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Hoverfly: a life on the edge of the seat
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She Said, English National Ballet, Friday 15th April 2016 7.30pm, Sadler's Wells Theatre
Second Circle, seat A1, £12 (restricted view, 50% missing) - view really quite obscured, I have had better views sitting in the side galleries. After the first interval my neighbour didn't return so I moved across one and then it was fine. I very much approve of Sadler's Wells percentage estimation of the view from the seat - helpful
Broken Wings
This piece was so unexpected. New short works these days are almost always minimalist and understated but this was quite simply a huge vision. The set was as big a part as the choreography and the music, too, was so very different to what I have come to expect - visceral, tragic and uplifting, parts were almost Acosta-esque but there was a realism here, even in this magic realist world, that his pseudo-sexualised presentation of women does not have. Despite everything, this showed true 'girl power'. Though ambiguous, the story is not confusing; it felt more like a piece of art than anything else, as perhaps it should.
Rojo acts even down to the tips of her fingers, and Mukhamedov too was splendid. The skeletons were amazing - surprisingly, perhaps, for such a part, they had some of the best choreography.
Intensely clever and risky - who'd have thought we'd be seeing menstruation on the Sadler's Wells stage?! - I am so glad this could be made. What an achievement. This really is a piece of strong, real femininity - triumphing despite pain. Such a piece makes me wonder if there really is a difference to choreography by women. Women know women, and have a different view of the world. Does our historic lack of a voice make us feel able, or desire, to take more risks? Perhaps the difference is simply because of such history.
M-Dao
After such an explosion of originality, this was very disappointing. There was some really lovely choreography but it was all just a bit obvious and cliched, such as the moment in which Bufalá first saw Keesler and forgot about Summerscales. Again, the set was nicely done, but the cracks appearing across the backdrop was similarly obvious. There were some powerful moments - I quite liked the cradling of the curtains - and Summerscales was wonderful, but this piece is simply not doing anything new. The single point shoe just looked bizarre. Interesting that both these choreographers chose to use the 'giving birth' position during their pieces.
Fantastic Beings
Somewhere in between the two where originality is concerned, this piece was certainly of a type, and yet it was definitely nothing I had seen before. It asked a tremendous amount from the company - and got it. The company really is looking phenomenal, with the kind of commitment to virtuosity expected of ABT and lost sometimes by the cool Royal Ballet. ENB are no longer the poor relation. Not even competing by difference anymore, they present real competition. Rojo puts her money where her mouth is - not only investing in male dance and female choreography as promised but also in the sort of sets usually the reserve of the non-touring companies. She has made this company so exciting, doing such a lot for ballet and dance.
This piece was witty and exhilarating, with great power in the corps sections. But it was almost ruined by the sudden appearance of what looked like bear suits! Instantly jumping from brilliant to baffling it made the piece shamefully laughable - without them, it would have been breathtakingly good.

The variety of the whole programme reminds us all - though it ought to be obvious it is sadly usually not - that women can do what men do in this field as well. It reinforces Rojo's ENB as a company whose pieces ought to be seen if you possibly can manage it. They are hot news and rightly so - you want to be on the scene! What an individual; this certainly is her company. As I always end up saying, this was not only enjoyable but reassuring. The world of dance is in good health.
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The Winter's Tale, Royal Ballet, Wednesday 13th April 2016 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, seat B38, £25 (restricted view) - very good value seat, great view
Next year, the Royal Ballet celebrates seventy years at the Royal Opera House and nothing says enduring success for the company more than Christopher Wheeldon's two full-length works. This latest one remains, quite simply, a mind-blowing triumph. Beautiful, interesting, original, emotive and endlessly expressive, the choreography is a dream; I can only imagine how much the dancers must love getting their teeth into these deep and complex roles. Talbot's music and Crowley's designs fit so perfectly with the entire image one can only pray for more from this dream team.
A terribly sad story, Wheeldon draws out the tragedy of this ever-changing plot with the reminder at the end that Mamillius remains dead - a child who was initially shown to be so happy (very well performed by the little Toms). There is also a subtle parallel in the behaviour of Leontes and Polixenes - Leontes' madness is hardly worse than that which Polixenes intends to do to Perdita's adoptive shepherd family.
Though this second cast has not always the presence of the first, they admirably fulfill their parts. Nuñez plays a more delightfully playful, affectionate Hermione than Cuthbertson's saintly interpretation, her arrest after her happy smiles the most heartbreaking moment of the ballet. Mendizabel - again, well-cast - exudes an ethereal power that I cannot imagine Morera could have equalled. Hristov was also a revelation, commanding the stage with a presence I have never before witnessed from him, and sadly far outshining Gartside. Gartside did a good job, but he simply does not have that je ne sais quoi which draws the eye to want to follow him.
The breath of fresh air that is the second act was a joy to watch, Muntagirov quite breathtaking as ever and clearly having a wonderful time, Stix-Brunell supporting him very sweetly if not quite possessing the character to equal his. The surrounding company were particularly strong here, Whitehead and Acri leading a heartwarming corps of peasants.
I cried, I laughed, I marvelled. I fully believe Wheeldon's Shakespeare masterpiece will still be loved and performed when the company has been at the House for another seventy years.
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The Royal Ballet, triple bill of Wheeldon works, Friday 11th March 2016 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Balcony Right, Seat A65, £27 (restricted view) – this is actually one of the best seats in the house, amazing value
After the Rain
This is a very nice piece – some interesting shapes made, pleasingly flowing – but it is not truly striking until the concluding pas de deux, which is really beautiful – mainly due to Nuñez’s expressivity. While not life-changing, this is an enjoyable warm up for the evening’s programme.
Strapless
Surprisingly simplistic and superficial, I was hugely disappointed to find a story with such potential told in such an unsatisfactory way. The whole thing felt as if it had been put together in a rush, and didn’t really manage to say anything, despite the obvious possibilities for meaning the story offers. It didn’t help that the synopis in the cast sheet was extremely poorly written. Cuthbertson’s final solo got closest to moving me, but most of the piece seemed to be a collection of Wheeldonian tropes with nothing underneath – all these dreams, imaginings, and flashbacks between different times are becoming tiresomely cliched. Though a pleasure to see some of the less frequently used dancers in main roles, none of them stood out except Clarke, possibly because the choreography of the piece did not really give them much opportunity to distinguish themselves, though the story suggested that it ought to have done. The can-can dancers missed a ripe chance to make a statement about the position of women and instead looked comical, and far too much fun. We ought to be beyond MacMillan’s three harlots of Romeo and Juliet by now. I always like a story ballet – and this wasn’t terrible – but this was certainly not worthy of Wheeldon’s usual genius. It did not help that bits of the story made me think of The Two Pigeons of the last two mixed bills, because it is not a favourable comparison!
Within the Golden Hour
Yes! At last. I loved every minute of this interesting and beautiful piece – it was like an exquisite dream. The music was brilliant and the casting was superb; what a partner McRae is! Stix-Brunell and Muntagirov’s pas de deux was particularly wonderful and I am tremendously excited now to see them in The Winter’s Tale, though it did strike me that Muntagirov still stands, walks and moves like a student. The men’s pas de deux was also marvellous.

Though perhaps a little worrying that the new piece was rather substandard, this programme nevertheless shows the versatility and talent of Wheeldon, and how lucky the company is to have him. A good piece, a mediocre piece and a stunning piece – well, that’s good enough for me to keep coming back for a while yet.
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Le Corsaire, English National Ballet, Wednesday 20th January 2016 7.30pm, London Coliseum
Balcony Centre, Seat A24, £14 - one of the best seats in the house (very centre of the front row), with no obstruction by the railing. I love this theatre!
Once again, I was privileged to see a production that is essentially so good I could hardly stop myself from leaping up to join in! The music is marvellously rousing, the choreography virtuosic in the extreme, the sets and costumes lavish enough to compete with the Covent Garden rivals. I did feel this time around that the company could have given it all a little more energy and feeling though- even Rojo looked tired at moments, though her stunning control will always carry her through.
It is a difficult ballet not just technically but emotionally too, because, in a way, it is a sort of tragic pantomime. I did nearly laugh aloud from sheer glee at Rojo's irritated expression, rather than the GPF (Generally Pained Face) on which so many dancers rely, when she was torn from her beloved yet again, but for the most part I did not really believe there was any love in this story. Tonight's viewing was thrilling and great fun, but not hugely moving, as this ballet can be.
 There were some nice virtuosic moments from Hernández, though little charisma, and Kase also did a good job of the surprisingly nuanced role of Gulnare. Acosta pleased as always, Souza too was suitably impressive (the men in this company really have risen so dramatically in the last few years) and Coleman and Rodríguez were clearly having great fun. I was also more impressed by the Tring students than I have been in the past - much neater. A well-recovered slip by one of the odalisques was counterbalanced by some stunning pirouettes, and the highlight - perhaps surprisingly - of the first act was actually the wonderfully exhilarating villagers/pirates character dance. However, it was Gouneo's Ali that stole the show, performing variations so electrifying that I shall be booking specifically to see him in the future.
In all, a production that remains a must-see, even when this now superb company is not quite as brilliant as we have discovered they can be. Yet again, it is evident that Rojo has done more for this company than any director has done for any company in an exceedingly long time. Directorially and literally, she can't put a foot wrong.
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The Nutcracker, Royal Ballet, Tuesday 8th December 2015 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Stalls Circle Right, C93, £35 - my favourite seat for a ballet I know, it's magical to be so close. I just wish I could have seen the Christmas tree growing!

There is nothing more perfectly full of festivity and magic than this company's Nutcracker. The music alone moves me to tears, but it is the sumptuosity of the set and costumes and the clever linking method of Drosselmeyer which sets this production high above all others. Wonderfully professional, no one was fazed even momentarily by a dropped mirliton, or a wobbling staircase.
Avis' Drosselmeyer is the star of the show, enchanting and unsettling by degrees, and yet intensely human. Cambell, though very nice and - as my loyal readers will know - a personal favourite, paled in comparison to the endlessly sensitive Hayward, whose own technique looked stellar even beside the experienced Naghdi. Cambell, I feel now, shines in a role full of turns and jumps, but he has not the physical flexibility for something subtler. The dolls of Act 1 were very slick, Kaneko especially exhibiting her quick precision. The whole company, right down to the tiny White Lodgers, are slickly professional and engaging (though the young soldiers' marching needed some work!).
Steven McRae was tantalisingly flawless in his brief appearance, reminding me that the mark of a good dancer is not necessarily to jump the highest, but to land the neatest. Salenko, however, made me wonder a little - she looked a little uncertain, slow, and I was torn between feeling refreshed to see a dancer prioritising subtlety of feeling over high legs, and feeling that she was playing it far too safe, that she had far more in her.
It is difficult to find anything new to say after so many years of loving this show. It does not get old. From the falling snow to the scattered glitter, every moment charms. This is surely the definitive Nutcracker, even if that Chinese dance still needs serious consideration. It is really very uncomfortable now.
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Chéri, Wednesday 30th September 2015 7.45pm, Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Theatre
Arena Left, A9, £24 (student, possible restricted view) - there were moments when performers were hidden behind the table but mostly it was just incredible to see things from this close, an amazing value ticket, as almost always in the Linbury. Everywhere should do student prices!
Colette, the author of the novel from which this story is taken, said "no narration". And yet, this is exactly what the ballet has done, by putting a speaking actress into the piece. The choreography itself was visceral and immediate, the kind of thing one can imagine being 'real' if we truly all communicated in ballet alone. I particularly loved the powerful moments of breakdown, such as Ferri's soft fists beating against the wall. But the speech ruined it as a piece. Next to such expressive dance, it seems clumsy, silly. Annis' accent was laughably embarrassing (though her acting itself was good for what she was given) and her speeches broke up the performance into a series of set pieces rather than a flowing and cohesive whole.
Each of her monologues could have been effectively replaced with dance, perhaps adding some cast members if the principals need breathing time, which would also have allowed the ballet to coherently grow in energy rather than skip and jump between emotions, reaching a more emotional and movingly tragic climax and conclusion.
Ballet sidesteps the question of whether to do accents, allowing dancers to inhabit wherever they wish, but the style of this brought back the issue. It also meant that the piece had one foot still in this world, instead of in the other world of dance, and so it is not so easy to suspend disbelief, to forget the pretence. With just this one, incongruous character breaking the fourth wall, the genre became questionable, and felt clumsier than it ought.
Ferri was absolutely stunning, her every breath a whole conversation of meaning. Cornejo too was brilliantly cast, and it was lovely to have the piano onstage. Also striking was to see the versatile Linbury with a set like this, though I think - with the speeches replaced - it would actually be a better Main Stage piece. Extra dance pieces could even expand it into a full evening length ballet.
The evening was pulsating with a powerful potential, the realisation of which Ferri and Cornejo were prevented slightly from achieving simply because of the speech. It was, however, an evening of superb talent and exhilarating possibility, that could, with revision, become groundbreaking.
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Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Friday 5th June 2015 7.45pm, Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Centre
Upper Gallery Right, U8, £7 (standing place) - painful without a railing but a great view, good value and worth it
I felt as if the company looked a little more obviously young this year and yet they are still splendid performers and dancers. It is the former of those that really stands out, however, to eyes used to seeing graduates of the Royal Ballet School. These dancers can jump and have the precise footwork of the Bournonville school, and they have a musicality and a joy in their dancing that makes them equally a joy to watch. They look healthy, happy and individual - we could take a leaf out of the book of Dutch training.
As for the choreography, it was a good mix. Lovely to see proper Bournonville, Full Moon was extremely witty, though Visions Fugitives did not work as a piece and the dancers seemed to struggle a little with the unusual complexity of Surfacing.
The music lost a little from being blared through speakers, but the video was far better than last year, now that the speeches have been replaced by rehearsal footage alone.
Overall a clearly young but very, very strong company, with extremely promising futures ahead of them. I love the vision of this company - not only does it function as a great 'springboard' for young dancers, but it is also a wonderful advertisement for the main company.
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Giselle, Royal Ballet, Thursday 31st March 2016 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, seat F46, complimentary student ambassador ticket but usually £49 - fine, but quite far away for this price. Probably would not choose this seat myself.
Giselle is a beautifully constructed ballet, with the way the same musical themes and physical movements return in the ethereal second act, morphed into something suitably melancholy. It is always a challenge to make the often rather springy choreography into something appropriately ghostly and Mendizabel - her habitual coldness perfect for this role - rose to the challenge admirably. Her steely gaze at the audience was chilling, especially beside the downturned faces of the rest of the wilis.
Peter Wright's production is a strong one - the set and costumes especially lovely - though I do always feel as if this ballet could be lengthened rather. It is very short and the emotions develop almost unbelievably fast at times. It is the second act that makes it, the scenario in the woods truly spine-tingling. Nuñez and Muntagirov were both very good, though they did better separately than together at times. There were some lovely moments, but they could definitely have had a stronger rapport. Technically, of course, they were faultless, if playing it rather safe.
The supporting cast were a strong ensemble, without particularly standout performances. Overall, this is a beautiful production and the performers did it justice.
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Royal Ballet, Double bill of Ashton works, Thursday 28th January 2016 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Right, Seat B79, £16 (restricted view) - not too far back and not too far to the side, a good seat at a good price though I did have to ask someone in front of me not to lean forward, which I hate doing
Rhapsody
This is a wonderful piece, but it relies so much on the lead couple and these two just don't quite have the connection or the charisma for it. Zucchetti has his moments, but essentially he just does not have the ballon or the quickness of turns and feet to suit the Ashtonian demand. It is lovely to see Choe taking the limelight once again - quite back to her usual form, she has a particularly nice sense of timing and musicality, with lightning quick batterie that is just right for this. With a partner who actually looked her in the eye, she might really have been something memorable. Ultimately, they just seemed to be concentrating too much, not having yet found that abandon of going above and beyond technique that the fun cheekiness of this piece requires.
As for the rest of the piece's elements, the music is lovely and the costumes were nice enough, but the sets were terrible! It looked as if someone had forgotten to do them until the last minute and then run out of money and ideas.
The Two Pigeons
I love this piece. It is amusing and touching by itself, but tonight it did make me realise, again, that it is the charisma of the dancers that can make it go above and beyond and these two don't quite have it yet. Takada's technique is just beautiful, and Hay was so close to being a wonderful actor (his technique was still a little overly careful and yet rather rushed at the same time, though his quickness of foot is sometimes lovely). They are both sweet dancers and one can see them trying hard in just the right way that may mean they are truly wonderful some day, though I am not sure that they will ever be so together - they didn't quite click. Again, more real fun could have been had with this fun piece, it's a performance, not an exercise.
Magri was absolutely brilliant in this splendid role. Her gypsy men, though, could have had more pizazz - if this is Covent Garden's answer to ENB's corsairs, then they have quite a way still to go.
The music is sublime, the set is beautiful, only the costumes of the friends in Act I were in a rather garish colour scheme.
I think the final pas de deux was lovely, but the misbehaving pigeon was really so terribly distracting!
Ultimately, tonight showed promise, and some lovely choreography, but it also showed that a truly great night is only through truly great dancers (and also that I shall be booking again to see the superb Yudes at the earliest opportunity).
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Today I am thinking about Darcey Bussell's comments that boys are now taking over from girls in ballet. Unfortunately, much as I love our Darcey, she was not made to be a speaker. Her comments are confusing and misleading, and the actual article, even if it is in the Telegraph (boo hiss spit), is quite good, as it counters Bussell's slight misinterpretation of the facts she has been told by those in the know at the country's ballet schools. It is obviously wonderful that more boys are drawn to ballet since the 'Billy Elliot phenomenon'; equal numbers of girls and boys, as ENBS say they are now usually getting, is obviously the ideal. Bussell is wrong in saying that we are not producing enough women - a great number of wonderful ballerinas graduate in the UK every year, and far more girls do so than boys as soon as you go slightly further down the list of schools.
The real issue here is that we are not producing the right kind of ballerina. Girls develop knowing that competition is fierce. They know they must fit the mould to enter the corps, they know they must not be a diva with whom no one wants to work, they know that their technique must be perfect if they are to have even a chance of shining amongst the hordes of well-trained women. Boys, on the other hand, for so long a rare species in ballet and so delighting everyone when they do turn up, are far more likely to be told that they are good, told that they are special. They watch people such as Acosta and know that, ultimately, it is charisma that makes a truly great dancer. Boys are encouraged to have personality, as girls are not. Arguably, this is not restricted to the world of dance.
Therefore, graduating male dancers usually know how to move an audience even when their technique is - yes, I will say it - usually not quite as flawless as their female counterparts, since they have not had competition in quite the same way. And what happens? They become the star, far more often than the graduate ballerina. Muntagirov, Polunin, Xander Parish - all were young British-trained dancers who took the ballet world by storm. We can even see it happening again here now with Matthew Ball; everywhere, men with charisma are being fast-tracked. I would argue, though I am a fan of Ball and believe he has potential, that he is moving too fast for the rate at which his technique is developing. This would never happen to a girl.
The women don't have that charisma or confidence. It has been trained out of them. If fewer girls are now applying to the Royal Ballet School, I bet you anything it has more than a little to do with the thought that they aren't good enough, that they have no chance of being accepted.
What we really need an article on is how to give back confidence and individuality to women, till they believe in themselves, till they believe that style is as important as technicality. Then, we might have more than just the one Frankie Hayward.
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Royal Ballet, Friday November 27th 2015 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Balcony Right, C65, £10 (standing) - very good, not too far to the side to affect the view much
Monotones
I just always find Monotones, well, monotonous. The costumes are ugly, the mood never develops, there are some intriguing movements and lines but it seems to me more like a study than something to be performed. Lacking meaning and interest, it is a technically demanding piece, the difficulty of which the dancers are unable to hide. Arestis needs to be careful with over-fishing her foot; from above, it does not even seem pointed.
Ashton's works remain innovative even when performed today, but we ought to be careful we are not simply performing them because of the fetishisation of his name.
The Two Pigeons
It's about time this came back into the repertoire! Sweet and funny, it has the Ashtonian pantomime without going over the top, and is actually quite a nice little depiction of relationships. The music is gorgeous, the sets are wonderful, McRae was predictably stunning and Salenko was charming - but the real revelation was Kaneko. A true Ashton dancer as Salenko is not, she was a brilliant match for McRae. A truly rousing and moving piece, I loved it, and would see it again straightaway.
The live pigeons were delightful, and my only concern was the rather absurd fight scene with the rope and cloaks. This piece deserves to be performed over and over - I hope it stays in the company's repertoire for many years now.
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Royal Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, Saturday 19th September 2015 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Right, B81, £16 (restricted view) - great value seat, very much worth buying again
When I first saw Sarah Lamb, many years ago now, I thought she was technically brilliant, but coldly expressionless. Since then, I have watched her mature as a dancer, performing with an endearing quality I once thought she would never have. However, it is just not yet quite enough for MacMillan's Juliet. She is so consciously careful with each step; she needs to trust her technique more so that she can let go, for she only ever really throws herself into the acting when there are no steps about which to worry. It is also difficult being a tall Juliet, and her huge and unnecessary arch enhancers do not help.
Steven McRae was playing a Romeo unlike one I have ever seen - oddly laid-back, but I think I liked it. He, especially, was having fun with it tonight, which was a joy to see, although he needs more with which to work in a Juliet. His first solo, at the ball, was spectacularly precise - just mesmerising.
The supporting cast was strong - particularly from the brilliant Campbell, and McGorian - but there was a strange lack of cohesion tonight, even in the orchestra. The company had that odd cautiousness of feeling either over-rehearsed, or as if they had only just realised they didn't quite know the ballet quite as well as they had thought they did. Gartside's Escalus, for example, looked uncertain, and there were some dodgy moments in the strings (though the brass section was superb).
James Hay performed the wedding solo far better than the last version I saw, though I still think the whole wedding is an absurd and unneeded section. Sometimes the quest for supposed authenticity can go too far. Apart from that, the whole thing feels tremendously faithful to Shakespeare, right down to the playful moments between Romeo and his friends (which I would argue are the best moments in the whole piece). I even felt the girls' dancing in Juliet's bedroom felt far more seamless this time. It is wonderful to be able to match specific lines of the play to moments of the dance, though I do think a trick was missed in not at least allowing Romeo to die by making Juliet's limp hand hold the poison.
As always with MacMillan, the nuances of relationships and characters, the position of women and expectations of society, are so skilfully handled (though perhaps with a little too much glamourisation of prostitution...?) The music itself, especially the rousing marketplace scenes, is sublime. Overall, I was less blown away than I expected to be, but the production should warm up; it is far too strong a piece to ever stop short of being genuinely moving.
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Have them in circles
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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.