Friday, 31 May 2013

May 2013 Round-up


Other writing:

A review of English National Ballet's Choreographics on Londondance
A review of Northern Ballet's The Great Gatsby on Londonist

Northern Ballet in The Great Gatsby
Photo: Bill Cooper
A review of Bern Ballett's Witch-Hunt on Londondance
A write-up of the National Choreographers' Conference on Dance Tabs

A review of The Place Prize (p.47) in Dancing Times, June issue

And Dance UK's May e-news

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Ballet with a Bump

English National Ballet Junior Soloist Kei Akahoshi gave birth to a baby boy, Luca, earlier this month. I spoke to her back in April about being a ballerina with a bump…

LD: What is it like dancing and being pregnant?
 
KA: At the very beginning, I was dancing and didn’t know I was pregnant. I was doing Swan Lake – which is four acts and very hard work for female dancers – and then I was in the Olympic Closing Ceremony. I had no idea I was carrying a little person with me!
I found out I was pregnant during our Summer holidays. I wanted to carry on performing and especially go on tour with the company but I had really bad morning sickness. It’s called morning sickness but it happens all day. I couldn’t dance onstage as I didn’t know when I’d be feeling ill, but I carried on taking class and rehearsing and have gradually cut back. I’m now just doing Pilates and a bit of barre work.
 
LD: How have you found being pregnant has affected your body image?
 
KA: It’s so strange getting bigger. It’s not something I’m used to as I’ve been a professional dancer for ten years. My costumes didn’t fit anymore!
I think dancers are more aware of their bodies than most people. I’ve struggled at times with the change to my shape – it feels very strange. Before if I put on weight, I would feel it, without weighing myself, and then lose it quite easily by doing a bit of extra work. Now my weight is changing and I can’t do anything about it. Non-dancing ladies tell me my bump is small but in the company, everyone thinks I’m huge.
Being pregnant is a normal human thing and it’s lovely to do. I’m feeling happy with my bump and the life growing inside me.
 
LD: Your husband is English National Ballet Soloist Daniel Jones. With such strong ballet genetics, do you think the baby might have a career as a dancer ahead?
 
KA: Of course he will dance! But I want him to try everything – like music and martial arts. Daniel is also into digital art and technology so I’m sure that will be important for our child too.
 
LD: How will you manage being a mum as well as having a high-pressure career as a dancer?
 
KA: It will be tough to get back into performing after the time off. After any break, it’s hard to get back and being pregnant means taking longer off than for most injuries.
But I love dancing and I love using my body, so I can’t wait to get back. I’m looking forward to being able to run, jump and dance again!

Friday, 24 May 2013

RBS Character Dance Teachers' Course

Character Dance Teachers' Course, Royal Ballet School - reviewed on 21st May

A version of this blog has also been published on the Royal Ballet School's website news.

Over six days, teachers from across the world have been at the Royal Ballet School learning Maria Fay's character dance training method, which Ninette de Valois brought to the school in 1955.

The course is led by Amanda Maxwell, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet’s Ballet for All, London Festival Ballet and Northern Ballet, who studied under Fay and now teaches character to RBS students aged 16-18. The course guides teachers through the principals of Hungarian, Polish and Russian dance, so that they can pass on the training to their own advanced students.


I visited the school to observe as Maxwell coached Russian sequences. She was keen to convey the emotional feeling and story behind the style: "You're not aristocrats and you're not peasants, but you know your place in society. Think of the Petrushka nursemaids."

She also highlighted the movement dynamics, from delicate dotting steps to the drama and surprise of sudden pirouettes: "Nothing works as a dramatic moment unless it comes from the soul."

Maxwell described the intentions of Fay's character training: "It was important that her method wasn't frightening to classical dancers and that it didn't bulk out the muscles. But it needed to have the right feeling of folklore dance.

"The teaching provides a different way of looking at movement, a different emphasis. It also increases students' musical understanding. Everything is designed to enhance classical ballet training."

It is wonderful that the Royal Ballet School are not only continuing this heritage within their own training but also passing on the methods to external dance teachers. I wish I could have stayed for the whole course and joined in myself.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Alina Cojocaru Gala: An Evening for Hospices of Hope

Alina Cojocaru Gala: An Evening for Hospices of Hope, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 12th May

Alina Cojocaru in La Sylphide at the Royal Opera House
Photo: Johan Persson, courtesy of ROH
Royal Ballet principal Alina Cojocaru is undoubtedly dedicated to charity Hospices of Hope, which is currently building an adult hospice in her hometown of Bucharest. Few dancers would have the drive or determination to put together a fundraising gala, let alone one at Sadler's Wells with a numerous internationally-renowned performers taking part for free, but Cojocaru did – and the results were a delight.

There were many highlights, but here are my top five:

1. Royal Ballet dancers Francesca Hayward and James Hay performing the Flower Festival in Genzano – an attractively light, bouncy and effortless pas de deux 

2. Ballet 101, performed by the Mariinsky’s Xander Parish – this is Eric Gauthier’s humorous homage to classical ballet, in which 101 positions become increasingly complex and rapid sequences. It’s hard to describe but you can see it performed by Jason Reilly here

3. The incredibly impressive violinist Charlie Siem, who performed  Carmen’s Fantaisie Brillante as well as accompanying Cojocaru, Steven McRae and Marcelino Sambe in Les Lutins 
 
4. Les Lutins, a beautiful and incredibly musical pas de trois by Johan Kobborg in which two men attempt to triumph over both each other and the music in pursuit of a girl, with wonderfully amusing results

5. A dynamic and emotive Dying Swan by Paris Opera Ballet’s Isabelle Ciaravola
 
Further highlights were from students of Floria Capsali Choreography High School, who performed Kobborg’s charming Salute, and Dutch National Ballet’s Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova in a pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella.
 
Having been recently injured, Cojocaru's own performance of Sleeping Beauty's Rose Adage (which opened the evening) was a little wobbly, but the fact that she attempted such notoriously difficult choreography is a testament to her passion for Hospices of Hope, and she filled the stage with her infectious sense of joy and pleasure in dancing. The humility and gratitude Cojocaru expressed at the end of her show as she thanked the audience was equally heartfelt. "Words are too poor for how I feel right now. Your support means the world.”
 
The gala was an inspiring evening put together by an inspiring woman.
 
For further information about Hospices of Hope, see www.hospicesofhope.co.uk.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Ugly Duckling

Ugly Duckling, Northern Ballet, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 17th May
Ugly (Isabella Gasparini) and Ducklings
Photo: Martin Bell
Northern Ballet's 45-minute Ugly Duckling was performed at Sadler's Wells last week during their London season of The Great Gatsby. I snuck out from the office in my lunch break to see how the company's renowned dance-actors would handle the challenges of a children's show.

For a cast of six, the ballet takes inspiration from the familiar tale of a misplaced cygnet who is rejected by her duckling siblings and struggles to find where she belongs. The delightful choreography, by Northern Ballet dancers Dreda Blow and Sebastian Loe, sees lead character Ugly, danced to perfection by Isabella Gasparini, meet frogs, cats and even a fox before she finds her true calling as a swan.
 
The ballet is beautifully-crafted and well-performed, with  jumping frogs, waddling ducklings and many other charming characters forming a seamless, easy-to-follow and entertaining narrative. Costume designs by Julie Anderson and the score by John Longstaff, played live by four musicians, are also excellent.
 
Ugly and Frogs
Photo: Martin Bell
Ugly Duckling was clearly loved by the youngsters and parents in the audience and the commentary provided by the little girl in the row behind me only enhanced the ballet's appeal. As Ugly struggled to find friends, the four-year-old whispered "I think she should make friends with a kangaroo... or she could be friends with me!" (When the Fox came onstage later, she proudly declared: "I knew there would be a kangaroo!")
 
For 45 delightful minutes, I felt like a child myself as I discovered the magic of this sweet ballet. Ugly Duckling can be reviewed in just two words: utterly adorable.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel, Royal Ballet, Linbury Studio Theatre @ ROH - reviewed on 10th May
James Hay and Leanne Cope as Hansel and Gretel
Photo: ROH / Tristram Kenton
Liam Scarlett's latest ballet is a full-length narrative work, Hansel and Gretel. And it has many of the characteristics of the ideal man - it's dark, attractive and mysterious.
 
With a cast of six dancers, Scarlett takes inspiration from the Grimm brothers' fairytale in which a cowardly father and cruel step-mother decide to 'lose' their two children in order to alleviate their poverty. The children end up directionless in the forest, before being found by a cannibalistic witch and having to burn her alive to escape. In the ballet's programme, Scarlett describes how he loves the fact that at every turn the characters, whether good or bad, "commit horrific crimes to get what they want".

Based on this idea, what is created is interesting but feels incomplete. Whilst characters have real depth, Scarlett's modified storyline lacks structure. And as much as I love the fact that this ballet is open to wildly different interpretations, the lack of definitive narrative is, for me, its greatest weakness.
 
The Linbury Studio Theatre is dramatically transformed by Jon Bausor's designs which divide the performance space into a series of enclosed and restrictive spaces. The set tells a story in itself, with a large peeling poster advertising Fairy Cakes, broken barbed wired and a sign indicating that Hansel and Gretel's house is for sale by 'desperate' owners.

 
Steven McRae as The Sandman
Photo: ROH / Tristram Kenton
In this evocative and claustrophobic-feeling space, we are introduced to a 1950s dysfunctional family set-up - a pair of lively children (danced charmingly by Leanne Cope and James Hay), their drunken, disinterested Father (Bennet Gartside) and a slutty, self-absorbed and suspender-wearing Mother (Laura Morera). At night, Steven McRae's Sandman - a terrifying plastic-haired human 'doll' - then appears from the fridge and lures Hansel and Gretel along the (unfortunately short) journey to the Witch's house.

The Witch (Brian Maloney) is male, wears a patterned sweater and lives inside a ramshackle shed in which a corpse lies motionless on the floor. The character is therefore more a lonely serial killer or paedophile (making sad reference to recent news stories) than the broomstick-bearing and black-hatted witches traditionally found in fairytales.

From here, the narrative becomes less and less clear. With the Witch, the children drink imaginary tea and cuddle furry toys before having their faces painted to look like dolls and being tied to chairs and locked in cages. Meanwhile, Mum and Dad search unconvincingly for their offspring and the Sandman scuttles hauntingly around the Witch's lair.

I am keen to use my imagination to interpret stories and movement, but this ballet left me with more confused questions than curious interpretive possibilities. For example, who is the Sandman?  What are the Witch's history and intentions? In what time frame does the action take place? And why does the slutty child-hating Mother bother to search for Hansel and Gretel at all?

Laura Morera and Bennet Gartside as Mother and Father
Photo: ROH / Tristram Kenton
With this aside, I asked myself whether I enjoyed the ballet. And the answer is yes, with a but. I liked trying to unpick the story and work out the complex characters' thoughts and motivations although there was undoubtedly too much unpicking to do. There were also some interesting choreographic moments, though any dancing was outshone by the intrigue of the narrative.

Nevertheless, Scarlett's ballets continue to entice with their dark themes, intricate characters and well-crafted pas de deux. I look forward to seeing what he does next.