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Ludovic Ondiviela, Cassandra, October 2014

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This is emphatically not a review by a knowledgeable ballet lover! Rather it is to help myself get my thoughts together. I hope that more knowledgeable people who have seen this will post rejoinders, corrections etc. It would help me in my desire to learn more about this beautiful and inspiring art form.


This night I attended the first public performance of Cassandra, choreographed by Ludovic Ondiviela. Apparently it is the first full-length ballet that Ondiviela has choreographed. If Cassandra goes on to become a staple of the repertory, and if, as Kevin O'Hare seems to think he might, Ondiviela develops into a major choreographic talent, then I can claim to have been at the World Premiere of his break-through work!


There was prolonged and generous applause at the end, with which I wholeheartedly joined in, as it was, in my opinion, well-deserved.


The applause was especially fervent for Olivia Cowley, who danced the main character. I am really no judge of these matters, but it seemed to me that she danced beautifully. As she is a replacement for the original dancer cast, she would have had less time to learn and rehearse the part, which adds to her achievement.


She strikes me as having a particular quality of beauty - ethereal, rather reserved - which makes her especially suitable to play vulnerable, troubled roles such as Cassandra. Her face is very expressive, and made you feel the inner torments of the character.


My respect for her grows when I read that she herself had difficulties as a child, needing to overcome learning problems (no trace of that now in her informative tweets). She seems to have worked her way up the grades of the Royal Ballet steadily. Ms Cowley should surely be due another promotion soon!


As should Yuhui Choe, who also played a major part in Cassandra. I found her totally charming, as I had in the few times I had seen her in youtube videos. She is neat, pretty, and graceful in all she does. I especially enjoyed a scene where she is dancing in front of a backdrop which has a film of her dancing in the same costume, and almost, but not quite, the same sequences. She interacts with her filmed image in a "false mirror" sort of way. A semi-humorous interlude in what is basically a disturbing and sombre-themed ballet.


The three other women dancers were all good, especially Mara Galeazzi, who has the important role of Cassandra's mother.


I must confess that I didn't pay as much attention to the male dancers. As far as I could tell they didn't let the side down. In particular, all the lifts, and there were quite a few, looked secure.


The composer of the music, Ana Silvera, also takes an important part in the performance, coming on the stage and singing. Besides her, there is a simple, but effective combination of keyboards, violin, and cello. The music itself I thought beautiful and appropriate.


How does Cassandra work as a whole?


Well, it kept me awake! I suffer from sleep apnoea, which has got worse as I get older - and I all too often fall asleep, even if I am watching, say, a football match on TV. The fact that Cassandra didn't send me to sleep is a strong plus point for me.


However, I did suffer on one or two occasions from a "wandering mind". To be honest, it wasn't always clear to me the relevance of certain sequences to the overall theme of the ballet. That must be my fault rather than that of the choreographer. I have had similar experiences with some of the few "modern" ballets I've seen (some actually by now quite ancient), so perhaps I need to learn how to "read" them better.


I also had an extraordinary experience in one section of Cassandra, when I was overcome by a sense of unreality, as if I was seeing a sort of vision, and could hardly feel I was seated in the Linbury watching something. I regard that as a positive experience, and as a plus mark for Cassandra, that for a few moments it seemed to take me out of myself.


However, I cannot say that Cassandra had anything like the same overwhelming effect on me as watching Manon (on film) did. But then very few other artistic works have done so.


It was nice to see Kevin O'Hare attending the performance, clearly giving encouragement to Ludovic Ondiviela. I hope Ondiviela will go on to justify his decision to quit dancing for full-time choreography. If the applause at the end is anything to go by, he stands a good chance of success.


Thanks to anyone who has bothered to read to the end of my ramblings. If anyone else has seen this work, I'd be interested in their opinion.

Edited by FrankH
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Frank, many thanks for posting your thoughts on Cassandra. Sadly I don't think I am going to be able to get to see it this first time round, so hearing what you and others think of the piece is most interesting and enlightening for those of us who can't be there.

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I was at the final dress rehearsal yesterday, to take a few photos. and here are some of them....

Gary Avis, Mara Galeazzi
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

Olivia Cowley, Romany Pajdak
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

Olivia Cowley, Thomas Whitehead
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

See more...
Set from DanceTabs - Royal Ballet: Cassandra
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

By kind permission of the Royal Opera House

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I've had time to reconsider my original post. It seems rather arrogant for an ignorant newcomer to start a new topic, but there didn't seem to be a thread starting on Cassandra. It was also rather arrogant for me to suggest that Olivia Cowley and Yuhui Choe should be promoted - it was an immediate emotional response. I am certainly not qualified to make such suggestions.


Thanks to DanceLinks, I have now read five professional reviews of Cassandra - Jenny Gilbert (Arts Desk), Sanjoy Roy (Guardian), Graham Watts (London Dance Centre), Jann Parry (DanceTabs), and Louise Levene (FT).


It is interesting how different the reviews are. All find features to praise, especially the actual dancing. All find questionable aspects in the work as a whole - but often differ as to what these are. I found something to agree with in each review, and learnt something from all of them. Jenny Gilbert and Jann Parry are especially illuminating and thought-provoking. Sanjoy Roy and Louise Levene seem to me to be the most negative. Just reading them would not inspire me to spend much time and money to see Cassandra. The others are more encouraging. Graham Watts comes closest to my own reactions. He too sees the ethereal quality in Olivia Cowley. And he sees the Yuhui Choe "mirror duet" as a refreshing moment of humour - Roy on the other hand regards it as "bizarre" - puncturing the sense of tragedy. Indeed there are enough"contradictions" between the reviewers to stress the inevitable subjectivity in artistic appreciation. For instance, is Ana Silvera's music "vapid" (Levene), or "often more telling than the action" (Parry)? Is the ballet to some extent "under-choreographed" (Roy), or is Ludovico Ondiviela "over-powering" the choreography (Watts)?


Perhaps many of these "contradictions" are only apparent rather than real. Mental derangement, by its very nature, must be a difficult subject on which to base a coherent work of art. Ondiviela deserves praise for having the courage to tackle such a subject. Understandably at this stage in his career, it doesn't entirely come off. But Watts, for one, has no doubts that Ludovico Ondiviela "will quickly become a choreographer in demand".


As for Olivia Cowley, all are unanimous in praise for her dancing. Parry goes as far as to say that Ondiviela "has found a future star in Olivia Cowley". For me, she stood out - in a quiet way - even in the live RB class broadcast on World Ballet Day. It would be very pleasing to see Parry's prediction come true.


I agree absolutely with Louise Levene on the uncomfortable nature of the Linbury as it is at present.

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Do carry on posting Frank! I enjoyed your own review and analysis of the contrasting reviews very much. I too wonder why there aren't more Cassandra responses, but I shall throw mine into the mix! You're very right that the reviews are so strangely contradictory, most probably as you infer, because of subjectivity around mental health.


Despite the uniform praise for Cowley, I actually didn't find her outstanding. Don't get me wrong, her dancing was excellent, she was very emotive, but I didn't think to dwell on it because I can somehow see other dancers doing an equally fine job, perhaps even better. I feel like the choreography was most responsible for her performance, and that emotion-wise she only needed to furnish them with some hesitance or far-off glances. It was moving, beautiful, but not captivating. I found myself being much more intrigued by Galeazzi and Avis, who seemed to say something a little extra than what the choreography scripted. Maybe I'm biased because I was already looking very much forward to Cuthbertson in the role. Plus I'm far more given to maturer dancers.


I personally was most appreciative of the choreography and the music, which I suppose I don't know how to encapsulate any differently than what I've written here!

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Thanks for kind remarks on my posts.


I don't suppose he's read them, but I must apologise to Monsieur Ondiviela for getting his first name wrong in my last post - it should of course be "Ludovic". I got it right first time round!

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