Ups and Downs…

First off, I have come to realise that my blog post about my trip to Canada and the USA will probably never get written. There’s so much to talk about and I’m currently uber-busy so thought I’d do a quick round-up here:

Canada

  • National Ballet of Canada were Wow!. Saw their triple bill which started with Elite Syncopations (such fun) and ended with Chroma (striking to say the least). But for me the best piece was Song of a Wayfarer danced by Zdenek Konvalina and Guillaume Côté. I’ve never seen such a powerful male Pas de Deux before, danced perfectly and with such emotion. Inspiring! A huge thank you to Katherine for showing me around and some really interesting discussions!
  • Managed to take class in Toronto at Metro Movement (again with the awesome Katherine) before rushing to the airport to head to Halifax, Nova Scotia (Conference No. 1). Didn’t fit any ballet in whilst there (lectures started at 8:15am and finished at 7pm) but managed a couple of runs and did get to meet the lovely @KimiSaysWhat!
  • Headed back to London (Ontario!) to work with a research group for a week and managed to take a great class at Dance Steps London.
  • Brief trip back to Toronto for Conference No. 2 before heading back to London, ON where I took a couple of great classes (including an RAD one!) at Karin Hobby Dance Academy the night before I headed to NYC.

New York City

  • Took nearly 14 hours of ballet class in three days! Took class at Steps, Broadway Dance Center and Joffrey Ballet School (with one of my old teachers). The classes were superb and ranged from Beginner through Advanced Beginner to a couple of Intermediate ones to really stretch me (e.g., from 4th, attitude turn en dehors, plie straight into regular pirouette and finish in arabesque fondu!). Great to take class with one of my old teachers too (she remembered me!) who reminded me to “never stop dancing”.
  • Saw ABT thrice: two Swan Lakes (including Polina Semi-ohmygod-nova) and a Corsaire (worth putting up with the crazy story line just for the Hallberg-Herrera-Simkin Pas de Trois). Also got a chance to meet some lovely tweeters at the Met: @AnneCanHaz, @YouDanceFunny, @Catchip, @BodiesNeverLie and @BalletJones!
  • Met the lovely AdultBeginner and we went on some Cartoon Adventures (plus I got to meet her baby bump- be jealous!).
  • Met the awesome @OJ_Danseur for a few beers. Got a few looks when he tried to give me tips on lifts by demonstrating in the middle of the pub but we didn’t really care. Also, I learnt that drinking four pints after 4.5hrs of class (without dinner) makes me unable to walk in a straight line.
  • Met the amazing @DanielDolan for a coffee who was in NYC with the Bolshoi Summer Intensive. So inspiring to gain a glimpse into his world and got some great tips. Not sure I’ll be taking up his method of getting variations into his muscles memory though: running it through 6 times without a break!
  • Saw Anything Goes on Broadway which was amazing and made me want to learn tap. Also, randomly bumped into @BodiesNeverLie and @artspl.
  • Also got to see so many old friends from when I was at University in New Jersey. Can’t believe it was only a year ago I left, feels like a lifetime!

So that was my whirlwind trip to North America! I’m certain I’ve forgotten a few things, but as I’m sure you can tell it was a rather action-packed trip (massive understatement!).

Well since then I’ve been away to Bremen, Germany for Conference No. 3 (less than 48hrs after landing from NYC) and will be off tomorrow on Conference No. 4 (this time Grenoble, France). In between these though I have had a bit of a rollercoaster week.

First up was a trip to London on Sunday. Heading in (very) early I met some friends for breakfast and then headed to the Royal Opera House to see the Royal Ballet School’s end of year performance on the Main Stage. Featuring students from all years in both the lower and upper schools this would be a jam-packed gala-style event, culminating in the famous Grand Défile.

Uneven Ground by the Royal Ballet School (Photo Credit: Johan Persson)

The first half featured some great pieces (including an Olympic-themed piece) but the highlights for me were Simple Symphony by Alastair Marriott and Uneven Ground by Paul Boyd. Simple Symphony showcased the classical technique of the dancers, with the soloists being unanimously superb. Featuring the graduating guys, Uneven Ground was a piece with a laid back style whilst retaining a grounding in classical technique. The punchline (I don’t want to spoil it) was a pleasant surprise and one dancer which particularly stood out for me was Lachlan Monaghan who seemed to constantly be giving his all. He was the dancer who was “feeling” the dance and “living it” the most.

The second half started with Jiri Kylian’s abstract Un Ballo which was a masterclass in control and restraint whilst allowing emotion to come through. The graduating class handled it with aplomb. John Neumeier’s Yonderling took me completely by surprise. Starting off as a rather sweet piece (including a rather amusing duet between a lovesick boy and the unreciprocating object of his affections) it gradually transmuted into a shockingly moving piece that had me close to tears. The youth of the dancers echoed the innocence that was suddenly lost and the final tableux of the group being circled by a lone dancer was breathtaking.

Grand Defile of the Royal Ballet School (Photo Credit: Johan Persson)

Following this was the strictly classical excerpts from Paquita, allowing Mayara Magri to show us just ehy she will be joining the Royal Ballet next year. Her technique was impeccable, and Lachlan Monaghan also shone in the Pas de Trois – I’m looking forward to seeing him dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet next season. Finishing the performance was the incomparable Grand Défile. As close to a religious experience as a balletomane can get this features each year of the RBS in succession. In their year’s colour of tutu and unitard they dance for a short segment (30sec) before exiting to let the following year take the stage. Once the graduating year appear they dazzle us with a minute of virtuoso dancing (I lost count of the number of double tours one of the guys completed) before suddenly all 200 or so dancers from the school flood the stage in perfect formation. In a matter of mere seconds they are perfectly lined up: girls stage right, gents stage left, graduating year in centre working out to the youngest by the wings. The roar of applause and the thought of the potential on that stage make for something quite special indeed. If you ever get the chance to see the Grand Défile you simply must, and I defy you not to have a tear in your eye by the end of it.

I also got a chance to see the Titian2012 exhibition at the National Gallery with the lovely @BeccaTweet and @Antoinetta13. The paintings themselves were hugely inspirational and the clips of the choreography and stage set-up (by the awesome @Bennet76 of the Royal Ballet) were amazing.

Inspired by the amazing performances, Monday was my own chance to perform. The ROH were beaming Titian2012 to 20 or so outdoor screens across the country and the Bristol one had asked Ballet Bristol to be the ‘warm-up act’. Now it’s not every day you get to dance as a lead up to the Royal Ballet is it?! I would be dancing Pas des Déesses and we would open our set.

After frantically trying to make sure I remembered the choreography (it was about 2 months since I last danced it!) we headed onto stage and took our opening positions. As the music started I noticed it was rather crackly but tried to ignore that and concentrated on promenading the first girl in arabesque. As I got to the second girl the music was barely distinguishable. As such, my partner thought we were behind the music, I thought we were ahead, and it all resulted in me virtually throwing her onto arabesque. Not the smoothest thing in the world. As I turned to my third partner the music suddenly cut.

What to do? The four of us were stood in pose waiting for something to happen. A minute or so passed and finally we were told that the music was unsalvageable and so we exited the stage to let the next dancer do their piece. Argh! The rest of the first set went well, with all our dancers looking their usual stunning selves. As the Royal Ballet live-stream started with Machina we had a ‘group meeting’ to discuss the second set (to be danced in the first interval). It was decided to try and fit Pas des Déesses in this second set (one of the dancers had the music on her iPod) so that everyone got the chance to dance. Luckily none of us had changed out of costume so we headed back out as Machina was finishing.

Unfortunately there had been a little bit of drizzle during Machina so the outdoor stage was a little damp. As we started things were going perfectly – I managed to nail the first three promenades with the girls nicely on their legs (at least it felt like that!). As I finished the fourth promenade I extended my right leg to tendu derriére. All of a sudden my back foot slipped and I thought I was going down, taking my partner with me! Luckily I managed to brace my left leg and recover, hopefully without anyone (except my partner) realising!

My favourite picture from Monday -Ellie, Fi, Holly and I in Pas de Deesses (taken by Melanie from Ballet Bristol). Surprised myself by actually being nicely turned out!

My variation went really well, the windy conditions giving me a bit of extra balonne in my grand jetés en tournant – even getting a mini round of applause after my variation! The coda section is very simple: two posé arabesques into grand jetés en tournant. Except after the first one instead of heading downstage I turned upstage! Don’t know why I did this but it meant a quick change to the choreo to make sure I didn’t jump off the stage into the water fountain behind us! Luckily no-one off the stage noticed the ‘adapted’ choreography so I think I got away with it… All in all it was a great experience and I think the whole of Ballet Bristol did themselves proud. We got to stay around to watch the second half of Trespass and Diana and Actaeon. There was a few photographers there so check out the end of this post for some pics!

After such a high on Monday I couldn’t wait for my RAD class on Tuesday, even if it was the last one of term. I arrived early (as always), got changed and started warming up. The receptionist came over and asked to have a word so I headed through. She then told me that the school was working towards a show in March and as such I would probably have to leave the school for 6 months or so and go somewhere else. I was shocked. She explained that classes would be involving practicing for the show (which I obviously wasn’t going to be involved in) so I wouldn’t be able to attend them. I still couldn’t take this in and she pointed out that she needed to speak with the teacher about it too.

I was surprisingly hurt by this. Not so much at the fact I wasn’t involved in the show but more that I’d been working towards my RAD Intermediate for the last 9 months or so and suddenly I was being dropped. It felt like a rejection, from somewhere I’d worked really hard to get in to. So I headed into class with a bit of a heavy heart. Luckily the teacher had an awesome class planned: entirely consisting of free work in the centre, including some manly stuff for me (2 soutenous, lame duck to tour en l’air finishing to the knee!). As class finished I went over to thank her for this year and say how sorry I was I wouldn’t be taking class with her for a long time. She hadn’t heard anything about this and I explained what the receptionist had said. She thought it a bit odd and couldn’t see why I wouldn’t be able to take some form of class. Reassuring me she’s have a word with the receptionist she also pointed out I could have privates with her (but unfortunately private classes with an ex-Royal Ballet Principal don’t quite fit into a graduate student budget!).

As I left I had another word with the receptionist, asking her when I might know for sure what was happening. When she said “sometime in September” I pointed out that I would need much more time if I was to find somewhere else to work on my RAD Intermediate. That was how we left it and I just hope I will be able to keep dancing there after all. My teacher is so good, and I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months.

So I was feeling very down about this and drowned my sorrows in bowls of muesli (on which I managed to lose half a filling!). I wasn’t really in the mood for Ballet Bristol rehearsal on Wednesday but headed over, reassured that ballet always gets me out of my funks (even if this time it had gotten me into one). Working briefly on my choreo before the first class we got the barres out and set off. Getting a few compliments from the teacher I was feeling much better by the end of the first class. Between classes two of my fellow dancers, Carrie and Rose, got me to close my eyes and stand in the centre of the studio. Knowing I would be in France for my birthday next week they had decided I should celebrate it a week early. You can see the result in the picture…

I opened my eyes to be faced with this... How could I do anything but smile and laugh?!

Opening my eyes I felt ridiculous but couldn’t help but grin. The balloons lasted until the end of pliés (they were making my port de bras rather ‘interesting’!) and the skirt until I was rehearsing my variation (cabrioles to the knee didn’t really work with it!). The socks, however, stayed on throughout and I’m planning on rocking them as warm-ups to class in the future :) As we headed for post-barre bar I was shocked to find they had also got me some presents! Lots of Dave-friendly (i.e. no chocolate etc) treats (including homemade cheese muffins!), a “I’d love to be a Ballerina” book and a “design your own costumes” ballerina set! I couldn’t stop laughing at it all and it was the perfect remedy to my crappy Tuesday. They made me feel really special and I love them all! They rock!

My amazing birthday presents from the Ballet Bristol lot (the cheese muffins were too good so I ate half before remembering to take a picture!)

So that’s been my up and down rollercoaster of a week. Today I’m in London to take a couple of classes at Danceworks (Elem and Beg Ballet) and then am heading to the ROH to see the final Titian2012. It’s Dame Monica Mason’s last performance as Director of the Royal Ballet so it’s sure to be an emotional night! Oh, and next week (once I’m back from France) it’s the Ballet Cymru Summer Intensive! I’m a mixture of nerves and excitement right now (more nerves than anything else!)…

Until next time, keep on dancing!

More Photos of the performance…

The opening pose for Pas de Deesses with Ellie, Fi, Holly and myself (taken my Melanie from Ballet Bristol)

Me trying to be an attentive partner for Ellie (just before my foot slipped!). Taken by James Barke, official photographer at The Royal Ballet Metamorphosis:Titian 2012 BP Summer Screening on the BBC Big Screen, Millennium Square, Bristol.

Holly and myself watching on as Ellie dances her variation. Taken by James Barke, official photographer at The Royal Ballet Metamorphosis:Titian 2012 BP Summer Screening on the BBC Big Screen, Millennium Square, Bristol.

Promotional shot of Ellie, Fi and myself taken after the performance. Taken by James Barke, official photographer at The Royal Ballet Metamorphosis:Titian 2012 BP Summer Screening on the BBC Big Screen, Millennium Square, Bristol.

Let’s hear it for the Corps!

It can be easy to wax lyrical about your favourite Pas de Deux or Variation: the stunning lifts, showstopping leaps or lightning fast turns. But what about the corps de ballet pieces? The intricate spacings, perfectly timed movements and near-military precision. When you’re performing a solo variation you can pass a mistake off as individual interpretation of the choreography. But if you make a mistake in a corps piece then everyone knows and that is one of the reasons I find them so impressive and awe-inspiring. Corps de ballet literally means “the body of the ballet” and I think it is important to not forget them!

So I was thinking about my favourite corps de ballet pieces and thought I’d ask my followers on Twitter and Facebook if they agreed. I’ll mention my three favourite corps sections then some of the choices my readers gave.

No. 3: Giselle – “Myrtha and the Wilis”

Towards the start of Act II in Giselle we see Myrtha (the Queen of the Wilis) summon her subjects. The uniformity in the Wilis and their floating bourees give them their ethereal quality, but later their chugged arabesques reveal their more sinister side. There is a point later in the Act where they advance on Hilarion (just before his death). Although they simply walk forwards the wall of identical figures is hugely intimidating and it is, for me, one of the most powerful moments in the ballet. You suddenly realise the true power of these scorned women.

Here’s a video of Myrtha summoning the Wilis from the 1977 ABT Giselle (with Makarova and Baryshnikov). Martine Van Hamel stars as Myrtha and the corps de ballet of ABT are the Wilis.

No. 2: Swan Lake – Act II

One of the most famous images of the corps de ballet is the flock of swans in Swan Lake. Respendent in white tutus they float on stage in perfect formation. With graceful synchronised movements they impress the idea that they look after their own above all else. There was a moment in the ABT Swan Lake last week (I promise I’ll be posting about my NYC trip soon!) where Siegfried approaches Odette and, at once, all the swans recoil suggesting just how deeply linked they all are. Perhaps they are in fact simply projections of Odette?

Here is a video of the Entrance of the Swans from the Royal Swedish Ballet. Of particular note at 1:39 there is the really powerful image of the swans in formation, their wings moving in perfect synchronicity.

But not all swans are female! I have written about seeingMatthew Bourne’s Swan Lake whilst in New York and in this piece the corps of swans impress not by their grace, but rather by their physicality and strength. Here is a clip of the Park Scene (the equivalent of Act II). In particular there is a similar wedge formation at 3:05. What I do like about this piece in particular is that each swan is very individual. Even whilst in formation they express their characters through their movements.

Tied No. 1: Serenade – Opening and La Bayadere – Entrance of the Shades

Once again, I have cheated in my choices. There is no way I can separate these two truly stunning moments for the Corps de Ballet.

The opening of Balanchine’s Serenade is one of the most magical moments in the whole of ballet. When the curtains lifts to reveal the ballerinas looking towards the moon it is perfection. When I first saw this performed by NYCB (my first ‘proper’ ballet ) it was like I had suddenly seen the (moon)light. It was almost overwhelming the power that such a simple scene conveyed throughout the theatre. Since then I have yearned for a London-based company to perform this piece (take not O’Hare and Rojo!) so I can experience this thrill and exultation once more. Alas, the Balanchine trust are strict about videos of his work on the web but here is a picture of the magical moment.

The Entrance of the Shades in La Bayadere‘s Third Act is another truly special moment in the ballet canon. As Solor falls into an opium-induced sleep a seemingly endless string of Shades (32 in all) appear from the rear of the stage, pronouncing the upcoming appearance of the Shade that is his beloved Nikiya. Although the movements are simple the power of the full corps performing in unison is near unparalleled and speaks for itself; here is the Royal Ballet Corps de Dallet from the Rojo/Acosta/Nuñez DVD.

Other choices:

So what did my readers think? Well I got a huge range of replies and here are a few highlights.

I realised whilst compiling the list above that most of my choices involved just female dancers. I don’t think this was a conscious choice, but rather the result of ballet companies (and, hence, ballet productions) being sometimes ‘top-heavy’ in favour of female dancers over men. So I asked what was the best corps piece for the guys and the result was nearly unanimous: Spartacus!

Choreographed to music by Aram Khachaturian, the ballet Follows the exploits of the leader of a slave uprising against the Romans. A staple of many Russian companies, one of the most famous versions is that of the Bolshoi, choreographed by Yury Grigorovich. Whilst the eponymous role has some show-stopping moments, the storyline calls for a huge corps of men to be both slaves and soldiers. The result is some awesomely cool (and, I imagine, immensely fun) choreography for the guys in the company. Here is a clip from the Bolshoi’s Spartacus:

Another piece mentioned for the guys was Forsythe’s Artifact (and the condensed Artifact Suite) and Limon’s Unsung. Unfortunately I’ve never seen either piece but will definitely keep an eye out for any upcoming performances! And the top-heaviness of certain ballets is sometimes a good thing: when ENB performed Giselle, Eagling was concious of how little the men in his company were involved in the piece. The result was the all-male Men Y Men (that I saw a year ago as part of ENB’s Black and White Bill) which I thought was great!

What else did my readers suggest? Here is just a small selection:

  • Many of MacMillan’s short works: The Rite of Spring, Requiem and Concerto
  • Stravinsky’s Les Noces
  • Act III of Petipa’s Raymonda
  • Petipa’s Pacquita
  • The Dance of the Knights from MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet
  • The entrance of the Snowflakes in The Nutcracker
  • Balanchine’s Agon and Stars and Stripes

So what do you think? Did your favourite moment for the corps make the list? Let me know your favourites (and why you love them) in the comments section below!

Until next time, keep on dancing!

Discovering your Dancer-Type

I’m currently coming to the end of my trip to North America (much more about that in the next post!) and am in New York, one of the spiritual homes of dance. Whilst here, I’ve been trying to take full advantage of having so much dance on tap. I’ve so far seen ABT dance Swan Lake twice (Semionova/Hallberg and Kent/Gomes – both amazing performances), bought new ballet clothes from Capezio and Yumiko and taken a few classes. And by “a few”, I mean 12 hours of class in the last 3 days!

During my 3 hour Advanced Beginner/Intermediate double class yesterday I came to a sudden realisation. I’m a Grand Allegro-er.

What does that mean? Well it seems talking to most dancers they have a favourite discipline within ballet (although I guess the idea applies to other dance forms as well). Generally this favourite matches whatever the dancer is best at. They, broadly, fit into four categories:

  • The Adagio-ers. These are the guys and gals who are quite happy taking 16 counts to extend their leg up to their ear. They make each movement flow into one another seamlessly and although they are executing slow, controlled movements they never seem to stop still. Roles perfect for Adagio-ers tend to be heartbreaking, like Odette in Swan Lake or Des Grieux in Manon.
  • The Pirouette-ers. With turning being probably my weakest discipline, these are my arch nemeses. They think nothing of hitting quadruples turning in every position imaginable: passé, coupé, attitude, arabesque, a la seconde and more. They are like a coiled up spring ready to unwind straight into a string of turns, finishing with control. Roles involving huge numbers of turns seem to often be mischevious or fairy-like, think of Basilio/Kitri in Don Quixote or Oberon in The Dream.
  • The Petit Allegro-ers. Seemingly weightless, these dancers flit from foot to foot executing beats inches from the floor and coping with sharp changes of direction with ease. The jumps may be small but they are dazzlingly fast, with perfectly pointed feet throughout. Petite Allegro-ers are perfect for Bournonville roles, like James in La Sylphide or for the girls there’s Lise from Ashton’s La Fille mal Gardée.
  • The Grand Allegro-ers. This lot view the long diagonal of the studio as a personal challenge, aiming to cover the whole distance (and leap out of the door if necessary). Everything is big and juicy: the preparation, arms, legs and the jumps. Looking for that elusive ballonne, they can seem suspended in the air when they find it. Grand allegro is usually featured heavily in danseur noble roles, like Albrecht in Giselle. For girls there is always The Ballerina in The Bright Stream; pretending to be a man means she gets plenty of big leaps!

Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. A good dancer should be accomplished in all four disciplines, and there is a lot of overlap between them all. But generally people will have a favourite, especially in class where the disciplines are separated into different exercises.

Do you just want to fly through the air like Sergei Polunin here? Then you might be a Grand Allegro-er! (Photo credit: The Guardian)

This week I’ve realised that I am a Grand Allegro-er (or least a Grand Allegro-er in training!). This is partly because I’m pretty bad at the other three, but I also love the feeling of really flying through the air. Give me a big tour jeté/grand jeté en tournant over some turns any day! My ‘back-up’ is probably adagio, but the fact I can barely get my legs to 90º means I struggle to get really nice lines. Most of the time my petit allegro results in tangled feet and my pirouettes? Well the less said about them the better! So all in all, Grand Allegro is definitely my favourite.

Do you have a favourite discipline in ballet? Or have I missed a category in my dancer-types? And do you enjoy watching the same stuff you enjoy dancing? (I know I do!). Let me know in the comments box below!

Until next time, keep dancing!