Saturday, 28 November 2009

Daria Klimentová - legwarmers sale

English National Ballet Senior Principal Dancer, Daria Klimentová is selling some of her legwarmers. 

They would make a really unique Christmas present if you want to surprise friends and family.

If you would like to purchase any of them, please leave me a comment with the details and I will make the arrangements for you, provided they have not been sold already.

Please hurry though - they are selling out very quickly !

No 2 - £25 + postage

No 3 - £25 + postage - NOW SOLD

No 4 - £25 + postage

No 5 - £25 + postage

No 7 - £25 + postage

No 8 - £15 + postage

No 12 - £15 + postage - NOW SOLD

No 13 - £15 + postage

No 14 - £15 + postage

No 15 - £15 + postage

Friday, 27 November 2009



Please don’t forget that the exclusive competition I’ve been running in association with English National Ballet to win a pair of tickets to The Nutcracker this Christmas, as well as a pair of pointe shoes signed by Senior Principal Dancer Elena Glurdjidze, closes on Sunday 6th December 2009 at midnight GMT.

Photo: Annabel Moeller

I’ve just received Glurdjidze’s shoes, and here they are :

There is time to enter !


Following my interview with Maria last week, many of you have asked to see Maria's fabulous skyscraper heels.  Here they are :

Photo :  Mo Greig


Tonight @ 20:00 BBC4 are showing Darcey Bussell’s ten best ballet moments. Bussell, who retired from The Royal Ballet in 2007 introduces and demonstrates some of her favourite ballet moments with dancers Roberto Bolle and Jonathan Cope. Featuring some of her own performances and archive highlights, with music ranging from Scott Joplin to Tchaikovsky. The ballets include Giselle, The Nutcracker and a classic performance by Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake.

The programme is repeated on 28th November @ 02:30 and lasts for 60 minutes.


The Royal Ballet's Miyako Yoshida has announced her retirement.  Yoshida's performance in The Nutracker with Steven McRae on 26th November will be available on DVD at a later date and her last performance at the Royal Opera House will be in Cinderella on 23rd April 2010.  Her last performance will be in Tokyo, in Romeo & Juliet in June 2010 when The Royal Ballet are on tour in her home country.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Esteban Berlanga interviewed for "Cupcakes & conversation..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Esteban Berlanga, Soloist, English National Ballet

Berlanga has been nominated in the OUTSTANDING MALE PERFORMANCE (CLASSICAL) category of the National Dance Awards.  The other nominees in this category are :  Tobias Batley / Northern Ballet Theatre, Esteban Berlanga / English National Ballet, Sergei Polunin /The Royal Ballet.

Berlanga has also been nominated in the Emerging Dancer Award, which is an annual competition for English National Ballet to recognise and nurture the phenomenal talent of their up-and-coming dancers. The Award encourages excellence and potential within the Company, with the winner being awarded a £5,000 cash prize.

During the Summer English National Ballet’s artistic, musical, administrative staff and Principal dancers have been voting for their Emerging Dancer and the top six nominated dancers are Esteban Berlanga, Anais Chalendard, Crystal Costa, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Junor de Oliveira Souza and Venus Villa.

Throughout the Autumn Tour of Giselle and the Christmas Season you are invited to vote for your favourite of the six nominees, giving you the chance to win some fabulous prizes. The dancer with the most public votes will win The People’s Choice Award. You can vote now for your favourite dancer.

There will be an Awards Evening on the 25 February 2010 to announce the winner of both The Emerging Dancer Award and The People’s Choice Award.

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I don’t think I have any motivation at that time!!!! But I wake up every day with energy to spend working a lot during the day in my ballet class and also in the rehearsals, to get better and better every day, to improve every second at work, and also in my normal life.

Who would you most like to dance with ?
Any amazing dancer.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Well, right now I wake up at 8 in the morning, I take a shower and then have breakfast. I take the tube, put my ipod on until I get to High Street Kensington or Gloucester Road, then I take the bus to work. At 10:30am I have a ballet class every day for an hour and fifteen minutes. After that a 15 min break and then I go to the rehearsal (depending on the timetable I can be rehearsing all day without break or have some little breaks at some point, but otherwise I finish my work day at 6:30). Then normally I take the tube again back home...when I get home I put my computer on and the first thing I do is check my Facebook and emails, and then I cook and prepare everything that I need for the next day.....

What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
Well I’ve already done my first show as Albrecht (from Giselle) in Manchester with Senior Principal Daria Klimentova. Also I'm looking foward to dancing a solo from one of my teachers in Spain (Ricardo Franco) for the Emerging Dancer Award.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Angelina Jolie, Pedro Almodovar, Penelope Cruz, Nureyev, Woody Allen, Victoria Beckham.

What would surprise people about you ?
People are surprised when I say that I am from a little village (Motilleja) in Albacete (Spain).

Who inspired you to dance ?
I was inspired by my mum, and little things that I see in other people.

How would someone else describe you ?
Well I don’t really know...but I think they can see that I am a happy person, joking all the time, but also that I really focus on my work.

What is your best piece of advice ?
Hakuna Matata! (Hakuna matata is a Swahili phrase that is literally translated as "There are no worries". It is sometimes translated as "no worries", although is more commonly used similarly to the English phrase "no problem".)

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
I think it was Des Grieux in Manon because I think is a really hard work. It is a three act ballet and you have to be strong enough to deal with the dancing, pas de deux and also what’s really important is the acting throughout the ballet.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
Once I went to Hong Kong with the Company, and my group of friends and I were looking for a restaurant to have dinner. We were dancing Alice in Wonderland at that time, and one of my friends (Juan Rodriguez) dances the lead role, the White Rabbit, so we were chatting about that role and then I was trying to imitate him, and I fell onto the floor in the middle of the biggest street in Hong Kong and everyone was looking at me.... it was so funny and embarrassing, but we had a lot of laughs .....

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
I would do something like shorts in a naked colour. I love to see the dancers bodies on the stage.

What are you most proud of ?
I’m proud of myself, everything I have done, my dancing. Now I can speak English (a little bit) and I’m proud of my family because they help me a lot, always.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Someone with a lot of energy, someone who knows very well what he wants & what he dreams of, someone funny, happy, friendly, someone who likes to work hard every day to get the best in work and life.

What is your favourite quote?
"mas vale caer en gracia que ser gracioso."
"It is better to fall into grace than to be funny"

What’s on your iPod ?
I have so much music - many Spanish songs, so much Flamenco music, salsa, classical music, everything....also some photos and videos which I need to learn for work.

What makes you a good dance partner ?
Well I think that whatever I do, I try to do it well. I give everything to my dance partner. I am a calm person and a lot of people like that because they feel comfortable next to me, and I think I transmit a lot with my face, so anyone dancing with me can see it in my eyes.

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
Not really. Well I can make people smile when they are having a bad day....and that makes me feel good as well.......

Describe yourself in just three words.
Hardworking, passionate, modest.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Cupcakes at Tiffany’s with professional dancer Maria Engel

When I meet Maria Engel, co-incidentally on the opening day of the Christmas ice rink at Somerset House, she is wearing newly acquired and utterly fabulous skyscraper heels. Beaming her usual mega-watt smile at me, she drops into the conversation that she is a good skater. I fear that there may be a clause in her contract forbidding such precarious activity and thank my lucky stars that a giant Tiffany blue box provides immediate distraction.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall....  Maria Engel inside the Tiffany Blue Box
Photos throughout :  Mo Greig

Maria started ballet classes in her native Germany at Ballet und Tanzstudio Beatrix Klein aged three and a half, because her Mum spotted her flexibility and passion for spinning in their living room. Initially going once a week after school, by the age of 12 her teachers, (Beatrix Klein, Christine Steiniger, Elaine Underwood, Galina Georgieva-Weber & Jadwiga Antony) recognising her potential, suggested gradually increasing the number of classes until she was dancing daily, only having Sundays off.

Maria Engel at Somerset House

Auditions, the bane of any dancers life, followed for companies in Germany and abroad, including Elmhurst, a vocational school associated with the excellent Birmingham Royal Ballet. Maria says of her first visit “when I went with my mum to Elmhurst, it was so friendly and my mum felt really comfortable with the school, which seemed really like home, and I felt really comfortable.” Maria was accepted, and the sixth form students train intensively for three years towards the National Diploma in Professional Dance, which is recognised as the vocational equivalent of an honours degree. By the time they graduate, students are expected to have mastered a range of techniques and to have developed the maturity needed to take responsibility for their own future in dance.

Maria praises her teachers for guiding her towards these goals. “The thing is, at the beginning I didn’t really speak that much English, and then I came here and I didn’t go home for the first month. That was the first time I’ve ever been far away from home.” It took only a few weeks to settle in and get used to fast-spoken English, a testament to the pastoral care at the school.

Ofsted (The Office of Standards in Education) inspected this course in January 2008 and the report listed the school's key strengths as 'very good and outstanding teaching; highly effective strategic management; high technical standards; high standards of performance in productions; thorough pastoral and academic support; effective staff appraisal.' Students, just like Maria, speak most highly of the support they receive and ‘the friendly atmosphere’ of the school, which aims to produce ‘thinking dancers’.

Maria Engel at the Royal Opera House

During her final year Maria performed Elite Syncopations – “it’s a great show to do”, and toured with Birmingham Royal Ballet in The Firebird. “You get the credit of your hard work back as soon as you step on stage.” The audition process began again, this time for professional work, and I asked Maria whether she had considered going home to work in a ballet company there, but she replied “I really like to speak English. You know, it’s so strange, going home, for the first two days, I can’t speak, because you use different muscles, and when I’m on the phone to my Mum I start talking English to her. It’s really strange, because I think a lot in English, I think more in English than I do in German.”

Maria’s approach to auditioning is to look through the profile pictures of the dancers in the Company, and with her own profile picture in her head, tries to work out whether her face might fit, “because sometimes the Company goes for a certain look which you can then see in their programmes.”

Ballet Theatre UK, Britain’s newest classical ballet company, was auditioning at this time, and Maria travelled to London and was asked to perform a solo. She chose Kitri from Don Quixote, which company Director & Choreographer Chris Moore describes as “completely the other end of the spectrum from Sugar Plum, but I could just see that she was someone that I could work with and that she would create the image that I was hoping to go for with it.”

Maria Engel inside the Tiffany Blue Box

Chris cast ten dancers for his new production of The Nutcracker, with two alternating casts to cover all the roles. From the start of the audition Chris knew that he wanted to cast Maria, “well, to be honest, to be perfectly honest, she was the first one that we decided to offer a contract to, and we sussed that out pretty much within the barre work and the class really. Just because she presented such a finish with her work and she seemed to dance with quite a lot of maturity and a lot of style, which is quite unique in someone that’s obviously just left college and is on their first contract. She really shone out because of that style and her athletic dynamic that I was really looking for without it being someone non-expressive and just legs and technique. It was quite clear that she could act a little bit through her dance which was exactly what I wanted. There are so many things; style really was the biggest thing, she looked so right for it and has such energy in her dancing.”

In fact, such was the standard of Maria’s dancing that Chris had quite a task on his hands to find a suitable partner for her. “I did find then after we decided to cast her, it was difficult to find a guy that would be suitable for her, to find a guy that was of a good enough standard. So then luckily we found Diarmaid.”

Just two weeks before the end of her training at Elmhurst, Maria received the news that she had been offered a contract. After screaming with a mixture of relief and excitement, she phoned home. “I was so happy, I was crying down the phone to my Dad.”

Maria, the youngest girl in the Company, was cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Maria Engel in rehearsals

I spent some time with the dancers at final rehearsals, where they were already portraying excellent characterization. I could see how impressive all of the dancers would be once they were in the theatre, as Maria highlights “well, once you are in the theatre, and you have the lights, the props, and you wear the costume, it’s completely different. It makes it about fifty per cent more than you are doing already. It just brings out the character; I’m actually wearing that red dress, something to be proud of, I actually get the necklace.“

What about the fiendishly tricky Gargouillades ? “It’s the way of approaching things and thinking. For example, I had coaching with my ballet teachers at Elmhurst who said, ‘think of the second leg coming in’, but for me it was really hard, and then they told me ‘bring your foot to the knee’ and that would make it work for me. So it’s just about approaching things in a way that you understand. The solo is hard because the Sugar Plum variation is pure classical ballet; it’s so pure that you can see any mistakes.”

Maria Engel as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince

Maria’s Prince, Diarmaid O’Meara, says of dancing with her “Maria has real elegance when she dances, not only physically but a sense of poise and maturity. We very quickly gained each others trust which makes dancing with her a joy, and her openness allows us to improve with each performance. I hope that we'll have many opportunities to dance together after this tour. “

Maria Engel as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince

In the famous Sugar Plum pas de deux, Maria has to trust Diarmaid “because if you are turning on pointe, on one leg, it’s the boy who saves you or puts you on your leg. And I love Diarmaid to bits. He’s so funny. I do trust Diarmaid and I know that he will be there. It gets better every time. Every performance is different but the more we do it, I think I get more secure.”

I reviewed one of their performances recently and watched Maria dance with elegant, long clean lines, and a warm, expressive face. Secure in the choreography and in her partner, Maria fouttés effortlessly upstage and launches into the fish dives with ferocious abandon. But there is more, which is what Chris also saw in the auditions. Maria has a rare luminosity, she dances like a single dust mote dancing in a beam of light cast by the brilliance of her technique but also by her innate intelligence as a dancer.

Maria Engel as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince

The particular challenges of being on tour – new theatre each time, maybe a raked stage, the travelling - meant that at their first dress rehearsal the stage was a tight fit for the choreography, so adjustments were rapidly made and the cast adapted easily. “You have to be really secure on the choreography though, to then get the placement right.”

Equally testing is knowing that friends and family are in the audience. In Tamworth last week Maria had three of her teachers from Elmhurst watching - Errol Pickford, Elizabeth Rae and Donald Tolj, and she says “I know they’ve seen me dance so many times but they’ve never seen me in the show, and I was so nervous and no-one can understand. So nervous !”

Conquering the nerves is part and parcel of a dancer’s life, and of course, Maria danced brilliantly. As we were walking between photo shoot locations, she told me that she felt it was her best show so far. Anyone who knows how modest and unassuming dancers are, will know that for Maria to admit to being happy with her performance under such scrutiny means a lot.

Audience feedback has been excellent and Chris says “I’ve been really, really surprised at the amount of comments. People have been emailing and I just thought that’s really nice of someone to email to say how much they enjoyed it.” The theatres too have been positive and “we’ve had quite a lot of them already want to confirm for next year.”

Whose choreography would Maria like to dance, given the chance ? “MacMillan. Manon is one of my favourite ballets actually”. And if she could choose her partner ? “I’m torn between Carlos Acosta and Roberto Bolle. Or maybe Robert Parker.” She’d be wearing a tutu, and it would be red, “I’m a bit obsessed with the colour red.”

I asked Chris how he’d describe Maria’s dancing now, at the half-way point of the tour. “I’d say she has definitely grown in her performance, just with the experience of doing the shows and touring, but the lovely thing about Maria which has come out as we’ve been travelling is that she’s such a positive person to have on tour. She keeps the morale up and is always happy. When you are sat in the bus and you’re going around for long drives, it’s nice really.”

What does Maria wish for herself in the future ? “To get into a medium sized company, which gives me challenges.”

As Maria was directed by the photographer, a crowd gathered around me and asked who she was. I replied, “That’s Maria Engel and she’s going to be a famous ballet dancer.”

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Bennet Gartside interviewed for "Cupcakes & conversation..."

Cupcakes & Conversation with Bennet Gartside, First Soloist, The Royal Ballet

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
That it’s a new week and that I’m in control of my own future. The decisions that I make will determine what may happen for both me and my wife’s future family and my career. A little deep I know!

Who would you most like to dance with ?
Actually I’ve been lucky to dance with some great names over my career, Sylvie Guillem. Darcey Bussell, Alina Cojocaru, Tamara Rojo, Marianella Nunez, Sarah Wildor, but I think I might have to say my wife. She’s not a dancer – works in PR. At our wedding we did a Tango that was brilliant. I’ve never seen her so nervous in her life! I think because a lot of the guests were dancers, it really got her wound up. But I have dreams of what it could be like if…!

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
My daily routine always changes I guess. I’m a dancer, manage the ballet video archive, am doing an education course at work and continue to run a business at the same time. I’d get bored if I had a routine or didn’t have enough things to do. Maybe at retirement I could slow down, but not yet.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
I have a question each for my six people

George Bush – What the **** did you do?
Sir Fred Goodwin - What the **** have you done?
Gordon Brown – What the **** are you doing?
David Cameron – What the **** are you going to do?
Kanye West – You’re good, but what makes you think you’re “amazing” ?
Michael Jackson – Why?
Then I’d ask, “Who’s paying the bill?” Ultimately, we all know it’ll be the taxpayer!

What would surprise people about you ?
That I’m quite confrontational. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Bennet Gartside in Manon

Who inspired you to dance ?
Not sure, but I know Michael Jackson inspired me to continue dancing. I knew every video inside out - that is scary! I think that helped a young northern boy in the playground who did ballet have a little credibility.

How would someone else describe you ?
I know my wife would describe me as a procrastinator! I think she’s right. But I’d like to think that people would describe me as a trustworthy friend.

What is your best piece of advice ?
Confront your problems yourself. Ask for advice from friends but you know what you need to do personally.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Wow, I don’t think I could say one role overrides the rest. There have been a few roles that have been and still are challenging. As you grow, your views change, your body changes and your interpretation of the character changes. That’s why I still love it. 15th season in the Company and to be still able to say that. That’s what excites me.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
When I was a toddler in my pushchair, my mum took me to the local carnival. We were watching the floats go by when I put my hand up an old lady’s skirt! She turned around to immediately strike someone only to see my mum oblivious to this watching the carnival, and me looking up with a grin on my rosy-cheeked face.

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
Something like an Ozwald Boateng suit. I envy the Opera company for their ability to wear such amazing costumes, all tailor made for them. I’m not much for one with these generic costumes that are seen of late. Call me old fashioned.

What are you most proud of ?
My wife for finding a job during the worst recession since World War II.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Spud from ‘Trainspotting’. I think his name is Ewen Bremner. Can’t exactly say Jude Law can I?

What is your favourite quote?
"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know." Donald Rumsfeld (then Secretary of Defense).
I swear this guy was achingly dumb, but had this much power?

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
I’d like to say being a dab hand at DIY, but my wife will beg to differ. I think she doesn’t know how much time, thought and effort goes in to putting a shelf up, let alone two!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Cyrano reviewed

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadlers Wells, 12th November 2009

Elisha Willis as Roxanne and Iain Mackay as Christian
Photo :  Bill Cooper

Romantic story ballets are always an audience favourite and Cyrano is no exception, mixing comedy and musical theatre with classical ballet. The sets are wonderful, beautifully lit by Mark Jonathan, and used to great effect – Cyrano climbing a tree or Christian climbing up the ivy-clad balcony to Roxanne.

Unusually, the curtain is up from the start, with the dancers gradually appearing on stage, the men testing their swords and the ladies chatting, and the action begins in the Hotel de Bourgogue in 1640 where a crowd have gathered to watch Montfleury (Jonathan Payn) act.

Elisha Willis as Roxanne and Robert Parker as Cyrano
Photo :  Bill Cooper

David Bintley engaged a Fight Director (Malcolm Ranson), and these scenes are realistic though also done with a dash of comedy – Cyrano battling away but simultaneously taking time to flirt with the crowd. There is much battling in the first act, and at 55 minutes I thought it was overlong. I also found the costuming over-the-top with millions of flowers, flounces and frills. It surely is just wrong to cover up your dancers in baggy trousers á la Dick Dastardly, though once again the Company surpassed themselves with their synchronised airborne men, flapping boots and all. Equally perfect were the nuns in the final act, in a lovely autumnal scene. I thought their black coloured pointe shoes showed off a beautiful delicacy and fluidity that can be missed when the feet are not highlighted in this way. Willis and the other ladies of the cast had the best costumes, in particular Willis’ black mourning dress which rippled and curled behind her like molten molasses as she spun.

The comedy moments are peppered throughout the dance, often poking fun at ballet itself, the dancers mocking the (usually feared) Rose Adage in Ragueneau’s bakery using baguettes instead of roses. The inherent difficulties of a ballet that is danced-through, where there are no breaks for curtain calls, makes for difficult scene transitions but Elisha Willis and Robert Parker are adept at staying in character and the slight lulls were quickly forgotten.

Parker is an exceptional dancer, but here, as Cyrano, he is required to act his way through a full length ballet, and act he does ! There may have been the odd technical hitch on the first night, but Parker is a professional. The scene where Cyrano delays the Comte de Guiche by pretending to have fallen from the moon was so funny & so well acted by Parker that I wanted to believe him. He has the same awareness of his surroundings, even in the midst of a difficult solo, which I’ve also seen in Carlos Acosta, saving his ballerina many a time from a misplaced haystack or wayward ribbon. In Cyrano the prop count is high with no shortage of flying feathered hats, swords, letters and pies, not forgetting the aforementioned baguettes, and this foresight by Parker is a great asset.

Elisha Willis as Roxanne and Iain Mackay as Christian
Photo :  Bill Cooper

Willis threw herself bodily into the dance with every step, showing a deep trust with her partners. With Parker this was breathtaking, sure and swift; less so her pas de deux with Guest Principal Iain Mackay, where a fumbled lift could have resulted in a serious injury. Christian isn’t an easy part to dance – sure he has the looks but he’s a bit short of adjacent brain cells and the dawning realisation that he couldn’t possibly have written all those letters to Roxanne is a bit clunky.

By the time Roxanne realises the truth in the final scene, that Cyrano’s words have filled her head and her heart and not Christian's, he is mortally wounded, and so little seems to pass between them in the choreography you can’t help feeling that had the first act been trimmed, there might have been more space to play with here - such great dance actors as these two surely deserve it.

It’s not easy to get across a play based on writing without using words, but the scenes where the prose is ‘read’ are very well done – again, with a suitable dash of humour. All credit to Willis and Parker, with special mention to Marion Tait as Roxanne’s Duenna, who reminded me of Lises' mother in Fille and had the same very watchable characterisation.

Cyrano is at Sadlers Wells until Saturday and yes the story is a bit mad, but you’d be mad to miss it !

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Birmingham Royal Ballet @ Sadlers Wells - Quantum Leaps review

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Quantum Leaps
Powder | E=mc² | The Centre and its Opposite
Sadlers Wells, 10th November 2009

Elisha Willis & Joseph Caley in E=mc²
Photo :  Bill Cooper

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s autumn season arrived in London this week and it is a chance to see this forward-thinking, powerhouse of a Company on top form. By nurturing its young dancers and giving them opportunities not available elsewhere, each visit is a treat for the audience and opens up endless possibilities.

Powder, a piece for seven couples choreographed by Stanton Welch and with the great Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major (though it opens in silence) is a mix of fun, drama and a hint of something more boudoir.

All of the cast were excellent but I have to mention Natasha Oughtred whose port de bras were exquisite, especially as she slowly lowered into a backbend, supported by waiting arms she could not see. The costumes, depicting a hint of modern underwear rather than the style of Mozart’s period, bring out a flavour of cheekiness in the way they are used throughout, especially for the ladies in sheer long, tiered skirts with a bustle at the back, picking them up and letting them go just so.

The stunning synchronization between the men is a joy to watch – whether it’s a jeté or a series of blisteringly fast turns, Birmingham Royal Ballet are the only UK Company who seem able to achieve such consistent sharpness and timing. At the close, Oughtred starts as she began, with her back to the audience, and a cloud of – what else – powder, blossoms around her.

Photo :  Roy Smiljanic

The world’s most famous equation follows - E=mc² is divided into four – Energy (for the first symbol), Mass (the M symbol), both of which are linked by Celeritas (swiftness; the C symbol), and c² (the speed of light squared) potentially turns the mass into a vast amount of energy – the Manhattan Project.

Who would make a ballet based on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and would it work? The answer is that it does, though with a good deal of challenging light and sound along the way. You’ve got every kind of drama here – smoke, thundering clouds, light and shade, with atmosphere in spades.

E=mc² has been entirely funded by donations to the Director’s Appeal, an initiative which is keeping BRB at the forefront of classical ballet.

Energy is powerful and big, with Elisha Willis and Joseph Caley leading the ensemble. It’s contrasted by the dark Mass in which the dancers appear slower, heavier, and dance in shafts of light, in pairs of men who hold the women aloft. Special mention here to Jenna Roberts who seemed most at ease with the choreography.

Samara Downs, as a mock-Geisha (why couldn’t we have the real thing ?), opens a red fan and twists and turns in the manner of the Dying Swan, as a red square of light appears behind her. Most likely you’ve never experienced the explosive fallout from an atomic bomb detonating, and I certainly had energy squared as I was catapulted from my seat by the ear-splitting blast. Fortunately I wasn’t alone.

This rumbling bellow gradually subsides into the speed of light, and here Carol-Anne Millar and Alexander Campbell dazzled. The backdrop of rows of gradually brightening light bulbs (to incandescent levels) was a test on the eye after the darkness of the preceding sections and made it hard to focus on the dance for a while, but what a dance ! With a speed that would put Riverdance to shame, the relentless pace showed what athletes the dancers are. Callie Roberts had her own spotlight, as did Samara Downs, Arancha Baselga & Steven Monteith.

Dusty Button & Aaron Robison in The Centre and its Opposite
Photo :  Bill Cooper

The belligerent The Centre and its Opposite showcases Dusty Button’s fast flashing legs and quick sharp turns. One false move and you sense there would be trouble. Robert Parker & Jonathan Caguioa were outstandingly good in a piece where Huey Benjamin’s synthesised music grated after a time but I’d concede went well with Garry Stewart’s choreography. Stewart is Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre, where the dancers are trained in ashanta yoga, gymnastics and martial arts, some of which I feel may have been lost by making a ballet on a classical company such as BRB. The grey & blue costumes by Georg Meyer-Wiel complimented the dancers and showed off their physicality.

Overall this triple bills shows off the tremendous strength of the Company and you will be richly rewarded for your support of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Callie Roberts interviewed for "Cupcakes & Conversation ..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Callie Roberts, Artist, Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet are performing a triple bill, Quantum Leaps, and Cyrano, at Sadlers Wells, London, from tomorrow night.

Photo :  Andy Ross

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I’d love to say that I bounce out of bed at 8.00 am on a Monday morning, but the sad truth is that I have to drag myself out of bed. I’m not a morning person so I do find it hard waking up, but once I’ve had my breakfast and got myself warmed up at work I’m ready for the day and week ahead.

What are you looking forward to dancing this season ?
I’m really enjoying the triple bill we are performing at the moment. E=mc² is a lot of fun and quite challenging. I’m also looking forward to Nutcracker which is always fun to do, and the ‘on their toes’ triple bill.

Who would you most like to dance with ?
All the way through the Royal Ballet Upper School, I was partnered with Sergei Polunin and I always loved dancing with him. He is now a First Soloist with the Royal Ballet. I think it would be fantastic if we could dance together again one day.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I take the heel pin out and bend the shoe a little and then Shellac them twice before I use them. If they start to get too soft in the toe, I use Jet glue and it seems to do the trick.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I wake up, have breakfast, walk to work, do a mat class with Jenny Bintley, do class, do some exercises in the pool, have lunch, get ready for the matinee show, perform, shower, dinner, power nap, warm-up, get ready for the evening show, perform, shower, home, sleep.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Jamie Oliver – so he can cook some yummy food
Billy Connolly – for laughs
David Attenborough – interesting stories
Audrey Hepburn – style tips
Michael Jackson – entertainment
(That sounds like one heck of an interesting dinner party!)

What would surprise people about you ?
I can’t ride a bike.

Who inspired you to dance ?
My sister.

How would someone else describe you ?
Laid back, caring and up for a good time.

What is your best piece of advice ?
You only live once so enjoy yourself.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
The lead role in Concerto Barocco. I was also in the corps de ballet and didn’t have much time to learn the principal part; I performed it after only two rehearsals. I loved it though.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
When BRB were on tour in Japan, I danced the Spanish Doll in Coppélia. I had to bourrée back to the chair and sit on it. In one of the performances, I missed the chair completely and fell flat on the floor.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Maybe Cate Blanchett.

A phrase I use far too often is ... ?
I’m known for being a bit over-enthusiastic! I’m always saying that was the most ‘amazing’ place I’ve ever been to or that was the ‘best’ restaurant ever.

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
I absolutely loved performing Serenade when I was in the second year the RBS. I performed the part of the ‘waltz girl’.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I like to think of myself as being quite a good cook and I can make my own jewellery.

Birmingham Royal Ballet appoints Simon Harper as Media & PR Manager


Birmingham Royal Ballet announces the appointment of Simon Harper as its new Media and Public Relations Manager.

Formerly the Company’s Press and PR Officer, Harper brings a wealth of experience in dance and public relations to the role of Media and PR Manager.

Born in Birmingham and trained in dance at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, he worked as a freelance dancer, including performances in West End productions of Chicago, Grease, Me and My Girl, 42nd Street and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

His career development follows press and public relation roles at Sadler’s Wells in London and Birmingham City Council’s Gallery 37 programme; a creative learning programme for young people.

In September 2009 he embarked on a two year, part-time MPhil research programme in Education Studies (Dance) at the University of Birmingham.

His appointment takes effect from Monday 9 November 2009.

Communications Director, Keith Longmore said “Simon has demonstrated a solid commitment to ensuring the highest level of service delivery within our Media and PR operation. His previous experience as a performer has given him a great insight into the workings of a major arts organisation. This, along with his skill and experience in the media field, made him an ideal candidate for this post. He shares the Company’s vision to see a higher profile for those arts organisation based outside of London and as a priority, will be working to ensure that Birmingham Royal Ballet becomes central to the national arts debate.”

Many congratulations to Simon on this well deserved appointment.

Birmingham Royal Ballet announce new music director


Following the appointment of Barry Wordsworth as Music Director of The Royal Ballet and an international search for his successor, Birmingham Royal Ballet is delighted to announce, after an exhaustive recruitment process, the appointment of Koen Kessels as its Music Director.

A Belgian national, Kessels studied at the Royal Flemish Conservatoire of Music in Antwerp. He has worked extensively across the world with companies including the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Flanders Opera, the Opera National de Paris and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

In 1998 he founded the HERMESensemble specialising in contemporary music, for which he collaborated amongst others with Luc Ferrari, Kaija Saariaho, Yan Maresz, Joby Talbot and George Benjamin. In 2000 he worked with Kent Nagano on the world premiere of l’Amour de Loin at the Salzburger Festspiele 2000.

Since 2005, he has been a regular guest conductor for the Ballet at the Opéra National de Paris (Le Parc, Coppélia, Proust, Cinderella, Hurlevent, Hommage Jerôme Robbins, and Giselle, with several engagements following for upcoming seasons. With Le Parc, he toured Japan and also performed at Sadler’s Wells. Proust (Roland Petit), Cinderella (Nureyev) (Opus d’Or) and Hommage Jerôme Robbins have been released on DVD.

Koen Kessels is music director of Zomeropera Alden Biesen (Belgium), artistic director of HERMESensemble, guest conductor at The National Opera Sofia and member of the artistic direction at the Antwerp Royal Music Conservatoire.

Christopher Barron, Chief Executive of Birmingham Royal Ballet, said:
“This appointment underpins our commitment to the highest quality of performance across all areas of the Company. As one of the major commissioners of new music for dance and a Company striving to develop both our repertoire and the art form, Koen’s contribution will be essential as we move forward. The recruitment period for this post has been long and thorough and we believe we have made an excellent choice of the individual who will lead our orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, into the next stage of its history”

Koen Kessels said:
“On tour for the Ballet of Flanders with Swan Lake, I had the chance to work for the first time with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. It was a real pleasure. Our second meeting was in Sadler’s Wells with the Paris Opera and Le Parc. On the third occasion, preparing our Covent Garden performances of The Nutcracker, I met the company in Birmingham and had my first conversations with David Bintley. When the proposal came to succeed Barry Wordsworth, I felt very honoured and proud”

Kessels will conduct a number of performances of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker in December and will join the Company for its 2010 season.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Dusty Button interviewed for "Cupcakes & conversation ..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Dusty Button, Artist, Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet are performing in London from 10th November 2009 and Button can be seen in The Centre and its Opposite, part of the Quantum Leaps triple bill. 

Dusty Button by Andy Ross

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
To be honest, most mornings at 8am I'm still in bed! Sometimes it takes me a while to get motivated but coffee is always a start!

What are you looking forward to dancing this season?
I was really looking forward to starting The Centre and its Opposite this season, I love that. I'm such a Christmassy girl, I always look forward to Nutcracker! I can't wait!

Who would you most like to dance with?
There are so many people I'd love to dance with for so many different reasons but I think I would be beside myself if I got the chance to dance with Sylvie Guillem. I'm not even sure I would dance if I was on stage with her, I would probably just end up watching!

How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
I don't do much really. I usually just sew them and break them in a bit. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Dusty Button and Aaron Robison in The Centre and its Opposite
Photo:  Bill Cooper

What is your daily routine at the moment?
At the moment I usually wake up with enough time for a good warm-up before class and maybe a work out in the middle of the day. Depending on our work load my routine varies.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite?
That is super hard but now I think it would have to be: Beyonce, Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Michael Bublé, Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey.

What would surprise people about you?
I don't know if surprise is the right word but a lot of people don't know that I'm a Christian. But I am :)

Who inspired you to dance?
I don't really have one person who inspired me to dance but I did grow up watching all the classic dance movies. My favourite film was White Christmas with Vera Ellen, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. I remember watching a dance scene with Vera Ellen and thinking she was brilliant in her rhinestoned heels! I watch it every Christmas!

How would someone else describe you?
Loud! Haha! Um I don't know really, I guess I'm pretty outgoing and up for a challenge, I love smiling so anything that goes with that!

Dusty Button and Aaron Robison in The Centre and its Opposite
Photo: Bill Cooper

What is your best piece of advice?
In any situation try and find the positive and just don't be afraid to fight for what you want! You always have more willpower than you think :)

Which role has tested you the most and how?
I think one of the hardest things I've done in the company is Serenade. I absolutely loved dancing it but sometimes the music was so inspiring it was hard not to go off in my own world and keep dancing! With a piece like Serenade, it only looks great if everyone is in perfect lines and musically together. I think that was very hard but a lovely piece and great inspiration around me!

What is the funniest thing that's ever happened to you?
Oh my gosh, funny things happen to me on and off stage all the time! I think one of the funniest things that has ever happened to me was when I was about 13 years old. I was in a singing/drama class at school in South Carolina and we were putting on a production of A Christmas Carol. There weren't very many boys in our class and I had been put in the Alto group for singing. So after the auditions my teacher came up to me and asked if I would mind playing Scrooge in the play! Of course without thinking, I said, 'Yes!' Scrooge was the star! But then I realized Scrooge was a grumpy old man. Nevertheless, Christmas came around and there I was, blonde and perky.. playing Scrooge!

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create?
That's really hard. I think I've already had the costume I would've designed! I had an amazing costume that my mom made when I was about 14. I did a solo to the song 'Roxie' from the musical Chicago. It was a lycra short fitted dress with the back out and silver beads at the bottom. I remember counting something over 6,000 rhinestones on it!! It was incredible. I'd dance in that any day!

What are you most proud of?
Wow! That's a hard one. I think there are a few. I am so proud to have the parents I have, I couldn't ask for better! The friendships I've created since joining Birmingham Royal Ballet. And maybe most importantly I'm proud of my faith.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
I would love Kate Hudson to play me in a film! That would be brilliant!

What is your favourite quote?
"If you wanna limit yourself that's fine, but don't let other people do it for you."

Do you have a 'signature step' - one that comes naturally to you?
Hm. I don't know, I guess kicking my legs is something I do a lot! But don't we all!

A phrase I use far too often is...?
Before I start a sentence it usually begins with, 'I'm not gonna lie'. (Which is probably a good thing!)

What's been your best on-stage moment so far?
When I was 16 I performed at a gala in New York City. I was completely overwhelmed on stage and while I was finishing my solo I started crying! It is the best memory and I had never been so happy!

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?
I'm not sure it's a secret but I do sing and still taking lessons now! I love it and hopefully one day I'll put it to good use!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ballet Theatre UK - The Nutcracker review

The Nutcracker
Ballet Theatre UK
Sevenoaks, November 1st 2009

Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance - each beautiful, unique and too soon gone." ~ Deborah Whipp

So it is with Ballet Theatre UK’s new version of The Nutcracker, the quintessential Christmas ballet based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Der Nussknacker und der Mäusekönig.

Natalie Cawte as the maid
Photographs throughout :  Mo Greig

As the UK’s newest ballet company, and given that it’s probably the most performed ballet in the world (first staged in London in 1934), director and choreographer Christopher Moore has worked wonders to bring this tale up to date with modern sets and costumes. There are two alternating casts of ten dancers, meaning that they all work double time with the costume changes and Moore has choreographed the ballet to suit his Company. It’s an exciting prospect – new choreography in a classical full-length narrative ballet – and you’ll be pleased to know that there is more in the pipeline.

Amy Coughlan as Clara

The scene unfolds one evening where a mother and her daughter Clara (Megan Wood), are hosting a party. Danced with great characterization, warmth and grace by Maria Engel, the mother is busy in her role as hostess, making sure all of the guests are happy, as you would.

Sam Bishop as Drosselmeyer and Maria Engel as the mother

One of the guests is Clara’s uncle Drosselmeyer, who presents her with a Nutcracker doll. Pere Bodi Perez has the nimble footwork and magical aura needed to capture the guests’ attention when he introduces two dolls – Columbine and the Harlequin doll, brought to life brilliantly by Natalie Cawte and Diarmaid O’Meara.

Natalie Cawte as Columbine & Chris James as Harlequin

As Clara tiptoes wide-eyed down the stairs at midnight to fetch her Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer is waiting for her.

Amy Coughlan as Clara

He sends her off on a journey where she battles the Rat King & is rewarded for her bravery when her doll turns into a handsome Prince.

Clara and the battle with the Rat King

Natalie Cawte as Columbine gets caught up in the battle

Amy Coughlan as Clara, Chris James as The Nutcracker and Sam Bishop as Drosselmeyer

Natalie Cawte as Columbine

By now you might be wishing you had your own Drosselmeyer. The handsome Prince, (Diarmaid O’Meara), whisks Clara away to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of the Sweets, where they find the Sugar Plum Fairy (Maria Engel).

The Snowflakes

Tchaikovsky's “Valse des Flacons de Neige” – the Waltz of the Snowflakes, begins with curling, cascading music, much like the snowflakes themselves. Danced by Maria Engel, Alexandra Fern, Natalie Cawte and Amy Coughlan in beautiful costumes designed by Moore (as are all the costumes), the Snowflakes are joined by Kazuka Oike in a dazzling white and silver tutu and waltz in perfect time to a glittering backdrop.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

Twas the night before Christmas Poem , Clement Clarke Moore

Maria Engel as Sugar Plum Fairy and Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince

Reaching the Kingdom of Sweets, Engel, as The Sugar Plum Fairy, shimmers and glides, delicately picking through the music. O’Meara gave a clear and impassioned rendition of the mime sequence, all hand gestures, where he describes their adventures to the Sugar Plum Fairy, who presents him with a medal. Clara receives a diamond necklace and the pair is invited by the Sugar Plum Fairy to take part in a celebration, where she will dance in their honour.

The divertissements which follow are great fun and also relate to gifts of hot chocolate, coffee, tea & candy canes from their relevant country.

Megan Wood in The Spanish Dance

In terms of technique in the Spanish dance, I couldn’t tell Alexandra Fern apart from Royal Ballet Principal dancer Laura Morera, so sharp was her footwork & characterization. Plenty of swirling skirts and imagined castanets, ably partnered by Sam Bishop. Coughlan and Perez had good timing throughout.

Maria Engel and Diarmaid O'Meara in the Arabian Dance

Natalie Cawte hasn’t put a foot wrong wherever I’ve seen the Company, and in the Arabian dance she had a sinuous technique with charisma and joie de vivre to spare. Her use of space is excellent and she has a strong technique, visible not only in her slow, controlled drop into the splits, unsupported, but also in the lifts, walking over her partner Chris James’ thigh to sit on his shoulder; she was a joy to watch. It’s a tough dance on the back, but you wouldn’t have known as both brought out the full flavour of the piece.

Sam Bishop, Chris James & Pere Bodi Perez in The Russian Dance

The Russian dance, or Trepak (a bravura traditional Ukrainian folk dance in 2/4 time) is played in a presto tempo with deep squats and split leaps, and is performed exclusively by men. It’s a testing feat where Perez and Bishop did themselves proud, and with O’Meara in the mix you have three Cossack dancers ready to raise the roof. Bishop in particular looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself; it was infectious. The ending, when Clara jumps sideways into all three pairs of hands was done at speed and with great panache.

Oike lights up the stage with her beaming smile and fills the space with delicate balances and jumps.

Natalie Cawte

The music you know so well from the Fruit & Nut adverts, the Dance of the Mirlitons, fills the air and Cawte & Coughlan appear in Broadway top hats, pink gloves and stripy tutus. Wood, as Clara, joins in and all three had great timing and some really sassy moves. Special mention has to go again to Cawte for her sharpness and great hand shaping.

Fern and Bishop danced the Polichinelle (Clown) variation with great aplomb, in deep blue costumes, he with a snazzy multi-coloured belt, she with flowers in her hair and fun on her mind. Her fouettés were spot on and both were sharp.

The Waltz of the Flowers

The Sugar Plum Fairy hands Clara a quite giant rose, signalling the start of the Waltz of the Flowers. In sparkling pink tutus, Oike, Coughlan and Cawte swirled their way through the music; Cawte looked especially to be enjoying herself, with strong balances. Partnered by Perez, Bishop and James, waltzing in a circle might have even the celebrities on Strictly Come Dancing in a spin but they held together well.

Maria Engel as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince

No matter how much fun you’ve had so far, The Nutcracker stands or falls with the famously tricky Intrada, variations and central pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. Here Engel tones down her inner hostess and is serene & regal, stroking the floor with her feet; perfectly matched by O’Meara who has long elegant lines especially in his first solo.

Maria Engel as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince

In an already difficult solo, The Sugar Plum Fairy dances a series of Gargouillades, essentially a pas de chat variation with a double ronde de jambe on each foot. It takes a brilliant technician to get this step right especially on the closing leg, and I’ve not seen it danced this well before. Engel turns well and has beautiful soft feet, but don’t think Sugar Plum gets all the limelight; where would she be without her Prince, and O’Meara’s jumps are high & plush with lovely soft landings.

Maria Engel as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince

O’Meara and Engel both have beautiful phrasing on their own, but together their phrasing becomes a conversation in the central pas de deux and it’s one that the audience want to hear. This section was labelled by Tchaikovsky as “Andante maestoso”, or “flowing majestically”, and with these two, it does. O’Meara’s exemplary partnering skills are evident in his effortless high lifts, Engel sitting on one shoulder, and into the swooping fish dives so characteristic of this dance. The final fish dive was marvellous.

Diarmaid O'Meara, Amy Coughlan and Chris James in the closing waltz

The closing waltz ends with Clara lifted up high while the others slowly twirl off the stage in each corner. Clara wakes up and finds herself at home; did she dream it all ? Did we ? Well, lucky Clara has the diamond necklace !

You can read interviews with Amy, Natalie and Alexandra, and more will follow shortly.

Ballet Theatre UK are currently on tour (book here):

Nov 7th Andover The Lights 2.30pm & 7.30pm 01264 368368
Nov 12th Tamworth Assembly Rooms 7.30pm 01827 709618
Nov 13th Solihull Arts Complex 7.30pm 0121 7046962
Nov 15th York Joseph Rowntree Theatre 5.00pm 01904 623568
Nov 19th Wimborne Tivoli Theatre 7.30pm 01202 885566
Nov 21st East Grintead Chequer Mead 2.30pm & 7.30pm 01342 302000
Nov 26th Newbury Arlington Arts 7.00pm 01635 244246
Nov 27th Newbury Arlington Arts 7.00pm 01635 244246
Nov 28th Newbury Arlington Arts 2pm & 7.00pm 01635 244246
Nov 29th Nuneaton Abbey Theatre 2.00pm & 5.00pm 07722 389943
Dec 5th Powys Wyeside Arts 7.30pm 01982 552555
Dec 6th Harlech Theatr Harlech 7.30pm 01766 780667
Dec 10th Milton Keynes Stantonbury Theatre 7.30pm 01908 324422
Dec 11th Henleyon-Thames Kenton Theatre 7.30pm 01491 575698
Dec 19th Hinckley Concordia Theatre 2.30pm & 7.30pm 07910 707825