Showing posts with label Royal Ballet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Royal Ballet. Show all posts

Saturday, September 06, 2014

In which your blogger nearly dances with the Royal Ballet...


Your Cinderella put on her ballet hat the other day and went to the ball. Well, a gala at Claridge's. The Royal Academy of Dance celebrated the 60th anniversary of its most prestigious award, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, by holding a fundraising dinner at which the prize was handed over to an entire company for the first time, rather than just one individual: namely, the Royal Ballet. Darcey Bussell, president of the RAD, is in the photo above, giving the award to RB director Kevin O'Hare.

The evening, complete with a glittery auction, raised about £65,000 towards the creation of a new bursary scheme to help young dancers from all over the world to enter the RAD's Genée International Ballet Competition. A talent for dance, like that for music, is no respecter of geography or bank accounts. In these straitened times this kind of support has become more crucial than ever to ensure that gifted youngsters do not miss out on opportunities due to financial disadvantage. The Genée is one of the biggest: its former medallists have frequently gone on to very distinguished careers, including RB stars Steven McRae and Lauren Cuthbertson (pictured right as Juliet). More info about the new bursary scheme will be revealed in time for next year's competition.

This got me thinking. I do wonder if some of the top musical competitions could consider starting a similar scheme for young instrumentalists. Not everyone can afford to travel to Moscow, Fort Worth or Leeds. Independent schemes like the Solti Foundation offer grants for young musicians for such purposes, but why should the most famous and well-heeled of contests not offer means-tested bursaries to gifted entrants who couldn't otherwise afford to go?

Meanwhile, it was quite a night. The exquisite Art Deco ballroom of this most fantastical of swanky London hotels was chock-full of the ballet world's great and good. And if you're me, dear reader, thinking back to the starry-eyed schoolkid who used to run up to the back of the amphitheatre on every possible occasion, this meant a lot more than Christmas come early.

I had some wonderful chats during the course of the evening with luminaries past and present: Lesley Collier, for example, who was the one I loved best when I was 13 and had never met before - she now coaches the principal dancers (pictured above with Rudolf Nureyev in Swan Lake). Darcey Bussell talked into my voice recorder about the occasion and about her championship of dance for all; and over dinner I encountered, among others, Philip Mosley, a brilliant Puck, who was the original model for Billy Elliot, and the Canadian premier danseur Matthew Golding (pictured right), who joined the company earlier this year and happens to be a dead ringer for Brad Pitt.

My fairy godmother was the RAD's press office, my pumpkin was South West Trains and I did not lose a shoe. There was dancing - the fun, after-dinner kind, to Abba and Michael Jackson and suchlike. If I'd only had the guts, I could have danced with the Royal Ballet...

Watch this space for more news of exciting initiatives - this one and others too - designed to support talented young dancers and more. The autumn promises much.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Up close with Natalia Osipova


If I had to name a few of my favourite assignments EVER, this one would be right up there. I went to the Royal Ballet studios at the ROH and watched a rehearsal for Alastair Marriott's new ballet Connectome, which premieres on Saturday, and talked to him and its star, Natalia Osipova. And I spent two hours observing them at work, about two or three metres away from Osipova, Ed Watson and Steven McRae and four hugely impressive young soloists, and it was absolutely unbelievable. The resulting article is in today's Independent, here. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Newsround...

* Hungarian Dances yesterday at the St James Theatre Studio was a fabulous experience. A treat, a privilege and a joy to perform with amazing musicians in such a great venue. Huge thanks to everyone concerned! More Hungarian Dances later in the year at the Musical Museum, near Kew Bridge, on Sunday afternoon 8 September and Pen Fro Literary Festival, Pembrokeshire, on 12 September. Watch this space for further dates...

* Please read this eloquent piece by Tasmin Little in the Telegraph re sexism in the classical music. She tells it like it is.

* If you're near a big screen tomorrow, go and see the FREE, live, open-air relay of Mayerling from Covent Garden. It is top ballerina Mara Galeazzi's farewell performance with the Royal Ballet and features Edward Watson as Prince Rudolf. I went to see them both in action in the ROH a couple of weeks ago and emerged utterly wrung out by the combination of intense emotion and astonishing dancing. Is Mayerling the greatest ballet drama ever created? Personally, I think it might be. Don't miss it. Take a brolly if you must, but just don't miss it.

* Please support the ISM's campaign to secure funding for music education beyond 2015. There's a petition to sign, here.
Every little helps, or we hope it does.

* Here's a discussion from Voice of Russia radio that I did last week with Alice Lagnado and John Riley about the lasting importance of The Rite of Spring. The writes, the rights, and sometimes the wrongs too. http://ruvr.co.uk/radio_broadcast/77030634/115272201.html


* And here's a Friday Historical in advance, because I will be otherwise occupied this week: Fritz Kreisler and his cellist brother, Hugo, with pianist Charlton Heath, playing one of my favourite pieces from the Hungarian Dances concert: Kreisler's Marche miniature viennoise. (Did you know Kreisler had a cellist brother? Neither did I. They're a gorgeous team.)



Friday, June 07, 2013

Royal Ballet is OUT of Les vepres sicilienne at the ROH

Big news from Covent Garden for last thing on a Friday afternoon. Here's the press statement. Suffice it to say that for the theatre's own glorious ballet company, and its school, and the Royal Danish Ballet too, to be out, wholesale, replaced by "freelance dancers", in which had been much vaunted as a flapship production for next season and the climax of the Verdi bicentenary is - well, rather operatic. Ooof.


7 JUNE 2013
PRESS STATEMENT

CHOREOGRAPHER CHANGE FOR LES VÊPRES SICILIENNES
17, 21, 24, 29 October, 1, 4, 7, 11 November 2013


“We regret that it has been necessary to rethink the inclusion of the Four Seasons ballet, in its entirety, from Act III of The Royal Opera’s new production of Les Vêpres siciliennes which opens in October. As a result of artistically differing approaches to the project between Johan Kobborg and director Stefan Herheim, Johan Kobborg and The Royal Ballet will no longer be working on this production.”

“There will still be a strong element of dance in the production, however no longer featuring Artists from The Royal Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet and students from The Royal Ballet School.”

“We are delighted that choreographer Andre de Jong, who has previously worked with director Stefan Herheim on his production of Eugene Onegin in Amsterdam, is now the choreographer, working with freelance dancers.”

Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet and Kasper Holten, Director of Opera



Friday, May 24, 2013

The lives of other birds? Gabriel Yared talks about writing for Ravel Girl

My interview with Gabriel Yared, composer of the new mingled orchestral and electronic score for Raven Girl, is up now on the Royal Opera House's website. Raven Girl's world premiere is tonight (I'm going to see it next week) and dance fans are on tenterhooks.

More on Raven Girl here:
http://jessicamusic.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/raven-ous-at-ballet.html
Booking here.

Yared has scored such movies as Betty Blue, The English Patient and The Lives of Others, to name but three. Here's the interview: http://www.roh.org.uk/news/raven-girl-composer-gabriel-yared-on-scoring-for-the-stage-rather-than-the-screen

Friday, March 29, 2013

Alice's Adventures at the ROH

So did you all go to the cinecast of the Royal Ballet's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland yesterday?

It was such a full-on, energetic and brilliant performance that I felt as tired this morning as if I'd danced it myself. Er, OK, not quite. I was in the theatre this time, not the cinema - and enjoying the fact that there were so many young children around who were visiting the gorgeous ROH for the first time and falling under the spell of live performance at the age of only six or seven.

Alice is, first of all, the perfect (purrfect) ballet for anyone who has a large, striped cat.


 The outsize Cheshire Cat - a giant puppet whose limbs, tail and head are manipulated by black-clad dancers and that hence is able to come to pieces and disappear bit by bit as Lewis Carroll stipulates - is so cleverly conceived and slickly executed that you'd think it would steal the show.



But of course the rest is on that level as well. It's a virtuoso tour-de-force for every part of the company: Bob Crowley's designs, Joby Talbot's glittering music and the total choreographic effect mesh together into one madcap yet consistent world, while the level of execution (pace Queen of Hearts) is tip-top from orchestra to lighting to corps to soloists. There's no weak link anywhere in the piece.

There seems no limit to the daredevil imagination of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon or the abilities of his dancers. Steven McRae's tap-dancing Mad Hatter is a special joy...



(That's from the previous TV broadcast/DVD, with Lauren Cuthbertson as Alice.)

More great moments with Zenaida Yanowsky's spoof Rose Adage as the Queen of Hearts (hilarious, yes - but have you ever noticed that mothers in ballet stories get a really raw deal?). And the flamingos, and the scampering little hedgehogs, and the fresh, tender, striking choreography for the pas de deux of Alice and Jack - Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli...

Incidentally, Eric Underwood's supple-backed, strong-torsoed Caterpillar needs special mention. His smouldering power and super stage presence has stood out in quite a number of performances this season and I for one can't understand why this fabulous American, who started his career in the Dance Theatre of Harlem, is not ranked higher than Soloist. He got a huge and much-deserved cheer last night. Left: in Infra.

Particularly fascinating to see Alice at the RB two days after Giselle by the Mikhailovsky. The former is everything that the latter is not: sterling quality at every level, slick, contemporary, seamless, crazy, riotous, ironic, funny. The latter, though occasionally clunky in scenery and workaday in general level of the corps, had one thing (or two, depending how you see them) that the Royal doesn't: namely, Osipova and Vasiliev.

Lamb and Bonelli are both beautiful, technically tremendous dancers. The role of Alice is a particular workout for the lead ballerina, who's on stage and holding the show almost the whole time - a massive challenge carried off by Lamb with immense strength, charm and delicacy. But neither of these two excellent principals manipulates the confluence of time and space on stage the way the Russian duo do. They were part of the performance, key members of the Olympian teamwork; they didn't transcend it.

In the second interval, we spotted two audience members, pale and frown-faced, putting on their coats. They looked like ex-dancers. You'll miss the best bit if you leave now, we said. "We are not so impressed," said the man, Russian accent to the fore. "We find rather simplistic." That's your problem, mate, we didn't say. It's not a word I'd ever choose to describe a production as complex, bravura and vivid as this one. Was that, perhaps, a little indication of the different priorities of British versus Russian ballet? But next year, come to think of it, Wheeldon and Joby Talbot are teaming up again to bring us another full-length creation at the RB: The Winter's Tale. By Shakespeare. That will be very different - and interesting indeed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The future's Liam Scarlett. And it's also Daniil Trifonov

I went along to Covent Garden to meet Liam Scarlett, at 26 the hottest new choreographic property in town. He's decided to give up his dancing career - which was going jolly well - to concentrate full time on choreography and Kevin O'Hare has created a new post of Artist in Residence at the Royal Ballet especially for him. My piece about him is in today's Independent.

It's fairly extraordinary interviewing ballet people after being used to musicians for so long. One doesn't like to generalise, of course, but first of all, they are so young...and so thin...and so lovely. They are poetic, intuitive, extremely bright and astoundingly determined, even driven - after all, it's a short career. Their vocation is the life they live - perhaps even more so than musicians. You know the business about a singer being his/her own instrument? With dance, it's like that, but it isn't a voice box; it's everything.

Meanwhile, it's a landmark day for me in a way I'd prefer to forget, really, but since I can't, I'm having a night off all my habitual high cultcha and  we're going to see Skyfall at the IMAX. As my own present to all of you - for to give is better than to receive - here is Daniil Trifonov playing the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie at the 2010 Chopin Competition. I came away from his QEH recital last week thinking "Someone should book this boy to play Prokofiev 2, soon - it'll be his piece to a T." And guess what? He's playing it on Thursday at the RFH with the Philharmonia and Lorin Maazel.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A dancer-director hits the ground running

More ballet! I had the first interview for a national newspaper with the new director of the Royal Ballet, Kevin O'Hare. I found the one-time Birmingham Royal Ballet premier danseur thinking big, with a strong, clear vision for where he wants the company to go from here. Among the highlights we can look forward to are a triple bill in November of ballets from the three hottest British choreographers associated with the company - Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett; a new one-act ballet by Alexei Ratmansky, probably to the Chopin Preludes (wonderful idea!), and more new three-acters in the future.

Incidentally, Osipova left the Bolshoi last year together with her partner Ivan Vasiliev, and their new company, the Mikhailovsky Ballet, appears to be OK about her making guest appearances elsewhere. Ratmansky was director of the Bolshoi for five years up to 2009.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A firebird as a swan

It's been noted everywhere, since Natalia Osipova hit town the other day, that the Russian prima ballerina assoluta-in-the-making isn't necessarily a natural Odette. She's more firebird than swan, setting the place so much alight as Odile in Act III that it's no surprise everything goes up in smoke at the end. On the other hand, why should Odette be a moaning minnie? A swan is strong, fierce and near-supernatural, a favourite symbol of mythical purity and grace, the creature that leads Lohengrin and seduces Zeus. And, incidentally, a swan can break a man's arm.


Osipova's swan is Odette with a modern twist: fabulously musical, she goes into slow motion with those wonderful ritardando spins, or chooses an arabesque angle all her own, her Bolshoi training's super-extension a vivid contrast with the expert ensemble but contained style of the Royal Ballet corps. We may want to see her leap, but she wants to act - and for good reason. Her Odette is slow to trust yet quick to love, which makes her betrayal all the more tragic; and Osipova gives us an inspired moment before she throws herself into the lake that is the instant Odette cracks. Visibly, before she embarks on her final mime, she realises she can take no more: now her mind is made up and nothing will stop her. Acosta's Siegfried follows her, of course. But it is Rothbart's death that we see on stage, and the ferociously marvellous Gary Avis seems to drown in a turbulent lake of vengeful swans. We experience our heroine and hero's last moments vicariously through his.

Here is Anthony Dowell coaching Marianela Nunez, Thiago Soares and Christopher Saunders in the climactic pas de trois - from the Royal Ballet Live webcast last April. (I love how the pianist gets totally carried away - and the thing that Dowell describes as "the Judy Garland moment"...)



Back to Osipova & Acosta: it was the Black Swan pas de deux that sent everyone nuts, and with good reason. Osipova works the audience with the instinct for timing, and virtuoso teasingness, of a prize comedy actress, though her interpretation is certainly not about laughs. In her solo, she goes into a phenomenal series of turns and extensions with that trademark slow control; then seems about to do it again on the other side, until, with a glance into the auditorium, seems to say "nah, maybe not...". The smile she flashes at the conclusion would have set the house aflame even if the sequence of fouettes - and whatever else it was that she did in those famous spins, which were doubles with knobs on - had not already done so. Acosta's whirls themselves drew a loud whoop of joy from somewhere in the stalls in mid flow: like Papageno, I think he could have won a few auditorium marriage proposals given the chance. He is a dancer who, like Dowell, can own the stage with the move of one arm and can hover in the air for what feels like a whole minute when allowed, in the Black Swan finale, to leap. If only they would bring back Siegfried's Ashton solo in Act I...

Speaking of which, it hasn't escaped any critic's notice that this production is a wee bit past its sell-by date. The lurid designs, for a start. The schlock-Gothic Act III is more Rocky Horror Show than royal ball. Rothbart looks, as owl, like a cross between Rod Stewart and, unfortunately, Jimmy Savile (what has Rothbart been doing to his troop of bewitched maidens anyway?), and later, in the ballroom, more like George Michael on a really bad day. However powerful Gary Avis's acting - and no character dancer could be more so - it's hard to take Rothbart seriously in this get-up.

But though it's the designs that cause the most complaint, I have to add my usual bug-bear about the limited benefits of supposed "authenticity". Going back to the original text as far as possible means that we lose all the old RB production's gorgeous Frederick Ashton contributions (except the Neapolitan Dance, which would probably cause a balletomanes' riot if chopped). In Act I, it's not only Siegfred's solo that I miss, but also the old Ashton waltz. David Bintley's choreography for the waltz, apparently based on an original-version 'Dance of the Stools' - the wooden sort, I hasten to add - is irritating, fussy and chaotic and the maypole adds nothing at all except clutter. Meanwhile Act IV is missing some of my favourite music - the clarinet-led, Russian folksongish lament - jettisoned in favour of a pretty but interminable waltz, when there are waltzes galore elsewhere already. Also, Ashton's Act IV made spectacular use of possibly the most dramatic piece in the whole score, which does not come into this version at all. The current staging does win on drama in Act IV - but at a price.

But hey. We weren't there for the production, but for Osipova - and it was her night all right. I was sitting next to a dance critic of long experience and some renown who remarked that bringing in a star like Osipova is a move that could inspire the whole company, showing them all what's really possible. And going home, I bumped into Brian, My Ballet Teacher, who was in ecstasies, saying that Osipova had delivered moments in the role as he had never seen them done before. Brian has lived and breathed classical ballet all his life - he used to dance leading roles with London Festival Ballet and his classes are gloriously poetic and Vaganova-inspired - and he knows what he's talking about.

The orchestra, under Boris Gruzhin, was on mostly excellent form - what a treat to hear such luxury Tchaikovsky - and it's hard to imagine the violin solos played more wonderfully than they are by concertmaster Vasko Vassilev, whose deep amethyst tone is now an essential part of Royal Ballet Tchaikovsky classics as a brand. Please, Kevin O'Hare, couldn't we have him go on stage for a curtain call?

The Mikhailovsky Ballet - of which Osipova and her usual partner/husband, the utterly incredible Ivan Vasiliev, are members - is coming to Britain in the spring. Doing, among other things, Swan Lake. If the First Couple of Dance are there, buy, beg or steal a ticket.






Saturday, June 02, 2012

In Darcey's shoes?

Tonight Kenneth MacMillan's last full-evening ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas, opens at Covent Garden after being missing for a generation. It's so much associated with Darcey Bussell, whom it propelled to stardom, that to step into her shoes is a tall order. I talked to the leading ballerinas Marianela Nunez and Sarah Lamb about what it's like to try. Here's my feature from today's Independent.

And here is the adorable Marianela in rehearsal, filmed in the Royal Ballet's entire day of live webcasts in March (on her birthday).



Meanwhile, it's Diamond Jubilee time. Of course, this being London in June, it's raining and the forecast for tomorrow's River Pageant is 13 degrees... Readers overseas might like to know that there are flags everywhere. The whole of London has sprouted up looking like it's the Last Night of the Proms. Union Jacks are all over the city centre, where the Christmas lights usually go, and plenty of people have hung bunting outside their houses. The atmosphere is wonderful, despite the rain, or perhaps because of it. Let's face it, the Queen is a remarkable woman who has been doing the same job for 60 years with a professionalism that puts the politicians to absolute shame.

As far as the River Pageant is concerned - 1000 carefully-chosen boats on the Thames - they could have come up with a more imaginative musical programme, really, although there are some nice premieres. You may have missed my "jeepers-who-came-up-with-this-UKIP-style-fantasy" piece about the music on the ten boats, written when the programme was announced. I'd nurtured a faint hope that the then-still-TBC Ninth Boat might hold a waterborne world premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies's Ninth Symphony. It doesn't. Just as well. Now, several months later, it's evident that all of this is just aural wallpaper. Probably there'll be so much noise that nobody will be able to hear anything anyway.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sergei Polunin jumps ship

And just as we were wondering if men in ballet are upwardly mobile... the Royal Ballet puts out a statement saying that Sergei Polunin has resigned with immediate effect. I interviewed him in the autumn for The Independent and sensed he was champing at the bit, so I'm not wholly surprised - though hadn't expected him to jump ship quite this soon, given the prominence the company was according him. Well, he's off. No reasons have been stated for his resignation, thus far (and I hope it's nothing to do with the tattoos).

The news is causing quite some shock in the dance-loving Twitterverse, and the words "with immediate effect" are startling and somewhat dramatic. He is, of course, in that programme at Sadler's Wells, as I reported this morning, and speculation is rife as to where he will go from here. A number of performances will have to be recast, including a worldwide cinema relay of Romeo and Juliet scheduled for March.

Here's the statement from Monica Mason just issued by the ROH:

This has obviously come as a huge shock, Sergei is a wonderful dancer and I have enjoyed watching him tremendously, both on stage and in the studio, over the past few years.  I wish him every success in the future.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Shock news: good-looking violinist can really play

Dodging our diligent builders who work on bank holidays, I turned on BBC Breakfast to see what the hurricane news was from the US, only to find myself witnessing some pretty bloody amazing Paganini instead. The culprit: Charlie Siem, a young British violinist fresh out of Cambridge and, uh, the modelling world. When I read that he was the 'global face' of Dunhill, I thought that meant the cigarettes and I was all ready to write an Outraged Non-Smoker of Sheen piece about the iniquities of young musicians having to get ahead by modelling for a filthy habit that kills people. But it turns out that Dunhill is actually a James Bond-ish designer menswear label...I wouldn't know; my husband is, like, more of a Ralph Lauren man.

When a fresh-faced, square-jawed, youthful supermodel type emerges with violin in hand and one painted fingernail, the knee-jerk music-critic reaction is to yawn and switch off; the knee-jerk Gidon Kremer-style reaction could be to walk out of the festival. But this guy can really play. And not just because he has Menuhin's Guarneri del Gesu, nor just because he's related to Ole Bull (have tweeted him to ask how so, but am not currently convinced he does his own tweets), nor just because Lady Gaga likes him. Seems he can talk the talk, walk the walk and, best of all, play the Paganini.

Have we turned full circle? Now that almost every young musician who pops up does look good, they need more than ever to be differentiated by their playing. Rather than one photogenic fiddler standing out from the crowd of technically adept ones because of his or her appearance, do we have a case in which the really fine musicians will emerge from the crowd of photogenic ones because of their playing after all? Hmm. He's got a new album out (hence BBC Breakfast), so see what you think.

Here's Charlie in something a little different (?! pink shorts) - two years ago, in Cuba with the Royal Ballet...



...and some Wieniawski.