It’s been a pretty eventful week for the Royal Ballet. First there were the National Dance Awards held on Monday, where the Royal Ballet’s Gary Avis won best classical male performance and Steven McRae won best male dancer. A huge congrats to the pair, and to all the nominees in some very strong fields for each award. The awards ceremony was a great celebration of the top dancers in the country, and was superbly covered with live-tweeting by the Ballet Bag ladies on behalf of the NDA twitter account.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, the Ukrainian Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin announced his immediate resignation from the company. The immediacy of his resignation has shocked the ballet world and there have been rumours flying around about what his plans are. Whatever his decision, I wish him all the luck in the world – I never got a chance to see him dance live (although I had tickets for three of his performances in the coming season!) but the recordings I have seen of him show enormous talent.
But amidst all that drama I had some excitement – my first trip back to the Royal Opera House since the middle of December (when I saw a breathtaking Sleeping Beauty danced by the ever-stunning Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares). I headed in to see Draft Works, a rather unique fixture in the Royal Ballet calendar.
Draft Works encourages dancers from the company (at any level, plus a couple from outside the company) to choreograph new pieces on other members of the company, which are then performed in the Linbury Theatre – the more intimate basement venue in the Opera House. Not only would I be attending the Draft Works performance, but also an Insiders event beforehand. Insiders is the name for ‘young friends’ of the Royal Opera House (to which my parents kindly got me a membership for Christmas) and there was to be a ‘mingling’ event at the ROH shop – with discounted products and a chance to meet some of the Royal Ballet Dancers. It was also a good excuse for a tweet-up with some awesome twitterers!
While at the Insiders event I was lucky enough to get to talk to Thomas Whitehead, a soloist at the Royal Ballet who I’ve enjoyed watching in the past for both his dancing and acting skills (most recently I thought he was great in Enigma Variations as W.M.B.). Tom had choreographed a piece for the evening and would also be performing in a piece by Kristen McNally. It was really inspiring to talk to him and hear a bit about how he had found his first go at choreographing. He’s a really nice guy and I’m honoured he spared the time to have a chat – thank you Tom!
So after a brief introduction by (the newly CBE-ed) Wayne McGregor it was on to the pieces!
First up was “At the River Styx” by Robert Binet (the Royal Ballet choreographic apprentice), danced by Yuhui Choe and Ricardo Cervera. Inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice it was a Pas de Deux with a hint at the story behind it (for example, Cervera constantly looked away from Choe to avoid condemning Eurydice to the underworld). A really nice piece with strong classical roots, it was danced beautifully. For me, it almost begged for a chance to develop and lengthen to really explore the story.
Next was “Feathers in your Head” by Ludovic Ondiviela, danced by Lauren Cuthbertson and Bennet Gartside. Inspired by his real life experience with people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Ondiviela created a surprisingly gritty piece. Cuthbertson and Gartside (my “Golden Tweeters”) were obviously superb, the piece showing off not only their technical, but also their acting prowess. Cuthbertson is one of the strongest actors in the whole company and as soon as the piece started she consumed the role, with a finger tapping tic and sudden changes in character (In a strange sort of way she reminded me of Alice Ripley in Next to Normal on Broadway – a huge compliment). As when I saw him with Tamara Rojo in Asphodel Meadows, Gartside showed how strong a partner he is, catching Cuthbertson with tenderness amidst her violent outbursts, whilst rising to Cuthbertson’s portrayal. A fantastic piece, brilliantly performed, that was one of my highlights of the night.
Next were two male solo pieces – “Gallardo” by Fernando Montaño (First Artist of the Royal Ballet) and “Overtone” by Declan Whitaker (a young trainee at the London Contemporary Dance School). Two very contrasting pieces that I enjoyed for very different reasons. Montaño’s piece was a cheeky, enticing solo suggesting a flirtatious encounter at a bar. Showing his Columbian and Cuban roots he hit some great lines and acted the piece with an almost tongue-in-cheek confidence. Whitaker’s piece was much more serious, and evoked a similar response to me that James Finnemore’s Patriot did at Cloud Dance Festival. It seemed to use his youth as inspiration but developed into a surprisingly mature piece. Certainly a piece pertinent to today’s ‘youth culture’ and a promising start for the young dancer.
Finishing the first half was “Lonesome Gun” by Kristen McNally, danced by Hayley Forskitt, Thomas Whitehead, Jacqueline Clark, Francesca Hayward, Sander Blommaert and Tristan Dyer. Dedicating the piece to her Nan (who recently passed away), McNally once again showcased her intelligent, humourous yet always insightful choreographic voice. Playing on the theme of Westerns she was one of the most confident choreographers of the night, not afraid to do as she pleased. Forskitt and Whitehead in particular really brought the piece alive with an engaging duet section in the middle of the work. A fine addition to her catalogue, I look forward to seeing more of McNally’s work in years to come.
Following the interval was “Within the Hours” by Érico Montes, danced by Camille Bracher, Celisa Diuana, Nathalie Harrison, Francesca Hayward, Pietra Mello-Pittman, Romany Pajdak and Demelza Parish. This piece used new music by Oliver Davies performed live, and the almost film score feel to it complemented Montes’ steps perfectly. With intelligent use of the seven dancers there were moments of interplay and distinction, all gloriously danced by the ladies. From my seat almost dead-center in the theatre I got a great view of some lovely tableaux Montes created with the girls, and I certainly would like to see the piece again.
Following Montes was “i lean & bob” by Thomas Whitehead, danced by Sian Murphy and Ryoichi Hirano. Starting, unconventially, with the dancers in the audience, the pair got some chuckles from the audience as Hirano was overcome by the music and Murphy ran after him in an embarassed frenzy. Emerging on stage in converse and “normal” clothes the two dancers embodied the music, the steps flowing with ease, while retaining a sense that this wasn’t an unnatural thing to do. In this sense it reminded me of Robbin’s NYC: Opus Jazz, and I could almost see the piece as a short film set in “normal” surroundings. I also wonder how much Whitehead’s work with Matthew Bourne (touring with Swan Lake) and Kristen McNally (tonight’s piece and last year’s “Don’t hate the player, hate the game”) helped him add that slight comedic twist. A great debut!
Next was “Grace” by Simon Rice, danced by Piedad Albarracinseiquer, Natalie Corne, Sara Pontessilva and Ivey Wawn. As an ex-Royal Ballet First Soloist I was surprised that Rice’s choreography was so far removed from the classical style. Bookended with silent segments, the piece was headed by the girl in red (I’m afraid I don’t know which dancer it was) who was certainly captivating to watch. Overall, however, this piece didn’t evoke anywhere near as strong a reaction in me like the others, although I could appreciate it’s design.
I was intrigued to see “Into the Woods” by Tamara Rojo, danced by Camille Bracher and José Martín. Her first piece choreographed on other dancers, Rojo had created an intense and smart pas de deux, chronicling what seemed to be an abusive relationship and exploring themes such as stockholm syndrome. Martín’s initial movements seemed tender but took a sinister tone as he got more agitated and there was the realisation that Bracher was tied to the chair on which Martín sat. I felt the rope was a brave and well executed device that later showed the turning of power as Bracher finished the piece by tying Martín to the selfsame chair. I loved the piece and there were a couple of bits that certainly seemed to have Rojo’s signature on them – a jabbing of Bracher’s foot towards Martín’s midriff springs to mind. A confident piece from a world-class dancer, here’s hoping Rojo continues to create in the future.
In the tradition of saving the best till last was “Brandenburg Divertissement” by Valentino Zucchetti, danced by Claire Calvert, Claudia Dean, Yasmine Naghdi, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Alexander Campbell, Tristan Dyer, Kevin Emerton and Dawid Trzensimiech. One of the most ambitious pieces of the night in terms of scale, Zucchetti pulled it off with great aplomb. Staying true to the music (Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3) the choreography was very precise but still glimpses of character shone through (for instance the guys’ entering and watching with amusement as Trzensimiech chased after one of the girls). Danced superbly and with great precision, the mathematician side of me loved the fugue-like structure of certain parts whilst the dancer side of me was in awe of the guys’ jumps and girls’ turns. Zucchetti used the whole space and I could easily have seen the piece scaled up to a larger stage and venue. I wonder if we will get a chance to see his choreographic voice grow like Liam Scarlett’s has (who was in the audience).
So all in all I thoroughly enjoyed my evening – it is always exciting to see fresh choreography, and even more so when you have seen the creators perform and can catch glimpses of their character in the piece. Bravo to choreograpers and dancers alike. If you saw Draft Works this week I’d love to hear your thoughts – what were your favourite pieces? Just pop a comment on this post!
So what about how my ballet is going? Well things are going very well at the moment! I have now learnt the Pas de Déesses with Ballet Bristol – the choreography is really lovely and I’m dancing it with three fantastic dancers. As there are three woman and only one guy, I’ve got to partner all of them in the opening segment with arabesque promenades and assisted grand pas de chats. My variation involves lots of big jumps (and thankfully no double pirouettes!) and back bends – I definitely have to make sure I’m warm before doing it! I’ve also been asked by one of the other dancers to work on the Coppélia Wedding Pas de Deux with her – it’s going to really stretch me, but she’s a fantastic dancer and I’m looking forward to the challenge. On top of all that, it looks like I might be going to a week-long summer intensive in Wales this August! Applications don’t open until March but I’ve spoken with the organisers (checking that I would be able to apply as an ‘older’ dancer) and they seem keen for me to apply. With this as inspiration I’m now dancing 6 days a week – although four of those are studio sessions on my own. As I mentioned to someone on twitter – I know I’ll never be a professional dancer but I just want to push myself to be the best dancer I can be.
So that’s all for now – I’m seeing BalletBoyz: The Talent on Sunday here in Bath, which I’m really excited about, so I’m sure it won’t be long until the next blog post…
Until next time, keep dancing!