Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Hoverfly: a life on the edge of the seat
Reviewing the best ballets from the cheapest seats. Cambridge graduate. Full-time ballet student. Based in London and Manchester.
Reviewing the best ballets from the cheapest seats. Cambridge graduate. Full-time ballet student. Based in London and Manchester.

Hoverfly: a life on the edge of the seat's posts

The Royal Ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, Wednesday 21st December 2016 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, B34, £23 - excellent value

All the sparkle was back in this glittering display of everything for which this company stands. Anniversary special indeed, this production is simply superb. With the eyewateringly intricate footwork we English (and Cecchetti) dancers do best, some of the best music Tchaikovsky has to offer, and design to make any smaller company jealous, this is ballet at its most classical and faultless heights. Tonight, there was certainly no midseason slump as everyone proved exactly why they are here, at this company, dancing these roles, in this ballet. Perhaps the greatest awe was as ever reserved for the unerring Vadim Muntagirov. This role was his first at the Opera House and I observed then how his brilliant technique was still slightly hampered by some youthful uncertainties in the ‘in-between bits’, some student-esque humility. He looks very comfortable here now, bringing exactly the right subtle pride for this often underwhelming role, ungenerous as it is. It is interesting to see the new principals still dancing soloist roles; I wondered whether this was a move towards a more united company, or merely representative of funding cuts, or even both. Frankie Hayward, certainly, shines brighter than the corps around her, even if the others, fantastic as they are, can still blend in. She has the charisma that will make her beloved, more so even than she already is. Whilst I left The Nutcracker feeling festive and cheerful, I left this performance feeling high on sheer gleeful excitement. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and that is why I go to the ballet.

The Royal Ballet, The Nutcracker, Monday 19th December 2016 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Stalls Circle Right, D46, £17 (standing) - excellent value

Sir Peter Wright’s Nutcracker has justifiably been called the best version around. With the opulence in the design to bring that festive magic, and the bolstering of the plot provided by Drosselmeyer, it stops being a story that grinds to a halt with a second half stranger than Alice’s Adventures, and becomes simply a magical, Christmassy spectacle. Though I have certainly seen the company give it more than they did tonight (everyone looked a little tired) it was secure and neat and talented, and the soaring music will always carry it through anyway. The best thing about tonight was almost that I finally got to see one of the famed instances of the failure of the Christmas tree – though I must say, smoothly dealt with as it was, this happens often enough that you’d think they would have sorted it out by now! Regardless, something did actually manage to eclipse that, and for the right reasons, at last; after decades of tacit cringing, they have finally changed the Chinese dance! No longer do the dancers appear in dodgy makeup and bob comically around the stage, but instead they demonstrate feats of power, strength and skill to rival the Russians and look elegant and impressive in their traditional dress. Well done, Royal Ballet – it took you long enough, but we’ll give you credit where it’s due!

Anastasia, The Royal Ballet, Saturday 29th October 2016 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre right, seat C75, £20 – had no idea how good this seat would be, amazing view, excellent value, possibly better even than the rows in front. Will definitely be aiming to book this again

Music by Tchaikovsky, choreography by MacMillan, a fascinating story…recipe for perfection, right? I’m not sure when I have ever felt so let down by a piece of theatre. There was none of what has made MacMillan so loved, apart from perhaps some brief glimpses in the final act in the short pas de deux sections between Osipova and Watson, and Osipova and Soares. There was too little plot shown to merit such little dancing, and the dancing was too boring to allow for such uneventful acts. Lots of it just ended up looking silly; Soares squatting awkwardly with Toms, the glibly capering soldiers, the ‘baby’ that looked like a baguette forgotten on the bed, and the bed itself moving at the end (louder than the music and so painfully slow that it looked as if poor Osipova was on a mobility scooter rather than poignantly surveying her lost family). I have seen so many ballets here that end with this stark ‘madness’ set of the dress/hair/bed combination – there surely must be a more original way of portraying it. The only glimmer of excitement was the tragically short scene of the revolutionaries outside the palace. Nothing felt comfortably slotted together and so little of these dramatic events actually happened onstage that I felt somehow as if I had misunderstood the plot and was missing something, despite the synopsis in the programme. I just struggled to care, which is so unexpected. The set was nicely done and much of the music, of course, was lovely (I wondered whether it is at all confusing to be performing this and rehearsing Jewels at the same time). I did find myself wondering if the stage was unusually slippery, as many of the most reliable stars did seem to be overly careful and uncertain. Essentially, I felt as if I had sat for several hours without seeing anything actually happen at all, which meant that the long opening to the third act (just sitting in front of a video) was even more unjustified! I was also quite shocked that such distressing and graphic footage was shown without any sort of content warning, either in the programme or ticket, or the reminder email.

English National Ballet, Akram Khan’s Giselle, Saturday 1st October 2016 7.30pm, Palace Theatre – Review
Grand Tier, Seat L9, £12 (student) - great view though possibly a little bit far away to see the detail of faces, but the legroom was so restricted even for my small frame that I was in quite terrible pain by the time we left! Made me quite restless during the second act, sadly.

Khan’s relationship with English National Ballet has already garnered rave reviews and huge publicity, so it’s great to already see it progressing from totally new work to a new take on a classic. There was a wonderful feeling with this very, very intricately clever production that the original ballet was both known inside out and thought of very fondly, and so it was a solid foundation for a new piece – a sort of “I want a go!” rather than “This must change!” Individual moments were pleasing to pick out, such as recognisable strains in the music (yet always uniquely new at the same time) and the equivalent of the sounding of the hunting horn. Extending Giselle’s admiration of Bathilde’s dress into the realisation that it was fabric she had made was a very clever gesture, though I admit I found the new story difficult to follow without reading the synopsis in the programme. Everything felt judged perfectly, and every element fitted together so well, being stunning on its own but never detracting from the main action of the dance – not only the music, but the set was stunning and so ingenious. Khan’s choreography is perfect for the era into which this company is entering. With Rojo’s introduction of the corps de ballet award at the company’s Emerging Dancer Competition, she officially recognised the vital work these dancers do, and Khan’s choreography not only masterfully utilises the corps but turns the whole company into one. There was such a sinister ubiquity to everyone that characters were hard to distinguish but I feel this only added to the atmosphere of the piece. Ultimately, it was a triumph of movement and shape – organising human bodies into something both not human and triumphantly, supremely human: community.
I still haven’t quite worked out whether this endeavour was a flight of fancy, so to speak, for the sheer interest of creating it, or whether it was a concerted effort to pull out what really ought to be the message of the story of Giselle. Both, probably, not that it even hugely matters, but there were moments when I felt like I just wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing, or what I ought to be getting from it. Regardless, it was a powerful, clever, beautiful and fascinating piece that left me feeling quite disconcerted and so utterly immersed it was difficult to rejoin the real world when the curtain fell. Akram Khan has a genius way with movement, and these dancers know it. Watching them seize this opportunity and throw themselves into it with everything they have was mesmerising and humbling, and I hope we see much more work between this company and this artist.

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Shakespeare Triple Bill, Saturday 17th September 2016 7.30pm, The Lowry Lyric Theatre
Door G, Upper Circle Seat G33, £15 (student) - upgraded to E28 as the theatre was tragically empty, an excellent seat not far at all from my original purchase anyway

When choosing which of Shakespeare’s many works to which to pay homage, it is always refreshing to see someone remembering the sonnets. However, this was where anything refreshing ended. The choreography was predictable and repetitive; whilst it flowed well and looked pretty in places nothing really stuck in my mind. The rotating boards that were used as the only set seemed wonderfully clever at first and quickly became both disorientingly distracting from the dance itself, and dull, as they were overused always in the same way. The dancers of the company were fairly slick and made pleasing lines but they showed so little dynamic that it was tedious, and ended up looking silly. Most performance will look silly if no one really commits to it! To be fair to them, I couldn’t tell whether it was the choreography or the performance that lacked any sense of growth or climax, but the effect was certainly a lack of pace. The movements themselves ought to have showcased the excitement from the skill of danseurs but it just all seemed to remain on one level. I did really enjoy the pas de deux between the two danseurs, and the way the structure of the corps kept changing, but it still lacked emotion and just seemed so obvious, particularly in the unimaginative bookmarking of the sonnets themselves. During the ‘happy’ bits there were some smiles, and a glimmer of passion when there was a leap into someone’s arms but it was so faint as to be almost accidental. The audience was tragically meagre, which I understand is demoralising, but as a professional one still has to perform and there was no real performance. It looked as if everyone had forgotten why they dance, which is so unexpected for this company. I feel compelled to add, though, that my partner, who had never seen a ballet before, felt very moved by this piece, so perhaps I am simply too jaded!

The Moor’s Pavane
The music for this is sublime but everything else was just awful. There’s no other way to put it. It was as if in making it so ‘authentically’ sixteenth century it had become a mummer’s farce, and yet simultaneously it looked like a joke of what people think is interpretive dance. The programme notes kept insisting it was not Othello but simply inspired by it, and yet it was not subtle enough for this to ring true since it just told the story of the play, but clumsily, as if schoolchildren had been told to act it out. It was so very stilted and awkward, with the long silences between sections and all the absurdly happy waving of the handkerchief. Again, this was obvious, without any real acting or thought it just became melodrama, reminding me of Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare. It would be difficult not to be wooden with this standard of material, to be honest, and the cast did their best with it. The end of the story is so sad that it couldn’t fail to stir slightly. I also pitied their patent fear of tripping over their long costumes – please let us see dancers’ feet! Unless Brandon Lawrence is a lazy, badly trained dancer (which I know he is not) his coat was seriously restricting his legs. What was that bent-leg-fling-that-never-straightened-and-just-fell-down when everyone else was doing the same but with a perfect développé? I liked the idea of trying to make the dance conform to the set rules of court dance but I did not get this from the performance itself, only from the strangely directive programme notes. This does, I suppose, support the idea that Othello can be seen as the tragedy of the everyman but nothing else does – the story is not a common one!

The Dream
I love Ashton, and I’ve just never thought this is up there with his great works. It starts well with some lovely corps work from the faeries but the story is so terribly rushed – it’s far too complex to be tackled effectively in such a short piece (in fact, I would love to see a version of it as a full-length). It becomes more full of pantomime comedy than the beauty and meaning of which it is capable. The humour is genuinely amusing, but the whole piece becomes about that alone, rather than allowing the comedic to stay in its place as a small aspect of the whole. However, I love the music, and the set design was gorgeous, and the dancers were finally really going for it! Brandon Lawrence was looking fantastic, and Sakuma and the hasty replacement Morales were a lovely pair. Campbell mastered the pointework as I’ve never witnessed before, and Barton was a Puck with endless energy and bounce but no flexibility whatsoever.

Overall, this was a programme not worth seeing, which is so very surprising from this company. I have seen them do so many wonderful things that I would always make the effort for a new show, but I would not advise people to make the effort to see this.

The Taming of the Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet, Thursday 4th August 2016 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Upper Amphitheatre Right, U64, £10 (standing) - this was the worst ticket I have ever bought and I will never be buying it again even if there is nothing left. It would not be worth it. I thought I would actually have to leave because I literally could not see the stage. The only reason I stayed was because I squeezed myself into a tiny gap between a seat and the staircase which was definitely not allowed! This, also, was only possible because only one other person on my row turned up. Be warned, theatregoers - this row of amphitheatre standing tickets has NO view of the stage, whatever the theatre claims!
Perhaps any Shakespeare play is too full of characters and complex plot devices to translate easily into silent theatre. Certainly, the ones we know and love (The Dream, The Winter's Tale, Romeo and Juliet) rely heavily on the plot already being very well known known by the audience. From the beginning of this ballet, I found myself regretting that I had not read the play. I really could not follow what was going on, and found myself frantically Wikipedia-ing during the interval, to little avail. However, it was a nicely put-together piece of dance, and, though baffling, very entertaining. The wonderful music of Shostakovich (I've often thought more ballet should use his work) was what really made it, with Maillot fitting his choreography around it like a tailor-made glove. It was very funny, often clever, silly but affectionately so, occasionally repetitive but usually engaging and frequently beautiful. The company is tight, flexible and strong and all have great energy and charisma. They can all - amazingly - act, and they have the sense of humour required to respond to this sort of piece in just the right way. With flattering sets and costumes to support it, this is another production that shows off the triumphs of the rejuvenated Bolshoi Ballet.

Cinderella, Australian Ballet, Thursday 21st July 2016 7.30pm, London Coliseum
Balcony far left, seat B48, £15 (restricted view and leg room) - a good seat but slightly expensive for this position at the Coliseum. The railing is in the way but it's still a good view, a good value seat as theatres go
Ratmansky is very hit and miss and this, such a terrible shame for a good company that deserves so much better, is a miss by miles. Predictable and dull to the point of vague disgust, the company - all remarkably good actors - did their best with the cheap, easy, obvious humour, but it was not enough. Prokofiev's music can be difficult and while Ratmansky's choreography for the grand pas de deux sections can be glorious, it relies on the fact that these are the moments at which the music and the acting does the work; when the music is more challenging, it is a challenge to which he does not rise. The corps sections were boring and silly and wasted talented dancers but, surprisingly, the very worst thing of all about this shamefully poor piece of theatre was the design. I have never seen such ugly and ill-matched sets, childish and distracting lighting, and such hideous and unflattering costumes. I kept waiting - hoping - for it to surprise me, and for the awful shiny white suit of the prince to actually foreshadow the fact that Cinderella wouldn't want him after all, but sadly it turned out that she did, somehow, fall for a man who looked like a third rate Elvis impersonator, and who kept stools made to look like women's legs in an otherwise period palace. There was simply no consistency to any of it. The beginning, with the sharp humour of the hairdressers, promised so much but the piece continued to deliver nothing. By the time Cinderella was being sent off to the ball with a flurry of inexplicable 'dancing' (it was barely dance, often) planets in front of a risible and very confusing projection of moving lights, I was too bored to care, and just wished I could save my poor eyes from looking at their 'tutus' (they were really just bunched up messes) any longer.
I'd love to see the company again if they did something worthy of them, but this is not that piece.

BalletBoyz, Life, Friday 3rd June 2016 7.45pm, Cambridge Arts Theatre
Circle, row A, seat 29, £15 - excellent seat! Right up close, great clear view, only a tiny corner obscured

The BalletBoyz always strike the perfect balance of moving and comical, this piece reaching into the realm of the absurd, making the audience laugh aloud, but also touching on the sinister and the unknown in such a way as to cause a pleasant shiver. I don't think there is another company around who are as committed to their every movement as these dancers are, nor who manage to imbue every display of virtuosity with the emotion and genuine warmth shown here.
With all the positive aspects of the first piece but far more technical bravura, this piece smashes the supposed limits of wit and intelligence whilst also showing the company to have the abilities of circus acrobats, yet never falling into mere emotionless feats of gymnastics. I've not seen anything this clever or impressive in years. Book to see this company if ever you possibly can.

Royal Ballet, Saturday 28th May 2016 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Right, Seat F59, complimentary for student ambassador - we were lucky enough to be given top price seats this time and this may be the best seat I have ever had (though I do miss being able to see dancers' faces)
Obsidian Tear
Well, what a disappointment. McGregor continues to be hit and miss, as this latest premiere treated us only to a sharp drop after the triumph of Woolf Works which seemed to suggest he still had something in him after all. This piece was boring, stilted, repetitive and full only of movements that seemed to be for the sake of doing something rather than standing still. I liked the concept and did feel as if I understood what he was trying to do, but it just did not realise the initial vision, so hypnotic in the rhythmic undulation of beautiful bodies. I did jump at the moment the dancer was dropped behind the stage, and the final pas de deux came close to being powerful, but it was mainly just annoying and dull. The costumes and set were ugly and the music unremarkable (though the skill of the solo violinist was breathtaking) - McGregor needs to stop relying on these extras to attempt to make his work vaguely more interesting.
The Invitation
What an amazingly ambiguous title, and what an amazingly surprising piece. It makes you expect something it is very much not, in so many ways. At some points so stylised, at others so natural, it was extraordinary - after the shockingly poor gender debate - to see this work, by the very man who created so many cheerful prostitutes, portraying such material so very sensitively. With an odd juxtaposition of the comic and the horrifying, we are immediately thrown into the vivid world of innocence destroyed, childhood ruined. Showing everyone with sympathy but never making excuses, it is hard to believe that this was created over half a century ago now, depicting, as it does, such harrowing events at least as well as much supposedly more 'enlightened' pieces do today. Believable and relatable, I wanted hours to recover after this spectacle.
The principals were stunningly good and spectacularly well-cast - I want to see Muntagirov and Hayward together in everything! Muntagirov always looks as if Christmas and his birthday have come at once, simply because someone has allowed him to dance, but he is also a subtle actor, worthy of his fellows. Enjoyable, empathetic, thought-provoking and heartbreaking, with a touch of the fantastic, this is an absolute must-see - a true gem of the repertoire, showing MacMillan at his best and most individual.
Within the Golden Hour
Never has it been clearer that this company's choreographer is really Wheeldon now, and not McGregor. This piece is also exactly what we needed after the trauma of the previous piece. The sheer skill of this is extraordinary - the energy developing potently, emotion and virtuosity put to equal test, motifs returning as the piece progresses. The music is thrilling, the visuals perfectly judged, the movement exciting and beautiful. I could have watched it over again straight away. How lucky we are.

1984, Northern Ballet, Friday 27th May 2016 7.30pm, Sadler's Wells Theatre
Second circle, side gallery seat 2, £12 - almost half of the stage is obscured by the angle, the light fixtures, and people's heads, I ached afterwards from twisting to see and would not choose to book here again

This ought to come with some kind of warning - 'read the story first'. I just wasn't sure about the whole thing; visually clever, fitting music, and with the scenario vividly realised (ballet is a perfect medium to express uniformity and oppression…) I still wasn't able to really care about what I was seeing. Even allowing for its brevity, the energy and mood did not really change or develop, though the first pas de deux between Winston and Julia was wonderful, and the moment at which they are discovered was briefly terrifying. O'Brien was also superb.
However, my sister, who loves the book and knows it very well, says this was the best thing she has ever seen and cannot stop thinking about it. According to her, it was completely true to the book - right down to the lack of empathy and emotion in favour of objective messages - and there were so many clever, subtle moments that she appreciated and I just could not see. She even recognised more insignificant characters simply, for example, by the way they were sitting.
It is amazing how prolific Northern Ballet have been in recent years. No one else is doing this sort of narrative choreographic project with such innovation or frequency. Even the company line-toeing panellists at the Royal Ballet's gender debate acknowledged that Northern Ballet is leading the way here.
I don't think it is really such a bad thing for an interpretation of a novel to rely on the audience having read it. It's not as if the story was incomprehensible. As a way of experiencing and enjoying literature, this is wonderful and I am so glad and impressed that it is happening. It's different, but equally valid and skilful. Go forth and enjoy this company's groundbreaking work. And read the book first. They clearly did.
Wait while more posts are being loaded