Tuesday, 30 October 2012


New company, NeoBallet, performs its debut programme at The Place next week. Born in Argentina, artistic director Maria Clara Irisarri is much like the self-described ‘bloody-minded’ Tamara Rojo. With no funding, Irisarri is currently using her savings to run NeoBallet but has boundless determination and confidence. “I always wanted to choreograph, and I thought, what am I waiting for? I sometimes feel like I’m dying of a heart attack because of the finances… But I’m very ambitious – I’ll make it happen.”

NeoBallet’s debut show, LIFE!, has three acts encapsulating birth, life and death with film interludes in between dance and music segments. Exploring “a rollercoaster of emotions” through the eyes of a young girl, classical technique is combined with a diverse range of other dance styles and music in Irisarri’s choreography. With less than a week to go, the company is struggling mostly with costume malfunctions and a lack of time to change outfits between sections. But Irisarri remains positive: “If we don’t all make it onstage in time, someone can just do fouetté turns!” with the diversity of things, experiences, ideas, technologies and cultures we find in today’s world. The company utilizes the dynamics of classical ballet and takes them to a new dimension, a more athletic and daring way of movement and expression. As the world constantly evolves and changes, NeoBallet sees the need to change with it. The company finds its inspiration from everything and anything that exists or that doesn’t exist, from the mundane to the inexplicable and from the tangible to the imginary.

NeoBallet also aims to send the message that movement is directly related to a healthy lifestyle, and that the beauty of ballet technique is not restricted to a vastly underweight physique. The company’s choreographic style demonstrates that classically trained dancers are as fierce, strong and free and as they are graceful, elegant and precise.

Drawing from Maria Clara’s multifaceted background not only in the world of ballet but also in the media and arts, the company breaks the boundaries of the conventional experience of watching dance. Bringing visuals, movement, spacing, sound, fashion and design together in synergy, NeoBallet takes the audience through a shifting journey of senses and emotions.
For seven dancers, the ballet opens with robotic techno movements, evolving into passionate tango-inspired pas de deux and then confrontational and athletic contemporary dance. Although the ending symbolises death, Irisarri’s intention is to finish on a high note of release and optimism rather than sadness. “It’s about going back to raw feelings, letting go of petty arguments and realising that life goes on.”
Irisarri hopes that following performances the company will gain funding for a European tour. At the moment, she works part-time in an office as well as running the company; the dancers also have other jobs including teaching and modelling. They currently rehearse three times a week but Irisarri would like the company to run full-time eventually.
“I want ballet to be seen in a new way – fused with other arts and music to make it more commercial. I’d like NeoBallet dancers to model for fashion and sportswear brands and for the company to operate without arts funding, like Cirque de Soleil. I see us having a wider audience than just dance fans, including people who like film and live music. I want ballet to evolve into a more popular art form which people can relate to.

NeoBallet performs at The Place on 5th and 6th November.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Kenneth MacMillan

20 years ago today, British ballet genius Kenneth MacMillan died. He was a controversial choreographer who displayed the harsh realities of life in his works and frequently clashed with the ballet institution. But his works are compelling, emotive and powerful, and when performed with the passion and style he intended, are incredibly beautiful (and my favourites) to watch.

Edward Watson in Mayerling
Photo: Johan Persson
MacMillan is best-known for his full-length ballets, notably Romeo and Juliet, Manon and Mayerling (pictured), and dancers typically love the dramatic challenges they present. For example, Crown Prince Rudolf in Mayerling is a society misfit who rapes his wife on their wedding night and dies in a suicide pact with his mistress – a far cry from the classical prince roles of most ballets. Royal Ballet principal, Marianela Nuñez, describes forgetting about real life for three hours when she dances Juliet: “It’s amazing what you can feel doing a MacMillan role. You can use your own life experiences – his works are so real, so human. His ballets touch your soul and make you grow as an artist.” MacMillan also created a diverse range of one-act pieces – from the wit and playfulness of Elite Syncopations to the darkness and betrayal of The Judas Tree.
The choreographer once stated: “I have to do what I have to do, and I hope the public will like it. If I ever stopped to consider what people wanted, or what I thought they'd like, I'd never do a thing.” As MacMillan is remembered today, I want to thank him for putting his incredible vision into ballets that continue to inspire and delight.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Kevin O'Hare

Kevin O’Hare, Guest Speaker Series, Royal Academy of Dance – 4th October
Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare talked to the Royal Academy of Dance about his performing career and plans for the Royal Ballet company.
O’Hare’s early training was more theatrical that balletic and he was involved in a number of festivals and TV shows, including 1976 film Bugsy Malone. In 1977, he joined White Lodge and later the Royal Ballet Upper School. He describes having a variety of different teachers; some focused on repertoire, some highlighted the importance of technique and placement, and others encouraged characterisation and performance quality. O’Hare wants to commission a similar variety of teachers to work with the Royal Ballet company.
Marianela Nunez in Swan Lake
Photo:Alice Pennefather, courtesy of ROH
On graduating, O’Hare joined Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet) and was promoted to Principal in 1990. He particularly remembers performing the opening night of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in an uncomfortably huge wig. For O’Hare, working with MacMillan was “a career highlight”.
In 2000, aged 35, O’Hare thought it was the right time to stop dancing. He was interested in arts management and took on a training position with the Royal Shakespeare Company. A year later, O’Hare returned to Birmingham Royal Ballet as Company Manager, taking on the same role at the Royal Ballet in 2004.
As artistic director, O'Hare is keen to nurture dancers through their career development post-retirement. O’Hare especially wants to encourage company members to use their expertise within the wider arts world. Indeed, the evening’s discussion opened with a film clip showing the diversity of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire; this was put together by current First Soloist Bennet Gartside who has recently discovered an interest in archiving and digital media.
O’Hare is also keen to use contemporary knowledge and technology to aid dancers in performance. He currently has a team of sports scientists working with the company in strength training.
The Royal Ballet has since opened its 2012/13 season with sell-out performances of Swan Lake (pictured). In November the company takes on modern works by Liam Scarlett, Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon, as well as a triple bill of MacMillan ballets.