Thursday, 31 July 2014

July Round-up

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks
in First Fall
This month I have written blogs on English National Ballet's Coppelia masterclass, Cubania, the Royal Ballet School annual matinee, Rhythm of the Dance and The World's Greatest Show.
I have also discussed révérences in the latest instalment of my ballet steps series.
Other writing:
A review of English National Ballet's Coppelia on Londonist
A review of Marry Me a Little on Londonist
A review of Wendy Whelan's Restless Creature on Bachtrack
A feature on Urdang Academy (p.23) in Dancing Times, August issue
And, of course, Dance UK's July e-news including a feature on contemporary dance

Rhythm of the Dance

Rhythm of the Dance, National Dance Company of Ireland, New Wimbledon Theatre - reviewed on 30th July
Impressively, the National Dance Company of Ireland's Rhythm of the Dance has been seen by more than five million people worldwide. Now reworked for its first UK tour, the show has plenty of great Irish dancing, but other elements – namely some poor choreography, basic tap dancing and a lot of pouting – weaken its impact.
Appallingly, none of the show’s performers are credited in the programme. They are mostly extremely talented, especially the male dancers led by Dane McKiernan (whose name I garnered from the show’s PR company).
I enjoyed Rhythm of the Dance but wish it would stick to the basics – its high-quality Irish dancing doesn’t need diluting.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ballet Steps: Révérence

In the 10th edition of my ballet steps series, I consider révérences. These are bows or curtsies performed at the end of class or performance as a way of saying thank you to the teacher, musician(s) and/or audience.
Male bows are quite straightforward, simply involving  tipping the body forward from the waist with the head bowed (and coming back up again).
Tamara Rojo
Photo: The Ballet Bag / ROH
Female dancer révérences are typically performed by stepping to the side and bringing the working leg behind with a pointed foot. Both knees are then bent and straightened, with the head and upper body simultaneously bowing and returning to upright.

Within this, there are several options: the plié may be kept small with the back foot staying in the same position, as typically performed by young children; the ball of the back foot may be placed on the floor as the dancer performs a deep knee bend; or the back foot may slide backwards as the dancer bends (deeply), until the back knee reaches the floor (pictured). Different styles of révérence are performed by different dancers. The latter is typical of British companies.
Arms during révérences are highly varied. Dancers may open their arms sideways or upwards as they prepare, lowering them during the révérence. Alternatively, they may perform with no arm movement at all, or may hold bouquets of flowers that have been presented to them.
Post-show révérences are often performed in character and may be choreographed specifically to reflect different roles. Odette (from Swan Lake) is likely to curtsey with her arms in a wing-like pose; Kitri (from Don Quixote) will probably place her hands on her hips during a révérence. Female dancers may also bow rather than curtsey, especially if they have performed a folk (character) dance.

In class, révérences are often incorporated into a port de bras exercise which slows down the body's heart rate and acts as a cool down (opposite of warm up). They may also include slightly different curtsey movements, such as stepping backwards as the upper body is bowed and then straightening the body and supporting knee with the other foot pointed in front.

Royal Ballet dancer Romany Pajdak demonstrates two different révérences:

The Royal Ballet School has a rather lovely tradition where students perform a révérence at the beginning of class as well as the end. This exercise gives the young dancers a chance to focus mind and body before beginning exercises at the barre.
When I am teaching dancers to révérence, I generally let them learn by copying, including it in the final exercise of class without any explanation (though I give more description later if needed). As bows and curtsies are something young children often practise during childhood games (such as when pretending to be kings or queens), rarely is it difficult for them to perform. Even for older students, once some basic ballet technique has been mastered, révérences are fairly easy to achieve and it is only the grace and/or characterisation of the movement that needs perfecting.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The World's Greatest Show

The World's Greatest Show, Paul Hamlyn Hall @ ROH - reviewed on 27th July
Arthur Pita's latest work explores the dance marathons of 1920s and 1930s America. Each lasting weeks or months, competitors would dance for 45 minutes of every hour, day and night, in order to win a cash prize.
Given shelter and regular meals, dancers represented the most impoverished members of society. The World’s Greatest Show effectively demonstrated the horrors of this exploitative form of entertainment as cast members progressed from enthusiastic to lifeless and exhausted as the hours ticked by.
The piece lacked the choreographic brilliance I am used to seeing from Pita, but was a thoroughly fascinating insight into the world of dance marathons.

Saturday, 26 July 2014


Carlos Acosta
Photo: Johan Persson
Derrumbe/ Flux/ Ecuacion/ Sight Unseen/ Tocoroco Suite, Carlos Acosta and friends, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 21st July
No amount of dancer talent can make up for poor choreography. And in the case of Cubania, not even the seriously impressive skills of Carlos Acosta, Zenaida Yanowsky and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba could overcome a mostly uninspiring programme.
Put together by Acosta as a celebration of his Cuban homeland, the first act featured works by Miguel Altunaga, George Céspedes, Russell Maliphant and Edwaard Liang. Amidst a lot of generic contemporary dance, there were all too few interesting moments.
Post-interval was Acosta's autobiographical Tocoroco Suite. Humorous in parts and exquisitely danced, its weakness was in its length and repetition. I was ready to go home long before the curtain fell.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

ENB Coppelia Masterclass

Coppelia Masterclass, English National Ballet, Markova House - reviewed on 10th July
At an English National Ballet masterclass last week, Ronald Hynd guided Shiori Kase and Yonah Acosta (both since promoted to first soloist and principal respectively) in the lead roles of the company’s latest production, Coppelia.
Laurretta Summerscales as Swanilda (publicity image)
Photo: Eric Richmond
Set to a score by Léo Delibes, the ballet tells the story of the lifelike Coppelia doll created by Dr Coppelius. To avenge her boyfriend Franz’s declaration of love to the doll, Swanilda dresses up in Coppelia’s clothes and fools both him and the inventor into believing the doll has come to life. There’s a happy ending when all is revealed and Swanilda and Franz are married.
Hynd gave little feedback to Kase and Acosta as they demonstrated some of the ballet's pas de deux, though he did help with their positioning in a tricky fish dive where the female dancer is held behind her partner’s back.
"Swanilda is mainly Miss Sunshine, but she's slightly bipolar. She very quickly changes from being happy to very downcast. Franz has a heart of gold... but he spreads it around! They're two very interesting characters" described Hynd.
"The choreography is mainly Petipa's. It was already very difficult but I've added in a few more things to make it even more difficult! The dancers for the Dawn and Prayer solos of Act III have also become Swanilda's friends in my production, so that the ballet makes more cohesive sense.
"Dr Coppelius is traditionally shown to be an inventor with his use of a spell book. However, it struck me that the ballet was created in a time when there were lots of experiments with magnetism and electricity taking place. I wanted to use a large machine onstage to represent this. Dr Coppelius attaches the machine to Swanilda and Franz and if it were real they'd be getting electric shocks!
Shiori Kase as Swanilda and Michael Coleman as
Dr Coppelius (in performance). Photo: David Jensen
"The ballet is great because it's about real people and not the aristocracy or royalty. The audience can relate to the characters – warts and all. The story is very obvious so you don't need to read a synopsis. My intention is to express thoughts and words through movement. I hope people will recognise the emotions being conveyed."
Years ago, Hynd actually coached company artistic director Tamara Rojo in her first Sleeping Beauty. "Now she's hiring me to coach her company dancers. She's doing an amazing job as artistic director; I saw Le Corsaire and it was excellent. Things have really come full circle."
Perhaps Kase or Acosta will direct a major ballet company one day. In the meantime, there is plenty to look forward to as they make their debuts in Coppelia at the London Coliseum next week.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Royal Ballet School Annual Matinee

Raymonda Act III/ Journeys/ Concordance/ The Dying Swan/ Jubilation/ A Sweet Smell of Oblivion/ Classical Symphony/ Grand Défilé, Royal Ballet School, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 12th July 2014
Chisato Katsura and Reece Clarke in Raymonda Act III
Photo: Johan Persson
There were two undoubted highlights in this year's Royal Ballet School performance on the Royal Opera House stage. 

The third act of Raymonda was so professionally performed that the students appeared more like a top dance company than a ballet school. The whole cast excelled but Reece Clarke and Chisato Katsura truly sparkled at the helm, appearing supremely confident in Rudolf Nureyev's challenging choreography.

The other work that excited was Calvin Richardson's self-performed Dying Swan. A modern version of the classic solo, choreographically it was interesting but needed refinement. What was utterly mesmeric, however, was Richardson's incredible strength, precision and fluidity of movement. He will shortly join the Royal Ballet (as will Clarke) and will no doubt be a great asset to the company.

Other pieces including a new Balanchine-style classical work by Liam Scarlett and a contemporary quartet by Kristen McNally  were well-danced but failed to hold my attention. Nevertheless, the Grand Défilé (which always completes the performance and allows the entire school to come onstage), was a fitting finale and a true showcase of talent.