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BRB - Shadows of War Programme - Autumn 2014


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I thought that the Church of Scotland was the Anglican Church in Scotland. The Presbyterian Church is one of the non-conformist churches along with the Methodist and Congregational Churches etc.

 

Always puzzled me (as an aetheist); if there is but one god - how come there are so many different types of churches?

 

But perhaps that discussion for another type of board, not a dance one...

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Before we move off theological trivia, can I just say that the Episcopal Church is the the Scottish version of the Church of England but the Church of Scotland the dominant "national" church and patronised by the royal family north of the border although Presbyterian in style. God's house has many mansions, to paraphrase John 14.2 !

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I agree with Aileen's comments as I found exactly the same. Lovely to see BRB at SW (no hideous Birmingham Hippodrome booking fees 5%!!!!!!! Which has put me right off going there).

Miracle of the Gorbals was what I wanted to see and it lived up to expectations. Flowers of the Forest was lovley and I do like Nao Sakuma so it was great to see her in both this and the opening piece Fin du Jours albeit that piece was a bit "meh" it didn't quite work for me although beautifully danced.

It was lovely to meet some other balletco-ers and have interesting debates AND meet Alexander Campbell who was there to watch his old company.

Edited by Don Q Fan
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Well yesterday was fantastic.

 

I saw two great shows - Shadows of War at the Wells in the afternoon and MurleyDance's Hail Britannia in the evening which were in many ways complementary. I also met LinMM and Aileen for the first time which was lovely and also saw Don Q Fan again, We got on like a house on fire.  I also had a chance to say hello to Alexander Campbell and actually to appear with him in one of Don Q Fan's pics.

 

I will do a proper review of Shadows of War later. I arrived home 3 hours later than I should have done because some bright spark closed down the M1 in Northamptonshire decanting the North bound carriageway into country lanes. First we crawled and then I followed a series of diversion signs that led me almost back to where I started after a magical mystery tour of Fosse Way. Rats!

 

I liked the entire programme including La Fin du Jour. That was partly because Maureya Lebowitz who is one of my favourites in the Birmingham company was dancing but also because there was some great choreography and some fascinating set and costume designs. Two movements in particular took my breath away. The way the women were tossed through the air and caught by the men was one and a levitation by the men several feel into the air from a spread eagled position was another. 

 

Gillian Lynne's Miracle in the Gorbals was enthralling. Starting off eerily with the sounds of an air raid - planes, explosions, anti-aircraft fire and sirens - before the orchestra launched into Sir Arthur Bliss's great score. Powerful performances by Elisha Willis as the prostitute, Delia Matthews as the woman who tried to take her own life (a serious offence at the time the ballet was made), Iain Mackay as the clergyman and Cesar Morales as the stranger. When I first heard about this revival (or perhaps more properly re-choreographing in Bintley's film about ballet in wartime I expected it to be a museum piece but it was nothing of the sort. It is as relevant to our times as it was at the time it was made. Think about religious fundamentalism in all major faiths. I was reminded of a lot of other works - Lynne's charming piece for Northern Ballet A Simple Man many years ago and Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring. 

 

Flowers of the Forest was another delight. I particularly liked the two drunks staggering away from the pub and collapsing in a heap with the women dancing the Huntley or something very like it over them and the ecstatic tour en l'air in the pas de deux. Great backdrop as well reminding me of the Sidlaws. As for the costumes I liked the men's kilts but I am not sure about the tartan skirts and green jackets and bonnets for the women. I would have dressed them in white frocks with swirling skirts and tartan sashes. But still a great ballet sending the audience out into Islington chatting and happy.

 

As I say, I will do a proper review later when I have seen the Manon encore at the Huddersfield Oldeon, I am very nervous about that one because Manon for me is Sibley and I don't know whether I can bear to see anyone else in that role.

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Yes it was lovely to meet three balletco members for the first time in one afternoon on Saturday. I'm often on my own at the ballet so really nice to be able to share views on the ballets and performances.......although for me I was re acquainting myself with the BRB after some years so the only dancer in the company I had seen before was Marion Tait!!

 

The programme started with Macmillans Fin de Jour. Apparently Macmillan had been looking for some time for an idea to use this wonderful music when he created this ballet and maybe just maybe if the work (which I was surprised to discover was a latish work of his) had just been performed in plain leotards then it would have worked .....just as a dance piece ...as in essence I felt the music and choreography worked well together. However I was not getting the hint that this piece was in any way connected to an approaching war (apart from being told this in the programme). So found the costumes a bit irritating in the end especially in the slower movement which had some typically interesting choreography.......because I couldn't relate them to the dance ......though certainly colourful enough!! It did not for me really capture the "gaiety" of the thirties......the music would be the wrong choice for this anyway......The only way it could work is if Macmillan was being deeply ironic of course .....but perhaps that's to read too much into it. Not for me a work on a par with say Gloria or Requiem.......though as always with Macmillan some wonderfully creative choreography so not disappointing on that score but felt a disconnect of some sort with the piece.

 

I would just add when I looked up fin de jour for its date I was totally amazed at just how many ballets Macmillan had created in his career pretty impressive.

 

The Miracle in the Gorbals was my favourite of the afternoon. I was completely gripped throughout and thought it drew brilliant performances from all the dancers ......I'd love to see this more often. No disconnect here everything came together for dramatic purpose .....definitely what I enjoy from going to the theatre! From this work however sadly learning how little mankind seems to have moved forward so still very relevant today.

 

I very much enjoyed Flowers in the Forest ......what's not to like! Great dancing stirring music. I loved the opening moves......those dramatically dragged tendus across the stage and the gentle comedy of the drunken boys and quietly dismissive girls.

 

I will now be attending more BRB performances for sure. And must say am very admiring of so many people who make the effort to get down to London to see the companies they enjoy from hundreds of miles away. How often do I get up to Birmingham Manchester Leeds etc .......not often I have to say.

 

As you may well know by now Janet there was a bit of high jinx going on in one of the intervals but all I will say is " eat your heart out" but wish you were there!!

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A FOLLOW-UP NOTATION ...

 

I saw the Saturday evening performance of BRB's generous SHADOWS OF WAR programme.  I purposely chose this over the opening of the RB Ashton bill as the opportunity to see these particular works in London is even more rare (and I do have tickets for four different performances of the Ashton which I so love).  Again I hugely enjoyed this BRB programme and felt it was an excellent assembly of pieces.  

 

The cast for MIRACLE IN THE GORBALS was virtually identical to that I had seen the evening before (as I believe it had been for the matinee) and the standout performer on this occasion for me in both LA FIN DU JOUR and FLOWERS OF THE FOREST was Mathias Dingman.  Of that there could be no question.  You can well see why this fantastically talented young man was awarded a Gold Medal at Varna.  Both the placement and the partnering that had been blurred in MacMillian's eloquent aspects of that role the evening previous came into vivid focus here.  This young artist's zeal in dancing through Ravel's intoxicating music was immediately rich in its ameliorated grace.  Additionally Dingman's trajectile stealth in the Bintley was electrifying.  I so look forward to his guesting assignment with ENB.  They will be very lucky to have him amongst their talented collection of artists for those four Nutcracker performances.  What a glory it was too to thrill to Momoko Hirata's flavourful redolence in the Four Scottish Dances.  

 

As per all other reports above - short perhaps of Aileen's reservation - I again found - perhaps ironically - MIRACLE OF THE GORBALS to be the most timely of all the pieces presented. What a fine work/parable this is dealing as it does with truly challenging issues in a manner which is sufficiently simple to effectively draw the audience into its fold without ever being patronising.  How wonderfully etched/coloured it is by the very fine BRB Company.  On this occasion I found the helium rich elation inherent in the brief pas de deux for Yvette Knight and William Bracewell's 'Lovers' particularly touching in its time-aware economy of affection.  I also had here the opportunity to notice in greater detail Adam Wiltshire's designs after those of Edward Burns.  They reminded my of my own walks around the Gorbals when privileged to do work with the Glasgow Citz (Glasgow Citizen's Theatre).  Although the style/cut of the clothes may have changed much remains the same.  What did hurt me somewhat, however, was the fact that the audience was here SO small.  I was sitting in the Second Circle (that requiem for the poor) at the back (my favourite spot - albeit with field glasses ever at the ready).  The entire space of that circle could - at most - have only had one sixth of its capacity filled ... and this WAS a Saturday night.  During the first interval a young family (father, mother and daughter) came up and spread themselves out in the row in front of me.  (We all had a row to ourselves up there.)  When I applauded enthusiastically and shouted out 'Bravi' during the MIRACLE calls they turned and looked at me as if I had come from outer space.  It was clear they simply hadn't got it ... or certainly hadn't enjoyed it as I had.  (The mother had spent much of her time on her iphone.  After about 10 minutes of seeing her play solitaire out of the corner of my eye I whispered down and asked if she would turn it off which she duly did.)   They did not return for FLOWERS.  It was, I know, their loss ... but I fear for the ultimate loss for us all that such departures - especially when taken as a percentage of such low attendance - signify.  In my estimation this work deserved to be full.  As far as I am concerned it deserves to be maintained.  Gillian Lynne has done a great public service.  I pray that it played to MANY more people in its Birmingham run and will continue to do so on the road.  I pray that BRB will find it in their hearts to embed it in another equally fine mixed bill in the not too distant future.  I would love to see it again in a different mix.  Or has, perhaps, the audience for this kind of work truly been lost to the annuls of time?  That question it seems is still out.  It rumbles on ... or at least I pray it will.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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BW:  I had hoped to be at the Wells on Saturday, but a clash of dates meant I had to cede priority to making one of my own periodic contributions to the arts in a Cambridge Phil concert.  A pity, because I grew up on the other side of Glasgow from the Gorbals and, since developing an interest in ballet, have been fascinated by the 'Miracle in the Gorbals' title.  It seems such an unlikely wartime creation and I hope there may be another chance to catch this new re-imagining of Helpmann's work at some future date.  I, too, have memories of the Citizens Theatre - we were regularly taken there by my mother and I'm playing Duncan McCrae's entrance in "Jamie the Saxt" (ie King James VI) in my head right now:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/duncan-macrae-19051967-as-jamie-the-saxt-84351

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Apparently, Miracle in the Gorbals was performed a lot in the early years after its creation. Surly it must have caused something of a sensation at the time with its shocking subject matter, gritty setting and naturalistic choreography - and not a pointe shoe in sight. Does anyone know where Helpmann got his inspiration from? Had anything like it been done before?

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I understand that only the first cast of Gorbals was to perform in Birmingham and London. Ii was a little sorry about this as I am devoted to Tyrone Singleton and would like to have seen both him as the Minister and Samara Downs as the Prostitute. That would have made an interesting comparison with the excellent first cast.

 

If the ballet is shown again I hope the second cast will get a chance to perform.

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I recommend Jann Parry's lengthy review in DanceTabs (which appears in today's Links). There is a lot of background information on Gorbals, and I liked the quotation about how delighted Barra was on opening night that everyone was suitably disgusted. Like her, I do wonder whether the Christian symbolism is lost on a lot of people as church going has declined and schools have increasingly adopted 'secular' assemblies (let's not debate the merits or otherwise of this).

 

Does anyone know who the woman in the (what I assume to be old) black and white photograph used to publicise the current run is? I assume that she is the Suicide character.

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My take on Miracle in the Gorbals which I saw with LinMM, Don Q Fan and aileen if anyone is interested. If the paragraphs on the background to the ballet are annoying in that they are like teaching grandmothers to such eggs, I offer my apologies. Please remember this is an edited version of a post that I published elsewhere which was written for a differeent audience:.   

 

"In Dancing in the Blitz: How World War 2 Made British Ballet David Bintley spoke of Sadler's Wells Ballet's contribution to maintaining morale during the second world war. Much of the credit belongs to Sir Robert Helpmann who was one of the few male dancers to avoid conscription. He was also a considerable choreographer creating  Comus Hamlet,The Birds and Miracle in the Gorbalsduring that period. The last of those ballets was a particular favourite possibly because it was a story about the conflict between good and evil which would have reminded the public why they were fighting.

The story is based on Jerome K. Jerome's Passing of the Third Floor Back which is a Christian allegory. Jerome's work is set in London and is about the efforts of a Christ figure ("the stranger") to improve the lives of the residents of a boarding house that had been made miserable by a grasping landlady and a well off businessman. The residents listen to the stranger and follow his advice. That upsets the businessman who bribes the residents to turn against the stranger. 

Jerome's short story was transposed to Glasgow by Helmpann's partner Michael Benthall who wrote the scenario for the ballet. A young woman throws herself in the river and is dragged out unconscious. A clergyman tries unsuccessfully to revive her.  He covers her with a shroud and leaves her for dead. A stranger appears and revives her. The crowd acclaims the stranger as a miracle worker much to the annoyance of the clergyman whose shortcomings are revealed when he follows a prostitute to her lodging.  He encourages some local gangsters to set about the stranger who is left to die alone on stage with only the a beggar for company.

The music for the ballet was provided by Sir Arthur Bliss a recording of which you can hear on YouTube.   The sets and costumes were designed by Edward Burra (see Pallant House Gallery's Painting the Stage). The cast of the first performance on the 26 Oct 1944 at The Prince's theatre (now the Shaftesbury) included Moira Shearer, Leslie Edwards, Celia Franks, Gerd Larsen, Stanley Holden, Gillian Lynne and Helpmann himself who danced the stranger.

The ballet was included in the repertoire every year between 1944 and 1950 and was taken on tour. It then disappeared from the Sadler's Wells Ballet's repertoire though critics were still referring to it when I first took an interest in ballet in the late 1960s. For some reason the public forgot it in contrast to Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring which was first performed in Washington just four days later and which has much in common with Helpmann's work. No doubt that is because Helpmann developed his acting career though I have seen him dance with Sir Frederick Ashton in Cinderella in the early 1970s. He also compeered Sir Frederick's retirement gala on 24 July 1970 which I was lucky enough to attend.

It was therefore something of a second miracle to see the revival of this work at Sadler's Wells on 18 Oct 2014. Revival is perhaps not quite the right word for as Dame Gilian Lynne said in The Inspiration which was reprinted in the programme: "There are very few people left alive from that 1944 creation and not one of us remembers a step." Lynne has re-created the ballet to Bliss's music in the style of Helpmann and it certainly looks authentic to me. It appears that Burra's set and costume designs did not survive but Adam Wiltshire seems to have come close. The sense of period was conjured by the sounds of an air raid - the drone of an aircraft, explosions, anti-aircraft fire and a siren - all in total darkness before the first few bars of Bliss's score.

Miracle was sandwiched between MacMillan's La Fin du Jour and Bintley's Flowers of the Forest as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Shadows of War programme. Each of those ballets is an important work in its own right and therefore merits a separate review. The company had cast some of its strongest dancers for the performance. The stranger was danced by César Morales, the clergyman by Iain Mackay, the prostitute by Elisha Willis and the suicide victim by Delia Matthews.   Even some of the minor roles were danced by accomplished dancers - Marion Tait and Ruth Brill as two of the old ladies - and Yatsuo AtsujiBrandon LawrenceRory McKay and Valentin Olovyannikov as gangsters.

The only other work of Lynne's that I have seen is "A Simple Man" which she choreographed for Northern Ballet to mark the centenary of L S Lowry's birth nearly 30 years ago. That is another ballet set in the back streets of another great industrial city in times gone by. There is much in Miracle that reminds me of A Simple Man. I wonder how much of Simple Man derives from Helpmann."

Edited by terpsichore
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Very interesting, thank you, Terpsichore.  But I would have to take issue with "A young woman throws herself in the river and is dragged out unconscious. A clergyman tries unsuccessfully to revive her.  He covers her with a shroud and leaves her for dead. A stranger appears and revives her."  Surely the whole point is that she is dead, and the stranger brings her back to life, otherwise where is the Miracle of the title? 

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......................  Surely the whole point is that she is dead, and the stranger brings her back to life, otherwise where is the Miracle of the title? 

 

Reviving a patient from a catatonic state especially without clinical intervention in a rough neighbourhood in wartime is miracle enough for me. 

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