Friday, 28 June 2013

June 2013 Round-up

I have also written:
A review of the live 3D cinema screening of the Mariinsky's Swan Lake on Londondance
A write-up of ENB's Swan Lake starring Laurretta Summerscales on ENB's blog, and some further blog thoughts here
A review of the Forsythe Company's N.N.N.N and Study #3 on Londonist

A write-up of contemporary African dance (p.39) in Dance Today, June issue

And of course, Dance UK's June e-news including a feature on choreographer Rachel Catherall and Cloud Dance Festival director Chantal Guevara

Mara Galeazzi and Edward Watson in Mayerling
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sadler's Sampled

Sadler's Sampled - Made at Sadler's Wells: Afterlight (Part One)/ Faun/ UNDANCE, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 23rd June

Photo: Kingsley Jayasekera
Watch dance from the front row for £8 you say? I'm there!
Welcome to Sadler's Sampled, a series of short taster dance performances at bargain prices. With standing places in the stalls for under a tenner (making the feeling more like a music gig than  a usual theatre show) and numerous free related activities, it's well worth a visit to try something new.
Commencing the two-week Sampled season was a triple bill of works, all created at Sadler's Wells by renowned contemporary choreographers. This opened with Russell Maliphant's award-winning Afterlight (Part One), a stunning 15 minute solo. Inspired by the drawings of Vaslav Nijinsky, the male dancer spun rapidly and beautifully in a small pool of light, as if spontaneously compelled to move by the sublime piano sounds of Erik Satie.
Next was Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's less impressive duet, Faun, based on the famous ballet, L'après-midi d'un Faune. Whilst it had some interesting moments, I failed to understand or appreciate the odd relationship between the two dancers.
Wayne McGregor | Random Dance in UNDANCE
Photo: Ravi Deepres
Completing the bill was UNDANCE, performed by Wayne McGregor | Random Dance. In trademark McGregor style, the work featured numerous spine ripples, neck protrusions and athletic leg lifts. Against a fascinating backdrop of the dancers filmed performing the same choreography, sometimes ahead of and sometimes behind the movement onstage, the work was intricate and engaging, but overly long.
While obviously not all of the works were to my taste, I'm glad I went to the bill. How can I complain when I saw a three cutting-edge choreographies up close for so little money? I think Sadler's Wells is onto a great idea - maybe it's time for ballet companies to offer taster menus of their repertoire to attract new audiences.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Swan Lake in the Round

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Royal Albert Hall - reviewed on 22nd June
Finally I got to see Derek Deane's production of Swan Lake in the round, on its 123rd performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Young corps de ballet dancer Laurretta Summerscales was seriously impressive in the leading role, but what did I think of the rest of the production? Is the round stage better or worse than the traditional proscenium arch?
Swan Lake publicity image, featuring Elena Glurdjidze

Graham Watts described the production on Londondance as like "standing behind a horse’s rear end" and of course, the audience is subjected to more unflattering angles than would be typical in a normal theatre where only the front-on view is visible. But from my seat, there wasn't too much 'horse's rear end' to make me unhappy.
What did make me unhappy however, was the sheer volume of activity that was taking place at one time. From the distraction of the dancers coming onto stage via the aisle next to me, to acrobats and jugglers, there were times when the ballet lacked a clear focus.
Deane's reworking of the original choreography to fit the round stage worked well, with group dances, such as the pas de trois, having additional performers facing different directions at the same time, and the notably tricky 32 fouettés changing front gradually around the full 360 degrees. However, in some pas de deux and solos, the choreography felt overly repetitive as it was repeated to different sides of the audience.
60 swans moving as one looked amazing, but there was a real problem with banging pointe shoes. Company dancer Jenna Lee tweeted that she uses plasters on the outside of her shoes to eliminate noise and though it's not pretty, perhaps the rest of the cast should do the same. The elegant mass of white is somewhat less elegant when accompanied by loud thumping sounds!

Nevertheless, this was a great Swan Lake and I would certainly go again (especially to see the fabulous Summerscales). What made it most impressive was the incredible musical sound in the Royal Albert Hall. It made Tchaikovsky's music much more powerful and all-encompassing than a typical theatre set-up.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Swan Queen Laurretta Summerscales

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Royal Albert Hall - reviewed on 22nd June
At English National Ballet’s new season press launch earlier this month, Tamara Rojo described her plans for the talented young dancers in the company. And first up was Laurretta Summerscales, winner of the 2013 People’s Choice Award, who debuted as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall last week. Rojo stated: “The role is a great challenge for a young ballerina but I'm very confident that Laurretta has great talent and a bright future ahead.”
Laurretta Summerscales after winning the People's Choice Award
 with Tamara Rojo and Nancy Osbaldeston
Photo: Patrick Baldwin
Having seen Summerscales perform as the Black Swan in the Emerging Dancer Awards, I knew she would have no trouble with the ballet’s third act, but I was keen to see how she would handle the lyricism and heartbreak of Acts II and IV. And I was not disappointed – she was utterly serene and impassioned, as well as technically secure with the difficult choreography.
The moment in the White Swan pas de deux where she extended her wings, only for them to be tenderly folded in and embraced by Arionel Vargas’s affectionate Prince, brought a tear to my eye. Her extended balances on pointe were equally stunning as were her whirling fouettés in the Black Swan coda.
When I spoke to Summerscales before her performances, she described being amazed to be cast as well as worried as to whether audiences would understand her interpretation. “When I found out about the casting I couldn't believe it! I had imagined it, thinking ‘wow it would be amazing to do Odette/Odile at the Royal Albert Hall’. But I didn’t think it would happen as I had never actually done the principal role in any ballet.
“The most amazing thing about the part is that it has depth, meaning and emotion. It’s good to do that instead of always trying to look pretty! I just hope that the audience will understand what I'm trying to express. It is such a rare opportunity to lay out your heart and let everyone see who you are – faults and all! It's scary but I feel that's the only way it can and should be done.
“Working with everyone – Arionel Vargas, Derek Deane, all the ballet staff and the principals – has been fantastic. I have loved trying to absorb every little detail that everyone has given. I have loved every second. Now I need to just enjoy it on stage!”
I don’t know whether Summerscales enjoyed her experience onstage but I do know how much both I, and the rest of the audience (with their enraptured applause), appreciated her magnificent performance. Last week, Summerscales was a Swan Queen at the Royal Albert Hall, but I have no doubt that before long she will be a world-wide ballet queen.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

ENB Season Launch

English National Ballet 2013/14 Season Launch, The Dorchester Hotel - 10th June

A year into her position as artistic director of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo was supremely relaxed and confident as she announced the company’s 2013/14 season. In the luxurious surrounds of the Dorchester hotel on Park Lane, Rojo, wearing another spectacular pair of her trademark high heels, described plans to "cherish the classics as well as invest in the works of the future".

The new season will include a quadruple bill with three new works by Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Liam Scarlett, alongside George Williamson's Firebird. They will be performed at the Barbican in April 2014 as part of a programme of British choreography inspired by the centenary of the Great War. This is the first time the company will have performed at the Barbican and Rojo emphasised “the beginning of new artistic collaboration that will benefit both the theatre and ENB.”

Akram Kahn stated: "I've got no idea what I'm going to do but I'm very excited to be working with English National Ballet. I'm always terrified of ballet dancers because I always wanted to be one! It makes me feel very humble to work with the company."
Tamara Rojo and Akram Kahn
Photo courtesy of English National Ballet
Other company repertoire will include Romeo and Juliet, Coppelia, Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker and the fifth Emerging Dancer Competition. In Romeo and Juliet, Rojo will be joined by her long-term dancing partner Carlos Acosta. For her, guest artists are “a great source of inspiration for the company. The ENB dancers respond positively as they can see the highest standards of performance.”

ENB2, the touring company of graduate dancers from English National Ballet School, will continue its series of My Firsts…, shortened, narrated ballets for children aged three and upward, with My First Coppelia. Choreographics, a showcase of new short works, will once again be performed at The Place, but for the first time this year, choreographers will be invited from outside the company.

Rojo also has plans for the talented young dancers in the company. Laurretta Summerscales, who won the People’s Choice Award this year, will debut in Swan Lake as Odette/Odile this week. “The role is a great challenge for a young ballerina but I'm very confident that Laurretta has great talent and a bright future ahead.”

The 2013 Emerging Dancer winner, Nancy Osbaldesdon, will also shortly take on the leading role of the Ballerina in Petrushka, as part of the company’s upcoming Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev bill at the London Coliseum next month.

Rojo highlighted once again that she wants to "develop an identity for ENB that is very personal to the company". Clearly, she is pushing English National Ballet forward and bringing it to the forefront of contemporary and classical dance in the UK.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Royal Ballet 2012/13 Season Highlights

Here are my top three ballets from the Royal Ballet's 2012/13 season, which has just finished:
1. Las Hermanas
The claustrophobic sets and repressed characters make this ideal MacMillan territory. The ballet was a gorgeous mix of sensuality, powerfully restricted choreography and a shock ending.

Thiago Soares and Zenaida Yanowsky in Las Hermanas
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
2. Natalia Osipova in Swan Lake
For the first time, I understood Odette's plight as Osipova made every movement meaningful and evocative, desperately attempting to escape her fate as a swan. Simply sublime.
3. Onegin
I love this ballet, with its gorgeous score and incredibly dramatic choreography. This year, I particularly enjoyed comparing the contrasting interpretations of Cojocaru/Kobborg and Nunez/Soares.
Other season highlights included Leanne Benjamin in Requiem, Emma Maguire and Valentino Zucchetti in Voices of Spring and Edward Watson in The Metamorphosis.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Mara's Farewell Mayerling

Mayerling, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, relayed live to Trafalgar Square via BP big screens - reviewed on 13th June
Mara Galeazzi and Edward Watson
 on the BP big screen in Trafalgar Square

With British weather proving so unreliable, the only sure-fire way to know it's summer is when there's a ballet being relayed live to a big screen in Trafalgar Square. And this year's screening was a particularly special one, as it marked the retirement of Mara Galeazzi and her final performance at the Royal Opera House.

With sparkling wine, chocolate, friends and an inflatable cushion, I settled down for what proved to be a wonderful evening. In spite of the many distractions including people talking, cold winds and police sirens howling, it was impossible not to have a good time when able to view the immaculately-performed intimacy of MacMillan's choreography in the buzzing central square of London. And in addition to the ballet, there were several interesting insight films shown as well as interviews with Deborah MacMillan and Jonathan Cope streamed live from the ROH during the interval.

Mara Galeazzi
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
Whilst it was Galeazzi's last Covent Garden performance, it was Edward Watson who stole the show with his fabulously deranged Crown Prince Rudolf. His struggles with societal pressure and desperation for validation and love made him an utterly convincing lead character. Galeazzi gave a delightful but slightly less detailed interpretation of Mary Vetsera as a woman also desperate to be appreciated and with a youthful carefree attitude to death and danger.

In the supporting role of Empress Elisabeth, Christina Arestis had just the right cold, uncaring attitude to send her son off the rails, and Francesca Hayward gave a stellar performance as Rudolf's unfortunate wife. The corps de ballet were also superb, with the smallest details of their acting in the background of the ballroom and tavern scenes magnified beautifully on the big screen.

As flowers rained down onto the stage in celebration of Galeazzi's fabulous 21 year career at the Royal Ballet, the dancer was clearly overwhelmed at the response to her retirement. It has been a pleasure watching Galeazzi over the years and she will be sorely missed as she moves on from the company.

Ballet Evolved: Pas de Deux

Insight evening - Ballet Evolved: Pas de Deux, Royal Ballet, Clore Studio @ ROH - reviewed on 11th June

Louis XIV in Le Ballet de le Nuit,
choreographed in 1653
Former company ballet mistress Ursula Hageli guided an enthusiastic audience through the history of ballet pas de deux alongside Royal Ballet dancers Yuhui Choe, Emma Maguire, Valentino Zucchetti and Benjamin Ella.
Ballet as we know it started with the Minuet in the court of King Louis XIV (pictured). The dance was very simple with just one (minuet) step that was repeated in differing directions and patterns. At court balls, the King would first perform the dance, followed by other nobility in descending order of importance from princes and princesses to courtiers. As women wore pannier skirts (pictured), their legs could not be seen, so it was the men who took centre stage in these dances.
Later in the 18th and 19th Century, as dancing increased in complexity, skirts became shorter and dancers replaced heeled shoes with ballet slippers. In the 1800s, renowned ballerina Marie Taglioni (pictured below) was the first dancer to go on pointe, and this made females the centre of attention in performance. The male role became to hold the ballerina and enhance the ethereal quality effect that was produced as she balanced on the tips of her toes.

Maguire and Zucchetti demonstrated an early version of the Giselle peasant pas de deux, where the ballerina went on pointe only momentarily, as her shoes were still fairly soft and unsupportive. Her partner would help to hold her up and also lift her into the air to increase her sense of lightness.
Ballet historian Giannandrea Poesio highlighted the contrasting opinions to pas de deux at the time. One critic wrote in 1771 that "there is nothing more tedious than having to watch a couple dancing onstage". In 1801, another writer questioned the appropriateness of female dancers being lifted: "Is there no end to debauchery? Ballet is not a circus!"
Marie Taglioni in Zephire et Flore, 1831
In 1845, one person stated of the ballet duet that "some call it pas de deux, but in fact the 'pas' is only for one person. The man is the third leg of the ballerina". Whereas in the same year, a pas de deux enthusiast wrote: "Let the woman soar in the man's arms and theatre magic is back."
Moving onto the Petipa era in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the ballerina became a much more virtuoso performer, able to execute tricks such as fouettés with her hardened pointe shoes. Dancers, both male and female, became focused on demonstrating the biggest leaps and balances regardless of music. (In fact, musicians and conductors would simply have to pause while they waited for dancers to hit positions.) But choreographer Michel Fokine was not impressed. He told Anna Pavlova: "This circus-like technique is not artistic", to which she replied "but the audience like it!"
Poesio highlighted the origins of the grand pas de deux, which was created during the period. An extravagant duet seen in ballets such as Don Quixote and Swan Lake, it has a very precise format, commencing with entrée and adage, followed by solos and then an allegro coda. Some people enjoyed these as they offered yet more chance for dancers to show off their skills, but others didn't like the way in which the ballet story was temporarily halted to display bravura technique.

In any case, during the 1900s, pas de deux developed dramatically, with increasingly daring and exciting lifts and jumps, as demonstrated in Frederick Ashton's 1977 Voices of Spring (pictured).

Hageli then described the importance of well-matched partners in successful pas de deux. The dancers need to have the right proportions to work well together as well as hearing the music in the same way and having a shared sense of balance.

Alexander Campbell and Yuhui Choe in Voices of Spring
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
Anthony Dowell had an incredibly successful partnership with Antoinette Sibley, but did he ever have trouble with other pas de deux partners? "Only once in a rehearsal, and I'm not saying any more! But it is refreshing to dance with other people and not always the same partner. Then when I came back to Antoinette it was like coming home."

Dowell then passed on some of his knowledge to Choe and Ella as he coached them in the Act III grand pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. The duet looks simple when performed effectively, but seeing the young and relatively inexperienced Ella in rehearsal showed just how difficult the choreography is to master.

Dowell was particularly insistent that Ella should stand on two flat feet for stability rather than in the more modern 'male pose' position with one foot pointed. He reassured Ella that he didn't need to look good during the pas de deux as "the audience is all looking at the ballerina anyway!"

Perhaps the 1845 writer was correct when he suggested that the male was little more than a "third leg" for the female dancer. But whoever takes the spotlight, this evening was a fascinating insight into the evolution of classical duets and how the pas de deux, that is such as powerful feature in contemporary ballets, came into being.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Nutrition and Touring

Dance UK Nutrition and Touring seminar, Royal Society of Medicine - 8th April

Dance UK hosted a Nutrition and Touring seminar at the Royal Society of Medicine, offering dancers and managers advice on how to maintain health while travelling. Here I relay the suggestions of Mhairi Keil, Performance Nutritionist and Consultant for the English Institute of Sport.
Dancers train hard for big performances and are always expected to dance at their best. But the pressures of touring can impact their performance – the different environments, exposure to different foods and viruses, body clock confusion and tiredness can all reduce performance quality and increase the likelihood of illness and injury.
Possible Problems When Touring
·       Disruption of sleep patterns and sleep quality
·       Gastro disturbances, such as irregular bowel movements, indigestion or feeling  heavy/bloated
·       Reduced appetite
·       Headaches
·       Compromised immune system and greater chance of becoming ill
·       Decreased concentration and poor cognitive function
·       Reduced physical performance and neuromuscular function
·       Feeling of fatigue
·       Reduced reaction time

Company Management Planning and Preparation

·       Book flights to arrive at sensible times in the destination country
·       Provide at least one day of rest time post-flight
·       Bear in mind that the more time zones crossed, the more rest time dancers will need to recover, and that it is easier to adjust when travelling west and harder when going east
·       Pre-arrange flight meals to ensure healthy options are provided
·       Find out about hotel/accommodation facilities in advance
·       Research the locations and opening times of local food stores and restaurants
·       Provide information to dancers on facilities and amenities in the touring location
·   Check out baggage allowances and consider transporting dancers’ personal food supplies in freight
·       Take a cool box so that dancers can store food safely during rehearsals
·      Bring a kettle, microwave and/or food blender so dancers can prepare food as required
·       Tailor the hotel menu or other provided food in advance to suit dancers’ needs
·       If possible, book self-catering so dancers can cook for themselves
Dancer Planning and Preparation

·       Pack for the worst-case scenario
·       Plan nutrition in advance for the day of travel (including a high-fibre snack such as prunes)and don't rely on service food
·       Purchase supplements in advance if required
·       Bring along any specific nutritional items that will help you to perform at your best and can be packed in your suitcase
·       Pack any other items you need to feel comfortable on tour eg. pillow
·       Bring an eye mask, ear plugs and compression garments
·       Pack anti-bacterial hand foam
Day of travel
-        Eat a good meal before boarding the plane
-        Eat high-fibre, nutritious snacks on-board to encourage good digestion
-        Drink low-energy fluids on-board to maintain hydration
-      Set your watch to the destination time and adjust sleep/wake and habits accordingly – if you can't sleep, wear an eye mask to maintain darkness, or if it's daytime, try to stay awake
-        Avoid alcohol and caffeine (a couple of cups of tea/ coffee is fine)
-        Wear compression garments – it helps muscle recovery
-        Make sure to move around and stretch while on the plane
On arrival
-        Behave according to the new time zone
-        If you have to sleep during daytime, nap for 30-40 mins maximum
-        Use caffeine as required throughout the day, but avoid consumption for five hours before bed
-        Eat small meals that are high in fibre and polyphenols – even if you have no appetite
-        Engage in light exercise
-        Maintain a good fluid intake
-        Go to bed at normal time and use eye masks, ear plugs and anything else you need to have a comfortable sleep
-        If you wake in the night, don't turn on the lights until an appropriate time
Next day
-        Consume low GI, high-fibre foods

On short stopovers (1-2 days), adapting to circadian system is not advised. Dancers should maintain the departing body clock and use short naps and caffeine as required. For longer stays, dancers should adjust to the new time zone via exposure to light. When travelling westbound, dancers should expose themselves to light and engage in gentle exercise in the evening and early part of night. For eastbound travel, light exposure and exercise is recommended in the early morning.

Nutrition Tips

·       Muscles like a sponge in recovery mode ie. immediately following training – good carbs and proteins (such as those found in a simple glass of milk) are needed to put energy back into the muscle and enable recovery

·       It may be fresher and cheaper to buy pitta bread and fillings and make your own sandwich, rather than choosing a pre-prepared one

·       Good breakfast options in hotels include smoothies, museli and scrambled egg

·       Items to put in your suitcase: protein bars, protein shake sachets, crackers, tinned fish, pre-cooked grains, cereal bars, probiotic supplements, multivitamins, energy or electrolyte drinks, dried fruit and nuts

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Raven Girl

Raven Girl/ Symphony in C, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 29th May
Edward Watson in Raven Girl
Photo: ROH / Johan Persson
"Once there was a postman who fell in love with a raven." The opening line of Audrey Niffenegger's novel flickers in gothic script against the stage's black curtain.

This is the beginning Wayne McGregor's new ballet, Raven Girl. But instead of allowing the words to complement his choreography, both the text on stage and that in the programme (and book) is a necessary explanation for the ballet. McGregor’s movement doesn’t effectively tell the story; neither does it convey character or emotion. And for most of the time, it is unfortunately not even appealing to watch.
Niffenegger and McGregor were in discussions for several years to plan the project, which resulted in the author’s creation of an all-new novel and then the choreographer’s ballet interpretation of the same name. The story tells of a Postman and Raven meeting, falling in love and having a daughter. This Raven Girl comes out of an egg and squawks like a bird but has a human body. She spends her childhood wishing she could fly and lamenting her human arms, so when she meets a plastic surgeon who can replace these arms with wings, she immediately agrees. Once transformed, the Raven Girl meets a Raven Prince and as all fairy tales end, they live happily ever after.

Sarah Lamb in Raven Girl
Photo: ROH / Johan Persson
Clearly, the plot is not an easy one to translate into dance, but McGregor insisted that Niffenegger make no concessions for choreography in her writing. And herein lies perhaps his most critical mistake. Any dance-maker would struggle to translate this narrative’s complexities into a one-act ballet, but even so, there are many ways in which Raven Girl could have been dramatically improved.

For a start, there is little dancing and what dance there is says almost nothing. Instead of McGregor showing the Raven and Postman falling in love through beautiful pas de deux, we see an awkwardly jerky duet and suddenly a projected egg image that denotes their having reproduced.

There is also no differentiation between the bird-like and human movements, so that the choreography doesn’t display how the Raven Girl combines these two contrasting qualities. Instead, both her (and the Raven Mother’s) neatly executed classical steps are identical to the movement of other human characters, such as Alexander Campbell’s Boy and Federico Bonelli’s Postman. Once again, it is left to staging to tell the story. In this case, Niffenegger’s beautiful drawing of a human girl with raven outlined on top is projected onto stage to indicate the title character’s difficult juxtaposition.

The ballet is full of bizarre seemingly time-wasting segments with numerous corps de ballet ravens walking around a darkened stage. I knew the story in advance but even I was unable to follow the plot as these inexplicable interludes took place. At one point, a 19th Century couple waltz about the stage for no conceivable reason.

There are other gaps in the ballet’s story too – for example, the Raven Girl’s surgically-gained wings are removed before her final pas de deux, presumably for choreographic convenience rather than narrative significance. This does result in the ballet’s most successful moment, as Raven Girl Melissa Hamilton and Raven Prince Ryoichi Hirano perform a powerfully interweaving duet, with several interesting lifts indicating the bird’s flight.

Most frustrating about McGregor’s ballet is the wealth of company talent onstage that remains unused. The most interesting character is Bennet Gartside’s perverse Doctor, who crudely manhandles his surgery subject before removing her arms and then replacing them with industrial metal wings. The other Royal Ballet cast members, including Melissa Hamilton, Federico Bonelli and Akane Takada, are sadly wasted.

Marianela Nunez in Symphony in C
Photo: ROH / Johan Persson
Dark, unflattering costumes (particularly both male and female corps de ballet ravens wearing halter-neck black tops, black opera gloves and flesh-coloured tights) and sets by Vicki Mortimer only add to the ballet’s strangeness. Gabriel Yared’s score is an uncomfortable mix of confrontational percussion and overly-sentimental strings. I am normally a huge fan of McGregor’s work but Raven Girl showed none of his remarkable and engaging choreographic style and I shudder to think at how much money such a ballet may have cost to create.
The work was cleverly paired with Symphony in C, which provided the ideal white sparkly tutu antidote. In this, the Royal Ballet excelled with principal females Marianela Nuñez, Sarah Lamb and Roberta Marquez revelling in the joy of George Balanchine’s lively and exuberant choreography. Finally, there was a chance to see the Royal Ballet doing what they do best – dancing beautifully.