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Reflections on 2020

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My 2020 dance-watching year started with such promise with Northern Ballet's 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala and what a celebration it was!  Joining the company were guests from all the other home companies and the Joffey, all dancing pieces from Northern Ballet's current and historic rep.  The evening dazzled from the opening of the Charleston from Great Gatsby.  Of course, my personal highlight was seeing Martha Leebolt and Toby Batley back on a British stage performing a duet from Wuthering Heights closely followed by Momoko Hirata and Cesar Morales dancing the duet from Madame Butterfly.


In February I loved the Royal Ballet's double bill of Dances at a Gathering and Cathy Marston's incredibly moving The Cellist.  Birmingham Royal Ballet's fabulous annual Evening of Music and Dance at Symphony Hall was also a joyous experience - especially with Momoko Hirata and Mathias Dingman absolutely scintillating in the Don Q pdd and Miki Mizutani and Tyrone Singleton in Cinderella.


February ended and March started with me seeing lots of performances of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake.


14th March turned out to be an incredibly poignant evening.  Rumours of coronavirus lockdowns abounded and there was a tension in the air in Leeds Grand Theatre that you don't normally associate with a Northern Ballet premiere.  We were there to see the world premiere of Kenneth Tindall's latest work Geisha which was just stunning.  We weren't able to do stage door congratulations but we were due back the following weekend to see more performances.  I left my friend's on the Sunday morning with a hug and a promise to see her next weekend...


And then the ballet stopped...


Theatres closed before the official lockdown was announced.


But the ballet and dance world being the ballet and dance world our wonderful artists were not defeated.  They may have been down but they were not out.  They filled social media with news of online classes using zoom ... who the blummin' 'eck had heard of zoom before the pandemic!!!  (Yes I know it was already an established video conferencing tool but who imagined such a use in March).  At least we could keep in touch with what our favourite dancers were up to and, of course, it would only be for 3 or 4 weeks...


The companies got their act together and in acts of incredible generosity they made recordings available for viewing.  Most of these were performances that were filmed for company archives so there was no fancy filming but there was so much on offer to enjoy.


We also got to see short works created in isolation by companies and dancers.


I wish I could have been in London to catch a DisDancing performance but at least I was able to see snippets on social media showing the creativity, invention and determination of dancers to get out there and perform.


I wasn't as glued to the streams as I expected to be but I did take much pleasure from those I watched.  I also found performances on Sky Arts and the BBC showed some dance too.


I really enjoyed two Mayerlings that I saw.  For me, Rudolf turned out to be THE role for Steven McRae - I thought he was absolutely terrific in the role.  I was totally blown away by Stuttgart Ballet's production - I totally loved the new set and costumes which looked so much easier to dance in but were still sumptuous and gorgeous to see.  Friedemann Vogel's performance was a powerhouse of a Rudolf who totally blew me away.  Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!!


It was also a joy to watch Initials RBME by Stuttgart Ballet.  I think I watched it 3 times, one after another!


And then, via the BalletCo Forum, I discovered Pennsylvania Ballet.  I just fell in love with the company and really enjoyed all their streamed performances.  


Celine Gittens performed a poignant Dying Swan at home for BRB.  Carlos Acosta had modified the ending to give a feeling of hope and I wept buckets at its beauty and message of hope.


A major highlight for me, again watching several times, was the film issued by Sadler's Wells - Dancing at Dusk.  It was the only performance - a dress rehearsal - of a pan-African production of Pina Bausch's The Rite of Spring.  As the world was closing down, this production was getting ready to tour.  The film crew fortuitously filmed a hastily arranged rehearsal on a beach in Senegal and the resulting film was just beautiful.  Again, despite the subject matter, it somehow gave me a feeling of hope for the future.


The BBC showed Northern Ballet's Dracula, which thrilled me all over again.


The summer came and there was a feeling of positivity and hope.  The companies started back in the studio.  Some socially distanced performances were announced by Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet as well as The Royal Ballet.


Birmingham Royal Ballet organised a wonderful day at the glorious Aston Hall in Birmingham.  Despite a truly horrendous journey down it was a day full of joy, enjoying seeing some iconic costumes at very close quarters and some dance demonstrations all in fabulous surroundings.  We got a drink from the cafe when we came out.  I had a cuppa and my friend asked for an espresso.  They only had one size of takeaway cup and boy did we laugh at the tiny espresso in a giant cup - of such things are happy memories made.


Northern Ballet presented 3 separate mixed programmes over 3 evenings at Leeds Playhouse to an audience of about 130 in a 700-seater auditorium.  It felt very safe.  It was also very emotional.  The theatre staff kept thanking everyone for coming and we kept thanking them for having us.  The first evening, compered by David Nixon, was an evening of classic pdd which took the company out of its usual comfort zone and was absolutely fabulous!!  Ayami Miyata was particularly divine in the Don Q pdd - oh boy did she flirt with the audience, particularly in the solo with the fan!  The second evening was dedicated to David Nixon's works and the third evening to newer works by other choreographers for the company including a brand new work by Kenneth Tindall.  Three evenings of sheer bliss.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to get to Dangerous Liaisons.


Birmingham Royal Ballet appeared at the Birmingham Rep with a triple bill selected by Carlos Acosta, including a world premiere of Lazuli Sky.  Again it felt very safe and well organised and the ballet was scintillating.  I came home filled with hope for the future!


I was glued to the television for the Royal Ballet's comeback gala and the Golden Hour programme and loved both of them.  I think the comeback gala provided me with my absolute highlight of the year which was Anna Rose O'Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé dancing the duet from Fille.  I watched it every day, at least once a day, till it went off line.  Both dancers were so full of joy it absolutely radiated out of the screen.


I was so excited to have a ticket for BRB's special version of The Nutcracker but it was not to be.  At least the company was able to record it and I loved watching it, even though the set and costume were cut down.  Ross McGibbon's filming of the performance was masterful.


Northern Ballet also released a film of their David Nixon evening which I thoroughly enjoyed all over again.


The mashup of the 2 RB streamings shown on BBC2 on Boxing Day was something to savour and I loved watching it all over again.


Throughout the year the BalletCo Forum showed what a wonderful supportive community it is and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


Unexpectedly, there was much to be happy about within the dance world in 2020.


So now we are in 2021.  Let's hope that the current stringent lockdown measures and the roll out of the vaccine means that we can have some hope of a return to normality at some stage this year.



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So many highlights this year all things considered ....


Before pandemic :

- Royal Ballet’s Onegin I was lucky to see 3 of the 4 casts.  

- Ballet Icons Gala ... this time without the Russian moniker but with a lot of super Russians performing ... Krysanova, Ovcharenko, Kondaurova, Askerov, Lantratov, Alexandrova, Osipova, Salenko, Kovaleva, (Parish, MacKay, Simkin).  Plus interesting range of others ... Golding, Lacarra, Manni, Naghdi, Sambe, Streeter, Takahashi, Piccone.  Lots of super performances ... I will go again for sure.  

- Alina Cojocaru’s thoughtful and moving show at Sadler’s Wells


During worldwide lockdown :

- so grateful for the many free livestreams from everywhere.  It was a special treat to get to know other companies, dancers and their repertoire.  My particular highlights were all ENB Wednesday watch parties (Manon, R&J, La Sylphide, Nora etc).  Dutch NB’s Mata Hari and ‘Back to Ballet’.  Friedemann Vogel in Stuttgart’s Mayerling and Onegin.  Bolshoi’s Hero of our Time and Don Q.  Teatro Colon’s Merry Widow with Marianela Nunez. 

- also theatres found galas in their archives and uploaded them for the first time.   Gems such as Galeazzi & Polunin in Le Corsaire in Australia.  Altynai Asylmuratova’s farewell gala in Georgia.  Benois de la Danse offerings.

I could only get to two of the Socially-distanced live performances (rest were cancelled as infections rose again)

- Athelhampton ... bravo to Meaghan Grace Hinkis.  Such an emotional intimate event for dancers and audience.

- BRB at Sadlers Wells ... so thrilled for Carlos Acosta who tried so hard to get live shows on various stages and despite many cancellations, succeeded!   I am admiring his energy and enthusiasm in running this company.


Second wave digital season

- so many treats coming our way now.  Royal Ballet have upped their game with their reopening galas and online offerings.  END new on demand site, etc etc.  Too many to list.

I conclude with ... online is a great additive experience, but it isn’t even close to the experience of live theatre.





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In the brief times of seeing live dance during the first 2.5 months of 2020, my highlights were:


National Ballet of Canada's tour to the Kennedy Center/DC with Nureyev's splendid Sleeping Beauty w/ Heather Ogden & Harrison James in the leads and Elena Lobsanova & Naoya Ebe in Bluebird pdd.


Three trips to NY to see NYCB in various novelties...incl. premieres by Ratmansky (quirky Voices) and Peck (Rotunda)..and to view a rarity -- Balanchine's complete Episodes with the "Paul Taylor Solo" danced by ex-Taylor company principal Michael Trusnovec. As it turned out, I was at the very last live performance by NYCB, before lockdown, at the matinee of Sunday, March 1, 2020...the final work on the bill being Wheeldon’s DGV.


...and last but not least...


Four performances of ABT's premiere run of Ratmansky's Of Love and Rage in Costa Mesa, California, with the premiere’s stars being Hurlin, Bell and Whiteside. I almost decided against the trip, thinking "I'll wait to see in in NY in the summer." I made trip reservations on a whim, from a hospital bed on 1-1-2020 as I recovered from serious illness...and good thing that I was in a spending mood at the hospital, as this ended up being the last performances of ABT before COVID cancelled the rest of the year. So I witnessed the last live performances (in a while) of both NYCB and ABT.



The one silver lining to COVID was the chance to see so many wonderful streams. My #1:  Stuttgart Ballet in Cranko's Initials RBME. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I'd ever see this masterpiece.

Edited by Jeannette
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I appreciate that 2020 has been dominated by COVID but it’s worth remembering just how good the Royal Ballet was before lockdown. The run of Christmas Coppelias ended in January. We were treated to fabulous Onegins with all four casts providing exceptional performances. There was the wonderful Dances at a Gathering/The Cellist double bill. And Swan Lake had just begun a second run of the new production with a number of debuts scheduled which sadly became casualties of COVID. I thought the Royal Ballet hit a real high in all these pre COVID performances and remembering those performances has certainly helped in lockdown and beyond. Fortunately some of them have been recorded and it’s been good to see the Royal Ballet share the double bill recently.

It was so good to see the various return to stage performances and galas and I recall the Francesca Hayward/Cesar Corrales ‘Morgen’ as a real highlight. Beginning with Francesca Hayward’s spoken translation was inspired and made for a compellingly poignant performance, and I felt absolutely fitting for our COVID world.


Here’s hoping that this new year will see performances return and the Royal Ballet delivering the promised golden age.

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There were also some great performances of Sleeping Beauty in 2020 - including the cinema relay of course. But my personal highlight of 2020 was the Nuñez and Muntagirov performance I attended. Their dancing really blew me away.


I also greatly enjoyed two Onegin casts, but sadly missed the various performances I'd booked for late Feb / early March due to illness combined with a little reticence already to travel to London.


For the rest of the year, my mind was opened significantly to other companies around the world, thanks to the streaming. Personal highlights included the programmes from ENB, San Francisco Ballet,
NYCB, Royal Danish Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet.


Then in late Spring, the Royal Ballet streams began and I was reminded again how much I love that company. I spent much of the summer re-visiting RB DVDs and acquiring a few new ones. Then of course the shows in autumn, back on stage, gave great pleasure. And this time widened my horizons in terms of seeing dancers I was less familiar with - Akane Takada and Melissa Hamilton particularly standing out of those.


Finally, I've spent an incredibly enjoyable few weeks watching Nutcrackers from around the world - streamed and on DVD. The Birmingham Royal Ballet stream was my favourite - incredibly well filmed and performed. And it was great to revisit a couple of the Royal Ballet performances. But versions from Denmark, Norway, NYCB and Pacific Northwest were also amongst my favourites.


Here's hoping for much more live ballet in 2021. And thanks to all those on the forum who have posted links and information for the majority of what I saw in 2020.

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  • 2 months later...

I didn't want to start a new topic, but I thought that this might be interesting and this might be an okay place to post it. To give a sense of how the ballet world is carrying on in Russia, Ballet Friends (Большой - Балет и Опера (Bolshoi Ballet and Opera)) probably the biggest Russian ballet forum has devoted a full three pages to general comments on the last two days of performances at their Mariinsky topic. I don't want to judge the wiseness of the Mariinsky/Bolshoi full scheduling of performances that has been in effect for almost a half year now, but it's certainly a contrast to many other parts of the world.

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