Saturday, 31 October 2015

October Round-up

Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nunez in Carmen
Photo: ROH / Tristram Kenton
This month there are blogs about Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew BallFrancesca Hayward's debut in Romeo and Juliet and a quadruple Royal Ballet bill including Carlos Acosta's new Carmen.

The latest instalment in the Dance Musings ballet steps series explores turn out, the outward rotation of the legs from the hips that epitomises classical ballet technique.

Other writing:
A review of ZooNation's Into the Hoods on Londonist
A feature about Millennium Performing Arts (p.25) and reviews of Cas Public's Symphonie Dramatique (p.55), the Genee International Ballet Competition (p.101) and the National Youth Ballet's annual gala (p.103) in Dancing Times, November issue

Friday, 30 October 2015

Carmen Quadruple Bill

Viscera/ Afternoon of a Faun/ Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux/ Carmen, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 26th October

Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nuñez in Carmen
Photo: ROH / Tristram Kenton
Carlos Acosta’s new Carmen is as sexy as it is rough around the edges. Work is needed on corps de ballet choreography, but principal duets exude passion and drama. The narrative is crystal clear, with moments of humour and interesting character development for Marianela Nuñez’s Carmen – from dominant with Acosta’s Don José to timid and feminine with Federico Bonelli’s Escamillo. Dancing is also enhanced by live singing from the Royal Opera Extra Chorus.

Carmen is accompanied by Liam Scarlett’s playful Viscera and Jerome Robbins’ narcissistic Afternoon of a Faun. Steven McRae excels in the firework leaps of George Balanchine’s virtuosic Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Romeo and Juliet (Francesca Hayward debut)

Francesca Hayward and Matthew Golding 
in Romeo and Juliet
Photo: ROH / Alice Pennefather
Romeo and Juliet, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 23rd October

Francesca Hayward made a youthful and sprightly Juliet on Friday. Paired with the fresh-faced timidity of Sander Blommaert as Paris, she was enthusiastic if tentative. It wasn't until faced with Matthew Golding's Romeo that she suddenly matured, tilting her head back in exultation at his every touch in the most exquisitely sexually-charged balcony pas de deux I've seen.

Hayward was heart-breaking when faced with her parents' wrath in Act III, but left me less moved in the final death scene. Nevertheless, it was an impressive and sensitively interpreted debut that will no doubt develop over time.

Superb acting also came from Kristen McNally as an unusually sympathetic Lady Capulet.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball

An afternoon with Royal Ballet dancers, Ivy House Music and Dance, JW3 - reviewed on 11th October

Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball in Onegin
Photo: Dave Morgan

In its plush new JW3 venue on Finchley Road, Ivy House Music and Dance presented an afternoon showing a much condensed 'day in the life' of two Royal Ballet dancers - first artist Matthew Ball, who joined the company in 2013. and soloist Yasmine Naghdi, who joined in 2010. The pair recently debuted in the leading roles in Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, and last year gave excellent performances as Olga and Lensky in John Cranko's Onegin. Naghdi is also one of my favourite ballet dancers with her superb technique, thoughtful interpretations and radiant stage presence.

After an introduction by Gerald Dowler, the event commenced with an abridged ballet class taught by Ricardo Cervera, who described this part of a dancer's daily routine as a "very personal experience - everyone has a different body and a different pace and will prefer different teachers". What was surprising was how hands-on Cervera was, giving corrections to even these two extremely accomplished dancers. He focused particularly on lengthening the legs as much as possible, whether lowering from demi-pointe or performing a battlement tendu. He also reminded Ball to keep all five toes on the floor in his supporting leg - especially when preparing for pirouettes - and encouraged both dancers to lengthen the supporting side of the body during développés.

Yasmine Naghdi with Johannes Stepanek in Infra
Photo: ROH
Next, Cervera rehearsed the pair in their Act I ballroom variations from Romeo and Juliet. Both solos are very important for character development as the audience gets a glimpse into Romeo's lyrical and romantic side and sees Juliet away from the shadow of the Nurse and Paris.

Cervera encouraged Naghdi to show the different movement dynamics of the choreography and bend her body to demonstrate Juliet's playfulness. For Ball, he suggested the movement needed to be freer, reminding him that a dancer's "life depends on the [security of] the supporting leg, but the audience pays for the other one!". Naghdi also gave a little bit of insight into why she's so captivating and joyful onstage: "I go into a ballet trance. I've rehearsed so much that I don't have to think. My body takes over and does what I love most in the world - that's why I always smile."

The afternoon finished with a performance of the two solos as well as the Romeo and Juliet Act III bedroom pas de deux, and Finchley Road seemed temporarily and gloriously transformed into the Royal Opera House stage.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Ballet Steps: Turn Out

The latest instalment of the ballet steps series explores turn out – the outward rotation of the legs from the hips. 

Alina Cojocaru and Alejandro Virelles
in Swan Lake
Photo: Photography by ASH
Whilst used to some extent in many other dance styles, turn out – especially to the degree that is expected of modern-day ballet dancers – is very particular and integral to classical ballet technique. It comes primarily from the outward rotation of the femur (upper leg bone) in the hip socket, which is made possible by several deep hip rotator muscles. A small degree of additional rotation is also possible in the knee and ankle. Turn out means that when the feet are on the ground (such as in the five ballet foot positions), the toes point outwards, and when the legs are lifted, there is greater freedom of movement in the hip and therefore the potential for greater leg height.

An ideal turn out – of 180 degrees – is extremely rare, but a high level of natural (untrained) turn out in the hips is a prerequisite for entering most elite classical ballet schools. The level of natural turn out can be ascertained by lying on the floor with heels together and the knees dropped out to the side – the closer the knees are to the floor, the greater the natural outward rotation in the hip. Up to the age of around 11, bone structure is malleable and ballet exercises, if correctly performed, can permanently increase the degree of outward rotation in the hip. Older dancers can increase their level of turn out (to a lesser extent) by gradually increasing the hip’s outward rotation over time.  

Vadim Muntagirov in Onegin
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
For young amateur dancers, turn out can very difficult to master and outward rotation is often lost as soon as one leg is lifted off the ground. Serious ballet students are more likely to force more turn out than they are capable of, such that the feet roll forwards, the torso and/or upper body posture is incorrectly adjusted to compensate, and the glute muscles are over-activated. This can cause serious damage to the knees and ankles, as these are the joints which bear the strain of over-forced rotation.

If turned out correctly, the knees will be in line with the toes and weight will be distributed evenly across both sides of the feet. Fortunately, less than perfect turn out can be ‘masked’ by a dancer who is able to maintain their maximum level of outward rotation and employs correct leg and body placement.