Review – The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker on Digital Theatre

It’s a little strange to be watching the Nutcracker in the middle of March. But there’s a reason to feel Christmassy – Digital Theatre has just released two more Royal Ballet productions (and two Royal Opera productions) to accompany its current roster of Sylvia (with Darcey Bussell/Roberto Bolle) and Swan Lake (Marianela Nunez/Thiago Soares). I’ll be reviewing both of the new productions, the first of which is Sir Peter Wright’s magical production of The Nutcracker from 2010. Continue reading

Review: Ballet Hero Fantasy (feat Steven McRae)

I think one of the biggest issues in encouraging young boys to get involved with ballet is convincing them that it is ‘cool’. It can be tough for boys starting ballet whilst still at school: they might experience bullying and name calling, or they may feel they have to hide what they do in their spare time. There is also (as always) simply a lack of boys dancing, which is such a shame. I think anything that can help make boys think it’s cool to dance therefore deserves a huge amount of support. Even if only the dancers themselves find it cool, it can be a great way to encourage them to be proud of being a dancer. Continue reading

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!

DaveTries…Opera?!

As you may know, I am a Royal Opera House Student Ambassador. I went into this role knowing a fair bit about ballet but being a little inexperienced with respect to opera. I’m not completely oblivious – I’ve seen a handful of operas in the past and have sung in a chorus for oratorios and various concerts – but ask me to name some arias and I’d probably stop after three or four. I therefore viewed the ambassadorship as a way to enhance my knowledge of opera and share a journey with other ‘newbies’, which excited me to no end.

So it was a great thrill to hear from Simon (the guy in charge of us) that we had been invited to observe Royal Opera Live (or #ROLive in twitter-speak): a full day going behind the scenes as the Royal Opera prepare new productions, current repertoire and future concepts. Here’s the intro video all about #ROLive:

Leaving Bath at the ungodly hour of 6:35am, I arrived at the Royal Opera House stage door around 9:20am – just in time for Ed Watson to brush past me on his way (I presume) to warm up for morning class. I was a little ballet-starstruck, but not as much as when we sat down for our morning briefing and Dame Monica Mason was on the table next to us being interviewed – talk about a living legend! But the day was to be about opera so I peeled my eyes away and concentrated on the complicated schedule, which had been precisely incremented down to the second.

First up for us was a model showing of a new production of Rossini’s take on the Lady of the Lake: Donna del Lago. When I read this on the schedule I was a little confused – why is a model so important and why should it take an hour to see it? It turns out a model showing is an entire minature recreation of a full set along with costume designs, concept ideas and even small figurines. This is a chance for a director (and their creative team) to explain to the influential and important people of the Royal Opera House their vision before it gets put into production.

I don’t think I had ever truly considered the amount of thought that goes into an opera (or ballet) production. The director, John Fulljames, began explaining the idea that the Scottish landscape is an emotional, visceral place that changes people. They make use of embodiments of Rossini and Sir Walter Scott (with their whisky-drinking liberal friends!) reminiscing the tale to emphasise this emotion, and their distorted opinions warp the costume and design of the ensuing scenes. Seeing all the thought that had gone into just this one production made me start to realise the effort that a single new production takes – and this was before any sets or costumes had been made! The fact that the Royal Opera House can put on a handful of new productions every season is truly staggering.

Next up we sneaked into the side Stalls Circle to watch the piano rehearsal of The Minotaur – a new opera from Birtwistle that has been slightly reshaped since its 2008 premiére. Unlike most Opera I have seen, there was a rawness to this work; the music reflected the harsh reality the Minotaur inhabited. This was echoed in a stark set, blood-baying chorus and terrifying minotaur head. Later we would catch a glimpse of the Sitzprobe (literally ‘seated rehearsal’) where the singers would be accompanied by a full (86-piece) orchestra for the first time and we would hear the depth and complexity that the piano was unable to convey in this rehearsal. Here’s the trailer for The Minotaur:

Heading for lunch, we called into the ROH staff canteen (eating amongst Royal Ballet School dancers and Ed Watson!) before making our way back up to the Clore for the Royal Opera Chorus’ rehearsal of Va Pensiero: the rousing chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco. Launching straight into a full run-through I immediately got goosebumps as the chorus lamented and then roused themselves as a vocal challenge to their oppressors. It was only once they had finished and their chorus master, Renato Balsadonna, started pinpointing corrections that I realised the depth with which they worked on this piece. This small syllable could be more melancholic, that note could be more defiant. Much like a ballet dancer aims to tell a story and portray a character with every step they make, so too does a singer with every note they sing. Truly fascinating, especially the ability of Balsadonna to pinpoint the smallest of corrections, much like an accomplished Ballet Master or Mistress correcting a corps de ballet. Here’s a clip of the Met chorus singing Va Pensiero:

Following on from the chorus rehearsal we were treated to something entirely different, and a bit more like what I’m used to – physical training. The Jette Parker Young Artists are young singers at the Royal Opera House who get a rounded education to make them into world class Opera stars. Not only are they tutored in vocal issues, but also in all elements of stagecraft including, we found out, fighting. In their scenario they fought with a razor blade landing multiple blows and eventually a fatal one. This was an element of their performances I had not thought about, much as the sword fighting training shown on Royal Ballet Live for Romeo & Juliet. Once again, it was astonishing to see just how much effort goes into this world – and the fact they could do all this fighting whilst singing!

With a quick break we had a wander around the ballet studios to see if there were any rehearsals going on. It was surprisingly quiet, but we did get a glance at Cojocaru/Kobborg and Nuñez/Soares warming up before having a good look inside the MacMillan studio (including a picture of me at the barre to appear soon!).

Following on was an interview with Politician-turned-Broadcaster, and passionate Opera-goer, Michael Portillo. I found myself completely agreeing with his words, applicable to both opera and ballet. One particular comment resonated – that to enjoy opera (and also, I believe, ballet) you simply have to open yourself up to the experience. If you open up and let the story transport you to its world then the magic can truly happen: you find yourself laughing and crying, in joy and grief, and are suddenly part of the story yourself. That is the true beauty of opera, ballet, and the performing arts.

Moving from the emotion to the technical, Dušica Bijeli? (a Jette Parker Young Artist) had a vocal class for an aria in Eugene Onegin (for which she would be covering Tatiana in the upcoming production). I never realised singing could be so technical! Her corrections seemed for the tiniest things: a slight unwanted delay between syllables, a “t” sound rather than a “dd” sound. To think that she covered only a 3 minute aria in a 20 minute session – the whole opera is over three hours long! It is this attention to detail, however, that makes the Royal Opera (and the Jette Parker Young Artists) world class.

And all of a sudden our day was over. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the evening performance of La Bohème but I’ll certainly be going to see it next week when it’s beamed across the world on live cinema relay. It was truly a fantastic day and, more than anything, it was a privilege to see hundreds of dedicated and talented people work together to create magnificent works of art. (It also cemented my dream of one day working for the Royal Opera House in some way or another!) I’ll certainly be checking out the cinema relay of Donna del Lago after the great model showing and I’ve already booked tickets for Die Zauberflöte (one of my favourite operas) and Eugene Onegin later in the season. I know my passion still lies firmly with ballet but today has taught me there is a whole world of opera for me to explore too – and I can’t wait to get started!

Did you catch #ROLive? What did you think? Have you seen an opera recently? Let me know in the comments section below!

Until next time, keep on 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!

Polyphonia/Sweet Violets/Carbon Life: A triple bill with a bit of everything!

Dame Monica Mason is certainly ending her reign as Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet with a bang! She commissioned not one, but two brand new pieces for this Triple Bill (one by Liam Scarlett and the other by Wayne McGregor) and placed them alongside Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. I was fortunate enough to see this Triple Bill twice, on opening night and partway through the run. This way I also managed to see the two casts for Polyphonia and the Scarlett (the McGregor only had one cast).

The Royal Ballet Triple Bill as seen through various pictures in the program.


I think each of the three pieces deserved repeat viewings and all improved for it. Here are my thoughts on them.

Polyphonia (choreography: Wheeldon, Music: Ligeti)

Opening Cast: Benjamin, Stix-Brunell, Choe, Mendizabal, Kish, Dyer, Campbell, Trzensimiech

It is astonishing to think that this piece came from Wheeldon when he was so young (it was premiered in 2001 at New York City Ballet) and shows his ‘plotless’ chops are just as strong (if not stronger) than the narrative ones he recently showed with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice has hints of Balanchine (notably in the White Rabbit solo and the Apollo pastiche at the Tea Party) but Polyphonia showed just how influenced Wheeldon was by the founder of NYCB.

The first cast showed off the young members of the company. Alexander Campbell and Dawid Trzensimiech seemed to have a lot of fun in their dazzling ‘Vivace Energico’ section together, showing off their skills. The pair always impress me in whatever roles they dance and I hope they get some big chances in the coming season. Beatriz Stix-Brunell showed us again (after her triumphant début in Alice) how she can command a stage.

My only query about the casting for the opening night was the pairing of Leanne Benjamin and Nehamiah Kish. Superb dancers individually, the minute Benjamin was dwarfed by the towering Kish to a slightly jarring extent.

A fascinating piece overall, building on classical foundations to produce a fresh and modern piece. Oh, and did anyone else spot the flamingos or the start of the caterpillar (minus belly rubs, thankfully) from Alice?

Alternate Cast: Lamb, Naghdi, Choe, Raine, Stepanek, Hay, Ondiviela, Trzensimiech

Lamb and Stepanek in Polyphonia (Photo credit: Dave Morgan for DanceTabs)

I thoroughly enjoyed a repeat viewing of Polyphonia, appreciating it even more second time around. The only section I disliked (both times) was the opening movement – appropriately called ‘Désordre’ – which I found too cluttered.

I much preferred the partnership of Sarah Lamb and Johannes Stepanek who danced the two pas de deuxs superbly. In the few pieces I’ve seen Lamb in, she always seems to bring out the athleticism of ballet which I thought really enhanced her sections. I’m not sure whether I’d be able to see past that athleticism in a more ‘traditional’ role but I really like it in the abstract pieces she’s been in.

Reprising his role from the first cast, Trzensimiech once again shone and Yasmine Naghdi (just an Artist like Stix-Brunell) handled her solo with aplomb. I have no doubt Wheeldon’s Polyphonia will be around for many years to come.

Sweet Violets (choreography: Scarlett, Music: Rachmaninoff)

Opening Cast: Kobborg, Cope, Soares, Bonelli, Cojocaru, Morera, Rojo, McRae

When I saw Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows earlier in the season I was blown away; so much so that following the matinee I immediately purchased a ticket for the evening performance that same day. I was therefore excited to see Scarlett’s first foray into narrative ballet.

Inspired by the enigmatic Walter Sickert and his series of paintings ‘The Camden Town Murder’, Scarlett had set himself a tall order: recreate 19th Century London and tell a little-known story. Did he rise to the challenge? For me it was a near-resounding yes and, more importantly perhaps, he showed the potential to be one of the most exciting choreographers currently creating pieces.

Whilst not a perfect work, Scarlett has created a dark, tense and gripping short work set intimately with Rachmaninoff’s ‘Trio Élégiaque'; the music fitting so well that you could easily be mistaken into thinking the music had been commissioned specially for this piece.

Scarlett could hardly have gotten two more stellar casts to work with. The opening night featured an astonishing seven principals out of the eight named parts, with First Artist Leanne Cope sharing the stage with the big names listed above. Not only picking great dancers, but great actors too it seemed a shame that some characters got woefully short time in the spotlight. Kobborg played the role of Sickert and was the lynchpin that kept the drama and tension alive, especially in the final scene with Cojocaru and McRae.

Kobborg and Cojocaru in Sweet Violets (Photo Credit: Bill Cooper for The Guardian)


Opening with a tense encounter between Soares and Cope, culminating in Cope’s murder, Scarlett hinted strongly at the influence of MacMillan. Echoed throughout the piece Scarlett masterfully used not only the dancer but also the set; bed, mirror and wall becoming part of the choreography. Scarlett played to the strengths of his cast: Kobborg and Cojocaru’s chemistry, Rojo’s dominance of the stage, Bonelli’s boyish charm, Morera’s acting abilities, Soares’ (surprising) dark side, Cope’s coquettish confidence, and McRae’s virtuosity.

The great set (albeit a little too dark from the Amphitheatre) accompanied Scarlett’s choreographic voice. I agree with the comments that some pre-reading of the plot is beneficial and without it the plot may be unclear (for example who Christopher Saunders was playing – the Prime Minister – and why he was present). But I see a simple way to rectify this problem: extend it to full-length!

Alternate Cast: Gartside, Hinkis, Whitehead, Cervera, Morera, Cope, Nuñez, Campbell

Possibly because I already knew the general narrative of the piece, I was moved even more by Sweet Violets on a second viewing. I noticed more details, felt like the characters resonated more and appreciated Scarlett’s genius to a greater degree.

Bennet Gartside immersed himself into Sickert’s character, easily rising to the high bar that Kobborg had set. In particular, the final scene spoke of a man who had lost control of ‘something’ (in my eyes represented by Campbell’s character, ‘Jack’). There was a haunting look in his eyes, hinted during the preceding scene with Leanne Cope’s Annie (again, Cope showed a maturity betraying her years and rank). As expected, Nuñez was superlative as Sickert’s model Marie, her presence commanding your attention throughout her time on stage.

Sweet Violets had indeed matured on a second viewing and, on reflection, I think I preferred the alternate cast. With some burning simages (Sickert’s bloody handprint on the porcelin sink, the `backstage` view of the dance hall stage) Scarlett has evoked Victorian London perfectly.

I certainly hope Sweet Violets will be revived soon, and stay in the Royal Ballet repertory for many years. But, more than anything, I hope Scarlett gets a chance to extend the piece to full length: to talk more of Eddy and Annie’s relationship, allow for more solo scenes (with ‘Jack’ lurking in the dark perhaps) and to let us deeper into Sickert’s head and psyché. There are so many possiblities and I hope O’Hare lets Scarlett share his gift with us all in the coming years. I’m already excited to see Viscera, which Scarlett created for Miami City Ballet this year and will be in the upcoming Royal Ballet season. Below is a clip from “Royal Ballet Live” which shows Scarlett rehearsing Soares and Cope and lets us have a glimpse into his genius mind!

Carbon Life (choreography: McGregor, Music: Ronson et al)

Cast (for all performances): Bracher, Stix-Brunell, Calvert, Cowley, Cuthbertson, Dyer, Hamilton, Hirano, Kay, Lamb, mcRae, Nuñez, Naghdi, Ondiviela, Stepanek, Underwood, Watson, Watkins

Musicians: Ronson, Boy George, Fisher, Mosshart, Pierce, Wyatt, Cobain, Senti, Silver, Chetwood

And now for something completely different! A new work by Wayne McGregor in collaboration with musical polymath Mark Ronson and fashion designer Gareth Pugh (nope, never heard of him either but he’s supposedly a big deal!) it would be accompanied by a live band, singers and even a rapper. This was ballet like never before.

Cutbertson and Underwood in Carbon Life (Photo Credit: Bill Cooper)


Starting as glowing figures behind a gauze screen (this didn’t quite work from up in the Amphitheatre, but looked good from Stalls Circle Standing) the pieces seems to chronicle the evolution of a species from embryonic state to some sort of humanoid beings.

The choreography was trademark McGregor – contortions, tic-like movements and sharp changes in position. But for me the most memorable and enjoyable segment was the most classical. When the lights turned on for the first time all 18 dancers were revealed in two flanks, organised by sex but dressed in similar clothing (small black boxer shorts and flesh tank tops for the ladies) with slicked back hair completing the androgynous look. As the band starts up (“Is anyone out there?”) the dancers move through a series of classical positions with speed and exactness. Working precisely with the strong beat of the music they are lika textbook demonstration of placement – an army of world-class dancers.On the other hand, there were sections of choreography that left me a little nonplussed – some rather obvious monkey-like loping around the stage for example.

The music was great – Ronson at his best – and the Royal Opera House was truly rocking, which suited McGregor. I’ve noticed that McGregor seems to choreograph to a ‘beat’ rather than the ‘music’, so the strong constant rhythms of the songs worked well. I was also shocked how well rap works alongside ballet! You can listen to one of the tracks (with Boy George on vocals) here:

Although androgynous, and sometimes obscured by Pugh’s bizarre costumes (not a fan of the weird pointe boots or dodecagonal tutus), there were certain dancers that stood out. Olivia Cowley may only be a First Artist but she strutted with confidence during her pas de deuxs with Ed Watson, and matched his fascinating body with he own amazing moves. McRae showed off his immense talent in a solo during the penultimate song and the trio of female principals: Cuthbertson, Lamba and Nuñez, showed just how spectacular they can be in any role they are given.

I rather doubt Carbon Life will be revived – I doubt they will be able to secure the musicians for another run and it would be nowhere near the same without the live music. This is a shame as, even with all its flaws, it was a hugely enjoyable and ‘fun’ piece. I think it is great that the Royal Opera House took a risk in staging something so different to the norm.

Summary

All in all, this was a fantastic triple bill. From the classicism (or rather neo-classicism I guess?) of Polyphonia to the high-drama and tension of Sweet Violets to the sheer overwhelming energy of Carbon Life this really did have it all. Personally my favourite piece was Sweet Violets by a mile (which is not to say the others were bad; far from it in fact!). The more I see of Scarlett’s work the more I want to see. He has a very exciting future ahead (his first full-length piece premiering next season in the Linbury) and I hope the Royal Ballet see sense and appoint him a Resident Choreographer before someone else snaps him up! (I’m looking at you Ms. Rojo…)

Unfortunately, due to my delayed review (I blame work and performing!) the run of the Triple Bill has just finished. But I am sure both Polyphonia and Sweet Violets will be revived very soon – and I’m hoping the Royal Opera House recorded Carbon Life to release on iTunes.

Did you see the triple bill? What did you think? Which of this triumvirate was your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, keep dancing!

Romeo & Juliet: A Retrospective

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to see the Royal Ballet perform Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet four times this season. I consider myself even luckier to have seen such stellar performances from some of the Royal Ballet’s best dancers. I saw three casts, watched from three different parts of the Royal Opera House, once in the cinema, saw twenty main characters die, heard goodness knows how many sword clashes, saw one sword snap mid-fight and cried more than a few (manly) tears.

I’ve never seen a single ballet so many times and I hadn’t planned on seeing Romeo & Juliet so much, but after the first performance I knew I needed to see more of this masterpiece. What came to surprise me however, was how differently each cast would interpret these characters, and how my various viewpoints would dictate my reactions and focus.

The first pair I saw perform the eponymous roles were Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. A real-life couple and a pair of veritable superstars, this season was probably their final performances of Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Opera House. As such there was a bittersweet feel to their performances which heightened their connection to the audience, many of whom have seen the couple develop over their impressive careers. Cojocaru’s Juliet was young and impish, highlighting the extreme youth of the character in the first Act. Kobborg, on the other hand, seemed to give Romeo a hint of maturity, portraying a youth at the threshold of manhood. Needless to say, both were spectacular. Their balcony scene had me wiping away a tear or two before the first act had even finished. There was a particular moment in the final scene where Cojocaru’s Juliet tried to lift Kobborg’s late Romeo from the floor for a final dance. I imagine this image will stick with me for a very long time – her futile effort was one of the most heart-wrenching things I have seen on stage. This performance also featured the fantastic Bennet Gartside as Tybalt (a role I’d see him in thrice), pulling off pure-evil remarkably well and making me very excited for his Von Rothbart debut in October. His fight with Kobborg was actually terrifying (even from standing in the stalls circle) and I was worried someone would get hurt as the pair threw themselves completely into the situation. Valentino Zucchetti also gave a particularly assured turn as lead Mandolin player, finishing his first turn in high a la seconde with an absurd amount of control.

Cuthbertson and Bonelli in the Balcony Scene (Photo credit: Bill Cooper for the ROH)

I saw Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli perform the ballet twice, once at the Royal Opera House (their first time performing the roles together) and once in a cinema at Bath as a worldwide live-relay. Cuthbertson was originally meant to be partnered by Sergei Polunin but, after his shock resignation, he was replaced by Bonelli. I went into their performance wondering how they would work together; the answer, it turns out, was some of the most electric chemistry I’ve seen on stage. Cuthbertson’s Juliet truly transformed through the ballet, visibly maturing and growing. Bonelli’s Romeo was bursting with energy and passion, adding an impulsiveness that makes you begin to understand his fierce retaliation to his friend’s death. Together, they just worked perfectly: when Cutbertson’s Juliet first lays eyes on Bonelli’s Romeo it makes you believe in love at first sight (even from the back row of the amphitheatre). Technically superb, the pair built on this with some of the best acting in the entire company to create something magical – I am excited to see their partnership develop through other roles (they are already cast for Swan Lake together in October and have danced Alice together thrice this season). This cast also featured my favourite Mercutio-Benvolio double act of Alexander Campbell and Dawid Trzensimiech. The Pas de Trois with Bonelli’s Romeo before the Capulet’s Ball was first-class and tight-knit followed by great solo’s later in Act I. In fact, Campbell’s Mercutio was the only one I saw which moved me when in the throes of death. I think they are two of the most exciting up-and-coming male dancers in the company and I look forward to seeing them develop and tackle larger roles in the near-future. Kristen McNally also deserves a mention for playing the Nurse perfectly, adding another great acting role to her, already fit-to-bursting, repertoire.

My third viewing was the same Cuthbertson/Bonelli cast, this time at my local Odeon with some ballet-newbie friends. I was skeptical of how the atmosphere of the ballet would transfer to the silver screen but, although I would perhaps have changed a couple of camera angles, I think it was overall a success. At times I didn’t like having my focus dictated (I missed the banter between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio when they’re drinking wine at the market) but it allowed me to see some things I missed from the amphitheatre. It also showed just how fine the leading pair are as actors, not just dancers. At the end of Act III, Scene I, Juliet decides to go to the Friar to ask for the fateful potion. As she makes this decision she simply sits on the end of her bed while the orchestra plays. With a close-up shot of Cuthbertson’s face I could almost see her thoughts racing and the tumult of emotions going through her head. Then, a single tear dropped down her right cheek and I was sent reeling; Cuthbertson truly is a national treasure. I hope they release a DVD of this truly special performance; I know that if they do I will be first in line to buy it.

My final Romeo & Juliet was Ed Watson and Leanne Benjamin which I saw from the front row of the stalls (thanks to a rather amazing person – you know who you are!). I was pleasantly surprised to find that Watson and Benjamin produced such a different version of the roles. There was what I can only describe as a ‘sharpness’ to their movements which gave an urgency to the story. As if these young lovers were being swept up by events beyond their control. Watson showed that his acting is as good as his (ridiculously amazing) arabesques, his shock at killing Tybalt physically shaking him to his core. Benjamin must also have the Fountain of Youth hidden away in her dressing room, easily appearing the youngest on stage (and although I would never reveal a woman’s age, she is the longest serving principal at the Royal Ballet). We were spoilt by another fine Tybalt in Gary Avis and a particularly haunting Lady Capulet by Genesia Rosato. Thomas Whitehead’s Paris displayed more backbone than others’, seemingly close to striking Benjamin’s Juliet just before she agrees to marry him. I preferred this to the more-traditional submissive and accepting Paris and it made me less remorseful when he is killed by Romeo in the Capulet Crypt. Sitting in the front row was truly inspirational and I will be trying to channel what I saw in my upcoming classes (although I can only dream of having such superb technique!).

All in all, my Romeo & Juliet season has been an emotional rollercoaster taking me each time from pure joy and elation to the depths of emotion and heartbreak. MacMillan’s genius shines throughout the whole piece including the singularly beautiful Balcony Scene. I cannot think of another section of ballet that evokes such a response from me every time I view it. I think it would be my ‘dream’ piece to dance: Romeo’s variation is brimming with joy and hope, the transition into the partnering section (where Juliet finishes a pirouette by opening into an arabesque) is so beautiful and Romeo’s sequence of rises on his knees with Juliet overhead seems to perfectly express the feeling of love and its ability to make you float on air. If you’ve never seen this scene before then here’s a superb video of Miyako Yoshida and Steven McRae (watch out in particular for 4:05 and 6:15):

Romeo & Juliet is not programmed for next season (which is shaping up to be fantastic: including Swan Lake, La Bayadere, Onegin, Mayerling and some very exciting triple bills) but I will be getting my next major MacMillan-fix in a couple of months time with Prince of the Pagodas. Created on Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope I can barely contain my excitement at seeing Nunez/Kish and (a week later) Cuthbertson/Pennefather tackle this modern-day classic.

Did any of you catch Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Opera House this season? Any opinions on your favourite interpretations of the famous roles? Let me know in the comments box below!

Until next time, keep dancing!

P.S. As a special treat, here’s the balcony scene from the recent live-relay with Cuthbertson/Bonelli. I’m sure you’ll agree they are something truly special – sit back, enjoy and prepare to be moved:

 

A day of ballet…

If you follow me on twitter (and if you don’t, just click the little “Follow” button on the left there!) then you’ll know that I have been a bit stressed with work at the moment (which has resulted in a backlog of blog posts to write – the next few might be in a weird order while I finish them all!). Trying to write an academic paper in 10 days resulted in me getting minimal sleep and potentially having to miss a rather fantastic day of ballet I had planned in London. Well, luckily I managed to get enough work done beforehand to make the trip to the big city and I am so ridiculously glad I did!

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So what was in store for me? Well first up was a workshop run by the BalletBoyz! This was a chance for adults with a minimum of 1 year’s training to take a class with the BalletBoyz Ballet Master, James, at Sadler’s Wells (where the Boyz would perform later that evening a similar programme to the one at Bath I saw). When I first heard about this I immediately emailed to register and so arrived at the Sadler’s Wells stage door at around 9:30am (we’ll not discuss the 5:30 wake up to get there from Bath in time).

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Quickly getting changed I headed up to the Ashton studio – it’s an amazing space to dance in and I found myself wondering how many dancers had practiced there in the past. Talk about inspiring! James introduced himself and once everyone had arrived we started class. There was only 7 of us, which was great as it let James give out personal corrections, and for once the number of guys outweighed the number of girls! Most of the dancers had been dancing for many years (I think everyone except me had started at age 3 or 4!) so I felt a little out of my depth towards the end of center but I loved every second. I just hope James didn’t mind me being a little less experienced than everyone else!

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The class itself was amazing and James was a truly superb teacher. All throughout he concentrated on keeping ‘natural alignment’ and making sure we were ‘dancing’ – not just doing the technique. This was emphasised when we did things like leaving the barre mid-combination to do an attitude balance and promenade before returning for a higher (russian style) attitude at the barre.

He also concentrated on the idea of ‘opposition’ and that the body works with opposing forces. This idea and image really spoke to me and although I couldn’t put the ideas into practice straight away (stupid body not doing what I tell it to) I felt more balanced and on my leg than probably ever before.

And then in the center there were some really cool combinations and one step in particular stuck out for me. It wasn’t complicated – a waltz into a coupé turn – but it was one of those moments where I truly felt I was ‘dancing’. One of those moments where I forgot about worrying about the steps or technique and could enjoy the feeling of moving through the space. One of the best feelings in the world!

So with the masterclass finishing it was a very quick rush to the Royal Opera House to watch Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg perform Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. This would be my first time seeing the Royal Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet, as well as my first time seeing the amazing Cojocaru and Kobborg. Needless to say they did not disappoint in the least! I can’t really put into words just how special the performance was, but here’s a selection of my tweets after the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also got to say that the performance reminded me just how much of a genius MacMillan is. I think a true testament to his skill is how natural he makes dance seem, it’s truly amazing choreography (the balcony scene may be one of my favourite segments of a ballet ever).

Alas, after the end of Romeo & Juliet, still wiping a tear from my eye I had to do some work (in a nearby coffee shop). Somehow I was able to concentrate enough to get my proofreading done (although all the tweets reiterating how amazing everyone had found R&J kept distracting me!) and finally met up with @OperaAndMe for dinner before she headed to see the controversial new production of Rusalka at the Royal Opera House. If you are interested in opera then you should definitely check out her blog!

I was also headed back to the Royal Opera House, but this time downstairs to the Linbury theatre to see Ballet Black perform. First up was Together Alone, a new work (all the pieces were freshly choreographed) by the Royal Ballet’s Jonathan Watkins and skilfully danced by Sarah Kundi and Jazmon Voss. I loved the idea that a couple can never quite be truly together, which was represented by the fact that Kundi and Voss rarely touched each other throughout the piece, often coming close but not quite close enough.

Following this was a solo by Rambert’s Jon Goddard (who I saw when they toured to Bath) called Running Silent, danced by Kanika Carr. Although I’m not usually keen on contemporary pieces that concentrate on floor work I really enjoyed this piece. This may have been thanks to my elevated viewpoint (I wonder if those level with the stage saw much of the floor work) and the engaging performance by Carr. Described in the programme as choreographed for either a male or female, I would love to see the piece again performed by a man to see the contrast.

The final piece of the first half was Captured by Martin Lawrence. This piece for four dancers, set to a Shostakovich string quartet, was my personal highlight of the evening. It was intricate and emotionally complex, raising many questions about the relationships between the four dancers. In particular, Cira Robinson was a revelation – she exuded confidence and fire that was paired with some truly stunning lines. A delight to watch.

This made it even more galling to have to leave at the interval (thanks to engineering works on my trainline) and so miss Robinson as the lead in a new work by Christopher Hampson called Storyville. All reviews I have read confirm that it is a great piece and Robinson dances it with great skill.

So that was my amazing day in London! I wanted to write the post while it was still fresh in my mind, so my next post will (hopefully) be about my performance last week (spoiler: it was awesome!). The paper deadline is tomorrow so I’m hoping to get back on top of my blog posts once I’ve caught up on some sleep…

Until next time, keep dancing!

BalletBoyz: The Talent

You’ve probably heard of the BalletBoyz. Two former leading dancers with The Royal Ballet, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt have spent the last ten years, in short, making ballet and dance be cool. To start, that was by their own performances, at the same time they started making documentaries which soon were broadcast on national TV. There was “Strictly Bolshoi” which followed Christopher Wheeldon as he choreographed a new piece for the Bolshoi, and there was “Royal Ballet in Cuba” following their historic tour to the country.  Then this Christmas there was “The Talent”, following the BalletBoyz’s latest venture.

Two years ago the pair decided to set up a new group of dancers and did something a bit risky – held open auditions. They let any guy aged 18-25 apply and watched them move rather than read CVs. The group would need to dance a range of contemporary styles so they needed ‘natural movers,’ which resulted in an eclectic mix of backgrounds from the classically trained to some with no formal dance training. In fact, only one of the eight dancers in the company had started dancing before the age of 16! This emphasises how important the other side of The Talent is – education. Running regular workshops while on tour and hosting a “BootCamp” in the summer they work hard to push boys “past common perceptions and engage with their imaginations”, great stuff!

Great to see such a full theatre for a Sunday night performance - I had a pretty amazing view of the stage!

Forming this group, the BalletBoyz started to put together pieces for them to perform. They adapted pieces that Trevitt and Nunn had performed themselves (for example Torsion), commissioned other pieces (such as Alpha) and even held ‘auditions’ for choreographers to work with The Talent (resulting in Void). The documentary also showed their trip to Ethiopa where they worked with Adugna Community Dance and Theatre Company to create a piece dancing with both able-bodied and disabled Ethiopian dancers. Truly inspiring stuff!

So I headed to the Theatre Royal in Bath with high expectations. I had seen some all-male pieces before (notably Folio by ARB and Men Y Men by ENB) but never an entire evening of such works. The program of the evening would feature three very distinct pieces: Torsion, Alpha and Void. Before I went to my seat though, I simply had to buy one of the coolest T-shirts around: “Real Men Wear Tights”! I know what I’ll be wearing to class this week…

Torsion (Choreography: Russell Maliphant, Music: Richard English)

First up was Torsion, originally choreographed for Trevitt and Nunn back in 2002 before being re-worked for The Talen in 2010. Opening with six dancers, each contained in their own box of light, the start concentrated mainly on the upper body with precise and intricate movements.

This was segued with a rather humorous soundbite into a pair of duets. The dancers were completely in synch with each other resulting in a delightfully smooth sequence. Starting with an almost teacher-pupil feel, one member of each duo put the other in successive poses. There was a fantastic floor solo by Taylor Benjamin which intruded on the pairs before he moved back off stage, after which it seemed the roles in each duo had reversed.

Following this was my personal highlight of the piece – an amazing solo by Leon Poulton. With definite balletic roots (such as a sequence in croisé fifth with almost tongue-in-cheek ecarté tendus) the solo morphed into contemporary style. Whilst hitting some stunning lines Poulton also showed skilled floor work, including an amazing sequence of turns en ménage.

The smoothness of Poulton’s solo contrasted the next duet which involved two dancers exerting opposing forces on each other. A masterclass in strength and balance work it was an impressive sequence, including a rather staying image of a back cambré lift resulting in a crucifix-like pose. As the other dancers rejoined the piece for the finale they showed perfect synchronicity in some challenging moves as the piece concluded. An awesome work!

My programme and ticket - that's the awesome throw in Alpha!

Alpha (Choreography: Paul Roberts, Music: Keaton Henson)

Before the next piece there was a small video segment projected onto a screen on the stage. Showing a snapshot of their rehearsals it was a great way to engage the audience during their set/costume change. It made me wonder why other dance companies don’t use this idea – sure it wouldn’t really work somewhere like the ROH, but would be perfect for someone like Rambert.

Alpha started with seven of the dancers in a tight circle, crouched together. One breaks from the circle and starts a reflective solo whilst the other guys remain motionless. Shelina Somani’s costumes were perfect for this piece, reminiscent of Shaolin monks. Indeed, the whole piece had an almost meditative feel, a lot maturer and deeper than I expected from a choreographer who’s CV consists mainly of working with chart musicians!

The music was simple and gorgeous, a recording of Henson playing guitar and singing. Thanks to the video intro it seems that Henson was there during the creation of the piece, playing live for the guys during rehearsals – something that surely made the choreography even more tailored to the music.

As for the dancing – it was simply beautiful. My particular favourite was a quartet danced to a piece of music with the line “Dear widow” in it (there wasn’t a music listing in the programme). There was just a fantastic flow to the whole piece.

The final scene seemed, to play on the monk theme some more, almost sacrificial. Miguel Esteves was lifted, turned and thrown about as if in ofference to some unnamed deity. There was also that amazing throw of him straight in the air that, deservedly, is used as The Talent’s promo shot.

The whole piece was simply sublime and immediately made me want to rewatch it as soon as it finished, a sign of a great piece.

Void (Choreography: Jarek Cemerek, Music: Ondrej Dedecek, Yoav and Ismael De Garay)

Void, the final piece of the evening, left me utterly speechless. Adrenalin-fueled, high-octane dance that was just unreal.

Opening with a video projected on a warehouse backdrop it followed the guys around city streets at night. Reminding me of Banksy and other street artists, this projection carried on playing as the dancers emerged, in hoodies and jeans. As the piece started in earnest I couldn’t help but think of it foreshadowing the summer riots and the anger that emerged from the youth of Britain during those times (this piece was premiered 6 months before the riots).

As the majority of dancers left the stage, Taylor Benjamin danced a mesmerising solo. As if being tailed by a gang he projected his unease and had me almost gasping as invisible punches and kicks landed on him. This violence continued into the next duet, a pair fighting with raw anger and testosterone. I have seen fight scenes in dance before, but never one that felt so ‘real’. I was amazed at how much control the pair must have had to execute the tense movements without injuring each other.

That was just the warm-up though, as suddenly the music changed and the company unleashed the most high-octane dance sequence I have ever seen. Literally throwing themselves at each other the group split into two factions at war. Their ferocity was palpable throughout the whole theatre. That being said, I couldn’t help but think how much fun the scene must be for the dancers!

If it's on a T-shirt you know it's true...

As the guys surrounded Miguel Esteves he danced a solo as they watched on from outside his spotlight. Almost as if dancing for his redemption he moved with an almost yearning to escape. The lights lowered and the finale began with the dancers in silhouette against a brightly lit backdrop. As the dancers moved in complete unison the piece rose to its finale, highlighting the strength of this small company.

As Void concluded a massive rush of applause rose for The Talent, along with a fair few whoops and whistles. Every single one deserved for the energetic and skilled performance they all gave.

So, in short, BalletBoyz: The Talent rocked it. They proved that dance can be masculine, cool and current. They also made me immediately check if I can make any of their performances at Sadler’s Wells in March. And tomorrow, when I’m in the studio practicing, I’m going to use them as inspiration to hold my head a little higher, add a little pride to my movement and testosterone to my steps. After all, “Real Men Wear Tights”.

Until next time, keep dancing!