Friday, 30 July 2010

Cupcakes & Conversation with Melissa Hough, Soloist, Houston Ballet

Cupcakes & Conversation with Melissa Hough, Soloist, Houston Ballet

What prompted your move to Houston Ballet ?
I have been with Boston Ballet for seven years and I've been feeling the need to change for quite some time. I've always liked Boston Ballet's size and Houston Ballet has about the same number of dancers. I'm very interested in improving my acting skills and Houston does a lot of work that involve major theatrical skills. I'm hoping the company will push me harder to reach my goal. They also have amazing facilities for dance. The company is moving to a new (approximately 53 million dollar) building in the downtown area in the spring of 2011 and the theatre is fantastic.

Melissa as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty
photograph :  Rosalie O'Connor

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I've always enjoyed the first day after a break. My body tends to hurt much less and I feel a bit fresher, generally.

Melissa as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty
photograph : Rosalie O'Connor

What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
I attempt to begin each season with reasonable expectations, regarding casting. I don't find out what I'm going to dance until the season begins, so it's difficult to say what I'm looking forward to. I will say that I am looking forward to throwing myself into more acting roles, small or large :).

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I'm a bit lazy when it comes to preparing my shoes. At the moment, I jet glue the tips and a little up the sides of the shank (on the inside) before anything. Then I hammer the vamp to soften the glue in order to have flexibility to roll through the foot and I hammer the shank a little at the ball of the foot to help the shoe to bend with my short toes. I also take some of the nails out of the shank, so they're not digging into my foot at an inopportune moment.

Petit Mort
Photograph :  Angela Sterling

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I'm in Spain touring with Boston Ballet right now, so I don't have a routine. Usually my routine in the morning must include coffee. I can make everything else work after that.

Who inspired you to dance ?
I think perhaps music and movement itself have inspired me to dance. Throughout my life I had teachers I looked up to and wanted to emulate, but in the end my inspiration doesn't come from a person.

Melissa as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty
Photograph : Rosalie O'Connor

What is your best piece of advice ?
Never stop discovering new things about what you might contribute to the art and never limit yourself mentally as to what you can and can't do.

Melissa as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty
Photograph :  Rosalie O'Connor

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I make sure I eat well and early enough before curtain. I take a shower just to warm up my body and put my warm ups on immediately after the shower. Then, I begin to work on my hair, then part of my makeup. I usually give myself a barre, finish after fondus and then head back up to the dressing room to finish my makeup and get dressed. I don't have anything that I MUST do before the show. It always varies a lot depending on what the role is I'm about to dance, but generally I do these things prior to a performance.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Every time I dance a major role it is a test, I guess. The test is with myself though. It's to see if all the work in the studio has paid off enough for me to enjoy the performance and be in the moment.

What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Coordination, musicality, and an ability to let go and be in the moment on stage.

Aurora pricks her finger in The Sleeping Beauty
Photograph :  Sabi Varga

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
Circular movements?

A phrase I use far too often is ... ?
Oh my God, you're killing me (in a sarcastic tone, always).

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
Define moment :).

Photograph :  Angela Sterling

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
If I were to tell, it wouldn't be a secret.

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now and what do you hope to achieve with your new company ?
I hope to be a little more at peace with the work I am a part of. Personally, I feel fulfilled at the end of a season if I know I've improved the level of my dancing and artistry.

Arts Council England announces findings from the Achieving great art for everyone consultation

Arts Council England has today published the findings from Achieving great art for everyone - a consultation on its 10 year strategic framework for the arts.

The findings will help inform the Arts Council’s relationship with artists and audiences, its investment priorities and decision-making. They will also enable the Arts Council and arts sector to work more collaboratively towards shared ambitions.

More than 2,500 people took part in the consultation, which ran from January to April 2010. Their responses were independently analysed providing the Arts Council with a balanced and in-depth picture of the sector’s ideas and opinions.

The consultation proposed a long term vision for the arts, including five goals which would enable that vision to be achieved. The goals ranged from ensuring talent and artistic excellence is thriving and celebrated, to building an arts sector that is sustainable, resilient and innovative.

An overwhelming majority of respondents agreed with the Arts Council’s understanding of the achievements, challenges and opportunities for the arts sector, its vision for the future and the goals suggested to achieve it.

Other key findings of the independent analysis of responses include:

• Most respondents believe that artists and arts organisations should look for new income streams and would welcome Arts Council’s support in identifying and securing them
• While the majority favoured a move to more flexible funding structures, many were also keen to stress that stable funding is needed if arts organisations are to continue taking the artistic risks, and innovating in the ways that have allowed the arts in this country to thrive
• There is broad agreement that we must ensure that the arts are accessible to a wide range of people and that they remain affordable. The majority of respondents believe that the Arts Council should promote and advocate for the arts, and encourage broadcasters to include more arts in their programming, in order to achieve this
• Most people agreed that it is important for the Arts Council to focus on children and young people – but that other specific groups, such as older people or those with disabilities, should not be overlooked
• There is a strong belief that arts organisations working in partnership is beneficial and creates the opportunity for mutual learning, artistic innovation and efficiency savings. Many respondents would like to see the Arts Council actively facilitating more such relationships.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: “Only by working more collaboratively with arts organisations and others in the cultural sector, can the Arts Council achieve its mission of getting great art to everyone. That’s why it is so important that our partners help shape our vision for the arts.
“A very clear message emerges from this consultation, and that is for the Arts Council to be bolder and even more ambitious – but to be absolutely explicit about what success looks like and how we intend to achieve it.
“Now more than ever, as we face a tough public spending environment, we need to keep our eye on long term ambitions for the arts. We want talent to emerge and be sustained, and bigger audiences to enjoy more of the arts, no matter what the external circumstances are.
“Our funding decisions for 2011/12 and beyond will be made in the context of significant spending cuts, but also in the context of those long term ambitions. The 10-year framework that emerges from this consultation will enable us to be clear about our priorities, more flexible and responsive to the changing environment, and to make every penny of public money count.”

Arts Council England’s ten-year framework will be published in the autumn.


Thursday, 29 July 2010

Ballet, Birmingham & Me

For immediate release
29th July 2010

Young Brummies discover the effort that goes into staging a ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome

Participants in Ballet, Birmingham & Me (BB&Me) have discovered just how much effort it takes behind the scenes to put on a performance at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Ballet, Birmingham & Me is a unique project between Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Youth Service and Birmingham Association of Youth Clubs. Ballet, Birmingham & Me is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and is a People Dancing programme, funded by Legacy Trust UK.  It is a two-year programme of mass participation involving young people from across the City. Activities include dance workshops and rehearsals, leading to a major performance at Birmingham Hippodrome on Wednesday 8th December.
Participants work with dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet as well as professionals from other disciplines – such as production, set design and wardrobe – and will undertake a major role in the planning, creativity and management of a large-scale theatre presentation.

BRB's Paul Grace and BBMe participants

The 80-strong cohort of young people from across the city this week received a crash course in lighting, set design and costume with experts from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production team, who will be helping BB&Me to stage their own version of Cinderella at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday 7th December.

Charlotte, a BB&Me participant from The Pump in Kitts Green, said: “We all knew the scale of this project was huge, but I don’t think any of us realised just how much money is being invested in our performance of Cinderella. We learned that just one ballet costume can cost hundreds of pounds which certainly shocked us! It’s an incredible responsibility we’ve been given; not many young people can say they’ve performed on stage at the Hippodrome. We know we’ve all got to put in a great deal of effort from now until the show in December.”

Danielle, also from The Pump, commented: “The great thing about BB&Me is that it’s a project which will be recognised and respected in the region for years to come. We’ve all learned new skills already which will be genuinely useful to any of us who decide to pursue a career in the performing arts when the project is over.”

Over the last 18 months BB&Me participants have been undertaking ballet lessons with professional dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet as well as exploring the themes behind the Cinderella story to create their own unique version.

With just five months until the show is performed, BB&Me participants will be using the school holidays to undertake an intensive programme of dance classes until casting for Cinderella is announced at the beginning of September.

Ballet, Birmingham & Me will run alongside Birmingham Royal Ballet’s own production of Cinderella – the first major reworking of a ballet this decade, which forms part of the company’s 20th Birthday celebrations.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella performs at Birmingham Hippodrome from 24th November (World Premiere) to 12th December 2010 and tours to Salford, Plymouth and London in 2011.

Cupcakes & Conversation with Rory Fairweather-Neylan

cupcakes courtesy Primrose Bakery, supporters of BALLET NEWS

Cupcakes & Conversation with Rory Fairweather-Neylan, Royal New Zealand Ballet

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Ballet - the chance of having a good class, the opportunity to improve, the challenge.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
My sister, something fun.

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
Australia, USA, Europe

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Dance. Eat. Skype. Eat. Sleep.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
Warm up at barre and eat a big dinner for energy so I don’t have to hold back during a show.

What are you looking forward to dancing in 2010 ?
Revisiting Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet in Australia.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Paul Matthews, Catherine Eddy, Daniel Morrison, Mr. T, Spongebob Squarepants, mum.

What would surprise people about you ?
I don’t like vegetables. I have never had a serious injury from dancing.

Who inspired you to dance ?
Rudolph Nureyev. Mum. Dancing was part of my life from a young age - no inspiration needed.

How would someone else describe you ?
Obnoxious, crass, moody, strongly disagrees with vegetables.

RNZB Artists Tonia Looker & Rory Fairweather-Neylan
Photograph :  Maarten Holl

What is your best piece of advice ?
Just do it. Work hard and work harder in hard times. Keep your family close.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, combining character and technique and trying to make it as real as ballet will allow.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
I can’t remember ever.

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
Would have to create my terry-toweling shirt from Carmen.

A phrase I use far too often is ...
Mac is whack. Going off like a frog in a sock.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Michael J Fox / Sonic the Hedgehog.

What is your favourite quote?
“Cookie!” (Cookie monster)

What’s on your iPod ?
Everything from Chopin to Slipknot.

What makes you a good dance partner ?
Good charisma with dance partners, strong partner, trust in each other.

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?

Describe yourself in just three words.
Rory Fairweather- Neylan.

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?
In a strong, steady career doing what I love - dancing ballet works, living in a place I love too.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Dance Show launches brand new Young Dancer of the Year award


The Dance Show launches a brand new national dance award

One up-and-coming dancer will be crowned Young Dancer of the Year in the search for the UK’s most talented dancer

The Dance Show, 3-5 December 2010, Birmingham NEC

The most exciting dance show to hit the UK, The Dance Show is calling for entries for its Young Dancer of the Year award

From jazz to jive, salsa to swing and ballet to ballroom, the Young Dancer of the Year sponsored by Spotlight and supported by Dancers Inc, DanceXchange and The Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET) will offer all types of dancers the chance to showcase their talent and win the chance to launch their career in dance on an amazing platform.

The Dance Show, set to be the most exciting and interactive live dance show in the UK, will launch in 2010 and will run alongside Clothes Show Live from 3-5 December, as the fashion and beauty extravaganza continues to expand and improve its offering for its 22nd year.

One fancy footed dancer will be given the opportunity of a lifetime, as they will be awarded a year’s free membership to Spotlight Dancers Directory along with a showreel; a Spotlight goody bag; an exclusive contract to perform at Clothes Show Live in its famous Fashion Theatre for the duration of Clothes Show Live 2011; a one year contract at top dance agency, Dancers Inc; a one year membership to private members club and wellness centre, I.N.C Space, Covent Garden; 2 tickets to hit West End Show ‘Wicked’ including an after show meet and greet with cast members; and free tickets to Clothes Show Live 2011.

Promising dancers from performing schools will be invited to first round auditions, held in London and Birmingham.  30 dancers will be shortlisted and will perform their own choreography at the live finals at The Dance Show.

To enter, dancers need to download an entry form here, no later than September 24th 2010.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers bare all for CHECKUM

Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancers, real-life husband and wife, Gaylene Cummerfield & Matthew Lawrence
Photography throughout :  Ian Thraves

You've seen fabulous sculptures, where the subjects wore nothing but their Birthday Suit.  How about Michelangelo's David, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created in the early 1500's ? 

Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancer Iain Mackay

As part of Famousmales testicular cancer awareness campaign, photographer Ian Thraves worked with dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet - real-life sculptures, if you like.

BRB's Simon Harper explains their involvement : "Birmingham Royal Ballet was approached by the 'Famousmales' Agency at the end of last year, the agency involved with leading on this campaign. I had a wonderful response from the male dancers with over 15 members of the company who said they would be very happy to help with such a worthy cause as the CHECKUM campaign. From the male Principal dancers to Artists who volunteered to take part, all were keen to help with the message behind the campaign; early detection of testicular cancer leads to medical help and support that in turn can lead to a positive outcome and a healthy future.

The agency involved picked four male dancers (an image of Kit Holder is still to be approved) and Gaylene Cummerfield and Matthew Lawrence suggested they be photographed together. Being husband and wife the agency liked their suggestion and so were keen for Gaylene to be included.

We hope the photographs will help attract the necessary attention that will lead to more men being less embarrassed about checking themselves or talking about testicular cancer, leading to a higher number of men seeking help should they think there is any abnormality."

To raise awareness of the disease and to highlight Ian's work, I asked him about the experience of shooting ballet dancers, and how it differs from his usual work.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancers Gaylene Cummerfield & Matthew Lawrence

Were you embarrassed?
Not at all; we’ve done so many of these now that we’re totally immune! Also, it’s quite something for someone to take their clothes off for you so it would be churlish to be embarrassed.

How did you put the dancers at ease?
Part of our open attitude towards nudity is hopefully a factor in putting our artists at ease; everyone is pretty much the same without their clothes and then it’s all really about getting the job done. To be honest, we’re so busy looking at the technical aspects, the pose and the facial expression that we almost forget that we’re doing a nude shoot!

What did you find difficult to capture?
The most difficult shoot of all was the Royal Ballet group, by far. I had to anticipate where the artist was going to end up and manually pre-focus and hope that my timing was spot on too. The guys were fantastic though as they were able to hit the same spot time and time again, making slight adjustments to their pose each time. Not only did they have to leap into the air in a particular pose, but they also had to throw their eyeline in a particular direction and to be aware of their facial expression too! It was unbelievable how they took all of our requests in their stride and were so nice about it.

Birmngham Royal Ballet Principal dancer Iain Mackay

Did you have to do a lot of post-editing?
Most of the images have the most basic post-editing done to them. This involves some sharpening and making them print ready. The camera that we’ve been using (Nikon D3x) has the most fantastic resolution and quality to it, that the images are almost ready to use straight after downloading.
There has, however, been some work done to the images after we deliver them to turn them into a graphic poster.

Birmingham Royal Ballet First Soloist Alexander Campbell

How does photographing dancers enhance the experience for you ?
It was such a privilege to see the guys perform in such close proximity. They had the most amazing skill and technical expertise and yet they made leaping through the air in a perfect ballet pose look incredibly easy. They also brought their own suggestions to the shoot which made the whole experience more exciting and fluid.

You can see Gaylene Cummerfield & Matthew Lawrence rehearsing Swan Lake here.

If you are worried about possible symptoms, please take heed of the advice given as part of the campaign, and visit your Doctor today.  You can also find more information here.

Monday, 26 July 2010

"Break the Ballet Record" on August 2nd 2010

HIT Entertainment is pleased to announce that Angelina Ballerina™ (a fiesty little mouse) will be lending her support to hundreds of ballerinas in Central Park on August 2nd, in the attempt to break the Guinness World Record for "Most Ballerinas En Pointe" at one time.

Ballet dancers age 13 and up are invited to be part of this record-breaking event, called "Break the Ballet Record", to support awareness for dance. Proceeds from the gathering will benefit the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club performing arts program, a partner of the newly launched Angelina Ballerina Stars of Tomorrow (AB Stars) campaign that promotes the joys and benefits of dance for children around the world.

The goal of the campaign is to assemble 1,000 ballerinas from around the country to join together at the Bandshell in New York City's Central Park (mid-park, 66th-77th Streets) on August 2nd and stand en pointe for one minute at 6:30 PM.

The current record is 220 dancers. Participating dancers are encouraged to donate $10 with 100% of their donation going to the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club dance program in partnership with the AB Stars program.

Angelina Ballerina will be present at the event alongside AB Stars dancers from the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club to support to the ballerinas. Some of ballet's most elite dancers will join the attempt to break the world record, including ABT Principal Dancer Michele Wiles who will serve as the event's host, and ABT Soloist Craig Salstein who will direct the dancers in dance steps leading up to the moment they stand en pointe.

In addition, participants from the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club AB Stars program will perform with Angelina Ballerina and host an Angelina Ballerina-themed children's activity area during the event.

"Break the Ballet Record" is being organized and presented by husband and wife team Gene and Ellen Schiavone, longtime supporters of dance in New York City and around the country. Gene Schiavone is a professional photographer specializing in dance, and his clients include American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Boston Ballet, Mariinsky Theater and Bolshoi Ballet. Ellen Schiavone has been involved with ABT since 1985, first as a volunteer, then as the Chairman of the Golden Circle Council, has served on ABT's Board of Trustees and is currently head of the Costume Fund which has raised over one million dollars to refurbish and replace costumes.

"We are both avid supporters of ballet as an art form, and we are thrilled about our partnership with the Angelina Ballerina Stars of Tomorrow Program and its goal to provide an introduction to the benefits of dance for children through the Boys & Girls Clubs," said Gene Schiavone.

"The Angelina Ballerina Stars of Tomorrow Program is excited to be part of this record-breaking attempt. More than breaking a world record, we are thrilled to see hundreds of dancers come together in support of raising awareness for dance," said E.J. Minor, Vice President, Marketing, Retail and Creative Services, HIT Entertainment. "We are grateful for the support that the dancers are giving to the Angelina Ballerina Stars of Tomorrow Program and our partner, the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club. This effort will surely help to inspire young dancers to achieve their dancing dreams."

Launched last fall, the Angelina Ballerina Stars of Tomorrow program was developed to raise awareness for the benefits of dance, including building confidence, inspiring creativity and promoting physical health, and subsequently provide access and opportunities to kids ages 5 to 12 seeking dance education. During the past year, students at the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club were offered Angelina Ballerina Dance Classes in Ballet, Hip Hop, Latin, and African dance with Angelina Ballerina in-class materials like "Angelina Ballerina's Tip of the Week", classroom posters, nutrition and recipe information, choreography and videos. The program will roll out to at least three additional cities by Fall 2010.

To register to take part & help to "Break the Ballet Record", please click here.

Northern Ballet Theatre announces new season promotions

For immediate release

Northern Ballet Theatre (NBT) is delighted to announce the following promotions which take effect from September 2010:

Julie Charlet, Michela Paolacci and Ayana Kanda from Coryphée to Soloist;

Lori Gilchrist
Photograph : Bill Cooper

Lori Gilchrist, Sebastian Loe and Michael Berkin From 5th year Corps to Coryphée;

Dreda Blow from 4th to 5th Year Corps;

Jessica Morgan, Rachel Gillespie, Ben Mitchell, Thomas Aragones, Graham Kotowich and Yoshihisa Arai from 2nd to 3rd Year Corps;

Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Ayami Miyata, Rym Kechacha and Jeremy Curnier from 1st to 2nd Year Corps and Anna Blackwell from Apprentice to 1st Year Corps.

Julie Charlet in The Nutcracker
Photograph : Bill Cooper

NBT welcomes Nicola Gervasi, who joins our 1st Year Corps from Peter Schaufuss Ballet.

Joining us as apprentices are: Michaela Griffin from Cape Town City Ballet, Josh Barwick, an ex-NBT Associate and Elmhurst graduate, and Matthew Broadbent who comes to us from the Royal Ballet School.

NBT has bid farewell to Christopher Hinton Lewis who left the Company earlier this year to join the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Chris danced with NBT for 10 years giving many memorable performances in roles including Hamlet, Romeo and Heathcliff.

Ginnie Ray has hung up her pointe shoes to be a full-time mother to her daughter Rebecca. A valued member of the Company for 11 years she danced many roles including Lady Capulet (Romeo & Juliet), Mrs Darling (Peter Pan) and Milady De Winter (The Three Musketeers).

Senior Artiste Nathalie Léger has retired as a dancer after many successful years with NBT, Basel ballet, Deutsche Oper Am Rhein and Ballet De Monte Carlo. She will remain on the teaching staff for the Company and the Academy.

Soloist David Ward gave his last performance with NBT as Peter Pan in Macau last week. David joined the Company in 2005 and has performed many leading roles including Cinq Mars in The Three Musketeers, Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Solar in La Bayadere. He leaves NBT to work with BalletMet in Ohio.

During NBT’s spring/summer season 2010 the Company performed four full-length productions (Romeo & Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Peter Pan and Dangerous Liaisons) at 11 venues in towns and cities across the UK including Edinburgh, Woking, Cardiff, Milton Keynes and Glasgow, as well overseas in Hong Kong and Macau.

Christopher Hinton Lewis and Nathalie Leger in Hamlet
Photograph :Dee Conway

NBT’s autumn/winter season starts with performances of Dangerous Liaisons at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds on Tuesday 7 September and will continue with performances of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker in 9 UK venues including Bradford, Woking and Aylesbury (Swan Lake) and Nottingham, Norwich, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds (The Nutcracker).


Saturday, 24 July 2010

From Student to Star : Duncan Lyle

Regular readers will know that every summer, I follow the progress of some of the Graduates from vocational schools around the world.  This year I am delighted to present Duncan Lyle, a Graduate of The Royal Ballet School.  Lyle has been awarded a contract to Boston Ballet Company, and I will be keeping you up to date on his progress once he starts work.
Duncan Lyle
Photograph :  Johan Persson

For now, I have asked him about his time at The Royal Ballet School, and what hopes he has for his career, and he has proved to be a wonderfully eloquent interviewee.

What are you most looking forward to about joining Boston Ballet & what do you know of the company ?
I think what I’m looking forward to most is ending my life as a student and finally embarking upon my professional life! I’m also really looking forward to living in a new city. I’ve read a bit about the company’s history and repertoire and I know that it has a very good reputation. After watching a few clips on YouTube I’m a little bit in awe of how high the standard of the company is!

Photograph :  Johan Persson

What will you remember about your 3 years at the Royal Ballet School & what will you take with you into your professional career ?
Cleanliness and quick footwork!! And Mr Peden’s infamous écarté!

It's a tough year for graduates - how did you find the process of looking for a job ?
Very stressful. People started getting jobs quite early this year and it wasn’t too long before I was one of only about five boys without a job. Auditioning is so hard because you never have any idea what directors are looking for or what different people see in you. I was rejected from one company simply because I wasn’t a good enough partner even though they hadn’t even seen me do pas de deux! I was very lucky to actually get a job with a company I really wanted. I originally was offered Boston Ballet 2, but a week later got a phone call saying a place had opened up in the corps de ballet of Boston Ballet! You just never know what’s going to happen.

Photograph :  Margaret Kokrhelj

How do you think Company life will differ from your student days ?
I think I’m going to have a lot more responsibility. I’m going to have to make sure my technique doesn’t slip without relying on corrections.

What are your best achievements as a student ?
I think the two things I am most proud of are my choreographic piece “Arène” for the Ursula Moreton Choreographic Award in 2009 which I hope to one day expand and the fact that I was chosen to go to the Assemblée Internationale in Toronto.

You performed Liam Scarlett's work Toccata at the RBS Matinee & in Toronto for a gala - how did you feel to be chosen to dance the piece and did you have input into the creative process ?
I was so excited when I first found I was going to Toronto! We all found out before we were officially told through students at other schools. We didn’t have any direct input into the creative process but I think we all had indirect input. With each of our pas de deux or solo sections, Liam gave us material which showed off our strengths. Liam is a man who really knows what he wants which is something I really admire in a choreographer. Liam knew Toccata inside out even when some of us didn’t which was amazing seeing as some choreographers don’t even remember what they’ve set the day before.

Photograph :  Johan Persson

Was this your first experience of the Royal Opera House main stage, as you've previously danced a few times in the smaller Linbury Studio ?
Yes, unfortunately this was the first year my year were given a piece on the main stage. The first rehearsal on stage was incredibly scary and overwhelming! We had just been performing Toccata in the Linbury to a recording so our minds were whizzing one hundred miles an hour trying to spread out the patterns, travel the choreography, deal with the bright lights coming from everywhere and listen to two pianos play a piano concerto (one playing the orchestral reduction and one playing the actual piano part) which was a different tempo than we were used to! By the actual performance everything went smoothly and dancing on a stage with such history and prestige for my family at the end of three years of intensive training was just exhilarating!

How does it feel to take part in the Défilé ?
I can’t even describe to you in words the feeling. I had no idea it was going to be so emotional for me but just before I stepped onto the stage for my part in the défilé I started crying. I think it’s not only the honour that comes with finally dancing the exciting third year section, but the fact that it was going to be the last time I was going to dance with all the wonderful, talented people in my year.

Which professional dancer/s do you most admire and why ?
The dancers I admire most are actually all of the dancers in my year who I have seen grow and evolve into wonderful artists and technicians.

Photograph :  Johan Persson

How do you feel about leaving your home in Australia and dancing in Boston ?
I love Melbourne more than any other city in the world and it is always hard saying goodbye but Melbourne will always be here and will always be home. I’ve heard nothing but glowingly positive things about Boston and I’m excited to start a new life there.

What do you think you will bring to the Company ?
My sense of humour and a lot of hard work!

How do you imagine your first day going ?
I’m sure I’m going to be very nervous but I honestly have no idea what to expect.

Any plans to choreograph - you have already made a couple of pieces whilst at RBS ?
Yes! Definitely. Choreography is a great passion of mine and I wish continue it throughout my career.

Most of your experience so far, in keeping with the RBS style, has been in classical works. How do you feel about the classical style as you have choreographed contemporary ballet ?
My strength as a dancer definitely lies in the classical idiom. I love the challenge of mastering the classical repertoire and I want to dance all of it! I’m not great in the contemporary style but I definitely want to improve in this area. Another reason I’m excited about working with Boston Ballet is that I am going to have to really push myself to improve in this area.

The Sleeping Beauty Pas de Cinq with Machi Moritaka

Which role would you most like to dance ?
I have two dream roles: the lead boy in Balanchine’s Serenade and Colas in Ashton’s La Fille mal Gardée. Once I have performed these roles I can retire!

What would you say to those students entering their Graduate year now ?
Keep your chin up. Third year is a seriously hard year full of disappointments but don’t get discouraged as it’s not going to help you. Remember that you’re dancing for yourself.

Where would you like to be this time next year ?
I am not sure. I have no expectations. I am going to take the next few years one day at a time, working as hard as possible each step of the way.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Swan Lake, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London - review

Swan Lake
Mikhailovsky Ballet
Coliseum, London
22nd July 2010

Swan Lake
© Mikhailovsky Theatre

Mikhail Messerer, Ballet Master in Chief of the Mikhailovsky Theatre, said during a recent interview that he wanted success with British audiences and to expose the Company internationally. There can be no doubt that he has succeeded on both counts, just two years after their debut here.

I was unable to attend the First Night of Swan Lake due to a prior commitment, and I opted instead to review Royal Ballet Principal Tamara Rojo’s Odette/Odile, as she is guesting with the Mikhailovsky. I wanted to see what she would make of the choreography & style of dancing, which is sharper, straighter, faster and in all probability, harder than the English style which is softer altogether.

Swan Lake
© Mikhailovsky Theatre

First of all I want to talk about the corp de ballet. Every swan was immaculately placed during every second of the performance, every foot and neck swooping as one. And they have a lot to do. I love the way that they are so much more ‘present’ in the pas de deux between Odette and Prince Siegfried, rather than simply framing the central couple or giving them a break between solos. When Odette practically expires, lying just as a prostrate swan would, so do they, collapsing quickly but elegantly. It’s something you won’t see in an English production, and they are all the more swan-like as a result. Their tutus are more cupcake than plate, but plush and downy.

Regular readers will know that I have been charting the progress of Isabella McGuire Mayes for a couple of years now. Isabella is a student at the Vaganova Academy (and still the only British girl) and was invited to dance in the corp for the Mikhailovsky’s Swan Lake – a huge honour. To her credit, she blended in seamlessly with the sharp footwork and soulful eyes required of the Company dancers, and she has two more years of training to go.

Swan Lake
© Mikhailovsky Theatre

The ballet begins in a creamy-brown setting in the garden of the Princes’ Mother, the Sovereign Princess, where she tells him that he must find a wife at tomorrow’s ball. There is some lovely ensemble dancing with the ladies generally faring better than the men. The Pas de Trois is well danced though slightly out of sync – they almost looked as though they didn’t have enough room. Oksana Bondareva, a second soloist, was a wonder; high jumps and a smiling face.

Once the Prince (Artyom Pykhachov – a late replacement) is on his own, he takes the path to the forest where he stumbles upon a swan, who turns into a girl right before his eyes. The audience knew who this emerging lady was – Tamara Rojo – and warmly applauded her arrival. Together they danced the pas de deux wonderfully, but with Pykhachov himself, I had worries as soon as he left the ground. His first solo was unsteady; his spins are better than his jumps but he seems to have duck-billed feet. His extensions are very long & high but the transitions were weighted and laboured. There is almost no mime in this version to tell the story, which races along at a fair old lick under the baton of the wonderful Pavel Bubelnikov.

As dawn approaches, Odette must turn again to a swan, and The Evil Genius pulls her magnetically towards him. Danced to perfection by Vladimir Tsal, whom I would love to see dance Prince Siegfried, The Evil Genius has short, stumpy wings, rather more crow-like than we are used to. At times when he lifts Rojo, his wings seem barely able to grasp her, wisp that she is, but in the final scene they really showed their usefulness as she is spun around and around and around by The Evil Genius – long wings would have certainly detracted from that moment of theatre.

Swan Lake
© Mikhailovsky Theatre

Tsal was the male genius of the night. His jumps were high, sound- and- effortless. What an explosive partnership he and Rojo might make.

As this is a Russian production, there has to be a Jester, and here Denis Tolmachov has the requisite technical arsenal but he is shorter than the corp dancers and so low to the ground that I found he hardly made an impact in the air, good though he was. One of his costumes, inexplicably, was adorned with pom poms of independent spirit – they literally had minds of their own. He already has a typical Jester’s regalia; I’m not sure the pom poms were an inspired addition.

Overall the costumes are sumptuously stunning. The six Princesses have dresses made from air and stars, while the Spanish Dancers had long dip-dyed dresses swirling & sparkling heavily about their legs. And my goodness, those Spanish ladies (Mariam Ugrekhilidze and Kristina Makhviladze), had taken lessons in España from Rojo herself. I have never seen such astonishing backbends – head arching over and back towards earth and at whip-cracking speed too. Fantástico !

The four cygnets, Yulia Tikka, Marina Nikolayeva, Ekaterina Khomenko and Sabina Yapparova had perfect timing & perfectly fleet feet. The Big Swans – three of them – were equally together and eye catching.

Swan Lake
© Mikhailovsky Theatre

Once the ball gets cracking in the Black Act, the costumes step up a gear too, which you can see from the photographs. Lots of two toned tights in black/white, black/mauve, which must be a nightmare for the wardrobe department because the corresponding boot has to match the leg wear. Beautiful long dresses with very fifties nipped in waists in white silk with black detailing (reminiscent of the very best wallpaper patterns but better because they move), contrasting with orange and black with a hint of peach in an upturned skirt, moving to high octane scarlet and black for Odile. Rojo looked simply devastating in the black tutu with a splash of blood red; there was no doubt that she would get her way and she seemed to do it pretty much without the usual goading of The Evil Genius.

I like the way that the Principal couple for each of the National dances interacts with the other couples – entering the stage from opposite sides, leaving the other couples to dance and then returning to dance with them. It makes for a lot of tambourines in the Neapolitan though !

The Princesses, with their aforementioned utterly heavenly dresses, danced beautifully for the Prince who took little notice. The look on each of their faces as he rejected them was priceless ! He’ll not get a second chance & he'd better not end up in their neighbourhood if things go pear-shaped with Odette.

Swan Lake
© Mikhailovsky Theatre

Once the Jester flies in, pom poms aloft, heralding the arrival of an unknown guest, it’s not long before the Princes’ deception of Odette is complete, though in this staging he does actually get to see Odette flapping furiously, trying to stop him from behind the screen, so I’m not sure why he carries on regardless (in most productions, Odile shields his vision or he turns away at the crucial moment and doesn’t see Odette until it’s too late).

Rojo is unparalleled in the art of fouttés – she can whip off a quadruple with a cherry on top and still have time to flash those eyes & make you wonder what she'll do next. Her balances drew applause from the audience – nothing unusual there – but this time I saw absolutely no sway whatsoever, forever, or so it seemed in the expectant hush.

Swan Lake
© Mikhailovsky Theatre

In accordance with Russian tradition, the ending is happy one, but not before Odette returns mournfully to the lakeside to tell her friends that they too have been betrayed. Rojo has the world’s most expressive face and port de bras, and her eyes, busy with memories and sadness, almost weep as the corp gather and dance with her. Her arms carry the weight of a thousand betrayals, and she lies prostrate on the ground, protected by her swan friends until Prince Siegfried arrives and defeats The Evil Genius. And it is genius too – pulling off a wing reduces him quickly to one of those insects you see squirming on the ground trying furiously to get upright again. Brilliantly acted by Tsal.

Our happy couple head off towards, we think, a happy future, with the corp showing the way.

This production is an absolute delight to watch. The costumes are inspired – licks of a hat here and there; long white gloves (for the Prince), with atmospheric sets and spirited dancing all fairly racing along. It was ten thirty before I knew it.

Swan Lake is in rep until Sunday 25th July. Please don’t miss it – it’s been two years since the Company were last here so if you miss this visit, you might have quite a wait for the next.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Triple Bill, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London

Triple Bill

The Mikhailovsky Ballet
Coliseum, London
July 18th 2010

Spring Waters

The Mikhailovsky Ballet was first seen in London a couple of years ago, also at the Coliseum, when they were warmly received. This time they’ve fared less well so far, though expectations were high.

They started with Le Halte de Cavalerie, 36 minutes of alpine fun. Set in an Austrian village, the action revolves around two peasant girls who are in love with the same man, Peter. Sound familiar ? Women in ballet never take the easy route either. The arrival of the Hussars causes much excitement but poor Peter is arrested in the confusion. Eventually Peter and Maria (he is flattered by the flashy attentions of the other girl, Teresa, but Maria is more his cup of tea), make their wedding arrangements despite Teresa having none of it. By this time, Teresa has noticed the Colonel, who is besotted with her, before eventually leaving with the Hussars.

The Principal casting is unchanged from their debut; Olga Semyonova gets the best choreography as Teresa, but gentle Maria, danced by Anastasia Lomachenkova has some lovely, lilting pas de deux with Peter (Anton Ploom). Andrei Bregvadze plays the Colonel with some panache – all shaky, trembling knees just like your favourite Uncle; but slightly more lascivious.

In A Minor Key, by ex-Royal Ballet dancer Slava Samodurov, is a change of style for the Russians. The girls have the long slender limbs and beautiful feet to show off the modern choreography – the six o’clock legs; off balances, powerful leg extensions, and the men pull of the lifts with ease, but this is still relatively new to them and consequently it doesn’t all sit easily. One of the dancers seemed to pause, as though she’d hurt her knee or forgotten the next step. The stage lighting rigs, moving up and down, have been worked to greater visual effect by Birmingham Royal Ballet, and whose idea was it that the men should wear half a windsock on their heads ? I miss having a moving spotlight. The ladies had fabulous ruby red corsetry, lacing up at the back (credit to designer Ellen Butler) and showing off their physiques to perfection, with no tights. The combative dance, three pas de deux and some solos, with legs hooked over arms, isn’t as spiky as some modern pieces can be, which helped the dancers, and I liked the way they gracefully bowed to each other as part of the dance. I especially liked the pas de deux between Vera Arbuzova and Evgeniy Deryabin. Towards the end I spotted a man opening and closing a door at the top of the stage (the sides are open) – was this part of the piece or an accident ? Overall, the piece was over-long, and, curiously, ends with a raised backdrop displaying a pile of crates and cases, in the middle of which, incongruously, sits a row of swans.

The offering of Divertissements has changed since the company was last here. Instead of Dragonfly (a shame) we have Polonaise and Cracovienne from the Opera Ivan Susanin. The costumes are rather wintery & heavy, creamy drapes for the ladies with feathers in their hair and white ankle boots, courtly jackets with capes for the men, with clean white gauzy curtains to the sides and backdrop. It all comes together in a lovely swirly ending with everyone on stage.

Le Halte de Cavalerie

Ocean and Pearls was left at home and the famous Spartacus Pas de deux took centre stage. This is not an easy showpiece. The lifts are many and varied; all need to be carried off with a panache that entirely covers the difficulty. Very glittery leotard and short skirt for Vera Arbuzova (who I had picked out for special mention in the earlier In A Minor Key); almost nothing at all save a couple of shin pads for Spartacus – the miscast Marat Shemiunov, whose effete dancing isn’t suited to the slave hero. He has not had a good tour, with his Prince Siegfried distinctly below par. Here he did pull off the difficult and dangerous (for Arbuzova) one arm lift, but it seemed to sap his strength and he dropped her on the transition to the next steps. He has clown hands, often splaying them triumphantly in a way that seemed to detract from the good elements of his partnering.

Back again was The Fairy Doll Pas de trois, a confection of loveliness with Sabina Yapparova and two new Pierrot’s – Maksim Yeremeyev and Nikolay Arzyaev, who both displayed virtuoso technique and comic timing.

The Sleeping Beauty Pas de deux, with a rare chance to see the exquisite Maria Kochetkova (Principal with San Francisco ballet) dance Aurora in the UK, was a delight from start to finish. Ably partnered by Andrei Yakhnuyk, Kochetkova took the out-of-context pas de deux and made it sparkle with musicality and joie de vivre, with delicate hands where you can really see that she feels the music right through her port de bras. She is a treasure, dressed in an elegant tutu, finely jewelled in a fresh, light blue/green. Yakhnuyk seemed to almost fall into the final position, tiredness taking hold.

Spring Waters, an essay in athleticism with Rachmaninov’s fluid music and rich blue costumes, calls for assured partnering. Tyutchev’s poem, The Spring Waters, describes the awakening of nature, and Irina Perren is ideally cast with huge airborne leaps; Marat Shemiunov less appealing but competent.

I admire the Company for bringing these works to us. All of the dancers work hard and were appreciated by the audience. You can see them perform Laurencia on 20th & 21st July, and Swan Lake (with the Royal Ballet Principal Tamara Rojo on 22nd July), 23, 24 & 25th July. I would recommend that you do.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Shobana Jeyasingh's 'Counterpoint' at Somerset House

Shobana Jeyasingh's Counterpoint at Somerset House
Photograph : zxDaveM

I'm going to break my own rule.  Although this was not strictly a ballet event, it was part of Big Dance 2010, which covered all forms of dance, ballet included.

Shobana Jeyasingh's Counterpoint at Somerset House
Photograph : zxDaveM

The reason I want to show you these wonderful photographs, is to highlight the space at Somerset House - used to such great effect at Christmas time too - and to see whether there are any classical ballet choreographers who can come up with a dance suitable for the fountains.

Shobana Jeyasingh's Counterpoint at Somerset House
Photograph : zxDaveM

Perhaps not on pointe - but using the classical vocabulary.

Shobana Jeyasingh's Counterpoint at Somerset House
Photograph : zxDaveM

I'm sure you'll agree that it would be a spectacular event - as was this one by Shobana Jeyasingh.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

English National Ballet Swans glide into Parliament

ENB dancer Jennie Harrington
Photograph :  zxDaveM

As part of Big Dance 2010, English National Ballet dancers Ruth Brill & Jennie Harrington Danced on Parliament last week.

Ruth Brill & Jennie Harrington with the Big Dance Bus in the background
Photograph :  zxDaveM

With their Swan Lake tutus, the girls performed an extract from Swan Lake in Horse Guards Parade, on 8th July 2010

Ruth Brill & Jennie Harrington
Photograph : zxDaveM

Afterwards, they joined an informal class, to the delight of the crowds.

Ruth Brill
Photograph :  zxDaveM

Being able to photograph dancers in great light is a rarity, and I think you'll agree that these images show off Ruth and Jennie.

Jennie Harringtom
Photograph :  zxDaveM

Dancing on Parliament is part of Big Dance 2010.  I think you can see from the photograph below how enthusiastic the crowds were, and getting involved with dance in all forms is what Big Dance is all about.

Ruth and Jennie in an informal class