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Northern Ballet's Open Day


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I very nearly gave Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre Open House a miss this year because it clashed with the last day of English National Ballet's Le Corsaire in Manchester. Tamara Rojo and Matthew Golding were billed for the matinee and Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the evening. I was even more tempted when I learned that Klimentová and Muntagirov were to leave the company and this would probably be the last opportunity to see them together. As I was busy the rest of the week and do not like to see the same ballet back to back or even in the same season with different cases it was either Friday or Saturday for me and I chose Friday. Thank goodness I did for if I had gone to Manchester on Saturday I would have missed something very special.

The Open Day consisted of a series of rehearsals, classes, talks, tours and family activities. As I had done the tour before and seen plenty of rehearsals I did not expect to stay very long. To be quite honest I had intended simply to put in an appearance out of loyalty to the company and then scarper.  The only objectives I had set myself were to meet Phil Garnett (Phill up North) and Dolly Williams who run the company's website and social media because we follow each other on twitter. The day before I had given Phil a piece of my mind for sloppy coding because Northern Ballet's Valentine's Day Quiz had landed me with that twerp Lysander when I should clearly have had Oberon or Octavian (though it could have been worse as I might have ended up with Bottom - Eeyore!).

I managed to meet both Phil and Dolly.  Phil is an even bigger ballet fan than me and we talked about the history of the company and our favourite works.  I met Dolly almost as soon as I arrived on the face painting stand. She was wearing a wolf's mask and asked me whether I wanted to dress up as something. As she had a lot of kids around her I left her to entertain them.  On  the same floor as Dolly there was a gallery overlooking one of the studios on the floor below. I recognized Yoko Ichino and stood mesmerized as she took a class. Although I could not hear nothing from the studio below it was clear that something remarkable was going on.  I went downstairs and slipped into the class.

The previous Monday I had heard Elena Glurdjidze talk about her teachers at theVaganova Academy and on 2 Feb 2914 I heard Dame Antoinette Sibley speak  affectionately about hers. Ichino had danced with some of the world's leading companies and something of her art is preserved on these YouTube clips of Don Quixote and Le Corsaire. She is now head of the Northern Ballet Academy and Ballet Mistress of the company. Watching Ichino at work enabled me to witness the great tradition of the art being passed on from ballerina to student much as de Valois passed it on to the young Fonteyn, Preobrajenska to Tallchief and Karsavina to Sibley

Dressed simply in trousers and a long cardigan as in the photo on Northern Ballet's website Ichino commanded that class with great authority.  She spoke softly.  Indeed she said very little but her gestures communicated much.  Her class consisted of senior boys in the front row and two larger groups of girls of different ages behind them. Though my attention was focused on Ichino I did glance occasionally at her students.  I could tell from their expressions that they adored their teacher and she them. I marvelled at their physique: slender, muscular, sleek like race horses or greyhounds.  It was exhilarating to watch those magnificent young artists and athletes run powerfully around the studio at the end of their session.

Ichino was followed in the studio by Cara O'Shea who taught two groups of junior boys. Her style was very different from Ichino's but equally effective. She has a mellifluous voice which she used as an instrument to coax the best from her pupils. "You've always wanted as audience" she said referring tot us. "Well now you have an audience and if they like you they may clap you." The children, who were already working hard, gave us their very best. They did indeed delight us and how we clapped.  She is another wonderful teacher and again I could see that the kids were devoted to her.  I would have loved to have been taught by her. In a way she did teach me for I think I learned more about ballet on Saturday from watching the teachers at work that I could from a score of performances or a pile of books,

After she had finished teaching the boys I followed Cara O'Shea to the next studio where she was taking a mixed class of boys and girls through a recording of an excerpt fromDon Quixote. This was more like a rehearsal. After a while the class was joined by the boys I had seen earlier in the day with Ichino. They practised a different piece and were joined eventually by Chris Hinton-Lewis who had taught me when I had missed my usual class owing to a tree on the A1. He has yet another teaching style but one to which the boys readily responded.

Far from wondering what I could find to do in Quarry Hill I was riveted to my seat for nearly three hours watching those wonderful teachers.  I left just before 16:00 because my own teacher Annemarie Donoghue was due to teach a taster class for the over 55 age group. That is the class that I take every Thursday and I love it. I had thought of registering for the taster class earlier in the week but decided against it as I had doubted that I would still be at Quarry Hill by 16:00 and in any case I would have taken up a place that someone else could have used.  Although she had less than half her usual time Annemarie took the taster class (which included a gentleman from Cambridge) through everything that she does on a Thursday from finding ones posture, the warm up, barre work and a simple centre exercises. Her students had a great time and I got to speak to one of them: a lady who had studied ballet as a child and was keen to take it up again. We went down in the lift together stopping at reception so that she could register.

I have often heard dancers and choreographers speak of their companies as a family.  Despite being a long standing fan of Northern Ballet and more recently a Friend and student I had always regarded myself as an outsider.  On Saturday I felt for the first time that I was part of the family.  A very distant relation, of course, but still a member.

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