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Irmgard

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  1. For my first “Nutcracker” of the season, and ENB’s second performance in their 32-show run at the Coliseum, there were some disappointments but there was also much to love, not least Tchaikovsky’s ravishing score given its usual Christmas magic by the ENB Philharmonic under the wonderfully sympathetic baton of Gerry Cornelius. Now being rolled out for the tenth year, the sets look in need of refreshing (as do some of the Act I costumes), as they appeared washed out at times with the lighting also appearing somewhat dingy, especially in Act II. Most disappointing was a general lack of style in the dancing of the ladies in their various ensemble dances, starting with the party scene in Act I which lacked its original elegance but my eye was caught by Emily Suzuki and Jia Zhang, mostly dancing at the back of the group, who can always be relied upon to add a touch of class to whatever they do. Likewise, Alison McWhinney brought her ballerina sheen and a much-needed lyricism to the dance of the Snowflakes, with a masterclass in how to fill out a musical phrase with her gorgeous ports de bras, letting the music flow through her entire body. Hopefully the other dancers will follow her example, especially on the beautiful exiting step which needs this wonderful style to give the choreography its true magic. Indeed, it was another pair of dancers who have been in the production since its première, Adela Ramirez and James Forbat, who brought elegance and class to the waltz of the Flowers in Act II, with Ramirez exquisitely demonstrating the wonderful sliding step choreographed by Eagling which seems to have all but disappeared in the last few years. Another ‘veteran’ of the production, Junor Souza, made much of the Arabian Dance, channelling his Ali from “Le Corsaire”, with an extremely sensuous yet always elegant performance, enhanced by a very sultry group of harem ladies. Shevelle Dynott repeated his wickedly mischievous Mouse King, making much of the comedy with his highly amusing body language. The whole evening was presided over by the warm and genial Drosselmeyer of Fabian Reimair with his fatherly love for both his nephew and Clara shining through. Indeed, he and the Nutcracker of Daniel McCormick made the pas de trois, which begins Act II, look effortless as there was an almost carefree manner to the way they lifted and tossed Clara who responded with the most delighted of smiles which took on an extra rapture when the Nutcracker transformed into the fabulous Nephew of Jeffrey Cirio whose devastating charm lit up the whole theatre as well as the face of his adoring Clara, played as a child by the tiny Amelia Clark before transforming in her dream into the exquisite Katja Khaniukova. Less than a week ago, I was watching her on the same stage in the ultra-modern “Radio & Juliet” and yet tonight she was the quintessential classical ballerina displaying her heritage of the Russian school with her heady mix of delicious footwork, evident from her first exquisite run onto the stage in Act I, and beautifully languorous upper body movements and ports de bras, bringing depth of character to Clara who can sometimes be portrayed as rather two-dimensional. There was a moving soulfulness to her first pas de deux with the Nutcracker, especially with her meltingly beautiful bourrées around him as he knelt, which she repeated with even more delicacy in her delectable Sugar Plum solo in Act II. Cirio partnered her to perfection in the Act II grand pas de deux, both of them radiant and glittering in the entrée, and then showed us his beautifully clean technique in his bravura solo and the coda, never losing his youthful charm and that lovely smile. Khaniukova also shone in the coda with her trademark multiple pirouette into an immaculate set of fouetté turns. She and Cirio received rapturous applause and cheering from the capacity audience, many of whom appeared to be seeing the ballet for the first time and were no doubt as enchanted as I was by this glorious partnership.
  2. The company (firstly as the Vic-Wells ballet) performed Acts I and II from 1933 until 1938, staged by Sergeyev. The whole ballet, again staged by Sergeyev, was performed from 1940 until 1953 (with Fonteyn giving over forty performances as Swanilda), with De Valois revamping the production the following year. The second company (through all its many changes of names) has been performing a production based on the Sergeyev staging since 1951. This information is from my Royal Ballet 'bible': "The Royal Ballet, The first 50 years".
  3. I hoped I had made it clear in the first line of my post (in bold!) that the title of this strand was the title given to the programme by the organisers and was NOT of my making!
  4. I hasten to say that the title of this topic is the title given by the organisers for this triple bill at the Coliseum performed 7 and 8 December 2019 and not one of my own making! This programme, which I saw on 7 December 2019, is one in which the choreographers rely heavily on the beautiful fluidity of movement and pliant bodies of their classically trained dancers with varying results. It is hard to believe that the first piece on the programme, “Radio & Juliet” is already fourteen years old and only now having its UK première, such is the immediacy of the wonderfully rhythmic and intriguing choreography. As there was no programme on sale in the theatre, with only a free cast list being available, I am glad I read an online synopsis beforehand so that I was aware this was not a straightforward telling of “Romeo and Juliet” but rather flashbacks entering Juliet’s mind in no particular order, apart from the final, heartbreaking moment. Costuming was contemporary and, as the title suggests, the ballet was set to music by Radiohead. Juliet was ENB’s Katja Khaniukova in a triumphant début and Romeo was the Mariinsky’s Denis Matvienko, with very strong support from five male dancers from Slovenia’s Maribor company who represented other character such as Mercutio, Tybalt and Friar Laurence. Much use was made of a black and white film projected onto the backcloth but, as effective as it was, I felt it went on for a little too long at the beginning before the dancers appeared. However, I enjoyed the filmed ‘replay’ of the very effective choreography for the fight between the Capulets and Montagues. Another high point was the choreography for the death throes of the character I assume was Mercutio. Overall, the sometimes quirky choreography contained motifs which seemed to draw on street-dancing for the various arm movements and undulations of the mid-torso, and was quite repetitive but this repetition had a strangely hypnotic effect. In one scene, the men, all dressed in black suits with open jackets revealing their bare chests, donned surgical masks and I gradually realised this was a reference to the Capulets’ masked ball in which Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. I really liked the moment here in which the two of them are left alone at opposite sides of the stage and, in a series of blackouts, they gradually move closer to each other and finally Romeo takes off his mask. Although lit only in silhouette, it was in this beautiful moment of stillness, with the tiny Khaniukova looking up into the eyes of the much taller Matvienko that their love for each other was clearly visible in their body language, because the lighting in other scenes frustratingly obscured facial expressions at times during the various pas de deux. These were not pas de deux in the conventional ballet sense in that they were not passionate like MacMillan’s, but there was a quiet beauty to them, reflecting the fact that Juliet was playing back these lost feelings in her mind. There was also no pointework involved for Juliet but Khaniukova’s own exquisite sense of line and footwork made it seem as if she were en pointe instead of a very high demi-pointe. Juliet is costumed only in a corset and the briefest of shorts, reminiscent of Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort”, which emphasised her vulnerability, particularly when surrounded by the much taller men, but it did not stop Khaniukova showing us Juliet’s headstrong nature, particularly at the beginning, with wonderfully strong, dynamic movements which contrasted at other times with her beautiful legato quality. Poignancy is also something Khaniukova does extremely well, which made her final solo of grief over Romeo’s dead body heartbreaking as despair overcame her whole body but in a dignified, almost resigned way. “Faun” is only the second piece I have seen by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the first being the disastrous (in my opinion) “Medusa” for the Royal Ballet last season. Set to Debussy’s ravishing score with interpolations by Nitin Sawhney of what sounded like chanting, this appeared to be the confrontation of the faun and the nymph, with costumes vaguely reminiscent of those for Jerome Robbins’ version but without the beauty of movement contained in his choreography. It was energetically danced by Anastasia Stashkevich and Vaycheslav Lopatin of the Bolshoi but, for me, there was rather too much entanglement of bodies in a somewhat clumsy manner and certainly not enough choreographic invention to keep my interest for the whole fifteen minutes. From the rapturous applause and standing ovation given to the final piece by those in the centre of the Stalls, I think the final piece was the one they had really come to watch. This was a collaboration between Wayne McGregor and fashion designer Thierry Mugler, unimaginatively entitled “McGregor + Mugler” and created for ballet stars Olga Smirnova and Edward Watson to a thumping soundtrack reminiscent of music used for the catwalk at fashion shows. Mugler dressed the two dancers in flesh-coloured bodystockings with a fishnet-type design and plenty of bling placed in strategic locations, gold for Watson and silver for Smirnova, which sparkled in the very bright lighting. The bling on the lower legs, and the helmets and masks were gradually stripped away so that we could finally see Smirnova’s arabesque in all its glory, although Watson was left with a ponytail which unfortunately covered his face for the rest of the piece. However, by this time, I had had enough of this style of ‘contemporary’ choreography and longed for the much more expertly created “Radio & Juliet” which I would happily watch again.
  5. I was not going to make any more comments about Ratmansky’s production until I had seen the live-stream. However, further clips have been posted online, including the Act II Fugue in full. I have double-checked my copy of the Justamant notebook and, as I remembered, there is no fugue in it as it had been cut from French productions by the time Justamant made his notes in the 1860s, moving from Giselle guarding Albrecht at the cross straight into Myrtha commanding Giselle to dance. Looking at Ratmansky’s choreography, I note he uses a lot of the same steps that Mary Skeaping created, starting with her versions for Ballet Alicia Alonso and the Royal Swedish Ballet in 1953 but in a different order. Therefore, I surmise that Ratmansky also used a filmed recording of the Mary Skeaping production as one of his sources! I also would like to respond to a few statements made by Floss in her lengthy post. As mentioned, I have had the facsimile of Justamant’s notebook for some time and can confirm that this is definitely a ballet master’s aide-memoire. The mime scenes are written as prose with absolutely no indication of the gestures used (Justamant would not have needed to do this) and with no indication of the timing. In fact, there is very little indication of the musical timing for the danced scenes or the drama scenes. Justamant wrote these notes in the 1860s, at least twenty years after the première of “Giselle” and when the original choreographers, Perrot and Coralli, were not around to have any input or any say in what was cut or added. Petipa’s version of “Giselle” did not come out of the blue. He was in Paris when his brother, Lucien, created the role of Albrecht and travelled to Russia with Perrot in 1848 as his assistant, working on the version the Mariinsky already had, having been staged by Titus who was sent to Paris in 1842 to learn the Coralli/Perrot staging which he reproduced exactly for the company (no choreographic copyright in those days!). After Perrot left Russia, Petipa worked on the ballet, more or less taking credit for the whole thing by 1862. Therefore, it is just as likely that his version of the mime scenes which he taught to Karsavina, amongst others, is what the Paris audiences of 1841 saw, especially as his perfectly fit the conductor’s score from 1841, of which I have a copy. This score was neatly handwritten by a copyist from Adam’s own messy autograph score for use by the conductor at the first performance and has never, to my knowledge, been published. Indeed, it languished in the Opéra archives until the 1950s when Mary Skeaping obtained a microfilm of it (which I have) and had a copy of it printed, which has been used almost in its entirety in her various productions. Interestingly, the Royal Ballet also used this orchestration in their most recent revival of Peter Wright’s production (courtesy of ENB’s music department), although it had to be chopped and changed to fit his conception. I therefore wonder which “traditional” score Marian Smith used. Of course, because the music of “Giselle” was so popular, the Paris Opéra took the step of publishing a piano reduction of the orchestral score in 1841, almost unheard of for a ballet score at that time. Because of this, productions of “Giselle” which sprang up quickly afterwards in Russia, the United States and England, amongst others, were able to use the Adam music although it was left to house composers to make the orchestrations (apart from Milan, where the ballet was danced to music by another composer and acquired a further two Acts). I have a copy of this piano reduction of 1841, which Mary Skeaping discovered in the archives of the Royal Opera House, Stockholm in the 1950s, the ballet having been first performed there in 1845. Although there are no metronome markings to indicate exact speed, it has invaluable information about the various scenes, with Adam commenting on the action. My favourite is “rire satanique” which corresponds to the moment when the Wilis despatch Hilarion! One final comment on the mime, anyone who has studied ballet mime knows that mime in 19th century ballets was ‘written’ in French, as I always mention when talking about the mime in “Giselle”, as this explains the odd syntax when translating into English. When working with dancers, I always ask them not to mumble (i.e. make the gestures clear enough to be understood at the back of the amphitheatre) and to watch their punctuation, plus to use the same dynamics as they would if actually speaking the words, and of course to fit whatever they say to the rhythm of the music, which it does perfectly when the Adam score is used in all its glory.
  6. It all looked a bit manic, there were some very strange gestures and it certainly did not clearly tell the legend of the Wilis as taught by Karsavina to Mary Skeaping, plus the music for it was drastically cut.
  7. As well as the news footage, someone has posted some secretly filmed footage from the balcony on Belyakov's Facebook page which someone alerted me to. Sadly, in the bits I have seen, the mother's mime is not only badly done but is quite bizarre and is nothing like the one Karsavina learned from Petipa which she passed on to Mary Skeaping (and is now done in the Royal Ballet production, as it was in Ashton's and Karsavina's staging in the 1960s). I shall wait to see the whole thing before commenting on the choreography but it will be interesting to see if Ratmansky has got rid of all the lifts in the Act II pas de deux which were added by the Bolshoi in the production they brought to England in 1956. Many thanks for all the kind comments about the Skeaping production, of which I am the guardian for the Skeaping family. With regard to the peasant pas de deux, Skeaping keeps this in her production (but with each having one solo rather than the two in the original Perrot/Coralli version) but, because it was an interpolation, she places it much earlier so that, as Alison remarks, it does not detract from Giselle and Albrecht (its position in the original was a purely 'political' move) who then have the whole of the Pas de Vendanges pas de deux before the denouement. This was cut drastically at some point in Russia so will not feature in the Stepanov notation. I did see that some of the music is retained in Ratmansky's production but since the person filming was only interested in Belyakov I have no idea at the moment how much of it comes before the bit of solo I saw. Bathilde and her father arrived on "white steeds" in the original 1841 ballet because there was room on the old Paris Opera stage for it, as there is on the Bolshoi stage. It will be interesting to see the original ending to the ballet. Skeaping uses the original music in the original orchestration but the one thing she thought would be difficult for today's audiences to accept was the original staging in which Giselle blesses the union of Albrecht and Bathilde as she disappears back into the earth! It will be interesting to see how this works out in this production!
  8. Conrad is most definitely the largest role in terms of stage time and he is the Corsair of the title. It is basically the story of his quest to regain Medora (who is repeatedly kidnapped in this plot!) but, being essentially a 19th century ballet, Medora dominates. If you want a synopsis, there is one on ENB's website (www.ballet.org.uk). However, as Capybara has said, the other male dancers also have strong roles and can sometimes steal the show, especially Ali who hardly appears in Act I apart from rescuing Medora for Conrad, and then only has the pas d'action (pas de trois) in Act II in which he has the most famous solo in the ballet and shares the partnering of Medora with Conrad. I well remember Junor Souza as Ali in 2013 almost stealing the show from Vadim Muntagirov's Conrad on the strength of this one scene and his amazing stage presence (similarly in 2016 when Brooklyn Mack was his Conrad). I am hoping he is cast in this role again for the Coliseum performances! Interestingly, when ENB first announced the casting for Milton Keynes, they only listed Conrad, Medora and Lankendem (the slave trader), adding the other main characters later. Birbanto and Lankendem have about equal stage time with Birbanto probably getting slightly more dance time. Hopefully this will help you in deciding which performance to book for! On the strength of the Milton Keynes performances, bearing in mind I missed one cast, I found the cast in which Cirio was Conrad was the most uniformly satisfying but I would not want to miss some of the dancers in the other casts, particularly the other Medoras. It will be interesting to see if the Milton Keynes casts remain together for the Coliseum or if there will be a bit of mixing and matching going on.
  9. Having watched three performances on 21 and 22 November in Milton Keynes, I have not changed my initial impression in 2013 that “Le Corsaire” is a ballet generally without soul and very little heart, given that it treats its subject matter of selling females into slavery in such a pantomimic way. I imagine the original French version by choreographer Mazilier with libretto by playwright Vernoy de Saint-Georges (of “Giselle” fame) was much closer to Byron’s epic poem than this reworking by Anna-Marie Holmes of numerous Russian versions, most notably by Petipa, and therefore the only reason for adding this to a company’s repertoire is for its virtuosic dance opportunities for a large cast. That said, the generally naff choreography for the pirates is saved only by the gusto with which the admirably straight-faced men of ENB perform it. As this is the first purely classical ballet the company has performed since January (and I do not consider Wheeldon’s “Cinderella” to be purely classical), it seems inevitable that some of the female solos and the ensemble in jardin animé occasionally suffered from imprecise ports de bras, and the footwork could have been neater. Likewise, I hope the ham acting of the peripheral action in Act I will have settled down by the Coliseum performances, as it became tedious to be distracted by various slave girls at the back of the stage being dragged around in a supposedly comic fashion. The only thing to stop this version being an endless series of gala-style solos and pas de deux etc. is the considerable acting skill of leading dancers in bringing their somewhat two-dimensional characters to life. It was therefore wonderful to have the scene-stealing Junor Souza as the swaggering slave-trader, Lankendem, in the Thursday matinée. His solo work was very powerful and his jumps ending in the deepest of grands pliés were especially impressive. I remember Souza’s elegant and noble Ali in previous seasons (and I was very surprised he was not given any performances of that role this week) and I marvelled at his ability to completely inhabit the mercenary, amoral and occasionally grovelling slaver who appears to have a momentary crisis of conscience after he has sold Medora to the Pasha. Ali at this performance was the marvellously lithe Ken Saruhashi who, like Souza, is adept at creating totally believable characters. His solo during the pas d’action (sometimes referred to as the pas d’esclave) was both elegant and dynamic and he partnered Medora to perfection. As before, I find it bizarre in this production that, after all Ali does to reunite Conrad and Medora, he perishes during the final moments of the ballet, along with Gulnare. Making his début as Conrad was Joseph Caley and, for all his beautiful, exceptionally clean dancing and secure partnering, he did not convince as the leader of a band of brigands, perhaps being too much of a gentleman and a little bland. Medora was the fabulous Fernanda Oliveira. Taking into account her maternity leave and the fact that she was not given a performance of Odette/Odile or Manon at the Coliseum in January (two of her finest roles, in my opinion), this marked the first full-length classical lead that she has danced in almost two years. Medora is a tour de force for the ballerina and Oliveira sailed through it with her customary exquisite technique, especially her pretty footwork, looking dazzlingly beautiful in her many changes of costume (and kudos to the dressers who also managed several quick costume changes for the large ensemble of ladies). In the rare moments of stillness for Medora, Oliveira looked every inch the imperial ballerina simply by the way she stood and, in the adagio in the jardin animé, balancing serenely as she took the roses from her attendants (perhaps a forerunner for Petipa of his Rose Adagio in “The Sleeping Beauty”). Yet she also delivered all the expected fireworks in the coda of the pas d’action. However, for me, the standout moment was in the romantic, Soviet-style, pas de deux for Medora and Conrad which follows this: a spectacular lift in which Conrad holds her almost upside down over his head and she gradually releases her hand from his shoulder so that she has no support apart from his hands. This was breath-taking in the beauty of her line and in the stillness of the position, held for just an extra fraction of time but not so as to be unmusical, which, if this had not been a matinée audience sitting on its hands, would have brought the house down! In the Thursday evening performance, if not possessing the beautifully clean technique of Caley, Brooklyn Mack gave Conrad the bravado he needs, powering his way across the stage in his solos and confronting the rebellious Birbanto of Erik Woolhouse who gave an extraordinary performance of this hot-headed pirate (having made his début the night before) whose machinations drive what plot there is (and it is a shame that the poisoning of the rose is played for laughs rather than injecting a bit of drama into the piece). His Act I solo matched Mack for technical brilliance and he made much of his dance with the delectable villager of Adela Ramirez in the Act I dance for the pirates and the village girls. The woefully under-used Ramirez also impressed as one of the Rose attendants in Act III with her beautiful style and technique and I cannot understand why she was not cast as an Odalisque this week, and I personally think she has all the makings of a lovely Gulnare. Medora’s friend Gulnare was Julia Conway, making her unexpected début due to the indisposition of Rina Kanehara. She can certainly dance the steps but has yet to find a way of adding character to the role and her dancing. Daniel McCormick made his début as another elegant Ali, making his mark in the pas d’action, delivering his bravura solo with ease and partnering the lovely Shiori Kase as Medora. Kase’s Medora has a delightful youthfulness and her face lights up whenever she sees Conrad, starting with throwing him the rose from her balcony. There is a charming demureness to her Medora, even in her gently flirtatious dealings with the Pasha in Act I, and her heartbreak at being sold to him was evident in the way she beseeched Lankendem (Aitor Arrieta in another excellent début) not to do it. In Act II, her natural elegance was infused with an overwhelming love for Conrad which shone through the pas d’action and the following pas de deux. A highlight of Kase’s flawless technique is her ability to turn, perfectly exhibited in the coda of the pas d’action in which she threw off an immaculate series of fouetté turns, alternating singles and triples in the first sixteen. Her dancing in the jardin animé was a delicious confection of delicate footwork and, like, Oliveira, serene balances in the adagio section. Kase’s gentility and Mack’s bravado made this an irresistible combination and lucky audiences in Liverpool will be able to experience this on the opening night of “Nutcracker” next week. For me, the Friday night performance was the most uniformly satisfying and featured further débuts, including Francesco Gabriele Frola as the volatile Birbanto. Apart from his solo in Act I, I particularly liked his dance with lead villager Emily Suzuki. I was very pleased to see her in a featured, if small, role lighting up the stage with her charming personality and my eye was also drawn to her beautiful style as part of the ensemble of flowers in the jardin animé scene. Gulnare was danced by Emma Hawes. I thought her début at the Thursday matinée was rather tentative but on Friday she appeared happier with the dancing and gave us some lovely, delicate footwork in her Act III solo. She had the advantage at both performances of Souza’s Lankendem in their Act I pas de deux, making the high lifts look effortless and allowing the lift in which he holds her aloft in a backbend to show her despair at her predicament. This performance also benefitted from Anjuli Hudson’s first Odalisque solo in which I finally saw diagonals of beautiful, cleanly beaten brisés. Hot on the heels of his amazing Birbanto, Erik Woolhouse impressed even more in his début as Ali, almost matching the panther-like quality I admire in Souza’s interpretation, and wowing the audience with his pyrotechnics in Act II. Jeffrey Cirio also wowed me in his début as Conrad, with powerful dancing that always showed Conrad’s strength of character, making him a thoroughly believable leader of the pirates, tough but capable of magnanimity and kindness, as well as being totally in love with his Medora. This was Katja Khaniukova’s UK début in the role, having previously danced one performance on tour in Poland. Gulnare was the first leading role I saw Khaniukova dance with ENB and I remember being very impressed with the way she brought depth to the character, as well as by her elegant technique. Having had a sneak preview of her Medora when she danced the pas de deux version of the pas d’action two weeks ago in the Dancing for a Dream Gala, I knew her dancing would have all the required panache for that, especially her series of fouetté turns which she started with a sensational multiple pirouette. She was outstanding in the jardin animé scene for her accomplished execution of the choreography in which she was so assured that she played expertly with the music in the series of gradually speeding up relevés in retiré, so much so that I longed to see her as Raymonda in the Act III sequence. Gavin Sutherland, garnering luscious sounds of the patchwork score from the orchestra, accompanied her perfectly. My breath was also taken away by her amazing balances in the adagio section in which, having let go of her attendants’ hands, she serenely balanced en pointe and slowly brought her raised leg from arabesque through retiré before closing it in front, not once but several times, each as steady as the first. As with her Gulnare, I was impressed by the many fine details and depth of character she brought to Medora, always reacting naturally to whatever was happening on stage, especially in the confrontations between Birbanto and Conrad, culminating in a powerful moment when she exposes Birbanto as the attempted murderer of Conrad. But it was the wonderful chemistry between Khaniukova and Cirio which took this performance to another level, evident from the moment she threw the rose down to him with such tenderness, through their meltingly beautiful pas de deux to their final embrace as they survive the shipwreck, giving this ballet the heart it so desperately needs and, for me, endorsing their recent Critics’ Circle nominations for Best Female and Male dancers.
  10. Just as a little addendum, I should add that Khaniukova is dancing with the fabulous Jeffrey Cirio in "Le Corsaire" next week in Milton Keynes, and having loved them together in "Cinderella" last season (as Clementine and Ben), no doubt this will be another partnership to treasure in this ballet.
  11. This was an evening of delights, made even more special by the announcement at the end that enough money had been raised to send the inspirational Dexter, nephew of Laurretta Summerscales and Yonah Acosta, to the USA for his vital treatment. It is testament to the high regard and affection in which Summerscales is held by her friends and colleagues in the dance world that everyone on and offstage gave up their Sunday to rehearse and perform, and that copyright owners had allowed their works to be performed for this most worthy of causes, especially the Cranko Trust, the MacMillan Trust and the Balanchine Foundation. Four local dance schools with associations for the Summerscales family were welcome additions, with their highly disciplined, enthusiastic performances. I thought Summerscales organised the programme very well, with a good mix of dramatic and lighthearted items, ending each half with a well-known show-stopper. In the first half, it was wonderful to see a pas de deux from “The Taming of the Shrew” by John Cranko danced with such spirit and humour, and a fine sense of comic timing, by Summerscales and Acosta, taking on the roles of Katerina and Petruchio for which they have won critical acclaim in Munich. This contrasted very well with the romantic lyricism of the Act I bedroom pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon” danced by Alison McWhinney and Aitor Arrieta. They danced the complete ballet with different partners last season for English National Ballet but have recently performed “Cinderella” together and again I was struck by the chemistry between the two of them, bringing a delightfully youthful passion to their performance. There were also two interesting solos in the first half, the first being a change to the programme, danced with great style and sensuality by Osiel Gouneo but unfortunately I did not make a note of the name of the piece or its choreographer. Javier Torres gave a particularly soulful interpretation of Michel Descombey’s “Dying Swan”. The first half was brought to a rousing conclusion by the perennial favourite, the adagio and coda from “Le Corsaire” danced with great panache and technical brilliance by Cesar Corrales and Katja Khaniukova. With his ardour and her exquisite delicacy, they perfectly complement each other and this was especially evident in the beautiful lifts in the adagio. The coda brought all the expected fireworks with much audience delight at Corrales’s sensational turns in second and Khaniukova’s immaculate series of at least 32 fouetté turns. She will be performing the complete role of Medora with ENB next week in Milton Keynes but sadly not in her dream partnership with Corrales. The second half opened with a joyful performance of Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky pas de deux” using less familiar music from “Swan Lake”, danced with lovely style by Yaoqian Shang and Mathais Dingman. Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” is a piece of music I love but I felt “After the Rain”, Christopher Wheeldon’s interpretation of it, ran out of choreographic steam halfway through, despite being beautifully danced by Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke. It was a shame that compère Wayne Sleep did not explain the context of the final pas de deux from Liam Scarlett’s “No Man’s Land”, especially as it was being performed on Remembrance Sunday, although no-one in the audience could fail to be moved by the exquisite beauty and poignant interpretation of Begoña Cao and Junor Souza. To watch Cao is to watch an artist in her absolute prime, and she was partnered to perfection by the equally impressive Souza, the two of them never failing to bring me to tears with this most elegiac pas de deux. I very much hope this is not the last time we see this magical partnership in performance. The evening ended with a glorious rendition of the “Don Quixote” pas de deux by Summerscales and Acosta, performing it together in the UK for the first time. I have always regarded Summerscales as the most joyous of dancers, whose love of dancing is tangible whenever she takes to the stage, and this was evident as she completely ‘owned’ the stage as Kitri, sailing effortlessly through the technical difficulties and giving us an enchanting solo. As with Khaniukova, her series of fouetté turns was immaculate and thrilling. Likewise, Acosta’s Basilio was full of charm and equally impressive in his pyrotechnics. I hope it will not be long before we see the wonderful partnership of Summerscales and Acosta onstage in the UK again. All in all, this was a highly entertaining way to spend a Sunday evening and in the most deserving of causes.
  12. Apologies, I left out "Manon" as the title of the Act I bedroom pas de deux Arrieta and McWhinney will be dancing next month!!
  13. The Royal Ballet’s current triple bill is nostalgic for me in several ways. I have loved “Concerto” since I first saw it in the late 1970s. The solo at the beginning of the third movement was the first one I had to teach from notation three months into my course at the Benesh Institute. I then sat in on rep classes at the Royal Ballet School, trying to notate the corps de ballet for the whole of the third movement, both of which are happy and scary memories for me! I have seen many performances over the years but the one that stands out in my mind was the Royal Ballet School performance in 1980 which introduced to the general public the divine Alessandra Ferri in the central pas de deux, partnered by the late, lamented Michael Crookes. To my mind, “Concerto” is the one truly joyous piece by MacMillan from start to finish, reflecting, as it does, so beautifully the music and demonstrating what wonderfully fleet-footed dancers he had in Berlin in 1966 and then in London, a talent which is not always appreciated today when pyrotechnics can sometimes take precedence over beautiful footwork. The piece is first and foremost a piano concerto, composed by Shostakovitch for his formidably talented 19-year-old son Maxim, and I wonder if it was his recording which inspired MacMillan in his creation of this technically brilliant piece. On Friday evening (25th), the first movement was given a performance of sheer joy by the exuberant Cesar Corrales and Francesca Hayward who breezed through all the fiendish choreography with infectious smiles which lit up the auditorium and were admirably on the music, taken at the rollicking pace I remember from the days when Anthony Twiner was the featured pianist. Likewise, the corps de ballet matched their enthusiasm and danced up a storm. Then came the beautiful central pas de deux, such a deceptively simple idea by MacMillan, inspired by Lynn Seymour’s port de bras at the barre. Melissa Hamilton was simply stunning, with beautifully expressive legs and feet to die for, plus the most exquisite ports de bras which filled out the music to perfection. Lukas Braendsrod was a handsome, elegant partner and made the ‘dead’ lifts (in which the girl is lifted from pointe and turned just off the floor without the usual help of a small plié) look completely effortless. The third movement calls for a human dynamo and I felt Claire Calvert was too lyrical in her approach to it but the whole company gave a rousing finale to one of my all-time favourite pieces. I have not seen “Enigma Variations “ for some time and again it holds special memories for me. One of the privileges of being on the Benesh notation course was attending stage calls at the opera house and, in my first term, I remember going to one for ‘Enigma’ taken by Michael Somes, with Ashton in attendance, as well as Sir Adrian Boult, the great interpreter of Elgar’s music. It was a truly unforgettable experience, hearing the occasional comments from Ashton and Boult, with Somes being very particular about the musicality of the piece. Good as the dancing was, this was something I felt this cast were still getting to grips with. I noticed that the Winifred Norbury of Annette Buvoli was slightly off the music and the Dorabella of Meaghan Grace Hinkis did not really reflect the syncopation in the music which illustrates Dorabella’s slight hesitation in speech. However, this was created on the legendary filigree footwork of Antoinette Sibley and the last dancer I can remember dancing this role perfectly was another dancer Ashton admired, Karen Paisey, so it is a big ask for a dancer not steeped in the Ashton style to take on such a mantle! I was also disappointed in the lack of épaulement from Fumi Kaneko in the charming pas de deux with Nicol Edmonds, especially when Mayara Magri did this effortlessly in the dress rehearsal. Even the men in the Nimrod variation (Gary Avis and Thomas Whitehead) lacked the necessary gravitas in the recurring simple step onto demi-pointe with the back leg in low arabesque to convince me they were having a conversation. However, my criticisms aside, it is always lovely to revisit any Ashton work, particularly one which holds special memories of performances past. Act III of “Raymonda” is simply a wonderful excuse for a feast of fabulous dancing and stands alone as such, with the story told in the first two Acts almost incidental. I remember reading about Pavlova reminiscing, probably with Karsavina, about their performances in St. Petersburg when all the company’s ballerinas would perform the variations in this Act, each tailor-made by Petipa for them, and what a line-up it must have been! This performance left me feeling nostalgic for English National Ballet’s performances of Act III in 2013 when their casts were led by Daria Klimentova and Elena Glurjidze as the eponymous heroine with a very young Vadim Muntagirov and an older Dmitri Gruzdev, respectively, as Jean de Brienne, all bringing a gravitas and instinctive Russian Imperial style to their dancing. All were outstanding but Glurjidze, in particular, brought an exceptional presence to her solo and the series of relevé en passant, gradually speeding up as the dancer moves downstage. Lauren Cuthbertson brought an aristocratic feeling to her Raymonda but did not match Glurjidze in either the magnificence of her relevés or in the luxuriant use of her back. Federico Bonelli lacked the power and style of both Muntagirov and Gruzdev and I am very happy to have the chance to see how Muntagirov has developed his interpretation when his performance is televised. Pavel Sorokin whipped the orchestra into a passionate reading of Glazunov’s glorious score but with exactly the right delicacy for moments such as the deceptively difficult Variation1, stylishly danced by Fumi Kaneko. In all, a great way to end an evening!
  14. It was a pleasure to make the trip to Southampton on a very wet Thursday afternoon (24th) to watch a matinée full of débuts and to see an outstanding performance in the evening from a dancer who made her début the previous week in the title role of Cinderella. This was the first time I had seen a live performance of the proscenium version of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Cinderella” and it suffered in comparison with the Royal Albert Hall version, relying as it does on theatrical effects rather than choreographic content, appearing cramped on the large Mayflower stage. This was mainly due to only the front of the stage being used for various scenes to, I assume, accommodate all the technical machinery in other scenes, particularly noticeable in the Seasons which, although pared down to just the soloist and four attendants, brought the rather awful choreography into sharp focus, despite being danced with excellent precision and ebullience from all involved. The stunning construction of Cinderella’s coach also lost impact from being confined to the small space and from a scrim being lowered halfway through, presumably for an unnecessary projection, so that it failed to win the spontaneous applause with which it was greeted at every performance I attended at the Albert Hall. However, as always, ENB gave the performances in Southampton great energy onstage and in the pit and there was so much to enjoy despite my continued disappointment with the choreography. In all the years I have been watching her, Alison McWhinney has never failed to enchant me technically or dramatically, and so it was with her début performance as Cinderella. There is such a sweet lyricism to her dancing which makes her perfect for this put-upon heroine, evident from her firstly meltingly soft solo. However, it was a moment of non-dancing which I found the most moving of all. Having sent the prince away the first time (when he and his friend have exchanged places to deliver invitations to the ball and he has dressed himself as a hobo), and her stepmother has cruelly burned Cinderella’s invitation, she collapses in tears over a chair. But these were not melodramatic tears. It was as if everything she has been through with her stepmother suddenly hits her and there was such a resigned feeling throughout her body which was absolutely heart-rending. Then the prince returns to comfort her. Aitor Arrieta, also making his début, is a natural prince with the most aristocratic of bearings. What I have noticed with him as he has been given principal roles over the last couple of seasons, is that he has a wonderful ability to form an instant chemistry with his ballerina and this was most certainly the case at this performance. When he invited Cinderella to dance with him on the table, there was a wonderful moment of stillness when they both looked into each other’s eyes and kept up this contact throughout this little dance. Likewise, in the ballroom scene, it was obvious from the way their eyes met again that, despite the change of clothes and her mask, they instantly recognised each other and I loved the tenderness of their pas de deux. What I like about this production is that the prince leaves it to his friend, Ben, to deal with all the ladies (and others!) wanting to try on the golden slipper and, as soon as they arrive at Cinderella’s house, he wants to know where she is as he knows this is where he will find her. Again, their final pas de deux was magical because of the depth of feeling they both brought to it. I am therefore very much looking forward to seeing them dance the Act I bedroom pas de deux together at the Dancing for a Dream gala in Woking in two weeks’ time. Making his début as Ben was Henry Dowden, and he was well matched with Arrieta in their exuberant dances together, as both possess great style and lovely, soft jumps. Of the other débuts, it was fun to watch Adela Ramirez, in recent years mainly given solos to which she always brings great charm, take on the role of the Stepmother. Being so petite, it was fun watching her bossing about the much taller Cinderella and the prince (when she thought he was a good-for-nothing). In the ballroom scene, her solo when she has drunk too much champagne was a great piece of comedy, helped by Daniel Kraus as her long-suffering husband. I loved the anxious expression on her face as she tried not to spill a drop of champagne as Kraus turned her in arabesque but by her raised leg rather than her hand. When she had completely collapsed (another brilliant moment of a well-controlled backbend given great comic effect) and Kraus had dragged her back to the sofa, she immediately slipped off the sofa again into a heap on the floor and I loved the way Kraus had to lift her most unceremoniously back onto it where she proceeded to sleep off the rest of the scene in a drunken stupor. In Act 3, the demented expression on her face when she takes a mallet and proceeds to try to hammer the slipper onto stepdaughter Edwina’s foot (another excellent comic turn from Jung Ah Choi in her début) was priceless! In the evening, the performance was given an extra sparkle by maestro Gavin Sutherland bringing a touch of magic to Prokofiev’s gorgeous music, as befitted the totally magical Cinderella of Shiori Kase. She is a dancer of such lyricism and musicality that the music seemed to flow throughout her whole body. She also has the most wonderful ability to sustain a balance to the nth degree of the musical phrase, not so that it is a balancing act but so that it expresses great emotion which, throughout the performance was breath-taking. She also has the ability to look completely vulnerable which was very touching, especially when in the clutches of monster Stepmother Hortensia (Tamara Rojo) and her mini-me Precious Adams as Edwina. Her prince was Jeffrey Cirio who is perhaps less aristocratic in bearing than Arrieta but is most definitely a Prince Charming in the way he responded to Kase and their dances together were beautifully warm and tender but with a lovely sense of fun at times. His sense of fun was also apparent in his dances with Barry Drummond as Ben, who matched him in exuberance as well as in beautifully clean technique. The lovely romance between Ben and stepsister Clementine was also brought into focus in this performance, with a lovely rapport between Drummond and Anjuli Hudson who also brought a touching pathos to the moments when she is being mistreated by Edwina. After Ben and Clementine had danced together at the ball, I loved their little nod to “Giselle” when he sat beside her on the sofa and gradually nudged closer to her, to her delight and to that of the audience whose attention had obviously been caught by this charming pair. At this performance, the opening scene touched me almost as much as it had at the Albert Hall, with Fabian Reimair bringing great depth of emotion to the role of the Father in that very small scene, especially after Cinderella’s mother had died. And here, despite being performed behind a scrim, the lovely Angela Wood projected a beautiful sense of serenity as she ‘floats’ above her daughter, especially as the spotlight caught her face at exactly this moment. I was also impressed with the young Cinderella of Bonnie Bradfield whose acting was very natural, especially as she clung to her father following her mother’s death. Reimair continued to show his love for his daughter throughout in small ways, but the best was when he finally stood up to the monstrous Hortensia, stopping her from beating Cinderella with the ladle and she crumbled, although not for long as she was back in wonderfully demented mode to hammer the slipper onto Edwina’s foot before tossing it triumphantly into the fire. I would also like to mention Jia Zhang who danced the Winter solo at this performance. Her serenity and beautiful upper body movements and ports de bras were a joy to behold and most definitely took my attention away from the not-very-interesting footwork of the choreography.
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