Tuesday, 31 March 2015

March Round-up

Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentova
in the Russian Ballet Icons Gala
Photo: Marc Haegeman
This month I have written blogs about Natalia Osipovainterpretations of the title role in the Royal Ballet's Onegin, the Royal Ballet's Four Temperaments triple bill, the Anne Maguire Gala, Spring Celebration (a collaboration between four leading ballet schools), and Candoco Dance Company's The Show Must Go On.

Other writing:

A review of the Nureyev and Friends gala DVD for Dance UK
A review of Rasta Thomas's Romeo and Juliet for Londonist
A review of the Russian Ballet Icons Gala for Bachtrack
A review of English National Ballet's Modern Masters for Londonist
A review of Shobana Jeyasingh's Bayadère: the ninth life for Londonist

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Four Temperaments Triple Bill

The Four Temperaments/ Untouchable/ Song of the Earth, the Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 27th March

Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
Sandwiched between George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth was Hofesh Shechter’s first creation for the Royal Ballet. 

Filled with his trademark movements – including hunched upper backs, feet gliding across the floor, and chest beating – Untouchable looked exactly like the choreographer’s other works (such as his recent the barbarians in love). Company dancers adapted remarkably well to Shechter’s style, with no trace of their ballet training apparent. Disappointingly, however, Shechter's repetitive choreography didn't reflect or benefit from his collaboration with such talented classical dancers.

Regardless, the triple bill was well-performed and showed a company of very versatile artists on top form. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Ann Maguire Gala

Ann Maguire Gala, Royal Ballet dancers and guests, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 22nd March

Emma Maguire in
Monotones I in 2013
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
In memory of her mother, who was murdered last year, Royal Ballet soloist Emma Maguire put together an impressive gala with company colleagues and a few guests at Sadler's Wells on Sunday. Featuring a diverse array of high-quality music and dance that Ann Maguire loved and raising money for an arts education fund in her name, the gala showed that positive things can come from even the most tragic circumstances.
The evening’s highlight was undoubtedly Steven McRae’s tap solo, Czardas, which featured lightning-speed footwork and spins in perfect sync with Vasko Vassilev’s live violin accompaniment. Another new work which sparkled was Musance, Jonathan Watkin’s virtuosic and exuberant choreography for Claire Calvert, Yuhui Choe, Kristen McNally, Luca Acri and Marcelino Sambé to music by the Hackney Colliery Band.
From the Royal Ballet’s existing repertoire, Melissa Hamilton and Gary Avis excelled in Alistair Marriot’s intricate, limb-entwining Lieder pas de deux, whilst Maguire and Bennet Gartside gave a beautiful performance of the second movement of Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows. Former company dancers Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg also shone in a heart-breaking extract from Scarlett’s war-inspired No Man’s Land.
The gala finished with a video in which Royal Ballet dancers spoke about the importance of funding to help the next generation enjoy and participate in the arts. The Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund has already raised more than £78,000 and will provide much-needed grants to help talented young people train in drama, music and dance.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On, Candoco Dance Company, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 20th March

French choreographer Jérôme Bel looks at dance from unusual perspectives, questioning the beauty, meaning and sacrifice involved in making and performing great art. For example, his 2004 Veronique Doisneau reflects on the life of the title dancer as she is about to retire from the Paris Opera corps de ballet. It's an honest and unflinching account of the pain - both physical and mental - of being the company's "human decor" and never making it as a "star".

The Show Must Go On takes a more positive viewpoint, considering how popular music brings communities together and inspires dance. It commences by plunging the audience into total darkness, while 'Tonight' (from West Side Story) and several other songs are played, with lengthy pauses in between. As the lights come up, it becomes apparent that DJ Andrej Gubanov, who's seated at the front of the auditorium, is a rather retro playing-music-in-your-bedroom type of DJ. He's taking each CD in turn from its case, putting it into a CD player and finding the right track. It's a far cry from the current digital age and the simple sounds of the CD player buttons being pressed and plastic cases clicking open bring back happy memories.

Photo: Pedro Machado

Finally, 21 disabled and non-disabled performers come onto stage and stand still, before dancing to 'I like to move it'. One man repeatedly removes and puts on his t-shirt and jeans whilst a woman violently gyrates her pelvis. Other cast members shake their heads, wiggle their bottoms and shrug their shoulders. Some of the dancers are professional whilst others aren't, but the vibrancy of movement is infectious.

The Show Must Go On continues with more lyrical dancing to 'Ballerina girl', a full-cast 'Macarena', a humorous 'Private dancer' stint onstage for the DJ, and a Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet-inspired response to 'My heart will go on'. Then plunged into blackness once again, the Sadler's Wells audience sang along with 'Imagine', 'Yellow submarine' and 'The sound of silence'. There's too much time when the audience is left alone with nothing happening onstage, but when the performers are present, it's hard not to love Bel's creation.

In a glorious finale, the performers wear headphones, listening to a variety of different songs and shouting out at key moments, resulting in a melange of lyrics from "I'm still standing" and "take me to church" to "we are family" and many others. Then, to 'Killing me softly', the cast mouth the words before falling to the floor as if dead. But of course, the show must go on and as the title song plays, the cast take a well-deserved bow.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Natalia Osipova

Natalia Osipova talk, Ballet Association, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church - 11th March
Natalia Osipova, Royal Ballet principal (and my favourite ballerina), was the guest of the Ballet Association on Wednesday. In a fascinating interview, in which she spoke in her native Russian, she explored her extraordinary career - from dreaming of being a doctor to critical acclaim and even breaking Carlos Acosta’s nose! 
Natalia Osipova in Giselle
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
Osipova grew up in a "simple family, without ballet or art". She did gymnastics for four years but then had to stop due to injury: "It was a big tragedy as I wanted to be Olympic champion. My parents sent me to ballet school and it was again a tragedy as I didn't want to do it."
Osipova found ballet easy and was "so bored" that her teachers complained she was always looking out of the window! At the age of 12, she left ballet school for three months to go into mainstream education with dreams of becoming a doctor. When she returned to ballet school, she felt like she "really started dancing" as her class performed a Russian dance in a gala at the Bolshoi Theatre. The experience inspired a lifelong love for being onstage: "I love performing. The energy coming from an audience feels great. It's the most important part of my profession. We work so hard – feeling the appreciation is why we do it. Ballet and preparing roles has become part of my life, without which I cannot live.”
In her final year at ballet school, teachers advised Osipova that the Bolshoi Ballet wouldn't be interested in her, as she was very small and had an "unusual energy". Fortunately the company's directorship changed just as she was graduating. She performed a Spanish character dance for the new director Alexei Ratmansky, and "put so much into it" that he said “you have to join the Bolshoi”. She joined the company in the corps de ballet and had her first major role as Kitri in Don Quixote:
“I was really good in the role. The Bolshoi’s Don Quixote suits me as it has so much energy. It suits my nature. But people thought that if I did Kitri so well, I couldn't do other roles. When I asked to do Giselle or La Sylphide, people thought I was mad. No one thought I could do lyrical parts.”
Ratmansky had a difficult time at the Bolshoi as the company had set traditions and he wanted to do more modern choreography. Older dancers refused to perform in his ballets, so he worked with younger dancers, including Osipova: “His term at the Bolshoi was a fight, but people respected him for not compromising. I was one of the dancers who loved his work so he always chose me for his choreography. At 19, he trusted me to dance Kitri in London. I remember the audience response and will never forget it.”
Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in Don Quixote
Photo: the Mikhailovsky Ballet
Eventually Osipova was allowed to branch out with roles, starting with Giselle: “Ratmansky approached me, said ‘we should do something different’ and offered Giselle. Of course, I immediately said yes. It was very hard preparing the role and I had conflicts with my teacher. I wanted to do something different and Moscow is so conservative.”
Shortly after, the directorship of the Bolshoi changed again and the new director didn’t cast Osipova as Giselle. “But I was invited to do Giselle with American Ballet Theatre in New York and the reviews were so good that the director let me do it again. My life at the Bolshoi was not simple but that’s why I’m so strong. The Bolshoi is my favourite home.”
Having now danced in many different productions of Giselle, Osipova’s preferred version is Peter Wright’s: “At my stage in life, it suits me the most. There is so much tension to the role and it’s the best I can act onstage. It feels very natural. I can show what I feel.” Osipova now has this English approach to the ballet and felt like an “alien” when recently guesting with Steven McRae in Giselle at the Bolshoi:
“The peasants and actors didn’t expect Steven to interact with them onstage. They are used to sitting and watching and were shocked that principals were approaching them. Even my [onstage] mother couldn’t understand what I did. I was looking into her eyes and she said ‘I don’t know what you are trying to say’. She thought I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Osipova performed many other roles at the Bolshoi but has fondest memories of dancing Flames of Paris with Ivan Vasiliev, and the opening night of Johan Kobborg’s La Sylphide. As for why she left the company, it’s a “difficult question”. After Ratmansky left, she didn’t get many new roles. “Everything changed. It didn’t become better or worse – just very different. It was our [Osipova and her onstage and real-life partner of the time, Vasiliev] decision to try something new, so we accepted the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s proposal.”
Natalia Osipova and Carlos Acosta in Swan Lake
Photo: Alice Pennefather / ROH
Osipova performed with the Mikhailovsky for two years, during which time she also guested around the world. In 2012, she performed Swan Lake with Carlos Acosta at the Royal Ballet and then was invited by Kevin O’Hare to join the company full-time. “It wasn’t easy to accept the proposal at the Royal Ballet. I was quite happy to travel and dance everywhere. But I was tired of not being settled and I loved London very much.
“Carlos is a fantastic partner. With just one finger he can lift you. He taught me a lot and I’m so thankful to him. But things didn't start well - in our second rehearsal, I broke his nose! I was spinning very fast and I don’t like to be helped by my partner. He was trying to help me and came very close. I elbowed him and suddenly he was covered in blood. I thought of running away back to Russia. It was very scary as blood was everywhere. But Carlos was laughing and saying ‘you’re so small but you broke my nose’.
“After accepting the contract, my first impressions of London were quite awful. I came from La Scala and had four suitcases. I felt very lonely and lost in the airport. But I pulled myself together and came to the theatre. I didn’t expect the warm reception. Everyone helped me and was so nice and so supportive. I’m living the best time of my life. The company is my family. I have many friends.”
Prior to joining the Royal Ballet, Osipova had always lived with parents, Vasiliev or in hotels, but in London, she was given her own apartment: “I’d never lived by myself. I didn’t know the language and didn’t know how to pay for gas, electricity or anything. At the same time, I had to tune myself to the style of the company. I was trying my best not to show my Russian training and adopt the English style. I watched so many ballet recordings. In this profession, you always have to learn.”
As well as performing the classics, Osipova has danced in several new works with the Royal Ballet, including Wayne McGregor’s Tetractys. “McGregor’s choreography is wonderful. I can relax from the classical technique and do what my body wants to do.” She has, however, been rather accident-prone and suffered several onstage injuries, including falling over during Don Quixote and being unable to complete the performance: “Accidents are part of the profession. We are not robots, we are people. Sometimes my mum says they happen to me too often. I have too much energy and can’t always control it!”
Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding in Onegin
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
One of the things Osipova loves about the Royal Ballet is the quality of partnering: “The amazing thing about the company is the attitude to the ballerina. It’s very caring. Partners ask me ‘is it comfortable for you?’. That’s never happened to me before.  With previous partners, it’s just been ‘come, rehearse, finish’, but here they want to help and do the best for the ballerina.”
Osipova has worked with many of the Royal Ballet’s male dancers, but has recently been paired with Matthew Golding in The Dream and Onegin. “He’s helped me and taught me so much. I now feel like I can express anything onstage because he’s always there. Onegin is very difficult. There are lots of technical supports and if your partner doesn't lift you correctly, you can’t act and be young.”
Last year, Osipova performed alongside Vasiliev in a bill of modern choreography entitled Solo for Two. “I wanted to do something radically different and I thought ‘what has impressed me recently?’. That’s how I chose the three choreographers. I don’t think it’s the best we could have achieved as we didn’t have much time, but the final part of [Arthur Pita’s] Facada – dancing on Ivan’s grave [a table with him lying underneath] – was amazing. The energy was something you can’t have in classical dance. When I started doing it, Ivan was scared – he’d never been scared so much in his life!
“I love performing modern choreography. It’s so important to have a classical and modern mix. I’m negotiating for a solo programme at Sadler’s Wells next summer, dancing with partners that the choreographers choose. “
Having come from a full day of “very tiring” rehearsals for The Four Temperaments, Woolf Works and Swan Lake, Osipova clearly felt – though didn’t look – exhausted. “At the same time, this is my favourite job and I’m happy to be so busy. When I ring my mum and complain about how tired I am, she says ‘but you love it – you don’t want to clean floors!’. All these roles I’m doing – Juliet, Manon, Tatiana – I dreamed of them, and now I’m dancing them.”

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Spring Celebration

Spring Celebration, Royal Ballet School, Central School of Ballet, Elmhurst School for Dance and English National Ballet School, Linbury Studio @ ROH - reviewed on 7th March
Taking place instead of a 2015 edition of Young British Dancer of the Year, Spring Celebration demonstrated the skills of students at four leading UK ballet schools – the Royal Ballet School (RBS), Central School of Ballet, Elmhurst School for Dance and English National Ballet School. Following an informal ballet class conducted onstage while audience members took their seats, RBS director Christopher Powney described the evening's value in terms of training institutions "collaborating, not competing". Such collaboration was evident most particularly in the bill’s finale, a new piece of choreography by Michaela Polley featuring dancers from all four schools.
Leticia Dias Domingues in Classical Symphony
at the 2014 Royal Ballet School annual matinee
Photo: Johan Persson
The evening’s highlight came in the form of David Bintley’s vibrant Orpheus Suite performed by students from Elmhurst. To jazzy music of the same name, male dancers showed their athleticism in an array of dynamic and high-energy leaps and spins. The school also excelled in Ana Garcia’s Transito, a flamenco piece featuring rapid footwork and beautiful live guitar accompaniment.
Liam Scarlett’s Classical Symphony – which I didn’t particularly enjoy in the Royal Ballet School’s annual matinee last year – worked well in the programme as a showcase of British training. RBS students demonstrated their sparkling technique and were led expertly by a captivating and expressive Leticia Dias Domingues.
Polley’s Nexus provided a fitting end to the evening and was remarkably slick considering the four schools had only come together the day before. To an upbeat score by Philip Feeney, the virtuosic work showed both contemporary ballet and young British dancers at their best.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Onegin Interpretations 2015

Onegin, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 30th January and 27th February

When the Royal Ballet performed Onegin in 2013, I wrote about differences in interpretation of the leading female role. For 2015, as well as a blog about the ballet’s insight evening, six facts about the novel that inspired it and a review of the Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding cast, I’m comparing interpretations of the title (male) role.
Federico Bonelli and Laura Morera
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
Golding performed Onegin exceptionally well, giving a fairly typical interpretation of the character. He was cold and aloof in Acts I and II, toying with Tatiana for his pleasure and then dropping her when he had had enough. In the final act, Golding’s Onegin was weak and vulnerable, and he desperately sought comfort from the beautiful and confident woman that Osipova’s Tatiana had become.
In contrast, Federico Bonelli had an unusual but equally compelling interpretation. His Onegin genuinely loved Laura Morera’s Tatiana, but pulled away – trying to be ‘cruel to be kind’ – because of his all-encompassing mental disturbance. When he rejected Tatiana and tore up her love letter, he even affectionately squeezed her shoulders as if to apologise for his actions.
In Act III, Bonelli’s Onegin became desperately aware that he had made a mistake, begging Tatiana to love him again. Older and having recovered (at least to some degree) from his psychological problems, the final pas de deux was a heartfelt attempt to express the ardour he’d felt for Tatiana for many years.