Thursday, 31 October 2013

October 2013 Round-up

This month I have written blogs on TooMortal, Sylvie Guillem: Force of Nature and top pas de trois. The fourth installment of my ballet steps series looks at the plié.
Other writing:

A review of L.A. Dance Project on Bachtrack
A review of BRB's Sleeping Beauty on Bachtrack
A review of Rambert Dance Company's The Castaways on Bachtrack

A review of Cirque Eloize on Londonist
A review of Dracula on Londonist
A review of The Nutcracker on Ice on Londonist
A review of National Dance Company Wales on Londonist
A 2000 word exploration of circus, ballet and art (p.52) for Unpack the Arts
A  piece on the Royal Opera House's Chance to Dance (p.27) and a review of the National Youth Ballet (p.73) in Dancing Times, November issue (I'm also mentioned on the letters page on p.11)
And, of course, Dance UK's October e-news including an interview with Andre Portasio, founder of ArtStreamingTV
Marion Tait in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty
Photo: Roy Smiljanic

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Top Pas de Trois

To brighten up the wintery weather, I've chosen some of my favourite pas de trois videos.

Frederick Ashton's Monotones I is both frighteningly lime green and exquisitely beautiful. Here Emma Magiure, Akane Takada and Dawid Trzensmiech perform the incredibly musical trio:

This pas de trois from Swan Lake is where up and coming dancers are often cast, so it's a good place to look out for stars of the future. Here are the already 'up and came' Laura Morera, Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae performing:
This is a more unusual trio from Manon, which takes place after the title character has run away and slept with her lover. Following a passionate morning pas de deux, Manon is found by and dances with her brother, Lescaux, and a wealthy admirer, Monsieur GM,  performed below by Clairemarie Osta, Stéphane Bullion and Stéphane Phavorin:

This pas de trois is one of the Act III divertissements of Sleeping Beauty, danced here by Deirdre Chapman, Laura Morera and Valeri Hristov:
Finally, the Masks dance from Romeo and Juliet is a fabulous pas de trois for Romeo and his two friends, Benvolio and Mercutio. Here are Steven Heathcote, Adam Marchant and David McAllister of the Australian Ballet in John Cranko's version:

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Sylvie Guillem - Force of Nature

The Culture Show: Sylvie Guillem - Force of Nature - BBC2, 10pm, 9th October

Sylvie Guillem in Bye
Photo: Bill Cooper
This BBC Culture Show special explores one of the most famous international dancers of today, 48-year-old Sylvie Guillem. Renowned for her talent and especially her extreme flexibility, she was hand-picked by Rudolf Nureyev at the age of 19 to become the Paris Opera Ballet's youngest ever étoile.
Extremely outspoken, Guillem earned the nickname 'Mademoiselle Non' but she defends her artistic choices: "You have one life. If you spend it doing just what other people tell you to, it's not your life... I couldn't compromise. I never could do things that I didn't feel."
Guillem originally trained in gymnastics before discovering a love of dance. She took part in an exchange programme with the Paris Opera Ballet School and hated the training but loved performing onstage. "It triggered the rest. It was incredible. I knew something was there."
In 1989, she shocked the dance world by leaving Nureyev and Paris and joining the Royal Ballet in London. The company's director at the time, Anthony Dowell, describes: "I was thrilled that she was here but my suggestions were often met with a rather blunt 'non'." Nevertheless, Dowell was amazed by Guillem's physical capabilities. "With Sylvie, there were never any limitations... what you got onstage was worth it."
After a classical career with numerous international ballet companies, Guillem now continues dancing worldwide in more experimental contemporary dance works. "I am lucky to have a body that I don't have to force. I am strong enough and supple enough at the same time and haven't had a lot of injury. I feel good and I am 48. Maybe it's not normal, but I feel good."
She does, however, suffer with an intense fear of performing: "It's getting worse and worse. But once I am onstage, it's over... One day I was not afraid and I danced but I didn't have the pleasure. So I said, next time I'm not afraid, I won't go onstage."
Photo: Gilles Tapie

She lives in the Swiss mountains, enjoying the solitude and quietness of the countryside. "I don't have kids. I have dogs. It's hard enough to take care of yourself without having to raise kids on top of that, especially in the world we are living in."
While continuing to perform regularly, Guillem also has a passion for extreme environmentalism, supporting the work of Sea Shepherd, an organisation which uses direct action to protect marine life. Described as 'eco-terrorists' by some, Guillem views Sea Shepherd's approach as "less communication and more action. It's like me. You can't wait for things to get worse and worse."
So what is next for Mademoiselle Non? "Things have an end. A transition has to be made… but I have other things that I am interested in. I can’t just stop and cry all the tears in my body because I will stop dancing. I will use it as a springboard to go up again.”

Friday, 18 October 2013


TooMortal, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, St Pancras Church - reviewed on 10th October
Photo: Yaron Abulafia
Shobana Jeyasingh's 20 minute TooMortal is a fabulous work designed for performance in churches. I've seen it in London (at St Pancras Church) both in 2012 and then again last week as part of Dance Umbrella. It's a beautifully crafted non-narrative piece for six females - here are five reasons why I love it:

1. The dancers seem to appear from nowhere - with limbs popping up from behind pews and then disappearing again
2. The relationship between the dancers is fascinating - they ignore each other for the majority of the piece and then suddenly start to interact by looking at and reaching out to each other towards the end
3. The church surrounding creates an interesting an unusual atmosphere for dance which is very different from the usual theatrical setting
4. The shapes made by the dancers' bodies are very striking, with deep back bends and bold arm lines
5. The work has no story, but the way the women are dressed in blood red and stare expressionlessly into space makes me wonder if they are dancing a prayer for forgiveness after killing their husbands or some other extreme misdemeanour...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Ballet Steps: Plié

In the fourth issue of my ballet steps series, I discuss the plié, a fundamental movement which forms the basis of many other steps. It is a bend of the knees that may be either demi (half) or grand (full), and is typically performed as the first exercise at the beginning of ballet class.
Pliés can be performed in all positions of the feet - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th (open and crossed) and 5th. In all positions, the heels stay on the floor in demi-plié; in grand plié, the heels come off the floor, except in 2nd and open 4th.
The picture above shows a young dancer demonstrating both demi and grand pliés in 1st position. This is how I teach the movement to students - I ask them to face the barre and stand in 1st position, before bending the knees as far as possible without lifting the heels. This can be referred to as 'diamond position' for young children as the shape made between the legs forms a diamond shape. The key corrections given to students are regarding posture - keeping the body upright and especially not sticking out their bottoms! - and turn-out, which means ensuring the knees bend outwards, over the toes.
Sylvie Guillem in Rearray
Photo: Bill Cooper

Once a demi-plié has been mastered in 1st, 2nd and 3rd position, I proceed to teach the full plié, for which the same corrections apply. 4th position is technically the hardest plié position to achieve and is therefore typically not introduced until Intermediate or Advanced level.

Most ballet classes commence with a plié exercise at the barre to warm up the muscles, with pliés performed in three or four different positions, combined with port de bras (arm and upper body movements), rises (onto the balls of the feet) and other simple movements.
As the plié forms the basis of so many steps, it is found in every ballet, but usually only used as a preparation for more complex steps such as jumps and pirouettes. However, Sylvie Guillem, demonstrates to the left how a simple plié in 2nd position can be used to great choreographic effect, with only the minor enhancement of one lifted heel and a striking arm line.