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Irmgard

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Thank you for your very kind words. And I totally agree about 'Fille'!! Thanks for sharing the video blog - those beautiful feet!!!
  7. 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!
  8. Sadly she is unable to do the Albert Hall performances. Hopefully she will be back next season!
  9. 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!
  10. 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.
  11. 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!
  12. 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).
  13. By a stroke of luck, I was able to attend the last performance of this triple bill yesterday evening at Sadler’s Wells. It means I have been able to see five out of Khaniukova’s six performances as Frida in “Broken Wings” and it has been a joy and a privilege to watch her develop the character since I first saw her in the masterclass at Markova House two weeks before opening night. While she has captured Frida’s zest for life, especially in the vivacious pas de deux with Barry Drummond as the Young Boy and in her mischievous interplay with the skeletons, it is her depiction of tragedy and Frida’s dogged determination to overcome it which I feel has matured in her interpretation over the past ten days. The miscarriage scene was especially heartrending as she seemed to cling on to the ribbon with all her might, as was the despair on her face and in her body language as this was ripped from her hands. After she has caught Diego with his mistress and puts on his jacket as if for comfort, the ensuing pas de deux with the skeleton in the green skirt (Junor Souza) was particularly violent last night, as if Frida were fighting with herself (the skeleton wears the yellow headdress of flowers which Diego had placed on her head earlier to symbolise their love) to rid herself of her demons, i.e. her failing health and increasing disability. Above all, I was moved by the final pas de deux at the moment when, to the plangent piano solo exquisitely played by Julia Richter, Diego tries to attract her attention and the far-away look on her face, especially in her eyes, indicates she is already lost to the world. There is a brief flicker of recognition and a playful kiss, reminiscent of their first meeting, and a last attempt to ‘fly’ (which Khaniukova does with a wonderful awkwardness to show that, in reality, Frida’s leg had been amputated by this point) before she collapses. As with all the performances I have seen, the bird (Adriana Lizardi) fluttering above her tomb is a totally uplifting experience after this gentlest of deaths. Khaniukova has shown in these performances what an exceptional artist she is, both technically and artistically, and I hope this will lead to her being featured more regularly when it comes to casting major roles in ENB’s repertoire. Another exceptional artist who proved that she has the ability to make something special out of the smallest of roles is Jia Zhang who appeared as the stag/deer in this performance, making her encounter with Frida and her death something very moving. It has also been a delight to have the great Mukhamedov back onstage, a dream partner for Khaniukova and for Alison McWhinney as the Mistress, perfectly capturing Diego Rivera’s larger than life personality. My one regret is that I was only able to see one performance by the magnificent Begoña Cao as Frida but I hope this work will be revived soon or that the company acquires the planned full-length version by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. As a point of interest, she posted on her Facebook page that five of her ballets were being presented in five different countries last night – quite an achievement! “Nora” received another quality performance from Jeffrey Cirio, Junor Souza and, above all, Crystal Costa, not forgetting the crucial contribution from the Five Voices. I note that some members on here have mentioned that they did not think Torvald looked like an abusive husband and that they looked too happy together. This is where I think Quagebeur has scored, in showing that domestic abuse in the form of controlling behaviour is insidious in nature and it may take a very long time for the victim to realise that he/she is being abused, as it does in Ibsen’s play. For Nora, as we learn from the play, this comes after many years of being treated as the “little woman” with no mind of her own and being the child-like creature her husband desires. For the first time last night, I noticed how much the set reflects Nora’s transformation. During the final pas de deux with Torvald when she resists his advances, the black curtains gradually enclose the box representing their home, leaving only the small ‘doorway’ through which she finally leaves. As this also closes, and Torvald is left alone, the structure of the house he has created breaks up (this I have noticed at all other performances), as if his carefully constructed world has come crashing down around him. The evening finished with another awe-inspiring performance from the dancers and orchestra of ‘Sacre’, featuring Precious Adams once more as the chosen one in her visceral interpretation of the sacrificial dance. This was the third time I had seen her and my only regret was that I had not seen Emily Suzuki once more so that I would have seen two performances each by all three of the chosen ones. It seems invidious to single out dancers for special praise in such an otherwise ensemble piece, but I have been very impressed by the athleticism of Pedro Lapetra and Eric Woolhouse (sadly absent last night) amongst the men, and the beauty yet rawness of movement of Sarah Kundi as one of the more featured females who has found herself flung against James Streeter’s face to sit astride his shoulders at most of the performances I have seen and who has an almost matriarchal gravitas as the chosen one seems to plead for her help. As always, the star for me was the music, superbly conducted by Gavin Sutherland, and it was rather wonderful to see the mutual admiration between the orchestra and the dancers as they applauded each other during the curtain calls. Having been intrigued by the two red dresses, I watched very carefully last night and it appears that the second dress Is actually inside the first dress and the girls very discreetly separate the two while they are grouped in the tightly-knit circle before the selection begins.
  14. On Monday it was the wonderful Emily Suzuki and she chose not to. At the 'Creatives' session on Tuesday, the two representatives of the Pina Bausch Foundation did say there was room for interpretation within the choreography. Quite frankly, I find bearing a breast adds nothing to the performance. It was very much the trend in the 1970s to feature nudity within new works (strangely, complete nudity for male dancers, apart from Pilobolus, quickly went out of fashion because part of the male anatomy refused to be choreographed, leading to a famous headline by dance writer Deborah Jowitt!) so that element of the piece is very much of its time.
  15. Petperj, you are absolutely correct! There were two red dresses although I don't think we are supposed to notice this. Certainly from the stalls point of view the dancers take great pains to hide the second dress and I only noticed because I was looking for it specifically after you mentioned it. I did not see when they fetched the second one (presumably as the girls gathered into the circle) but the girl who throws the 'used' one into the wings (Anjuli Hudson) was was well hidden by the others and the whole thing was done very discreetly (but obviously not discreetly enough for your sharp eyes!). I was actually quite relieved about this because last week I was thinking how unhygienic it was for the chosen one (another searing performance last night by Precious Adams) to have to put on a dress that has been ground into the dirt by not one but two people lying on it and then tossed around by dancers who are inevitably perspiring a lot by that point! The ballet as a whole still does nothing for me apart from increasing my admiration for the energy and commitment of the amazing dancers of ENB (something which has been a hallmark of the company for the 40+ years I have been watching them). I don't think there is anything more I can say about "Broken Wings" except that Khaniukova and Mukhamedov gave another heartrending performance. Since it has been announced that Lopez Ochoa is creating a full-length version for Dutch National Ballet, I can only hope it will be a co-production with ENB! With regard to the Grayson Perry frontcloth, this has definitely been there for all the performances and is raised about five minutes before the scheduled curtain-up. However, as there have been a few delayed starts due to the getting the capacity audiences into their seats, it may be that it has sometimes been raised about ten minutes before the actual curtain-up. There is a little note at the bottom of the cast sheet to indicate it is by Grayson Perry and was commissioned for the 2016 triple bill (the people behind me last night thought it was by Frida Kahlo!).
  16. I haven't notice the second red dress so far but I have been sitting in the stalls so perhaps that is why. I shall look out for it tonight!
  17. Are you sure it was the red dress which was thrown off stage? The 'white' dress she wears up until that point is thrown offstage. Whoever is dancing the chosen one is informed during the afternoon of the performance by the repetiteurs from the Bausch Foundation (as far as I am aware) although those dancing it in the run are informed during rehearsals, just not which shows they will be doing (a bit difficult on them to let friends etc. know, especially when the shows sell out like they have this time!) The edges of the soil have to be visible - if they went as far as the side curtains, these would need cleaning after each performance, otherwise there is a chance the dirt would rub off on anyone brushing against the curtains in the other pieces.
  18. I made another trip to the Wells last night for what I believe will be the final debuts in the programme. Fabian Reimair gave his one and only performance as Diego Rivera in “Broken Wings”. Barely recognisable in the obligatory fat-suit, he gave us a completely believable human being, flawed but thoroughly likeable, even when tempted away from Frida by the beguiling Adela Ramirez as the mistress. I hope Reimair will take it as a compliment that, although he did not have quite the charisma of Mukhamedov in the role, he came a very close second! His very secure partnering made all the quirky lifts in his first encounter with Frida look effortless and there was a palpable chemistry between the two of them. Khaniukova goes from strength to strength in her increasingly confident and captivating portrayal of Frida. For me, she has always been a most soulful dancer, witnessed in her only performance in ENB’s “Giselle” (Skeaping version) in Belfast in 2017, repeating the entire role again in Ukrainian National Ballet’s production just ten days before her debut as Frida. She is also capable of great technical brilliance and brio, as seen in her show-stopping performances in Ivan Putrov’s gala last Sunday. (With another gala in Kiev this coming Sunday, life must seem like a whirlwind for her at the moment!) She uses all of these facets of her dancing and personality to further enrich her remarkable interpretation of Frida. There was even more passion in her dance with the skeleton in green, which to me represents her final struggle with life. I found the scene in which she kills the stag (a reference to Frida’s painting, “The Wounded Deer”) especially poignant, due in no small part to the beautiful interpretation by Jia Zhang. However, it was her final encounter with Diego which I found the most moving, actually moving me to tears as he tenderly lifted her completely broken body (and, like Cao the night before, Khaniukova’s ability to make herself look utterly fragile is astonishing) and placed her lovingly against the butterfly painting, giving her the gentlest of kisses as he leaves her. As always with Reimair, his emotions appear completely natural and, as the doors of the box close on Frida, his grief was palpable as he dropped to his knees and sobbed. “Nora” was given another searing performance by Crystal Costa, Jeffrey Cirio and Junor Souza, with company pianist Chris Swithinbank shining in Philip Glass’s “Tirol” Concerto. Once again, I discovered new details in the choreography, particularly in Costa’s tour de force performance. In ‘Sacre’, Precious Adams made her debut as the chosen one in a solo of almost primordial ferocity although, for me, I still find Emily Suzuki’s interpretation the most breath-taking. For those not familiar with all of ENB’s dancers, I would like to pay tribute to Shiori Kase, the only one of the company’s principal dancers to appear in ‘Sacre’ as ‘one of the crowd’ in all these performances.
  19. Try calling the box office. I managed to buy one for a friend for tomorrow evening when I was there this afternoon. It was the only return at that stage for tomorrow but there might be others by tomorrow and perhaps for other nights. In answer to your previous question about "Broken Wings" being longer than before, the dance for the ten male Fridas has been extended, purely for the practical reason of giving Frida more time to sort out her hair etc. before she appears in the long orange skirt for the first time. In the Q&A session before tonight's show, the dramaturg said that the skeletons' dance had also been extended but I'm not sure where and she didn't elaborate.
  20. I was back at the Wells last night (Monday) to see some major cast changes in all three ballets. It was Begoña Cao’s visceral, no-holds-barred Frida which completely sold me on “Broken Wings” in 2016 and last night she proved yet again what an exceptional artist she is. Long, lean and beautiful, she bears no physical resemblance to the Frida we have come to know through photographs and paintings but she has the ability to get under her skin completely and show us the multi-faceted personality and strength of character of this amazing woman through all her trials and tribulations. From her first appearance on top of the box as a young girl, there is Frida’s confidence and love of life in her interplay with the skeletons and then the youthful abandon of the pas de deux with the Young Boy, in which she was securely and sympathetically partnered by William Beagley, with her gloriously long legs and arms making the most beautiful shapes. As in the final scenes of her Manon, following Frida’s accident, Cao made her whole body look fragile and vulnerable, especially when she is first confined to the bed, giving all the angular movements as she tries to come to terms with her injuries a real poignancy, culminating in the moment when she curls herself up, facing the back of the box, her beautifully expressive neck taking on a particularly dejected quality. It was interesting to note that, with Cao being the same height as most of the male Fridas, when she was dancing with them, she became completely integrated with her many alter-egos and, along with the men, the way she moved her skirt to create beautiful images was mesmerising. Her first encounter with Diego Rivera (James Streeter) was particularly seductive as she very provocatively bent forward and lifted up her skirt and, of course, with her Spanish heritage, the nod to flamenco hand movements seems second nature to her. Again, during the pas de deux, there was such beauty of movement, peppered with the wonderfully quirky gestures Ochoa has created to show the volatile, playful and passionate relationship between the two. At this stage, Streeter’s Diego is rather tame compared to the blazing light of Cao’s Frida, but I am sure it must be almost impossible to fill the shoes of the charismatic Mukhamedov in this role (or in any other, for that matter!). The miscarriage scene was intensely moving, with Cao’s fragility again visible in her throes of agony and then desperately trying to keep hold of the red ribbon. There was a nice little cameo from Adela Ramirez, again adding an authentic Spanish flavour to her movements, as Diego’s mistress, provoking a visible bubbling up of anger in Cao and lashing out at Diego. As previously, I found Cao’s anguish as her leg fails her almost unbearable in its emotional intensity and it seems her anger is given full vent in the almost violent pas de deux with the skeleton in the green skirt who seems to taunt her. As she is surrounded by all the images from her paintings and kills the stag, which I take to be symbolic of realising her own life is ending, Cao presents us with all the anger and frustration of one whose life is ending far too soon. I find the moment when Diego places her in the box and she becomes the butterfly preserved forever such a beautiful, calming moment, as uplifting as the bird fluttering above her which closes the ballet. Cao’s total artistry in this role, as with everything else she does, is a joy and a privilege to behold. There was a complete change of principals in “Nora”, with Erina Takahashi making a triumphant debut in the title role. She has such a childlike appearance that it makes her treatment by Torvald and Krogstad exceptionally poignant. Her glorious, understated technique is showcased by Quagebeur’s fluid choreography in which Nora is dancing for almost the entire twenty-five minutes of the piece. Joseph Caley as Torvald and Henry Dowden as Krogstad make less of an impact in their roles than Jeffrey Cirio and Junor Souza but Takahashi more than makes up for this in the way she responds to the unfortunate chain of events. After her husband’s angry outburst, her face so perfectly demonstrates her hurt, incomprehension and final realisation of what his controlling has done to her. I particularly liked the way she refused to play the little hand game with him that seems to symbolise how he controls her to remain a child he can manipulate. Another wonderful interpretation from one of ENB’s most cherished dancers who, like Cao, does not always seem to get the recognition she so richly deserves. In ‘Sacre’, I was quite simply blown away by Emily Suzuki as the chosen one. All through the autumn, I was impressed by the beauty of her classical dancing and now she has shown a completely different side. I was mesmerised by the intelligence and maturity of her artistry in this role, especially in one so young! Whereas with Velicu I felt the sacrificial dance was an anti-climax after her intensely moving reaction before it, with Suzuki the dance suddenly came alive for me with the power of her movement and her musicality. She has such very strong legs and she used these to create sharp pauses in the action, perfectly complementing the music, holding a leg in the air in a tip-tilted ā la seconde position for just long enough to create a breath-taking image full of anguish before collapsing. Likewise the timing of her self-flagellations – there was a jagged rhythm to these which again reflected the music. Each time she collapsed onto the ground, it seemed totally spontaneous and real, as did her final death throe. I do hope I will see this remarkable interpretation again during the week. As always, Gavin Sutherland brought out the best in the fabulous ENB Phiharmonic. It just goes to show what tricks the brain can play – in my previous report I said that, in the signature step I liked so much, the body bend was towards the supporting leg. It is, of course towards the leg in retiré!
  21. Well that could explain it, but it is just MY opinion.
  22. I gave up going to galas many years ago as they were usually overpriced, over-long, under-rehearsed and the standard of dancing was not always as good as the names suggested. However, as I am a huge admirer of Katja Khaniukova, and the programme looked more interesting than most, I attended Ivan Putrov’s gala last night. Fresh from her triumphant debut in “Broken Wings”, for me, Khaniukova stole the show, not just with her brilliant dancing but also with her stage presence which lit up the vast auditorium. Admittedly, she and Dmitry Zagrebin gave us the only two real “party pieces” of the evening, those wonderful twentieth century warhorses “Flames of Paris” and “Diana and Actaeon” but what fabulous party pieces they are when danced with such exquisite technique and panache. Khaniukova gave us an immaculate set of thirty-two fouettés in each of the solos, starting each with a dazzling double and perhaps adding a few extra at the end. Equally impressive were her ballonnés en pointe in the ‘Flames’ solo, and all done with her totally disarming smile and the most beautiful relevés. Indeed, she appears to have been born en pointe, such was the ease and security with which she performed even the most fiendish of steps. Likewise, Zagrebin gave us plenty of fireworks and partnered her to perfection. As to the other pieces, some not seen on the London stage for many years, it is difficult to judge the performances objectively, having seen some of them performed by the dancers on whom they were created. Joaquin de Luz gave an especially entertaining rendition of Jerome Robbins’s “Suite of dances” but could not quite shake off the memory of Baryshnikov’s witty, seamless performance, but then who could?! Likewise, Putrov himself made a good attempt at Ashton’s “Dance of the blessed spirits” but I missed the purity of line and exceptional grace of its creator, Anthony Dowell. I do not remember having seen “In G pas” before and it was danced with cool elegance by Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle but I cannot hear that music without remembering the middle section of MacMillan’s “Fin de Jour” with Merle Park and Jennifer Penny being carried aloft and manipulated by the corps de ballet of men. Maria Kowroski also brought her cool elegance to ‘Diamonds’, partnered by Marcelo Gomes, but for me it did not sparkle quite enough as I did not feel they felt Tchaikovsky’s ravishing music throughout their bodies. “Sinatra Suite” was a joy, although with all pieces by Twyla Tharp, it goes on just a bit too long for my taste. However, the comedy and insouciance of it were well captured by Marcelo Gomes and Kate-Lynn Robichaux. From the Royal Ballet, we had the lovely Mayara Magri in “Images of Love” and, in a complete change of pace, in the beautiful Awakening pas de deux by Ashton. She is an exceptionally graceful, musical dancer and I only wish someone had given her a more beautiful costume for Aurora! It may have been the original design but it badly needed replacing! Matthew Ball was her partner in the pas de deux but I felt he fared better in the ‘Images’ pas de trois with Magri and Putrov, as his style seemed more suited to MacMillan. It was a treat to see this piece as, apart from photographs, it was completely new to me. The weakest link in the programme was Hannah O’Neill but I wonder if this may have been because she was a replacement (I don’t know how last-minute) for the advertised Eleonora Abbagnato (the only no-show!). For me, she did not have the beauty of line (her back foot in arabesque in particular) or the sense of chic for the “Suite en blanc” pas de deux and there seemed to be a few partnering difficulties in the pas de deux from Nureyev’s “Cinderella”. She was partnered in both by Mathieu Ganio and I wondered if perhaps they were not used to dancing together or perhaps he was just a tiny bit too short for her (this seemed to be the case for the ‘finger’ pirouettes). However, this is a small gripe in a thoroughly enjoyable evening which offered something for everyone and gave us a delightfully different evening from the galas I have avoided in the past! Despite over-running by about half an hour from the advertised finishing time, this was still a perfect length of programme, leaving us wanting more rather than wondering when the whole thing would be over!
  23. Yes, there is a bit of music added but I can't remember exactly where at the moment - I'll make a note when I see it again this week!
  24. I was very pleased that I was able to see Thursday’s performance and then Friday’s so that I could consolidate my thoughts and marvel at even more details in the first two pieces. I loved Ochoa’s “Broken Wings” when I first saw it in 2016. Spending most of my school years in Canada, I was extremely fortunate to have had a Spanish teacher who immersed us in Mexican and South American culture and history, as well as teaching us the language. And then there were the wonderful, vibrant performances of the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico on tour. Ochoa’s choreography and the colourful costumes brought back such vivid memories, along with the life-affirming music! I particularly like the set design by Dieuweke van Reij. The simple black box is such a potent image as it becomes the bed to which Frida was confined for so many months, with the mirrored sides representing the mirror her parents installed above her bed so that Frida became her own model for her portraits, then her refuge following her miscarriage and finally her tomb. The skeletons commenting on and driving the action forward are also highly evocative of Latin American culture with its Day of the Dead celebrations. Ochoa’s witty choreography for the male skeletons allows them to develop personalities through their very entertaining body language, despite being masked until the curtain calls. As they remained anonymous on the cast list, I will give their names here for the first two performances: James Forbat, Junor Souza, Daniel McCormick and Ken Saruhashi. The female skeletons, who first taunt Frida by dancing with her faithless husband and then console her after her miscarriage, were Tiffany Hedman, Jia Zhang, Isabelle Brouwers and Maria Jose Sales. The birds were Rina Kanehara, Adriana Lizardi and Anjuli Hudson. The stag was Rebecca Blenkinsop. It was impossible to identify all the male Fridas under their heavy make-up and I do feel it is a shame they are not credited on the cast sheet, especially as the entire cast for ‘Sacre’ is listed. It helps to have some knowledge of Frida Kahlo’s extraordinary life when watching this ballet but I feel Ochoa and her dramaturg, Nancy Meckler, have captured its essence through the key episodes they have chosen to portray. Katja Khaniukova, making her debut as Frida on opening night, was a triumph. She is far too pretty to physically resemble her, apart from being petite and copying her distinctive hairstyle, but she captured her spirit from the first enchanting pas de deux with Barry Drummond’s Young Boy, in which she was fun-loving, vivacious and headstrong. This is brought to an abrupt end by her horrific traffic accident, symbolised by the skeletons ‘punching’ her abdomen and then manipulating her in slow motion. Here, the anguish expressed by Khaniukova’s body language as her body is literally broken was heartrending, as was her terror, frustration and, finally, acceptance as she is confined to her bed in the body brace. I love the idea of her self-portraits coming to life, as the ‘male Fridas’ parade in with their elegant, mesmerising movements, all sporting headdresses and accessories from her paintings, and this is where the graceful use of skirts reminded me of the ballet folklorico. When Frida is liberated from her bed, she joins them so that they become the many facets of her personality, joining in her brazen seduction of Diego Rivera, performed by the legendary Irek Mukhamedov, charismatic as ever, despite his fat-suit and dishevelled appearance. What a masterstroke to set their extended pas de deux to the Mexican folksong “La Llorona” (the weeping woman) sung by Frida’s friend, Chavela Vargas, in which the volatility and passion of the ups and downs of their relationship is portrayed by Ochoa’s fascinating, liberating choreography and the palpable chemistry between Mukhamedov and Khaniukova. I have long admired the quality of Khaniukova’s dancing, mainly seen in purely classical roles but, having seen her extraordinary Novice in “The Cage” last year, it is clear she revels in challenges to her classical persona, especially portraying this earthy, sexy, passionate woman whose incredible strength in overcoming the astounding adversities life threw at her is so remarkably illustrated in this work. The pas de deux with Diego culminates in Frida’s miscarriage and here I found Khaniukova’s throes of agony as she desperately tries to hold on to her child (symbolised by the red ribbon being pulled away from her by the skeletons) overwhelming. As she retreats into her paintings of nature, with the female skeletons representing trees, I was very impressed and moved by the way Khaniukova portrayed her struggle with her increasingly useless leg. The ending, where at first she hardly recognises Diego and then makes one desperate, last attempt to ‘fly’ before collapsing in his arms, was so gentle that it was intensely moving, especially as he ‘pins’ her to the butterfly as if in an attempt to keep her with him forever. The last moments, with the little bird (the lovely Adriana Lizardi) fluttering atop her tomb, were like a danced epitaph to the spirit of this extraordinary woman. Just as it is helpful to know something of Kahlo’s life when watching the first piece, it helps to know the scenario of “A Doll’s House” (helpfully given in detail in the programme) when watching Stina Quagebeur’s first major work for the company, “Nora”. Quagebeur has distilled the story to portray the relationships between the three main characters and the consequences of Nora, the ‘doll’, having forged a signature on a loan document to help her husband without his knowledge, then being blackmailed by her creditor, Krogstad, and finally the fall-out when her husband, Torvald, discovers what she has done even though Krogstad has had a crisis of conscience and torn up the incriminating document. At the first performance, I was so involved in watching Quagebeur’s seamless, inventive choreography performed by her quality cast that I did not pay in-depth attention to the story. On the second viewing, I was much more aware of the choreographic details which tell the story. Quagebeur has chosen an exceptional cast of dancer-actors, especially Crystal Costa as Nora, who gives a beautifully nuanced performance and whose expressive eyes and body indicate with the subtlest of movements her thoughts, which are echoed by the five Voices (Adela Ramirez, Angela Wood, James Forbat, Francisco Bosch and Henry Dowden, all fine dance-actors themselves) who at times spur on her actions and at other times comment on them or represent her conscience. When Nora is in turmoil about telling her husband what she has done, the Voices appear to externalise this turmoil with their jerky, individualistic movements. Junor Souza makes much of the relatively small role of Krogstag, dominating the stage with his virile dancing, which Quagebeur exploits to wonderful effect in her choreography for him, which makes his crumbling at the end all the more moving. Jeffrey Cirio’s fabulous technique is also fully exploited and is given full rein in his solo of anger on discovering Nora’s deception. Torvald’s emotional abuse of Nora is subtly done with the smallest of gestures, showing that life is happy provided Nora does what he wants and remains childlike. After his angry outburst at her (and is it because she forged a signature or because she did not ask his permission first?), it slowly dawns on Nora how shallow the marriage is and how she will never be allowed to have a mind of her own if she stays with him, prompting her to walk out on her life with him. This provoked my only criticism about the piece as I would like Nora’s movements to have more strength of purpose as she walks out of the door for the last time but I do like the way the structure of the house breaks up as Torvald is left alone. This is a complex plot tackled with confidence and imagination by Quagebeur and her team, and deserving of further viewings so I will be delighted to revisit it next week. I have always had a problem with danced versions of “The Rite of Spring” since I had my first experience of them in the mid-1970s with Bejart’s frenzy of copulating couples right up to the last version I saw when the Australian Ballet brought their aboriginal-inspired version here a few years ago as I feel they never live up to the complexity or genius of the music. I long for a choreographer to explore the complex rhythms in the music and, apart from Millicent Hodson’s imagining of what Nijinsky’s choreography might have looked like, to explore the scenario as worked out by Stravinsky and Roerich which possibly had a huge input from Nijinsky himself, so that there is variation in the action, rather than almost forty minutes of gloom while everyone wonders who will be the chosen one before the sacrificial dance. I first saw Bausch’s version (about the fourth version I had seen by then) by Wuppertal Tanztheatre a few years after it was created and my abiding memory was of a lot of running around and rolling around in the earth. Despite the magnificent performances by ENB’s exceptional dancers, my opinion has not really changed. For me, too much of it is a cop-out, with dancers running frantically around the stage far too often, and Bausch has gone for the obvious in the music for her movements, rather than exploring the more difficult rhythms. However, with the dancers’ beautifully honed bodies and precision of movement plus their extraordinary commitment to everything they do, the piece looks far better than I remember when it was danced by Bausch’s company. My abiding memory of these performances will be the ‘signature’ step performed by both males and females at various times throughout the piece, when they step into an off-balance position with the working leg in retire, and a slight body bend towards the supporting leg with the arm raised above. This was ravishing, as were the beautifully stretched legs and feet of the men as they jumped en masse (and the astonishing height of Eric Woolhouse’s split jeté). Since the Bausch Foundation will not allow the name of the chosen maiden to be printed on the cast sheet, and I understand the dancer herself does not know until the day of the performance, for anyone unfamiliar with ENB, the chosen one at both performances was Francesca Velicu. What impressed me most was watching her reaction after she has been chosen, when James Streeter (presumably the leader of the community) pushes her around, as her tiny body is too petrified with fear to walk, and she contemplates her fate. After this remarkably moving interlude, the sacrificial dance itself seems to me like an anti-climax, full of self-flagellation and convulsions, and I do find it bizarre that the leader indicates her collapse with an arm movement, rather than it coming from any movement she makes. Speaking of a tiny body racked with fear, when all the females succumb to mass hysteria in the form of body tremors, I noticed with awe the tiny Carolyne Galvao’s extraordinarily violent and realistic trembling. The dancers certainly deserved the huge ovation they received at both performances but, as always with this piece, it was the music which had the greatest impact on me, superbly played by the orchestra with great passion, energy and precision under the baton of Maestro Gavin Sutherland. Thursday evening's performance began with a moving tribute from Tamara Rojo about Kevin Richmond, who was such an integral part of the company for so many years, coming back to guest in character roles long after he had 'retired'. For those of us who knew him (about forty years in my case!), it was lovely that the company to which he devoted so much of his life dedicated this run of performances to him.
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