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Hoverfly: a life on the edge of the seat
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From being not always so much a fan of Fille, Ashton or Morera, tonight was the culmination of a gradual conversion. The company looked very tight, quite the professional, unified whole, not only comfortable dancing Ashton's painfully intricate footwork but imbuing it with a light energy which can be difficult after hours of such quick leaps. Kay in particular was a magnificent Alain: funny, endearing, playing well off the audience and the other characters, and skilfully on balance in those most difficult of steps which make up 'bad' dancing. It is these ballets, with their constant demand for spontaneous acting and interacting and enough props for a ballet drinking game, that can show most clearly the professionalism of the cast. Morera and Muntagirov made a surprisingly lovely pair, both delightful actors, with his reliably blinding technique and her reliably Ashtonian reserve. The music is as cleverly crafted as the intricate choreography (well done with those ribbons!), with a similar pattern of theme and motif, and the set and costumes still have a freshness. Even for the skeptics, this traditional production is well worth seeing, proving that twee Ashton is still moving, the unusually old Lise in Morera is still charming, and the silly Fille is still entertaining. Even the pony was showing his tricks to compete with Simone for the audience's appreciation!
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Sarah Crompton has an interesting piece in the Evening Standard today on the teaching standards of contemporary dance in this country. My only query would be whether it is really appropriate to use the analogy of a ballet dancer in this situation, when the comparison does not really work. In fact, ballet is currently suffering from the opposite problem. In the article, Crompton describes the prioritisation of contemporary dance as an expressive art, at the expense of really rigorous training, leaving British contemporary dance graduates less fit and less technically adroit than their international counterparts, and therefore struggling to find work. The problems with British ballet training have been described by those at the top of the industry as centring on the prioritisation of gymnastic feats over expression, leaving British ballet graduates unable to compete with their more individual international counterparts. Crompton's article is interesting, and very good, highlighting a vital issue of the contemporary dance world, but I think it is misleading to compare it to ballet, especially when the accompanying photograph was of classical ballerina Tamara Rojo, when this article was not really about ballet at all.
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Swan Lake, Royal Ballet, Thursday 26th March 2015 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Balcony Right, C65, £10 - standing place, restricted view: certainly better than the row B standing places, a good value ticket though you need to crane your neck rather a lot
I have seen Salenko twice now and I have to admit I am not quite convinced. Her style is certainly different (and she does take the steps slightly differently) and I feel she spends too long in transitional movements and needs to make more of her arabesque - but crucially she doesn't appear to have the necessary sensitive side for Odette. She was giving the willing Muntagirov very little with which to work, apart from when her playfulness could come out as Odile. Muntagirov himself was on blistering form; he saved the night from being a complete disappointment. Otherwise, that is really what it was. The company look exhausted and the production, despite a few choreographic and costume tweaks, looks tired. Act III was a brief surge in energy - Takada shining as always - but overall it failed to excite. Even the final struggle was terribly tame.
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Onegin, Royal Ballet, Monday 16th February 2015 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, Seat B34, £15 (restricted view) - excellent value seat, small corner of stage obscured
This ballet has an extraordinary power which only truly shows itself towards the end. The first time I saw it, not even all that long ago, I was young enough to fall under the spell of Eugene Onegin myself; this time, though his attraction is potent and understandable, I found my slightly more mature self seeing through his facade, observing the absurdity of his manner in this already melodramatic story, astonished at the lack of any redeeming characteristics to this wondrously cruel man. Golding plays up the comic aspects of the character, the presence of which I did not see before. Unconvinced at first, I quickly decided that this was in fact an extremely effective interpretation, possibly more nuanced than the more obvious simple reserve. But, then again, maybe this was simply my desire to read more into Golding than was there - he is difficult to pigeonhole. Technically, tonight he was breathtaking and Osipova - as ever - managed to spur him to greater heights with her own limitless energy. Everyone ought to get a chance to dance with her, if only to improve their own dancing! The wild abandon she seems to have as she throws herself into Golding's arms suggests a reason for her number of injuries, and yet, though the risk is there, she never allows her technique to falter. One lift was missed in the initial bedroom-dream episode, but the energy of the scene was such that no one could care. There is less in Tatiana for Osipova to get her teeth into regarding her acting and, though terrifically moving throughout, she only showed her true potential in that final pas de deux. It is this final scene that makes the ballet a success, frankly. The majority of the lead-up to this climax has a strange tension between lighthearted comedy and passionate, demanding pas de deux, the variations falling somewhere in between but, when he reaches those heights, Cranko can be simply sublime, and his manipulation of corps formation is incredible. Naghdi made a suitably endearing Olga, working well with Ball, but Ball himself was disappointing. Though moments - the beginning of his final variation, for example, and some of his acting - were lovely, his technique is still in many ways at student level and he does not look up to the standard of a stage like this. His flexibility is poor enough to affect his line and turnout, and it really is not acceptable to remember one's technique only after a move has gone wrong because of the lack of it. His pretty face has done a lot for him, it seems.
Overall, this ballet is difficult to summarise. The first two acts do need more, and yet the finale is so powerful that it makes everything else fade into the background anyway.
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Royal Ballet, Don Quixote, Friday 12th December 2014 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Right, Seat B80, £15 (restricted view) - really surprisingly good actually, I would happily sit here again
As the company have settled into this ballet, it has become the production for the corps that it was always meant to be. Now Acosta's aims, and injection of Cuban flair, are more evident than ever. There appear to have been choreographic edits made to these bits since last year but with little effect - it is equally good. I was unsure only about the gypsies tonight, their contemporary choreography seeming a bit hit and miss. However, the company were not apparently concentrating properly this evening which, no matter how unusual, is just not ok. A matador went down (which is a particular shame when they were so good), several of Mercedes' lifts were hair-raisingly fluffed, and I am still not sure that Sancho Panza was meant to be whacked into the scenery as he was carried offstage... It didn't make for confident watching. As for tonight's principal couple though, we needn't have worried. I booked for Campbell even though I did not want to see his initial partner and my choice was more than justified. He was brilliant and, if not quite as close to McRae's level of technical brilliance as I had dared to hope, he revealed a genuine acting talent and rather mesmerising stage presence. He deserves every push he is getting. Takada matched him and more, delighting me with her exquisite technique, lightning quick turns, and wonderful sense of humour and spontaneity (though I was right that she does have a stiff back). She and Campbell had an amazing rapport, especially considering that she was not his original partner. These too are proving themselves every time. It seems particularly meaningful that she has now been given two such contrasting principal roles in Kitri and Aurora - she is worth it all. Regarding the rest of the cast, I was pleasantly surprised by Stepanek's Gamache - I didn't know he had such a sense of humour. McNally, always one of whom I want to see more, turned out to be a disappointingly dull gypsy, but a refreshingly lovely tavern girl. Gartside, though bland in almost everything else, always makes a confusingly brilliant gypsy and Hristov too was very good. Not usually a Mendizabel fan at all, she does do this role very well and I was also impressed by Naghdi. Choe was lovely, though not standout as she can be. The trio of character parts were as fantastic as such roles always are here, and I was over the moon to see O'Sullivan back on the stage! Despite the slips, this is a production that cannot help but leave me beaming and desperate to see it again. I am delighted it now has its place in the repertoire, and that Campbell and Takada were given this chance.
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Royal Ballet, Thursday 13th November 2014 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, Seat A35, £6 (web student standby) - partial view, poor legroom: beady-eyed readers will notice that I sat in exactly the same seat last night. As before, a great seat at a brilliant price.
Ceremony of Innocence
This was really wonderful - I would never have guessed it was Britten! The whole aesthetic was stunning, danced with zeal and commitment to this subtle yet simply effective choreography. It spoke very beautifully. If not hugely groundbreaking, there was something unique about this nice little addition to the repertoire, definitely justifying more Brandstrup at the House.
Age of Anxiety
This blew me away, becoming already my favourite piece Scarlett has yet created. The sets were stunning, the costumes gorgeous, the music had me tapping along, and the choreography - the absolute realisation of the scenario - was superb. Moving and insightful, who cares that everyone is sick of McGregor when we have Scarlett?! The way in which the dancers worked together made it impossible to pick out individuals, but I did think, once again, that Campbell just keeps on proving himself. I would promote him right now.
Aeternum
I would not like this music if Wheeldon did not use it so well. He has a way of knowing what bodies can do, and particularly knows how to use this company with his characteristic fluidity, despite the complex and fast-moving technical aspects. This piece also does not change the world - and I feel it had less moment than it did when it premiered last year - but it does have a unique beauty, and it just feels as if this is what the company should be doing sometimes. My only change would be to push the dancers slightly further - they look too comfortable in this piece now and perform it with anticipation of the next move, when it ought to be done so that we can't guess what is coming next.
Seeing these bills on consecutive nights just proves how much is going on in the dance world today. While we remember Ashton and the classics, no one should be yearning for the old days. I see a bill of Scarlett works before we know it (Wheeldon would be more difficult, though not unlikely, because his short pieces are less varied - the split is between his full-lengths and one-acts). We can still see the certain position of Wheeldon in the position of his piece as the conclusion to the bill. We are living through good times, and I left thrilled. Despite McGregor, the company is in the safe hands of its choreographic associate and artist in residence. Not everything they do can be life-changing - obviously, not even the traditional greats can claim that - but my faith in the company is restored after last night's disappointment, and these pieces will last too.
One more thing - what is it with Wheeldon and his obsession with purple dresses?!
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yes yes purple dresses! someone has to ask him... 
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A Streetcar Named Desire, Scottish Ballet, Thursday 2nd April 2015 7.30pm, Sadler's Wells
First Circle, J5, £42 - a treat seat tonight but actually not one I would bother with again. It's a great seat, but cheaper ones are equally good in this theatre.
The main thing that struck me about Scottish Ballet’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire is that it is really more a piece of dance theatre than a ballet at all and, as such, didn’t work for me as a ballet. When taken as a piece of dance theatre, it was tremendously effective – the set really making the night. However this cleverness of motif and repeated symbol – used in the music too which, unlike the set, took a while to come into its own – seemed to highlight knowledge of theatrical theory and dramatic schools more than most dance and ballet pieces do. It reminded me – and for once this is not a criticism – of A Level physical theatre. The performers were very good, the story – a trickily complex one to translate in this setting – well told, and the skill of the design certainly worked, but – as I have said once before, in that case to describe a certain dancer – the research was showing. It is definitely a production worth seeing, but it leaves the audience ever so slightly unconnected, just that bit too distant to ever be fully captivated.
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Draft Works, Royal Ballet, Tuesday 24th February 2015 7.45pm, Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Theatre
Upper Gallery Right, T15, £12 - excellent, as always in the Linbury
A shorter and slightly differently arranged programme this year, it opened with the expected grower, this time from Joshua Beamish. By the conclusion, I was quite convinced by this unusual, visceral and moving, if understated, piece. Zucchetti's offering followed and was pleasant, if unmemorable, before Blommaert showed his wares with a piece that looked oddly amateur. Bracher suggested some acting talent but the piece was not well constructed. Montes' pas de trois was exceptionally dull, and made poor Donnelly and Ella look like children doing a school recital, but Sambé succeeded in ending the night on a high with a quite brilliant piece of innovation and energy which brought some real individuality out of his dancers. 
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Casse-Noisette, Paris Opera Ballet, Friday 19th December 2014 7.30pm, Bastille Opera House
Second Balcon, Row 2, Seat 55, €50 – a treat for me but not even a top price ticket here. The view was very good but ballet is clearly always a luxury.
Nureyev's version of Nutcracker seems to have so much potential, when one reads the synopsis; the changed role of Drosselmeyer and Fritz, Clara's childish fantasies, the reality that becomes a nightmare when it enters her dream... Sadly, none of this potential was fulfilled. The company were very good, with many superb moments (notably from Fritz in his doll's solo) but the production simply isn't worthy of them. Turning it into a nightmare created a story with as little explanation or justification as the original, but none of its charm – frankly laughable occurrences were inserted because, well, she was just dreaming after all. The choreography, though perhaps sometimes a little 'new for the sake of it', was interesting at first and then became repetitive, with the endless fouettes from a la seconde to arabesque and back again. This ballet could have been deeply meaningful, or simply charmingly festive, or a mixture of both, but it sacrificed everything in its failed attempt at being a darker interpretation of the classic. The company deserve something much better.
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Royal Ballet, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Saturday 6th December 2014 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, Seat B 34, £15 (web student standby, restricted view) - this would have been great if the people in front had not kept getting in the way. A little expensive for such a view - you can get better for the same price
The problem with reviewing a production that I have already seen and loved several times is that it begins to sound like directorial notes. 'Emphasise that a little more', or 'make sure that prop is working', is all very well, but vaguely irrelevant outside of a rehearsal space. I appreciated the new touches - the setting up of the croquet hoops and the discovery of the hiding hedgehog with the tart - but really it just remains a pretty perfect piece. It is so very difficult to make the progression of this strange narrative at all logical and I do wonder whether the eat me/drink me/shrinking section is a little confusing and fast, but I am not sure how else this could be done and perhaps that is the desired effect anyway. I am clutching at straws - there is little to critique.
It works perfectly as a Christmas show - gentle, genuine humour and a communal joy in the characterisation of even each of the tiniest roles that is very Nutcracker-esque. Most of the gushing at this creation is in my previous reviews so perhaps I should just take a look at the cast now.
Muntagirov was perfect; endearing, sweet, childish and humorous, he found a nice, easy rapport with Lamb and performed a breathtaking final variation with a purity of line that was comfortingly reminiscent of his predecessor who created the role. Cervera and Campbell perform their roles with a charming simplicity that is very different to the depth brought by the original cast, but which is no less successful. The casting is always spot on, and McNally's cook was perhaps the best of all. Sambé, obviously, made a tremendously exciting frog, whilst Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts went all out for her character more than anyone else, causing everyone else to subsequently feed off her energy - and the audience's enthusiasm - and up their game. It is lovely to see the company like this. Lamb has only lately discovered this playful acting side to her dancing and she uses it brilliantly now alongside the others. It is unusual for a dancer to develop her sense of humour late in her career, rather than her sense of tragedy, but Lamb has certainly done it. The Hatter and the Caterpillar are always highlights and their time onstage is always tantalisingly short. The Hatter did make me wonder this time though about how tap works in such a setting - there seemed to be a slight disconnect between Campbell and the orchestra.
This Springtime pantomime translated beautifully into a festive favourite, cementing Wheeldon's genius once again, and this piece, in my mind certainly, as his definitive masterpiece.
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Royal Ballet, Mixed Bill of Ashton Works, Wednesday 12th November 2014 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, Seat A35, £6 (web student standby) - partial view, poor legroom: great value seat, no issues whatsoever
Scènes de Ballet
What a waste of some of the most unique choreography in the company's repertoire. The company looked wobbly and had no rapport or feeling whatsoever. There were some nice moments from Zucchetti and some initial charm from Choe, though she does appear to be moving slightly past her prime lately. I was unmoved by what could have been a lovely piece - even the Stravinsky had its moments - and that final teeter at the end from an unlucky member of the corps was just the final nail in the coffin.
Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan
Well, at least the powers that be seem to be agree with me regarding Pajdak's promise. The problem with these pieces is that they are too obviously by a classical ballet choreographer and end up looking silly and affected, especially with the ditzy music. We'd have done better going to see a proper contemporary show.
Symphonic Variations
Despite the shine of Nuñez and some really fabulous dancing from the male corps, this is simply dull choreography. Clarke, however, looks nothing like he was plucked from the School only last year - once he sorts out his lazy arms (often an issue for someone this tall) he will truly be one to watch. The sets and costumes have been weird tonight as well.
A Month in the Country
Certainly the highlight of the evening, though not quite deep enough to salvage it entirely. With its odd but somehow effective mixture of the light and the serious, this is Ashton reassuringly back on form. Humorous and often quite beautiful, with genuinely interesting choreography - and the stage was looking exquisite again too! The cast found real engagement this time, with great acting from all. It's wonderful to see Maguire returned, Pennefather seems quite recovered from his worryingly long dip, and Kay was looking technically superb. The men have been particularly strong all night.
A lovely end but, overall, this was a mediocre programme, exhibiting neither the best of the founder-choreographer nor the best of the company's usual charisma.
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Royal Ballet, Cassandra, Saturday 1st November 2014 2pm, Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Theatre
Upper Gallery Right, Seat R22, £15 (student) – excellent, but unusually pricey for the Linbury
This is beautiful, immediate, emotional choreography, admirably acted by the cast, often making the audience uncomfortable but in just the right way. I am not sure what message, if any, we were supposed to get from the piece about mental illness but it had me in tears, particularly when Cowley and Kay danced together. In many ways, it seemed to simplify mental illness despite all the scientists, doctors and technology that filled the piece, and gave it a poignance that modern diagnostic approaches lose. What seemed clearest was the idea that such illness touches us all; it is something that, scarily, we can all recognise at times. Though the piece is not hugely innovative it felt, possibly due to this open simplicity, unusually effective in taking us inside the mind of the patient, feeling as scared and confused as she does at what she is seeing.
The music was clever, often brilliant, by turns beautiful and unnerving, but sometimes rather distracting. Similarly, the set was too much – clever and well-used but cluttered. Essentially there were moments throughout where there was just too much going on to watch properly, and yet perhaps that was the point, highlighting the bombardment of information and technology in our modern world, and the overwhelming sensory experience of Cassandra. It is wonderful to have live music in the Linbury though, and Ana Silvera – a lovely touch – was in many ways more Cassandra than Cowley, never feeling in the least bit gratuitous. The costumes were well done, right down to the almost discomforting childish effect of Cowley's underwear in the hospital. I appreciated the way the voice said “delusions of grandeur include the belief that people are looking at you and talking about you” at the very moment that it is in fact true, since she is now considered 'mad'.
As for the cast, it was lovely to see Galeazzi again (what feet!) and Cowley was absolutely stunning, quite the actress and what a lovely attitude line. It is nice also to see Avis do some real dancing – he is so talented, though he didn't quite steal the stage as he usually does. Perhaps this tone is not his greatest strength. Kay was fantastic and Whitehead even better – these two were definitely the highlight for me. Pajdak is incredibly compelling – Ondiviela clearly likes to work with her – and I always want to see more of her. And Choe, of course, was an absolute joy. Her solo, in fact, made me wonder where we draw the line between design and choreography. Into which category did her video fall?
Ondiviela is a talented choreographer, well deserving of these opportunities. We are lucky to have him.
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Story
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Young Londoner reviewing the best ballets from the cheapest seats
Introduction
Reclaiming and reinvigorating ballet for our generation: no, it doesn't have to cost the Earth; yes, it is fresh, still relevant and evolving; and yes, it is for everyone.