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November 5th/November 11th (ROH 50th Anniversary - MacMillan) 2015
November 25th (National Ballet of Canada - Ratmansky) 2015
ROH, Choreography Kenneth MacMillan, 2 casts:
Juliet: F. Hayward / S. Lamb
Romeo: M. Golding / V. Muntagirov
Mercutio: M. Sambe / V. Zucchetti
Tybalt: T. Whitehead / T. Soares
Benvolio: N. Edmonds / J. Hay
Paris: J. Stepanek / N. Edmonds
Lord Capulet: G. Avis / C. Saunders
Lady Capulet: K. McNally / E. McGorian

NBC, Choreography A. Ratmansky
Juliet: E. Lobsanova
Romeo: G. Cote
Mercution: P. Stanczyk
Tybalt: E. McKie
Benvolio: R. Stephen
Paris: G. Galli
Lord Capulet: E. Lavigne
Lady Capulet: S. Hutchinson

Another good chance to see MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as Ratmansky’s in Toronto, soon after, and for us to pick out similarities and differences. Shakespeare’s timeless narrative, R&J has also been made for many different media types,  namely Opera (music Gounod), film (Franco Zeffirelli) and there are two musical scores, one by Tchaikovsky, and by Hector Berlioz.
We were happy to catch Sarah Lamb, a down-to-earth, independent thinking artist, cast opposite a sensitive Vadim Muntagirov, a huge potential for the Royal who has a lot to offer and one to look out for in the near future.   The other cast was the fast rising young hopeful Francesca Hayward - her debut - who again showed great maturity (as she did in Manon and Ashton’s Rhapsody). Her partner Matthew Golding was technically very secure.  We liked the way he threw himself in to his revenge sword fight - (reminiscent of Nicholas le Riche, Paris Opera).
MacMillan’s version was created in 1964 for (Canadian) Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable.  However the Russian-American impresario Sol Hurok refused to cast them on their US opening night and insisted the roles be given to Fontaine and Nureyev. 
Alexy Ratmansky’s redefined version created in 2011, (47 years later) and our second viewing, gave us the feeling of young tender love beautifully displayed by Elena Lbsanova with her ardent Romeo, Guillaume Cote.  Ratmansky’s Lord Capulet seemed less confrontational toward Romeo.  The ballet ends with the warring families reconciling after their children’s death, which is closer to the original play. This makes the ending a little more uplifting.
 
ROH Mixed Bill 6th, 9th, and 12th November 2015
Sarah Lamb / Vadim Muntagirov
Olivia Cowley / Matthew Ball

Afternoon of a faun, Choreography by Jerome Robbins created in 1953 for Tanaquil le Clercq and Francisco Moncion at NYC Ballet,  score by impessionist Claude Debussy - L’apres midi d’un faune, 1862-1918 
Robbin’s version involves two dancers in a studio examining their own reflection in the mirror, the audience being the mirror and also described as the fourth wall.  Unlike Nijinsky, Robbin's didn’t follow his  (Nijinsky”s)  mythological theme.  Robbin’s characterizes his own work as ….”I always thought the girl has washed her hair, and just had on new pointe shoes, and come into the studio to preen and practice” (kc.ballet.org)
Robbins, an all around theatre man, has always been a favourite of ours, even more so than Balanchine.  (BTW, another ballet of his we like is “Fancy Free” based on the 1949 musical “On the Town” with Gene Kelly, and Frank Sinatra).

ROH - Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux 
Choreography: George Balanchine
Iana Salenko / Steve McRae
Lauren Cuthbertson / Matthew Golding

A worldwide attraction, also Gala material which we have seen many times over; although it is primarily technical it is still a challenge for the dancer to set their own hallmark.

ROH - Viscera
Choreographer and costume designer Liam Scarlett
Music Lowell Lieberman with solo piano Robert Clark
2 leading casts:
Laura Morera, Marianela Nunez, Ryoichi Hirano 
and 
Fumi Kaneko, Leticia Stock, Nehemiah Kish
Liam Scarlett’s high velocity ballet - created for Miami City Ballet, Edward Villella then founding artistic director - the choregrapher says he "focused on detailed footwork and strong pointwork for women”.

Carmen
Choreography, Carlos Acosta
Music Bizet, arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates
2 principal casts:
Carmen: Marianela Nunez / Tierney Heap
Don Jose: Carlos Acosta / Vadim Muntagirov
Escamillo: Federico Bonelli / Matthew Ball
Fate: Matthew Golding / Ryoichi Hirano
A cross section of classical, contemporary, flamenco, Cuban, and voice.  As a farewell to his time with the Royal Ballet, CA stated he essentially wanted to eliminate the concept of classical training i.e. polished, refined linear form, essentially to let the dancers absorb the natural state of their characters.
As always, these were excellent performances with all-round fine dancing, and we thank the entire companies plus their respective orchestras.  We also thank CA for his generosity and dedication for all the wonderful performances throughout his career; we wish him all the best in the future.

Contemporary Archives
Sleeping Beauty at the Metropolitan Opera  June 2015.    Choreography by Marius Petipa,  Staging and additional choreography by A. Ratmansky, assisted by T. Ratmansky . Scenery and costumes by Richard Hudson, inspired by Leon Bakst. Lighting by J.Ingalls. Auroras: D. Vishneva  S. Lane. I. Boylston. Princes Desire:  M. Gomes.   J.Gorak.  H. Cornejo. Lilac Fairies:  V. Part  I. Boylston.  D. Teuscher. Princesses Florine: C. Trenary. S. Abrera. M. Copeland. Blue Birds: D. Simkin.  B. Hoven.  J. Gorak. A very realistic and insightful change for us, especially after some tired looking versions in the repertory, though we are sure finances are to blame. For this reason, "Beauty" was co-produced by Teatro alla Scala, in time for ABT's 75th anniversary.  Our favourite of Ratmansky's work to date. Originally set in the grandeur of the French court of "the Sun King; (Roi Soleil); the first Aurora was danced by the Italian Carlotta Brianza with Desire who was Pavel Gerdt, and Enrico Cecchetti as Carabosse, in 1890.  This is a very watchable production; Ratmansky has struck a fine balance between preservation and innovation, which accommodates the potential newcomer and the very dedicated follower. While he made use of the Stepanov dance notation (which is housed at the Harvard Theatre Collection), we found there was a less formal look to it with softer touches all around. It was fascinating to watch the technical aspects of the time: extensions are at hip level, the continual use of the attitude line,  the demi-pointe on the diagonal turns and the preparations and lower leg positions on the pirouettes. Despite the style looking dated,  it stands its ground to today’s dynamic technique; Ratmansky has been true to the style of that period. The introduction of the JKO School, ( which is like the Bournonville  tradition in Denmark, where he spent time at the Danish Royal Ballet), also proves a valuable component that showcases the school’s high standard, and which can provide a thriving source for the parent company.
Focal points for us were: apart from the first rate  dancing by the entire company, the luscious colours used throughout the production; and on a personal note, the cat act, especially the orange tabby.
La Bayadere.     The Temple Dancer Choreography by M. Petipa, staging by N. Makarova "Bubblegum Classical" Music by L. Minkus Nikiya:A. Cojocaru.   Solor: H. Cornejo.      Gamzatti: M. Copeland.    Bronze Idol: J. Gorak. Our favourite Bayadere we have seen. The principal cast was beyond compare. Thank you again to all of American Ballet Theatre; Orchestra, Principals, Soloists, the Corps, the J.K.O. School, and everyone involved backstage for making another N.Y.C. visit so satisfying ; and all the very best to the dancers who retired this past season; we will miss them.
The Eleventh International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize at the Four Seasons, Toronto, Canada:
(Denmark’s) Royal Ballet: 
Dancers: Stephanie Chen Gundorph Moller and Sebastian Haynes    Grand Pas Classic: choreography, Victor Gsovsky, music Daniel Auber The Hamburg Ballet:
Dancers: Futaba Ishizaki and Christopher Evans Pas de deux from Act II of Giselle: choreography, after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, music Adolphe Adam
Boston Ballet: 
Dancers: Ji Young Chae and Junxiong Zhao Pas de deux from Act II of the Nutcracker, choreographer after  Lev Ivanov, music Pyotr Tchaikovsky The National Ballet of Canada: 
Dancers: Hannah Fischer (winner), Ethan Watts Pas de deux from Act III of the Sleeping Beauty, choreography, Rudolph Nureyev after Marius Petipa, music Pyotr Tchaikovsky San Francisco Ballet:
Dancers: Wan Tin Zhao and Carlo di Lanno (winner)Pas de deux from Act III of the Sleeping Beauty, choreography, Helgi Tomasson after Marius Petipa, music Pyotr Tchaikovsky Contemporary repertoire:
(Denmark’s) Royal Ballet: Iguazu Falls, choreography Alban Lendorf
The Hamburg Ballet:
Memories of the Future, choreography, Helias Tur-Dorvault Boston Ballet:
Disrict, choreography, Yuri Yanowsky (winner) The National Ballet of Canada
The Wild Space between Two Hearts, choreography, Robert Binet San Francisco Ballet: 
Frayed, choreography, Myles Thatcher  In memory of Erik Bruhn, the celebrated Danish dancer who was originally associated with (Denmark's) Royal Ballet, (Britain's) Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and The  National Ballet of Canada during his career.  We have been attending this competition practically since the beginning, early nineties, and have always found it to be of a very high standard, appreciating the quality in the dancing often overlooked by the ever rising technical standard. Unlike most competitions, the candidates are young professionals, "on the way" and already showing maturity.We also found the contemporary section inspiring this time round.  A clip was shown of Bruhn during rehearsals and performances, expressing what dance had  brought to him over the years as an artist and a human being.  We vividly remember the magic he created in Swan Lake, opposite Nadia Nerina, while guesting with The Royal Ballet in the sixties - we haven't forgotten it -  He was a true gift to the profession. Video Presentation: excerpts from Lennart Pasborg's documentary about Eric Bruhn, "I'm The Same But More".
MANON   London UK, and Toronto, Canada,  October 2014  
ROYAL BALLET & NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA
Casting Manon - Des Grieux (RB)
 Nunez/Bonelli -  Lamb (debut)/ Muntagirov (debut)  -  Osipova (debut) /Acosta - Lamb/Pennefather (debut) - 
Morera (debut)/Kish (debut) -  Hamilton (debut on main stage)/Golding (debut on main stage) -  Marquez/McRae
Casting: Manon - Des Grieux (NBC)
Rodriguez/Cote -  Hodgkinson/Gomes

 The Lescauts:
Royal Ballet : Cervera, Soares, Campbell, Zucchetti, Gartside
National Ballet: Frola, Maddox

The Mistresses:
Royal Ballet : Calvert, Crawford, Morera, Choe
National Ballet:  Lunkina, Daumac

 The Brutal Gaolers:
Royal Ballet : Avis, Whitehead, Underwood, Gartside
National Ballet: Renna, Maddox             
One or two thoughts on our London UK visit and at the Four Seasons in Toronto.
We have seen Manon many times in the 80’s in London, and in the 90’s in North America, (Toronto and New York), so we were very happy to see it again after quite a while.  Manon is Kenneth MacMillan’s hot blooded full length ballet, set in decadent Paris during the Regency period (1715 - 23), with lavish costumes by Georgiades; a time socially torn between corrupt affluent life and extreme squalor. Based on a French novel by Abbe Prevost, suggesting the story is somehow a reflection of his own life. The musical score is by J. Massenet.  The main character is about a young girl, Manon, who in our view, has a tendency to be too carefree for her own good and who does not foresee consequences. She is ardently pursued by a young wealthy student, Des Grieux, whose love for her is unconditional, while her brother Lescaut, a gambler and a drunk, is looking to sell her off to the highest bidder, probably to support his habit.  This is Mon. Guillot de Morfontaine, a wealthy man who showers Manon with gifts, and she falls for his wealth.
We always watch for the dancer’s  interpretive qualities in the Ballroom second act, where Manon is “in a bind” between wealth, comfort, and her true love for Des Grieux.  Here lies the acting challenge of this very dilemma she is put through. Some dancers we saw emphasized Manon’s relishing Mon. GM’s fortune; while others showed more guilt in their choice between wealth and their love for Des Grieux. Others think she knows exactly what she is doing and call her scheming.
For us, MacMillan’s spectacular free lifts in “the double work”, apparently reminiscent of skaters’ lifts,is a high spot in the two bedroom duets  and in the last act (New Orleans swamp) where both Manon and Des Grieux escape from punishment for their trickery and gambling. Massenet’s touching score and the long held poses express all the passion and tragedy in the narrative.  Some Des Grieuxs were openly devastated about the plight of Manon, while others were more subdued and just as believable. Equally, some Manons were delirious before death and others completely drained from illness and exhaustion.
 Our observation from this programme, (apart from all the last minute cast changes, an added challenge), was that all first timers have the makings of becoming excellent lead characters; there are a lot of young hopefuls right now. Overall we drew something positive from all dancers, the first timers, the more seasoned and the soon to retire, in London and Toronto.  We saw so many performances, it was hard to digest it all. Our appreciation to all the dancers, staff and to both orchestras at the “Royal” and the “National”  ending it all on a high note. 
Thanks everybody.
Toronto  Cineplex, Dec7th 2014 - La Bayadere, Bolshoi Ballet. New production 2013 - Artistic Director, Sergei Filin.
As we have previously stated, for a lot of us, this is an excellent substitute if one cannot get to see the real thing. All the company was  looking good, partiularly in the second act, with Maria Alexandrova as Gamzatti. Her flair was so refreshing; she is such a feisty dancer, and we were fortunate to catch her in this performance as we missed her in the same ballet last year in London when she suffered an onstage injury.The Shades Act, always a highlight for us, definitely met our expectations. The main drawback when watching on screen is that the camera determines how one watches the ballet while we think  it should resemble a live performance. An added bonus were the insightful backstage interviews during the intervals with directors and dancers; an added dimension. We would also like to hear less applause during the performance as it makes it harder to follow the story, but all theatres vary on this score. At any rate, we are most greatful we can see these top class companies at home.

Manhattan, June 2014:                        
Boston Ballet June 2014 at the Lincoln Center brought a variety of works by the following:
 V. Nijinsky:  Afternoon of a Faun, music C. Debussy                      
 Balanchine: Symphony in three movements, music I. Stravinsky
 Kylian: Bella Figura, music Foss, Pergolesi, Marcello, Vivaldi & Torelli
 Forsyth: The second detail, music T. Willems
 Elo: Plan to B., music H.Ignaz, F. von Biber
 Martinez: Resonance music F. Liszt
 Ekman: Cacti,  music J.Hayden,Beethoven,Schubert, Stein & Mahler
The last time we saw Boston Ballet was at the London Coliseum in the early '80s, then, of course, a different company; today it's fresh, healthy and vibrant. The program states the dancers represent 18 countries. Taking into account all the thought processes that go into touring and trying to show the dancers in the best possible light, we would still like to see them at home in a full length for their full potential. A nice taster, nonetheless.
The ballet,” Afternoon of a Faun”, is one of the first modern ballets, moving right away from the classical idiom, first performed in Paris in 1912 with choreography by V. Nijinsky (born in Kiev to Polish parents - R. Buckle) of the Ballets Russes.  The exotic music is by. C. Debussy and the sets and costumes by L. Bakst.   The work was inspired by a poem by French poet Mallarme.  Nijinsky’s work is set in a woodland glade during Greek mythological times about a faun, half boy half beast, who meets several nymphs and starts to chase them.
Nijinsky’s choreographic style suggests human and animal profiles of Greco-Roman art in antiquity, giving a flat background and looking like a frieze, or as seen on paintings of ancient Greek vases. We therefore see the chain of nymphs in profile shuffling past the faun. The ballet closes with the most desirable nymph dropping her scarf while breaking away from the faun, who then picks it up, climbs back to his hill to lie-down on it, and as Ballets Russes ballerina, Lydia Sokolova, described in her own words, performed “his final amorous descent” upon the veil. This caused a huge uproar at the time, due to its sexual content.
We liked both the faun and principal nymph; sound performances from both, capturing Nijinsky’s style and enhancing the soothing mood created by Debussy’s music.

American Ballet Theatre performed at the Met. Shakespear’s popular classic romantic comedy, Midsummer Night’s Dream; “The Dream”, choreography by Ashton, music by Mendelssohn. Romantic and magical; we have always had a soft spot for the final “pas de deux”; for us, one of his most emotional. Saw both casts, who were very skilled, and able at interpreting his challenging and articulate choreography.
Swan Lake; must acknowledge H. Seo who “held the fort” with M. Gomes (Siegfried), stepping in as “Odile” in the Black Swan act, replacing an unfortunately injured G. Murphy. On another night, she was partnered by R.Bolle; as always, a charming and confident Siegfried.
Also, caught the last Giselle with A.Cojocaru and D.Hallberg; a revelation for us; their intellectual understanding was memorable, and S. Abrera was a very assertive Myrtha.
A fine summer dance season in Manhattan. Thanks to all dancers and the orchestras in both companies.

London visit, end of January till early February 2014:  
 These are some of the highlights from some of the performances we saw.
Our visit to the Linbury Studio Theatre (a more intimate venue than the Royal Opera House for more experimental work), we saw Hansel and Gretel, a well known fairy tale of German origin by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, but in this production, Liam Scarlett has set it in the McCarthy era, with all it's social obstacles. A chilly, spooky tale about a destructive step-parent taking complete control of the whole family unit - all too common. Paradoxically, family life in those days seemed very stable from the outside. The two neglected siblings are left to wonder in the forest until they reach a cottage where they fall into the hands of a wicked witch.The entire cast in their own context were very persuasive and we liked the witch who had an unerring character of cynicism, mystery and terror.
 We also caught the mixed bill at the Royal Opera comprising of Rhapsody, a string of visual poetry with music by Rachmaninov and choreography by F. Ashton. This challenging piece is packed with fleeting steps interwoven with upper-body flow, reminiscent of Ashton.The whole cast, we thought was up to the task, and we remember the opening cast two years ago, (more mature), who were then well versed in this style. It was hard for us to believe that the two younger casts were new to this work.
Central to the triple bill came Tetractys/The Art of Fugue - From the Greek "tetrad" signifies literally the number 4.  Choreography by W. McGregor, the music by J.S.Bach, the esteemed fugue composer, set and costumes by T. Auerbach. McGregor uses computer technology and bio-science. This intellectual piece with a full strong cast, vibrant lighting and costumes was hard for us to absorb and therefore needs more viewing.  The last performance unfortunately was cancelled due to injury and illness.  I would have liked to have watched the collaborative process, in the studio, leading up to the end product. On balance, this piece worked well with the other two "heritage” ballets,  the last being Gloria, another ballet we have recently seen with the same casts. Sorrowful music by the French composer, Poulenc,  for solo and chorus, choreography by K. MacMillan about war and death; a very relevant subject today.  Here MacMillan reflects upon his father's suffering during the Great War. Very dramatic lighting and both casts responded with dedication and sensitivity.  Adding to this, "Men in Motion", at the Coliseum, was a taste of Russian miniatures with samples of relatively recent works by choreographers and dancers whom we have only read about but finally got to see.
Giselle, a Romantic ballet in two acts; choreography, Petipa after Coralli and Perrot, music by Adam. Gautier wrote the story which was loosely based on Hugo’s poem “Fantomes” in “Les Orientales”. During that time, ballet directors and designers broke away from the Greek and Roman mythology loved by the aristocracy, and moved towards the Gothic supernatural. 
This ballet was performed in Paris , the most significant arts centre at the time, the title role danced by the Swedish-Italian Marie Taglioni in 1841. A story full of emotions; love, betrayal, forgiveness, reconciliation and resignation, this London performance was beautifully staged and revived by Sir Peter Wright. 
Giselle has never been our favourite, as we find the score is too sentimental; Cyril Beaumont, the author, dance critic and
bookseller-publisher, said in his “The Ballet Called Giselle” ( publ. 1944 p.56): “By no stretch of imagination can the score of Giselle be called great music, but it cannot be denied that it is admirably suited to its purpose.  It is danceable and it has colour and mood attuned to the various dramatic situations”.
The first performance we saw which was transmitted live, cast Osipova, a former Bolshoi Principal now with the Royal Ballet, with Acosta.  They really lived up to our expectations.  Here, we felt both Osipova’s portrayals,“earthbound and ethereal”, were well accomplished, but especially in the “white act”; here, she is one of the few who has the capability of displaying such an airborne quality due to her breathtaking jump.  Meanwhile,  Acosta proved a
sure and very receptive Albrecht.  He came across to us more reckless than caddish.  By contrast, in another cast with Nunez and Soares,  her perspective in the “white act”  was, to us, more traditional and refined, not as theatrically bold, but equally as  dramatic and intense. What left an impression was her musicality and phrasing, and the way she filled out the music.  Other memorable parts were:  a strong peasant ‘pas de six’ in the first act, and first night Hilarion, who, we felt, acted with despair rather than anger trying to save Giselle from Albrecht’s deception.  Last but not least, the ‘corps de ballet’, the backbone in our view, meticulously coached, and were all supported by a first class orchestra.
A great evening for us.

Lincoln Center visit, ABT fall season, Oct/Nov 2013:
It was good to visit in the fall season after such a long time.  Our favourite choices were the two Shakesperean themes; we think Ratmansky is a resourceful choreographer: "The Tempest", a "fragmented narrative", was to us intelligently and concisely put together.  The Sibelius score was so suitable to the story with imagination and exotic subtleties. In particular we loved Ariel the Spirit, and the central pas-de-deux of the young lovers showed great sensitivity and affection.  The costumes were enchanting, and the props were very effective and not overdone. 
Limon's "The Moor's Pavane, Variations on a Theme of Othello", for us is a powerful piece of theatre, pure lighting effects with music by Purcell.  The choreography looks deceivingly undemanding in contrast with the strenuous psychological component, and all the cast carried the ballet convincingly.
Revisited "A Month in the Country"; here Ashton sets the mood (in the household) of which he is a master.  We would need to see this ballet many times more as the choreography is so intricate. 
"Theme and Variations": a favourite of ours; Balanchine-born into a musical family-brilliantly visualizes Tchaikovsky's music.  The Conclusion is especially exhilarating when both music and nimble dancing at the end culminate in the beautiful Polonaise.  A real treat! 
As we have already seen ethnic Indonesian dancing, we really liked Mark Morris' take on this theme (Gong) with imagination and playfulness.  Charming shadows, and colourful costumes.
For us the music is paramount and as always ABT's orchestra well bolstered these performances. 
Despite the malicious acid attack on Artistic Director  Sergei Filin, we felt the company performed well and were very happy to see them again.  
What stayed with us was the compelling casts.  We found Obraztsova's Nikiya sincere and touching, and liked her warmth of personality especially in Act I. Zakharova, who is physically very gifted, gave a graceful performance as Odette.  Her Aurora had a delicate quality, beautifully poised with pure line, partnered by a noble Hallberg.  
To mention a few others: Smirnova (a beautiful Lilac Fairy), Chudin who was an affable Solor, and Lantratov's dynamic Evil Genius. 
The Corps, as always, was solid particularly in the Shades Act; the young soloists, appealing with a very watchable quality - and hats off to all who stepped in to salvage the rest of the ballet (Bayadere first night).
We would really like to see a change in their choreography.  It was very disappointing not to see the original endings.  
We have such fond memories of the Bolshoi; we visited the Bolshoi Theatre in November 1982, the same month Leonid Brezhnev passed away.
Finally, we wish Sergei and his family all the best, and above all a swift recovery back to work. 
  
22nd October 2013 - Toronto Cineplex, Bolshoi Ballet's Spartacus on screen:  
Thank goodness for today's technology; we were all very fortunate to see the Bolshoi's heroic Spartacus.  This technology is doing wonders for people everywhere to view major dance companies from home.     
This was a magnificent performance, displaying the Bolshoi's bold and sweeping style, with a commanding cast.  Our heartfelt thanks to all who made this possible….. 
Anna Karenina (Sony Centre, Toronto, April 2015) based on Tolstoy’s novel.
Premiere March 31, 2005
Choreography: Boris Eifman
Music: Tchaikovsky
Sets: Zinovy Margolin
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky
A very compelling ballet to us with a great sense of theatre.  The raw emotions ride out through Boris Eifman’s choreography.  His lifts in all the pas-de-deux are powerful and dramatic.  Highly recommended. 
The Eleventh International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize at the Four Seasons, Toronto, Canada: (Denmark’s) Royal Ballet: 
Dancers: Stephanie Chen Gundorph Moller and Sebastian Haynes    Grand Pas Classic: choreography, Victor Gsovsky, music Daniel Auber The Hamburg Ballet:
Dancers: Futaba Ishizaki and Christopher Evans Pas de deux from Act II of Giselle: choreography, after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, music Adolphe Adam
Boston Ballet: 
Dancers: Ji Young Chae and Junxiong Zhao Pas de deux from Act II of the Nutcracker, choreographer after  Lev Ivanov, music Pyotr Tchaikovsky The National Ballet of Canada: 
Dancers: Hannah Fischer (winner), Ethan Watts Pas de deux from Act III of the Sleeping Beauty, choreography, Rudolph Nureyev after Marius Petipa, music Pyotr Tchaikovsky San Francisco Ballet:
Dancers: Wan Tin Zhao and Carlo di Lanno (winner)Pas de deux from Act III of the Sleeping Beauty, choreography, Helgi Tomasson after Marius Petipa, music Pyotr Tchaikovsky Contemporary repertoire:
(Denmark’s) Royal Ballet: Iguazu Falls, choreography Alban Lendorf
The Hamburg Ballet:
Memories of the Future, choreography, Helias Tur-Dorvault Boston Ballet:
Disrict, choreography, Yuri Yanowsky (winner) The National Ballet of Canada
The Wild Space between Two Hearts, choreography, Robert Binet San Francisco Ballet: 
Frayed, choreography, Myles Thatcher  In memory of Erik Bruhn, the celebrated Danish dancer who was originally associated with (Denmark's) Royal Ballet, (Britain's) Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and The  National Ballet of Canada during his career.  We have been attending this competition practically since the beginning, early nineties, and have always found it to be of a very high standard, appreciating the quality in the dancing often overlooked by the ever rising technical standard. Unlike most competitions, the candidates are young professionals, "on the way" and already showing maturity.We also found the contemporary section inspiring this time round.  A clip was shown of Bruhn during rehearsals and performances, expressing what dance had  brought to him over the years as an artist and a human being.  We vividly remember the magic he created in Swan Lake, opposite Nadia Nerina, while guesting with The Royal Ballet in the sixties - we haven't forgotten it -  He was a true gift to the profession. Video Presentation: excerpts from Lennart Pasborg's documentary about Eric Bruhn, "I'm The Same But More".

MANON   London UK, and Toronto, Canada,  October 2014  

ROYAL BALLET & NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA

Casting Manon - Des Grieux (RB)
 Nunez/Bonelli -  Lamb (debut)/ Muntagirov (debut)  -  Osipova (debut) /Acosta - Lamb/Pennefather (debut) - 
Morera (debut)/Kish (debut) -  Hamilton (debut on main stage)/Golding (debut on main stage) -  Marquez/McRae
Casting: Manon - Des Grieux (NBC)
Rodriguez/Cote -  Hodgkinson/Gomes

The Lescauts:
Royal Ballet : Cervera, Soares, Campbell, Zucchetti, Gartside
National Ballet: Frola, Maddox

The Mistresses:
Royal Ballet : Calvert, Crawford, Morera, Choe
National Ballet:  Lunkina, Daumac

 The Brutal Gaolers:
Royal Ballet : Avis, Whitehead, Underwood, Gartside
National Ballet: Renna, Maddox
                     
One or two thoughts on our London UK visit and at the Four Seasons in Toronto.

We have seen Manon many times in the 80’s in London, and in the 90’s in North America, (Toronto and New York), so we were very happy to see it again after quite a while.  Manon is Kenneth MacMillan’s hot blooded full length ballet, set in decadent Paris during the Regency period (1715 - 23), with lavish costumes by Georgiades; a time socially torn between corrupt affluent life and extreme squalor. Based on a French novel by Abbe Prevost, suggesting the story is somehow a reflection of his own life. The musical score is by J. Massenet.  The main character is about a young girl, Manon, who in our view, has a tendency to be too carefree for her own good and who does not foresee consequences. She is ardently pursued by a young wealthy student, Des Grieux, whose love for her is unconditional, while her brother Lescaut, a gambler and a drunk, is looking to sell her off to the highest bidder, probably to support his habit.  This is Mon. Guillot de Morfontaine, a wealthy man who showers Manon with gifts, and she falls for his wealth.
We always watch for the dancer’s  interpretive qualities in the Ballroom second act, where Manon is “in a bind” between wealth, comfort, and her true love for Des Grieux.  Here lies the acting challenge of this very dilemma she is put through. Some dancers we saw emphasized Manon’s relishing Mon. GM’s fortune; while others showed more guilt in their choice between wealth and their love for Des Grieux. Others think she knows exactly what she is doing and call her scheming.
For us, MacMillan’s spectacular free lifts in “the double work”, apparently reminiscent of skaters’ lifts,is a high spot in the two bedroom duets  and in the last act (New Orleans swamp) where both Manon and Des Grieux escape from punishment for their trickery and gambling. Massenet’s touching score and the long held poses express all the passion and tragedy in the narrative.  Some Des Grieuxs were openly devastated about the plight of Manon, while others were more subdued and just as believable. Equally, some Manons were delirious before death and others completely drained from illness and exhaustion.
 Our observation from this programme, (apart from all the last minute cast changes, an added challenge), was that all first timers have the makings of becoming excellent lead characters; there are a lot of young hopefuls right now. Overall we drew something positive from all dancers, the first timers, the more seasoned and the soon to retire, in London and Toronto.  We saw so many performances, it was hard to digest it all. Our appreciation to all the dancers, staff and to both orchestras at the “Royal” and the “National”  ending it all on a high note. 
Thanks everybody.

Toronto  Cineplex, Dec7th 2014 - La Bayadere, Bolshoi Ballet. New production 2013 - Artistic Director, Sergei Filin.
As we have previously stated, for a lot of us, this is an excellent substitute if one cannot get to see the real thing. All the company was  looking good, partiularly in the second act, with Maria Alexandrova as Gamzatti. Her flair was so refreshing; she is such a feisty dancer, and we were fortunate to catch her in this performance as we missed her in the same ballet last year in London when she suffered an onstage injury.The Shades Act, always a highlight for us, definitely met our expectations. The main drawback when watching on screen is that the camera determines how one watches the ballet while we think  it should resemble a live performance. An added bonus were the insightful backstage interviews during the intervals with directors and dancers; an added dimension. We would also like to hear less applause during the performance as it makes it harder to follow the story, but all theatres vary on this score. At any rate, we are most greatful we can see these top class companies at home.
Manhattan, June 2014:
Boston Ballet June 2014 at the Lincoln Center brought a variety of works by the following:
 V. Nijinsky:  Afternoon of a Faun, music C. Debussy                      
 Balanchine: Symphony in three movements, music I. Stravinsky
 Kylian: Bella Figura, music Foss, Pergolesi, Marcello, Vivaldi & Torelli
 Forsyth: The second detail, music T. Willems
 Elo: Plan to B., music H.Ignaz, F. von Biber
 Martinez: Resonance music F. Liszt
 Ekman: Cacti,  music J.Hayden,Beethoven,Schubert, Stein & Mahler
The last time we saw Boston Ballet was at the London Coliseum in the early '80s, then, of course, a different company; today it's fresh, healthy and vibrant. The program states the dancers represent 18 countries. Taking into account all the thought processes that go into touring and trying to show the dancers in the best possible light, we would still like to see them at home in a full length for their full potential. A nice taster, nonetheless.
The ballet,” Afternoon of a Faun”, is one of the first modern ballets, moving right away from the classical idiom, first performed in Paris in 1912 with choreography by V. Nijinsky (born in Kiev to Polish parents - R. Buckle) of the Ballets Russes.  The exotic music is by. C. Debussy and the sets and costumes by L. Bakst.   The work was inspired by a poem by French poet Mallarme.  Nijinsky’s work is set in a woodland glade during Greek mythological times about a faun, half boy half beast, who meets several nymphs and starts to chase them.
Nijinsky’s choreographic style suggests human and animal profiles of Greco-Roman art in antiquity, giving a flat background and looking like a frieze, or as seen on paintings of ancient Greek vases. We therefore see the chain of nymphs in profile shuffling past the faun. The ballet closes with the most desirable nymph dropping her scarf while breaking away from the faun, who then picks it up, climbs back to his hill to lie-down on it, and as Ballets Russes ballerina, Lydia Sokolova, described in her own words, performed “his final amorous descent” upon the veil. This caused a huge uproar at the time, due to its sexual content.
We liked both the faun and principal nymph; sound performances from both, capturing Nijinsky’s style and enhancing the soothing mood created by Debussy’s music.

American Ballet Theatre performed at the Met. Shakespear’s popular classic romantic comedy, Midsummer Night’s Dream; “The Dream”, choreography by Ashton, music by Mendelssohn. Romantic and magical; we have always had a soft spot for the final “pas de deux”; for us, one of his most emotional. Saw both casts, who were very skilled, and able at interpreting his challenging and articulate choreography.
Swan Lake; must acknowledge H. Seo who “held the fort” with M. Gomes (Siegfried), stepping in as “Odile” in the Black Swan act, replacing an unfortunately injured G. Murphy. On another night, she was partnered by R.Bolle; as always, a charming and confident Siegfried.
Also, caught the last Giselle with A.Cojocaru and D.Hallberg; a revelation for us; their intellectual understanding was memorable, and S. Abrera was a very assertive Myrtha.
A fine summer dance season in Manhattan. Thanks to all dancers and the orchestras in both companies.

London visit, end of January till early February 2014:  
 These are some of the highlights from some of the performances we saw.
Our visit to the Linbury Studio Theatre (a more intimate venue than the Royal Opera House for more experimental work), we saw Hansel and Gretel, a well known fairy tale of German origin by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, but in this production, Liam Scarlett has set it in the McCarthy era, with all it's social obstacles. A chilly, spooky tale about a destructive step-parent taking complete control of the whole family unit - all too common. Paradoxically, family life in those days seemed very stable from the outside. The two neglected siblings are left to wonder in the forest until they reach a cottage where they fall into the hands of a wicked witch.The entire cast in their own context were very persuasive and we liked the witch who had an unerring character of cynicism, mystery and terror.
 We also caught the mixed bill at the Royal Opera comprising of Rhapsody, a string of visual poetry with music by Rachmaninov and choreography by F. Ashton. This challenging piece is packed with fleeting steps interwoven with upper-body flow, reminiscent of Ashton.The whole cast, we thought was up to the task, and we remember the opening cast two years ago, (more mature), who were then well versed in this style. It was hard for us to believe that the two younger casts were new to this work.
Central to the triple bill came Tetractys/The Art of Fugue - From the Greek "tetrad" signifies literally the number 4.  Choreography by W. McGregor, the music by J.S.Bach, the esteemed fugue composer, set and costumes by T. Auerbach. McGregor uses computer technology and bio-science. This intellectual piece with a full strong cast, vibrant lighting and costumes was hard for us to absorb and therefore needs more viewing.  The last performance unfortunately was cancelled due to injury and illness.  I would have liked to have watched the collaborative process, in the studio, leading up to the end product. On balance, this piece worked well with the other two "heritage” ballets,  the last being Gloria, another ballet we have recently seen with the same casts. Sorrowful music by the French composer, Poulenc,  for solo and chorus, choreography by K. MacMillan about war and death; a very relevant subject today.  Here MacMillan reflects upon his father's suffering during the Great War. Very dramatic lighting and both casts responded with dedication and sensitivity.  Adding to this, "Men in Motion", at the Coliseum, was a taste of Russian miniatures with samples of relatively recent works by choreographers and dancers whom we have only read about but finally got to see.
Giselle, a Romantic ballet in two acts; choreography, Petipa after Coralli and Perrot, music by Adam. Gautier wrote the story which was loosely based on Hugo’s poem “Fantomes” in “Les Orientales”. During that time, ballet directors and designers broke away from the Greek and Roman mythology loved by the aristocracy, and moved towards the Gothic supernatural. 
This ballet was performed in Paris , the most significant arts centre at the time, the title role danced by the Swedish-Italian Marie Taglioni in 1841. A story full of emotions; love, betrayal, forgiveness, reconciliation and resignation, this London performance was beautifully staged and revived by Sir Peter Wright. 
Giselle has never been our favourite, as we find the score is too sentimental; Cyril Beaumont, the author, dance critic and
bookseller-publisher, said in his “The Ballet Called Giselle” ( publ. 1944 p.56): “By no stretch of imagination can the score of Giselle be called great music, but it cannot be denied that it is admirably suited to its purpose.  It is danceable and it has colour and mood attuned to the various dramatic situations”.
The first performance we saw which was transmitted live, cast Osipova, a former Bolshoi Principal now with the Royal Ballet, with Acosta.  They really lived up to our expectations.  Here, we felt both Osipova’s portrayals,“earthbound and ethereal”, were well accomplished, but especially in the “white act”; here, she is one of the few who 
has the capability of displaying such an airborne quality due to her breathtaking jump.  Meanwhile,  Acosta proved a sure and very receptive Albrecht.  He came across to us more reckless than caddish.  By contrast, in another cast with Nunez and Soares,  her perspective in the “white act”  was, to us, more traditional and refined, not as theatrically bold, but equally as  dramatic and intense. What left an impression was her musicality and phrasing, and the way she filled out the music.  Other memorable parts were:  a strong peasant ‘pas de six’ in the first act, and first night Hilarion, who, we felt, acted with despair rather than anger trying to save Giselle from Albrecht’s deception.  Last but not least, the ‘corps de ballet’, the backbone in our view, meticulously coached, and were all supported by a first class orchestra.
A great evening for us.
Lincoln Center visit, ABT fall season, Oct/Nov 2013:
It was good to visit in the fall season after such a long time.  Our favourite choices were the two Shakesperean themes; we think Ratmansky is a resourceful choreographer: "The Tempest", a "fragmented narrative", was to us intelligently and concisely put together.  The Sibelius score was so suitable to the story with imagination and exotic subtleties. In particular we loved Ariel the Spirit, and the central pas-de-deux of the young lovers showed great sensitivity and affection.  The costumes were enchanting, and the props were very effective and not overdone. 
Limon's "The Moor's Pavane, Variations on a Theme of Othello", for us is a powerful piece of theatre, pure lighting effects with music by Purcell.  The choreography looks deceivingly undemanding in contrast with the strenuous psychological component, and all the cast carried the ballet convincingly.
Revisited "A Month in the Country"; here Ashton sets the mood (in the household) of which he is a master.  We would need to see this ballet many times more as the choreography is so intricate. 
"Theme and Variations": a favourite of ours; Balanchine-born into a musical family-brilliantly visualizes Tchaikovsky's music.  The Conclusion is especially exhilarating when both music and nimble dancing at the end culminate in the beautiful Polonaise.  A real treat! 
As we have already seen ethnic Indonesian dancing, we really liked Mark Morris' take on this theme (Gong) with imagination and playfulness.  Charming shadows, and colourful costumes.
For us the music is paramount and as always ABT's orchestra well bolstered these performances. 
Despite the malicious acid attack on Artistic Director  Sergei Filin, we felt the company performed well and were very happy to see them again.  
What stayed with us was the compelling casts.  We found Obraztsova's Nikiya sincere and touching, and liked her warmth of personality especially in Act I. Zakharova, who is physically very gifted, gave a graceful performance as Odette.  Her Aurora had a delicate quality, beautifully poised with pure line, partnered by a noble Hallberg.  
To mention a few others: Smirnova (a beautiful Lilac Fairy), Chudin who was an affable Solor, and Lantratov's dynamic Evil Genius. 
The Corps, as always, was solid particularly in the Shades Act; the young soloists, appealing with a very watchable quality - and hats off to all who stepped in to salvage the rest of the ballet (Bayadere first night).
We would really like to see a change in their choreography.  It was very disappointing not to see the original endings.  
We have such fond memories of the Bolshoi; we visited the Bolshoi Theatre in November 1982, the same month Leonid Brezhnev passed away.
Finally, we wish Sergei and his family all the best, and above all a swift recovery back to work. 
22nd October 2013 - Toronto Cineplex, Bolshoi Ballet's Spartacus on screen:  
Thank goodness for today's technology; we were all very fortunate to see the Bolshoi's heroic Spartacus.  This technology is doing wonders for people everywhere to view major dance companies from home.     
This was a magnificent performance, displaying the Bolshoi's bold and sweeping style, with a commanding cast.  Our heartfelt thanks to all who made this possible….. 
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A mixed bag for us at the ROH.

Enjoyed the Ashton bill; the dancing was exquisite.  Happy to see Monotones after a very long time.  Liked 24 Preludes, fluid and lyrical, so suited to the RB style, in contrast with Aeternum which was more austere.  Orchestra, costumes and designs every bit as commendable.
Glad  we caught  " Eugene Onegin" alongside the ballet as we were interested to hear the original music.
Once more, an invaluable visit to the ROH.  Our thanks to everyone involved.
See you next time.
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An impressive standard throughout




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