Tuesday, 30 June 2015

June Round-up

Crystal Costa and James Forbat in A Room in New York
Photo: ASH

The latest installment of the Dance Musings ballet steps series explores arm positions.

Other writing:

A 'talking point' about whether choreographers need editors (p.12), a feature about youth ballet companies (p.19) and a review of Tring Park School's Encore Dance Company (p.79) in Dancing Times, July issue

Monday, 22 June 2015


Traces, 7 Fingers, Peacock Theatre - reviewed on 21st June

Photo: Alexandre Galliez
The seven performers of 7 Fingers have plenty of talent, whether back-flipping, climbing up poles or even playing piano. Their show Traces, however, includes a lot of silliness and out-of-context humour that doesn't always showcase these talents, and tricks designed to wow aren't error-free.

Nevertheless, there is lots to enjoy. From skateboarding to Cyr wheel, the troupe's circus skills are engaging. But Traces’ highlight is undoubtedly its hoop-jumping finale, with performers leaping through an array of stacked-up metal rings – backwards, forwards, sideways, alone, in pairs, legs-first, head-first, and in many other ways.  

Sunday, 21 June 2015


Choreographics, English National Ballet, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre @ Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 19 June

Choreographics, English National Ballet's annual platform for works created its dancers, showed the company to be in excellent form. Not only were performances sleek and well-rehearsed, but choreographic ideas - inspired by post-war America - were the most thoughtful and cohesive that I've seen from the company.

Laurretta Summerscales and Junor Souza in Fractured Memory
Photo: ASH
Max Westwell's first publicly-performed work, Fractured Memory, showed plenty of promise in three emotional pas de deux. From the blissfully romantic Daniele Silingardi and Katja Khaniukova to the mournful and passionate Laurretta Summerscales and Junor Souza (by way of an angry and desperate Madison Keesler and Jinhao Zhang), Westwell's choreography was both vibrantly alive and beautifully dreamlike and distant.

Fabian Remair's traumA was the evening's most innovative piece. Its three puppet-like men (Ken Saruhashi, Barry Drummond and Shevelle Dynott) knelt in tunnels of light and repeatedly reached out and fell to the ground, as if constantly replaying the memory of a soldier's final moments.

In Stina Quagebeur's A Room in New York, bold arm gestures and body lines represented hostility and unspoken frustration in an aggressive and emotive duet inspired by the the life of Edward Hopper. 

James Streeter's A Touch for Eternity plus two works by external choreographers - Renato Paroni de Castro and Morgann Runacre-Temple - had many interesting ideas but didn't hold my attention as strongly as the evening's other offerings. English National Ballet School's Joshua Legge also showed Babel, his dynamic and high-energy choreographic competition winner.

Overall, this was an evening of well-prepared and well-performed modern ballet choreography. Put simply, there needs to be more platforms like this.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Emma Press Anthology of Dance

The Emma Press Anthology of Dance (book) - reviewed on 14th June

"Dance is present at every stage of human life," writes editor Emma Wright in The Emma Press Anthology of Dance's introduction. "From lessons to courtships to celebrations and moments when music just demands a response, dance is an essential part of our textured existence."

Illuminating this textured existence in verse, the anthology features 42 short poems ranging from the prosaic to the word-sparse but united by a (not always immediately obvious) focus on dance. There's drunken staggering on new year's eve, a man who was left at the altar and now repeatedly rehearses his wedding dance, a family with three generations of dancers, and many things in between.

I seldom read poetry and found some of the verses hard to understand and appreciate, but there are several poems that put the emotion of dance beautifully into words. Rachel Piercey's The corps describes the dichotomy for corps de ballet dancers between enjoying the belonging and unity of their position but also desperately "longing to be set apart". As a response to being told her feet were like kippers, Rosie Sandler's Breathing underwater uses interesting fish and sea-based metaphors for dance, while Catherine Smith's My Dancers depicts her teenage dreams of 'dancing' out of school, which were materialised as drawings of ballerinas on her maths homework.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Russian Ballet DVD Collection

Swan Lake/ Giselle/ Don Quixote/ The Nutcracker/ Spartacus (DVDs), Bolshoi Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre - reviewed on 3rd June

Four recordings from the 1970s and one from 1991 form RussianTeleRadio Worldwide's Russian Ballet Collection box set. Featuring classic productions by Yuri Grigorovich – Don Quixote, Swan Lake, Giselle, The Nutcracker and Spartacus – which have shaped the company's history and secured its reputation on the world stage, these important films have been digitally restored and remastered to HD quality on DVD.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the most recently filmed Giselle, the ballets don't provide an entirely seamless onscreen experience. Images occasionally go out of focus, audience coughing is clearly audible, and low lighting frequently makes it hard to see the dancers onstage. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to enjoy in these five Russian works performed by some of the Bolshoi's most famous dancers.

Don Quixote is a real ballet gem. Headed by the charming, effervescent and effortlessly virtuosic Nadezhda Pavlova and Vyacheslav Gordeyev, the production is utterly joyous and looks as fresh and vibrant today as it must have done when it was filmed in 1978. From 1979, Spartacus is also gloriously performed. Vladimir Vasiliev and Ekaterina Maximova are an impassioned leading couple, with their final pas de deux – to Khachaturian's gorgeous soaring score – impressing particularly.

The Nutcracker (from 1978) looks contrastingly dated with Vasiliev and Maximova's onstage chemistry (which is evident in abundance in Spartacus) failing to translate onto camera. A highly elegant Waltz of the Flowers - featuring a large cast of romantic tutu-clad women and candelabra-wielding men - is the production's highlight. Swan Lake (from 1976) is performed in typically Russian style with Maya Plisetskaya and Alexander Bogatyrev at the helm. The array of national dances in Act III, including the beautifully understated Danse Russe (which is often cut from British productions of the ballet), please especially.

The Bolshoi Ballet's 1991 Giselle rounds off the box set with a glorious performance in the title role by Nina Ananiashvili. Wide eyed and sprightly in Act I and effortlessly ethereal in Act II, she is partnered capably by an ardent Victor Barykin.

Whilst these DVDs are not perfect, they are a wonderful tribute to the Bolshoi Ballet, its historical legacy and some of its great 20th Century artists.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Ballet Steps: Arm Positions

The latest instalment of the ballet steps series explores arm positions. 

Marianela Nunez and Ryoichi Hirano in Serenade
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
There are six main positions, plus a huge number of additional ones, and names vary according to the different schools and styles of ballet. I will cover the most commonly used positions and names according to the English style of training, as used in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabi. 

In most positions, the arms are curved, with a feeling of ‘lift’ in the elbow. Brasbas, the starting position for most ballet exercises, involves both arms curved downwards to form an oval shape either a couple of inches away from the torso or resting just above a tutu skirt. In 1st position, which is commonly used for pirouettes, the arms maintain the same oval shape but are lifted so that the middle fingers are opposite the belly button. In 5th position (shown by Marianela Nuñez above), the arms are raised further again such that the oval shape is overhead, framing the face.
Federico Bonelli
in Romeo and Juliet
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
2nd position involves opening the arms out to the sides, so that the hands can be seen in the dancer’s peripheral vision and fingers are at approximately the same level as the waist. This position should be curved not only through the arm joints to form a half-oval shape on each side, but also downwards from shoulder to fingertips. The anatomical ideal in this position involves an inward rotation of the upper arm and an outward rotation of the lower arm, whilst keeping the shoulders down and the elbows gently lifted.
3rd position, which is often used for pirouette preparations, involves one arm in 2nd position and one arm in 1st position. 4th position has two variations – 4th open (usually simply referred to as 4th), with one arm in 2nd and one in 5th (as demonstrated by Federico Bonelli to the right), and 4th crossed, with one arm in 1st and one arm in 5th.
Shiori Kase in Swan Lake
Photo: Photography by ASH
Common corrections in these basic positions include dropping the elbow, over-flexing the wrists and losing postural alignment in the back and torso. Placement can also be problematic and young students often lift the arms too high in 1st or place them too far back in 2nd and 5th. For 5th position, it can be useful to teach it with the arms slightly forward, so that students (especially children) can imagine looking at a mirror in the palms of their hands.  
There are many variations on these positions, such as demi-2nd, where the arms are in a lower version of 2nd with the palms of the hands facing down. Open 5th involves extending the arms into a ‘V’ shape overhead instead of a curve, and open 4th similarly involves extended arm lines in 4th position.
There are also specific arabesque arm positions. 1st arabesque 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. In 3rd arabesque, both arms are straight forward, with one slightly higher than the other.
There are numerous other arm variations – far too many to cover here. Some include crossed wrists (shown above left in Swan Lake), hands on hips (such as in Don Quixote) and arms held diagonally across the torso (such as in La Sylphide).