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Ballet Black's "Dogs don't do Ballet"

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Earlier this year Janet_McNulty, Skydancer and I saw Ballet Black's triple bill at The Atkinson Theatre in Southport. After the show we ran into Cassa Pancho and some of her dancers and in the course of conversation she told us that she had commissioned Christopher Marney to create a ballet from Anna Kemp's book "Dogs don't do Ballet".


Yesterday that work was premièred at Harlow and I was in the audience with Vlad the Lad, the nearest I have to a grandson, and his mother, Dunni, who is the nearest I have to a daughter.  The ballet is for children aged 3 or over so the acid test was what did Vladimir think of the show?" Well he liked it.  In his short life he has seen no less than three ballets if you count the Northern Ballet Academy's end of term show and he liked them all. But he particularly liked Dogs don't do Ballet for he sat through the whole 50 minutes quite entranced. He's an active boy and to hold his attention for all that time says a lot about the show. So guys, you passed the Vlad test.


So what did this 65 year old think of it?  I loved it too. Though it was a children's ballet there was plenty to appeal to grown ups. For instance, the ballet teacher, Miss Polly, swigging from her hip flask and sleeping through her students' barre exercises.  She was danced by Christopher Renfurm who has blossomed as a character dancer. He is a good Slvador Dali but a brilliant ballet teacher. Though I am glad to say that none of my ballet teachers is anything like Miss Polly, Renfurm fitted the popular stereotype of a ballet teacher to a tee. The expression of delight on Anna's face changing to embarrassment upon her first kiss was another moment to savour. Marie Astrid Mence, Ballet Black's latest recruit, was an adorable Anna. The study of canine behaviour by Cira Robinson - so familiar to anyone who has ever kept a dog - was yet another delight. There was Bif's whining, her friendly slathering over Miss Polly, the playfulness with which she toyed with a tutu and her pas de deux with a dalmatian. Just like a real dog - in fact, just like my ballet teacher's dog, Harney.

The quality that distinguishes Marney from other choreographers is his extraordinafry sensitivity to music. This was reflected in the construction of the score - Ketèlbey, Baranowski, Strauss, plenty of Tchaikovsky and above all Fauré's Dolly Suite - and of course the interpretation of that score. The movements that he created were extraordinary - particularly those that required Robinson, Kanika Carr and José' Alves to dance on all fours. Also the barre exercises - the foundering "Kanikova" -  with a French horn over her head - and of course Bif's pas de deux. I was already quite a Marney fan before I saw that ballet and my admiration for his work is now even greater.

All the dancers seemed to have fun - Isabela Coracy as the coquettish Felicia with her poodle (Carr) and her pink mobile. Jacob Wye as the bashful TJ, Damian Johnson as the kindly dad - and it showed in their wit and exuberance.   Gary Harris's costumes - particularly Robinson's dog suit and Miss Polly's hats and shawls - were inspired. So, too, was James Lewis's set and of course David Plater's lighting.   I ought to say a word about the programme which was unusually cheap but also very informative and came with a set of crayons for colouring Bif in her tutu.  I now know which dancer keeps a pet and what it is. Although I have only met a few of them briefly on one occasion I feel I now know them.  I am looking forward to seeing them all in Leeds on 6 Nov 2014.

This show is moving on to Bournemouth on the 19 and Exeter on the 21 Oct and finally to Winchester on 29 Nov. If you live anywhere near those towns - or even if you don't - do go and see it.  Yesterday, Chris Marney's dad asked me how many miles I had driven for the show. The answer is 520 and the ballet was well worth every inch of the journey.

Edited by terpsichore
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Some good news for the good people of Dorset from Ballet Black's Facebook page:


Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth, have added another performance of "Dogs Don't Do Ballet" this Sunday the 19th of October at 5:30pm! Bookings can be made via their box office by calling: 01202 203 630 OR book online:http://www.pdsw.org.uk/event/book-now/DOG2/Performances



This is not just a children's ballet. It is a very clever work.

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