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  1. Apologies, it is the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. This is a rather wonderful way of crowdfunding for treatment for Laurretta's nephew who has severe cerebral palsy. She is gathering a great roster of dancers for it.
  2. As the ENB publicity machine has only seen fit to allot one sentence to the departure of principal Begoña Cao, I thought I would try to rectify this by paying my own tribute to this exceptional artist. Cao was born in London of Spanish parents and trained at Arts Educational School and the Royal Ballet School. Upon graduation, she was immediately offered a contract by Derek Deane to join English National Ballet and has remained with the company ever since, notching up an amazing twenty-two years. Her early chance to make her debut as Odette/Odile at the age of twenty-one was cruelly snatched from her by a dislocated knee and she had to wait a number of years to take on all the classical ballerina roles, although she did appear as Giselle in Deane’s production. At that time, I was not going to many ballet performances but, in 2005, she caught my attention in the revival of Mary Skeaping’s “Giselle”, dancing the second Wili solo (Moyna in this production). When I say dancing, I really mean ethereally floating through it in a way that gave me goosebumps by the sheer beauty of her movement. She had to wait until 2009 to take on the title role, dancing with no fewer than three Albrechts during the season, and I remember with great pleasure working with her on the character of Giselle, particularly in honing the mime scenes, and how hungry she was to learn all she could about the character. Before that, I tried to get to as many of her performances in other ballets as possible. These included her amazing debut as Odette/Odile in 2008 at the Coliseum, partnered by the very young Esteban Berlanga in his debut in a major role. She has the perfect body for Odette, with her long, expressive limbs and her swan-like neck, as well as an innate musicality and those luminous eyes which express such depth of emotion. As to her Odile, in 2008 it was so polished and displayed such fireworks that it was hard to believe it was her debut. Since then, she has sadly only danced a few handfuls of performances of the dual role, being given just two in the last season, both of which I am grateful to have seen, as she established yet another partnership (with Aitor Arrieta) that I would love to see continuing but sadly it is not to be. There are so many roles at which she excelled, including Manon in 2008/2009 with Berlanga and last season with Arrieta. Their performance in Southampton in 2018 was one of those rare, magical nights at the theatre which lives on in the mind forever, especially the final act when Cao’s fragility was intensely moving and, for me, her Act II ‘Spanish’ solo is simply the best of all the beautiful Manons I have been privileged to see. With Berlanga, she had an unforgettable chemistry which reached its peak in Nureyev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and for which he was brought back to partner her in 2015. She was meant to dance with him in Deane’s production at the Royal Albert Hall in 2014 but, due to his injury, she was partnered with Junor Souza with whom she also developed an extraordinary chemistry, being perfectly matched both physically and temperamentally. I was privileged to see her radiant Aurora, a role she was not given the opportunity to repeat in 2018 but gave a touch of class to the Lilac Fairy instead with her stunningly secure series of fouetté arabesques and a benevolent smile which lit up the Coliseum. In “Nutcracker”, no-one has ever done the series of walks en pointe at the start of the Sugar Plum Fairy solo as exquisitely as Cao, and her bourrées, particularly travelling backward, are to die for with that magical, floating quality I noticed in her dancing in 2005. It is not only the classical roles at which she excels but I will also remember her scene-stealing solo in “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated” where she appeared to insouciantly stalk the stage looking for victims. Then again in Forsythe’s “Approximate Sonata 2016” performed in 2018 with Francisco Bosch, there was a wonderful rhythm and dynamism to her dancing which eluded some of her colleagues. In the same programme, she and Souza added a touch of class to Barton’s “Fantastic Beings”. Last season, she repeated her interpretation of Frida Kahlo in “Broken Wings” which had me hooked on the ballet when I first saw it in 2016. I also remember a number of years ago her beauty being exploited to the full in “Afternoon of a Faune” by Jerome Robbins which she danced with Carlos Acosta at one of his Sadler’s Wells performances. I will also never forget her appearances in two ballets by Roland Petit: as the beautiful but merciless figure of death in ‘Jeune homme’ and as an extremely sexy Carmen to Fabian Reimair’s Don Jose. At the dress rehearsal, their pas de deux were incredibly steamy but did not reach quite that level of eroticism in the performance. When I asked why, I was told that the person staging it had asked them to tone it down! However, it led to Cao being asked to guest in Petit’s ‘Chauve-Souris’ (a version of “Die Fledermaus) with the New National Ballet in Tokyo. Speaking of steamy, the poster for the Ballets Russes programme at Sadler’s Wells Theatre a number of years ago featured Cao and Arionel Vargas in a clinch from “Scheherazade” that was so passionate I am sure it had something to do with the performances selling out! In the past few years, Cao has twice been on maternity leave and has returned both times stronger than ever technically, with an even deeper understanding of her roles but sadly has been woefully underused, even though she has gained rave reviews from the critics for the roles she has been given the chance to perform, latterly stealing the show as the Stepmother in “Cinderella”. Last year Cao attained her teaching certificate from the Royal Ballet School and has been teaching at various summer schools for some time (she was also a mentor for BBC4’s recent Young Dancer of the Year) so it is reassuring to know she is passing on her passion for dance and her artistry to the next generation. She will be one of the dancers in the “Dancing for a Dream” gala being organised by Laurretta Summerscales at the New Woking Theatre on 10 November 2019 and I sincerely hope this will not be the last time we see the miraculous dancing of Begoña Cao on an English stage. I know there are many more of her performances that have given me such pleasure over the years and I hope other contributors will add their memories here.
  3. Actually, I believe it was Wayne Eagling who introduced the rank but he called it Senior Principal. Being promoted to 7th Year Artist relates to a higher pay grade only. I will pay tribute to the magnificent Begona Cao later.
  4. Not THE most important thing - that for me would be musicality - but a beautiful line, which dancers take years perfecting, is one of the things I enjoy most in choreography. Like Lizbie, I have no problem with the use of flexed feet when it enhances the choreography (thinking of "Two Pigeons", "Taming of the Shrew" and the third song in "Song of the Earth" etc.) but not when it appears to have been done at random, adding nothing to the choreography.
  5. Dawnstar, I am surprised by your reaction to the music for “Cinderella” as I have had lovely melodies swirling around in my head since the dress rehearsal. I would say that “Cinderella” is magical, as befits a fairy story (although I lament the lack of a fairy godmother in this production) whereas “Romeo and Juliet” is passionate. As you saw the Friday matinée, you did not have Maestro Sutherland at the helm and I expect this makes a difference (as I will find out this afternoon). I agree with your comments about Wheeldon. I, too, hate his use of flexed feet, which I especially noticed in “Within the Golden Hour”, for no apparent purpose apart from destroying the line of some of the most beautiful feet and legs on the planet! I was at last night’s performance (15th) and again it was a mixed bag. Cojocaru did not always look particularly comfortable last night, which may have been issues with her shoes, but she looked radiant as she circled the auditorium atop her fabulous coach. Similarly, Rojo did not seem as ‘into’ the Stepmother as I have previously seen her so the comedy was not quite as well done. However, I think it would be hard for anyone to match the towering comic performance of Begoña Cao that I saw on Wednesday. She brought this same comic brilliance to the ghastly role of the Russian princess (a role really beneath her position as one of the company’s leading principal dancers, as is the solo in Spring which Shiori Kase is performing when she is not Clementine which gets lost amongst the corps de ballet), threatening to steal the scene in the few minutes she was onstage for this. Dancing honours went to Hernandez who provided the pizzazz the performance needed with his wonderful, joyful leaps, especially in his duets with the very classy Cirio as Ben. Yet again, the most poignant moment for me comes in the ballroom scene when Clementine has been pushed to the ground by her sister and is lying in side splits with her face on the ground. Khaniukova’s crumpled body expressed such humiliation and dejection as she lay there. Then Cirio helped her up and tenderly adjusted her glasses, and the moment they just looked at each other spoke volumes. It helps that this happens to the gorgeous, other-worldly music heralding Cinderella’s arrival. In the second-last performance of the run, the corps de ballet, most of whom have done every performance, looked as fresh and enthusiastic as on opening night.
  6. On Wednesday 12 June, guest artist Maria Kochetkova took on the role of Cinderella. I have not seen her since she left ENB, at soloist level I believe, to join San Francisco Ballet about twelve years ago. I remember her beautiful Russian style and lovely, fleet footwork, especially running en pointe when she was so light that she appeared to fly. All these qualities were present in her Cinderella, with her body responding rapturously to Prokofiev’s magnificent score, particularly in the pas de deux so that, partnered by the warmly responsive Jeffrey Cirio as her prince, these were imbued with the romantic quality not inherent in the choreography but which it so desperately needed. And she did indeed look lighter than air just before the final scene when the Fates lifted her beautifully to retrieve her golden slipper from the mantelpiece. (A slight digression here about ENB not announcing cast changes as at both this performance, and the previous evening which I also attended, Aitor Arrieta replaced Francisco Bosch as one of the Fates, who play such an important part in the production, yet no announcement was made which I feel is very disrespectful to the dancers.) I do not know if Kochetkova’s eye make-up was too subtle or she has yet to discover the projection needed for the auditorium, but I did not find her face particularly expressive, which made her Cinderella less interesting than her stepfamily, played by three of the company’s leading ballerinas (what luxury casting!). They are also three of ENB’s most soulful Odettes but, having realised there are no dramatic depths to the characters in this production (Wheeldon’s production has the sisters behaving like eight-year- olds rather than teenagers), they played them for laughs, which they gave us in abundance. The beautiful Fernanda Oliveira, making an extremely welcome return to the stage after a prolonged absence, portrayed Edwina as a narcissistic ‘mini-me’ of her mother, who had to be the centre of attention at all times and either lashed out at her sister or went into a deep sulk if she wasn’t. Her facial expressions were an absolute picture without ever descending into mugging. Watching her antics on the sofa at the back of the stage during Cinderella’s dancing in the ballroom, when she hung her legs over the side of the sofa and moved her feet to the music in such a bored fashion, was actually more entertaining than the choreography for Cinderella. Oliveira’s Swanilda established her as an accomplished comedienne a number of years ago but the revelation was the lovely Shiori Kase as her much-put-upon sister, Clementine, whose reaction to every insult and injury from Oliveira was priceless and bound to win her the audience’s affection. With both dancers disguising the natural beauty of their dancing, their awful duet at the ball was a comic delight, especially when Edwina was unable to perform the same rolls on the floor as Clementine and Oliveira ended up in a humiliating heap after both painfully unsuccessful attempts at a somersault. Presiding over them was the magnificent Begoña Cao as their tiger-mother, Hortensia. With her costume and wig (complete with white streak) resembling the stepmother in Disney’s classic cartoon “Cinderella” but her amazing cheekbones and elegant glamour more suggestive of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, Cao ruled the family through a mixture of fear and awe. From her first appearance with her new husband (Fabian Reimair, who appears to be single-cast for the entire run), she moved like a predatory black widow spider and, when impatient with Cinderella at their first encounter, drummed her long fingers on her folded arms with a deceptive languor that was full of menace. When relegated to the sofa at the back of the ballroom after their disastrous encounter with the royal couple, with Oliveira reluctant to make room for the hapless Kase who ended up squished between the two of them, it was more fascinating to watch Cao become steadily inebriated, sending the waiter off for yet another glass of champagne, than the dancing (however beautifully performed) happening in the rest of the arena. Her ensuing drunken dance with the champagne glasses, aided and abetted by Reimair’s wonderful support, was the comic highlight of the performance as her elegance disintegrated, . The expression on her face, and especially in her huge eyes, as she covered her glass with her hand so as not to spill a drop of it while Reimair turned her in arabesque by grabbing her raised leg, was an absolute picture. Then that final, slow backbend when Reimair held her raised leg in front, showed her fabulous technique being used to wonderful comic effect. I only wish I had been sitting on the other side of the auditorium so that I could have seen her facial expression as she began her descent. But her drunk act did not end there. After Reimair had dragged her back to the sofa, with a silly grin on her face all the way, she proceeded to sleep off the alcohol in a very comic but natural way. In fact, all three ladies kept their characters interesting with tiny details even when not visible to most of the audience, showing exemplary stagecraft. Cao’s hangover the next morning was equally as comic as she tried to regain her dignity and then she became truly demented as she tried to hammer the golden slipper onto Edwina’s foot. This was another comic moment from Oliveira, who is possessed of the most gloriously arched feet: sitting on top of the table, she wiggled the toes of her bare foot, displaying that beautiful arch, with a grin on her face as if her character thought this toe-wiggling would entice the prince. Having seen Jeffrey Cirio as Ben last week, and with the roles of the prince and Ben being quite similar, I think I was as confused as the two sisters are at the ball when they see the two of them together! Ben at this performance was danced by Francisco Gabriele Frola who was an excellent match for Cirio in their exuberant duets. Just as Cirio was charm personified as the prince, so was Frola as Ben, particularly when he helped the dejected Kase up from the floor where Oliveira left her at the end of their duet. So, yet again, this tender romance between Ben and Clementine was the heart of the ballet for me with the rest of it brought to life by the wonderful comedy team of Cao, Oliveira and Kase.
  7. I attended the Sunday performance to see what a different cast would bring to the production and my gripes about the production in general still stand. This time my seat was in the Grand Tier, which is the row of boxes above the Stalls. Sitting in the third row of the box, I had an excellent view of all the special effects (projections on the screen, projections on the floor etc.) and saw a lot that I had missed at the dress rehearsal and opening night, sitting in the first few rows of the Stalls. My seat was also at the ‘front’ of the arena which did mean that I could not see what happened in about the first ten feet of the arena. However, at the other performances, I noticed that very little happened in this area, so perhaps some sightlines have been taken into consideration. I looked very hard for lovely floor patterns (captured in some of the publicity photos) but didn’t really notice any so perhaps these are only fully visible to those in the Gallery. I have to conclude that the best seats to see all the special effects and still be able to see the dancers clearly are probably the boxes at the back of the Stalls, for anyone who is still planning to see the show. This performance was led by the exquisite Erina Takahashi who has been dancing Cinderella almost since she joined the company. Indeed, I remember sitting in the upper reaches of the Coliseum (never again!) because it was the only seat I could get for her matinée with Jan-Erik Wikström in Michael Corder’s production, probably on its third or fourth outing at the Coliseum. I was enchanted by her then and I was enchanted by her all over again on Sunday. She has performed in all the company’s productions at the Royal Albert Hall and she knows how to project to its vast reaches so that everyone in the audience is totally involved with her character. Whereas Cojocaru remained wistful throughout most of the ballet, Takahashi expresses a whole gamut of emotions, from distress when she is first confronted by her new stepsisters, clinging onto her mother’s headstone as if the sisters have intruded into her most private thoughts, curiosity when they invite her to dance with them, and incomprehension when first the stepmother and then Edwina is mean to her. There is such sad resignation in her body when she is serving her stepfamily and father, as the table is manoeuvred round the arena by the Fates, and then this changes to a delightful mischievousness followed by a quiet joy as she and the prince, disguised as a hobo, dance on the table when the family has departed. She really becomes involved in the dances of the four seasons, with a lovely expression of wonderment. Her emergence in her ballgown with train flowing as she ran around the arena, was magical, with the most radiant of smiles which lit up the auditorium. This led to what has to be the production’s coup de théâtre, the coach ride around the arena. As a small correction to my previous post, the man holding Cinderella aloft does not run but he walks very fast! Takahashi also makes the most of her solos, ironing out the awkwardness of the steps with her lyricism and exquisite footwork. Her prince is Joseph Caley who is genial but a bit bland. I preferred the coltish charm of Isaac Hernandez and the sheer brio of his dancing in this vast space. However, Caley’s dancing is beautifully neat and elegant, and he partners Takahashi extremely sympathetically, bringing a much-needed rapture into the inherently unromantic choreography for their pas de deux. Caley is especially well matched by Barry Drummond as Ben, both of whom use their feet beautifully, not least in their wonderfully soft landings from jumps, and have a true sense of classical line. It is lovely to see Drummond finally featured in a major role, especially as he has huge charm and, like Takahashi, a smile to light up the auditorium. Fabian Reimair, as Cinderella’s father, brings a touch of class to the production with his palpable grief at losing his wife, his flight from her graveside being a truly touching moment. Cinderella’s mother was the beautiful Angela Wood who does appear truly angelic as she hovers over the child Cinderella with a benevolent serenity, her ‘wings’ skilfully manoeuvred by the puppeteers. The always elegant Sarah Kundi is more of an uptight control freak than Tamara Rojo as the stepmother, subtler in her initial mistreatment of Cinderella, but definitely a force to be reckoned with, and this made her loss of control as she descends into drunkenness at the ball even funnier, especially in the pas de deux with the hapless Reimair (always a master of comic timing) trying to stop her from grabbing any more champagne from the obliging waiters. Alison McWhinney plays against type by showing that Edwina’s beauty is only skin deep as she bullies Clementine and Cinderella and disguises her lovely technique as she tries to do the same roll on the floor that Clementine manages so effortlessly in the duet in the ballroom, ending up in an ungainly heap on the floor not once but twice. As at the previous performance, it is the lovely relationship between Clementine and Ben that moves the heart. Here, Clementine was danced by Anjuli Hudson in a delightfully gauche yet adorable manner, trying whenever she could to apologise to Cinderella for the meanness of her mother and sister and obviously loving finally having a father-figure in her life from the way she leapt on Reimair like a young child at every opportunity. The blossoming romance between her and Drummond was a joy to behold, especially given the lovely chemistry between them whether dancing together or just looking at each other. Once again, the hardworking corps de ballet danced with great energy and enthusiasm, belying the fact that this was their sixth performance in four days, not to mention all the dress rehearsals since arriving at the Hall at the beginning of last week. Overall, this still feels more like a West End spectacle rather than a ballet but there are some wonderful performances to savour and I look forward to seeing at least one more change of cast before the end of the run.
  8. The company's previous, beautiful award-winning production by Michael Corder, in which the story was told simply and clearly through exquisite, musical choreography with little or no recourse to pantomime, is a hard act to follow and I found Wheeldon's version to not even come close to it in so many areas. For me, the choreography is uninspired and looks awkward at times. It is neither purely classical nor neoclassical and ends up being pseudo-classical, at times its bittiness not reflecting the gorgeous phrasing of Prokofiev’s hauntingly beautiful score. Of course, there are many enjoyable moments but most of these come from the way the extremely talented dancers of English National Ballet develop their characters through their considerable acting skills rather than being able to develop them through the choreography itself, although for my taste there is sometimes a bit too much pantomime acting. I thought the production had not been particularly well adapted for the Royal Albert Hall’s arena, especially from the viewpoint of those sitting in the Stalls, as I was for the dress rehearsal and the opening night. Too often my view of what was important was obscured, a case in point being the second scene, played by the young prince and his friend, Ben, when their antics with Madame were completely blocked from my side of the arena by the huge archways, signifying the palace hallways. I have seen the DVD by the Dutch National Ballet so I knew what was going on, but other people on my half of the arena may have wondered why the people on the other side were laughing. Adding extra people to the four seasons episode is not particularly successful as it looks too busy and the soloists are often hidden. As with the photographs posted on the company’s Facebook page, it seems the best view of all that is going on will be from the cheapest seats in the Gallery. This is definitely a production which relies on stage effects, rather than choreographic substance, and some of these are spectacular. One which stood out for me was in the opening scene, in which Wheeldon shows us the young Cinderella with her devoted mother and father (played by two of the company’s finest dance-actors, Fabian Reimair and the beautiful Stina Quagebeur). We see the mother suffering from consumption and, as she dies, she is held aloft by the puppeteers (mercifully there are no puppets in the production, only puppeteers) who manipulate her white ‘cloak’ like wings as if she is flying up to heaven with the most lovely look of serenity on Quagebeur’s face. The other is at the end of Act I when the four Fates (who replace the fairy godmother in this production) plus two others become the horses to draw Cinderella’s coach which is mesmerisingly put together by men in black manipulating wheels and Cinderella herself borne aloft in a spectacular one-handed Bolshoi lift by another man in black, who is sadly uncredited but deserves a medal for his strength in maintaining this lift and running at the same time as the ‘coach’ and Cinderella make a complete circuit of the arena with Cinderella’s train billowing out behind. This drew spontaneous and extremely well deserved applause from the entire audience on both evenings. The reliance on back projections to act as scenery has a downside in that the screen is so tall that the orchestra on their raised platform are completely hidden from view, until they are revealed but still behind the screen in the ballroom scene. The screen does the sound no favours, especially for those sitting close to it, which is a shame as the orchestra play the score magnificently under the baton of Maestro Gavin Sutherland who, as with all these arena productions, has to follow the dancers on a small screen. Another thing I do not like is the reliance on cheap humour in places, such reactions to the huge bosom of Madame by both the young prince and his friend and the friend’s father (a woefully underused Michael Coleman). In fact, apart from the excellent dancing of the two youngsters (Matteo Bynoe and Ayan Hall-Jurkovic), this is a scene which could be cut with no detriment to the storyline. There are also crude references to the bad breath of stepsister Edwina, who also appears to have had an orgy with four courtiers after the ball (is that really necessary? – at least in the proscenium production it is just one courtier) and I find the depiction of a one-legged girl who wants to try on the golden slipper particularly disrespectful to the disabled. Having had my rant about what I dislike about the production, there are of course wonderful performances. With her waif-like appearance, Alina Cojocaru is ideally cast as Cinderella, immediately gaining the audience’s sympathy as she mourns her dead mother then has to suffer bullying, particularly by stepsister Edwina and stepmother Hortensia. I would love her to have more interesting choreography for the various solos, as to me they are just a series of step, however beautifully danced. Tamara Rojo has great fun as the control-freak of a stepmother, looking like a demented but glamorous Jean Simmons and sporting a white streak in her hair reminiscent of Cruella de Vil, defining the term ‘stage mother’ as she pushes her daughters to perform their particularly awful dance at the ball (danced with great skill in disguising the true talent of the dancers). Isaac Hernandez looks perfectly at home as the spirited young prince and there was a real tenderness in his partnering of Cojocaru although, again, I would have loved the choreography of the pas de deux to flow better and to reflect the rapture of the music. There were some rather awkward lifts which were definitely the fault of the choreography and not of Hernandez, who I have mentioned before is a very secure partner. The best choreography is left for Hernandez and Jeffrey Cirio as his friend, Ben, in their exuberant duets together. Stepsister Edwina, danced by Emma Hawes, is the least interesting character but Hawes does her best to show her as a spoilt brat and a bully, whether towards Cinderella or her sister Clementine. The relationship between Clementine and Ben actually becomes the most interesting and believable one in the production. Her natural prettiness barely disguised behind a pair of thick glasses, Katja Khaniukova, as the myopic, somewhat clumsy Clementine, makes much of the role, showing that she is the only one of her family with any heart and, when Edwina tells her to kick Cinderella as she lays on the floor, gently taps her with her foot and then immediately apologises for it. It is clear that she immediately falls for Ben from his first appearance in their home when he is disguised as the Prince, and their growing romance is beautifully portrayed by Cirio and Khaniukova. Their energetic pas de deux at the ball, although not the best choreography, is a joy to behold. There is a lovely moment in the last act, sadly not entirely visible to the audience on one side of the arena, when Khaniukova joins the line-up of girls to try on the golden slipper. As he holds out the slipper, Cirio shows his disappointment that she wants to try it on but, with the most delightful smile, Khaniukova mimes that she does not want the slipper, she wants him. It is therefore lovely that this charming couple are included in the wedding scene which concludes the ballet. A word of praise for the hardworking Fates of James Streeter, James Forbat, Junor Souza and Francisco Bosch who drive the action forward and engage in some very energetic dancing amid their scene-shifting duties, although I would love them to have more balletic choreography to suit their formidable talents for the music those familiar with Corder’s production and Ashton’s masterpiece will recognise as the dance of the stars. The corps de ballet also work especially hard with multiple costume and wig changes, not to mention running up and down the stairs in and out of the arena, but always appear engaged and committed, even when given not very rewarding choreography to dance. I will be seeing at least two other casts so it will be interesting to see if the production is tweaked to overcome some of the sightline problems I have mentioned. If anyone has not bought tickets yet, I would recommend avoiding the first five rows of the Stalls if you want to see all the action, although people around me on Thursday night, who had never been to a ballet before, enjoyed being so close to the dancers. The cast received a well-deserved rapturous ovation from the opening night audience.
  9. Thank you for your very kind words. And I totally agree about 'Fille'!! Thanks for sharing the video blog - those beautiful feet!!!
  10. I was extremely pleased to have the chance to attend Saturday evening’s performance (25 May). With two artists as intelligent and intuitive as Corrales and Hayward, it was a given that they would bring even greater depth to this, their third performance together. As on 11 May, there were still disappointments for me in other areas. Under the baton of Pavel Sorkin, the music had more passion to it, in particular the gorgeous rising and falling phrases as Juliet sits absolutely still on the bed, but the overture still sounded pedantic and there were several moments of rather suspect intonation throughout the evening so that the music still did not give me any spine-tingling moments. I found the crowd scenes even more tedious on second viewing, particularly those in Act II which seem to be townswomen against the three harlots instead of Capulets against Montagues, so masterfully delineated by Nureyev in his production. On further reflection, it seems to me that the current staging is too democratic: apart from a few noblewomen trying to be human parentheses, there is no distinction in carriage of the body between the townsfolk and nobility, making the Dance of the Knights rather dull, without the sense of weightiness and power inherent in the music. For me, this was again the case with all the noble character roles. My feeling about character roles in which there is little or no dancing is that, as well as the face, the body language must always clearly convey emotions and thoughts, particularly in the way they walk or stand, without the use of meaningless gestures (my pet hate), and, as on 11 May, I felt it was all too casual. However, I did think the Paris of Tomas Mock was more expressive than previously in the scene where Juliet refused to marry him. After he manhandled her, his sense of shame at having taken out his frustration on her was palpable, as was the joy when she finally acquiesced and he knelt to kiss the hem of her dress, only to be replaced by bewilderment when she bourréed (exquisitely) away from him. I was delighted to see the same dream team of Marcelino Sambé (Mercutio) and James Hay (Benvolio) joining Corrales again and bringing the performance to life with their wonderful, totally natural antics in Act I and the beginning of Act II, as well as their exuberant but polished dancing, perfectly in tune with each other both technically and emotionally, particularly in the pas de trois. This highlighted for me the beautiful arch and stretch of Corrales’s feet, something I have admired since I first saw him with ENB in 2014. There were so many wonderful details in the electrifying performance of Corrales and Hayward but I shall just highlight a few here. I loved the way Corrales managed to find humour in the interlude in the ballroom scene when Romeo and Juliet are trying to be alone together. When Juliet sends him to hide for the second time before her family enters, as he ran offstage, he made a wonderful gesture with his body and face as if to say “not again!” In the following Gavotte, where they are placed on opposite sides of the stage while dancing, they both tried to look across at each other as often as possible. When this evolved into the two circles moving in opposite directions, the moment they found themselves dancing together was sheer delight with both of them overjoyed at their luck. Watching “West Side Story” (for the umpteenth time) yesterday afternoon, I wondered if the two circles were a little homage from MacMillan to Jerome Robbins as it was very evocative of the ‘getting to know you’ dance at the gym, as is the moment when Juliet finds herself face to face with Romeo for the first time and they stare into each other’s eyes so that it seems they are the only two people in the world, much as it happens as Tony and Maria see each other and the action behind them becomes a complete blur. Their balcony pas de deux was even more breath-taking than on 11 May, with Hayward now allowing her body the freedom to show complete ecstasy in all the lifts, safe in Corrales’s passionate yet absolutely secure partnering. The standout moment for me was when she draped herself over the back of his neck and her whole body expressed her rapture. And they both made each entwining of arms a reflection of their deepening passion. After Juliet has run up the stairs, I loved the way Hayward abruptly sank to her knees, almost as if she had suddenly gone weak at the knees through this awakening of her passion. It was so natural, and Corrales responded with ardour as their outstretched hands touched. Once again, I was enchanted by how much they made of the brief wedding scene, even sneaking looks at each other when they were meant to be praying, again emphasising their extreme youth. Corrales was truly exceptional in the next scene, as he looked on helplessly as Tybalt and Mercutio fought . The change of his grief into hatred as he realised Mercutio was dead was like a bomb exploding and the rage throughout his body as he fought Tybalt was amazing as he let his movements become almost clumsy at times to reflect this. The ensuing bedroom pas de deux for Romeo and Juliet was full of such despair that this almost became the most heart-rending moment of the ballet for me. However, it was the final moments in the crypt which did it for me, as the distraught Corrales tried to bring the ‘dead’ Hayward back to life. I thought Hayward was simply breath-taking here in the way she let her body go completely limp and respond to every manipulation by the increasingly heartbroken Corrales. (I hope she had a good massage booked for after the performance!) Then there were the wonderfully understated deaths of both of them, leaving the audience in stunned silence as the curtain fell. Unlike some other contributors to this forum, I have no problem with dancers of a certain age performing roles of extreme youth, providing they completely inhabit the role with no noticeable ‘acting’ (I am thinking of the eternally youthful Daria Klimentova’s final performance with ENB as an utterly believable Juliet just entering her teens, and I would not want to be without my DVD of Fonteyn). I therefore hope that Corrales and Hayward will still be taking my breath away and breaking my heart in twenty years’ time!
  11. Sadly she is unable to do the Albert Hall performances. Hopefully she will be back next season!
  12. 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!
  13. 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.
  14. 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!
  15. 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).
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