Cinderella – performance time!

I still can’t quite believe it. Last weekend, I danced in the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company’s production of Cinderella at Stockport Plaza. Not only did I get the chance to perform in front of hundreds of people to raise money for a fantastic charity, but I also got to share the stage with two of the country’s greatest dancers: Elena Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas. Continue reading

Cinderella – three days to go!

This is going to be a quick blog post – written in a coffee break between PhD work (I’m “writing up” my thesis at the moment – lots of work!).

I can’t believe it, but I’ll be performing in Cinderella on Sunday! It’s suddenly appeared out of nowhere – it seems like yesterday we were just learning which roles we’d be playing (for me: Dance Teacher in Act I and King in Act II). Continue reading

A Gala in the Sunshine

This Saturday I performed at a local Gala for a charity’s 60th birthday. The charity had got a local stately house to open up its grounds and were celebrating by having a day filled with arts and crafts stalls, picnics and live entertainment. As it turns out, both of the local groups I dance with had been asked to perform, and I would be dancing with both on the day – with only 20 minutes break in between!

With the adult group I’d be performing three pieces – Pas de Deesses (a Pas de Quatre), a selection from the Precious Stones Suite in Sleeping Beauty (a variation and a short closing segment) and the male variation from the Pas de Trois in Swan Lake. With the youth ballet company I’m in I’d be performing five pieces in total: Act III Spanish from Swan Lake, the pirate character dance from Le Corsaire, the waltz from Cinderella, a new contemporary piece, and the most exciting/scary piece of all: the Adage from the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux!

Whilst all the pieces with the adult group I had performed before (even if the variation from the Pas de Trois had been learnt in a rather hurried fashion), four of the pieces with the youth ballet company were new to me.

The pirate character dance is a really fun dance, where I even got a pair of pistols to wield! I was dancing with one of the girls from the youth ballet company, along with six girls from the school. Although technically not the most difficult piece (apart from a few grand saute de basques to the knee) it involved a lot of running around and jumping! Turns out pirates, or at least balletic ones, were an athletic bunch! Here’s the music for the dance to give you a feel for it:

The waltz from Cinderella was a big group piece and, as the only male dancer, I had a little solo string of saut de basques to the knee, followed by some pirouettes and then a bit of partnering (some nice simple little lifts with a couple of the girls) before a final pose. The contemporary was a new piece our contemporary teacher had created on us to the most beautiful piece of music: Quintett N.1 by Dustin O’Halloran. The dance ended up being Cunningham-based (an artifact of being a youth ballet company I guess) and really lovely. There was a recurring movement which was, to me, akin to an emotional shock and made the piece quite cathartic to dance.

So the biggest piece for me to perform was the Adage from the Corsaire Pas de Deux. I’d be dancing with Ellie, a girl from the youth ballet company who is a beautiful dancer who is off to vocational school next year. Because we could only start after Swan Lake was over, and because the youth ballet company only meets every 2-3 weeks, we only had three rehearsal sessions before the performance. Because of this, we added an extra hour-long rehearsal with my awesome teacher on the day of the performance (just before I had to go dance with the adult group!).

The Adage is, without question, the hardest piece I’ve ever performed. There isn’t much solo-work, but there is a lot of partnering, and some quite tricky bits! So as well as getting my assisted pirouettes up to scratch, I had an attitude promenade, arabesque carry/lift, penchee promenade, turning grande jete catch, assisted grand jete, assisted grande saute de basque and a gateway turn to contend with! Luckily me and Ellie ‘synced’ with our partnering fairly quickly, and whilst the first rehearsal was a bit tricky (it felt like I was “putting on the brakes” in pirouettes – entirely my fault) the later ones went really well.

By the final rehearsal we had all the steps learnt and were working on the polish and characterisation. As the slave I had to be deferential to Ellie’s Medora, but I also had to personally work on making all my movements more expansive (a problem I always have).

There were a couple of problems once we arrived at the venue: most significantly the fact that it was 31C and bright sunshine! As all of my costumes for both groups involved multiple layers of tights and tunics (made out of lovely thick material) this meant that I spent most of my day very very sweaty and didn’t even get a tan out of it! On a more serious note, it meant I had to be really careful about dehydration – I had a headache most of the day and even after drinking 3+ litres of water I didn’t need the toilet… not a good sign!

The stage itself was a small raised platform. It was rather small which meant I had to be a bit careful about jumping off the stage (seriously!). It was also black, which meant it absorbed all of the heat from the sun, meaning that we couldn’t put down the marley floor without risking it melting! In fact, the heat coming through my shoes whilst standing on it was quite uncomfortable. It wasn’t actually too bad to dance on, not too slippy, but we had to be careful not to trip over or land on any of the joins of the various platforms.

The performances themselves went pretty well. The first two pieces with the adult group went without a hitch (except for nearly kicking one of my partners in Pas de Deesses because of the small stage!). I then took my place for the variation from Pas de Trois – starting in croise attitude downstage with the music meant to start during my first entrelace. Unfortunately, when the music started it was the wrong piece! Turns out the wrong piece of music had been added to the CD and there wasn’t much I could do except for sneak off the stage whilst the music continued…

The youth ballet company was next and I honestly don’t think any of the pieces could have gone any better! No mistakes, I managed to stay on the small stage (although the Cinderella string of 3 saute de basques to the knee were a tight squeeze!), and perhaps most importantly I really enjoyed every dance. In fact, I think I enjoyed the Corsaire Adage the most; I reckon it’s my best performance I’ve ever given.

I’m rather excited and nervous (after checking it was okay with my partner Ellie) to post a video of the Adage on here. It’s the first video of me performing I’ve posted and I hope you enjoy – any tips would be welcome, but be nice!

And with that I’ll sign off this (unintentionally wordy) blog post. In the coming weeks I’ve got my birthday, followed by two weeks of Summer School with my Russian teachers in Bristol (including some guest teaching from Elena Glurdjidze, Senior Principal at ENB!) – I’ll make sure I post an update about it. What are your dancing plans for this summer? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, keep on dancing!




P.S. If you want to see the pro’s dance the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, here’s a rather gorgeous version by Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares (on a slightly larger stage….!):

Crazy Gala Times…

Life has been pretty crazy recently (hence the lack of blogging – sorry!) but last week it got even crazier.

I dance with a group of adults (there’s about 20 of us, including 2 other guys) near where I live, and for the past few months we’ve been preparing to put on a gala: an evening of ballet for friends and family. Most of the performances we do are for small audiences (at hospitals or care homes) so it was really exciting that we’d have a bigger crowd. I was to perform in 3 pieces: the “Precious Stones” Pas de Cinq suite from Sleeping Beauty, my opening Rothbart variation from Swan Lake, and the Wheat Pas de Deux from Coppelia. I’ve posted some videos below of the variation in Precious Stones and the Wheat Pas de Deux so you can see what I was getting myself into!

So last Wednesday was the final class/rehearsal before the show. We had a slightly speedy class for around an hour to warm ourselves up then we planned to run through the whole gala on stage for the first time.

However, as we were running through the final grand allegro exercise there was a sudden crash as one of the dancers fell to the floor. Whilst doing the exercise he had landed badly on his ankle, and a physio who dances with us said they thought he had ruptured his achilles. It was horrible to see and everyone was a bit in shock – one minute he was happily dancing and the next in agony and unable to walk. We got his ankle stabilised and he called a friend (luckily a surgeon!) to come and pick him up. Although he had indeed tore his Achilles I can happily say that the surgery to reattach it (on Friday) went very well and hopefully he will have a speedy recovery!

Whilst he was lying on the floor with his ankle aloft, the dancer turned to me and said, matter of factly, that I could sub in for him in the Swan Lake Pas de Trois. Wait. What?! It turned out he wasn’t just in shock and that he indeed meant it, and the two other dancers in the piece agreed. I’m not one to back down from a challenge so agreed to do it – what had I gotten myself in to?

Suddenly it was all hands on deck – we had 1 hour of rehearsal left before getting kicked out of the theatre. Whilst the others ran through bits of the show on the stage, me and my two partners went into the corridor to learn the piece. Thankfully, I’ve danced with both of the other dancers in the Pas de Trois before, and get on really well with them, so we just dove straight in. We walked through the opening adagio segment (the longest bit) a couple of times and tried to get it in my head (along with some scribbled notes to remind me what goes where). We ran through it a couple of times in the corridor with music before getting one chance to go through it on stage to see spacing – it felt surprisingly ‘secure’ in my head but we didn’t have any time to run through the coda.

That night there was lots of frantic messages between the three of us, trying to organise a rehearsal and updating each other on how the injured dancer was doing. Needless to say I didn’t sleep particularly well with all that choreography going around my head! We managed to find a studio that we could all get to (we live about 50 miles away from each other) for the Friday morning for two hours – I just had to learn all the choreography by then! Thankfully we were working off a YouTube video that I could watch and learn from – ABT’s version with Cornejo, Reyes and Cornejo. The girls had pointed out that if I was learning the adagio and coda I may as well(!) learn the variation too so I worked my way through that too. Usually I would have booked the studio at Uni to practice in, but seeing as they had demolished it (for a rebuild) two days earlier that wasn’t possible!

Heading to the rehearsal on Friday morning I felt like I just about knew the adagio and kind of knew the variation, but was finding it tricky getting the coda to ‘stick’ – I kept getting the sections muddled up. Although we worked (really) hard in that two hour rehearsal it was possibly the most fun I’ve had in a ballet studio. We all worked hard but also decided that we really just needed to “enjoy it” – there wasn’t any pressure to get it perfect, but if we didn’t enjoy it that the audience certainly wouldn’t. By the end of the two hours I was feeling much better about the piece – not confident, but not quite so clueless.

On the day of the performance we had morning class before a complete dress rehearsal. Unfortunately one of the other Pas de Trois dancers was teaching in the morning so we couldn’t run it during dress, although I got a shot at my variation and my other two pieces (I wasn’t doing Rothbart anymore). This was followed by a nervous hour or two waiting for the audience and my other partner to arrive. Luckily she arrived about quarter of an hour before the doors opened so we got to practice a few bits and pieces on stage with them en pointe (we had rehearsed in flats on Friday to save their feet). In particular we ran through pirouettes: I haven’t had much experience with assisted pirouettes and find them pretty tricky (I often feel like I’m “putting on the handbrakes”) – and the coda had loads of them! My two partners were awesome though and I got a feel for how they both turned.

Then all of a sudden it was time to perform! First up was Sleeping Beauty to open the show. It felt pretty good, not my cleanest run of the piece but I managed to not mess up, and my double pirouette to the knee went smoothly (unlike in the dress when I ended up falling into the wing!). One thing I did notice during the piece was that the injured dancer had managed to make the performance (in leg cast) and was sitting in the front row – great to see him there, but definitely added to the nerves for the Pas de Trois!

The Pas de Trois was closing the first half and, following a group hug, we took our places upstage left and waited for the music to kick in. The next 10 minutes were a blur, but I enjoyed every second! The adagio went pretty smoothly and as the first dancer started her variation I tried to get my breath back and went over my variation in my head. I really like the variation and, for some strange reason, think I prefer it and know it better than the ‘Gold’ variation from Precious Stones I had been working on for a couple of months. I guess it plays to my strengths – lots of big jumps! It went pretty great on stage – even though I started the entrechat quatres early (I guess I don’t jump as high as Herman Cornejo!) so ended up doing 2 sets of 8 of them! I had also swapped the final manege for a diagonal of “tombe, pas de bouree, sous-sous, tour en l’air” and managed to brave a double for the final one! Recovering in the wings we only had the coda to get through now – not the trickiest bit in terms of steps, but I found it easy to get it muddled up in my head. Thankfully I made it through unscathed (even remembering a stupid soutenou I had forgotten in all the rehearsal runs!) and the pirouettes were pretty good: we got a nice round of applause midway through for our string of doubles and triples, and even though the final turn was a bit dodgy we managed to recover to the final pose nicely.

We had done it! As we took our bows I think my grin could have powered a small village – such an amazing feeling! The Pas de Trois is undoubtedly the hardest piece I’ve ever performed on stage and my legs and lungs were burning by the end, but it didn’t matter. Whilst I could never expect to be as good as the injured dancer (ex-Scottish Ballet) would have been, looking over to see him clapping the hardest out of the audience I knew I hadn’t done too badly.

No time to ponder on the piece though, after an all-too-brief interval the gala restarted and I got ready for the Wheat Pas de Deux (with one of the girls from the Pas de Trois as Swanhilda and myself as Franz) which was closing the performance. This was the piece I was probably most comfortable with but, ironically, was probably the one I was least pleased about on the day. It didn’t go badly, just not as well as we usually do it – maybe it was just tiredness creeping in. It didn’t really matter though – I had enjoyed every second of the performance and it felt amazing to take the final curtain call with everyone else.

So that was probably the craziest performance I’ve ever done! I’ve got another performance coming up on the 13th July – a charity gala day at a local stately home. I’ll actually be performing with two groups: the Russian Youth Ballet Company and the adult group. I’ll not be doing anything new with the adult group (some bits from Sleeping Beauty and the variation from the Pas de Trois) but am doing lots of new stuff with the YBC. I’m reprising Act III Spanish from Swan Lake (with my partner from the show) and then have learnt the Dance of the Pirates from Le Corsaire, the Waltz from Cinderella, and a new contemporary piece created for us to Dustin O’Halloran’s “Quintett N. 1″ (a gorgeous piece of music). Most terrifyingly however, is the fact I’ll be dancing the adagio from the Corsaire Pas de Deux. I’m lucky to have an amazing partner to do it with, but it’s still pushing me (and my partnering skills) to the limit. Here’s Maria Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin showing how it should be done!

I’m off to America though in the meantime – I’m presenting a paper at a big conference in Boston followed by a few days in New York seeing friends. Needless to say I’ll be taking plenty of ballet classes whilst I’m out there! When I get back there’s another conference (here in Bath) that I’ll be presenting a paper at before the gala. Then I’m hoping to be able to do at least a week of the Summer Intensive run by my Russian Ballet teachers – it all depends how work is going though.

After this summer though I’m going to have to cut back on my ballet for a bit. My PhD has ramped up over the last few months (for good reasons though – we’ve been getting research published) and I don’t think I’ll be able to last much longer juggling ballet and academic work! I’ll still try to take class as often as I can, but I’m definitely going to have to cut down a little – maybe down to a couple of hours a week. Add to this that I’m in the final stages of sorting out a three month internship at a research company in Canada next spring (yay!) and I’ve just got a bit too much on my plate! Don’t worry though, I’ll still be blogging – just perhaps a little more sporadically…

Until next time, keep on dancing!

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P.S. Some of you will know that I’ve been a Student Ambassador for the Royal Opera House for the last year. A few weeks ago at the final session of the season I was told that I’d been selected for one of a pair of week-long internships at the Royal Opera House in September! I don’t know which department I’ll be working in yet (hopefully Digital Development, Outreach or Education) but it’ll be an awesome chance to work at my dream workplace – where else can you walk out of your office and see some of the top dancers in the world rehearsing?!

Rothbart!

It’s all over. Last Saturday I danced Rothbart in Swan Lake for two performances and I’m still on cloud nine from it. Here’s a round up of the last few weeks:

3 weeks to go

With less than a month to go, rehearsals were in full swing. Alongside two class/rehearsals during the week, Saturdays now contained long rehearsals with the ballet school (Act I Scene I and Acts II-III) and Sundays were rehearsals with the youth ballet company (Act I Scene II). I’d finally learnt all my sections:

  • Act I Scene II (Owl Rothbart): opening variation, confrontation with Siegfried and Odette and Coda
  • Act II (Man Rothbart): Entrance with Odile, lead Spanish, a couple of bits in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, mime and exit at the end of the scene
  • Act III (Owl Rothbart): Entrance and capture of Odette, confrontation with Odette and Siegfried, final fight with Siegfried and my (delightfully dramatic) death.

I finally got my hands on my cape for Act II which turned out to be a bit more stressful than I thought. When I enter with Odile I present her to the queen and leave her to seduce Siegfried whilst I quickly whip off my cape and immediately start the Spanish dance. Unfortunately on my first attempt in a rehearsal I completely failed to undo the cape, resulting in me having to awkwardly lift it over my head and headdress/crown-thingy and run to make the start of Spanish… Oops!

We also had a photographer come to one of the youth ballet company class/rehearsals to take some promotional pictures for the show. Rather than in costume like the last ones, these were action shots during class and there were a few of me that I’ve put in the little gallery below. I’m quite pleased with them, especially my grand assemblé, but it pointed out that I’ve still got loads to work on! All the photos were taken by John Hudson LRPS (www.jahphotography.com).

1 week to go

A week before the performance was a the Easter break and I still hadn’t met the dancer playing Odette. Along with the guy playing Siegfried, she was staying in Bristol for the week leading up to the show and so my teachers suggested I come along to daily class/rehearsal with them – I jumped at the opportunity!

So every day I would turn up at a little dance studio outside Bristol for anywhere between 2 and 5 hours of rehearsals at a time. There were only 8 of us: my two teachers (both ex-principals), the two guest dancers, three pre-professional students (from Elmhurst/Royal Ballet School) and me. Needless to say I felt a little out of place but I tried to make the absolute most of it. Each class went along at blistering pace and pushed me harder than ever before: one of the most amusing moments involved my attempt at an exercise involving grand pirouettes switching from a la seconde to devant and then through to attitude derriere (I wasn’t too successful!). I could feel myself improving each day though, and it was so inspiring to take class with such amazing dancers. I think my happiest moment came on the final day of class when my teacher had the guys doing pas de bourée, chassé, tour en l’air across the floor and much to everyone’s surprise (not least of all my own!) I managed three double tours en l’air! They weren’t the cleanest tours ever, but I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, my teacher now won’t accept single tours in classes anymore!

The second part of these classes was lots of rehearsing. The guest dancers had only met once before and everyone needed to work on partnering and spacing. It was amazing the progress in just a week though – and it was such a pleasure to watch the professionals rehearsing their parts. It was good to get to grips (literally) with the partnering sections and much of the week my teacher had me working on the characterisation. Obviously Rothbart is quite a distinct character and he wanted me to make sure every movement conveyed this. I lost track of the number of times I got told I needed to stride out more, take more time, and make every movement more deliberate. It certainly helped, and I definitely felt my dancing improved hugely over the week. I alo got some great tips on partnering – shifting my hand position according to which jump I was assisting, using my plié more, etc.

1 day to go

With one day to go, my mum arrived to stay with me and watch the performance. She’s never seen me dance (or seen a ballet whatsoever) so it meant a lot to me that she came down and was really excited for to see what I’d been working on for the last few months. I left her shopping in Bath on the Friday though as I headed for the dress rehearsal.

This was our first chance to see the size of the stage, have a complete run through and space everything out. The stage was ever-so-slightly smaller than our rehearsal space so we had a few minor collisions, but otherwise things went pretty well. The only thing left to do was head home and get a good night’s sleep ready for Saturday…

The Big Day!

All of a sudden it was time. Six months of hard work was to culminate in two performances and I was a bag of nerves.

Arriving at the theatre 2 hours before curtain, we ran through a couple of the more crowded bits on stage to ensure people didn’t run into each other. My teachers reminded me to just mark everything and definitely not to jump as I needed to save my energy (by the time the day was over I’d be very grateful!).

Heading down to the changing rooms I got into my Act I/III costume. My teacher came over and worked on my stage makeup – he had danced Rothbart in Russia so was recreating what he used to have. Standing for about 15 minutes whilst he worked on it, I had no idea what it was going to look like – I got a bit of a shock! I’ve put a picture of it below along with some of the stage before the performance. Reckon I look evil enough?!

So how were the performances? Pretty amazing! The start of Act I Scene II had me crouched in a red spotlight on a dark stage, with smoke blowing across the stage – couldn’t have been more dramatic! The variation went without a hitch (even the nasty en dedan attitude derrière pirouette) and all the bits with Odette/Siegfried went well.

Then it was a run downstairs to get changed for Act II whilst the audience enjoyed wine and cake (totally unfair!). My Act II entrance was so much fun (a chance to look smug and disdainful with Odile) and this was followed immediately by Spanish. I think this was my favourite dance in the show as I knew it well enough that I could simply enjoy every second. The audiences also seemed to enjoy it as me and my partner got some nice cheers at the end of it! Then it was standing around in character during the other national dances before the Black Swan Pas de Deux. Whilst I didn’t have too much actual dancing in this (except for a couple of small segments) there was plenty of acting to remember: gestures to Odile, hiding Odette and directing Siegfried. This was followed by me tricking Siegfried into swearing his love for Odile (including a silent evil laugh!) and running off stage.

Then was my really quick change (no interval!) back into the Owl costume for Act III. After Odette tells the swans what has happened I appear and remind her who is in charge (lots of partnering) and Siegfried appears. A quick breather in the wings and then it was time for the finale: a fight to the death with Siegfried. It’s kind of strange but I can’t remember this section from either performance. I guess the music and character swept me away and it’s all a bit of a blur until I’m lying on the ground with a wing ripped off pretending to be dead!

Finally, the curtain calls were amazing – I got my own bow just before the lead couple and I got a mixture of applause and pantomime booing. Was kind of awesome just to soak in the applause. It was even more special knowing that my mum and a load of my friends were in the audience. Most of my university friends had never seen a ballet before and they all really enjoyed it. It meant a lot to me that so many of my friends had made the effort to come and watch and share my performance and even more so that my mum did. I was also lucky enough to get some wine from my Spanish partner and some flowers from a friend to say congratulations.

Here’s a few pics that my mum managed to snap during the performance:

After both performances (with only about half an hour between them!) I was absolutely shattered. Making sure I thanked my teachers just one more time and promising to keep in touch with the guest dancers, I finally drove back home to talk through the performance with my mum, get some well earned sleep and then drive her to the airport the next day.

What’s Next?

So now it’s all over. I can’t believe it to be honest! I’ve still got a few performances coming up in the next few months. Ballet Bristol (the adult group I dance with) are doing a summer gala in June which I’m dancing quite a bit in: Coppélia Wheat Pas de Deux (as Franz), Sleeping Beauty Jewels suite (as “Gold”), and another variation (either Franz Wedding Pas de Deux from Coppélia or my Rothbart opening variation). On top of this, there is a gala nearby for the Sue Ryder 60th Anniversary (a national charity) and both of the groups I dance in will be performing! I’m not sure what I’ll be dancing (I think the youth ballet company will be doing the “Danse des Forbans” from Le Corsaire).

Sorry for the long post but hope you enjoyed reading! Have you been performing recently? How did it go?

Until next time, keep on dancing!

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DaveTriesBallet’s Guide To Seeing A Ballet (Updated!)

I recently hosted a “Ballet… Not What You Think!” screening of free ballet at my University to try and dispel a few ballet myths. Coincidentally, this was on the same day as the Royal Opera House hosted a live debate entitled Are opera and ballet elitist?. This prompted me to look back at my post about seeing a ballet for the first time and update a few things…

I first watched a ‘proper’ Ballet nearly three years ago. I’m not ashamed to admit I was kind of scared. Don’t get me wrong, I was also really excited, but there was also something slightly intimidating about the whole experience. Is this elitism? I don’t think so, and none of the attendees at my ballet screening thought so either. I think instead it is more about the unknown – and hopefully this post can help other people in the same situation I was.

I now feel a lot more comfortable going to see a performance; I still get (very) excited but am no longer intimidated by the idea of heading to the Royal Opera House or The Met. Hopefully after seeing your first ballet you’ll realise there’s nothing to be scared of!

So where to start? Well first off, I need to correct common misconceptions: going to see a Ballet is not only for the posh, doesn’t have to be expensive and isn’t all about fluffy pink ballerinas looking pretty! Now those are out of the way, let’s get a little more practical.

What to see?

It can be really daunting to know what on earth to pick to see when you don’t know much about ballet. Do you choose a classic or a modern piece? A full length ballet or a mixed bill of shorter works? I asked my readers on Twitter and Facebook to help and here are their answers:

My readers' suggestions (click to enlarge)

As you can see there are many differing opinions because, guess what? Different people like different things! Just like any other art form, there will be styles of Ballet you enjoy, and others you don’t but half the fun is in finding out what your personal taste is. At my ballet screening I showed two quite contrasting works: MacMillan’s Concerto and McGregor’s Infra. It was fascinating to see how people reacted to both works in different manners.

Mixed bills are a great way to experience Ballet for the first time – they usually consist of three short (around 30 minutes each) pieces split up by intervals. Although there is usually an over-arching theme to the evening (it might be works by a single choreographer or relating to a certain subject) you will usually end up seeing three very different and distinct pieces. The short time length and multiple intervals let you digest what you have seen and if something wasn’t to your liking you don’t have to sit through 3 hours of it!

Seeing a full length ballet can be magical – the music, the costumes, the sets, the narrative and, of course, the dancing! Whether the classic Swan Lake, the Chrsitmas-sy Nutcracker, the mildly depressing Romeo & Juliet or the emotional roller coaster that is Giselle you cannot help but get swept up in the story and sheer spectacle. Many people worry about following the story but be reassured that you’re not going to be confused: most ballets have a clear storyline and you can always read the programme notes in the interval.

Alina Cojocaru as Giselle. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

So after all that, what should you pick? That’s completely up to you. My only rule is that you should pick something that looks interesting to you. It could be the storyline, the costumes or a dancer you’ve seen on YouTube – but there is no point going to watch something you don’t really want to see!

How to watch?

A lot of people worry about how to watch ballet and are put off by thinking they need to watch in a certain ‘way’. This isn’t the case! Whenever people ask me how to watch a ballet I just tell them to “sit back and enjoy”.

People wonder if you have to pay attention to certain dancers or should only look at their feet or faces. In truth, you should pay attention to whatever grabs your attention. Everyone on stage is performing for your enjoyment so sit back and enjoy it :) In fact, if you get swept away by the music and get distracted from the dancing, that’s completely fine too!

Where to sit?

Okay, so you’ve decided what to see; now how/where do you buy tickets? It is a complete misconception that tickets are unaffordable and out of reach from anyone earning under a six figure salary. I can go see the Royal Ballet for £3 – that’s less than a pint of beer in some pubs!

If you are a student or under 25 it is well worth checking if there are offers running. A lot of the larger companies do student rush tickets: “day of” tickets sold to students at greatly reduced prices (between £10-20/$15-30). These are often for the best unsold seats in the house and as such it’s often luck whether you get a good seat or not. I even once got a top price ticket at New York City Ballet for only $25! The Royal Opera House also has a great Student Standby scheme which offers £10 standby tickets to certain performances alongside four designated “Student Amphi” performances where the entire amphitheatre is reserved for students at discounted prices!

What if you’re not a student? Well there is nothing wrong with sitting in the “nose-bleed” seats at the top of a theatre! You may not be close enough to see the dancers facial expressions (though opera glasses/binoculars can help) but you gain a new perspective on the piece. For a lot of non-narrative pieces this can be a boon.

View from the back of the 4th Ring at NYCB (Andrea Mohin/The New York Times)

Another option is sitting to the side of the auditorium. These are often “restricted view”, meaning you can’t see the far corners of the stage, but are highly discounted. Don’t be afraid to ask someone at the box office their thoughts on the seat; they probably know if the restricted view will greatly affect the piece or not. Often most of the action for a ballet is done centre stage so this might not be a huge issue.

Finally, there are often standing room tickets sold (sometimes on the day of the performance). Although standing for a couple of hours doesn’t sound fun, I usually find the ballet is absorbing enough to not notice. Depending on the venue, ushers may let you sit in unoccupied seats after half an hour or so, but this is in no way guaranteed!

There are usually a huge range of prices for ballet tickets which makes them really accessible. A ticket to see Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a Premier League will cost you £46 upwards. A ticket to see the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House will cost you £3 upwards (and at certain performances the top price is £37).

What to wear?

People fret about what to wear to a ballet – thinking they need to wear a tux or evening dress. I’ve only worn a tux to one ballet event – the Royal Opera House Fall Gala where it was the suggested dress code. In general I would recommend going for “smart-casual” and whatever that means to you.

In general, I normally wear smart trousers, smart brown shoes, and a shirt. I’ve usually been to a Ballet class in the city during the day so often have a bag with me, but I always leave this at the coat check. Maybe some of my female readers could suggest appropriate wear for the ladies reading this? Most girls I go with tend to wear a summer dress or blouse/trousers etc (but I’m not an expert on female fashion!).

What rules of “Balletiquette” are there?

People get hung up about whether there are particular rules of etiquette for going to see ballet. There are no set list of things to do/not do – just use your common sense! For example: be on time, turn off your mobile, don’t take photos, save lengthy discussions with your neighbour for the interval, don’t eat in the auditorium, be quiet as soon as the orchestra starts playing and don’t leave as soon as the dancing finishes.

Darcey Bussell giving a curtain call

If there is a live orchestra you should applaud when the conductor appears. When else should you applaud? That’s a tricky question and I got differing opinions when I asked people their thoughts. You should definitely clap any time a dancer bows but you can also clap at the end of a particularly impressive sequence of steps, or when a principal appears for the first time. If in doubt, you can always just follow what everyone else is doing!

You’ll probably also hear shouts of “Bravo”, “Brava”, or “Bravi” during the applause. These are Italian words to show appreciation for a dancer’s performance. Technically Bravo is for male performers, Brava is for female performers and Bravi is for more than one performer. However, you’ll probably hear Bravo more than anything else, regardless of the dancers gender. I’ve got to admit that I’m still not brave enough to “Bravo” (no pun intended!), it’s completely optional.

What if there’s no ballet near me?

So you don’t live in London or New York? Maybe there isn’t a `local’ ballet company or you only get a couple of touring companies nearby each year. All is not lost: a lot of the big ballet companies have started live cinema relays of a handful of productions each season.

These relays can be a great informal way to see a ballet and a chance to see world class ballet at your local cinema. It also has a sense of familiarity – everyone has been to the cinema before so it is an unintimidating setting.

Just go for it!

So that’s pretty much it for my guide to seeing a Ballet except to say “just go for it!”. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what you see, what you wear or where you sit. Just go, enjoy the dancing and bask in the experience. It’s great!

Oh, and if you’re still intimidated by the idea of going to see a full Ballet – watch some DVD’s first! There are some excellent recordings of the world’s best dancers dancing the great Ballets and it can be an informal way to get familiar with a piece before going to see it live.

If you’re a Ballet regular then please share any tips you have in the comments, or let us know what your first Ballet was and how you found it. And if you are going to see a Ballet for the first time, please let me know what it was like!

Until next time, keep dancing!

Becoming Rothbart

My life is currently fully immersed in Swan Lake. As I mentioned in my Review of the Year, the Russian Youth Ballet Company and Ballet School I dance with are putting on Swan Lake (based mainly off the Mariinsky version).

Just before Christmas I was rather shocked, and very pleased, to find out that I’d been cast as Rothbart – the evil owl-sorcerer antagonist. For those unfamiliar with the Swan Lake story, Rothbart is the man/owl/thing responsible for cursing the girls to life as swans. He tricks Siegfried to declaring his love to his daughter, Odile, rather than Siegfired’s soul-mate, Odile. The finale varies from production to production, but in the Mariinsky version (and hence, ours too) the lovers reunite and end up killing Rothbart. One of the great things about the Kirov/Mariinsky version is that Rothbart is fleshed out to a meaty male role, with a variation opening Act II and generally more dancing than other productions.

Initially I thought we were only doing Act II with the Youth Ballet Company, but soon realised that we’d be doing a full production. We’re not quite doing every dance, but we come pretty darn close. I think we’re skipping a couple of dances in Act I, but otherwise it’s pretty much all there. This has meant an awful lot of choreography for me to learn! There’s a good chance I’m also going to have to be the Tutor in Act I as well (my teacher was going to play him but thinks he may need to be behind the scenes instead), so have been learning that part too. This will mean a very quick change though… eek!

To give you an idea of some of my Rothbart choreography, here’s a clip of a Mariinsky Rothbart at the start of Act II and Act IV:

My biggest bit of choreography comes right at the start of Act II. As the familiar oboe theme starts, I am crouched in the centre of the stage. As the strings crescendo I suddenly look up, staring straight at the audience, before advancing with my wings held high. This leads into a variation that covers the stage in leaps and turns. I learnt the bulk of the variation relatively quickly but it has taken quite a long time to make it ‘evil’. For example, there is a sequence en manege of grand jetes, soutenous and grand sautes de basque. This isn’t the easiest of combinations (for me at least) but manageable. Except that I have to do every soutenou and saute de basque with my arms held aloft in an out-turned ‘wing’ position. First time I tried this I completely messed up my feet and nearly ended up on the floor!

My next big bit of choreography is the Spanish divertissment in Act III. I’m still going to be ‘in character’ as Rothbart but I’m also going to be dancing this with one of the girls as a duet. Preceeding this is my big entrance with Odile, gatecrashing the Queen’s ball and introducing my bewitched daughter to the Prince. It’s surprisingly tricky (at least to me) to act so arrogant and cocky – not my usual nature! The entrance also includes a little ballet mime (and more in my Act IV departure), something completely new to me. It’s amazing what can be expressed through mime (although not, it seems enough for Siegfried to ask Odile her name…) and it is almost a type of dance in its own means. If you don’t know anything about mime check out this great video from the Royal Ballet of Principals Nunez and Soares demonstrating a key scene from Act II:

The Spanish dance itself is a whole lot of fun! It’s been tricky to get out of the ‘ballet mindset’ and taken a little while to learn the whole piece (mainly as we’ve been learning it in small segments after classes) but it has finally taken shape. My main criticism from my teacher is that I need to be “bigger” – all my movements more pronounced and outstretched. Again, a little out of my comfort zone but I’m loving it.

Finally, Act IV is proving very tricky to remember. I have to do a lot of bits and pieces (not least of all, I have to die!) and it’s difficult to keep them all in order in my head. Thanks to some advice from the awesome Bennet Gartside (Royal Ballet First Soloist who played Rothbart in their recent run of Swan Lake) I’m trying to associate the movements with the music and it is slowly sinking in. I don’t think it helps that I’m rehearsing without Siegfriend and Odette (we are getting guest Principals in to dance those roles) so am often fighting with thin air. There’s also the added stress of doing some partnerwork with the guest Principal who is dancing Odette – though thankfully my teacher has taken out the arabesque press lift!

Now onto the important things: costumes! A couple of weeks ago we had a short break in the middle of our 5-hour Russian Youth Ballet Company rehearsal and our teachers pulled out a bag of tutus and unitards. Whilst the girls got excited over their (rather lovely) white tutus, I got handed my Rothbart costume. It is EPIC. We’re talking feathers, wings, a crown, the lot! Doing a run-through of Act II taught me, swiftly, how swelteringly hot the costume is, but it still looks awesome. Afterwards a photographer took some promotional shots and my teachers put up the first one up a week ago:

The promotional picture for our Swan Lake! (That's me trying to look evil in the background...)

The promotional picture for our Swan Lake! (That's me trying to look evil in the background...)

Then just last night we had a costume fitting and run through for Act III. I got handed my Rothbart/Spanish top – one of those weird tops for danseurs that barely come down to your belly button. It’s jet black but with plenty of fake gold and ruby-themed bling. I then got handed a bag of ballet-boots and told to find a pair that fit. I eventually found a very cool knee-high pair that fit like a glove and started to practice in them. I noticed that they had a name written on the inside of the top cuff, the previous owner. I nearly fainted when I read it: JONATHAN COPE. That’s right. The Jonathan Cope: Royal Ballet Principal, epicly awesome danseur, and partner to such stars as Darcey Bussell, Sylvie Guillem and Tamara Rojo. Turns out my teachers bought a few pairs of boots from the Royal Ballet and Cope just happened to fit. Needless to say, I’m using them as inspiration to work even harder to prepare for the show.

So what’s left to do? Well I’ve still got more choreography to learn. Rothbart has a small part in the Black Swan Pas de Deux (directing Odile on how to seduce Siegfried) that I haven’t looked at yet, and there’s a couple of minor bits in Act II where I have to look menancingly over my swans. I’m also a bit nervous about finding out what my make-up will be – Mariinsky Rothbart’s tend to have elaborately evil make-up…

I’m still working on fleshing out my character too. Rothbart may not be as deep a character as the leads, but there is still a fair amount of choice in my portrayal of him. Watching various recordings of Swan Lake (as if I needed an excuse!) there is a surprising difference in the role: some are more overtly – and flamboyantly – evil, whilst others are subtly sinister and maleficent. I think I’m going to go for the latter but we’ll have to see what my teachers want.

And to top all this off, I’m going to have to try and keep my stage fright under control. I always get nervous before dancing in front of an audience, and I’ve never had such a big role before. I tend to go off and sit by myself before performing (listening to something non-ballet related) and think I’ll try to do this – especially between the two performances (3pm and 7pm). I’ll also just try and use my nerves and adrenaline to push me that bit harder and leap that bit higher.

Whatever happens, I’ll make sure to keep you all up to date with how preparations are going. Are any of you taking part in a performance soon? How are your preparations going?

Until next time, keep on dancing!

Signature

Cranko’s Onegin

I recently saw Cranko’s Onegin for the first time and discovered what a superb ballet it is. Seeing it twice in one day with the Royal Ballet I was prompted to immediately purchase the original Pushkin verse-novel (as translated by Stanley Mitchell in the Penguin Classics volume) which I quickly devoured – a truly fascinating work that I urge anyone to read. After seeing the ballet for a third time (on a Student Amphi night at the ROH) I began to think more deeply about how Cranko had interpreted the text.

I will first start by saying that I think Cranko created a ballet of the highest order with Onegin, and paved the way for more emotionally dramatic works by MacMillan and others. What I find most interesting though, is where Cranko has taken artistic licence and diverted from the text somewhat – and how this changes our interpretation of the characters and their situation.

Early on in Pushkin’s work we get the sense that Onegin is not an unkind man, just perhaps at times misunderstood. Forced from his exciting city life to a “Country place where Eugene suffered” (II 1). This is reinforced in his reaction to Tatiana’s letter. Unlike Cranko’s Onegin’s overt anger at the party, Pushkin’s Onegin puts Tatiana down gently whilst out in the woods. Although initially giving a seemingly clichéed reply along the lines of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, Onegin bares his soul to Tatiana explaining he cannot love her like she needs, he is unsuited for marriage, and that he loves her “like an elder brother” (IV 16).

“If I had wanted life restricted
To living in domestic bliss;

I’d doubtless choose no other bride
Than you to cherish at my side.” (IV 13)

Pushkin comes immediately to Onegin’s defence, stating “[Onegin's] soul showed here in noble light” (IV 18). This is a sharp contrast to Cranko’s harsh tearing of Tatiana’s letter in front of her face in the midst of the party. This added drama certainly adds much to the scene, although at the expense of Onegin’s character.

The cause of Onegin’s inappropriate flirting with Olga is less clear. It seems to simply be a culmination of many factors including mundane boredom – something portrayed in both Pushkin and Cranko. With a much more formal lead up to the duel (including a letter setting out terms) Pushkin also forgoes much detail into Onegin’s reaction to his murder of Lensky. Cranko, however, opens the a small window in Onegin’s soul as he breaks down following his henious deed.

Cojocaru and Reilly in Onegin (Photo credit:  Tristram Kenton for The Guardian)

Cojocaru and Reilly in Onegin (Photo credit: Tristram Kenton for The Guardian)

It could be argued that Tatiana is the main focus of both the novel and ballet. It is her journey that is the catalyst to Onegin’s, and her final rejection of Onegin gives the story it’s shocking and climactic conclusion. In the books Tatiana is much more of an outsider than Cranko’s interpretation, to the extent that: “She seemed inside her family // A stranger, an anomaly.” (II 25).

Two key scenes for Tatiana are combined and altered in Cranko’s interpretation: the letter and dream scenes. Cranko creates a memorable scene full with a gripping and, if not overtly sexual then certainly fantasy-stricken, pas de deux. In the original Pushkin, Tatiana’s letter is much more naive and heartbreaking. She even goes as far as to tell him “My fate is sealed, // I place it now in your safekeeping, // I beg of you, become my shield” (III Tatiana’s Letter To Onegin). The dream scene appears much later (after Onegin’s rejection) and is far from sexual – a symbolic foreshadowing of events to come, replete with such oddities as “A witch with bearded goat cross-bred” (V 16) – I think most would agree that Cranko was wise with this omission!

The essence of Tatiana and her journey is unchanged between the verse-novel and ballet however. I think it can be summed up no better than the epigraph for Chapter III:

“Elle était fille, elle était amoureuse — Malfilâtre” (III)
[She was a girl, she was in love]

Onegin, both as a book and a ballet, would be nothing without the final scene and Tatiana’s rejection. Gremin, talking to Onegin, reveals Tatiana’s new identity: “‘Wait, I’ll present you, when they end.’ // ‘But who is she?’ ‘My wife, dear friend.'” (VIII 17). This prompts Onegin to write a letter to Tatiana (in the book there are multiple letters). Mirroring Tatiana’s near-pleading letter, Onegin finishes “My life depends on your decision // and I surrender to my fate.” (VIII Onegin’s Letter To Tatiana) and in the ballet falls to the floor at Tatiana’s feet.

Cranko embelishes Tatiana’s response in his shattering final Pas de Deux, allowing her more temptation then the text perhaps suggests. He also leaves her alone at the close, rather than Onegin in the novel (about to be found by Gremin). By opening and closing with Tatiana, he has completely reversed the position of Pushkin, more evidence that Cranko wished for the story to be Tatiana’s journey rather than Onegin’s (and in the process has made Tatiana more human and Onegin less so). Even with these alterations, Tatiana’s final reaction remains constant in both forms. Here is a closing segment from Pushkin’s verse, followed by Alina Cojocaru and Johann Kobborg in the final pas de deux:

“Your heart is honest and I prize it:
And there resides in it true pride
With candid honour, side by side
I love you (why should I disguise it?),
But I am someone else’s wife,
To him I shall be true for life.” 
(VIII 47)

The character I feel Cranko perfectly captured, unaltered, is the poet Lensky. In his elegiac variation before the duel Cranko gives Lensky’s final poem life:

“When daybreak comes with rays ascending
And sparkling day dispels the gloom,
Then I, perhaps – I’ll be descending
Into the mystery of the tomb,” 
(VI 22)

I think all else that I need say about this can be conveyed simply by watching this masterful variation, danced here by Heymann of POB:

As an amusing closing remark, Pushkin includes a verse in Chapter I which describes Onegin attending a ballet in his youth: “Looks at the stage, then turns away – // And yawns, exclaiming with dismay: // “The whole damn lot there nees replacing” (I 21). An obvious omission for Cranko, but I do wonder if he was tempted to include it?

In conclusion, I think Cranko made some very clever choices in his slight manipulation of Pushkin’s original text. These serve to raise the drama when danced and work to great effect. I’m also intrigued to see how Tchaikovsky himself interpreted Onegin in his opera Eugene Onegin next month (performed at the Royal Opera House). I’ve heard great things and will be intrigued to see how it differs from the ballet.

Have you seen Onegin and read the verse-novel? What did you think of Cranko’s interpretation?

Until next time, keep dancing!


You can still catch Onegin at the Royal Opera House until the 8th February 2013. Tchaikovsky’s opera, Eugene Onegin is on from 4th to 20th February 2013 and will be screened live to cinemas on the 20th February 2013.


Stephen Fry recently released a free download of an audiobook of the original Pushkin novel. Go grab a copy!

Reflecting on 2012

This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for my ballet journey, but thankfully there have been a lot more highs than there have been lows. It was only whilst talking to a childhood friend over Christmas that I started to grasp how much has happened over the last twelve months, and how it has shaped my dancing.

Spring

As the new year opened, I was settling in to my new flat, PhD, and life in Bath. I had been lucky enough to find a great RAD class in Bath (Intermediate level with an ex-Royal Ballet Principal teaching) and had joined Ballet Bristol, a local adult repertoire group, although I hadn’t started learning any repertoire yet.

After a successful gala in December (so successful I couldn’t even get a ticket!) it was time for everyone to start learning new repertoire at Ballet Bristol, and that included me! The first piece I learnt was a fun Pas de Quatre, Pas des Déesses, which I would dance with three of the ladies in BB. This meant I had to do some basic partner work in the main section (promenades and assisted pas de chats) and had my own little variation (involving lotsof entrelacés!).

Me and my three gorgeous partners in my first performance of Pas des Déesses

After a few months practice I had my first ever performance with BB – a charity gig at the local hospital’s Serious Brain Injury rehab unit. Although the room was a little smaller than we were used to (and had a pillar in the middle!) it was great to perform in front of an audience, and the patients and their family seemed to really enjoy it! This would be the first of a few charity performances throughout the year, and every single one was rewarding and fun.

The next big ballet adventure was a fantastic day of dance in London which included a BalletBoyz workshop with their Ballet Master at Sadlers’ Wells. Not only was this a chance to dance in such hallowed studios, but also a chance to really work on my technique and get some tips. With an emphasis on bringing out the masculinity of movements and, more importantly, truly performing everything we did, it was a fantastic opportunity. I seriously hope they repeat the workshop in 2013!

Summer

My summer started with a bit of a rollercoaster all to do with my classes in Bath. A film crew were coming to Bath to shoot a new TV 2-part drama (with a cast including Rupert Everett, John Hannah and Natalia Wörner!) in which one of the characters auditions to dance Giselle with a ballet company. The auditions were being shot in the gorgeous Assembly Rooms in Bath and all the choreography was by my teacher and one of her old dancing partners from the Royal Ballet. As it would be a bit weird to have an empty studio for auditions they needed a few “ballet extras” to be other auditionees warming up and they picked a few of us from the dance school. As such, I got to spend a day being paid for hanging around in ballet gear and chilling on set with some amazing actors (who were all lovely) – pretty good if you ask me! The film hasn’t been released in the UK and US yet but was shown on German TV over Christmas, so you could see part one and part two with German dubbing online (although I think the videos have been taken down now). You can spot me around 25 minutes into the first part and dotted in a few other scenes :)

After this fun I was a bit shocked to be taken aside by one of the receptionists before the last class of term. She told me they would be starting rehearsals for their March school show when thet came back in September. I hadn’t expected them to necessarily include me in the show (I was nearly ten years older than some students in my class) but was surprised to be told that they wanted me to “take a break” from class until March. I was a little hurt that after 9 months of hard work I would suddenly be taking a massive step back in terms of my RAD teaching. They later told me in August that I could come back to class until they started rehearsals proper, but got a call on the day of the first class back to say that they would be starting straight away. According to the receptionist, the ballet piece would be “girly girly” and none of the boys in my class (there were two others, both amazing dancers) would be involved – something I’m really quite disappointed about.

My favourite pic from the Big Screen Performance. Surprised myself by actually being nicely turned out!

After all that ballet turmoil I also had my PhD work to do, and in the process was sent to Canada for three weeks in July, followed by a (free!) trip to NYC staying with a friend for five days on my way back. Simply being on a different continent was not enough to stop me on my ballet journey – I took class in Toronto and London (the one in Ontario, not England) and saw the National Ballet of Canada (including one of my top three performances ever – Song of a Wayfarer). New York is kind of a Mecca for the dance world and (now I’m a little further on in my training than when I left) I made full use of it! I took 14 hours of class in three days, saw ABT three times over, saw one of my old teachers, saw loads of awesome tweeps and fell in love with tap dancing thanks to Anything Goes.

Back in the UK I had another performance with Ballet Bristol, and this one was rather special. We would be the warm-up and interval act for the BP Big Screen of the Royal Ballet in Titian: Metamorphosis! I’d be dancing Pas des Dessées and after surviving a technical hitch and a wet slippy floor we had a ball – definitely one of my more memorable performances!

Promotional shot of Ellie, Fi and myself taken after the performance.

It’s hard to pick an absolute highlight of my year, but I’ve got a feeling my week at Ballet Cymru would top the list. The chance to spend every day getting taught by amazing dancers and learning new repertoire was fantastic and I tried to make the most of it. It was certainly hard work but it did convince me that in another life I would have loved to dance for a living! I also got to share a flat with some fantastic pre-professional dancers who I made really good friends with and were all willing to share tips and tricks. I got to see one of my flatmates, who is studying at Elmhurst, perform in Cinderella with Birmingham Royal Ballet recently – amazing to see him on stage rocking it! The week ended with a performance for friends and family which was so much fun – although by the end of dancing two pas de deux pieces, the Mazurkas from Coppélia, part of Franz’s Act III variation from Coppélia, and a contemporary piece I was absolutely knackered!

Autumn

Autumn started with some new repertoire at Ballet Bristol, preparing for our Gala show (originally December 2012 but now hopefully March 2013). I started working on the Jewel Fairies from Sleeping Beauty, with two partnering sections and the Gold variation to learn. I worked on the Wheat Pas de Deux from Coppélia which has been a lot of fun – tricky partnering but a joy to dance, especially with my awesome partner Laura! Finally, I’m going to be working on the Act III Wedding Pas de Deux from Coppélia and a new, more contemporary, Pas de Deux in the next few months – all very exciting!

I was thrilled to attend the first ever #UKBalletTweepMeet – a chance for a few of us twitterers to meet up and take a class together. The fantastic Karis from EverybodyBallet put us through our paces in a great 90 minute class and this was followed by lots of ballet-chat – it’s all about “post-barre bar”! I’m definitely looking forward to attending more of these in the future :)

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

After all the furore at my ballet school in Bath there was a silver lining. Knowing I’d be losing a class for at least six months (I still haven’t decided if I want to go back after March – my teacher is amazing and lovely, but I don’t like the way the school has treat me) I emailed a few other local(ish) ballet schools to see if they had space for a 25 year old guy. Contacting a Russian Ballet School I got a reply asking whether I’d be interested in auditioning for their Russian Youth Ballet Company. It didn’t take long for me to reply saying I’d love to! The audition was a little nervewracking (4 hours of class and rehearsal knowing you’re being watched is intense!) but I was thrilled to get in, and have been loving it ever since. With fortnightly rehearsals the girls have been working on Act II Swan Lake whilst the guys have been learning some cool variations. Starting with two variations for Rothbart from the Kirov Swan Lake we’ve now also gone through Basilio’s variation from Don Quixote and the Pas D’esclave variation from Le Corsaire – I can’t get enough of it!

Winter

They say things get better with age, and that was certainly true about 2012 for me. In the final couple of months I had a jam packed, exciting time full of ballet opportunities.

Me in my Nutcracker costume for the competition with the Uni!

I was honoured to be selected as a Royal Opera House Student Ambassador. This means I get to promote the Royal Opera House (and Ballet/Opera in general) at my University and I also get the chance to shape how the ROH outreaches to students in the future. I’ve already had the chance to see the Viscera triple bill with the other student ambassadors (even walking past Liam Scarlett backstage before the performance!) and will be heading in on Monday for #ROLive (the follow up to the fab #RBLive last year).

I danced with my University for the first time this year which lead to me competing, something completely new to me. Although it had been a bumpy road in rehearsals (dancers falling out with each other, including one rehearsal where the choreographer refused to speak after an argument with another dancer – I steered well clear of all this!) it was fun to perform and we were thrilled to place first! If you had told me 2.5 years ago that I’d be in a winning ballet group I would never have believed you. I think winning has also helped a little with my confidence – I’m always aware that I haven’t been dancing that long but being part of the team has convinced me that I can’t be too bad if we still won even with me in there! All the drama means I won’t be dancing with the University again next term but I’m glad I did it anyway.

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

I was really pleased when the couple who run the Russian YBC asked if I wanted to start taking their Advanced class at their Russian Ballet School – I’m now taking class every Tuesday and Friday along with the fortnightly 4.5 hour class/rehearsals on a Sunday – I can’t get enough! They also announced that in April we will be doing two performances (matinee/evening) of Swan Lake – the Youth Ballet Company dancing the whole of Act II (and, I think, some of Act IV) and the Ballet School dancing condensed versions of Acts I and III. I couldn’t believe it when they asked me to be Rothbart- meaning I’ll have my own variation at the start of Act II (to the awesome, iconic Act II theme) and even have a little partnerwork with Odette/Odile and some ballet mime! I’m also going to be dancing Spanish in Act III (as Rothbart) so have plenty to learn. On top of all this we’re having a Masterclass with a Vaganova Academy teacher in January, and hopefully our Patron, Elena Glurdjidze (Senior Principal at ENB) will be giving a Masterclass soon as well! And to finish it all off, in my final class of 2012 I managed to (finally) complete the grand pirouette and coupé jetés en manège combination – I’ve never been able to make the full circle en manège before! Woo!

Then just before the end of the year we had a photographer in a couple of my classes and one took a video of some of the combinations – here’s me in the adage from one of the classes!

On top of all that I had my PhD Transfer in December – a major milestone on the way to my degree. Submitting a 90 page report, giving an hour-long presentation and having an hour-long viva (Q&A) with two professors pushed my sanity to its limits but I passed and the next step is hopefully submitting my final thesis in 2014! It’s a big relief to get it over with and ballet certainly kept me sane whilst working on it – now I just need to decide what I want to do career-wise…

So that was my year – and what a year it was! I’m not sure how 2013 will top it but with BRYBC/BRBS Swan Lake and the BB Gala coming up I’m sure it’ll be a good one! You can be sure I’ll be working hard to improve my ballet technique. I’m also going to have to work hard on my characterisation and acting skills for Rothbart – something I’ve never had to think about before (although I keep forgetting that practicing silent evil laughs probably shouldn’t be done whilst walking down the street…)

How was your 2012? Have you got any exciting plans for 2013? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below :)

Until next time, keep dancing!

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!