Saturday, 31 January 2015

January Round-up

Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares in Onegin
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
This month I have written blogs about Anna Tsygankova in Don Quixote, the Royal Danish Ballet's Bournonville Celebration, the BalletBoyz's Young Men and the Royal Ballet rehearsing Swan Lake. I've also reviewed two shows that are part of the London International Mime Festival - Plexus and Oktobre - and have written three blogs about the ballet Onegin, covering the Royal Ballet's insight evening, six facts about the novel that inspired it, and a review of the performance.

The latest instalment of my ballet steps series explores sautés.

Other writing:

A feature about the Royal Ballet School's Focus on Creativity seminars in Dancing Times, February issue (p.19)


Onegin, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 30th January
Matthew Golding and
Natalia Osipova
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding made their debuts as Tatiana and Onegin with real style.

Golding showed great depth in his character transformation through the ballet - from brooding and aloof to a fragile shadow of a man. Osipova's interpretation, of a young girl utterly bereft, pained and broken by her rejection, was thoroughly convincing and compelling. In the final pas de deux, Osipova even shook as she tore up Onegin's letter.

The pair were expertly supported by Yasmine Naghdi as Olga, with her effortless classical technique and charming characterisation, and Matthew Ball as an impassioned Lensky.

This was a truly brilliant performance of a truly brilliant ballet.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Swan Lake Rehearsal

The Royal Ballet in Rehearsal, Linbury Studio Theatre @ ROH - 26th January
At Monday’s Royal Ballet in Rehearsal event, Christopher Saunders coached Marcelino Sambé, Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Mayara Magri in the pas de trois from Act I of Swan Lake. Performed by three dance students for Prince Siegfried, the choreography is simple but repetitive and includes a lot of (what Saunders describes as “puffy”) jumps.

Saunders focused on the dancers’ technique to make the trio as neat and classically correct as possible. He insisted that dancers always to go through 1st position with the arms on the way to other positions, that arms don’t cross the centre line of the body and that feet are not ‘winged’ (a distorted ankle line that is favoured in some ballet styles).  Saunders also worked with Sambé on his partnering, insisting that it’s not necessary to ‘paddle’ (ie. help the ballerina to spin) during double pirouettes: “She can easily do a double on her own so you’re just there to catch her if she goes off balance.”
Saunders is only in charge of the Swan Lake pas de trois as guest principal ballet master Christopher Carr is staging the rest of the ballet. He hopes the trio – which is often a showcase for younger, up-and-coming dancers – will be a “gleaming highlight”. Here, Steven McRae, Yuhui Choe and Laura Morera demonstrate the pas de trois in performance:

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Oktobre, Oktobre, Purcell Room @ Southbank Centre - reviewed on 23rd January

Photo: Daniel Michelon
A woman in a red dress, wearing red lipstick and holding a red balloon, sits beside a table. She is still but for her flickering eyes and the occasional frog-like protrusion of her tongue. A man, in shorts and a formal jacket, cartwheels across the stage and covers the table with a long black tablecloth. An awkward bearded man sits down and pours himself a drink. The lights go down but the sound of liquid being poured continues, as giggles ripple through the audience.

So begins Oktobre, a show combining magic, acrobatics and absurdity. Characters seem on the verge of insanity - shouting at each other (in French) about their frustrations and minutely shuffling chairs and other objects to satisfy their obsessive compulsive tendencies. It's hard to understand the characters onstage but easy to become drawn into their world - a bizarre dinner party in which only crackers are served and guests pretend to kill each other before falling about laughing.

Oktobre's tricks defy logical inclusion into the show's narrative, but amaze nonetheless, from Yann Frisch's clever magic in which balls and cups disappear and reappear at will, to Eva Ordonez-Benedetto's skilfully controlled trapeze. Oktobre baffles and impresses in equal measure but never fails to delight.

Monday, 26 January 2015


Plexus, Aurelién Bory / Kaori Ito, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 22nd October

There are no circus tricks in Aurelién Bory's Plexus. The whole piece feels like a trick - or rather a puzzle - that the audience has to work out.

Photo: Aglae Bory
The show opens with dancer Kaori Ito standing centre stage in front of a large black curtain. Holding a small microphone to her chest, the sounds of her heartbeat and breathing are audible as her movements increase in aggression from almost stillness to frantic shaking.

From behind the curtain, a maze of more than 5,000 densely packed threads - extending at least 12 feet high between two huge wooden panels to form an enormous cube - transpires. Ito stands and sways in its centre, pausing in a range of gravity-defying poses only made possible by the support of the strings. Later, with lighting that makes the cube appear like a mass of rain and fog, Ito appears suspended in mid air. In fact, she has climbed up and is gripping onto the strings, but the effect - of a fragile figure floating in a grey mist - is mesmeric.

Interestingly, Plexus's concept began with a life-size puppet which Bory asked Ito to play with and learn from. After a while, Bory got rid of the puppet but kept (and multiplied) the strings. "Ito is a wonderful dancer. So I wanted to put her in an impossible space to dance... to slow her down", explained Bory in the post-show talk. "I don't see the strings," countered Ito. "I see the holes - the space between. 5,000 strings means 5,000 ways to go."

I didn't feel like I understood Bory's intentions - to explore Ito's body and sense of identity - but Plexus was nevertheless a thoroughly engaging show. Trying to work out the number and layout of the strings and the meaning of the choreography, as well simply enjoying the beauty of Ito's movements, kept me utterly riveted.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Ballet Steps: Sauté

The latest edition of the Dance Musings ballet steps series explores sautés, which are small jumps. In a ballet class, sautés are performed in the centre as part of the allegro (jumping) section, once the body is completely warmed-up and mobilised. 

Yonah Acosta in Coppelia
Photo: David Jensen
Sautés can be performed in all five positions of the feet. Commencing in plié, both legs and feet push off the floor to lift the whole body into the air, with knees extended and toes pointed. The jump lands as it began - in plié in exactly the same place and position on the floor. Sautés are often performed in sequence with each landing plié serving as the beginning plié for the next jump. 

In English technique, it is normal to put the heels down in between sautés. Other styles - particularly that of the choreographer George Balanchine - encourage dancers to keep the heels off the floor in the landing plié, although this means the calf muscles and Achilles' tendons don't have a chance to stretch out and there is therefore a potentially higher injury risk. Another difference between ballet styles is in whether the legs are drawn inwards and together in the air, or the toes and feet stay directly in line with the starting/landing position. 

Three sauté variations are soubresauts, changements and échappés sautés. Soubresauts are simply another name for sautés in 5th position. Changements commence in 5th (or 3rd) position with one foot in front, but the feet swap over in the air to land in 5th (or 3rd) with the other foot in front. In échappés sautés, the feet 'escape', starting in a closed position with the feet together (either 1st, 3rd or 5th) and opening out during the jump to land in either 2nd or 4th position. The feet close to land back in 3rd or 5th in an échappé sauté fermé, which often - but not always - follows immediately after. 

A typical sauté exercise might include 16 sautés in first position, or four sautés in each of 1st and 2nd positions followed by eight changements in 5th. In the latter, the jump to change between 1st and 2nd position would be an échappé sauté, and between 2nd and 5th an échappé sauté fermé. Common corrections for young students include not stretching the legs and feet in the air, not maintaining technique and posture in the plié, and jumping from side to side, rather than on the spot.

Here's a young girl by the name of Aimee performing a simple sauté sequence:

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Young Men

Young Men, BalletBoyz, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 16th January

Photo: George Piper

It's the centenary of the First World War, so it's not surprising that choreographers are using war as inspiration. Following English National Ballet's Lest We Forget and Choreographics last year, the BalletBoyz's first full-length evening work explores male wartime experiences. Ivan Perez's Young Men encompasses sections highlighting soldier training, shell shock and nightmares, although such themes are hard to discern. Set to Keaton Henson's repetitive and overly emotive score and with Jackie Shemesh's lighting designs that leave dancers almost entirely in blackness, I struggled to connect with the piece. 

The BalletBoyz cast - previously all-male, but now including two females - are undeniably skilled. Performers move effortlessly between floor work, lifts, jumps and fluid body ripples, but it's hard to see choreography clearly and music serves to enforce emotion rather than enhance what is already present. Only in the piece's final scene (Homecoming) did dancers finally grab my attention, leaping out from the from the blackness onstage as if about to fly into the audience, their movements aggressive, determined and powerful. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Royal Danish Ballet's Bournonville Celebration

Bournonville Celebration, Royal Danish Ballet soloists and principals, Peacock Theatre - reviewed on 9th January

Ulrik Birkkjaer and Susanne Grinder
in Napoli
Photo: Costin Radu
The Royal Danish Ballet's recent programme at the Peacock Theatre showcased the diversity of its August Bournonville heritage. A pas de sept from A Folk Tale opened the evening, with dancers performing a joyous range of solos, duets and group choreography. The Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux felt under-rehearsed but had beautiful moments and plenty of humour. Comedy also abounded in the short but very sweet Jockeydance, in which two horse-riders - Sebastian Hayes and Marcin Kupinski - tried hilariously to outdo each other.

The second act of La Sylphide lacked both the context normally provided by the preceding act and the scenery needed to convey its magical woodland setting. The pas de trois from Conservatoire was well-performed but similarly lacked sparkle. The third act of Napoli, however, ended the evening with a real flourish, as the whole cast excelled in an explosive array of fast footwork, sudden balances and large leaps.

As a whole, the programme demonstrated the genius, range and timelessness of Bournonville's choreography, and the Royal Danish Ballet's impressive skills to perform it.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Onegin insight evening

Onegin insight evening, Royal Ballet, Clore Studio @ ROH - 6th January

Later this month, the Royal Ballet performs John Cranko’s Onegin, a 1965 ballet based on Alexander Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin.

Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball in Onegin (in performance)
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
At the company's Onegin insight evening, Jane Bourne - who coaches Cranko ballets around the world - rehearsed Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball as Olga and Lensky in theAct I pas de deux, as well as providing some insights into the ballet and its choreographer:

“Cranko tells the story so well, so succinctly. You don’t need to know the story or Pushkin’s novel at all; the ballet explains everything. Cranko was interested in using his dancers’ natural movement and expressiveness, rather than traditional mime gestures. The dramatic choreography and story-telling should feel natural.

“High legs don’t mean anything in a ballet like Onegin. It’s about making the audience believe in what’s happening onstage. Dancers today don’t find the choreography as challenging as they did in 1965 but it still takes six weeks' rehearsal to give principals the time to nail everything – to know it will work, and not just hope it will work!”

Monday, 12 January 2015

Anna Tsygankova in Don Quixote

Anna Tsygankova
Don Quixote, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 5th January
Dutch National Ballet principal Anna Tsygankova jetéd in at short notice to replace an injured Natalia Osipova at last Monday’s Don Quixote. Partnered by Matthew Golding, not only did Tsygankova impress with her rapidly-learnt knowledge of Carlos Acosta’s choreography, but also her coquettish characterisation and light, delicate footwork.

Don Quixote has a rather silly story and isn’t one of my favourite ballets, but its leading couple sparkled in their challenging final pas de deux. Golding jumped and span with ease and Tsygankova balanced effortlessly on pointe. Nothing could make up for the lack of Osipova, but Tsygankova was a pleasing substitute.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Six Facts about the Novel that Inspired Onegin

Alexander Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin inspired both an opera and John Cranko's 1965 ballet. Here are some interesting facts about the book:

Sarah Lamb in Onegin
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
1. Pushkin wrote in 14 line stanzas with his own unique rhyming pattern. There are 389 stanzas in total.

2. The book's title in Russian is Евгений Онегин, which can be literally translated as 'Yevgeny Onegin'.

3. The book includes a lengthy digression about women's feet (or possibly legs, as it's the same word in Russian), as well as lots of other comments about contemporary society.

4. In the novel, Tatiana loses her ardour for Onegin when she looks through his books and questions his character. This scene isn't replicated in the ballet.

5. The book was written between 1923 and 1931 and originally published serially, one chapter a year.

6. Russians have real fondness for Eugene Onegin and insist its brilliance is not conveyed in translation, as Pushkin's unusual rhythms and clever jokes don't work in other languages.