The 2012 DaveTriesBallet Awards!

You may remember the DTB Awards last year – a fun way for me to recollect the year and share the highlights. I thought I’d try and make these an annual event and so with great pleasure I give you… The DaveTriesBallet Awards 2012!

PERFORMANCE AWARDS

Favourite On-Stage Couple

WINNER: Lauren Cuthbertson & Federico Bonelli

Cuthbertson and Bonelli in Romeo & Juliet. Photo Copyright - Bill Cooper, ROH.

Shortlist: Alina Cojocaru & Johann Kobborg, Lauren Cuthbertson & Federico Bonelli, Marianela Nuñez & Thiago Soares, Polina Semionova & David Hallberg
Special Mention: Guillaume Côté & Zdenek Konvalina

You can have two world class dancers on stage together, but unless they have chemistry they will never dance a world class pas de deux. After Sergei Polunin quit the Royal Ballet, the hastened partnership of Cuthberson and Bonelli was a revelation: their deep emotional connection and honesty brought something new and fresh to everything they danced together. Not only great technical dancers, their acting skills are superb, as demonstrated in their Romeo & Juliet, which was beyond superlatives.

A special mention has to be given to Côté and Konvalina – who gave a dark, visceral and emotional performance together in Song of a Wayfarer this summer. As an aspiring male dancer, I don’t think I have ever seen such an inspiring performance from two male dancers.

Favourite Female Dancer

JOINT WINNERS: Lauren Cuthbertson & Marianela Nuñez

Nuñez in Apollo and Cuthbertson in Serenade. Photo credits - John Ross and Johan Persson.

Shortlist: Lauren Cuthbertson, Marianela Nuñez, Polina Semionova, Beatriz Stix-Brunell

A really strong category this year, I couldn’t choose between Cuthbertson and Nuñez. Often dancing the same role, they bring out very different qualities in the characters they portray. Cuthbertson was truly perfect in Juliet this year (her acting skills unparalleled not only at the Royal Ballet but across the world) and it is always a joy to see her dance Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Nuñez was beauty personified as Princess Rose in Prince of the Pagodas (her Act I variation had me in tears) and she was, in my eyes, the Swan Queen in the Royal Ballet’s recent run of Swan Lake.

Favourite Male Dancer

WINNER: Federico Bonelli

Federico Bonelli in Romeo & Juliet. Photo Copyright - ROH.

Shortlist: Federico Bonelli, Alex Campbell, Guillaume Côté, Vadim Muntagirov, Dawid Trzensimiech

Seeing as I recently described him as my biggest inspiration, it is perhaps unsurprising that Federico Bonelli is my favourite male dancer this year. He embodies everything I wish to emulate in a male dancer – technique, flair, depth and emotion. His Siegfried was superb, his Salamander Prince was fascinating, and his Romeo was the finest interpretation of the role I have seen.

Favourite New Choreography

WINNER: Sweet Violets (Scarlett)

Cojocaru and Kobborg in Sweet Violets. Photo Credit - Bill Cooper.

Shortlist: Brandenburg Divertissments (Zuchetti), Carbon Life (MacGregor), Labyrinth of Love (Donlon), Sweet Violets (Scarlett), Trespass (Marriott and Wheeldon)

Dame Monica Mason’s wish of leaving the Royal Ballet a legacy of new works in her final season gave mixed results. It is always refreshing to see new choreography however, and the breadth of works shown over the season was impressively wide. The highlight for me was undoubtedly Liam Scarlett’s first foray into narrative ballet, Sweet Violets. A dark and intense piece, Scarlett used his polished partnerwork to tell the tale of the troubled Sickert with great aplomb. I’m still hoping it will reappear in a few years extended to a full-length ballet!

Favourite Dance Company

WINNER: Royal Ballet

Royal Ballet in Jewels (Diamonds). Photo Credit - Bill Cooper.

Shortlist: BalletBoyz, English National Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet School

It will come as no surprise that my pick of best dance company this year is the Royal Ballet. Having seen them perform much more than any other company you may think this is a biased choice but the fact I saw them so many times is simply testament to what a superb company they are. They constantly amaze me with the range of performances they give: from the purely classical Swan Lake to the ultra modern Infra.

Best Cinema Relay

WINNER: Romeo & Juliet (RB)

Cuthbertson and Bonelli in Romeo & Juliet. Photo Credit - Bill Cooper.

Shortlist: La Sylphide (Bolshoi), Nutcracker (RB), Romeo & Juliet (RB), Swan Lake (RB)

I mentioned recently that I have seen a handful of cinema relays this year and overall think they are fantastic – a cheap way to watch world class performances at a local venue. I haven’t been to a “bad” relay yet, but there was only ever going to be one winner: the Royal Ballet’s superb Romeo & Juliet led by Cuthbertson and Bonelli. With brilliant casting throughout (alongside the eponymous roles, Gartside’s Tybalet and Campbell’s Mercutio were particularly fine) this was a defining performance, and one I am thrilled to find out will be released on DVD in the Spring!

WEB AWARDS

Favourite Dance Blog

WINNER: Daniel Dolan

Shortlist: Adult Beginner, Daniel Dolan, Londonballetblog, Pointe til U Drop

Daniel Dolan is a British lad studying at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow. His blog posts give an insight into his training and work ethic, and a glimpse into how his idols’ styles permeate into his dancing. It is great to be able to share his journey and I can’t wait to see what his final year at the Academy has in store for him!

Golden Tweet Award

WINNERS: @DameGrace & @Naomip_86

Short(or, rather, long!)list: @balletboy09, @BalletTeachers, @BangorBalletBoy, @BBB_Mrs, @Bead_109, @Bellafigural, @Bennet76, @bexking, @clouddancefest, @DameGrace, @DanielDolan, @dansesplume, @DiabloBallet, @FedericoUK, @ImpressionDanse, @LondonBallerina, @KOBBORG, @Naomip_86, @nycbstar2b, @theBalletBag, @_TSOARES, @VampireSoup, @YosvaniRamos, @youdancefunny.
Special Mention: #RBLive

This year the Ballet World and Twitter seemed to collide and suddenly there is a huge wealth of amazing dance-related in the Twittosphere. As such, there was no way I could pick a single winner for the Golden Tweet Award and I turned to the power of social media for some help. Asking my followers to suggest names for the shortlist I got a wealth of fantastic accounts which form the shortlist above. A couple of names kept on cropping up though and ended up clear winners. Olivia Cowley (@DameGrace) is a First Artist with the Royal Ballet who gave us a fascinating glimpse into a #dayinthelifeofacorpsballerina earlier this year. @Naomip_86 is a Tokyo-based balletomane who has a great knack for finding the best ballet-bits on the web and shares her great insight into performances she sees all across the world.

A special mention also has to go to #RBLive – the fantastic day following the Royal Ballet through company class, rehearsals and interviews. With #RBLive trending on Twitter I think it was a real demonstration of how large the ballet Twitter-community is and a great chance to see how a professional ballet company works…

Top Performances:



Romeo & Juliet (Cuthbertson/Bonelli, Royal Ballet),
Song of a Wayfarer (Côté/Konvalina, National Ballet of Canada),
Swan Lake (Nuñez/Bonelli, Royal Ballet)

This year I was lucky enough to see three ballet performances that were truly outstanding, both on an emotional and inspirational level. I’ve already waxed lyrical about Cuthbertson/Bonelli dancing MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet: simply a perfect performance of a perfect ballet. In Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer, Côté and Konvalina tapped into the idea of a young man’s destiny stalking him to give a performance that its originators, Nureyev and Bortoluzzi, would surely be proud of. Finally, the unexpected pairing of Nuñez and Bonelli (Cuthbertson was meant to be dancing but was injured) gave a fiery and passionate Swan Lake that was a masterclass in classical ballet. Nuñez’s Odette was delicate yet assured in Act II and IV; her Odile was fierce and fast-footed in Act III – Bonelli’s noble Siegfried didn’t stand a chance!

These three were the pinnacle of a truly fantastic year with a whole host of outstanding performances. Other highlights included:

  • Sweet Violets and Carbon Life (2nd Cast, Royal Ballet) – Although the 1st cast of Sweet Violets was more star-studded, the 2nd cast moved me more, with Gartside’s breakdown in the final tableaux both heartwrenching and shocking. Carbon Life was visually and aurally intense and like nothing I’ve seen at the ROH.
  • Apollo (Muntagirov, ENB) – Tackling Balancine’s signature male role at 22 was a big task for Muntagirov but he spectacularly rose to the challenge proving himself more than capable both in technique and maturity.
  • Swan Lake (Semionova/Hallberg, ABT) – Hallberg’s classical lines and stunning technique always make him a joy to watch. Having never seen Semionova before she blew me away with her control and speed with a particularly explosive Act III
  • Uneven Ground and Grand Défile(Royal Ballet School) – I had my first viewing of the Royal Ballet School this summer with their Main Stage end of year performance. Uneven Ground showcased the graduating boys (and one girl) with Lachlan Monaghan a highlight. The Grand Défile is akin to a balletomane religious experience; it is impossible to describe the rush and excitement it generates.
  • After The Rain (Nuñez/Soares, Royal Opera House Gala) – The Royal Opera House Gala was a very special evening (not least because the Queen was in attendance) and the absolute highlight for me was Nuñez and Soares’ performance of Wheeldon’s After The Rain (set to Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel) which was moving, delicate and beautiful.

Gratitude Award:



Finally, I want to give a big thank you to all of my Teachers over the last year. Every single one has given their time to help me improve my technique and grow as a dancer. I couldn’t be on this journey without their expertise, patience and assistance and for that I am truly grateful.

I also want to give a big thank you to all of you Readers, Tweeters and Facebookers for sharing this journey with me. It really helps when I get messages of encouragement or advice and really spurs me on to keep striving to be a better dancer.

You might have noticed I haven’t included Dance Awards this year – I’ll be disecting my year in ballet in an upcoming blog post. Keep an eye out!

I realised whilst writing this post that my awards are heavily Royal Ballet dominated – whilst unintentional I think it certainly shows my love for the company. Easily being my most-watched company of the year I guess their domination was inevitable, although many other companies I have seen have made it into the shortlists for each award.

What are you choices for the Awards? Do you agree with my choices? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time, keep on dancing!

Live Cinema Relays – Yay or Nay?

Over this last year I’ve been to see 7 cinema relays: two Sleeping Beauties (Royal Ballet & Bolshoi Ballet), an Esmerelda (Bolshoi), a La Sylphide (Boslhoi), a Romeo and Juliet (Royal), a Swan Lake (Royal) and a Nutcracker (Royal). Now the year is coming to a close I thought I’d talk a little about the virtues and pitfalls these relays provide – are they a good thing or not?

The Pro’s…

So what are the benefits of a cinema relay?

I think one of the best bits of a cinema relay is the sheer convenience of them – I can see an internationally renowned ballet company within a ten minute walk of my flat! It’s true that Bath gets the occasional ballet or dance company at its Theatre Royal (Rambert Dance Company and BalletBoyz have both visited recently) and I happily travel to London and Birmingham to see the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, and Birmingham Royal Ballet. However, I’ve never seen the Bolshoi Ballet live (although hopefully that will change when they visit London this summer!) and this is an affordable way which doesn’t require a train ticket to Moscow!

At a more essential level, whilst back home (in rural Northumberland) for Christmas I have seen that the nearest town (with a population of only 8,000) will be showing the Bolshoi’s La Bayadere in January. For a town that would never have a touring ballet company visit, and is 50 miles away from the nearest cities (Edinburgh and Newcastle), this is a great way to allow locals to experience the magic of dance. It is also a way for children at the local ballet schools to see inspirational dancing of the highest quality.

Another benefit of the cinema relays is the added insight they give into the ballets and the performers. Whilst the Bolshoi has the charismatic Katerina Novikova presenting (offering interviews with dancers and directors) the Royal tends to get the Principals to introduce the piece. Both offer you a glimpse “behind the scenes”, whether watching the dancers warm up on stage or an insightful video showing the preparations. For example, the Royal Ballet had some fantastic video showing the corps de ballet and principals preparing for the demanding Swan Lake; you can watch the whole playlist of videos below:

Having multiple cameras spread around an auditorium, cinema relays often let you watch from the best seat in the house. For the large corps de ballet sections you can have a elevated view to see the intricate patterns, but for key emotional moments or impressive Pas de Deuxs you can be right up close to the action. I think this was best demonstrated in the Royal Ballet’s broadcast of Romeo & Juliet last year. It is no secret that I am in love with MacMillan’s masterpiece, and consider it the greatest ballet ever created. I had already seen the cast involved with the relay at the ROH, but found the relay probably more powerful. The scene where Juliet decides to go see the Friar for the sleeping draught was stunning; a close up of Cuthbertson’s face allowed you to see a single tear run down her cheek which would have been missed by most of the auditorium. I am thrilled to say that recently Opus Arte announced that the Cuthbertson/Bonelli Romeo & Juliet will be released on DVD in Spring 2013 – I’ll be first in line to buy one!

Cinema relays are also, generally, reasonably priced. At around £15 for a ticket they are a little pricier than a regular cinema ticket, but are cheaper than opera relays (the Met relays cost £30 a pop at my local cinema). Whilst the ticket is more expensive than the ones I get at the Royal Opera House (usually around £4-8), once you factor in the cost of travel it works out much cheaper (and way cheaper than a flight to Moscow!).

The Con’s…

So it can’t all be good, can it?

One of my biggest problems with cinema relays is an artifact of the benefit of multiple cameras. With a relay, you often have no choice in where your attention goes. Recalling the Romeo & Juliet relay, there is a particular moment in the opening scene where Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are drinking from a jug; Malvolio knocks it as Benvolio drinks and the trio laugh at this little prank. It isn’t a key moment, but one of my favourite parts and the lightheartedness is a great contrast to the tone of the ballet as the story progresses. However, in the cinema the cameras chose to concentrate on the harlots at this point and it was missed entirely – a small detail but something I’d have liked to have seen.

Another big complaint among my twitter followers is the noise at cinema recordings. I haven’t had any trouble with this, but others have spoken of fighting the munch of popcorn, slurp of fizzy drinks, and the adjacent screen’s action movie to hear the relay. One thing that does bother me is that the relaxed atmosphere seems to make it more socially acceptable to talk during the performance, especially during the orchestral overture (although I’ve had people talking during the Act II introduction of Swan Lake at The Met and the ROH too). Personally, I feel the overture is part of the performance, a chance to appreciate the stunning orchestra, and a way to set the mood so don’t talk during it, ever.

I was always worried that the cinema wouldn’t feel ‘special’, but I personally find the ‘magic’ of live ballet comes through well in the relays, albeit slightly diluted, although others disagree. One amusing problem with cinema relays is the awkward question of whether to applaud or not. As the performers will be unable to hear the applause people are unsure if clapping is appropriate, resulting in a half-effort smattering of applause. I’m still unsure what the ‘correct’ protocol is, but I personally tend to applaud great performances: the dancer may not hear, but it is a way to show my appreciation.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. Although cheaper than a trip to the ROH or Bolshoi Theatre, it still isn’t a particularly cheap night out. I invited one of my friends who enjoys opera to come to see La Sylphide, but he declined when he saw the £15 price, saying he would prefer to buy a ballet DVD instead: perhaps what seems cheap to a balletomane isn’t so cheap for someone who is unsure if they will enjoy the performance. There are ways to make it more affordable however: Odeon offers discounts for its Premiére Club members, and the ROH have recently had promotions with Patisserie Valerie and the Telegraph offering “2-for-1″ vouchers.

Verdict…

So, in summary, I think cinema relays are fantastic! They allow a wide audience to see ballets and dancers that are completely new to them, as well as letting them re-experience ones they already know. They are an affordable way to see ballet from the best seats in the house and, whilst sometimes the camera angle might not be exactly where you wish, they offer an unparalleled view of world class dancing. The insights offered in the intervals make it a truly great afternoon/night.

On top of this, you simply cannot deny the growing popularity of these relays. Last season, Romeo & Juliet was the Royal Ballet’s most-watched live relay since their inception (watched by over 16,000 people in 150 cinemas across the UK) and their recent Nutcracker screening was the 2nd most watched film in the UK that day (behind The Hobbit), The Mariinsky are also offering a live 3D Nutcracker this holiday season and there are repeats of the Bolshoi and New York City Ballet versions at various cinemas. I know of at least six companies that are offering, or have offered, live relays over the last couple of years: the Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet, the Mikhailovsky Ballet, New York City Ballet, and Nederlands Dans Theatre. Here’s hoping more join in the future – which companies would you like to see at your local cinema?

Until next time, have a very Merry Christmas and festive Holiday Season – and keep on dancing!

A Competition and ‘Performing’

Saying that I’ve had a rather busy month would be a huge understatement – my PhD supervisor suggested last month that I aim to get my Transfer completed before the Christmas break. This is a mid-PhD assessment to make sure you’re doing enough work and have a clear plan for the remainder of your PhD. For me, this meant writing a 60-page report (well, actually it started as a 105-page report I had to trim down), giving a 45-minute talk (with 15-minute public questions), and a 60-minute viva with two professors questioning me. Pretty scary stuff! Thankfully, I completed this all on Thursday and have (unofficially for the moment) passed! It’s such a relief, and I’ll be celebrating by seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet dance their fantastic production of Cinderella tomorrow.

But this blog isn’t for me to complain about PhD work, thankfully. So what has been happening in my ballet world? Well, I’ve been pretty busy with ballet too! This last month seems to have centered around ‘performing’ in one way or another, so I thought I’d concentrate on that in my post.

University Competition

I’ve mentioned before that I have been dancing with my University Dance Society this term. Weeks of rehearsals, and a bit of drama (people walking out of rehearsals, last minute illness, …) culminated last weekend when we packed on a coach in the freezing cold and headed to the Royal Holloway competition.

My university would be entering all five categories (Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Contemporary and Hip Hop) but I was only dancing in Ballet – which was up first. We were the last group to dance so we had to wait as the other Universities took to the stage. There was 9 of us dancing (8 girls and myself – the only guy in the whole ballet competition) to the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker – hence I ended up dressed as The Nutcracker himself! Taking to the stage in darkness and applause, we took our opening places.

Me in my Nutcracker costume!

The lights rose, the music started, the crowd cheered and we started our 4-minute long piece. Even with a smaller stage than we were expecting, we danced our hearts out and gave everything we had. I tried to be light on my feet for my solo petit allegro section, tried to get that little bit extra lift during my ‘stag leap’ entrance, made sure I was rock solid during my partnering section, and tried to whip out my a la seconde grand pirouettes as fast as possible!

Unlike my past performances, the crowed cheered and whooped their way through the performances – big cheers happening during the most exciting sections: the girls fouettéing whilst I did grand pirouettes; any partnering sections; and the grand finale. This was a new experience to me but helped to keep the adrenaline pumping and ensure I was ‘performing’ at all times.

We only went and bloody won!

I’m not sure I particularly like the competition atmosphere – and I’m not feeling too sad that I won’t be dancing with the university for the next competition. Everyone was perfectly nice and there were some truly amazing dancers there, but there was an underlying atmosphere that wasn’t my cup of tea. To me dance (or rather, ballet) isn’t about competing but more about the act of dancing itself. That being said, I’m happy to say that we won!It was really nice to know that our hard work over the past few months had paid off. :)

On a more personal note, winning meant more than just a trophy. I still struggle quite a bit with confidence in my dancing – I’m always aware that I’ve only been dancing a couple of years, and find it hard sometimes to share a barre or stage with others who have been dancing for years. Knowing that I was part of a group who won a competition gives me a little more confidence that I can’t be too bad and it was nice to get some comments from the judges on our feedback saying how great it was to see a guy in the ballet competition.

Class Photographers

Me suspended mid-air - with pointed feet for once!

Photographers in classes seem to be like buses for me – they come in twos! First up was a photographer in class/rehearsal for the Russian Youth Ballet Company a couple of weeks ago, followed by one in the advanced class I take in Bath.

There’s something a little intimidating about having a photographer in class – but I think there’s also something empowering about them too. They remind you that every class is a performance – that just because you’re not on stage doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be selling yourself to your ‘audience’ in every exercise. It reminds you to lift your chin with confidence, keep that smile beaming, and make sure every step is as beautiful as you can make it.

That being said, having a photographer there also seemed to make my rate of mistakes in class just about quadruple! :)

Here are a couple of pics from the classes…

Photo from the Russian Youth Ballet Company class - don't know why my back knee is bent... Perhaps I was about to do something?!


My favourite picture from all those taken - I've definitely got my 'concentration face' on!

Swan Lake Excitement!

One more thing… For the last few months that I’ve been dancing with the Russian Youth Ballet Company we’ve been learning bits and pieces from Swan Lake Act II. Turns out that we’re going to be putting on a condensed Swan Lake in April! The YBC will be doing the whole of Act II (not condensed at all) and then the Russian Ballet School will be dancing various parts of Act I and III. I was a little shocked to be told that I’ve been picked to be Rothbart! This means I’ll have a solo variation at the start of Act II as well as being involved throughout all of Act II-IV. I am so excited!

On top of this, as I’m now taking classes at the Ballet School, I’ll also be dancing other parts in Act I and III. I don’t know about Act I, but this week I started learning the lead male part for Spanish in Act III. I will still be Rothbart – after introducing Odile to the prince I will dance Spanish. So much fun!

What has really struck me about learning both these parts so far is how important characterisation is within performance. My first attempt at summoning the swans at the start of Act II was immediately stopped by my teachers. They pointed out that my summoning was “too princely” – instead of an upturned palm I needed to make a downward claw to impress how evil I truly am… Similarly, the last time I tried to act ‘Spanish’ (in Basilio’s Don Q variation) I got told that I looked too much like a pirate… I’m learning that little changes can make a big difference to the performance – it can be tough to remember it all whilst dancing hard steps (like using ‘claw hands’ whilst doing pirouettes in attitude devant!) but I’m sure with enough hard work and practice I will get there.

I’m really excited to perform in April. It’ll be tough to dance for so long and including variations but I’m willing to work my butt off to make sure I’m ready. We’ll be doing two shows – a matinee and evening – and I’ve already had quite a few friends say they want to come. It’ll be the first time any of my good friends have seen me dance; I’m already a little nervous!

So that’s all the ‘performing’ I’ve been up to – have you been performing recently? It might have been on stage, in class, or even in your living room – did you learn anything about your dancing in the process?

Until next time, keep on dancing!

P.S. The guy taking pictures in my class in Bath also took a couple of videos… Here’s the class (including me) doing the Adage combination