A Weekend in the City, Part Three: English National Ballet

So Sunday was ENB day. And it started with possibly the best morning ever.

I had been looking on the ENB website at their adult open classes before heading down and noticed they were doing an Adult Beginners workshop to do with their Roland Petit programme. Unfortunately the workshop was sold out! After a self-pitying tweet though, I was contacted by Alison from ENB who told me there was actually one space left and I could be fitted in if I wanted it – yes please!

The Coliesum, just before I took to the stage!

So that was why I headed across London at 7:30am on a Sunday, wearing a dancebelt and tights under my normal clothing – talk about Ballet Ninja! Popping into Pret for breakfast and some, much-needed, coffee I headed to the London Coliseum stage door for the 9:15 start.

Dropping our stuff off at the side of the stage, the 16 of us headed on-stage to take the workshop. On the London Coliseum stage. Taught by ENB First Artist Kerry Birkett. For realz! Walking onto the stage I can’t quite describe how surreal it all seemed. Only a week earlier I had been watching Vasiliev and Osipova dance Romeo & Juliet on this stage. And later that day I would be watching ENB perform three Petit works on that same stage (there were stage-cigarette butts on-stage as proof :-) ). And now I was stood in the same space. Wh-What?!

Yeah, I danced on this stage. Be jealous!

I definitely felt unworthy, and I think we were all slightly nervous. However, Kerry and the lovely organiser Danielle Jones were both so nice that we soon got into the whole experience and began to really enjoy it.

Class was awesome. The 45 minutes whizzed by in a flurry of tendus and pliés and although I was still sore from class the day before I totally gave it my all. Especially once we started center work. Being challenged by Kerry to ‘cross the entire stage twice’ in a balancé, balancé, pas de bourée, pirouette, soutenou, chaîne, posé combination – I didn’t need telling twice! There was such a sense of freedom and possibility when moving in such a large space. Going from taking ‘class’ in my kitchen to being on the stage was such a change.

After class was over we stayed on stage for a 45 minute session learning part of the Corps role from Roland Petit’s Carmen – to the Toreador’s song. It was really cool to learn some actual steps that we’d be seeing later on at the matinee performance. Obviously, being a beginners workshop, none of the steps were too complex but they were very cleverly linked together and we were told to act the steps as well as dance them. Petit once described Carmen as a piece where the women had to be powerful and the men had to be sexy – so I put on my strut and tried to ooze sex appeal. I wasn’t entirely successful!

All too soon we headed off-stage and up to the second ring for coffee and costumes – Danielle showing some of the Carmen costumes while sharing a deep knowledge of Petit’s works and ENB. The mixed bill ENB were putting on had been made all the more poignant by the death of Petit just a few days before opening night, which also resulted in a performance by Vasiliev guesting in La Jeune Homme et La Mort with Jia Zhang dedicated to the late great choreographer.

Next up was one thing I was really geekily excited about – a chance to watch company class! This was the final company class of the season and would be on-stage at the Coliseum. We filed into the dress circle and took our seats midway through the first tendu combination. The next forty minutes were fascinating and a real joy to watch. I was transfixed as they worked through movements that were similar to those we had done earlier, but quicker, more skillful and much more complicated!

I loved how nonchalant these pros made class seem. They were doing combinations I could only dream of doing, with near-perfect turnout, ridiculous flexibilty and strength yet making it seem almost effortless. In fact, one of my highlights was when one of the guys (I think Barry Drummond) dropped down to the splits during stretches to check his phone. You know, as you do. Full splits. If only!

The apparel on show was pretty cool too – ranging from girls in traditional leo/tights, to funky leg warmers and even a couple of football shirts on the guys! After what seemed a pretty impossible barre the company gathered for centre. Just as we were told it was time to leave. Nooooooo! I was so excited about seeing the allegro that I was gutted to have to gather my bags and head to the foyer.

My disappointment was short-lived though as I collected my tickets for the matinee of ENB’s Petit programme – their final performance of the London season. Having never seen any of Petit’s work, I was looking forward to the three pieces – L’Arlésienne, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and Carmen - and took my seat in the side orchestra(!).

First up – L’Arlésienne - the story of a young man driven to madness on his wedding day thanks to an unfaithful previous romance. The boy was played by Esteban Berlanga, a danseur I knew little of, but his performance was stunning! His piqué arabesques spoke of a yearning for love that was tangible to the audience. As his nuptials approach his madness felt very real, and seemed the male equivalent of Giselle’s crazy-scene. When it is all too much and he takes his life he leaps to his death from an attic window. That final leap left me reeling and with a lump in my throat. His fiancee was the stunning Erina Takahashi and there was a brilliant sequence where Berlanga did a full promenade-arabesque whilst carrying Takahashi. All in all, a fantastic performance of a fantastic ballet, supported by a strong corps providing a live backdrop to the principals.

To give you a feel for this work, here is a clip of Paris Opera Ballet’s Jeremie Belingard in the final scene, including the amazing death-leap. Thank you to @blogpinklady for sharing! He is masterful in the role and Petit’s choreography shines.

Next up – Le Jeune Homme et la Mort – one of Petit’s most famous works, thanks in part to performances by Nureyev and Baryshnikov in the role of the Young Man. I can see exactly why it has become so famous, with an almost movie-like feel and a combination of emotive steps and stunning sets. This is pure seduction, verging on erotic at times. The Young Man was being danced by Anton Lukovkin opposite Jia Zhang. Although Lukovkin was good, I felt Zhang really shone in this piece; an amazing opportunity for a girl in the corps (an ‘artist’ at ENB). Not only was she performing a principal role, but two nights earlier she had performed with Ivan Vasiliev in his personal tribute to the late Petit. Her black lipstick and gloves against the yellow dress made her the epitome of a powerful dominatrix-like woman. I was taken aback at the rawness of the piece and the way tables and chairs were thrown about made it all the more evocative. Needless to say, even with prior warning I was unprepared for when the scenery rose to reveal a beautiful vista of the Paris skyline. Quite a contrast to the bluntness with which Lukovkin hangs himself under Death’s direction.

Here is the first part of a performance by Nureyev and the original Mort, Zizi Jeanmarie (Petit’s wife): needless to say they are perfection.

The program was concluded with Petit’s Carmen – for which Petit said he wanted ‘powerful’ women and ‘sexy’ men. The whole piece certainly exuded power and sensuality, as well as exhibiting the talent ENB contains, from the corps to the principals (Annaïs Chalendard and Daniel Kraus). I particularly loved the men’s sequence of group double tours and the bar scene (in which all the dancers – including @balletfriends, @maxwestwell and @BalletandPhotos - seemed to be enjoying themselves!). The bedroom scene between Carmen and Don José was sexually charged and then some! It definitely explained why it caused an uproar when first performed in the forties. Not only was there sexual tension there, but also violence and I can only imagine the demands the role puts on the dancers’ bodies. The bedroom Pas de Deux was followed by a physical and electric fight sequence and Carmen’s ultimate death. I thought the addition of thrown hats (in response to the Toreador’s successful bullfight I presume) at the end was a stroke of genius – highlighting the futility of Carmen’s life and how inconsequential her death was. Amazing stuff.

And here is the stunning Alessandra Ferri with POB’s Laurent Hilaire in an excerpt of Carmen – hot-blooded stuff!

And with that I was all Petit-ed out. In case you couldn’t tell, I’d had the most amazing Sunday morning ever. I can’t thank ENB enough for an amazing opportunity, and if you ever get a chance to take part in their on-stage workshops (they’re doing some whilst on tour in the UK this Autumn) then do yourself a favour and sign up immediately!

Until next time, keep dancing!

A Weekend in the City, Part Two: Cloud Dance Festival

Okay. I admit that I have been pretty absent this summer. I’m sorry! I’ve been busy putting in lots of hours at the local pub to earn some money for when I move to Bath in two weeks time – more money means more Ballet classes :) Here’s the first of the posts that I should have written a few weeks ago…

As I mentioned in Part One, the initial impetus for my weekend in London was Cloud Dance Festival. This is a contemporary dance festival that is now in it’s 5th year and is an essential platform for contemporary dance companies to perform their work. This was the 12th festival, titled Firefly, and it certainly lit up the Pleasance Theatre with a diverse and accomplished program.

Cloud Dance Festival!

As my first real experience of Contemporary Dance I found so much to take in and enjoy during the three days, and I could wax lyrical about every performer for days. I am going to try and restrain myself however to just a line or two for each act I saw…

FRIDAY

  • Diciembre Dance Group : Lewis After Wonderland – Only saw end but looked stunning!
  • Jui-Wei Hung : Thirty-Two -
  • Charlie Dixon Dance Comany : Wise Man – Awesome, managed to be physically tender and beautiful.
  • Sol Dans : Grimm Times – The ‘No Hands’ duet was stunning. Achingly real.
  • Slanjayvah Danza : Lunar-tic – Spotlight brought the audience in, then seemed to challenge us with physicality mixed with sensuality.
  • James Cousins Dance : Taste Water Again – Amazing. Battle of inner demons. Liam Riddick and Yaa Appiah-Badu’s partnering was shocking and powerful. Wet clothing took dance to another level – molding to their bodies.

SATURDAY

  • Exquisite Corpse | Dance Theatre : Valhöll – Surreal and animalistic.
  • James Finnemore : Patriot – Thought-provoking. What is dance but exaggerated mundane movements? Young man facing uncertainty in his life. Found myself relating to the performance and forced me to look at certain aspects of my life.
  • Slanjayvah Danza : Lunar-tic - Enjoyed more second time around – concentrated on the body movements which were skilled and fascinating.
  • Gerard Martin Dance : D-llusion – Profound, insightful look at body image between a girl and her mirror-image.
  • James Cousins Dance : Taste Water Again – Even more powerful second time. Love title – that moment you rediscover the taste of water after exertion. Beauty from trial.
  • Ross Cooper : This Is Winter – Kept coming back to adjective ‘delicate’. Interplay between two very interesting characters.
  • Kristen McNally : Don’t hate the player, Hate the game – Perfect. A telling snapshot of modern society and portrait of modern youth. Tommy Franzén brought it all – hinting that he was never in control yet being technically perfect. The blend of styles worked perfectly with amazing soundtrack. That jump!

SUNDAY

  • .identiti.co : One – Interesting use of light. Light = energy? Friends or Antagonists?
  • Ella Robson Guilfoyle : SHE – Use of two non-dancing men blurred line between reality and dance, which I loved. Would love to see it filmed in an actual bar.
  • Richard Bermange : Virus – Not what I expected. Shame to hear of injured dancer but still amazing. Effortlessly cool – as if The Streets did dance. Use of hoods was inspired (another ‘virus’ in society?). Corey Baker was brilliant.
  • Taciturn : A turn or two – Transformation of Summer of Love to war. Interesting snapshot of history. And any piece that includes The Beatles’ “I’ve just seen a face” gets a thumbs up from me!
  • Deaf Men Dancing : Sense of Freedom – Inspirational. Amazing. Skilled. Touching. Energy.
  • EDDance : Stabat Mater – Clever juxtaposition of classical music and modern movement. Abrupt.
  • Devaraj Thimmaiah : Arranged Marriage – Intense. Amazing partnership. Real. Eastern influence – yoga.
  • Kristen McNally : Don’t hate the player, Hate the game – Awesome way to end.
As you can probably tell, I had the most amazing time at Cloud Dance Festival and want to give a huge shout out to Chantal Guevara: director, producer and all-round awesome person! I first got in touch with Chantal through the Cloud Dance Festival twitter account @clouddancefest, and she has been über-helpful when I was looking for classes back in the UK. It was great to meet her in person and see her hard work pay off with a very successful festival.
I think what I realised at Cloud Dance Festival is that dance is such a hugely diverse artform, and sometimes you can’t explain what draws you to a piece. I can’t wait to attend the next CDF and in the meantime leave you with some clips of three of my favourite performances: James Cousins Dance, James Finnemore and, of course, Tommy Franzen (all videos are from the Cloud Dance Festival website). Enjoy!

Until next time, keep dancing!