March 2012

Last Sunday’s Observer magazine carried an article by dance critic Luke Jennings about young dancers at the Royal Ballet Lower and Upper Schools.  His contention is that the number of British born and trained dancers graduating from the Royal Ballet School into the Royal Ballet Company is diminishing annually. Of the talented and dedicated young dancers entering the School at 11 years old, the majority will be progressively assessed out, the number of places squeezed as they are increasingly joined by young dancers from overseas.  Of those British dancers who do succeed in winning a Royal Ballet contract few seem to make it to the top as principal dancers in starring roles.

Uncomfortable questions arise from these stark facts – about training methods and schooling, but also as to what companies are looking for in today’s international market.  What effect does such ruthless selection have on the cream of British ballet talent during and after the training process?  How important is it to develop a distinctive home-grown British style and dancers?  And ultimately what is the argument for taxpayer support if British children have such statistically slim chances of making it into the national companies?

To read Luke Jennings’ thought provoking article and some passionate discussion emerging from it:

Romeo and Juliet (Royal Ballet), broadcast live to the Oxford Phoenix,
22 March 2012

The intensity and immediacy of this ballet makes it difficult to believe
that it is 47 years old.  On Thursday, Lauren Cuthbertson and Frederico
Bonelli danced with fierce sincerity; the moment that they first saw
each other, the audience knew that they were falling into the grip of an
inescapable but forbidden passion.  Cuthbertson’s growing revulsion at
Paris’ advances and her desperate appeals to her parents, were
heartbreaking, as were Bonelli’s pain at the death of Mercutio and his
excruciating anguish on killing Tybalt.

My one disappointment was in the dance at the beginning of the ballroom
scene, with which the Capulets convey so clearly and directly “This is
who we are, and we are together”, in a way that words cannot do, but
dance can.  It is hugely important, because the entire story turns on
the allegiances and enmity of warring clans, and this scene sets that
out unambiguously as part of the status quo.  Perhaps it was filmed with
too many close-ups, which disturbed the flow of the panorama, or perhaps
there was a slight lack of focus in the performance that diminished the
impact.  Otherwise, it was a totally compelling production.

There were particularly fine performances from a vicious Tybalt, a
mischievous Mercutio and an insolently engaging Whore, but alas the
cinema had no cast sheets, and I have been unable to find cast details
on the Royal Opera House website.  It was all the more irritating then that although
the cast were listed in the rolling credits at the end, far more
prominence was given to a repeating scroll of tweets at the foot of the
screen during the curtain calls.  However tweets have their uses:  it
was thanks to the fact that Alexander Campbell had already sent a tweet
that I was quick enough to spot that he had played Mercutio, as his name
rushed by.

Maggie Watson
25 March 2012

Lots of Dancin’ Oxford activities coming up this weekend:

Friday 16th at 7.00pm and Saturday 17th at 4.00pm and 7.00pm:
Oxford Youth Dance presents No Stone Unturned at the Pegasus Theatre
Come and support, tickets are selling fast!! Featuring new work by: OYD Co, DugOut, Slipstream, The Uthers, OYD Classes 1, 2 & 3, Cecilia Macfarlane, Joelle Pappas, Elly Crowther, The Helpers and more…

Saturday 17th at 8.00pm at the Old Fire Station
Paulette Mae presents A Suitcase for All Seasons
Featuring Paulette Mae, Ana Barbour and Anja Meinhardt in a triptych of new dance theatre fusing contemporary dance, street and butoh with spoken word in an evocative and surreal exploration of our attachment to objects, people and space.

Sunday 18th 4.30-6.00pm at The Ultimate Picture Palace, Jeune Street
Dance on Screen Film Shorts – an inspiring programme including premiers by Oxford dance filmmakers including Ana Barbour and Dariusz Dziala alongside some breathtaking films from a decade of Oxford Dance on Screen.

Further details on:

If you go please post your comments and thoughts on what you see here on Oxford Dance Writers – and encourage any young people to enter the Dance Writers of the Future 2012 competition!

If you didn’t manage to make it see the Bolshoi’s Le Corsaire last weekend, here is another chance to see one of the world’s great ballet companies here in Oxford in a live relay performance from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden:

The Royal Ballet in

Romeo and Juliet

7.15pm Thursday 22nd March 2012, Phoenix Picturehouse

Romeo and Juliet was Kenneth MacMillan‘s first full-evening ballet and, from its premiere in 1965, it has been one of The Royal Ballet’s signature works, popular all over the world.

At the beginning of the ballet MacMillan’s crowd scenes teem with life and colour. It’s a pleasure to be able to follow the characters created by members of the corps de ballet as they portray the townspeople, market traders and servants of the rival Montagues and Capulets.

However, once Romeo and Juliet meet, everything else on stage can only be scenery for their story. Three great pas de deux: the meeting in the ballroom, the balcony scene and the morning after the wedding eloquently convey the narrative: adolescent shyness and fascination; the headlong rush of love declared; and the grief of parting. The final scene in the tomb, a pas de deux with a lifeless partner, is devastating.

The Royal Ballet has performed Romeo and Juliet well over 400 times, yet each performance is subtly different. Every pairing in the title roles brings fresh nuances to the young lovers’ characters, while the wealth of supporting roles, from the exuberant trio of harlots in the town square to the murderous rage of Tybalt, offers scope for dancers throughout the Company. Nicholas Georgiadis’s earthy Renaissance designs, with some of the original details recently restored, are the perfect backdrop, and Sergei Prokofiev’s music is one of ballet’s greatest and best loved scores.

Running time: 190 Minutes

These relays are selling out, so book your tickets quickly!  Either online by selecting a time, or call the Box Office:
0871 902 5736 (10p a minute from a landline)

Le Corsaire:  Bolshoi Ballet, live from Moscow to the Oxford Phoenix , 12 March 2012

Le Corsaire has both a complicated story and a complicated history.  Although based on Byron’s poem, which sprang from his travels and experiences at a particular historical moment, and first performed in Russia at a time when the empire was acutely concerned with developments in the near east, I felt that the context of this production was too vague to tell the story well, and this detracted from its emotional impact.  I found it hard to see how the conflicts between the Greeks, the Turks and the pirates, essential to the momentum of the plot, fitted together, and without clarity around those relationships it was reduced to an improbable story of two lovers who encountered a number of highly confusing difficulties.

I admired the technically magnificent performances of the principles, although, for myself, I don’t care for the way that Bolshoi dancers hold their arms and use their hands, and I was very unhappy about the extra flick of the wrists that some seem to favour as they hit a pose or the peak of a jump.

There certainly were times when the dancing showed conviction and sincerity, and I loved the set corps de ballet piece for the jardin animé, and the first Odalisque solo (the one in which she uses a series of brisés to fly across the stage).  However, I was disappointed by what I felt to be a lack of emotional tension between Conrad (Ruslan Skvortsov) and Medora (Svetlana Lunkina), particularly in the grand pas de deux with which we are all so familiar.  Gulnare (Nina Kaptsova) gave a spirited performance, but I did not believe that she really loved the Pasha, as the libretto flashed up on the screen before the trick wedding stated.

The production was based on the 1899 Petipa staging, with some costumes beautifully reconstructed from the original designs, however, to my mind it wasn’t danced in the style of a nineteenth century ballet;  the performances seemed very twentieth century, with very high extensions and the kind of “fireworks” that I associate with the Soviets.  The styles of sets and staging were variable:  in particular, I thought that the cave and the shipwreck might have been from Disney.  Perhaps this is due to the risk inherent in any recreation, which is the unconscious tendency to stamp it with our own times:  in this case I think it resulted in unintentional pastiche.

Much of the music was familiar to me, although I had never seen this ballet before, and while some is charming, the quality is inconsistent, and the artistic cohesion of the ballet wasn’t helped by the Bolshoi tradition of allowing dancers to take lengthy reverences during the performances.  Seeing this production helped me to understand why Fokine believed that ballet needed to be reformed.


Catch this if you can for some Russian ballet fireworks:

The Bolshoi Ballet in Le Corsaire

3.00pm Sunday 11th March, at the Phoenix Cinema, duration: 150m

A ballet in three acts based on a script by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, loosely based on the long poem by Lord Byron.

A swashbuckling romantic tale of the rescue of a beautiful slave from her tyrannical master by a handsome pirate, with some of ballet’s most famous individual passages.

Medora, a young Greek girl, is sold to Pasha by a slave dealer. The pirate Conrad seizes Medora and declares his love for her. But Conrad’s jealous right-hand-man sends Medora back to the slave dealer, who again sells her to Pasha…

To book tickets, call 0871 902 5736 or book online

Open Dance Theatre Rehearsal

Paulette Mae, who is currently devising the dance theatre piece A Suitcase for all Occasions for the Dancin Oxford Festival, would like to invite you to an Open Rehearsal on Monday March 12th, 4-5pm at the Pegasus Theatre, Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RE.

The piece explores our attachment to people, objects and space and the power of attachment to transform our personal worlds onto extraordinary landscapes.

Drop in behind the scenes and experience the final stages of dance theatre in the making. See how material gathered from personal stories, images and words are refined and brought to life.

As well as being a fly on the wall, there will be the opportunity to share your experiences of the material/process and ask the dancers – Ana Barbour, Anja Meinhardt and Paulette Mae – any questions towards the end of the rehearsal.

Places limited, so booking recommended. If you would like to book a place or find out more please email

The work being rehearsed is for an upcoming triple bill of dance theatre at Arts at the Old Fire Station on 17th March, 8pm. More information can be found at

Kathakbox: Living Multicultural Possibilities

Thursday 1st March 2012, Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, 8pm

by Sitara Thobani

The Pegasus Theatre was filled with praise and joyful appreciation as the Sonia Sabri Company presented Kathakbox, part of the Dancin’ Oxford 2012 line up. Weaving together dance and spoken word, the production was a wonderful reflection of multicultural Britain as experienced in urban centres across the UK, not only for its chosen subject matter but also for its actual performance aesthetic. Dancers from styles as diverse as North Indian Kathak, Western Contemporary and urban street dancing combined their talents with vocalists specialising in singing, beatboxing and bol – the often tongue-twisting syllables called out by the tabla player that accompanies Kathak dance. Indeed, even though the show was organised into distinctive segments – solos, duets and sections in which the entire group performed at once – that were gripping in their own right, the production was truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Kathakbox was an interrogation of identity and pluralism, which so often confine people to narrow categories and force them to ‘tick the right box’. And while the show was at times extremely literal – in one of the introductory sequences, the dancers scrambled and struggled to find their place in the ‘right’ box that had been traced on the stage floor  – its humour and the warm personalities of the performers made it resonate with the audience in a powerful way. Laughter, cheers and cries of amazement from the audience could be heard throughout the evening, especially when Shane Bansil the beatboxer, Sarvar Sabri the tabla player, and Nathan Geering the b-boy displayed their impressive talents.

Kathakbox had something to offer an audience that was as diverse as its cast.  Although its name and the classical Kathak training of its choreographer and performer, Sonia Sabri, at times linked the show to the Indian classical dance style, the production incorporated so much more and created something entirely new, not reducible to a label or singularity of style.  Each performer played a role that, at least to the viewer, seemed entirely personal, making the performance feel sincere and relatable. It was impossible not to be swept away by their dance, their conviction and their stories. Sitting in the audience, it did not feel as if we were simply watching the show but that we were living it alongside with the performers. To conceive of the show without any one of these performers seems impossible, which is a strong testament to the fine balance they have achieved. It also speaks to each performer’s ability to connect with the audience and build a relationship over the duration of the show. While much work remains to be done to realize the harmony that Kathakbox captured so inspiringly on stage within larger society, watching and being part of the show was bound to leave audiences with a sense of possibility and a determination to try.

English National Ballet Emerging Dancer:  Monday 5 March 2012

If you saw Strictly Gershwin at the New Theatre in the autumn, you may have voted for the “People’s Choice Award”, which was presented at the end of the ENB Emerging Dancer competition at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday night.

The winner of both awards was Yonah Acosta.  It was almost inevitable:  he took the audience’s breath away with solos from Diana and Actaeon and Don Quixote.  Both performances were charismatic and courageous, but I thought he chose two variations that allowed him to display similar qualities of daring, elevation and spectacular pirouettes.  I should have liked also to have seen him in something more lyrical, or even less than a century old.

The other competitors demonstrated a wider range, but I thought that only one, Ksenia Ovsyanick, was completely successful.  Her first solo, Out of Line, was fluid but accurate, showing clear understanding of the patterns on the floor as well has the shape of the movement, and in Don Quixote she was exciting, spirited, in character, and technically precise.

Three of the other dancers’ classical variations were flawed by loss of balance or uncertainty on pointe, but Black Swan and Paquita were very difficult choices, and Nancy Osbaldeston even had to contend with a late arrival in the audience being led across the auditorium by an usherette with a torch just after she had started.

I enjoyed Barry Drummond’s solos.  He made a very good job of a variation from La Sylphide, dealing well with fiendishly tricky batterie, although I think he needs to develop even more control of his upper body and arms to perfect the style, and his beautiful if lengthy solo by Nacho Duato was a complete contrast in style and technique.

Nancy Osbaldeston, interestingly, had choreographed her second solo herself.  Sassy and fun, not surprisingly, it showed both her personality and her strong technique to great advantage, and also went very much better for her than did Paquita.  I was glad to see someone who may be an emerging (female) choreographer, as well as a dancer.

Introduced by the “original Ballet Boyz”, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, this was a highly professional evening, until the moment that the decisions had to be announced, when the show seemed almost to fall apart for lack of planning.  Perhaps it was the pain of not being able to give awards to all his dancers that threw Wayne Eagling a little off his stride, but I think that next year a rehearsal for the judges would help.  It would have been interesting for the audience, and perhaps for the dancers, if he had explained which qualities the judges valued the most.   Looking at the result, presumably it was virtuosity and showmanship.  The decision was bound to be made on the basis of what each dancer achieved on the night itself, and I think that some of them will have been disappointed by their particular performances, but I should have liked to know whether the judges considered other talents, such as the ability to perform different sorts of work to the highest standards or indeed the ability to choreograph.  As they took longer than planned to make up their minds, there must have been some interesting discussion.

When asked to speak off the cuff, Clement Crisp was eloquent, praising the company and pointing out that these six dancers are representative of the future of ENB.   Interestingly, David Wall chose to address his words directly to the dancers, reminding them that dance is not all about pyrotechnics;  it is about engaging the emotions of the audience.  I hope that neither the dancers nor the company lose sight of that.

The dancers were Yonah Acosta, Barry Drummond, Nancy Osbaldeston, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Junor Souza and Jia Zhang.