle with life. I found the scene in which she kills the stag (a reference to Frida’s painting, “The Wounded Deer”) especially poignant, due in no small part to the beautiful interpretation by Jia Zhang. However, it was her final encounter with Diego which I found the most moving, actually moving me to tears as he tenderly lifted her completely broken body (and, like Cao the night before, Khaniukova’s ability to make herself look utterly fragile is astonishing) and placed her lovingly against the butterfly painting, giving her the gentlest of kisses as he leaves her. As always with Reimair, his emotions appear completely natural and, as the doors of the box close on Frida, his grief was palpable as he dropped to his knees and sobbed. “Nora” was given another searing performance by Crystal Costa, Jeffrey Cirio and Junor Souza, with company pianist Chris Swithinbank shining in Philip Glass’s “Tirol” Concerto. Once again, I discovered new details in the choreography, particularly in Costa’s tour de force performance. In ‘Sacre’, Precious Adams made her debut as the chosen one in a solo of almost primordial ferocity although, for me, I still find Emily Suzuki’s interpretation the most breath-taking. For those not familiar with all of ENB’s dancers, I would like to pay tribute to Shiori Kase, the only one of the company’s principal dancers to appear in ‘Sacre’ as ‘one of the crowd’ in all these performances.
  12. Try calling the box office. I managed to buy one for a friend for tomorrow evening when I was there this afternoon. It was the only return at that stage for tomorrow but there might be others by tomorrow and perhaps for other nights. In answer to your previous question about "Broken Wings" being longer than before, the dance for the ten male Fridas has been extended, purely for the practical reason of giving Frida more time to sort out her hair etc. before she appears in the long orange skirt for the first time. In the Q&A session before tonight's show, the dramaturg said that the skeletons' dance had also been extended but I'm not sure where and she didn't elaborate.
  13. I was back at the Wells last night (Monday) to see some major cast changes in all three ballets. It was Begoña Cao’s visceral, no-holds-barred Frida which completely sold me on “Broken Wings” in 2016 and last night she proved yet again what an exceptional artist she is. Long, lean and beautiful, she bears no physical resemblance to the Frida we have come to know through photographs and paintings but she has the ability to get under her skin completely and show us the multi-faceted personality and strength of character of this amazing woman through all her trials and tribulations. From her first appearance on top of the box as a young girl, there is Frida’s confidence and love of life in her interplay with the skeletons and then the youthful abandon of the pas de deux with the Young Boy, in which she was securely and sympathetically partnered by William Beagley, with her gloriously long legs and arms making the most beautiful shapes. As in the final scenes of her Manon, following Frida’s accident, Cao made her whole body look fragile and vulnerable, especially when she is first confined to the bed, giving all the angular movements as she tries to come to terms with her injuries a real poignancy, culminating in the moment when she curls herself up, facing the back of the box, her beautifully expressive neck taking on a particularly dejected quality. It was interesting to note that, with Cao being the same height as most of the male Fridas, when she was dancing with them, she became completely integrated with her many alter-egos and, along with the men, the way she moved her skirt to create beautiful images was mesmerising. Her first encounter with Diego Rivera (James Streeter) was particularly seductive as she very provocatively bent forward and lifted up her skirt and, of course, with her Spanish heritage, the nod to flamenco hand movements seems second nature to her. Again, during the pas de deux, there was such beauty of movement, peppered with the wonderfully quirky gestures Ochoa has created to show the volatile, playful and passionate relationship between the two. At this stage, Streeter’s Diego is rather tame compared to the blazing light of Cao’s Frida, but I am sure it must be almost impossible to fill the shoes of the charismatic Mukhamedov in this role (or in any other, for that matter!). The miscarriage scene was intensely moving, with Cao’s fragility again visible in her throes of agony and then desperately trying to keep hold of the red ribbon. There was a nice little cameo from Adela Ramirez, again adding an authentic Spanish flavour to her movements, as Diego’s mistress, provoking a visible bubbling up of anger in Cao and lashing out at Diego. As previously, I found Cao’s anguish as her leg fails her almost unbearable in its emotional intensity and it seems her anger is given full vent in the almost violent pas de deux with the skeleton in the green skirt who seems to taunt her. As she is surrounded by all the images from her paintings and kills the stag, which I take to be symbolic of realising her own life is ending, Cao presents us with all the anger and frustration of one whose life is ending far too soon. I find the moment when Diego places her in the box and she becomes the butterfly preserved forever such a beautiful, calming moment, as uplifting as the bird fluttering above her which closes the ballet. Cao’s total artistry in this role, as with everything else she does, is a joy and a privilege to behold. There was a complete change of principals in “Nora”, with Erina Takahashi making a triumphant debut in the title role. She has such a childlike appearance that it makes her treatment by Torvald and Krogstad exceptionally poignant. Her glorious, understated technique is showcased by Quagebeur’s fluid choreography in which Nora is dancing for almost the entire twenty-five minutes of the piece. Joseph Caley as Torvald and Henry Dowden as Krogstad make less of an impact in their roles than Jeffrey Cirio and Junor Souza but Takahashi more than makes up for this in the way she responds to the unfortunate chain of events. After her husband’s angry outburst, her face so perfectly demonstrates her hurt, incomprehension and final realisation of what his controlling has done to her. I particularly liked the way she refused to play the little hand game with him that seems to symbolise how he controls her to remain a child he can manipulate. Another wonderful interpretation from one of ENB’s most cherished dancers who, like Cao, does not always seem to get the recognition she so richly deserves. In ‘Sacre’, I was quite simply blown away by Emily Suzuki as the chosen one. All through the autumn, I was impressed by the beauty of her classical dancing and now she has shown a completely different side. I was mesmerised by the intelligence and maturity of her artistry in this role, especially in one so young! Whereas with Velicu I felt the sacrificial dance was an anti-climax after her intensely moving reaction before it, with Suzuki the dance suddenly came alive for me with the power of her movement and her musicality. She has such very strong legs and she used these to create sharp pauses in the action, perfectly complementing the music, holding a leg in the air in a tip-tilted ā la seconde position for just long enough to create a breath-taking image full of anguish before collapsing. Likewise the timing of her self-flagellations – there was a jagged rhythm to these which again reflected the music. Each time she collapsed onto the ground, it seemed totally spontaneous and real, as did her final death throe. I do hope I will see this remarkable interpretation again during the week. As always, Gavin Sutherland brought out the best in the fabulous ENB Phiharmonic. It just goes to show what tricks the brain can play – in my previous report I said that, in the signature step I liked so much, the body bend was towards the supporting leg. It is, of course towards the leg in retiré!
  14. Well that could explain it, but it is just MY opinion.
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