Showing posts with label Lauren Cuthbertson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lauren Cuthbertson. Show all posts

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Dancing du Pré



Ballet at its finest does something no other art form can match. It can articulate elusive emotions and ineffable relationships, making them palpable when words would scarcely exist. How, for instance, can one capture the nature of the relationship between a musician and their instrument? The interdependency which seems to make the latter into a second self, an interwoven soul?

The latest online offering from the Royal Opera House is the new ballet The Cellist by choreographer Cathy Marston, which was premiered only a few months ago. It's the story of Jacqueline du Pré, with original score by Philip Feeney partly based on many different pieces from her repertoire - Elgar, Schubert, Beethoven, Fauré, Schumann and more - with one important difference. The cello is human.

Indeed, he's Marcelino Sambé, one of the Royal Ballet's brightest young stars (if you saw the disappointingly infantilised TV documentary about the company's male dancers the other day, you'll have spotted him there). How do you become a cello? Sambé's extraordinary dancing embodies it all: there's virtuosity, plasticity, dignity, yearning beauty and an otherness, offset by human beings with their multiplicity of everyday detail. Moreover, anyone who's ever dated or married a musician knows that "there's three of us in this relationship": and the emotional height is not the sensual Fauré-based pas de deux for the Cellist and the Husband, but the performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto - backed by a dancing orchestra - in which the two of them and the Cello become an inseparable twelve-limbed conglomeration of movement, concentration and flow, rising and falling individually yet as one.

Opening with the rolling of many LPs, which inspire the child Jackie to dream of learning to play, with the Cello reaching out to her, the ballet follows her from her first lessons through young adulthood, leaving home, meeting and marrying her conductor husband (of whom more in a moment) and the heights of success; then the onset of her illness and her decline until the poignant final scene in which she lies in her armchair listening to her own recording, with Sambé spinning around her like an LP in frisbee flight.

The dramaturgical detail is seriously enjoyable for du Pré fans, who will guess that Gary Avis is William Pleeth, taking hold of Sambé to demonstrate a phrase, or that the wedding is in Israel by the Wailing Wall amid the wartime dangers of 1967, and that the Jewish wedding dance is but a step away from Hava Nagila. The 'Musical Friends' in bright-coloured shirts who join the three leads for a session based on the scherzo of the 'Trout' Quintet are bound to be Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Zubin Mehta - capturing in dance all the joyous collegiality, quirkiness and high-jinx fun that the quintet brought to that famous filmed performance: Jackie is transformed briefly into her husband's piano, held for him by the three men, which feels like a delicious riff on the way the group were captured in Christopher Nupen's film trying to play one another's instruments. Much of this won't be obvious to those who are not intimately familiar with du Pré's history, but those who are will derive a bit of extra "ooh" factor from the ballet.

Lauren Cuthbertson as The Cellist, Marcelino Sambé as The Instrument
Photo: (c) ROH, Bill Cooper 

Matthew Ball as the Husband - Daniel Barenboim, of course - can't help but be taller and lither than the man himself, but his dancing really does embody something of Barenboim's driven, animalistic energy. As The Cellist, Lauren Cuthbertson too is uncannily like du Pré, in blue dress, pony tail and a succession of cardigans: the generous smile, the open-limbed joie-de-vivre, the absolute get-up-and-go that vanishes in the agony of illness, finally shattering in the trembling of a bow arm that, in front of an assembled audience and with Sambé ready in front of her, simply will not move.

Other characters are treated with a lighter touch than they have sometimes received in other contexts. The Sister (implicitly Hilary) is an archetypal sister, stirring Jackie's tea, beautifully danced by Anna Rose O'Sullivan. The parents are a lovely, conventional family and the Mother's anguish over the abandoned cardigan as Jackie vanishes into the big wide world is deeply touching. Marston sets all of this with a gentle, humane quirkiness in which the Cello is not the only inanimate object transformed by human portrayal: dancers become the family furniture, with a finger as a switch on a lamp, and later, briefly, du Pré's wheelchair. Specially wonderful are a couple of star turns for the sisters as children, Lauren Godfrey as the teenage Hilary and Emma Lucano as the dreaming young Jackie, who match the adults for charisma, character and expertise.

Marston's choreography captures all of this wealth of history, imagination and otherwise intangible embodiment with tremendous flair. The cello performance starter-pose is perfect: Sambé kneeling in front of Cuthbertson with one raised arm as the cello's neck and one extended leg as its spike. Yet occasionally the sheer quantity of movement can feel overwhelming: personally I enjoy moments of slowness and stillness in ballet in which the eye and brain can enwrap more clearly the sculptural moments of the choreography, something one finds aplenty in Ashton and MacMillan. As in music, a rest can speak more loudly than demisemiquavers, so too in dance.

Perhaps the ultimate value of this ballet, though, is to illuminate for those to whom it's a new concept that a musical instrument is not just an inanimate object. You do not put them in the plane's hold, and this is why. It literally risks breaking your dancing partner into pieces. I hope that in the empty-skied lockdown, many off-duty airline staff will see and enjoy this fabulous creation and understand, some for the first time, exactly what they are doing.

Last but by no means least, there is glorious cello playing throughout from Hetty Snell.

You can watch the whole thing here. Please donate to the company, which is losing 60% of its income while forcibly closed, with no reopening date currently knowable.


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. 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, 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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oh, my ears and whiskers!



Christopher Wheeldon's madcap, rainbow ballet of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is coming back to Covent Garden on Friday and it will hit the big screens live on 28 March. I went down the rabbit hole to have a chat with two of its stars, Lauren Cuthbertson and Edward Watson. The piece is out in The Independent today - and Lauren also talks about what it was like when her Knave, Sergei Polunin, walked out with no notice last year.

Sod's Law, though, along with the ROH website, reveals this morning that poor old Lauren is not able to go on for her three performances after all. Seems to be the lingering effects of the ankle surgery. We wish her the speediest possible recovery. Sarah Lamb replaces her, and Yuhui Choe takes over the performances that Sarah was previously scheduled to do. Meanwhile, watch the ROH news page for more of my interview with the wonderful Ed, in which we talk about Mayerling.

On Saturday afternoon, incidentally, I went to the (mostly) excellent triple bill of Apollo, 24 Preludes (the new Ratmansky to orchestrated Chopin) and Aeternum (new Wheeldon) and three quarters of the cast - six out of eight dancers - had to be replaced in the Ratmansky. The last-minute line-up did provide a chance to enjoy the radiant dancing of someone who seems to be a real "one to watch" - Melisssa Hamilton, who hails from Northern Ireland and won a Critics' Circle Award in 2009. More about the programme when I've got a mo.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"He believed that you can say anything through dance"

It's 20 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan died and the Royal Ballet is about to open a triple bill of his works to mark the anniversary. I had a wonderful talk the other week with his widow, Lady Deborah MacMillan, and my piece is out today. Read it in the Indy, here.

In this film, made to introduce the cinecast of Romeo and Juliet earlier this year, and fronted by its Juliet, the lovely Lauren Cuthbertson, the great and good of the company explore the work that is regarded by countless fans as the choreographer's prime masterpiece.

Today I am off to meet someone who could yet turn out to be one of his successors. Watch this space.