Sunday, 29 September 2013

September 2013 Round-Up

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in Indigo Rose
Photo: Jane Hobson
This month I have written blogs on West Side Story, fun dance videos to brighten up September, Christmas presents for ballet lovers, and the ROH Don Quixote dress rehearsal.
The third installment of my ballet steps series explores the couru.
Other writing:

A review of the opening night of the GOlive festival on Londondance
A review of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet on Londonist
A piece on English National Ballet Head of Costume, Wizzy Sawyer (p.17), and a review of Step LIVE (p.77) in Dancing Times, October issue
And, of course, Dance UK's September e-news including a feature on Richard Alston

Don Quixote Dress Rehearsal

Don Quixote dress rehearsal, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 28th September
Mayara Magri, Pietra Mello-Pittman, Claudia Dean, Sabina Westcombe,
Carlos Acosta and Benjamin Ella rehearsing Don Quixote. Photo: Andrej Uspenski / ROH
As this was a dress rehearsal rather than a performance, I can't write a full review, but I enjoyed Carlos Acosta's new production of Don Quixote so much that I felt compelled to blog!
I am not really a Don Q fan, thinking it a silly and laborious story, but the narrative in this version is so clear, well-constructed and convincingly performed that it makes the work a real pleasure. The sets and costumes are superb, although a minor criticism would be that scene changes are often too noticeable with houses sliding repeatedly across the stage. The atmosphere onstage, however, is nothing short of spectacular - as the corps de ballet click, clap and shout 'olé', there is a really vibrant feel that it is impossible not to enjoy.

In the title role, Gary Avis was his usual captivating self, acting charmingly and and finding a great sense of humour in the choreography. There were also some other great supporting performances - Anna Rose O'Sullivan was a bright and sprightly Cupid, and Thomas Whitehead (Gamache) and Jonathan Howells (Don Quixote's Squire) played their comic characters with excellence.
Photo: ROH/ Johan Persson
The Royal Ballet has lost many of its star dancers recently, with the retirements of Mara Galeazzi and Leanne Benjamin and then the sudden departure of Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. Left without an in-house partner, Steven McRae is performing Don Quixote alongside Staatsballett Berlin principal Iana Salenko, and it was this pair that took to the stage as the leads for the dress rehearsal.

While they have had little rehearsal time as yet and so their partnering was wobbly at times, individually both McRae and Salenko shone. The former's firework leaps and spins were an undoubted crowd-pleaser and the latter's beautiful coquettish smile, impressive balance and elegant, long lines delighted equally. What was perhaps even more enjoyable in this cast is how McRae flirted with Kitri's friend, danced by his real-life wife, Elizabeth Harrod, and then had to insist she meant nothing to him!

Acosta descrives the ballet as "very uplifting" with "big jumps and big dancing". As the first work of the Royal Ballet 2013/14 season, Don Quixote has a real bang and gives the company a great start to the year ahead.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Christmas Presents for Ballet Lovers

It's only 100 days until 25th December and therefore time to start thinking about Christmas presents! Here are my suggestions for great gifts for ballet lovers:
1. Theatre tickets
The best gift has to be tickets to a live ballet performance, especially if you can get a nice pair of seats and enjoy the evening with a couple of glasses of champagne! If you're not sure which show to choose though, theatre tokens offer a good alternative.
Released on 22 October, this is an insight into the world of internationally-renowned star, Natalia Osipova, as she prepared to perform the lead role in Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House last year. With 150 black and white photos by Royal Ballet dancer Andrej Uspenski, I'm sure this will be a great book and a fitting tribute to a superb ballerina.
This documentary follows six aspiring dancers as they enter  one of the world's most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix, in a fascinating showcase of talent and determination.
4. A ballerina pendant
There are lots to choose from, all hand-made from Sterling silver and plated with white gold. I particularly like this one of a grand jeté.
5. Tyrell Katz ballet print items
Tyrell Katz makes a range of useful objects from bags to water bottles and bowls covered in a delightful pink pattern with cartoon figures performing ballet steps and positions (pictured). If you don't know which item would be best, I suggest this rather lovely umbrella.
Featuring five ballets including Tamara Rojo's farewell performance of Marguerite and Armand, this is a DVD that displays both the Royal Ballet's excellence and the incredible talent of choreographer Frederick Ashton.
7. Binoculars
The essential item for any ballet lover who sits in the cheap seats.
8. A ballet poster
The Royal Opera House have lots of lovely ones, but if you fancy something Christmas-themed, try this one of Sarah Lamb in The Nutcracker.
A charming book, with pictures of dancers in all manner of everyday situations from hair salons and bookshops to the beach. It really does celebrate the joy and 'dance' in every day.
10. Ballet-themed bath products
The Royal Ballet have this overpriced but very posh hand and foot cream set, made by Berkeley Square Cosmetics, and there's even a ballet dancer photograph on the box.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Fun Dance Videos

Here are some fun videos to brighten up September!

A little girl does 54 pirouettes:

A baby penguin tap-dancing in the snow aka 'Happy Feet':

Two very talented children (aged six and seven) performing on 'Ukraine's Got Talent':

And, just in case you didn't know that ballet is hard - here is, quite possibly, my favourite video ever!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

West Side Story

West Side Story, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 6th September
Photo: Nilz Bohme
For my companion, the political incorrectness of West Side Story, with its racial and gender stereotypes, proved to be a major stumbling block to enjoyment. But I took the show at face value and found this production by Joey McKneely, currently showing at Sadler's Wells, to be a real delight.

Photo: Nilz Bohme
Originally created in 1957, West Side Story doesn't feel dated. Taking inspiration from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it follows the love between Tony and Maria, who belong to rival New York gangs. It has fabulous music by Leonard Bernstein - a stunning array of vibrant and catchy tunes from 'I feel pretty' to 'Tonight' and 'Maria' - as well as Jerome Robbins's stunning choreography, which is fresh, modern and has particularly wonderful energy in the group dances.

Most importantly, however, is the contemporary relevance of the storyline. As numerous gangs battle for superiority on the streets of cities across the world, with violence, rape and many other horrific methods used for intimidation, the narrative of West Side Story is as poignant as ever. Many aspects of the musical are moving - the lead characters' love has a naïve charm to it, the social rejection felt by the young teens reflects every adolescent's struggle for acceptance, and the tragic and sudden ending brought a tear to my eye (and many other members of the audience too).

A well-rehearsed and talented cast, especially Jessica Soza (Maria), Anthony Festa (Tony) and Penelope Armstead-Williams (Anita), did justice to the superb music, choreography and story. West Side is only at Sadler's Wells until 22 September and it's more or less sold out, but if you can get a ticket, I highly recommend you go.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Ballet Steps: Couru

For the third part of my ballet steps series, I am exploring the couru, which means 'run' in French. Often also referred to as 'bourrée', it is a movement which involves numerous small steps of the feet, usually on pointe, either travelling or on the spot.

Romany Pajdak demonstrates:

Correct technique for a couru involves keeping the head and upper body level, whilst the feet move quickly underneath. This gives the illusion that the dancer is 'floating' in the space. The knees need to be slightly relaxed in order to create the movement, but the legs should appear relatively straight to the audience. The movement is usually performed in 5th position (with crossed feet), but also sometimes in parallel 1st position.
Melissa Hamilton
Photo: Johan Persson

I teach students to couru starting at the barre and on the spot, before travelling sideways along the barre, and then in the centre. The movement should always be taught first on demi-pointe, although once the feet are strong enough to go on pointe, courus become much easier.
If travelling sideways in 5th position, it is important not to look like a 'crab', where there is a gap between the legs. This means instead the legs need to be kept crossed. To do this, I advise students to start the first couru step with the back leg; the front leg then joins the back one on the second step and so on.
Courus are performed almost exclusively by female dancers and feature heavily in a number of ballets. There are lots in The Dying Swan, and the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle has to couru across the entire width of the stage without coming down. Courus are also a common preparation for pirouettes during pas de deux.