Sunday, 29 January 2012

Insight: Dream and Song

Insight evening: The Dream/ Song of the Earth, Linbury Studio Theatre @ ROH – reviewed on 27th January

Ballet master Christopher Carr rehearsed Valentino Zuchetti and James Hay as Puck in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream. Despite both dancers being cast as covers, Zuchetti will now actually get to perform the role on opening night next week.
Carr highlighted the minute details that define Puck’s character. On his first entrance, he’s like a ‘rabbit in headlights’ as he runs on, rapidly changing direction and making repeated momentary halts. Puck has a number of large leaps and Carr encouraged the dancers to “live en l’air” and hold the jump position for five minutes! He also emphasised that preparations into virtuosic steps should not be visible to the audience.
Carr described his own experience in the role as very tiring. He stated that the “scenery is like an obstacle course” and that Puck has to perform lots of swift running and jumping sections without crashing into anything.
Carr then sat down with Royal Ballet director Monica Mason to discuss the upcoming double bill with works by defining British choreographers Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan. The Dream displays typical Ashton style, with classical and romantic choreography that ‘speaks’ of its characters. It follows the play very closely in structure, with emphasis on musicality and story-telling. Mason highlighted the beautiful pas de deux for Oberon and Titania which is rooted in classical technique but with “luscious arms” crossing the centre line of the body and giving the choreography an exotic feel.

The Dream
Photo: Johan Persson, courtesey of ROH

Mason compared the two choreographers’ styles by stating: “They were both so different which is why it is great to have their works side by side in the double bill. Fred loved beauty and romance. Kenneth wasn’t bothered by beauty but his ugly was beautiful.”
Monica Mason then coached principal dancers Nehemiah Kish, Marianela Nuñez and Edward Watson in MacMillan’s Song of the Earth. She described Song as “one of Kenneth’s greatest works, depicting life’s miseries and joys and looking death in the face”.
Dancers performed knotted duets and trios including complex lifts with poise and fluidity. Mason highlighted the meaning of some of the choreography – where Death (Watson) is speaking to Nuñez and she refuses to listen.
Mason was keen to keep dancers on the beat of the music. “The Mahler counts are like chewing gum – all stretchy – try not to arrive late.” She also encouraged Nuñez to avoid ‘decorating’ her gestures in typical ballet style: “We don’t need any romance. Don’t feel beautiful. It’s about the simplicity of the music and nothing extra”.
In coaching the final female solo, Mason described the choreography as saying farewell to the world, with the core of the body driving every movement. She finished by asking Nuñez if she was excited about performing Song. Her answer was unequivocally positive: “I’ve been waiting forever!”.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Strictly Exuberant

Strictly Gershwin, English National Ballet, London Coliseum – reviewed on 8th January

English National Ballet combines classical technique with ballroom, jazz and tap dance in their latest production at the London Coliseum. Strictly Gershwin was scaled-down from its Royal Albert Hall version for a national tour, but the vibrant and infectious rhythms still shimmer.

The Gershwin score provides the main attraction and is played enchantingly by the onstage orchestra of English National Ballet. Conductor Gareth Valentine is a charismatic performer, engaging the audience in music-only interludes with charming and humorous boogying. Costumes by Roberta Guidi di Bagno are similarly excellent, with vibrant colours and plenty of sparkle creating a visual spectacular onstage.

Rhapsody in Blue
Photo: Annabel Moeller
In comparison to such powerful music and designs, the choreography by Derek Deane at times appears underdeveloped. Long sections drag on with repetitive and uninspired movements, but other moments of brilliance make the show a success.

At the popular Sunday matinee, a number of dancers excelled. In the Overture, Shiori Kase was as glittering as her costume, radiantly jumping and spinning with partner Yonah Acosta. Erina Takahashi and Esteban Berlanga demonstrated a beautifully lyrical fervour in The Man I Love, and Laurretta Summerscales and Daniel Kraus performed a balletic tango with gusto. The whole company delighted in a tap routine to Lady Be Good.

Deane’s choreography needs sharpening but ENB radiate in this feast of music, glitter and exuberance. And the Gershwin tunes can’t fail to leave you smiling and humming all the way home.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Next Step

Royal Academy of Dance, Grades 1-3 Syllabi Launch, Mermaid Conference and Events Centre – reviewed on 3rd January 2012
Over a number of years, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) are updating their examination syllabi. The latest launch took place at the Mermaid Conference Centre for the new Grades 1-3.
Photo: Elliott Franks
Monica Mason, Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, was invited to speak. She highlighted “the vital importance of the teacher”, stating “the method matters hugely but the teacher matters more”. She detailed her dance training and the many people that had inspired her, describing how learning dance “can nourish you for your whole life”.
Mason offered teachers some helpful advice. Of most importance was “posture first. If the posture’s not right, you can’t do anything”. She also encouraged teachers never to treat class as routine, to always make it “something special” for their students.
The new Grades 1-3 certainly make dance more engaging and ‘special’ for children. Exercises are fun, with focus on the use of props and story-telling through movement. The RAD have also placed more emphasis on turning and jumping – two vitally important skills – which are made easier if learnt at a young age. For example, sissonnes de côté form part of the new Grade 3.
The grades follow logically from the Pre-Primary and Primary in Dance syllabi which were launched in 2008, and encourage “feeling before form”, so that quality of movement and expression become the primary goal of early training.
Most pleasing is the new syllabi’s wonderful music. Performed by a full orchestra and incorporating many recognisable tunes, it encourages a real sense of performance. Training shouldn’t focus solely on exams because as Mason pointed out, it is about “preparing to dance for an audience”.
I’m certainly looking forward to teaching the new grades and am sure my students will be equally captivated.