Sunday, 30 May 2010

New Works in the Linbury - 3-5 June 2010, Royal Opera House

I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to today's new readers.  It's lovely to see you here and I hope you enjoy reading BALLET NEWS.  In a couple of days I will be publishing a feature about English National Ballet and their Swan Lake tutus - as the wardrobe department prepares for the massed ranks of Swans about to glide into the Royal Albert Hall 'in-the-round'. It's a true spectacle.  I will also be unveiling a unique prize. I hope you'll be back !

New Works in the Linbury
3-5 June
Linbury Studio Theatre

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows
Photo by Johan Persson

The annual New Works performances are a chance to see new and innovative dance on the smaller Linbury stage.  You can see new choreographers from The Royal Ballet's dancers, and some who have been producing new works for a few years.  Last year the absolute highlight of a very good selection was Les Lutins, choreographed by Johan Kobborg for Alina Cojocaru, Steven McRae and Sergei Polunin, with the wonderful Charlie Siem on Violin. Literally, the stage was too hot for dance and they barely touched it. Steven and Sergei are back this year. 

I also want to highlight one dancer/choreographer who is not here this year, but was last and has recently had a massive hit on the main Covent Garden stage with Ashpodel Meadows.  Photographs from the performance can be seen throughout this feature. The dancer/choreographer is Liam Scarlett, and I mention him here because the New Works format has given him the confidence to mount a ballet for the main stage; proof if you needed it that in these performances you have the chance to see someone develop over time - and they need your support !  You also get the chance to see some of the corp dancers shine on stage in a way that they can't on the main stage - their role in the corp is to blend in.

Rupert Pennefather and Marianela Nuñez in Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows
Photo by Johan Persson

Here is what is in store this year.  There are some interesting collaborations with designers - for example Christian Dior - and some of the dancers I'd especially recommend are Bennet Gartside, Tristan Dyer, Melissa Hamilton, Leticia Stock, Leanne Cope, Yasmine Naghdi, Lara Turk and Helen Crawford.

Choreography Slava Samodurov
Music Dmitri Shostakovich
Costume Designs Ellen Butler
Mara Galeazzi, Valeri Hristov, Melissa Hamilton, Thomas Whitehead, Olivia Cowley, David Trzensimiech, Sian Murphy, Tristan Dyer, Akane Takada, Kevin Emerton

Choreography Ludovic Ondiviela
Music Giulio Caccini (Ave Maria),
Dustin O’Halloran
Sergei Rachmaninov Rachmaninov
Claire Calvert, Yuhui Choe, Benjamin Ella, Ryoichi Hirano, Paul Kay, Leticia Stock

Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside in Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows
Photo by Johan Persson

Choreography Vanessa Fenton
Music Max Bruch

Leanne Cope, Roberta Marquez, Steven McRae, Fernando Montaño, Yasmine Naghdi, Michael Stojko

Choreography Alastair Marriott
Music Johannes Brahms
Costume Designs Adam Wiltshire
Original Lighting Design Jurgen Volckaerts
Choreographer’s Assistant Jonathan Howells
Mara Galeazzi, Gary Avis

Tamara Rojo in Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows
Photo by Johan Persson

Choreography Kristen Mcnally
Music : Ennio Morricone, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Michael Bublé, , Jean Michel Jarre
Costumes Styled By Stephanie McNally
With Thanks To Christian Dior And Topshop Unique
Artistic Advisor John Birchell Hughes
Thomas Whitehead, Christina Arestis, Sian Murphy, Lara Turk

Choreography Erico Montes
Music John Adams
Costume Designs Natalia Stewart
Helen Crawford, Bennet Gartside, Kenta Kura, Sergei Polunin, Jonathan Watkins

Marianela Nuñez in Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows
Photo by Johan Persson

Friday, 28 May 2010

Toby Mallitt interviewed for 'Cupcakes & Conversation with ..."

Cupcakes & Conversation with Toby Mallitt, Corp de Ballet, Corella Ballet

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Before, when in London I used to rely on a good nights’ sleep to get me up, and in the summer there is nothing like a very hot sunny day to get you motivated. Since moving to Spain I started drinking coffee in the mornings, and there is nothing like a big cup of Spanish coffee in the morning to get you all wide awake. Depending on the day ahead, I sometimes get very excited by what rehearsals we have coming up and which teachers will be teaching us for class.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
My favourite part of my job is partnering so this is a tough one. There are so many wonderfully talented ladies out there in the ballet world but if I had to choose a few, I would probably love to dance with Marianela Nunez of The Royal Ballet in London, and Polina Semionova of Berlin Staatsoper. Although both would be too tall for me, the thought of dancing with either of these stars would be a great honour as they simply are diamonds in this business. As for what to dance - this is very tough but some of my favourite works come from the great Forsythe. In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated and The Second Detail interest me very much; the music and the movement are amazing.

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
There is something about Egyptian history that interests me so much, and maybe dancing with the backdrop of the Sphinx and the Pyramids would be such an amazing performance. There is so much history there and to dance there would be one to remember.

Photograph :  Fernando Bufala

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
On a work day I would usually get out of bed about 9am and put on the coffee maker ready for when I get out of the shower. Make a good breakfast and prepare a bite to eat for lunch later in the day. Lucky for me, I am living with a girl from the company who drives, so it’s very handy for me to get to work (Thank you Tracy). At the studios, class begins at 10:30am and finishes at 12pm. Depending on the day, we can finish sometimes at 6-7pm or sometimes when we have performances coming up which do not include us as much we can finish as early as about 3-4 which is always a bonus, especially when the Spanish sun is calling our names. In the summer a few of us like to go for a drink on a terrace after work just to put a nice end to stressful, hard day at work. Getting home later I always sit down and check e-mail's, Tweet a bit, and go through facebook before making dinner and heading to bed.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
Lucky for us, touring around Spain we get to visit such beautiful towns and cities. So usually before a performance I like to go around and investigate where we are and perhaps shop and have a good lunch in preparation for the performance later in the evening. Before heading to warm up class, I always grab another coffee and some snacks for during the performance. If by chance Twyla Tharp’s’, In the Upper Room is being performed in the evening, then a red bull will come in handy :)

What are you looking forward to dancing in 2010 ?
We have danced a great amount of varied repertoire this year so far, but currently we are rehearsing Raymonda Act III which is great, as I love the music. In Raymonda, I am very happy as I have the chance to dance the Pas de Quatre. Lots of work ahead to make this look good especially as it will be 3 soloists and me, wish me luck! Recently we have been on tour in New York which was definitely the highlight for me of being with Corella Ballet so far, getting to dance the wonderful DGV, by Christopher Wheeldon.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Well if a dinner was to be prepared then the first person would be Nigella Lawson, as she makes cooking look very interesting, and also makes scrumptious looking dishes. The comedy side of the conversation would have to come from Alan Carr, as he makes me laugh hysterically and think his choice of conversation would be very interesting indeed. Musically it would have to be Lady Gaga herself for originality. I would request a costume for her to be worn which would exceed all others previously worn. For extra added class and style I would love to bring back the great Alexander McQueen; I was a big fan of his work. Steve Rubell, one the owners of Studio 54 in New York, just ask everything about that era and what really went down in that iconic disco. Last but not least, I would love to invite Mikhail Baryshnikov, just to ask for few tips.

Photograph :  Fernando Bufala

What would surprise people about you ?
I love to listen to House and Electro music, especially on a night out there is nothing better than dancing a whole different way, to let go of the previous busy week at the studios.

Who inspired you to dance ?
I remember the first ballet video I had, and it included a clip of Cynthia Harvey being partnered by Baryshnikov and I fell in love with it. It took me time to get into the ballet side of dance as I originally wanted to go into the more commercial side of it, Jazz etc. Michelle Blair, a wonderful Jazz teacher I had whilst dancing at English National Ballet School, very much pushed me every time I went to her class which helped me gain the strength to face the tough roads ahead in ballet. Of course my original ballet teacher back home, Linda Shipton, who pushed me for competitions and ballet schools at such a young age, really gave me a confidence boost, especially when winning The Baines Hewitt Bursary award for the ISTD ballet awards.

How would someone else describe you ?
I just turned around to Tracy Jones, to ask how to describe me and the first word she came up with was Flamboyant; great word, I must say. I think other people would use the words Fun-loving, Humorous, and a little crazy at times.

What is your best piece of advice ?
Live for your dream, never let anyone take that away from you. The world is your oyster. If speaking literally, then for a dancer I would have to say if auditioning, stand at the front and get noticed, there is no point hiding at the back. Confidence is Key.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
The role of the Stompers in Twyla Tharp’s’, In the Upper Room is without a doubt the toughest ballet I have performed. It’s a non-stop high energy ballet which involves a lot of running. It’s one ballet where caffeine is much needed.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
There are two things that come to mind; one recently during Christopher Wheeldon's VIII performance. A blue silk strip of material falls from the ceiling, but came down too early and floated in front of my face whilst I’m sitting on stage. I could not contain my laughter. Lucky the audience could not see my face, thanks to the material hiding me. Another being when I was playing the part of Bottom in Midsummer Nights’ Dream last year. During my solo, the inside of my crotch completely ripped. It felt more embarrassing being dressed as a donkey for some reason. Yet again they could not see my blushing face under the donkey head.

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
Something clean cut and slick that is easily stretched but also makes your lines look very slender. My favourite colour is orange, but think that maybe a bit too wild, but then again, wild is most like me.

A phrase I use far too often is ...
For some reason I always say "That’s way too much" just meaning, over the top. Sounds random I know but sounds right with the right tone of voice. A new one for my vocabulary is the word "Hench" just when something again is over the top, or very big.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Someone extremely witty, dashing and very fit of course... No, but seriously someone who is witty is important. I am not a bland person, I need someone who radiates energy. The actor Ian Somerhalder is great; just so happens he is very handsome too.

What is your favourite quote?
"The world is your oyster"- Anyone can achieve anything they put their mind too.

What’s on your iPod ?
Many podcasts of my favourite DJ's including Steve Pitron, Steven Geller and Oliver M. I also love listening to pop music, nothing better to get you in a good mood.

What makes you a good dance partner ?
Pas de deux is my favourite part of being a ballet dancer. It’s a tough job making the girl look stunning without any fault, so I love working towards doing the best I can for the girl. One thing that is very important is team work so talking and going through things slowly that would work for both of you is extremely vital. I tend to put the blame on myself as never want the girl to feel bad, and a good partner should take most of the blame. Of course there always exceptions.

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
I am currently playing darts just for fun in the local bar, but tend to get quite into it. I think I’m getting better but nothing really I call a skill as yet. I am yet to discover it.

Describe yourself in just three words.
Spontaneous, Witty, Fun-Loving.

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?
This time next year I see myself continuing to improve the best I can and being challenged with lots of new roles. I would love to start re-taking jazz and other types of dance lessons to see what else is out there, but for now I'm happy with where I am at and shall keep pushing forward.

Birmingham Royal Ballet presents Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet at The Lowry, Salford and Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff during its 2010 summer season

Ambra Vallo and César Morales as Romeo and Juliet
Photograph :  Bill Cooper

Media release: 27 May 2010

Birmingham Royal Ballet presents Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet at The Lowry, Salford and Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff during its 2010 summer season

Completing its current 2009/10 season Birmingham Royal Ballet is delighted to return to The Lowry, its home in the North West from 30 June – 3 July and Wales Millennium Centre from 6 – 10 July with Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.

First performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet on 1 June 1992 at Birmingham Hippodrome, Romeo and Juliet, created by MacMillan, a legendary master of modern ballet enjoyed its world premiere at the Royal Opera House in 1965 performed by The Royal Ballet.

Romeo and Juliet is one of the greatest love stories ever told. When young Romeo Montague tricks his way into the lavish Capulet’s masked ball and sees the young Juliet Capulet, it is love at first dance! Boldly forgoing the approval of their families, the young lovers play by their own rules and soon their dangerous seduction is filled with secrets, as the star-crossed pair hatch a perilous plot. Can Romeo and Juliet play tricks with life and death – or will death play a final trick on them?

Chi Cao as Romeo
Photograph :  Bill Cooper

With a sweeping score composed by Sergei Prokofiev performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and soaring MacMillan choreography for a cast of over 60 performers, Romeo and Juliet promises to appeal to both first time attendees to the ballet and ballet aficionados alike. Opulent designs are by Paul Andrews and lighting is by John B. Read.

2010 marks Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 20th year in the City of Birmingham since the company (then Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet) moved from London in 1990, a move the press at the time described as ‘the arts coup of the decade’. Twenty years on and Birmingham Royal Ballet is delighted to perform Romeo and Juliet during its anniversary year at The Lowry in Salford and Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Romeo and Juliet returns to Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertory in autumn 2010, performing in Birmingham, Sunderland, London and Plymouth.


The Lowry: 30 June – 3 July Ticket Office: 0843 208 6010

Wales Millennium Centre: 6 – 10 July Ticket Office: 029 2063 6464

Thursday, 27 May 2010

BALLET FACTS @ English National Ballet

Have you ever wondered what it takes to keep a ballet company on it's toes, how many hours they dance in a year, how many miles of shoe ribbon they use or how many pirouttes there are in The Nutcracker ? 

Wonder no more...
  • English National Ballet has 64 dancers from 20 countries

  • The dancers' day starts at 10.30am with ballet class and they can be in the theatre as late as 11pm after a long performance such as Romeo & Juliet or Swan Lake. They dance for an average of 2032 hours a year.

  • In the pas de deux in The Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy performs 62 pirouettes (including 16 "fouettés" turning on one leg) and 11 jumps.

  • Each female dancer gets an allowance of up to 10 pairs of pointe shoes per month, costing the Company more than £100,000 per year.

  • The dancers use pinky-white make-up to matt their shoes and to keep them looking clean. They use the same make-up on their bodies to achieve the white, ethereal look required for Swan Lake or Giselle.

  • Every time a dancer jumps on pointe, three times her body weight is carried on the tip of her big toe.

  • One dancer may take 3 or 4 roles in each ballet - that means changing costume, hair, make-up and shoes each time. That's approximately 24 transformations per performance week. Madonna would be proud!

  • Every step of every ballet is recorded using Benesh notation - a method of drawing the movements on a five-line music stave, so that it can be recreated exactly as first intended with new dancers in the future.

  • Because many of the costumes are so intricate and delicate, it is impossible to wash them between performances. Such costumes are hung to air between shows and sprayed all over with freshener.

  • The Company gives an average of 140 performances per year.

  • English National Ballet's dancers used more than 4992 pairs of pointe shoes last year.

  • Every female dancer has to learn to sew to make sure their shoes are supported correctly with ribbon and elastic.

  • ENB have a shoe mistress who must measure each dancer's feet (in up to 26 places) to ensure they are wearing the correct type of ballet shoes and in performance, the shoe mistress dyes the shoes to exactly match the costume of each dancer.

  • A dancer playing the title role in The Sleeping Beauty might use up to three pairs of shoes for one performance!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Photograph :  Daria Klimentová
(Daria is a Senior Principal Dancer with ENB)

Just to let you know that there is currently a £10 reduction in the ticket price for English National Ballet's Swan Lake in-the-round, which opens at the Royal Albert Hall on June 9th.

Photograph :  Daria Klimentová

There is more information about the production here, including the very latest casting.  Polina Semionova and Vadim Muntagirov open the show on June 9th and all of the casts are worth seeing if you can.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Big Dance at Westfield with English National Ballet

Last weekend, the T-Mobile Big Dance at Westfield took centre stage, with stunning live performances from a host of dance groups and the chance for the public to get involved in dance workshops throughout the weekend.

On Saturday 22 May, English National Ballet performed sequences from Swan Lake.

You can see the whole of English National Ballet's sensational Swan Lake in-the-round next month at the Royal Albert Hall, from 9 - 19 June.  Royal Albert Hall Box Office : 0845 401 5045

Monday, 24 May 2010

Tobias Batley interviewed for 'Cupcakes & Conversation with ...'

Cupcakes & Conversation with Tobias Batley, First Soloist, Northern Ballet Theatre

Photograph :  Simon Lawson

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I really love my job so motivation isn’t usually a problem, but like anyone Monday mornings can be a struggle, depending on what sort of a weekend I have had. Monday mornings actually sometimes mean a lie-in, as that is usually our travel day when we are on tour.

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I love France, especially the south coast. So anywhere in the south of France would be great. I know Monte Carlo has an amazing theatre, plus my parents live there so it would be much easier for them to come and see me.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Wake up, have some cereal for breakfast. Then get the bus either to West Park for rehearsals or walk to the theatre. Then I warm up and take company class. After that we either have rehearsals or a matinee show. Then I have some late lunch/early dinner and then it is time for the evening show. On evenings when I am not performing I like to just chill out at home, or go out with friends. The cinema is one of my favourite places. There are 2 old traditional cinemas in Leeds that have a great atmosphere, and are really nice places to go watch a film and relax.

Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt
Photograph :  Bill Cooper

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
Music plays a big part in my pre show routine. The show we are doing dictates what music I listen to. If I have time, I like to have a power nap for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then I have a shower, put on my makeup and costume and go and warm up for the show. The music I listen to during this whole routine helps me get into the mood or character for that particular performance.

What are you looking forward to dancing in 2010 ?
I am looking forward to Romeo and Juliet because we have done a lot of work taking this ballet to a new level and improving on the work we did last year. I am also looking forward to Wuthering Heights as this is my favourite ballet; the music is amazing and I just love performing the role of Heathcliff.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Leonard Nimoy, Stephen Fry, Frank Sinatra, Caesar, Emily Bronte and Shakespeare.

What would surprise people about you ?
My real name is Vivienne……… only joking; sense of humour?

Tobias Batley and David Ward
Photograph :  Bill Cooper

Who inspired you to dance ?
My sister, she was an incredible young dancer but later went into television.

How would someone else describe you ?
Humble, hot, honest. This is what the girls in marketing have just said anyway.

What is your best piece of advice ?
Work hard, play hard, so long as you do your personal best that is all that matters.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
David Nixon’s Wuthering Heights is physically extremely demanding for whoever is playing Heathcliff and when we first learnt it I had secret doubts as to whether I would be able to do it. But now that I have done this role quite a bit it has grown to become one of my favourites. I think that if any role is easy in every way then you aren’t doing it right!

Tobias Batley and Georgina May in Wuthering Heights
Photograph :  Merlin Hendy

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
Well I have had quite a few falls on stage, all of which were not funny at the time but to look back on are hilarious. Just last year we were doing As time goes by in Cardiff, which is not the biggest stage in the world, and during the men’s trio which I did with Kenny and Ashley, there is one bit where we all do a split jeté in second and due to the lack of room I clipped feet with one of the others and went crashing off into the wings. It was like in the old cartoons when someone isn’t doing very well on stage and they get pulled off with a cane! I just disappeared. It was nearly the end anyway and by the time I recovered they had already finished so I just stayed off and came running on at the end.

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
I would love to tackle the challenge of designing something for a company like Northern Ballet Theatre which not only enhances the story element of a ballet but allows the audience to see the dancer’s body and all the hard work they are doing. Sometimes we work so hard on a role and then we are inhibited by ‘realistic’ but bulky, uncomfortable costumes. I’m not even sure if it is possible, as in a narrative ballet the costume is dictated by the story but I would like to give it a go.

Tobias Batley and Samantha Moore in Dracula
Photograph :  Merlin Hendy

A phrase I use far too often is ...
‘I don’t know’. No, not that I don’t know what phrase I use, but that is the actual phrase. Usually it means I can’t be bothered answering or don’t want to talk about it.

What is your favourite quote?
‘What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’. Basically look on the bright side and try to take the best out of a bad situation.

What’s on your iPod ?
Everything from Chopin (my favourite composer) to Muse (my favourite band) and usually the music from our current rep.

What makes you a good dance partner ?
I have a lot of patience and never get angry, because the technicalities of partnering are insignificant compared to feeling comfortable with your partner and generally being in harmony. The most important thing is co-ordination and timing so being able to talk and openly say if something is wrong is really important. I also hate blame and I think if something is wrong it is never one persons ‘fault’, it’s about comfort and compromise. What is the saying? “It takes two to tango”?

Tobias Batley and Samantha Moore in Dracula

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
I’m a pretty good cook. My mum keeps saying she wants to open a restaurant and have me as her sous chef but I don’t think that would work; we are both too much control freaks.

Describe yourself in just three words.
Laid-back (that counts as one), modest, dry (sense of humour, nothing else)

Tobias Batley in Swan Lake
Photograph :  Bill Cooper

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?
Still dancing! Probably in Northern Ballet Theatre for now, but I promise myself that as soon as I am bored and just going through the motions it is time for a change. But for now I love it here and cannot imagine myself anywhere else. NBT is a really special company and I would be hard pressed to find anywhere that does the kind of work we do with the amount of passion and commitment everybody here has!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Itziar Mendizabal interviewed for 'Cupcakes & Conversation with ..."

Cupcakes & Conversation with Itziar Mendizabal, Principal, Leipzig Ballet

Itziar’s season at Leipzig Ballet finishes on 16th August and after a short holiday, she will join The Royal Ballet as a First Soloist. The Company don’t audition. Itziar’s Ballet Mistress gave a DVD of her work to The Royal Ballet's Artistic Director – Monica Mason – who invited her to take class and subsequently offered her a contract. It’s not unusual for dancers to take a lower rank when joining the Company, and I’m sure Itziar will work hard for promotion as she has been a Principal dancer at Leipzig Ballet since 2008.

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
My motivation arrives later in the day ;)

What are you looking forward to dancing in 2010 ?
Pieces which I haven´t danced yet, classical or modern. I like to find new “me´s” by dancing.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
Onegin from Cranko with Jean Sebastien Colau. But there are many things more I would like to dance...

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
In the Bolshoi Theater or on the beach in my home city, Hondarribia!

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I sew on the ribbons and elastics with my sewing machine. I´m kind of lazy with these things, and the rest I do differently depending on the piece I am dancing.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I wake up at 8; I have a nice breakfast and I arrive at the opera around 9:30. Class is at 10 and then rehearsals until 6. After work I usually have a beer with my friends or go home to have dinner and watch a film.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
I´d rather have dinner with 6 friends than with any celebrity!

What would surprise people about you ?
That I am not always happy !

Who inspired you to dance ?
Dance itself!

What is your best piece of advice ?
Never decide to become a ballet dancer if you are not completely sure that this is your dream.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
My "siesta" is sacred. And I like to be very calm. It´s the only time my phone is switched off.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Katherina from Cranko´s Taming of the Shrew because it was my first Principal role in a full length ballet. Or, Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude from William Forsythe; I was just 19 when I danced it.

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
I have already done that for Piaf a Deux – it was a very feminine black dress.

What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Someone who puts all his heart into what he is dancing, and is open to share truthful emotions on the stage.

What is your favourite quote ?
The most difficult thing - but an essential one - is to love Life, to love it even while one suffers, because Life is all. Life is God, and to love Life means to love God. (Tolstoy)

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
Not that I know about...

A phrase I use far too often is ... ?
"It´s ok!" :)

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
There have been many but I would say my first Swan Lake or my last Giselle with Jean Sebastien Colau.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
It is a secret...hahaha!

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
In the Royal Ballet.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

English National Ballet's Swan Lake in-the-round - casting announced

What better place to spend a warm (let's hope!) summer's evening than beside a lake.  Next month, English National Ballet will dance their mesmerizing Swan Lake in-the-round, at the Royal Albert Hall.  They literally triple the number of swans on stage - to 60 - and feathers will fly !  Everyone has been working flat out to bring you a perfectly drilled flock of swans - hypnotic in any setting but here, in-the-round, every angle is covered.

Here is a short video clip of the production which highlights the sheer scope of this production.  With so many swans to rehearse, the company de-camp to a film studio for several weeks - a normal studio just isn't big enough.  60 tutu's take up a lot of space !

Erina Takahashi as Odette
Photo: Patrick Baldwin

Vadim Muntagirov, ENB's young dancer who skipped 8 years in the corp de ballet to join the Company as a First Artist, makes his debut in the Principal role of Prince Siegfried and opens the run of performances.  His Odette/Odile for the First Night is Polina Semionova, a Principal from the Berlin State Opera Ballet.  On 17th and 19th June, Vadim is partnered with English National Ballet's Senior Principal dancer Daria Klimentová.  You won't want to miss any of them !
Sofiane Sylve and Friedemann Vogel
Photo: Daria Klimentová

When you read through the casting, in addition to Vadim opening the run of performances with Daria Klimentová - (a multi-talented lady whose beautiful photographs you can see on this page) - there are also two very notable debuts which I'd like to draw your attention to.

Begoña Cao and Esteban Berlanga will debut in the matinee performance on 12th June.  Both dancers have the technique and precision to make Swan Lake their own, with beautiful fluid lines and dramatic ability.

The casting is (in the order Odette/Odile, Prince Siegfried, Rothbart) :

9 June 7.30pm
Polina Semionova, Vadim Muntagirov*, Tamás Solymosi

10 June 7.30pm
Erina Takahashi, Dmitri Gruzdyev, Tamás Solymosi

11 June 7.30pm
Polina Semionova, Vadim Muntagirov, Tamás Solymosi

12 June 2.30pm
Begoña Cao*, Esteban Berlanga*, Tamás Solymosi

12 June 7.30pm
Erina Takahashi, Dmitri Gruzdyev, Tamás Solymosi

13 June 2.30 pm
Elena Glurdjidze, Arionel Vargas, Tamás Solymosi

15 June 7.30 pm
Polina Semionova, Vadim Muntagirov, Tamás Solymosi

16 June 2pm
Begoña Cao, Esteban Berlanga, Tamás Solymosi

16 June 7.30 pm
Elena Glurdjidze, Arionel Vargas, Tamás Solymosi

17 June 7.30 pm
Daria Klimentová, Vadim Muntagirov, Tamás Solymosi

18 June 7.30 pm
Elena Glurdjidze, Arionel Vargas, Tamás Solymosi

19 June 2.30 pm
Erina Takahashi, Dmitri Gruzdyev, Tamás Solymosi

19 June 7.30 pm
Daria Klimentová, Vadim Muntagirov, Tamás Solymosi

* Debut in role

9 - 19 June

Royal Albert Hall Box Office : 0845 401 5045

Please note that English National Ballet reserves the right to make alterations to the programme, casting, dates, times, discounts and prices as necessary.

Sofiane Sylve and Friedemann Vogel
Photo: Daria Klimentová


Dance Champion Arlene Phillips launches the T-Mobile Big Dance Bus at Sadler’s Wells
© David Parry/ PA

• Programme announced for The T-Mobile Big Dance 2010

• The T-Mobile Big Dance Bus launched by Arlene Phillips

• Londoners invited to join the biggest street dance in the world

The six-week countdown begins today for The T-Mobile Big Dance 2010, which runs from 3-11 July.

• The world’s biggest and most influential dance initiative, a wide-ranging programme of over 600 events is being announced, organised and curated by the five hub partners - East London Dance, English National Ballet, Greenwich Dance, Sadler’s Wells, and Siobhan Davies Dance. The aim is to reach out to all the communities across London.

• The T-Mobile Big Dance Bus launched by Arlene Phillips, one of the Dance Champions, set off today to tour London, rolling out its dance floor in communities all over the capital, inviting everyone to join with professional dancers to experience the joy of dance.

Katie Deacon and James Waddell from the Central School of Ballet
© David Parry/ PA.

• T-Mobile Big Dance at Westfield takes place this weekend (22 and 23 May) with stunning live performances from a host of dance groups and the chance for the public to get involved in dance workshops throughout the weekend. On Saturday 22 May, there will also be a chance for shoppers to see English National Ballet perform sequences from Swan Lake.

• Registration opens today for Londoners to join the world’s biggest dance, the Big World Dance. Southbank centre has commissioned Protein director Luca Silvestrini to choreograph and direct the Big World Dance with live music mixed by DJ Walde. Up to four thousand people can take part in the advance workshops and join the dance procession which will begin at Southbank Centre and culminate in Trafalgar Square, transforming Central London into a giant stage for dance on Saturday 10 July.

Led by the Mayor of London in partnership with Arts Council England, Big Dance is also being funded by Legacy Trust UK, an independent charity set up to help build a lasting cultural and sporting legacy from the 2012 Olympic Games. Leading mobile operator, T-Mobile is the headline sponsor for Big Dance 2010. Big Dance is supported by the Dance Champions.

Katie Deacon and James Waddell from the Central School of Ballet
© David Parry/ PA.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: 'With TV shows, an astonishing array of styles on stage and brilliant choreographers working in the capital, dance is at an all time high. We want to get as many people moving as possible – not just in July, but to 2012 and beyond - so give Big Dance a whirl.'

Lysa Hardy, Head of Brand and Communications for T-Mobile said: “We are passionate about encouraging our customers to participate in extraordinary events. From our experience with our Dance advert, which attracted over 17 million views on YouTube and spawned many fantastic imitation videos, we know how dance can really capture the imagination and spur people to get involved. We’re looking forward to supporting The T-Mobile Big Dance 2010 in the spirit of our ‘Life’s for Sharing’ brand philosophy.”

Moira Sinclair, London Executive Director for Arts Council England said “Big Dance will really get London dancing this summer. Featuring some of the world's finest dance companies, choreographers and dancers, it offers a great opportunity for everyone to get involved whether it's in the Big Dance Bubble or on the Big Dance Bus. With outdoor spectacles in some of London's iconic locations and activities in every London borough, this year's event promises to be bigger and better than ever.”

Katie Deacon and James Waddell from the Central School of Ballet 
©  David Parry/ PA.


Date of issue: 20 May 2010

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

TuTuMuch - 9 girls, 4 weeks, 1 dream. Review of documentary film about the audition process

Directed by Elise Swerhone
Co-Produced by Vonnie Von Helmolt & Merit Jensen Carr

Anyone thinking that Summer School is another word for a holiday, probably doesn’t do ballet. The brutal truth is that for the nine subjects of this documentary about the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School summer session, they start off being just a number. One of 1000 students competing over four weeks, and from there, only 70 will be invited to join the Professional Division. So it’s no picnic. Yes, some of the girls will be accepted, but in this film, their stories fully encompass the unfairness of life, including rejection because of physique - the things you can’t do anything about.

The Summer Session is an intensive audition period for the RWB School full-time Academic Programme, and for those who are not local, accommodation is provided. It means that for some of the girls this is their first trip away from home. Some are only 10 years old - at that age what have you experienced, really ?

The girls (there is a scattering of boys but this film follows the girls, as the classes are split from the start) are expected to prove that they have what it takes to become a ballerina.

How do the girls get noticed ? The teachers are looking for talent, obviously, but talent is very rare and comes in many guises – musicality, physique – particularly the ability to withstand the rigours of training, aesthetic, lines, intelligence, passion and an inner strength that will help the teachers to develop confidence in the dancer. So often it is the case that the child’s family will positively encourage the child, blissfully unaware of potential weaknesses. This film is refreshing in that it shows one young dancer, Carmen, whose Father seems to positively discourage her from ballet – telling her to find a school herself, which she does by going through the phone book. Then she is told that she has to pay for it herself, though in the end the school paid for her.

It is also the case that however good a local ballet school may be, taking part in a programme attached to a professional ballet company can be revelatory on many levels. First of all the teachers have seen more students and they are aware of what the professional world entails first hand; and mixing with other like-minded students, who are taking the whole thing really quite seriously, can be beneficial because it is often said that local ballet classes usually have a mixture of students -those who have perhaps been sent by their Mum and don’t take it seriously and those who do. The Summer Session takes training to a new level and everywhere you look there are students trying their best. It’s an atmosphere where you can’t help but be inspired. And they are still so young !

Mostly the girls are dressed in black leotards and pink tights, and to preserve the relaxed and efficient atmosphere of the classes, auditions are always closed to observers. It’s one of the reasons why this film is so revealing – if you are a parent who has always wondered what goes on when you leave your daughter behind, here is your answer.

The schedule is pretty punishing, but varied. 5pm is Hip Hop, 6pm is Jazz, 7pm is Tap, 8pm is ballet and by 9pm one of the most promising girls (Lauren, 11) is in tears with an ice pack on her head to help with her headache. I did see the girls eating, and being told to eat, and none of them looked to be underweight or unhealthy. On camera, they eat a lot of sweets, crisps and ice-cream, but the school has a canteen providing meals for the students.

In placement class, Kayla (13) tells how it’s just not enough to have the right physique; it’s only 5% of what you need – dedication makes up the rest. Melissa (13) suggests that the Summer Session is like going from kindergarten to grade 5 in half a month. Melissa’s own teacher said that, whilst not obviously talented she had soul, which would help her enormously because she literally dances with her whole body. Melissa has a horse of her own and rides as much as she takes ballet.

One of the teachers sets the scene early on, when the girls are feeling sore and their legs and arms just won’t co-operate after the 5 hours of classes every day, when she says, “sometimes it’s painful. But I have a saying, lots of pain – lots of gain.” The girls learn to thank the pianist, the teachers and each other at the end of class, and sometimes their musical accompaniment varies; it could be drums or a whistle.

Raquel (15) never wanted to do ballet, starting with acrobatics aged 9 because she thought that ballet was boring. Her teachers told her that ballet would be good for her, and now she says that she dances to escape from everyday life.

Lauren is quick to point out that she feels the teachers are always watching “with those eyes” which make her feel that the teachers are mad with her, when really they aren’t. One of the teachers, Bruce Monk, likens the training to a Swiss watch, where all the mechanisms have to work in unison. And the teachers do spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that the students feel the movements; that they fully understand when the foot is properly over the shoe en pointe, when the toe is pointed in correct alignment with the knee, when the weight is too far forward or backwards, what the correct turnout is i.e. the foot follows rather than leads, and how the correct alignment feels as well as what it looks like. At this stage the emphasis is on the feel of correct positioning; later on in a vocational environment the students will learn why the movements have to be done this way.

Bruce Monk explains in detail what they are looking for; how does the large bone in the thigh fit into the pelvis; is there at least 140 degree rotation of the pelvis; the shape of the foot, the length of the tendons and how much turnout there is.

Quite a few of the girls have not worn pointe shoes for at least two weeks, and the teacher tells them that these exercises are probably going to hurt them because of that. One of the girls aptly describes the experience as “like dancing in wooden clogs with sand inside.” A phenomenal degree of instruction into the minutiae of ballet is imparted to the students. Their teacher shows them how to break in new shoes, instantly making them more comfortable, and there is a huge amount of pointe work focussing on foot shape, pointing and weight placement.

Without exception the girls complain of burning muscles, though they may only have just begun an exercise and the majority of the work is still to come. One of them wryly comments “you have to love it that much that you even love the pain.” Despite the fact that the classes get harder and harder each week, it’s very clear that the students love them, and they cover a wide variety of styles – as well as those mentioned previously there are character dances and some pas de deux work.

Lauren’s teacher says that she has limitations because her feet are flexible. Alicja is not responding in class in the way that her teacher had hoped – and expected – and she has become caught up in the social aspects of school, being a very sociable girl. One of the parents makes the point that even if her daughter is accepted, the training is expensive and they might not be able to afford it. How do you tell your daughter that she can’t fulfil her dream ? It’s a dilemma they will not face until the end of the four weeks but already they are considering the possibility.

It’s not all work and no play. One of the girls is surprised by how much time there is to do other things, and some have laptops with webcams to call home. Others use the payphone. In terms of homesickness, some of the girls struggle but the issue is summed up well by one of the girls saying “you do get homesick but you get used to it and by the end you’re crying because you don’t want to leave.” For those who are boarding, room inspections require vacuuming and tidying up, and the older girls do their own washing while they are there. None of them seemed to be short of clothes !

During this Summer Session, the School holds auditions for the role of Clara in The Nutcracker, giving the students the chance to perform with the Company. Raquel, Won-Jung and Melissa have been invited to audition, though they are not yet in the professional division. It’s quite an honour and André Lewis, Artistic Director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is present. In the end three Clara’s and one cover are chosen, one of whom is Melissa.

Before you know it, decision time looms and a big sign on the wall tells the girls to remember to phone home. Although they are still at the school, the teachers call their parents and the news is relayed by phone to the girls. Alicja attends a meeting with her Mother, and is not invited because of her lack of progress. The teachers are, all the way through, sparklingly clear and honest, and they pass on the difficult news with compassion but also with a clear message as to why the decision was reached. I think this is one of the advantages of having a four week audition, because at 10 years old it can be hard to assess a girl in an hour; it’s more important that she is given time to show herself and her capabilities, and this Summer Session does just that. Alicja’s teacher ended the meeting by saying that Alicja had seemed, to her, indifferent to what they were doing.

Lauren meets with her teacher, who explains in more detail the issues she has with Lauren’s feet. After four weeks observation the conclusion is that the structure of her feet will make pointe work difficult for her. Also, her shoulders are too broad and her neck line is not long enough. At this point you might be thinking the same as me – those things must have been obvious when she started and are unlikely to change. But she has been given her chance just as the rest of the girls have, and must now deal with the fall-out.

Melissa was accepted, but was surprisingly non-plussed about the prospect of reaching the Professional Division. For her, the decision revolved around missing her family and her horse – did she see a future for herself in ballet or in riding, or somewhere else altogether ? In the end she declined the invitation, mostly because she missed her family too much. Her Father was very sad – having taught her to follow her dreams, he felt that she would regret not taking this chance later on.

Raquel was told that she would have to start straight away, that there was no time to lose otherwise it might be detrimental to her future career, throwing her parents into turmoil because they hadn’t anticipated the speed with which they would need to make a decision.

Kayla, who had been rooming with Sidnie, was accepted. Sidnie faced a wait of several days before learning that she had not been.

The film concludes with news on where the girls are now – Alicja has given up ballet because of a hip injury; Lauren has won many awards; Carmen, Kayla and Won-Jung went into the Professional Division; Sidnie has carried on with ballet but is training to be a doctor; Raquel went on to attend another ballet school and Melissa went on to attend Pittsburg Ballet Theatre’s graduation programme.

Elise Swerhone has directed a film with her knowledge of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet very much in evidence. It offers a rare and tantalising glimpse into the audition highs and lows; some things you might know and a lot more you won’t. The teachers are a credit to the School and this film shows how it is possible to reach your goal with the right tuition, the right physique and an awful lot of perspiration.

The theatrical release in Canada began in January, and the film receives its New Zealand premiere this Friday.  In terms of a wider release, if you are interested in seeing the film then please leave a comment below so that the producers are aware of your interest.  Make some noise - and it might make the difference.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Maria Engel receives award in her native Germany

Last year I interviewed Maria Engel, a graduate of Elmhurst School of Dance, a vocational school which is associated with the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company.  At the time, Maria was performing with Ballet Theatre UK, touring around the UK with a new production of The Nutcracker. I reviewed the show last year and you can read it here.  Maria danced the Principal role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, a role most dancers fear because in a traditional production you are suddenly on stage and exposed, with virtuoso steps and no time for the audience to get used to you, to great acclaim.


Maria has a luminous stage presence, which I think you can see from these photographs, and her dancing is technically very strong with great acting ability, drama and passion.  When she dances you are compelled to watch.  She didn't have an easy time on tour - a different theatre every night with possibly a raked stage or a very hard one, long hours travelling, very short classes which didn't allow her the full range of a normal class and then possibly two shows per day.  The company director told me that Maria was a pleasure to have on tour because throughout all of their difficulties - some unforseen (they were kept up all night by a rowdy gang outside their hotel) - Maria's sunny disposition beamed through.  This touring experience is invaluable.

Sugar Plum Fairy in a very on-trend flesh toned/nude tutu

Maria's latest achievement is to be awarded an honour from the county of Landsberg am Lech in Germany, which was in recognition of her success in graduating. The price money was €1250 and Maria danced at a gala evening where she performed Raymonda Act III, Sugar Plum Fairy and the Tango (choreographed for this gala by one of the teachers from Elmhurst).

The Tango

Maria's old ballet teacher, Beatrix Klein, gave a speech which made Maria very emotional.

Maria is one of a large number of professional dancers who find themselves auditioning for work all over the world.  Often this means a long journey to the audition, only to be cut from class, with a tap on the shoulder - nothing more - at the very beginning (barre) section, perhaps only ten minutes into the audition. 

You can imagine how taxing this can be - and Maria is very young.  Often they will receive little or no feedback from the company and are left to work out for themselves what went wrong or why they didn't fit with the company.  It's a hard life; difficult to stay positive in the face of rejection, and Maria has shown resillience and determination which is not uncommon in professional dancers.  Regular readers might recall Maria telling me in her interview that she studies the dancers in every company to see where her face might fit.

As I type this Maria is still auditioning, having missed the English National Ballet auditions for their Swan Lake in-the-round due to a knee injury which is now healed.  Maria wanted to do the audition anyway and not miss the chance, but as the accident happened in school, her teachers understandably vetoed it.  One of her teachers enabled her to take Company class at English National Ballet recently, and Maria loved "every split second." Perhaps the Company will like her enough to ask her be part of it at some stage.

Maria collecting her award

I'm sure you will all agree with me that Maria is due some luck, some reward for her hard work and resourcefulness, supporting herself away from home, and I hope that this feature will help to secure her a coveted Company contract. One of the things Maria likes so much at Elmhurst is the friendly atmosphere, and I have experienced the same openness and friendly, welcoming atmosphere at English National Ballet, so there does seem to be a correlation there and it's not surprising that Maria enjoyed the experience so much.  Maria is lucky in that she was invited to take classes at Elmhurst beyond graduation; many graduates from other schools are not so fortunate and have to find suitable teachers/classes and take extra work to pay for them.

Of course, the competition is very tough and there is no shortage of dancers looking for contracts. It's a pyramid really, with a very, very wide base, and to reach the pinnacle and their goal - a company contract - a certain degree of luck is also needed.  Where you train also helps; for example if you train at the Royal Ballet Upper School, going on current records, you are guaranteed a contract with a Company somewhere around the world.  Although, even then, only a tiny percentage of the graduate year will make it into the Royal Ballet Company itself - the logical conclusion.

Dancing is wonderful training for girls, it's the first way you learn to guess what a man is going to do before he does it. ~Christopher Morley, Kitty Foyle