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Woolf Works, Royal Ballet, Wednesday 13th May 2015 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Left, B36, £6 - student price and one of the best value tickets I have ever bought
I now, I then
I was entirely taken aback by the sheer power of this piece. Simple but exceptionally effective, there were, admittedly, moments when I wondered whether it was a clichéd portrayal of Mrs Dalloway and yet could not accept this when it was just so moving. It spoke - and therein lies true value. To have Ferri, the same age as the character, starring here was rather a beautiful move, and imbued her role with a different sort of fragility than could have been achieved by a younger dancer. Ferri no longer looks like the dancer she once was, but her quality is unmistakeable. It was Dyer and Watson who finally brought me to tears with their pas de deux, the most heartbreaking moment being as Dyer ran offstage and Watson followed only to turn a different way and run forward as the lights became sunny - though not at all cheerful. I have never seen a more eloquent depiction of a lost soul, searching for something that is never to be reached. I don't even think one needed to know the plot of the novel to be deeply affected by this ultimately extraordinarily effective piece of dance.
Becomings
This was one of those pieces which only came together towards the end. Throughout most of it I was only disappointed by the predictability of the angry extreme flexibility on which McGregor always seems to rely, and the lack of imagination in choosing lasers to represent time travel, and cross dressing to show androgyny. But then, somehow, the finale turned into something amazingly stirring, the culmination of the costume changes being the beautiful genderless anonymity of the whole cast. Unlike the other pieces, this relied on knowledge of the story and also made the stars stand out a little more, even if the gelled back hair meant that they were recognisable only by the individual motions of their bodies.
Tuesday
Simply very, very sad. A fittingly emotional conclusion to a very moving and sensitive evening. Even if the choreography itself was not hugely groundbreaking, the complete artistic vision of the design (especially the set of the opening piece), dance and particularly exquisite music and fitting audio proved that McGregor apparently does have more to offer here after all. It is interesting that his first 'full length' still took the form of several short pieces, linked as they were by the figure of Ferri as, arguably, Woolf herself.
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Northern Ballet, Tuesday 12th May 2015 7.45pm, Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Theatre
Upper Gallery Left, U4, £8 (standing place) - good view but painful to stand without a rail to lean on, and a little awkward when you are just hovering over the people in front
Angels in the Architecture
From the title, I was expecting some kind of feminist approach to 'the angel in the house' but what I got was...well, I hardly know. It was strange, and dull, and very, very long and I didn't feel I was getting anything from it at all. I couldn't even tell if the odd moments of kinkiness were supposed to be so, or not at all.
Perpetuum Mobile
This was very nice, but somehow immature. I liked its spontaneity but it looked rather like a school recital, and no one is really standing out tonight.
Little Monsters
Clever, interesting - I did really like this, but it is slightly a throwaway piece and so cannot by itself make this shaky programme.
A Northern Trilogy
These little pieces were similarly clever and amusing, but too trivial to pull the evening together. Nothing so far had meant anything and there has to be at least one that really triggers the emotions.
The Architect
This got interesting once the apples appeared - and then very suddenly became quite extraordinary. That first faster section of violent sexuality was extremely powerful - it is interesting that Northern Ballet are arguably the company least afraid to do things like this, but also the company that dances on CBeebies. Perhaps a nice comment on the versatility of dance. This piece certainly picked things up, though not quite enough to make me forget what I had already seen.

Overall, it was a surprisingly weak programme from Northern Ballet, but certainly not one that ought to make us write off the company as not worth the trip.
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Sorry you didn't enjoy it, but glad it hasn't put you off us permanently!
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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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La Fille Mal Gardée, Royal Ballet, Tuesday 5th May 2015 7.15pm, live broadcast seen from Arts Picturehouse Cambridge
Student standby, two tickets for £10
Such a prop-filled ballet is always going to be nervewracking in a live broadcast. Some slight ribbon issues initially, a little holding back from Mosley in the clog dance and a little - ahem - horseplay, but overall it went swimmingly. Widow Simone even made her lift at the end! McRae and Osipova make a perfectly characterful pair for this ballet, their fleet feet, lightning turns and easy jumps perfect for the Ashton, but all the acting was delightful really, with those little touches which the Royal do so well, and which are such a joy to see close like this. Sometimes it seems there is a benefit to the big screen (other than accessibility of course).
The big question, of course, was whether Osipova could do Ashton and I think she can - although she is clearly not Ashton-trained and needs to work on the nuance of the upper body. However, her quick footwork and springy jump made some of the coda work look nicer - less laboured - than many of those dancers who have been brought up on it. She has a way to go, and it is debatable that she will manage it without the years of training, but she's a joy to watch and she does her best in such a way that I found more than satisfactory. This came as a reminder that the influx of foreign dancers such as her will not sacrifice the company's style - it's almost a relief to see something she doesn't do perfectly! But, in my roundabout way, I am trying to say that she was a success. A joy to watch, so that I couldn't stop smiling. And, really, what else is this ballet for?
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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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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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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.