Saturday, 31 August 2013

August 2013 Round-Up

I have also explored the arabesque in the second issue of my ballet steps series.

Other writing:

A review of Carlos Acosta - Classical Selection on Londonist
A review of the Shanghai Ballet's Jane Eyre on Londonist
A review of ZooNation's Groove On Down The Road on Londonist

A feature article on dancing in heels (p.50) in Dance Today, August issue

A feature article on dance supporter associations (p.19) and reviews of Swan Lake Reloaded (p.55) and EDge (p.74) in Dancing Times, September issue

I also put together Dance UK's August e-news and edited Dance UK's Magazine Issue 86: Leaping Forward
Fan Xiaofeng in the Shanghai Ballet's Jane Eyre
Photo:Zhao Lu

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Five Ballets for the Ballerina

Here I have selected my favourite clips where the female dancer is showcased. I could have chosen the obvious title roles in Giselle, Manon or Cinderella, but I've tried to go for slightly more unusual ballets...

1. Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet has to be the ultimate romantic ballet. The balcony scene, in particular, typifies to me what it feels like to be in love. Alessandra Ferri is the perfect Juliet - naïve, overwhelmed, passionate - and here she is alongside Wayne Eagling in this fabulous pas de deux for any ballerina:
2. The Rose Adage from Sleeping Beauty is a famously difficult role for a ballerina, as she has to stand centre stage on pointe in attitude position (leg bent behind at hip height) and be promenaded by four different princes with a moment of balance in between each. What's more is that this comes at the end several minutes continuous and exhausting dancing! This clip shows Marianela Nuñez, who I find to be a delightfully warm, radiant and charming Aurora. I especially love how she acknowledges each prince as she takes his hand:
3.The Dying Swan is a short solo for a ballerina, choreographed by Michael Fokine. Anna Pavlova is the original and the best in the role, as she embodies both beauty and tragedy in her heart-breaking battle against death:

4. Another MacMillan ballet, Concerto, features this gorgeous central andante, which was inspired by Lynn Seymour warming up at the barre. The pas de deux begins with the male dancer as a human barre for his partner, but an intriguing and beautiful relationship soon develops between the couple. For the ballerina, performed here by Marianela Nuñez (alongside Rupert Pennefather), the role is the epitome of elegance and simplicity:

5. I couldn't fail to include the playful femininity of Kitri's solo from Don Quixote, performed in this clip by the irresistible Natalia Osipova:

And, a little extra bonus... I love this Act III variation from Raymonda, which mixes elegance, grandeur and tricky technique to beautiful music by Alexander Glazunov. Here's Sylvie Guillem performing the role:

Monday, 12 August 2013

IDTC: Manon Masterclass

Monica Mason masterclass, International Dance Teacher Conference, Royal Ballet School - 8th August

Monica Mason coaching Beatriz Stix-Brunell
at the IDTC 2012. Photo: Elaine Mayson
The International Dance Teacher Conference (IDTC), held annually at the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden, features a variety of practical workshops, talks and performances to give dance teachers inspiration for the coming year. I attended the conference in its entirety in 2011 and 2012 and an undoubted highlight is always the Royal Ballet masterclasses, where repetiteurs including Jonathan Cope and Monica Mason coach company dancers.

For the IDTC 2013, Mason returned, using her expertise in Kenneth MacMillan's choreography to coach principal dancer Lauren Cuthbertson in the Act II solo from Manon. And although I wasn't able to enjoy all of this year's conference, I was lucky enough to pop in to observe this session.

The title character of Manon was created on two different dancers - Antoinette Sibley and Jennifer Penney. Both had very different body types and movement qualities, so different sections of the choreography embody different styles. The Act II solo is "so Antoinette", and displays Manon "in love with her clothes and jewels". She is aware that everyone is looking at her and "clocking the quality of her frock".

Mason loves MacMillan's choreography because he "illustrates the character with every step" and here the steps show Manon's love of  being centre of attention and having male admirers. But Mason also highlighted the character's vulnerability - "she desperately wants to escape her poverty". Mason believes her job in coaching dancers is about "serving the choreography" and "appreciating the detail of a masterpiece".

Cuthbertson has been injured for a year and this was her first repertoire rehearsal following two sets of surgery on her knee. Mason described the toughness of returning to health and having to fight feelings of hopelessness and disappointment: "Dancers sometimes feel uneducated because they haven't gone to university like most people. But there is no substitute for real life and the power of clawing your way back from an injury."
Monica Mason at the IDTC 2012
Photo: Elaine Mayson
Cuthbertson appeared comfortable with the technical demands on the solo but Mason encouraged her to think about the meaning of each step, whether showing off her dress, her body or 'speaking' directly to the two men in her life (Des Grieux and Monsieur GM). "At times, it's as if there's a camera and she is posing. At others, it's like she's walking in stilettos. Nothing should look like a preparation - it's important to keep moving."

Cuthbertson described how Manon is a great role to dance as the character has such colour and variety. Clearly, she has struggled over the last year but she now looks fighting fit and it will be great to see her return to the stage. Mason stated: "I'm delighted Lauren is back. As a director, you're not supposed to have favourites but I couldn't help it. I love Lauren - she's such a wonderful dancer."

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Daria Klimentová Autobiography

Agony and Ecstasy: My Life in Dance (book) by Daria Klimentová and Graham Watts

English National Ballet principal Daria Klimentová is one of my favourite dancers to watch onstage. Her autobiography, 'Agony and Ecstasy: My Life in Dance', co-written by dance critic Graham Watts, was released at the beginning of March, but I have only just finished reading it.

It is a frank and fascinating account into the life of a dancer; unafraid to be honest, Daria describes feigning sickness to avoid performances, unhappiness with partners and the extreme pain of giving birth, as well as the many joys and successes of her life and career. Here are just a few of my highlights and thoughts from the book:

1. What did little Daria thought of switching from gymnastics to ballet training? "I asked Miss Cezarova, 'can I swish my legs up high in ballet, like I do in the gym?' and when she said 'yes', I thought 'well, OK - I don't mind trying something new'."

2. Daria trained in the Vaganova method, with the same main teacher across her eight years at ballet school. She believes it is better to have just one primary influence such that the same style is learnt well, unlike British training in which students regularly change teachers. Clearly the Vaganova method produces sterling dancers, but is it as effective as the English method in educating them to be versatile and able to adapt to different styles and choreographers' works?

3.  Daria describes how she and dancing partner Vadim Muntagirov work well together because they both disagree with the excessive focus by modern-day dancers on multiple pirouettes and high elevation in  jumps. It used to be about artistry and "both Vadim and I feel that much has been lost in this increasingly acrobatic/gymnastic age. He feels it even though he can do so many pirouettes astonishingly well and jumps higher than anyone I've ever danced with."

Daria Klimentova with Junor Souza in The Nutrcracker
Photo: Patrick Baldwin
4. Although at first Daria felt uncomfortable being partnered by someone much younger than her, she states how that it is only when dancing with Vadim in Romeo and Juliet that she feels like a teenager: "Vadim was the first partner to make me feel like I am 16, even though I was approaching 40 when we first danced together. When Vadim dances you can see that he is Romeo in every possible way."

5. The verbal abuse Daria has suffered at the hands of choreographer Derek Deane is made clear both in this book and was also televised in the 2011 ENB documentary, 'Agony and Ecstasy'. On TV, Deane's criticism that Daria was "too old and too knackered" to dance in his Swan Lake made her cry. But her book responds stoically: "I'd like to see how he'd react if I said, "This is shit choreography and I have to dance it'."

6. Daria finishes her book with a chapter entitled 'I'm still dancing', which describes her plans for the future: "I am still committed to dance for ENB and I don't know what is just around the corner." But, she would eventually like to return to her birthplace of Prague and become the director of the Czech National Ballet. I'm sure Daria would make an excellent company director, but I just hope there are many more years to enjoy her performing onstage in the UK first.
Daria Klimentova's book is available from Amazon here.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Ballet Steps: Arabesque

Boston Ballet's Lia Cirio in The Second Detail
Photo: Gene Schiavone
For part two of my series on ballet steps, I consider the arabesque. This is an alignment of the leg so that it goes directly behind the body with an extended knee. All of the body's weight is on the other (supporting) leg. The arabesque features in virtually every ballet and is frequently held on pointe by female dancers in pas de deux where the male dancer can support them. Arabesques are also often used to demonstrate balance or as a jump preparation and/or landing.

The height of the back leg can be variable, from an arabesque à terre, where the foot touches the floor, to the most common height, where the leg is parallel to the floor, right the way up to an arabesque penchée, in which the legs may reach a 180+ degree angle. The average height of the leg has increased substantially over time as ballet technique has progressed and dancers become more athletic.

Arabesque arm lines are highly variable. 1st arabesque is most common and is usually taught first. It features the same arm as supporting leg held straight forward, with the other arm straight out to the side and slightly back. In 2nd arabesque, the arms are the same, but the front arm becomes the arm opposing the supporting leg. Other common arabesque positions include 5th (arms in an oval shape above the heads), an open V, and 3rd arabesque, where both arms are straight forward, with one slightly higher than the other.

The Royal Ballet's Nehemiah Kish and Marianela Nunez 
in Manon (arabesque penchée)
Photo: Johan Persson, courtesy of ROH
Technique for the arabesque depends on the particular training school. In English ballet, the hips are kept as square as possible to the front while the leg is lifted. This means that the lifted foot ends up behind the hip, rather than behind the centre line of the body. In Balanchine-style training, the lifted leg is instead kept as close to the centre line as possible, with the resultant effect of a lifted working hip.

I first teach children to perform an arabesque with their hands, shoulders and hips all facing and square to the barre. I then ask them to imagine that their hip bones are like headlights and that they need to keep their car (hips) going straight forward as they place one leg into a tendu à terre behind. I will often ask children to work in pairs to check each other and see if their cars are going to crash or not! Once children are able to master the leg pointed to the back with square hips, I allow a lifted arabesque. Again, this is taught at the barre to check hip alignment, before moving into the centre.

Arabesque height and alignment is so important in ballet technique that many ballet schools request photos of auditionees in the position. For the Royal Ballet School, first arabesque is required; for Central School of Ballet, dancers must pose in arabesque on demi-pointe for long enough for a photo to be taken. I have many horrible memories of trying to hold an arabesque without wobbling, while my dance teacher attempted to find the right button and focus the camera etc! But here is a pic of me (after just two years of ballet lessons, when I was 17, taken for a friend's A-level photo project), which shows I didn't do too badly...

Here is also a video of Royal Ballet dancer Romany Pajdak demonstrating the various forms of arabesque:

Thursday, 1 August 2013

ENB Petrushka Workshop

English National Ballet Petrushka workshop and backstage tour, London Coliseum - 27th July

As a blogger for English National Ballet, I am privileged to be able to attend a whole host of company behind-the-scenes events, including workshops, rehearsals and masterclasses. But never have I enjoyed a day with ENB so much as last Saturday, when I joined a Petrushka workshop for 11-14 year olds, which included a backstage tour of the London Coliseum.
Rudolf Nureyev in Petrushka
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum
Led by Danielle Jones, the workshop explored the different movement styles of Petrushka’s three main characters. The Moor has big, bold arm shapes, whilst the Ballerina is like a wooden doll and Petrushka is floppy and turned-in. This was a great insight into Michel Fokine’s choreography, but it was the chance to explore the theatre’s backstage that really piqued my interest. 
The costume room is close to the stage and was filled with rails of outfits for the Nureyev triple bill. There are numerous washing machines and dryers constantly on the go, cleaning the tights, shirts and many other items that need washing post-performance. A gorgeous red Paquita tutu was also sitting out, being repaired for future use.

In the shoe room downstairs, shoe supervisor Julie Heggie showed the boxes of pointe shoes, ballet flats, leather boots and character heels that had been transported in for English National Ballet’s stay at the Coliseum. She looks after a variety of pointe shoe styles – from the English Freeds, worn by most of the dancers, to the hard Russian Grishkos preferred by Vaganova-trained Daria Klimentova. Female dancers get ten pairs of shoes per month and wear them six days a week for 10-12 hours a day. Other costume shoes are made individually for each dancer using minute measurements of the feet.
Then, underneath the Raymonda chandeliers, the company took class onstage. Sitting remarkably still at the side of the stage while the dancers leapt and pirouetted, was a little boy (I believe he was dancer Fermanda Oliviera’s son), wearing a police hat and watching an animated film. The morning was completed with a post-class rehearsal of the Black Swan pas de deux by Laurretta Summerscales and Arionel Vargas, which was a real joy to watch.
You don’t have to be an ENB blogger to get an insight into the company's work and see what happens away from the main stage performances – sign up for one of the many Department of Learning events and see for yourself.