Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Rite of Spring Workshop

Workshop: The Rite of Spring, English National Ballet, London Coliseum – reviewed on 24th March

On the London Coliseum stage, ten participants were guided through a workshop inspired by Kenneth MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring. English National Ballet learning officer, Danielle Jones, incorporated elements of the tribal choreography into the typical exercises of a ballet technique class. To gorgeous piano music from Rite’s score, movements included stomach contractions, splayed fingers and turned-in feet alongside pliés, sautés and grands battements.

Danielle encouraged participants to feel their bodies being pulled simultaneously in different directions and to perform jumps with the heavy, pounding-into-the-floor feeling of the choreography. “The Rite of Spring is not pretty in any way – it’s angry and aggressive.” Ballet-trained participants struggled to master the tricky style but were kept thoroughly amused throughout class as they attempted to transform themselves into a sacrificial tribe.

ENB are performing the 1962 ballet as part of their Beyond Ballets Russes season. To bring it up to date, the piece has been redesigned with black and red bodysuits replacing the original autumnal colours and giving the choreography a darker and more menacing feel. Workshop participants had the chance to look at these costumes alongside outfits for other ballets in the programme including Firebird and Suite en Blanc. The morning’s activities were completed with a chance to watch company dancers in class as they prepared for the day’s performances.

MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring is a fabulous ballet that challenges the classical lexicon with its hostility and drama. It is a hugely powerful work and I wish more people had been able to come and explore its choreography under the expert guidance of English National Ballet’s learning department.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

ENB Masterclass

Masterclass: Apollo/ Suite en Blanc, English National Ballet, Markova House – reviewed on 15th March
English National Ballet friends and benefactors enjoyed the chance to observe rehearsals for the upcoming Beyond Ballets Russes season in a Masterclass at Markova House.
ENB in Apollo
Photo: Annabel Moeller
Balanchine Trust repetiteur Nanette Glushak took dancers through the opening section of Apollo, a ballet which she describes as “classic but modern”. Vadim Muntagirov is performing the title role earlier than planned due to another dancer’s injury and so urgently needs rehearsal time. Glushak complimented him on his power and finesse, advising the three muses (Senri Kou, Adela Ramirez and Erina Takahashi) to allure him with their femininity. Apollo should in turn be entranced by the gorgeous women, looking at them as if to say “these babes are all for me”.
Glushak described working with Balanchine as being “in the presence of genius”. His works are all about musicality and he believed that only people who could read music should be choreographers. Working for the Balanchine Trust is a huge responsibility as Glushak stages his works for numerous ballet companies. She sometimes feels the choreographer’s spirit in the studio and thinks Balanchine is watching over his works.
Company artistic advisor Maina Gielgud then took Begoña Cao through the Cigarette solo from Suite en Blanc, where movements carve out the shapes of smoke rings. Gielgud highlighted important moments, including Don Quixote poses and wrist flicks that are like tossing a cigarette into an ashtray.
At three and a half minutes in length, the solo is much more protracted and strenuous than most female variations. Cao stated “it’s not easy at all” and Gielgud encouraged her to curl her body over with movements to conserve energy. The ending involves a number of rapid entrechat sixes (beated jumps) and balances. Cao wasn’t happy with her performance but Gielgud reminded her of the importance of not becoming “so obsessed with details that the joy of dancing is lost”, as the audience enjoys the dynamism of the choreography more than technique.
Gielgud stages Suite en Blanc across the world and knows the ballet very well; she will be taking it to San Francisco next. She worked with choreographer Serge Lifar herself and describes him as a “wonderful, Russian, extraordinary” person. She loves Suite en Blanc because it encourages pleasure in music and dancing and “gives so much to everyone in all ranks of the company”.
The evening was rounded off by ENB Director of Learning, Fleur Derbyshire-Fox, thanking the repetiteurs and dancers for their insight into the rehearsal and staging process.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Spring Passion

Daphnis and Chloë/ The Two Pigeons, Birmingham Royal Ballet, London Coliseum – reviewed on 14th March
Frederick Ashton provides the passion for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s double bill at the London Coliseum. Love is lost and found (and then lost and found again) in two charming works by the famed British choreographer.
Daphnis and Chloë tells the story of a couple in Ancient Greece. Despite the lovers being split by fervent admirers and a band of pirates, they are reunited through divine intervention to enjoy a happy ending. Ashton’s choreography is frivolous and fun, from feisty moustache men displaying their muscles to elegant floaty-winged nymphs. Jenna Roberts is radiant as Chloë but partner Jamie Bond lacks her expressiveness. Gorgeous music by Maurice Ravel and lovely designs by John Craxton accompany this sweet ballet.

In The Two Pigeons, a young painter is tired of his humdrum life and abandons his fiancée for an enticing gypsy, before repenting and returning home to his forgiving sweetheart. The title refers to the fable on which the ballet is based, but Ashton takes the bird metaphor quite literally, using wing-flapping and neck-protruding avine choreographic references and live pigeons onstage.

Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers make the characters authentic and appealing. Carol-Anne Millar is a vibrant and charismatic Gypsy Girl, and leads Ambro Vallo and Chi Cho make a tender couple, particularly shining in the final lyrical pas de deux.

This is a double dose of passion performed with excellence. In this gloomy March weather, it brings some much needed Spring sunshine.

Monday, 12 March 2012

ENB at Tate Britain and Move It

Outreach performances, English National Ballet – reviewed on 2nd March (Tate) and 10th March (Move It)
Beyond Ballets Russes at Tate Britain
Photo: Chris Catalan
English National Ballet are reaching larger and more diverse audiences with their latest performances. A week-long residency at the Tate Britain culminated earlier this month in a showing of three new short ballets. Choreographed by James Streeter, Stina Quagebeur and Hubert Essakow, the experimental works were inspired by Picasso’s paintings which are currently on display at the museum.
Proving more popular than the company had clearly envisaged, thousands of people packed into the small standing-room only gallery with little chance of appreciating choreography concealed on a nonsensically low stage. I saw only an occasional dancer’s arm or leg emerge from behind the heads of the people in front, and left most disappointed not to have been able to fully enjoy the event. The Tate programme was a fabulous idea that didn’t quite come off.

ENB gave another dramatic performance over the weekend at dance festival Move It, with a similarly large audience but a higher and more-visible stage. Dancers performed with Britain’s Got Talent stars Flawless in a dynamic street and ballet fusion. With back-flips and head-spinning, the show was more acrobatic than artistic, but it certainly displayed the company’s versatility and vibrance.

Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov performed a more classical pas de deux from Suite en Blanc, which forms part of the upcoming Beyond Ballets Russes season. Despite music being drowned out by crowd noise and interpretive details lost in the enormity of the venue, the couple were both radiant and powerful. They commanded the stage with an elegance and majesty that projected right across Olympia. 

Emerging Dancer winner, Yonah Acosta, also performed a crowd-pleasing Don Quixote solo with effortless strength and precision. Most wonderful to see (from my gallery viewing-position) was Klimentova straining her neck backstage to watch the young Cuban’s performance. Clearly Acosta is a talent that makes even the brightest company stars take notice.
It is great that English National Ballet is finding ways to connect with and display their talent to wider audiences. Hopefully, their outings at the Tate and Move It have inspired a new generation to buy tickets for company performances, which will fund even further work in bringing ballet to the masses.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Emerging Dancer 2012

Emerging Dancer Awards, English National Ballet, Queen Elizabeth Hall – reviewed on 5th March
The purpose of English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Awards is questionable. 2011 winner, Shiori Kase, has hardly seen a dramatic upsurge in her career since last year. She had one performance as the lead in The Nutcracker, but has not been promoted nor undergone much other development in her onstage roles. So what is the competition actually for, if its emerging stars see little professional change post-event?

Yonah Acosta
Photo: Arnaud Stephenson
One of this year’s nominees, Barry Drummond, pointed out that “everything you learn in the process is much more valuable than the result”. And perhaps it is the chance to rehearse and perform two solos to an audience of company members, press and balletomanes that is the prize in itself. Dancers certainly appeared to be enjoying their experience exceedingly.

Yonah Acosta was impressively dynamic in his two classical pieces. He exploded into showy leaps while maintaining precise technique and his numerous pirouettes finished effortlessly with complex balances. Such supreme and polished virtuosity made him the rightful winner of Emerging Dancer 2012.

Ksenia Ovsyanick’s castanet-wielding Don Quixote was also deserving of praise; fiery and passionate, she appeared stronger than ever before. The evening's highlight, however, was Nancy Osbalsden’s exuberant ballet-cabaret creation, Sway. In a sparkling red leotard and marcel wave wig, she strutted, spun and jumped with sexiness and jollity exuding from every inch of her body. The choreography was musical, full of personality and richly able to display Osbalsden’s charisma and charm. Other solos were technically well-executed, with a few wobbles on pointe and a lack of attack in the contemporary choreography being my only complaints.

Dancers prepare for the competition in the minimal free time they have amidst a busy rehearsing and performing schedule.  A number of nominees highlighted its benefits in challenging and displaying their capabilities. But I am left feeling that their hard work is pointless if it isn't ultimately rewarded with career progression.

Emerging dancer judge and critic for The Financial Times, Clement Crisp, described the awards as “absolutely inspiring. We are looking at the future.” It is great to see English National Ballet’s younger and often unnoticed dancers have a chance to shine. Now the company needs to find more ongoing opportunities for them to showcase their wonderful talents.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 3rd March
Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg
Photo:  Dee Conway, courtesy of ROH
Passion, violence and tragedy are Kenneth MacMillan’s favourite subjects. No wonder Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers and swordfights made for such an appealing theme. There are numerous other versions of the ballet, but MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, created in 1965, remains the definitive one. 

A staple of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, it’s loved by dancers for its intense acting roles and is always guaranteed to sell tickets. Real-life lovers Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg bring a delightful playfulness and freshness to the title roles. Their balcony scene is filled with unadulterated joy as they teasingly reach for each other’s hands and seem to giggle with teenage excitement and inexperience.
They imbue the choreography with happiness, innocence and charm. It is only in Act 3 that the reality of their situation becomes apparent and they are drawn suddenly and powerfully into adulthood. Cojocaru makes her decision to take the sleeping potion a desperate and horrifying one. The audience can almost read Juliet’s thoughts as she displays every minute and agonising emotion of the character.
An excellent supporting cast complete the picture. Ricardo Cervera as Mercutio is dramatic and dynamic and Johannes Stepanek makes an attractive Paris. Genesia Rosato is an endearing nurse and harlot Kristen McNally is both enticingly seductive as well as vulnerable. But it is Cojocaru and Kobborg that make this ballet so utterly irresistible and heartbreaking.