Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Sarah Kundi interviewed for "Cupcakes & Conversation ..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Sarah Kundi, Dancer, Ballet Black

Sarah will be dancing with Ballet Black on Thursday 2nd July, 7.30pm, at the Hackney Empire,and Ballet Black can be seen in the Summer Collection NEW LINES IN DANCE 2009 (Programme B) at the Royal Opera House, on Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th July at 7pm.

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I put on my favourite tunes very loudly!!

Who would you most like to dance with ?
Carlos Acosta.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
At the last minute! No, only kidding, seriously with a lot of care.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Wake up, get ready, go to class and rehearsals, spend time with family/friends, then sleep.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Some are no longer with us : Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Princess Diana, Johnny Depp, Edward Cullen & Teddy Thompson.

What would surprise people about you ?
That I am not a one trick pony, I am surprising myself all the time.

Who inspired you to dance ?
Margot Fonteyn and Tamara Rojo.

How would someone else describe you ?
One of a kind.

Photo : Bill Cooper

What is your best piece of advice ?
Always stay positive and remember a smile goes a long way.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Dancing in Will Tuckett's ballet, Depouillement, that he created for Ballet Black this year, challenged me physically and technically which was great because it was what I wanted and needed to enable me to grow as a dancer.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
I really can't think of anything in particular, sorry! Too many things to remember!

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
A costume that would give the impression of movement with me not having to do a lot...... (as if)!!

What are you most proud of ?
Dancing professionally since 19 and now with Ballet Black in London. Also to be one of the only Asian ballerinas around at the moment.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Myself probably if I am mobile enough!

What is your favourite quote ?
I can’t decide on one so here are a few of my favourites:
'Make it Happen'
'Anyone can catch your eye, but it takes someone special to catch your heart'
'If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door'

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I got to grade 5 on the piano and I love to sing (especially in the bath!)

Friday, 26 June 2009

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Natasha Oughtred

Photo : Tamara Oughtred

Regular readers will recall that I recently interviewed Natasha Oughtred from Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Natasha mentioned that she would be dancing in, amongst other things, Galanteries & The Dream.

Here is rehearsal footage of The Dream, where Natasha and the other dancers are being coached by Dame Antoinette Sibley & Anthony Dowell - both of whom are natural communicators and guardians of the ballet.

If you are interested to read how well Natasha danced during the performance, here is a review by By John Phillpott from the Worcester News.

And here, from the Daily Telegraph.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Royal Ballet On Tour in Washington

If you’ve been wondering how the Royal Ballet are faring in Washington, the wonderful Alastair Macaulay has reviewed Tuesday night’s performance for The New York Times. Macaulay is very familiar with the Company, having spent many years reviewing them in the UK, which is the reason I have picked out his review for you.

It’s great news that after being out for the whole year with a broken foot (sustained in rehearsals right at the beginning of the season), Sarah Lamb is back on stage & dancing well.

Darcey Bussell - Rose

I’ve been growing this heavenly rose since it was introduced a few years ago. It’s called ..... “Darcey Bussell”, hence the ballet theme !

It’s hard to appreciate through pictures alone just how different this rose is, in both colour and texture.

It is literally as though someone has made a rose from velvet and attached it to a stem, the petals are that sumptuously plump and fully double.

The colour is hard to get over in a photo too however good the light – it’s not as deep as burgundy red and yet it’s not deep pink either; more a crimson with iridescence thrown in for good measure. As the petals open they take on a tinge of mauve as if that wasn’t enough ! It’s eye-catching whatever the weather.

It does have fragrance – light and slightly fruity in a grassy sort of way.

I would recommend it to anyone. True red roses are the hardest to grow, and so Darcey is only available from David Austin Roses, and only at certain times of the year (and depending on stock availability - I had a long wait for mine).

They are priced at £12.95 each or 3 for £32.95 but as they are delivered as bare root plants, delivery times are fixed. The plants are either despatched between early November through to mid December, or from late January to late April, depending on the weather.

The company are currently accepting orders for bare root roses for delivery in November / December 2009.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Caroline Duprot interviewed for "Cupcakes & Conversation..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Caroline Duprot, Corps de Ballet at American Ballet Theater

Caroline danced with The Royal Ballet until the end of last year, and as she is much missed in the UK, I am delighted that she agreed to be interviewed for my “Cupcakes & Conversation” series. If you are in the US over the next four weeks you can see Caroline dancing in Swan Lake, Giselle, Romeo & Juliet and Sylvia at the Metropolitan Opera.

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Knowing that I’ll be performing on some amazing stages, and giving my best to the public!

Who would you most like to dance with ?
It would probably be Roberto Bolle and David Hallberg. I see them every day but never got the chance to dance with them. The reason is not only that they are fantastic dancers, but also really wonderful people.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
Preparing my shoes takes a very long time, and is definitely something I could do without. I start by cutting the satin at the end of the shoe, then I darn them, I sew ribbons and elastics, then I squeeze them and cut the sole of the shoe with a Stanley knife and then cut some part of the insole! It takes a good hour, when work gets really busy I have to sew a pair every two days, it is part of our job!

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I wake up around 7am everyday (Sunday included), I have breakfast, check my emails, reply to emails from my friends in the UK, have a brief chat with my parents, spend a little time with my boyfriend, then start with 30 min of Pilates and stretching , then go for 1.30 hours of class, followed by rehearsals from 12 to 5.30pm, show at 7.30pm or 12 to 7pm on non evening show, we also can have a matinee and evening show at 2pm and 8pm, usually I have my dinner around 6pm and start getting ready for the show!

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama, Sylvie Guillem, Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana (if she was still alive), Charles Aznavour.

What would surprise people about you ?
I really don’t think much about me would surprise anyone, as my friends know me to be simple and straight forward, no real secrets or surprises!

Who inspired you to dance ?
My parents, and they still do…

How would someone else describe you ?
I don’t feel very comfortable talking about myself, but according to my friends, they would say sincere, caring, coquette, stubborn! and terribly tidy!

What is your best piece of advice ?
Always be there for your friends, it is a very difficult job and you can’t achieve many things without the support of friends and family.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
There have been a few, but I would probably say Sugar Plum in Nutcracker. It was one of my 1st Principal roles I was given after playing many roles like Clara, Alice in wonderland, Olga in Onegin. I had to work a lot on my technique, stamina, and try to act as a very calm and mature dancer. It was a wonderful experience that I would never have achieved with my wonderful Ballet Master David Wall. He taught me so much.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
Since I work in a professional Company, my Dad use to call me every day for years, as a joke, he would ask…”are you playing Sugar Plum today??”
And one day, I called him and said straight away..”guess what Dad? I am playing Sugar Plum today!!!”
My Dad was very surprised…but so happy.

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
I would say Swans tutu as I’ve never really had one which I felt comfortable, and happy with. It may sound strange but costumes can make such a difference on your performance! The way you have to move with it, the way it makes you look…

What are you most proud of ?
Without hesitation, my boyfriend!

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
I think it‘s a very difficult question, but for physical and language reasons, I would say Audrey Tatou.

What is your favourite quote ?
No pain, No gain.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I'd like to think I have the voice of an angel, but my friends encourage me to focus on dancing and not singing, so I guess, it’s not such a secret talent!

Monday, 22 June 2009

The Royal Ballet - Sergei Polunin

Today the Royal Opera House launched a new website featuring their World Stage series.

For Autumn 2009 Sergei Polunin is featured, and this website is a chance to see films, interviews and pictures of him, as well as his ipod playlist. Frank Sinatra gets a look in. The film of the filming of the cover shot (as it were) is charming, as is the music.

Polunin talks about being a First Soloist, which is a promotion for him (he's still listed as Soloist on the ROH website). Unofficially his promotion, among others, is widely known, but as yet the official position has not been released from the press office & I only mention it here because Polunin himself has.

What is irritating is the design, with its Flash which not everyone has enabled & which many dislike. It just doesn't work well enough. Trying to click on one of the photo's is like trying to knock a coconut off its perch and I'm not sure that was the intended user experience. But then, ask anyone who tries to book online how they feel about it and you'll realise that the ROH are not renowned for their website design.

More inexcusable are the wrongly captioned photographs. Why ?

Worth taking a look for the film footage, if you can get past the design & the mistakes.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Dancers & Chiropractic treatment

Today I would like to highlight an interview by Susan Swarbrick for the Sunday Herald.

It’s called Me and my ... chiropractor

Susan talks to Scottish Ballet dancer Paul Liburd and his Chiropractor. Liburd was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours this month.

I’m a huge advocate of Chiropractic treatment, dancer or not.

I’m not familiar with the McTimoney chiropractic technique; my Chiropractor uses Applied Kinesiology, which tests muscle responses to diagnose a massive range of problems.

I am continually amazed by what can be discovered in this way. Nutritional advice can also given using Applied Kinesiology, and dietary supplements prescribed which are not available without a prescription.

Most Chiropractors use their own preferred method of treatment, and they do all vary quite considerably. It’s important to find a Chiropractor whose method you are happy with, because the treatment is likely to continue for a lifetime (if you are willing) and you will need to attend regularly at least in the initial intensive stage (so also needs to be local !). It's never a good idea to get straight in the car after an adjustment - a short walk is beneficial first !

Used in conjunction with other treatments such as sports (or deep tissue) massage (yes, it’s painful but effective), and other fitness sessions such as Pilates and Yoga, Chiropractic is supremely able to maintain good physical health.

Many people attend my Chiropractor rather than their GP if they are feeling unwell – a testament to the possibilities. I have seen the evidence where my Chiropractor manipulated a prolapsed disc back into position (over 18 months) – a condition routinely necessitating surgery.

I would suggest that anyone visits a Chiropractor for a health check if it’s possible; you never know what conditions will be healed without you even realising you had them ! Back pain is a common reason for a visit but it’s not the only one. Obviously the earlier you start with Chiropractic the better, but I have been surprised by the number of problems which can be remedied even later on.

Do you reach for a sports drink during or after exercise ? My Chiropractor carried out extensive research in this area and recommended Elete™. This contains electrolytes (minerals) required for optimal hydration, without any colourings or sugar.

One final point. Never before have I experienced such a level of care. It starts with a simple phone call to make sure that you are ok following your first adjustment, that you have information about the adjustments themselves and what they are doing & about what you should be doing i.e. drinking enough. I have been tested regularly about my quality of life and to make sure I understand that most of the healing takes place between adjustments. In that regard I find it unbeatable.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Royal Ballet School Summer Season 2009

The Royal Ballet School students in a défilé 2007 - Photo Johan Persson

Details of the summer season have been announced today. I would recommend booking very quickly if you are thinking of attending !

• The Royal Ballet School announces details of this year’s Summer Season at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden which opens at the Linbury Studio Theatre on Wednesday 1 July 2009 at 7.30pm.

• The Summer Season 2009 culminates with a spectacular performance on the main stage of The Royal Opera House on Sunday 12 July at 3pm featuring Frederick Ashton’s The Dream.

• Summer Season repertoire also includes a world première entitled Les Jeunes Hommes by Stanton Welch, Peter Wright’s pas de six from Giselle Act 1, Ashley Page’s Larina Waltz, and new choreography by current and former students of The Royal Ballet School.

• More than 200 students aged 11-18 fill the main stage of The Royal Opera House in a breathtaking grand finale.

The Royal Ballet School’s Summer Season 2009 opens with five performances at the Linbury Studio Theatre from 1 - 4 July and culminates with one of the most anticipated events on the UK’s dance calendar - the end of year matinée on the main stage of The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 12 July.

Matinée performance, 12 July at 3pm
The highlight of this year’s matinée will be one performance only of Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, originally created for The Royal Ballet by Sir Frederick Ashton in 1964 to Felix Mendelssohn’s glorious score. To ensure that the ballet is reproduced authentically, students of The Royal Ballet School have had the great privilege recently of rehearsing in the studio with the original cast of Dame Antoinette Sibley (Titania) and Sir Anthony Dowell (Oberon).

Also featuring is a specially commissioned work by Stanton Welch, the Artistic Director of The Houston Ballet, entitled Les Jeunes Hommes to music by Antonio Vivaldi. Stanton Welch has created Les Jeunes Hommes to showcase the considerable talents of the boys of The Royal Ballet Upper School.

Lower School (White Lodge) students will be featured in another specially commissioned ballet, Reawakening, choreographed by Lower School teacher, Antonio Castilla, to music by Jean Sibelius.

Ashley Page’s Larina Waltz, to music by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, completes the programme for the matinée performance. Originally created for the Finale of the 1993 Winter Gala for The Royal Ballet with a stellar cast, this glittering ballet was recently recreated for The Royal Ballet School. It was last performed by students on 13 May in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall as part of a Royal Gala at White Lodge celebrating the completion of the White Lodge Redevelopment Project.

The spectacle of more than 200 students from both Upper and Lower Schools filling the main stage of the Royal Opera House in an exuberant défilé brings the matinée performance to a an unforgettable finale.

The Royal Ballet School students in a défilé 2008 - Photo Johan Persson

Linbury Studio Theatre, 1-3 July 2009 at 7.30pm, 4 July 2.30pm and 7.30

Earlier in the month, five performances at the Linbury Studio Theatre feature the students performing a wide range of choreographic styles. These range from ‘heritage’ works in The Royal Ballet’s repertoire, to exuberant excerpts from some of the great classic ballets, commissioned new works as well as new choreography by former and current students.

The programme for the Linbury Studio Theatre will include Stanton Welch’s Les Jeunes Hommes, Antonio Castilla’s Reawakening, Ashley Page’s Larina Waltz. Robert Hill’s Piano Concerto, to Loewe Lieberman’s music, will also be performed. Originally created in 2004 especially for the School’s students, Piano Concerto was most recently performed by students of The Royal Ballet School during a visit to Salt Lake City in January 2009.

Danse Bohémienne, to Bizet’s score from La jolie fille de Perth, was choreographed especially for Lower School students by former Royal Ballet School student Liam Scarlett (now a member of The Royal Ballet) and was the opening ballet at the Royal Gala at White Lodge on 13 May.

A variety of student choreography will also be featured, including works by three talented Upper School students William Bracewell, Barry Drummond and Katrina Lyndon all aged 18 as. Joy, a piece choreographed by 15 year-old Lower School student Laura Day will also be performed.

Director of The Royal Ballet School, Gailene Stock comments:

‘We are particularly delighted to be presenting Frederick Ashton’s The Dream this year as part of our programme. The Dream is undeniably a key signature ballet from The Royal Ballet’s repertoire and one of the finest examples of our choreographic heritage. We are particularly grateful to Sir Anthony Dowell and Dame Antoinette Sibley for working so hard with the students in reproducing the ballet as Sir Frederick conceived it. Together with works by Antonio Castilla, Robert Hill, Ashley Page, Liam Scarlett, and Stanton Welch, the Summer Season performances represent a challenging range of choreographic styles for the students and an engaging and entertaining spectacle for audiences.

The Royal Ballet School offers students as many opportunities as possible to perform in public. The experience of performing on the stage of one of the most important lyric theatres in the world is an extremely valuable one for them and contributes immeasurably to the development of these exceptional young artists.

New choreography is the life-blood of the art form and The Royal Ballet School is keen to identify and encourage students with a flair for choreography to follow in the footsteps of former students including Sir Kenneth MacMillan, John Cranko, David Bintley, Christopher Wheeldon, Jiri Kylian, John Neumeier, to name a few. We are delighted that this year’s programme features several new works by current students.”

English National Ballet - Ballet Russes

Apollo, Ballets Russes
Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks wear Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in performance.

Photo by Annabel Moeller.

Since I couldn't be in two places at once last night, I have linked to Sarah Frater's review of English National Ballet's Ballet Russes programme, in today's Evening Standard.

Dying swan
The Dying Swan, Ballets Russes
Elena Glurdjidze wears her Chanel tutu.

Photo by Annabel Moeller.

The red carpet was (literally) rolled out last night.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

English National Ballet - Chanel

Regular readers will know that Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's creative director, has been busy designing costumes for English National Ballet's performances at Sadler's Wells theatre, which mark the centenary of the Ballets Russes.

Here is a video clip showing Anges Oaks and Thomas Edur at their final fitting.

The Royal Ballet : Inside Story – From Gory to Gorgeous

The Education department of the Royal Opera House continue their series of insights with this evening dedicated to the work of the wigs and make-up department.

The last event on this subject was absolutely fascinating. There were two simultaneous demonstrations, one to turn a ballet dancer into a goat (with yak hair in the wig) and one to age an opera singer by about 30 yrs. Yes, it worked a treat.

The demonstrators are extremely knowledgeable and took questions throughout.

There was also a display of the prosthetics used for various productions – some were pretty gruesome and all were completely realistic. One of the most interesting aspects was the differences between making up for theatre and making up for film. One of the team will have sat in many different seats in the auditorium checking that the make-up is right wherever you are sitting. For filming, the make-up is much more subtle and doesn’t project as far because it’s unnecessary. So if you came to watch a performance on a night when it was filmed for television, you might have noticed a difference in the make-up and that's why.

The Head of Department, Claudia Stolze, talked about one occasion when she bought real hair from a lady who was going to be a nun and had to cut off her hair, and an enlightening discussion followed about which are the best countries to buy real hair from and how often wigs are made with other types of hair for various reasons.

MAC, suppliers of all ROH make-up, have in the past given goodie bags to those attending (though it didn’t happen last year so don’t expect it).

When I checked this morning there were some tickets left, which is unusual, so I thought I’d mention it here. It’s on Wednesday 8th July at 7.30pm in the Linbury Studio Theatre and the tickets are £14.

There is a short video clip of the working department here, to give you a flavour of their work. Just click on Ballet & Dance and then Backstage for the link to Wigs and Make-up.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Royal Ballet Lower School Open Day - report - dancing part 3

Year 8 performed an Irish dance - Genevieve Heron, Grace Horne, Rebecca Scanlon, India Thmpson, Benjamin Brown, Henry Dowden, Kilian Smith, Benjamin Thomas.

Year 9 danced a Farandole - Mica Bradbury, Olivia Coles, Jessica Fummo, Amelia Jackson, Fay Meadows, Margarita Reeve, Alexander Bird, Reece Clarke, Jonathan Day, John Rhys Halliwell, Samuel Percy, Glenn Roberts.

Finally, Years 10 & 11 performed Seguidillas - Olivia Holland, Sian Jones, Alexandra Livermore, Abigail Martin, Rebecca Robinson, Emily Starr, Seira Winning, Reagan Wise, Alexander Bennett, Thomas Bennett, David Brewer, Joseph Cane, Luke Cinque-White, William McDonnell, Howard Smith, Jacob Wye.

Here is a short blast of sun :

And a slightly longer one :

Royal Ballet Lower School Open Day - report - dancing part 2

Joseph Linkin & Jacob Wye danced Facade - Popular Song.

Year 9 performed a Morris dance - "Clog" - Alexander Bird, John Rhys Halliwell, Samuel Percy, followed by "Lads a Buncham" also danced by Year 9 - Reece Clarke, Jonathan Day, Giorgio Garrett, Paul Oliver, Glenn Roberts, Barnaby Rook Bishop.

A Ukrainian dance was performed by Year 7 - Prisca Bertoni, Eleonora Burzio, Megan Cameron, Eleanor Ferguson, Annabel Lock, Sophie Middlebrook, Remy O'Brien, Grace Paulley, Lauren Porter, Constance Vowles, Kiri Wreyford, Gabriel Anderson, Tom Bradshaw, Lee Cowling, Ashley Hardwick, Daniel Harrison, Max Hexstall-Smith, James Roxby-Brown, Christopher Thomas, Maurice Wedner-Ross

Royal Ballet Lower School Open Day - report - dancing part 1

Back to the dancing now - many different styles on display. The performances and the dancers varied over the 4 shows and here follows the 1.30pm performance. Please excuse the blue tape in the photo's - unavoidable crowd control !

First we had Year 8 boys in two Morris dances - "Bean Setting" & "Rigs O'Marlow". Here we have Benjamin Brown, Henry Dowden, Louis Moore, Kilian Smith, Benjamin Thomas &, Alexander Yap, just before they go on.

And here is a very short video clip :

They were followed by Year 8 girls in a Russian dance - Nicole Blachford, Georgia Bould, Estelle Bovay, Lucie Dennis, Genevieve Heron, Grace Horne, Rebecca Jones, Isabel Lubach, Julia Roscoe, Rebecca Scanlon, Leonie Thomas & India Thompson.

The Ballroom Scene from Romeo & Juliet was danced by Year 10 - Laura-Jane Fenney, Diva Hollands, Alexandra Livermore, Abigail Martin, Anna Rose O'Sullivan, Suzan Opperman, Lili Spencer, Georgia Ware, Rosanna Whittle, Seira Winning, Reagan Wise, Jonathon Baker, Matthew Ball, Alexander Bennett, Thomas Bennett, Joseph Cane, Luke Cinque-White, Ryan Clarke, Calum Collins, Kevin Hale, Howard Smith, James Stephens.

Year 11 danced Facade - Scottish - Sian Jones, Ellena Nou & Andrew McNicol.

This was followed by Facade - Milkmaid - Leanne Morris, David Brewer, Lake Laoutaris-Smith & William McDonnell.

Leanne Morris was a revelation.

Royal Ballet Lower School Open Day - report

This afternooon White Lodge was packed to capacity - in fact so much so that they had reached their limit of 1500 people at any one time by mid-afternoon.

It can't have hurt that the sun was belting out more than had been forecast, and there were constant queues for the barbeque and the ice-creams !

Almost every blade of grass was sat upon for the ballet performances on the lawn, which are run every hour throughout the afternoon. It's hot work for the children but immensely popular, with live music.

My only gripe, and that of my friends too, was that there could have been more pointe work, but it's a small one and the whole experience is unbeatable.

More on the dancing later but I have to say right now that my head is still reeling from the delicate, sheer exquisiteness of the bronze statues by Richard MacDonald. Regular readers will recall that I mentioned these had been installed on loan for the Royal Gala a few weeks ago. Richard is one of the most collected figurative sculptors alive today and they are the most beautiful, expressive, delicate, sublime sculptures I have ever seen. They must sell for millions and be worth every single penny. They won't be there for much longer and if there is any way you can get to see them, you should.

I've always noticed sculptures of dancers but have never seen any that capture the fleetness of foot nor the elegance & lightness of line which Richard's sculptures do.

I wish they could stay forever; truly they are marvels of creation.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Royal Ballet School Open Day

White Lodge Open Day

This coming Saturday 13th June, the Royal Ballet Lower School based at White Lodge in Richmond Park hold their annual Open Day.

It’s a chance to watch the students dancing outside on the lawn, which they do all afternoon.

Also well worth a visit is the historic Grade 1 listed building, not usually open to the public - guided tours are offered throughout the afternoon by the teachers and now that the redevelopment is almost completed there is a lot more to see, including the museum with interactive exhibits.

There are stalls selling champagne, teas & cakes, ice-cream and memorabilia.

The School encourages you to picnic on the lawn and a temporary car park is established very close to the entrance (so you don’t need to park further away in one of the main car parks).

The gates are open from 11 am, with the official opening at midday, and goes on until 5pm.

The local weather forecast is set fair for Saturday - very warm and mostly sunny. Perfect picnic weather in a perfect picnic spot !

Adults £5
Concessions and ‘Friends’ £2
Students and accompanied children free

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Darcey Bussell & Carlos Acosta

Couple of things to tell you about :

First, Darcey Bussell made a surprise visit to one of the presenters of BBC's Blue Peter, who was learning a part for English National Ballet's Angelina Ballerina shows.

Darcey was her usual charming self, encouraging Joel and laughing with him at his lack of grace.

The programme is available, for a few days, on i player.

Then Carlos Acosta will be on BBC2 at 10am on Sunday morning (14th June). The programme, Something for the weekend, lasts 90 minutes and there are other guests. It's billed as a cookery show.

VIDEO Plus+: 52337

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Royal Ballet - Jewels

Yohei Sasaki, Johannes Stepanek, Bennet Gartside in Rubies as part of Jewels – photo Johan Persson

Three different stones - Three different phases of life - Three different composers

Put them together and what have you got ? An abstract ballet choreographed by George Balanchine in 1967, themed with Emeralds, Rubies & Diamonds, and called, appropriately enough; Jewels.

The Royal Ballet premiered this complete production in November 2007, staged by, among others, the quite wonderful Patricia Neary.

Each facet starts off with the dancers in position onstage, the curtain peeling back to reveal a clean-coloured set appropriate to its jewel.

Fauré’s music in Emeralds is fluid, opening gradually like a flower to the sun. Beautiful lilting arms and precise, high-kicking feet from Tamara Rojo although I would have liked to have seen her partnered with Bennet Gartside; I found the shaky partnering of Valerie Hristov (replacing the injured Ed Watson) slightly distracting and Rojo didn’t look entirely comfortable either - until she was on her own where she bloomed. Leanne Benjamin seemed to exist entirely above the stage as she floated incredibly in slow motion, very ably partnered by Gartside. Emeralds is a quiet ballet, cautiously dipping its toe to feel the air. Stephen McRae’s jumps were soundless and his turns sharp & quick; his technique and charisma mark him out in everything he dances, even when he's still.

Stephen McRae and Laura Morera

I thought I would miss the injured Sarah Lamb in Rubies; she made such an impression previously. Balanchine’s great friend Stravinsky whips up a capriccio with an American flavour - it's fast, it's flippy & most of all great fun. Alexandra Ansanelli, familiar with this role from her time in America & replacing Lamb, was by turns flirtatious, witty and very, very accomplished. I thought she pushed the boundaries of what was possible without any effort. Carlos Acosta revelled in the sizzling steps and light-hearted banter; many a politely challenging smile passed between the two as the stage caught alight. Ricardo Cervera & Johannes Stepanek never put a foot wrong. I’ve never really ‘got’ the strange horse-like steps here but they tackle them with panache. The very appreciative audience delivered a rousing reception.

Alexandra Ansanelli & Carlos Acosta

Rubies have always been closely associated with courage, so it couldn’t be more appropriate that Ansanelli not only dances this role, but takes it by the scruff of the neck, makes it her own & throws it back for the audience to enjoy, when she’s not in an easy position right now.

Alina Cojocaru and Rupert Pennefather in Diamonds as part of Jewels – photo Johan Persson

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance ?

(W.B. Yeats)

For me this quote sums up the way that Diamonds should be danced, and there was huge anticipation for Alina Cojocaru’s return in Diamonds – her first tutu role since returning from a long injury break. The curtain reveals a Persil-white setting overlaid with apparently flawless and definately sparkling diamonds. Tchaikovsky’s lovely music builds towards its brilliant Polonaise at the end. In Antiquity, diamonds were seen as the most precious of gems; indeed, their Greek translation means literally ‘invincible jewel’. And so our own invincible jewel danced not with the hardness of a diamond but with moving tenderness, opening her arms to the audience much as our earlier flowers had waited for the sun, revealing her flawlessness. Leanne Cope beamed out with her melting shoulders and softly phrased feet. Cojocaru’s improving partner, Rupert Pennefather, wobbled in the slow supporting balances but Cojocaru never looked uncertain. Yuhui Choe & Helen Crawford stood out for their musicality. Perhaps the most cheering of the night went to Cojocaru. She has been so missed, and it takes a certain steel to recover from such an injury and go on to take risks, however calculated.

Michelle Obama and the girls were just around the block taking in The Lion King. I’m sure they had a great time but what girl can ever resist a jewel ?

The Birmingham Royal Ballet Interviews

Cupcakes & conversation with Natasha Oughtred, First Soloist, Birmingham Royal Ballet

Please note - Natasha has been promoted to Principal since this interivew was published.

Natasha will be dancing in The Two Pigeons at the Birmingham Hippodrome on June 18th at 2pm and 19th at 7.30pm and later in Galanteries, The Dance House and The Dream.

Photo : Tamara Oughtred

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?

It's less about motivation and more about necessity at 5.45am when I drop my fiancé, Simon off at the station and say goodbye to him when he goes back to London for the week. It's hard getting up but I enjoy the time I have after that before I go to work. It's a chance to get myself straight for the week with paper work etc so I can be focussed on work. But other than on my early Monday starts, my driving force is work. I love what I do and the day I don't want to get up and dance is the day I retire.

Who would you most like to dance with?

I'm lucky to have danced with what I think is the ultimate combination, all be it in a supporting role. When I was 19 and in The Royal Ballet I was given the role of 'Vera' in 'A Month in the Country'. This involved a pas de deux with Jonathan Cope where I had to pretend to be infatuated with him - not much problem with that and several acting and dancing scenes with Sylvie Guillem. She taught me so much even in the few rehearsals we had together. Her care and attention to every detail was phenomenal, she even suggested I dye my hair from brunette to blond because she didn't like my wig. I didn't go that far but it certainly taught me that to be a great artist you must pay attention to every detail. Jonathan Cope and Sylvie Guillem are truly masters in their art and it was an experience I shall never forget.

How do you prepare your shoes?

Until last season I would spend almost 45 mins on a pair of shoes- darning the tips to form a platform, sewing elastics on the backs... I seemed to be forever sewing. Then my workload increased when I became a First Soloist and now I have taken to just sewing the ribbons on, shaving the sole with a Stanley knife and off I go. Now the shoes are ready in 5 mins - it's great!

What is your daily routine at the moment?

I get up just before 8; drive into work to arrive at 9. I go aqua jogging most mornings - it's great for stamina building and waking you up. We are very lucky to have a pool in our Jerwood Centre at Birmingham Royal Ballet. After I've showered there is just time for a 30 min session of Pilates before class at 10 30. Class lasts 1hour 15 mins and then I have rehearsals until 1 30. At the moment I am busy learning 'The Dream' and 'Two Pigeons’, both of which I love. We then have an hour break when I eat my lunch that I brought in with me whilst frantically sorting out wedding plans for this summer! Rehearsals go on until 6 30 and then I go and stretch and ice bath if I need to. I drive home and then I have a quick supper so I can get outside and do some gardening before its dark. It's the perfect way to unwind. I speak to Simon on the phone and then I head off and then I try to get to sleep by 12ish.

Natasha Oughtred in David Bintley's The Dance House
Photo : Roy Smiljanic

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite?

Meryl Streep, Roger Federer, Paddy Ashdown, Keira Knightly, Prince Harry and Sylvie Guillem.

What would surprise people about you?

I muse about one day having a tea shop - I am a connoisseur of afternoon teas. This will be no ordinary tea shop though, but you will have to wait to find out why!

Who inspired you to dance?

I was given a video when I was 5 or 6 of Anthony Dowell and Natalia Makarova dancing Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House. I watched it so many times that it's a wonder I didn't wear it out. Back then I particularly enjoyed watching the Neapolitan dance. I remember raiding my Mum's dressing table for ribbons to tie round my arms - just like the costume on the video and banging a toy tambourine round the house. The video of Swan Lake was not only responsible for inspiring me, but it also gave me grand ideas. I amused my mother greatly when she was running me through my first ever ballet solo;
"Now what must you do at the end of your dance when the music has finished?" she asked
"Pick up my flowers!" I replied earnestly.

How would someone else describe you?

It's hard to not make this sound like a lonely hearts column. I think I'm healthily eccentric. But they say that gets worse with age!

What is your best piece of advice?

It is so important to be happy where you are working and who you are working with because without this it is very hard to develop as an artist.

Which role has tested you the most and how?

I think Swan Lake has been the biggest test to date. It was my first full length ballet as the lead and not only is there many technical challenges but there is also such an aura surrounding the role Odette Odile. I had seen so many fantastic performances of it during my time at the Royal Ballet that it was a little daunting setting about creating my Odette Odile. Needless to say the video of Makarova came out again! I loved the process in the end as there is so much room as an artist to develop these roles.

What is the funniest thing that's ever happened to you?

I think it has to be my last performance with the Royal Ballet on tour in Philadelphia. It is tradition when you leave the company to dress up and perform a role that you wouldn't usually play, within reason of course! I decided to dress myself as a candle barer in Act III Swan Lake. Normally the part is played by student boys from the school. It would have been easy if it hadn't have been for my shoes which were five sizes too big for me. I had to adopt a shuffle around the stage whilst pretending to serve drinks. Then there is a moment during the Neapolitan dance when you have to catch a tambourine. I was so nervous about the thought of dropping it and also I was trying desperately not to smile because my mustache would fall off!

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create?

I would just like to design a tutu that is comfortable to wear. So often I get on stage and put on my costume and find that it stops me from moving freely. I think the Russians have got the right idea. The few costumes I have seen of theirs have Lycra bodices. It may not sound so exciting for the designer and may seem a little bit dated, but dancing is hard enough without a corseted bodice!

What are you most proud of?

That I am pursuing my dream.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

I'm not sure any actress would be prepared to take on the job, but I love to give it a go myself. I used to love acting at school and it would be fun to work with words again.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Royal Gala - Royal Ballet Lower School, White Lodge

Photo : Hugo Burnand

On May 13th, a host of stars joined some of the UK’s foremost philanthropists at a Royal Gala, attended by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to celebrate the completion of the four year £22 million redevelopment of White Lodge, which has been home to The Royal Ballet Lower School since 1955. Its constant use as a ballet school has required upgraded facilities to meet current regulations. The Prince is President of the School and has recently become Patron of the Royal Ballet company.

Their Royal Highnesses were met upon arrival by White Lodge students 11 year old Eleanor Ferguson and 12 year old Christopher Thomas.

Eleanor Ferguson and Christopher Thomas present flowers
Photo : Hugo Burnand

The theme of the Royal Gala was taken from the philosophy of the School’s formidable founder, Dame Ninette de Valois – “Honour the past, herald the future and concentrate on the present”.

White Lodge, a 17th Century Royal Hunting Lodge in Richmond Park, Surrey, was sumptuously decorated for the occasion by Belgian floral sculptor Daniel Ost, and by Richard MacDonald, one of the most collected figurative sculptors alive today who installed a selection of his bronze sculptures – including the Heroic bronze of Rudolph Nureyev.

Following the theme of past, present and future, attendees included Sir Anthony Dowell (comperé for the evening), Dame Antoinette Sibley, Darcey Bussell CBE (who had flown in from her home in Australia), Lauren Cuthbertson, Sergei Polunin and Ashley Page. Generous donors of the Appeal attending the Royal Gala included Dame Vivien Duffield and Ricki Gail Conway.

Marguerite Porter and Stephen Wicks performed the Tango from Façade (choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton), Lauren Cuthbertson and Sergei Polunin (Royal Ballet company) performed the Act 2 Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker and Natasha Oughtred and Jamie Bond (from Birmingham Royal Ballet) danced the Act 1 Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet (choreographed by Sir Kenneth Macmillian). Lower School students performed Danse Bohémienne, (choreographed for the event by former student & Royal Ballet First Artist Liam Scarlett), whilst graduate students danced Larina Waltz (choreographed by Ashley Page, Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet & former student of White Lodge).

Dame Antionette Sibley and Darcey Bussell CBE gave contributions and reminiscences.

After the performance, Their Royal Highnesses were introduced to all the performers and contributors before attending a dinner, where they were treated to a specially created performance by The Royal Ballet School’s Dance Partnership and Access Programme featuring 24 young people from two state schools : Sydenham Girls and Forest Hill, dancing with year 10 Royal Ballet School students.

The evening culminated in the graceful display of White Lodge students bidding their guests goodnight with a grand defile, choreographed by Liam Scarlett.

The School still has £2 million to be raised by 2010 to meet the final redevelopment costs.

Masterclasses - new booking process

A new, invitation-only, procedure for masterclasses in the Clore Studio is now in place for the start of the new season and is as follows :


There will be four Masterclasses in booking period 1.

From booking period 2 onwards, the booking process will be as follows:

• Patrons of Covent Garden and Premium Friends should apply for Masterclass tickets as part of their usual priority booking - dates will be printed on the personalised booking form included with About the House. Based on the small number of Patrons and Premium Friends who have booked for Masterclasses in the past we will set aside a fixed allocation of tickets, and will be monitoring booking closely to ensure that this is not exceeded.

• Friends who have signed up to the 'Masterclasses list' will be invited to apply for tickets. If we have your email address, you will be sent an invitation via email, if not, we will write to you.

• In order to ensure that as many Friends as possible are able to attend Masterclasses over the year, Friends who are unsuccessful in a booking period will automatically receive priority during the next.

This new procedure only applies to Masterclasses taking place in the Clore Studio Upstairs. Masterclasses in the Linbury Studio Theatre will continue to be advertised in About the House and booked as part of normal priority booking.

So, it looks as though no tickets for the Clore masterclasses will be made available to the public, but the position re the Linbury masterclasses remains unchanged.

I'm uncertain as to how this will work in practice. For example, if the invitations are fairly allocated, that means that those members who live far from London and who do not travel long distances for the sake of a 1.5hr masterclass, but perhaps are members because they attend some performances and like to support the Royal Opera House, will also receive invitations. No mention has been made of what happens to invitations that are not taken up. And the higher paying, (upwards of GBP 885.00) and therefore more valuable, Patrons and Premium Friends still have their tickets securely ring-fenced, much as they have always been.

Masterclasses, as I've written previously, are popular insightful events. The Clore Studio in particular offers a very intimate view of the particular subject, whether that is a rehearsal or a demonstration showing the technicalities of wigs and make-up. It will be a great shame if attending these educational events becomes as unlikely as laying a golden egg for most people.