Thursday, 30 April 2009

Carlos Acosta and Guest Artists - update

Photo credit : Johan Persson

Majisimo will be performed by Acosta, Moret, Vargas, McRae, Marquez, Corveas, Cao and Chinellato.

Corveas is due to perform in Ritmicas and Majisimo.

There will be a further update on this show next week.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Carlos Acosta and Guest Artists - programme details for July shows

Photo credit : Johan Persson

Very exciting news about the July shows, with new repertoire.

We have :

Arionel Vargas and Begona Cao from English National Ballet - performing Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes accompanied by Rachmaninoff’s score and Derek Deane’s Summertime

Miguel Altunaga from Rambert - performing a new piece choreographed by Acosta

Veronica Corveas from Ballet Nacional de Cuba

Nina Kaptsova from the Bolshoi - performing the challenging Spartacus pas de deux with Acosta (Kaptsova was his original Bolshoi partner in this ballet)

Steven McRae and Roberta Marquez from The Royal Ballet - performing Ashton’s Rhapsody

Amilcar Moret and Florencia Chinellato debut in London from Hamburg Ballet - performing a piece from Neumeier’s La Dame Aux Camelias

Plisetski’s nature-inspired piece Canto Vital, performed by Acosta, Moret, McRae and Vargas.

A live tango band onstage as Altunaga and Cao perform Brandstrup’s Tango;

Majisimo by Georges Garcia, performed by Acosta, Moret, Vargas, Jose, Marquez, Corveas, Cao

Fokine’s The Dying Swan

I just wanted to add here that there is another announcement to come on this show, soon, which I will post here the second I can, and to leave you with this thought :

You wouldn't want to find yourself queueing into Trafalgar Square for returns on the night because you'd left it too late to buy a ticket, would you ?

To book :

Carlos Acosta and Guest Artists
London Coliseum
Wednesday 22 - Saturday 25 Jul 2009
Performances: Wed - Sat at 7.30pm, Sat 25 at 2pm
Tickets: £15 - £75
Ticket office: 0844 412 4300

Royal Opera House - Patrons

Being a Patron of the Royal Opera House is meant to bestow upon those members some benefits (according to how much you pay, which varies greatly). Recently the levels of membership have been expanded. Priority booking is perhaps the biggest draw, but this has become more difficult as the seats are divided up between all the various levels, the areas of the House and the requisite number set aside for the public. No details are available as to how this is achieved, and quite possibly the numbers are different for every booking period. I have found that I always have to try to buy tickets during public booking, which has a knock-on effect in terms of ticket availability, just because I can't find what I used to be able to buy during priority booking.

Now, there are a myriad reasons why my preferred seats are no longer available in priority booking, but there is no transparency from the Royal Opera House to help me work it out. I should imagine that quite a few members have just got fed up with the stresses of trying the online booking system, not being able to get the tickets they want, and have cancelled their direct debits.

I tried the website just before posting and I went straight to the front page, but although I clicked on the "support" button, clearly showing no intention to book tickets, I was thrown into the grey waiting room. Pointless for me, but surely infuriating for those in the queue behind me who are trying to pay for tickets !

Now there are changes afoot with one of the other benefits for members - in the most recent issue of the Patrons magazine, a small section of one page was given over to this announcement :

"Royal Ballet Masterclasses are overwhelmingly popular with Friends, and we have for some time been aware that we have not been able to satisfy your demand for tickets through Friends' priority Booking. Starting with the 2009/10 season we will no longer advertise the classes held in the Clore Studio Upstairs through About The House. Instead we will make tickets available by invitation, ensuring that as many Friends and supporters as possible are able to enjoy these special opportunities to see our dancers at work. We will monitor the allocation of tickets to ensure that they are distributed fairly throughout the Season, but if you would like to make sure you are included in the list of Friends to be invited, please contact the Friends office".

This raises a number of issues, not least how they will allocate the invitations fairly. To clarify this point, I asked Susan Fisher, Head of Friends, if she could explain the procedure they will follow. Ms Fisher replied : "We will let all the Friends know how to book for these classes in due course. It will be fairer that it has been until now."

This raises more questions than it answers. Does this mean that no decision has been made about how invitations will be allocated ? Why couldn't Ms Fisher simply answer my question - what is to be gained by asking me to wait for a reply ?

The main reason for asking for clarity is that there will be Patrons who like to offer their support to the company but because they don't live nearby are unlikely ever to accept such an invitation (and let's not forget - these are still paid events, it's not a free invitation). So if invitations are essentially wasted on members who will never attend, how is that fair on the members who would have gone instead ? If you are invited but can't attend, what's to stop you buying the tickets and giving them to someone you know ? Some masterclasses are held in the Linbury - what happens to them ?

The announcement does suggest that you can make sure you are included by contacting the Friends office. My own request was met with a frosty "it was done" from Ms Fisher.

But it isn't compulsory - it isn't saying that if you don't call then you won't be included, which still leaves us with the issue of potentially wasted invitations. Perhaps they will re-offer tickets to those not take up in the first round - but if so, how will these recipients be chosen ?

I'd be interested to hear what anyone else thinks about this new development.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Royal Opera House - Public booking opened today

Oh dear.

Quite a lot of people have had a torrid day either on the phone or via the internet, trying to book tickets for the ballet or opera at the Royal Opera House. There have also been long queues outside the building and refreshments on offer from the staff for those hardy enough to queue when it's cold as it was this morning.

Who gets the best deal ? Seasoned bookers will have anticipated some issues at least, most notably online, but you never quite know what you will get until the day itself. And rarely is it a pleasant surprise. It probably depends on your stress tolerance and how much time you have to spare on the day.

I won't put up a link to the website this time - you will either be thrown into the bland & grey waiting room or, worse still, a new gremlin which pops up as a black screen and tells you that the site is full to capacity and could you possibly try again later ? And this, when booking opened at 10am this morning and it's now almost 6pm. 8 solid hours of people trying to book and still the website cannot cope with demand.

I'm not at all clear why booking for the Kirov had to open on the same day as public booking. Ditto the Schools summer performance which seems to always generate an enormous scrabble for seats. It can't have helped the situation.

Anyway, to cheer everyone up I've posted a picture of my first peony of the year. It is the size of a saucer and the most beautiful colour - cheers me up every time I go out to say hello. I have three of them out right now - if the rain doesn't get them as it did last "summer".

If you have a tale to tell on the booking front then please do let me know. And take it easy out there.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


The Royal Opera House has confirmed that the Royal Ballet performance scheduled for 1st January 5pm is The Nutcracker.

In the Press Release issued yesterday they had two productions scheduled for the same date and time, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

You can watch a trailer for The Nutcraker here.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Hi everyone,

Are you, or do you know someone, who is great at sketching ?

I'm looking for an artist who can do colour sketches of pictures such as the one here. Full credit will be given to the artist.

If you're interested, have a go at the picture here and post your results (or a link to them) and I'll be in touch.

Best of luck,


Today in the Evening Standard, Ismene Brown reports on the return to the Covent Garden stage of Alina Cojocaru.

Cojocaru suffered a major injury while rehearsing a ballet and has been off the stage for a year. She is much loved by audiences at the Royal Ballet, and some say that Giselle, the ballet she will dance tonight, is her signature role. It's certainly the ballet which she and her partner Johan Kobborg have performed the most all over the world.

She talks movingly about the pain and loneliness of her lengthy injury, of the worry of trying to find the right treatment, and of being left behind when the ballet company went on tour. I think most of us can empathise with her in this situation - long-term injuries can batter your self belief and the battle to stay mentally as well as physically strong, when it takes longer that you'd like to recover, can be utterly draining without the right support.

Excerpt from the interview entitled " First Lady of ballet is back on stage after her hardest performance" :

What about the ballet that gave her the injury? Cojocaru won't name it, but it was an accident, and she will face it again if she needs to.
"I am different now - suddenly you see the end of one journey and the beginning of the next more beautiful journey. There is nothing I could wish for myself right now. I'm only 27 and still have half my career ahead of me. And I am so glad to be back. Today we were working on Giselle and I heard that music and thought, I'll cry from the first step I take on stage. But I'll probably laugh like crazy too."

The article doesn't mention that Alina did dance a Family performance of Giselle last week.

Nevertheless, tonight's lucky audience are in for a treat. I bet it's a sell-out.

Good Luck Alina.


An interesting interview from Reuters, where Tony Hall is quoted as saying, amongst other things, that there will be no price increases at the beginning of next season.

The Royal Ballet Season announced - 09/10

It’s that time of year again.

The bluebells and first peonies are out, and the Royal Opera House reveals what is in store for the coming season. The Royal Ballet season runs from October – June; in July they go on tour (this summer – in a huge coup for the company – to Cuba). For the last couple of years, the need for good box office receipts and a lack of rehearsal time have constrained the company, producing underwhelming seasons. Some have commented that this programming is the result of the credit crunch, but the reality is that the 3-5yr rolling plan containing 09/10 was drawn up before the crunch slammed into everything. The Royal Ballet constantly competes with the Royal Opera for rehearsal/stage time, limiting the number of new productions that can be mounted in any season.

Mayerling (10 performances)
The Sleeping Beauty (5 matinees* and 17 evening performances)
Agon | Sphinx | New McGregor (6 performances)
The Nutcracker (6 matinees and 13 late afternoon/evening performances)
Les Patineurs | Beatrix Potter (6 matinees and 7 late afternoon/evening performances)
Romeo and Juliet (2 matinees and 14 evening performances)
New Watkins | Rushes | Infra (5 performances)
La Fille Mal Gardee (3 matinees and 9 evening performances)
Concerto | Judas Tree | Elite Syncopations (6 performances)
Cinderella (5 matinees and 8 evening performances)
Electric Counterpoint | New Scarlett | Carmen (1 matinee and 5 evening performances)
Chroma | Tryst | Symphony in C (2 matinees and 4 evening performances)

I am thrilled that Jonathan Watkins and Liam Scarlett will both get their chances to choreograph on the main stage this season. Both are talented beyond their years and I can’t wait to see what they make of the opportunity to put a one act ballet onto the main stage. Watkins is working with Graham Fitkin, who has written a newly commissioned score. Scarlett’s work is to music by Francis Poulenc & is programmed with Carmen which has just been on (to a mixed reception).

ROH2 have announced a collaboration between Kim Brandstrup and the Royal Ballet’s Principal dancer Tamara Rojo, in a new dance work to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Rojo will be joined by Steven McRae and Thomas Whitehead.

Ballets are like diamonds – multi-faceted. There is a ballet for everyone. If you want to waltz into the Piazza after a show then what could be better than The Nutcracker with its Snowflakes and Sugar Plum Fairy ? For chiffony twirliness, try Cinderella. For drama & passion you have Manon and Romeo & Juliet. For glittery wands & Fairies galore, The Sleeping Beauty is your ballet. For sheer & dazzling dance how about Symphony in C ?

And then there is the Dark Side of ballet. The season opens on October 7th with the brooding & troubled Mayerling, which, for my taste, has too much theatre & standing around and not enough dancing. That said, the pas de deux, when they come, are daring & difficult. Will we ever be shot of this truly dire, sepia-tinted, giant puffy-sleeved, over-blown production of The Sleeping Beauty ? Looking at the triple bills, one’s mind tends to boggle at whatever thought process put them together. Resident choreographer Wayne McGregor has to have a slot for at least one of his new works each year, it’s in his contract, and we’ll have to wait to see how it programmes with Agon and Sphinx. This new work is set to Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s Notes on Light for cello and orchestra and the designs are by Japanese sculptor and installation artist Tatsuo Miyajima. As I say, the mind boggles. I’ve never been a fan of McGregor’s style and I’ve always had concerns that an essentially classical ballet company would take on a resident choreographer (think Ashton, MacMillan) who prefers the polar opposite. I’m all for versatility but such extremes in style don’t sit well together for me.

And then to the rays of sunshine in Winter : who would complain about the delightful Nutcracker for Christmas ? Ok, so it’s been on for several years in a row, but it is perfectly suited to the Christmas holidays, the best production there is, and of course guaranteed box office gold. Nutcracker’s companion staging this year is a double bill comprising the very popular Les Patineurs & The Tales of Beatrix Potter, which the audiences love and the dancers less so.

Romeo & Juliet hasn’t been out of the rep for long, and here we see it back in January for a run of 16 performances – and quite odd that 2 of them are matinees – this is hardly a family ballet.

Almost everyone loves the rural idyll that is La Fille Mal Gardee (The Wayward Daughter) & this year it celebrates its 50th anniversary. Where else could you find a real pony, life-size hens and troublesome ribbons ?

And hurrah – Elite Syncopations at long last – but only for 6 performances in late March/early April. I’m not sure about putting such a “jazz hands” ballet with The Judas Tree which is all doom & gloom.

Cinderella, with 4 matinee performances, is a great family ballet – everyone knows the story and this staging is magical. You’ve got the contrast between the pantomime Ugly Sisters and the sublimely lyrical pas de deux between Cinderella and her Prince. And shoes !!! It’s sometimes hard to imagine that this music was written by the same composer as Romeo & Juliet – Prokofiev.

The season ends in a triumph with Symphony in C – a ballet so dazzling it is sure to send you out on a high. All 48 dancers are on stage for the coda. Again I have doubts about the rest of this triple bill but to be honest, anything programmed with Symphony is going to get second billing.

You can read the full press releases here.

*A note on matinees – the press releases have sometimes included one 2pm performance as a matinee and not another. For the purposes of this blog, I have included all performances that start before 5pm as matinees, since the dictionary definition of a matinee is : “a theatrical performance held during the daytime (especially in the afternoon)”.

There is also at least one instance where two productions are supposed to be performed on the same date and time & in the same place so the eventual numbers may change !

Monday, 20 April 2009

A Dance to the Music of Time: Aesthetically-Relevant Changes in Body Posture in Performing Art

A Dance to the Music of Time: Aesthetically-Relevant Changes in Body Posture in Performing Art
Elena Daprati1,2, Marco Iosa3, Patrick Haggard4*
1 Dipartimento di Neuroscienze and Centro di Biomedicina Spaziale, Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata, Roma, Italy, 2 Dipartimento di Fisiologia Neuromotoria, IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Roma, Italy, 3 Dipartimento di Scienze del Movimento Umano e dello Sport, Istituto Universitario di Scienze Motorie, Rome, Italy, 4 Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom

A fascinating in-depth study has been published which aims to explore whether classical ballet positions are performed differently over time, specifically the relation between individual aesthetic experience and changes in art objects. ("In performing arts, body postures are both means for expressing an artist's intentions, and also artistic objects, appealing to the audience".) And if they are, is it due to dancer preference, audience preference (both newcomers and experienced observers), better training, dancer fitness, motor capability or is it a cultural preference which initiates the change ?

In classical ballet body positions are codified, and have been since 1760, and the research uses archive material from The Royal Ballet over a 60 year period to show leg elevation angles. Among the dancers included were Fonteyn, Beriosova, Bussell, Durante, Mason and Marquez. The team measured joint angles rather than limb positions as they do not depend on, for example, the body size of the dancer.

The research was based on Marius Petipa’s version of The Sleeping Beauty and used an excerpt called “The Rose Adagio” from Act 1 – a variation much feared among ballerinas for its test of balance. The Rose Adagio is particularly testing for dancers because it comes straight after a fairly quick solo and very soon after the ballerina has first appeared on stage. It is especially difficult for an athlete to steady a racing heartbeat suddenly, in order to perfect the static poses required of The Rose Adagio, and that is before you consider the added pressure that most knowledgeable ballet-goers will be keenly anticipating this excerpt, much as they would the famous 32 fouettes in Swan Lake. The team considered that “in such postures, the angle of the elevation of the working leg relative to the standing leg is related to both the skill of the dancer, and to the audience’s perception”.

The productions of The Sleeping Beauty used were from 1946-2004 and the research was carried out using photographs and videos. The “Fairy of purity” variation from the Prologue of the same ballet was also studied, as it is traditionally danced by younger and less experienced ballerinas and they wanted to see whether changes over time were reflective of just a few outstandingly talented dancers or a general trend.

What were the team able to conclude from this study ?

Over time there has been a progressive and general change in dancer’s body positions over successive productions; specifically that the working leg is indeed lifted higher nowadays.

When you consider that the choreography is fixed and passed on through the generations working for the same company in this study, the team found that the dancers in fact “appeared to perfect the biomechanics of the movement, perhaps by increasing hip turnout, and consequently the range of movement of the working leg”.

Throughout their studies, they found that trunk position remains unchanged, whether or not the dancer was supported, and that it was specifically the position of leg elevation which had changed, resulting in an increasingly vertical body position.

There is still much debate over why these changes have occured, but the report makes interesting reading and hopefully further research will be carried out in future.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The Royal Ballet Season 09/10

The details for the Royal Ballet's new season are expected to be announced formally on 22nd April, however, the Royal Opera House has sent out the details to Patrons ahead of that date.

More details & comment will follow after the official announcement next week but for now here is the Season 09/10 in the order in which the productions will appear :

The Sleeping Beauty
Agon/Sphinx/New McGregor
The Nutcracker
Les Patineurs/Beatrix Potter
Romeo and Juliet
New Watkins/Rushes/Infra
Concerto/Judas Tree/Elite Syncopations
Electric Counterpoint/New Scarlett/Carmen
Chroma/Tryst/Symphony in C

Friday, 17 April 2009


One of the things that draws me back to the ballet (even the ones I’ve seen before), is to be in the theatre on a night when that elusive special something raises the bar onstage and transmits an electrical frizzon to the audience & makes the hairs on the back of my neck shiver. Carlos Acosta dancing Spartacus for the first time in London was one such dazzling night; Darcey Bussell’s last dance (to Song of the Earth) transcended time and place; Stephen McRae getting the chance (at short notice) to dance Romeo with Alina Cojocaru was another. These gems come along rarely, and although, if you have a good knowledge of a ballet company and its repertory you can perhaps anticipate something extraordinary in the casting, you just have to be there in case it happens when you least expect it as well.

This was the 529th performance of Giselle at the Royal Opera House & this run has two notable debutantes - Marianela Nunez as Giselle and Helen Crawford as Myrtha.

It promised to be one such night.

Marianela Nunez is to ballet what Christine Bleakley is to TV – a ballerina with smiling genetically programmed in her DNA. Rarely do you see either without it on full beam. In Act 1, where Giselle is happiness personified, everything is sunny and light. Her smile is solar powered, the steps perfectly danced. Ricardo Cervera stood out in the pas de six, landing each jump perfectly. It’s easy to overlook Nunez’s technical expertise while she expresses every nuance so exquisitely. Nunez and Acosta always seem to spark off each other and almost dare each other to greater technically astounding feats, but Act 1 doesn’t call for that and so it’s an opportunity to see understatement at work. No more so than the “mad scene”, when Giselle sees, with the (un)helpful Hilarion that her lover (Albrecht) is not who she thinks he is, that he is a Count and not a peasant as she is, and is already engaged to another to boot. Other dancers have portrayed this pivotal scene with wide eyed hysterics and much nashing of teeth and hair; not Nunez. Her Giselle was still, registering slowly the impact of Albrecht’s betrayal, and as she realises the futility of the situation she gives up hope completely, and it’s tragic to watch.

If Act 1 is yellow and brown, all about celebrating the harvest and dancing, then Act 11 is introspective, atmospheric, gauzy and white, with phantom Wilis set on revenge with Myrtha as their Queen. Helen Crawford’s dancing was fleet footed, making beautiful shapes with her feet and at the same time, making it absolutely clear who is in charge in this moonlit, spooky place. The corp were perfectly drilled, their costumes giving an air of ethereal “otherness” and their dancing an air of menace. Myrtha is implacable, and after dancing Hilarion to death the Wilis turn their ghostly spectre's to Albrecht, who is visiting Giselle’s grave. Giselle appears and on seeing his remorse, wants to save him from her vengeful sisters. Myrtha is having none of it. For any dancer, the role of Myrtha must be a difficult one, not least because for much of the time she is turned towards the audience, at the front of the stage, with a face like thunder and with all the action going on behind her, and yet she has to interact at crucial moments to tell the story. Crawford has mastered this pose, which could look a bit "Tin Man" from the Wizard of Oz on a less skilled dancer.

Bethany Keating, as one of Myrtha’s attendants Zulme, has beautiful feet and stood out for me in her portrayal of the role.

Acosta dances Albrecht as remorse shows in every step, every beat of his perfectly danced entrechat – how excruciating they must be – and every turn of his elegant head. Acosta and Nunez were beyond sublime during their pas de deux; jumps were soundless & perfectly timed. Sorrowful longing burned through them right to their fingertips and beyond, and as dawn approaches and Giselle leaves her exhausted lover, she cradles him in arms leaden with regret.

He is left alone.

There was drama from the audience too - just as Carlos and Marianela reached the (very quiet) climax of their pas de deux, there was a terrific groan and thud from the stalls circle which seemed to startle everyone. During the applause a huddle of people left the auditorium. Afterwards I asked a member of staff what had happened and was told that the person was “in the ambulance outside”. The entire street was blocked with the ambulance in the middle of the road.

I later heard that a man had fainted and cut his head when he fell. St. John’s Ambulance were beside him & attended him, and a member of the audience called an ambulance.

I send my best wishes to that person for a speedy recovery.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Willie's Delectable Cacao

I return triumphant.

It's taken several days, some inside knowledge and a dawn raid on my local stockist but... I have them !

Willie's Delectable cacao bars - Venezuelan 72 Rio Caribe Superior and Peruvian 70 - San Martin.

As I walked home I noticed that my shopping bag was infused with the smell of the cacao - how extraordinary - a rich, warm, slightly cloud forest FLAVOUR was wafting up towards me through the rain.

On my first skirmish to find these new bars, a few days ago, I noticed that although the shelves were bare of Willie's cacao (despite a new sign indicating where they should be), there were still an awful lot of people milling around the aisle.

I stood and watched them for a while, and they all did as I did - they picked up another brand of dark chocolate to try instead. I think it's that feeling of not wanting to go home empty-handed and I couldn't help thinking that Willie had really missed a trick here. His biggest stockist - with no stock, just before Easter and just after Channel 4 had broadcast his series of programmes showing production of the bars over three consecutive evenings. But I would later revise my opinion.

And this is why.

I bought one of the market leading brands thinking - how could it be horrible ? It wasn't cheap and although the packaging for all the dark chocolate is a bit samey, it was a name I recognised and associated with high quality - and, I hoped, taste.

Ummm. Not quite what happened. I broke off a square and nibbled tentatively. Yes certainly the strong flavour of actual cacao came through, but no smell, and the aftertaste was horribly bitter - confirming everything that people have said about dark chocolate. I actually threw the bar away, it wasn't my kind of taste at all.

So it was with some trepidation that I opened the ingeniously packaged Willie's Delectable Cacao. The neat chocolate brown box contains not one but two squares - "one for now, one for then", the packaging tells me. It's a completely different shape to anything else on the shelves; neat and easy to carry around with you but ingenious too. The concept and design is a revelation and a perfect fit - it couldn't be anything other than Willie's chocolate.

So, what if, after all the planning, I didn't like it ? The disappointment would be crushing, not least because I've been recommending Willie's 100% cacao to everyone since it was launched last year.

Again, the smell was incredible as I opened the box. It's stronger from the Venuezuelan 72, and sniffing the box I noticed that Cuban raw cane sugar is used. I'm not sure how easy that is to obtain in the UK and wonder how it influences the flavour, since you can't actually taste any sugar. Inside the two bars are very neatly wrapped with gold paper which is high quality. The bars themselves are glossy and thick, and break with a satisfying snap. And the taste..... it had so many layers, of fruit and chocolate, and something smoky, but my overall impression was of a smooth true chocolate flavour that lasted. For a long time after eating, I could still taste the flavours in my mouth and the most amazing thing was that there was absolutely no bitter aftertaste. After every bite, right at the end, I got a clear tang of lemon warmed by tropical sun.

I found that the chocolate bar reduced my appetite later - something I've heard said before about this chocolate.

It's genius what Willie has done, making a 72% chocolate bar that hasn't a hint of bitterness. I think that those people who bought alternatives when they found the shelves empty of Willie's cacao might have been equally disappointed, and when they too get to snap into one of Willie's squares, the "long forgotten flavours" will be forgotten no more because the flavours are unparallelled.

That the chocolate would be a success was never in doubt for me; how incredible it really does taste .... well, that has been revealing.

Willie has updated his website, and all credit goes to the company behind such innovative design - Link & Co.

Finally, as I read the information on the back of the box, I note that I have one from the 1st batch. I wonder whether I should have eaten it at all ? Shouldn't this be saved for posterity ? My Granny kept a tin of tuna which my Father had caught on honeymoon, and some 20 years later it still sat in her larder. Will anyone be able to resist Willie's Delectable Cacao and should it perhaps be put in a time capsule and buried well out of temptation's reach ?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Coming soon.....

A Dance to the Music of Time...

Willie's cacao

Hi everyone,

Just a little update on the chocolate post below.

The scientific tests which Willie carried out have shown that if you drink his cacao before exercising, you will burn more fat and you will feel that the exercise takes less effort, than if you hadn't drunk the cacao.

What's not to like ?

One of the best bits from the first series is now on YouTube, where Willie talks about having a hangover and trying to cook a turkey. It's hilarious and I remember it well !

There are plenty of other clips as well if you have the time.

Has anyone tried the 70% bars yet ? I have carried out several dawn raids on Waitrose but so far the shelves have been bare. There are plenty of people looking for it though !

I have tried other dark chocolate and haven't found it very appealling. I think, as Willie says, it's all about flavours - and if you don't like the flavours of one manufacturer then it can put you off. I think that once you have converted to the dark side though, there is no going back to the mixture of fat and sugar which is really confectionery and not chocolate at all.

Monday, 6 April 2009


Bear with me here. Not an immediately obvious link to ballet dancers I know, but...

Cacao, the chocolate beans, were first used thousands of years ago and the Aztecs followed in the footsteps of the Mayans and made xocoatl or xocolatl, which was basically a bitter drink of fermented & roasted cacao with chilli & other spices & ingredients. It sounds unpalatable to say the least but it was valuable because of it's energy-giving properties. It's also full of vitamins and minerals; it's a powerful antioxidant and it contains theobromine - the chocolate equivalent of caffeine - a stimulant.

Once cacao spread to the Europeans, via Christopher Columbus, the drink was made with milk, vanilla and honey rather than chilli & presumably started to taste a whole lot better.

Over many centuries, chocolate became less expensive and more widely available, not just as a drink but as a solid bar.

The trouble is, the chocolate we know today with all it's additives and sugar, bears no resemblence to the early discovery, and consequently much of it's nutritional content, and it's energy-giving properties, has been lost.

But.... there is a way to get them back !

Last year Channel 4 broadcast a series of films following Willie Harcourt-Cooze on his chocolate adventures. He wanted to make 100% cacao using the beans from his Venezuelan hacienda, processing them by fermenting, drying, shipping to the UK (he has a factory in Devon), roasting, shelling, grinding, refining, conching and finally tempering. The resulting cacao is a cooking ingredient but is also for making a chocolate drink which gives a tremendous sense of well-being and is quite unlike any other.

I've heard that Willie is taking part in scientific experiments this year to test these findings, and Channel 4 are following him again (starting this week) as he experiments with new versions of his cacao.

What intrigues me about this is how beneficial would the chocolate drink (which can apparently keep you going all day when there is no time or desire to eat), be to dancers with their punishing schedules ? It's quite well known that some dancers drink Red Bull for energy before a performance and I wonder how a chocolate drink would compare ?

It's very easy to make once you have bought some of the cacao (check the title link for a full list of stockists). Willie has written a charming book, including some recipes, which is available now from all good retailers.

I'd be interested to hear whether any dancers have tried this cacao, and if not then I hope this blog inspires you to try (even if you don't dance)!

I am something of an experimental cook - and I use the word loosely - but I had a go at Willie's Cloud Forest cake because the name totally seduced me and it didn't look too difficult. It wasn't. And it was delicious and quite unlike any other chocolate cake. Of course, I didn't have the cloud forest sugar which is available in Venezuela, and can only imagine how that must have tasted.....

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Darcey Bussell's website


Although Darcey has retired from The Royal Ballet, her website has been revamped and has some lovely music too and is well worth a scout around.