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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.


The Royal Ballet, Swan Lake, Saturday 9th June 2018 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre Right, Seat K73, £29 – good value seat

A new production of this ballet after so long is the biggest thing this company has done in a long time, although to be honest I was never sure what was so wrong with the old one, which was always my favourite version of this classic anyway. Regardless, the hype was tremendously exciting – the glimpses of the sumptuous costumes, the tantalising mentions of new characters, new roles, the promise of a choreographer so talented as Scarlett let loose with a story he (hopefully) couldn't turn into an outdatedly sexist trope since it already was fondly accepted for one…all meant that I had been looking forward to this for months. And, mostly, it did live up to it all. I was very sad to lose the traditional maypole waltz with the stools in Act One, but really enjoyed the development of Benno into a real character, brought out wonderfully by the always stellar Alexander Campbell. His pas de trois with Siegfried's sisters – more characters it was a thing of genius to include, or at least turn existing roles into – in Act Three was the highlight of the whole ballet for me, Benno becoming the cover and distraction for Siegfried that Mercutio and Benvolio are to Romeo. In fact, this was what changed the feel of the ballet more than anything else, these sections with Benno feeling so much more natural and human than the old Russian classics often do. This is what the Royal Ballet is famous for, and at times I loved it, but at other times it simply felt incongruous, as if Swan Lake were being forced into someone else's costume, not quite fitting perfectly. Speaking of costumes, the production was certainly very beautiful, but not necessarily any more so than the old one was. I was very relieved to find that the charming Neapolitan dance was left unchanged but, having been excited to find there were wonderful soloists taking the parts of the foreign princesses, wearing the most exquisite of all the costumes, I was confused and disappointed to discover that they never got to dance at all and may as well not have been highlighted thusly in the first place. Scarlett couldn't resist bringing in some sort of Freudian symbolism in the way he gave Rothbart a role at the court, which was sinister undoubtedly but a bit of a narrative dead end; sometimes it really just felt as if trying to bring relatable cohesion to the plot of Swan Lake was a thankless task, and possibly just looked at the whole thing from the wrong angle. I would rather see someone explore the emotions behind a prince so lost that he wants whatever is most unattainable, than accept as a given that this is simply 'true love' and spend more time fleshing out yet another court setting. I suppose one is always limited by how much of the structure must not be changed. As for the leads, I think I really have got over Osipova now. No longer does her energy and commitment seem unprecedented; instead, it is increasingly hard not to see her messy technique thrown into stark focus against the homegrown dancers in the corps and soloist roles behind her. As O'Hare has given opportunities to them, so audiences have seen the gentle subtlety of which they are capable, which ultimately brings out deeper feeling than the exaggerated style of Osipova. Ball was tremendous, a really steady partner with a neat and careful technique that never stopped him exuding just the poignant poise which seems to me quite perfect for Siegfried, that most compelling of princes. I thought it was a really clever move to shake things up by giving Osipova her lightning quick manège instead of the fouettés we were all expecting but, though exciting and impressive, she just can't touch her colleagues for style and class.
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Giselle, 20.1.18 7pm, Amphi Right Seat K71, £35
The Winter's Tale, 24.2.18 7pm, Amphi Right Seat L74, £24
Manon, 13.4.18 7.30pm, Amphi Right Seat M76 £24
Obsidian Tear/Marguerite and Armand/Elite Syncopations, 14.4.18 7pm, Stalls Circle Left D11 (standing space), £10
All Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Main Stage, all good value seats especially the amazing view from the standing stalls circle
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The Royal Ballet, The Nutcracker, Monday 18th December 2017 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Upper Amphitheatre Left, Seat P37, £28 - a bit far away for real atmosphere but a clear view

This production is so very reliable – you know you will get festive fun, childhood memories, fond and gentle pantomime humour (the best kind), splendid dancing and thrilling staging and really, what else do we want at Christmas? I recently read an article on how “traditional” versions of The Nutcracker really are, and in many ways this one is not; it puts Clara en pointe, uses Drosselmeyer throughout, introduces a love story for the young couple and adds dance where once there was simply music. And yet it has succeeded in turning the story into something that both makes more sense and has more fluidity and keeps the audience caring about the characters they were led to care about in the first act, and also in keeping it firmly in the realm of demanding, impressive classical ballet instead of letting it fall too far into pantomime (always a risk when there is a dearth of dancing and an excess of children). It has gained so much strength overall simply from the embarrassingly recent reworking of the Chinese dance, and the four principals who led tonight did not allow for even an intake of breath, so effortlessly solid were they. Muntagirov's long limbs give almost an entirely opposite impression from the only person who can rival him, McRae, but their secret is the same – their plie. Their landings are so neat, never a slipped foot or a double bounce, because they keep going so deep into them, and it is this that gives them the precision and grace which makes them so thrilling. Such a ballet was made for such a company and it will never cease to be the ultimate Christmas treat.
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The Royal Ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Monday 23rd October 2017 7.30pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Amphitheatre right, seat E81, £16 (restricted view) - I was anxious about this seat as I booked late but I loved it! Good clear view, not too far away and barely restricted, and so steeply raked that there were no heads in the way. Being at the end of a longer row also means often there is no one in front of you, and we even moved up one space as a seat was empty. Great value seat, I will be booking it again!

I’ve never been at the Opera House on a live broadcast night before and I was quite excited. At times it was hard to forget but as this beautiful ballet went on it sucked me in until I utterly forgot anything offstage. I did notice a few little things, such as a change in lighting to better suit the film, but overall there’s nothing to reveal the cast are performing for anyone other than the audience in the auditorium and the cameras themselves don’t get in the way at all, despite a few discreet disclaimers beforehand. This ballet has a similar feeling to Nutcracker in that everyone in it seems to be enjoying themselves tremendously and taking their character development to the utmost lengths. It is such a spectacle with the intricate and clever sets, the equally intricate and clever music, the lavish costumes, and the lovely and often brilliant choreography. There is always so much going on that it’s difficult to know where to look (just one reason why this bears watching over and over). I love the subtle but recognisable musical motifs, mirrored by those in the choreography - the ticking clock of the extensive percussion is the soundtrack to the pendulum of Alice and the Knave’s legs, the clock hands formed by the arms of those at the teaparty… There is so much to notice and enjoy, whether it is the giant flower created by the corps of flowers, or the caterpillar’s theme turning up in the stereo of the final scene. The ballet has already become a tradition, with favourite moments for which to look out (always hoping the curtain doesn’t lower too quickly to see Lewis Carroll’s final ear-fluffing). Though mainly a predictably strong first cast, there were a few unexpected entries, such as James Hay utterly holding his own as Lewis Carroll. So many people gave above and beyond - the romance of the cook and the executioner is always a treat - but the night belonged to Laura Morera, exulting in a role that, though not made for her, could have been.
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Northern Ballet, Casanova, Thursday 4th May 2017 2pm, The Lowry Lyric Theatre
If I had written this review in two parts, half after the first act and half after the second, it would seem as if I had accidentally seen the second act of a completely different ballet. As the curtain came down for the interval, I was grinning with excitement, delighted by a visually arresting and powerfully sensual new piece with a supremely talented and wholly committed cast. My opinion on the cast changed not a bit; Northern Ballet are a powerhouse of a company. However, in the interval I tried to sort out in my head some details of the confusing plot and ended up trying to find out more than the programme told me of the truth of Casanova’s story. This apparent reputation salvaging ballet suddenly became repellant when I discovered that Casanova actually paid for child sex slaves. I watched the second half with a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, context goes a long way. No eighteenth century man would have ever had it suggested to him that buying children for sex was not an entirely acceptable way to spend his money and leisure time, but it still seemed oddly negligent to simply airbrush details like this from the whole ballet. It also began to seem tiresomely obvious to turn one of his many liaisons into a sort of tragic love affair that broke his heart so much that he had to then turn to all the other women of Paris to forget (as if this is not what he had been doing before, and all along, anyway). It seems a shame to create a new ballet of such an interesting topic if one is only going to romanticise and eroticise it, shying away from difficult topics in favour of populism. Mayerling is an excellent example of such difficult topics being treated with sensitivity and honesty, to create a still beautiful but far more emotionally interesting piece. New choreographers ought to be challenging their audiences as MacMillan managed to do even in 1978, not pandering to an apparent fashion for violence and oppression to be somehow ‘sexy’. There is so much skill in the creation of this ballet and it is just such a shame that all that has gone into something as irresponsible as this instead of the truly groundbreaking thing it could have been. I especially took issue with the programme synopsis saying a character was “persuaded” to leave by her abusive husband, when she was actually attacked and physically dragged from the scene. This is the kind of thoughtlessness which perpetuates dangerous ideas of domestic violence, hardly separating us from those actually in Casanova’s world. Ballet will not shake off its bad reputation as an outdated and sexist industry until this kind of whitewashing and downplaying is stopped.
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Royal Ballet, Mayerling, Saturday 29th April 2017 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
Glorious music, sumptuous designs, MacMillan choreography at its very best, and a true story to rival any novel, Mayerling is perhaps one of the most powerful ballets ever created. It offers so many juicy opportunities for dramatic interpretation and it has therefore been infinitely fascinating to see four different casts get their teeth into it over the years. Surprisingly perhaps given my recent experiences of his work, Soares seemed extraordinarily suited to this most demanding of roles. His characterisation in certain sections, such as his heartbreaking pas de deux with his mother in Act I, was the best I have ever seen it done. Though once again some of his virtuosic technique was infuriatingly sloppy, he is an excellent partner and this is arguably the most important thing for this role anyway. Mayerling always brings out the best in dancers I hadn’t necessarily imagined before as actors and once again I was not disappointed. Christina Arestis stood out tremendously as the Empress and Yuhui Choe, though perhaps as always just playing herself really, was certainly heartbreakingly well-cast as Princess Stephanie. Tonight, I found myself most enthused by the four Hungarian officers, who have some of the best choreography in the ballet to some of the best music in it too. New principal Hirano is always a treat to see, as are the pleasing long lines of Zucchetti, and Matthew Ball is maturing very quickly, already looking much more impressively at home on the stage than he was mere months ago. The only briefly weak link was Eric Underwood’s melodramatic grief at finding the bodies in the penultimate scene.
I did wonder whether, and found out afterward that I was correct, tonight was Soares’ first performance as Rudolf of this run of Mayerling. He looked practiced, but in that over-practiced way of someone who hasn’t yet passed into the stage of no longer worrying once onstage about forgetting the next cue. I felt he often showed he knew what was coming when it was supposed to be a shock to him, and once he almost walked out onstage too early. With such a promising first go, I imagine his other shows in this run will be even better, for he really was wonderfully good. I just wish he would tidy up his technique.
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Royal Ballet, Jewels, Tuesday 11th April 2017 7.15pm, live broadcast seen from Arts Picturehouse Cambridge
It is such a wonderful thing that these broadcasts have taken off so in the last few years. It seems to have taken a little while to get quite right the technique of showing ballet onscreen but now it just works. The details you can see this way, so special when you have either not enough time or money (or both) to actually go to the House, are an absolute treat. And what better word is there to describe the true treat that is Jewels. It may a quintessentially American ballet, but the Royal takes it to heart, makes it their own, and displays it as one of the greatest jewels in the glittering crown of British ballet. The intricate technique requires the very best of the Royal’s famous precision, and the wildly varying three acts provide wonderful opportunities for very different dancers, giving the audience a full three course meal of ballet specialities. The understated Parisian glamour of Emeralds, complete with Faure’s atmospheric score has one of the most charming of all female variations, and Laura Morera was excellently cast, with the traditional style she exhibits as one of the most senior principals in the company now. One can see instantly her experience and reliability. Rubies is always great fun with, if not the greatest music, music that at least fits the choreography very well. McRae, Hamilton and Lamb have all done these parts together often and know just what the audience love about them. Lamb and McRae especially seem to be teasing their way through the whole thing, their familiar cheeky friendliness combined with their perfect technique bringing the house down as, in fact, McRae can never fail to do. No one dancing anywhere in the world right now can come close to rivalling his virtuosity. Diamonds, the cherry on top of an already damned good cake, so to speak, was strangely up and down. Nuñez brings the audience with her even more than McRae, with the smile that reaches to the gods and reminds us all just why the pain of ballet is worth everything. There simply is no one to compete with her in the company for sheer performance. But Soares nearly dragged the whole show down by himself, fluffing every landing and even giving an irritated grimace as he fell out of his tours en l’air. Everyone has off days, I suppose, but not even bothering to keep up the expressive aspects while being watched by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world is quite something else. This show never fails to excite, but I left feeling confusingly infatuated with Nuñez and downright irritated with her partner. Furthermore, I was rather confused by the set design, as we were shown an interview with the enthusiastic designer before the show, but it was so dark by the wings that I couldn’t even see what the so-called design was for Emeralds.
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Cambridge University Ballet Club, Giselle, Saturday 18th February 2017 7pm, West Road Concert Hall
Once again, I was struck tonight by how the enthusiasm of amateur dancers, not extinguished by years of training, can make a show shine brighter than the collected technique of its performers might at first suggest. Some lovely technique was on show, and some far more rusty or simply still very new, but everyone managed to bring a joy and light to the stage that made you grin back at their faces instead of watching their feet anyway. The lead couple had a lovely rapport, and their supporting characters clearly really understood the story and had thought deeply about how to convey it to their probably very inexperienced audience. All showed a maturity beyond their limited previous performance experience, right down to the utterly professional reaction of one poor dancer with a rather drastic wardrobe malfunction. Putting together this kind of show is quite an ask for a directing team, and it was clear that the casting had been done with great skill, the more inexperienced dancers giving the Act I stage a delightful sunniness whilst the more practised dancers took on the roles in ‘the white act’, giving it a gravitas and poignancy worthy of a professional company. The difficult logistics of working in an orchestral setting were tackled with competence and the way that the young company managed to maintain such a powerful atmosphere in a very large, very open hall does them exceptional credit. To take a ballet as famous as Giselle and to carry it off with such dedication and sensitivity that I found myself in tears by the end, is truly a feat. Sometimes we really should not underestimate the potential of well-directed amateur dance.
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Royal Ballet, Woolf Works, Saturday 11th February 2017 7pm, Royal Opera House Main Stage
The first time I saw this piece, at its premiere last year, it restored my faith in McGregor and I know I was not the only one for whom it had this effect. On its first revival, it certainly retains the power and uniqueness it had at its creation. I wondered whether, now having read two of the three novels it tackles, I would understand it differently but I did not feel this changed much of the overall reaction, which is perhaps the most glowing review an interpretation of an author’s work could possibly have. The fast-flowing immediacy of the work seems to strongly echo the characteristic stream-of-consciousness style of Woolf’s work and the evening moves very skilfully from drama, through contagious energy, to finally end with heartbreaking sadness. For once, McGregor’s obsessively ‘modern’ technical design choices fit seamlessly and usefully with the rest of the piece, with the images of Woolf’s handwriting and the reading of her suicide letter to her husband gelling with the dance and music to bring me to tears. Even knowing the stories well now, there is very little narrative in this and that seems enough, with the vagueness of plot bringing out the non-linear mentality of the novels themselves. The relationships between characters in the first part, ‘I now, I then’, based on ‘Mrs Dalloway’, are clear and moving, and the pulsing of the waves, getting ominously every closer in the projection of the final part (‘Tuesday’, based on ‘The Waves’) cleverly brings together this novel and Woolf’s own suicide by drowning in the tidal River Ouse. The second act, ‘Becomings’, from ‘Orlando’, felt furthest from its corresponding story, with even less attempt to bring out the plot, and purely an ever-intensifying flurry of images, people who become more and more anonymised, highlighting in the end one single idea of the mutability and irrelevance of gender. Throughout, the power of images takes centre stage, as it were, with, though the dancers all acquit themselves with the utmost skill and sensitivity, very little to distinguish them. This is an ensemble piece as much as anything, even when few characters grace the stage. Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works is as much an intriguing and emotional ballet for our times as it is a worthy tribute to a great novelist.
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Cambridge University Dance Society, Poetry in Motion, Thursday 26th January 2017 7.45pm, ADC Theatre
Sometimes, seeing amateur dance is amazingly refreshing. It is extraordinary how so many people who dance professionally – who must love it because there is no other reason to force oneself through such pain, difficulty, competition, stress, low wages, and so on – can get to a point where none of the joy of actually being onstage comes through to their audience. Though there were some extremely talented dancers in this show, there were also a lot of very inexperienced ones, but not a single one of them failed to convey their sheer enjoyment and, therefore, I enjoyed myself more than I often do watching exquisite professionals with their incredible technique. This wonderfully varied and welcoming programme reminded me not only why we dance, but why everyone both can and should, and the wonderful potential of bringing dance to others. There is also a real beauty in having everything from ballet to Bollywood and ballroom to breakdance in one show, highlighting that what makes dance – any type of dance – is a response of movement, every example of which excited, moved and impressed the equally varied audience that such a varied programme attracted. There was even a beautiful and innovative piece set to live poetry. It is so special to have this sort of thing available to both dancers and theatregoers, and I only wish it was more widely done around the country.
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