Thursday, 30 April 2015

April Round-up

Diana Vishneva in Woman in a Room (part of On the Edge)
Photo: Gene Schiavone

This month I have written blogs about Scottish Ballet's A Streetcar Named Desire, the Royal Ballet's La Fille Mal Gardée, An American in Paris on Broadway and Dance UK's debate about whether ballet is a museum or creative powerhouse.

The latest installment of my ballet steps series explores assemblés.

Other writing:

A review of Diana Vishneva's On the Edge for Londonist
A feature about adult amateur ballet companies in Dancing Times, May issue (p.23)

Saturday, 25 April 2015

La Fille Mal Gardée

La Fille Mal Gardée, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 23rd April

Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
Frederick Ashton's rom-com ballet La Fille Mal Gardée brings a joyous dose of spring sunshine to the Royal Opera House. Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae make an adorable principal couple, dancing with real tenderness and affection (despite misbehaving ribbons!).

Osipova is radiant and captivating in her debut as Lise, although – perhaps due to first-night nerves – a few steps feel overly forceful. McRae is perfection as Colas, impressing particularly with immaculate pirouettes, enormous leaps and detailed characterisation. In the supporting cast, Paul Kay delights as a humorous but loveable Alain and Michael Stojko is an expert lead for the ballet’s charming band of hens.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

An American in Paris

An American in Paris, Palace Theatre (Broadway) - reviewed on 17th April
Photo: Angela Sterling
Two Brits - choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Royal Ballet dancer Leanne Cope - make their Broadway debuts in a theatrical version of the 1951 Gene Kelly film, An American in Paris. Whilst dancing is expectedly superb, it’s the singing and acting talents of Cope and New York City Ballet star Robbie Fairchild that bring the story’s romance and drama captivatingly to life.   

Wheeldon's direction makes everything a dance, with even set changes becoming a leaping, pirouetting delight. Combined with George Gershwin's glorious score and Bob Crowley's vibrant designs, this is a joyous five star production.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ballet: a Museum or Creative Powerhouse?

Ballet: a museum or creative powerhouse? (debate), Dance UK industry-wide conference, Trinity Laban - 11th April

The panel: Kevin O'Hare, Christopher Hampson,
Assis Carreiro, Adolphe Binder and Ismene Brown
As part of the UK’s first ever industry-wide dance conference, a panel - chaired by dance critic Ismene Brown - discussed the state of ballet in 2015. Is it a museum or a creative powerhouse (as per the session’s title), in a good state or in need of reinvention, a success or a failure?
Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare argued that while describing ballet as a museum conjures up images of something outdated and old-fashioned, the preservation and performance of older works is vital:  “The Royal Ballet is custodian of an important classical ballet heritage – the works that grew the company into what it is today…  It’s a balancing act between tradition and innovation.”
Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson said “I love a good museum! But we need to recalibrate our definitions of classical ballet. The current definition is of ballet pre-1950s, but some newer works are now classics.”
For conference creative producer Assis Carreiro, the session’s title was designed to be “a provocation”. When she was director of the Royal ballet of Flanders between 2012 and 2014, she had to balance “performing works that made sense for the company and also filling a big theatre, creating classics of the future and not just asking dancers to reinterpret old works”. For her, companies don’t need to define themselves as ‘classical’ or ‘contemporary’ but simply as ballet companies. “Ballet is a technique and it’s what you do with this technique.”
Hampson described being "nervous" when Scottish Ballet performed Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling, as it was the first ballet company to take on one of Bourne’s creations. But choreographer, dancers and audiences loved the result: “Classical technique brings a new flavour – a language – to the work. It’s something different.”
In Inverness, one of Scottish Ballet’s main touring cities, the average audience journey time to see the company is 90 minutes, with many people travelling from further afield and staying overnight. “The weight of responsibility [to provide a work that will please audiences] is huge,” stated Hampson. As Scottish Ballet is Scotland’s national dance company, it has to “cater to public taste” but is also a well-trusted and highly regarded brand. “We’re creating opportunities for audiences with new works.”
Marianela Nunez in Aeternum
Photo: Johan Persson / ROH
For O’Hare, “it’s heartening that people are embracing the new but that we can also balance this with our heritage. New works take an extra push in marketing but they do sell out”. In 2013-14, the Royal Ballet sold 98% of tickets, and O’Hare believes “dancers are stronger in Sleeping Beauty [and other classical ballets] for having worked with Wayne McGregor and other modern choreographers”.
Another of ballet’s key priorities is in reaching new audiences. O’Hare described the Royal Ballet's cinema programme as serving to “build up the whole dance sector”, developing interest in the art form and inspiring people to visit local theatres and see other ballet/dance companies. In terms of offering value for money for the public subsidy it receives, O’Hare asked people to “look at the audiences we’re reaching… Come and see us at Thurrock with the Chance to Dance programme. Go to Northampton and see us in the cinema. And then come and see us at the Royal Opera House in the slips!”
So is ballet a museum or a creative powerhouse? Whilst the panel made no conclusion, it’s clear that it is both. Ballet needs to balance the conservation of heritage works – which can’t simply be ‘stored’, as they only exist in performance – with the creation of new choreography for the 21st Century. And perhaps it also needs to be less concerned with labels, and focus simply on engaging audiences - old and new alike - with the diversity of ballet as a modern art form.

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scottish Ballet, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 31st March

Eve Mutso and Tama Barry
Photo: Scottish Ballet
A full-length ballet by a female choreographer is all too rare these days. But Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s A Streetcar Named Desire flies a brilliant flag for the quality of work by this often overlooked gender.

Performed excellently by Scottish Ballet with Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin at the helm, choreography cleverly conveys the narrative of Tennessee Williams’ play as southern beauty Blanche DuBois falls from happiness and success to alcoholism and severe psychological disturbance. It’s a heart-breaking story compellingly told with Peter Salem’s original score providing varied and beautiful accompaniment.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Ballet Steps: Assemblé

The 16th edition of the Dance Musings ballet steps series explores assemblés, which are jumps commencing on one leg and landing on two. Like sautés, they are usually performed as part of the allegro (jumping) section of a ballet class. 
Steven McRae in The Nutcracker
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
The word ‘assemblé’ unsurprisingly means to assemble, and the jump involves bringing the legs together in the air. The simplest and lowest-height version, a petit assemblé, commences with one foot on the ground (the other is usually lifted in a cou de pied position with the toes pointed and touching the ankle of the standing foot), and involves a small jump where both legs come off the ground, landing with two feet on the floor in a plié.
A full assemblé begins with both feet on the floor, usually in 5th position, in a plié. One leg then extends – either to the front, back or side – by sliding the foot across and slightly off the floor. This is followed by a jump, springing off the supporting leg, to bring both legs together in the air and land on two feet in a plié. The slide of the working leg is, strictly speaking, a preparation, and only the jump - from one leg to two - counts as the assemblé.
There are many variations of assemblé, in terms of the direction of the working leg, the height of the jump, whether the jump travels or stays on the spot, and whether or not the supporting leg remains in the same position in relation to the working leg. The most common variations for the latter are assemblé over, where the working leg commences behind in 5th, slides out to the side and lands in front, and the reverse, assemblé under. Assemblés can also be performed en tournant (turning) and with a wide variety of arm positions.
Assemblés are performed in numerous ballets, most often in male solos. Here is Dutch National Ballet dancer Gaël Lambiotte performing the prince's Act II solo in Sleeping Beauty, commencing with three diagonal travelling sequences which each end with a grand assemblé over.