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Royal Ballet - Ashton mixed bill


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I think Aileen is right when she says dancers speak first about the Macmillan rep when listing works they wish today. If you are a dramatic dancer you can disguise a lack of technique with a combination of artistry and the expressive choreography. The Ashton rep is much harder to dance. When it come to the technical demands you cannot compare Juliet or Manon with Lise. The choreography is also much more exposed.

 

Either way, I think we are all agreed that the Ashton style or rep should not be allowed to decline or even disappear altogether through sheer inertia.

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Is a modern company a bit more- well, modern, in that dancers expect to get their turn, and the management want to nurture talent across a wider number of dancers?

This may have a downside,  as many obviously feel it does, in that we don't all get to see the perfect cast or the perfect cast don't get enough perfomances.On the other hand, doesn't it give more chance for more really good dancers to come to the fore? and just as importantly give them experience of performing Ashton which is so important to the RB?

 

I also recall some of us, including myself, complaining that McGregor seemed to use the same -few- dancers all the time( I am not even sure how fair that was but it felt like it.)

 

 

I don't know, I am far from an expert on how the company works,  but in a way it might be just inevitable that casting works differently in 2014 to how it worked in 1944 or 1964.

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I have quite mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am so much in favour of giving younger dancers a chance. I really valueseeing fresh interpretations, even if they are a bit rough around the edges. And the only way we or a director can really see if they are up to the challenge is to put them on stage. And not every debut can be expected to go perfectly so dancers themselves should have the opportunities to grow and polish their performances.

 

On the other hand, maybe audiences should expect the best that the company had to offer at every performance. Particularly those that only have the opportunity to see a ballet once because of cost or distance to travel etc. I haven't had a chance to see SV this time but I adore this ballet and I would be pretty disappointed if I got less than perfection.

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I think Aileen is right when she says dancers speak first about the Macmillan rep when listing works they wish today. If you are a dramatic dancer you can disguise a lack of technique with a combination of artistry and the expressive choreography. The Ashton rep is much harder to dance. When it come to the technical demands you cannot compare Juliet or Manon with Lise. The choreography is also much more exposed.

Either way, I think we are all agreed that the Ashton style or rep should not be allowed to decline or even disappear altogether through sheer inertia.

I think I am quite struck by the way that dancers describe the feeling for the choreography in MacMillan and Ashton ballets that they have. Particularly with Juliet and Manon they often say the same things, describing the naturalism of the movement, the meaningfulness of every gesture and step, the soaring pdds and the freedom of interpretation. Whereas with Ashton, dancers describe it almost as fighting with their own bodies (some parallels with the way they describe McGregors choreographic contortions? ☺), the way they have to bend and step with precision and speed, trying to fit themselves into the choreography, it sounds, well, hard and not enjoyable, even if the end product is beautiful to us. Which is understandable, but it makes me a bit sad - I can't think of many Ashton ballets they are described by either male or female dancers as a favourite (except perhaps Marguerite and Armand by Guillem, and a few others who have expressed a longing to dance Natalia in Month). Maybe someone can correct me on this.

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I do wonder how keen to dance Ashton the current crop of dancers are. The attraction of the RB (and the RBS) seems to be the Macmillan repertory rather than the Ashton one. When you read interviews with young female dancers, not just those who are dancing with the RB but others, they frequently mention Macmillan, and Manon and R&J in particular. Manon and Juliet seem to be dream roles for most young ballerinas.

Because those ballets are shown in cinemas, are most regularly talked about, are regularly shown at ROH. Remember R&J was also performed at the O2 in 2011 for a 12,000-strong audience.The current crop of young female dancers are hardly familiar with Ashton's ballets, except from a few.

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I think I am quite struck by the way that dancers describe the feeling for the choreography in MacMillan and Ashton ballets that they have. Particularly with Juliet and Manon they often say the same things, describing the naturalism of the movement, the meaningfulness of every gesture and step, and the freedom of interpretation. Whereas with Ashton, dancers describe it almost as fighting with their own bodies, the way they have to bend and step with precision and speed, trying to fit themselves into the choreography, it sounds, well, hard and not enjoyable, even if the end product is beautiful to us. Which is understandable, but it makes me a bit sad - I can't think of any Ashton ballets they are described by either male or female dancers as a favourite (except perhaps Marguerite and Armand by Guillem, and a few others who have expressed a longing to dance Natalia in Month). Maybe someone can correct me on this.

Lesley Collier (who danced the lot) always quoted Fille and Two Pigeons as her favourite roles.

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I think Aileen is right when she says dancers speak first about the Macmillan rep when listing works they wish today. If you are a dramatic dancer you can disguise a lack of technique with a combination of artistry and the expressive choreography. The Ashton rep is much harder to dance. When it come to the technical demands you cannot compare Juliet or Manon with Lise. The choreography is also much more exposed.

 

Either way, I think we are all agreed that the Ashton style or rep should not be allowed to decline or even disappear altogether through sheer inertia.

That's a really interesting point you make here: dancing a MacMillan ballet is more about a combination of artistry, expressive choreography, and a certain lack of technique can be disguised whereas dancing Ashton demands so much more of a dancer: great technique, enormous stamina, understanding the Ashton style, a great use of the upper body, fast footwork, pure classicism and line in every sense of the word.

I spoke to a dancer (back in 2007) and was told the dancers "are close to fainting" after dancing SV, it's that exhausting! Says a lot of those dancers (besides Marianella of course :) who were selected to perform Symphonic Variations. 

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I once heard Johann Kobborg say that he had danced all the great male roles and Symphonic was the hardest thing he had ever done. Bearing in mind that he is a great exponent of the Danish school I think this is a very telling comment.

 

The dancers who knew and worked with Ashton are fast diminishing. Added to that the Macmillan rep is very well supported and preserved by his widow. I suspect there is also much more filmed evidence of his work, often with the original cast.

 

If the company hierarchy tends to value the Ashton rep less than the audience this will rub off on the younger dancers. I am afraid that if this decline is not stopped soon it will become terminal.

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It's noteworthy that Marienela and Vadim were the only two principals to dance in this run. Do other dancers decline to dance it? Some of the current principals have danced it in the past but that must have been at least six years ago. It's obviously hugely demanding and you are very exposed. Perhaps many dancers don't think it's worth the risk when you're not going to get as much kudos as you would when dancing something more dramatic. I feel that the mix and matching in the current run is very unfortunate and, actually, a little bit disrespectful to the choreography as well as to the hard pressed dancers. I also feel that it was unwise to expect Zucchetti to dance in both Scenes and Symphonic on one evening, even though the Five Waltzes and an interval came between the two ballets.

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I attended the Insight Evening and I was under the impression it is Wendy Ellis Somes (who owns "Symphonic Variations",for those who didn't know) who is in charge of the casting; she selected the dancers and coached them. I don't think dancers decline dancing in SV when it is such an honour to dance it. 

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Having just read all the reviews I am really intrigued to note how the various critics have "judged" this Ashton Quad Bill.


 


Judith Mackrell gave it 5 stars and called it "...a five star Ashton masterclass" and the SV Opening Night cast as "...possibly the best I've ever seen". 


Graham Watts write "I must conclude by congratulating the company for once more demonstrating a sophisticated and unparalled command of the Ashton repertoire. All is as it should be.",


G.J. Dowler calls it "a superb revival", 


Clement Crisp awarded 4 stars, wasn't keen on Scenes but described the SV opening cast as "Its grand sextet of dancers brought it to radiant life."


The Telegraph's Laura Thompson gave it 4 stars 


Jan Parry of DanceTabs writes: " Ashton, who wrote that a pure dance piece ‘can leave an audience suspended in a trance-like response that a story ballet can never achieve’, would have been gratified by the hushed reaction to Symphonic Variations on Saturday night. Every now and again a cast is chosen for his 19-minute ballet that succeeds in entrancing spectators before they erupt into joyous applause. On the opening night of this season’s run we were blessed with Vadim Muntagirov making his debut in the leading man’s role. He partnered Marianela Nunez, with Yuhui Choe and Tristan Dyer, Yasmine Naghdi and James Hay, as the side couples.......When the cast link hands and run in an ecstatic circle, it seems Ashton’s assurance that all will be well, forever and ever"  


Only Luke Jennings gave it 3 stars and has mixed feelings about this Quad Bill. About SV he writes: "....And the first cast perform it with impeccable precision. But somehow, for all its faultlessness, the piece lacks joy. Belinda Hatley, one of the finest Ashtonian dancers of recent years, used to perform Symphonic with an almost secretive radiance. But here the order seems to have been given for absolute blankness".


 


(Someone else has remarked about the lack of "smiling faces" in Symphonic but if the dancers were told to perform with a blank face we can't expect much else, and bringing out "secretive radiance" (Jennings) is very subjective imo).


 


How very different does everyone ( from critics to audience members ) perceive a performance and its dancers...


 


 


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I do wonder how keen to dance Ashton the current crop of dancers are. The attraction of the RB (and the RBS) seems to be the Macmillan repertory rather than the Ashton one. When you read interviews with young female dancers, not just those who are dancing with the RB but others, they frequently mention Macmillan, and Manon and R&J in particular. Manon and Juliet seem to be dream roles for most young ballerinas.

 

Manon and Juliet are such good dramatic vehicles for ballerinas that I'm sure they're great favourites, especially with the principals concerned. But I've been struck by the enthusiastic tweets from dancers after dancing Ashton ballets, so I don't think they're seeing these ballets simply as exercises in keeping on top of the complicated stuff.

 

I just hope they keep the Ashton works in the repertoire because they genuinely value them, not just as an exercise in some vague feeling about obligation to preserve the heritage.

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Manon and Juliet are such good dramatic vehicles for ballerinas that I'm sure they're great favourites, especially with the principals concerned. But I've been struck by the enthusiastic tweets from dancers after dancing Ashton ballets, so I don't think they're seeing these ballets simply as exercises in keeping on top of the complicated stuff.

 

I just hope they keep the Ashton works in the repertoire because they genuinely value them, not just as an exercise in some vague feeling about obligation to preserve the heritage.

I don't follow twitter so that's reassuring to hear! Thinking about it, Manon and Romeo are performed in many companies around the world anyway, so I imagine what draws many dancers to the RB, including stars like Osipova and Muntagirov is a diverse rep that includes MacMillan and Ashton ballets that are not available elsewhere.

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Two Pigeons wrote above:   Lesley Collier (who danced the lot) always quoted Fille and Two Pigeons as her favourite roles.  

 

Yes, but Lesley Collier is from a different generation.  She came up through White Lodge and then the RBS senior school in the 50s and 60s. I was at the senior school in Talgarth Road at the same time and the training and style of dancing then suited Ashton.  We understood Ashton and loved his ballets.  There has been another thread about the exaggeration and coarseness of the humour in Ashton's ballets when performed nowadays, as compared to some decades ago. Subtlety is not a common trait nowadays, I think, and Ashton definitely requires subtlety.........

 

I really agree with the suggestion that the Ashton repertoire should be classified as Classics in order to preserve them and keep the wonderful English heritage intact.  It would be such a shame to lose them.  His ballets are beautiful, but sadly, IMO, it seems that they are not as relevant to today's crop of dancers as to those of the past. I believe that part of that is because the training is so different nowadays,  which leads to many dancers finding his choreography difficult.  Lesley Collier excelled in Ashton ballets - her Fille was sheer delight to watch - she was almost (but not quite) comparable to the gorgeous Nerina in the role.  I am not surprised that she loved dancing them.

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... and Lesley danced the lead girl in Two Pigeons in the RBS matinee, around 1962. I think David Wall was the boy and Margaret Barbieri was the lead gypsy so yes, the school was very much used to the Ashton style.

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It's noteworthy that Marienela and Vadim were the only two principals to dance in this run. Do other dancers decline to dance it? Some of the current principals have danced it in the past but that must have been at least six years ago. It's obviously hugely demanding and you are very exposed. Perhaps many dancers don't think it's worth the risk when you're not going to get as much kudos as you would when dancing something more dramatic.

 

As far as I know dancers have little or no say in their casting.

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It seems to be accepted opinion, in some circles, that because she was a noted interpreter and custodian of MacMillan's ballets Monica Mason failed to take sufficient care of the  Ashton repertory while she was director of the Royal Ballet .I really wonder if that is true. It seems to me that in her ten years in charge she did far more to ensure that Ashton's works were part of the active repertory than her three predecessors had done. After all it was she and not Dowell who restored Sylvia to the active repertory and put Daphnis and Chloe back on stage in the original Craxton designs.

 

During Mason's directorship while Scenes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations may have been treated a little more like repertory pieces than they had been while Michael Somes was in charge of their staging the casts, including the corps in Scenes, were carefully chosen and appeared better rehearsed than they do in the current revival. While the first night cast in Symphonic were good the way in which the casts for the rest of the run have been put together suggests that the management believes that any combination  of dancers will do in these old ballets,

 

Good points, Floss, although I'm not sure about the last one: I suspect that there was some other factor at work here.

 

I have quite mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am so much in favour of giving younger dancers a chance. [snip]

 

On the other hand, maybe audiences should expect the best that the company had to offer at every performance. Particularly those that only have the opportunity to see a ballet once because of cost or distance to travel etc. I haven't had a chance to see SV this time but I adore this ballet and I would be pretty disappointed if I got less than perfection.

 

I rather think that reflects the difference in thinking between the current and the previous AD?

 

That's a really interesting point you make here: dancing a MacMillan ballet is more about a combination of artistry, expressive choreography, and a certain lack of technique can be disguised whereas dancing Ashton demands so much more of a dancer: great technique, enormous stamina, understanding the Ashton style, a great use of the upper body, fast footwork, pure classicism and line in every sense of the word.

Yes, Ashton is "so difficult" - although it must ultimately be rewarding when you conquer its challenges, I would think.

 

 

It's noteworthy that Marienela and Vadim were the only two principals to dance in this run. Do other dancers decline to dance it? Some of the current principals have danced it in the past but that must have been at least six years ago.

I wonder if they were even offered it? Several of them had roles elsewhere, and it seems these days that management generally don't like to give them more than 1 role in a mixed bill.

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Judging by their tweets there is no lack of enthusiasm among some of the younger dancers for the Ashton repertoire. " Excited", "Honoured" "Our glorious Ashton quadruple bill" are some of the opinions expressed. Several critics singled out James Hay's performance in SV for particular praise, and naturally Vadim got his fair share too, so I think it is wrong to suppose that a good performance in an Ashton ballet will attract less kudos than in a MacMillan. Also, from watching classes at the RBS upper school I have noted that one teacher makes frequent references to Ashton in her classes and incorporates appropriate enchainements. I feel therefore that those who predict the imminent disappearance  of the Ashton style and ballets are being somewhat premature in their doomsaying. Also, with the recent productions of "Fille" and "Sylvia" in Russia, Russian dancers are now beginning to tackle and appreciate the challenges of Ashton's choreography.

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I am delighted to hear that they are keeping his heritage alive at the RBS - good news indeed!  Dance training has become very universal in style and I think it's important to retain the specific qualities that made up the English style/  Danish style/ French style etc.  I am so relieved that the RAD has left in the Higher Grades.  When I teach Grade 7 to my students with its very romantic style I feel like I am imbibing them with a sense of ballet history too.  Musicians have to learn to play music from all periods, so why not dancers?

Edited by Dance*is*life
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Post 151:  "Good points, Floss, although I'm not sure about the last one: I suspect that there was some other factor at work here".

I think so too Alison

 

Post 153: "I am delighted to hear that they are keeping his heritage alive at the RBS - good news indeed. Dance training has become very universal in style and I think it's important to retain the specific qualities that made up the English style."

 

About keeping Ashton's heritage alive at the RBS: the selection of dancers in this Ashton bill is a good indication perhaps.

 

Looking into the training background of the "Symphonic Variations" 1st cast dancers: James Hay and Yasmine Naghdi fully trained throughout the RBS system (from Junior Associates to the Upper School Graduation year, and are also YBDY winners :) ), Trystan Dyer and Vadim Muntagirov trained at the RBS Upper School, Marianella Nunez had a so-called "finishing" year (only because at her age she was too young to join the company), Yuhui Choe did not train at the RBS.  Of the 2nd cast dancers: Clarke fully trained at the RBS, Zucchetti, Magri, Acri, Stock trained at the Upper School, Hamilton did not train at the RBS. Clearly the vast majority of the dancers trained at the RBSchool! 

 

"Five Brahms Waltzes": Helen Crawford and Romany Pajdak trained at the RBS

 

"Month in the Country": of the Principal couples only Pennefather went to the RBS, "Vera" was also danced by two RBS trained dancers (Maguire and Hayward), as were several of the other characters such as Paul Kay.

 

"Scenes de ballet": of the two Principal couples, the males (Steven McRae and Valentino Zucchetti) trained at the Upper School. 

 

Those RBS Alumni are keeping Ashton's heritage alive I'd say, thanks also to Mr. O'Hare's programming. 

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Post 151:  "Good points, Floss, although I'm not sure about the last one: I suspect that there was some other factor at work here".

I think so too Alison

 

 

Well one factor which is in the public domain (on National Ballet of Japan website) is that Vadim Muntagirov is dancing in Wayne Eagling's new Sleeping Beauty in Tokyo on the 8th and 11th November.

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If I remember correctly, the ROH website did show Golding was due to dance with Nunez in 5 out of 7 SV performances but was suddenly replaced by Muntagirov. Clarke dancing on 5,11,12 explains why: Muntagirov will be in Japan on those dates. Thank you capybara.

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If the current management were really serious about the Ashton repertory they would have ensured that there were no" other issues" when it came to casting Symphonic Variations such as staging Scenes de Ballet at the same time. If they were serious about developing the younger dancers they would be programming Les Patineurs, Les Rendezvous (preferrably in the Chappell designs) and Facade  on a regular basis as it was those ballets that helped develop the company's dancers in the past. They would have revived Jazz Calendar and the current programme would ,almost certainly, have ended with one of them. Scenes would either have appeared on an entirely different bill  or it might have been programmed as an alternative to Symphonic for part of the run. 

 

I think that the reasons that no one can remember both Symphonic and Scenes  appearing on the same programme in the past is a purely practical one. If you programme them together you immediately lose two dancers to Scenes who would almost certainly have been cast in Symphonic. In the past those staging Symphonic seem to have approached casting it much as you would if you were repairing an intricate and sensitive piece of machinery. If it works don't fix it .If you have to change things make sure that you do only what is absolutely necessary so that you don't upset the equilibrium. Now each revival seems to involve few, if any, dancers who have danced in it before. Few of the changes from revival to revival can be explained simply by dancers leaving the company or by injury. Having seen both these ballets danced by superb casts in the past I, for one, do not want to see either of them performed by dancers "being given a chance" to show what they can do .All Ashton works leave the dancers exposed but in these two works rough edges draw attention to themselves and stand out even more than they do in Concerto which was choreographed for that purpose. It is not fair on the audience or the performers to cast either of the works in this way.

 

I do not care whether the dancers cast are young or well established, or whether or not they are Principals.What I care about is seeing these works danced with superb musicality and precision. The casting for these two ballets should not be dependent  on casting decisions already made in respect of other parts of the programme and should not be altered for any reason except illness or injury within the group selected to perform these particular works. 

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Have any of the dancers in this run danced Symphonic Variations before?

 

Assuming I'm not having a senior moment, I have no recollection of Marianela Nuñez dancing it before.  Yuhui Choe was in the Company when it was last done but was not cast in it. I believe that the other dancers have all joined the company since that last run.

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Dancers who danced it in 2007 - and who are still at the RB - such as Lamb, Marquez, Pennefather,McRae, Cutbertson, Ondiviela, Bonelli, Morera where not chosen to dance it in 2014. It is Interesting to note they have selected a whole new cast, with plenty of younger dancers (Marianella at 32 is the oldest, followed by Choe). 

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Most peculiar that Morera isn't doing any of the Ashton roles this time.  I know she is very good in the dramatic, MacMillan ballets, but she is also well suited to the Ashton choreography.  Is she injured?

 

Marquez also.  She was a dancer I was never particularly fond of, until I saw her in one of the Ashton ballets, and then I realised how good she actually was. 

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Morera was never down to dance in the Ashton bill, so it isn't a case of her being injured (which in any case I don't think she is). I too think it extremely odd to leave out an experienced dancer who dances Ashton so well; it would have been a wonderful experience for the current crop of debutantes to be able to dance SV alongside one of its best proponents of recent years. Likewise Marquez who, as Fonty said above, is very, very good in Ashton's fleet-footed choreography. She is my favourite Lise and I was mighty impressed with her in SV a few years ago. I also very much like her Titania. I can understand why Kevin O'Hare wants to give the new generation the chance to dance these fiendishly difficult ballets, but perhaps one veteran and two newbies might have been the way to go with Symphonic.

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