The Dancing Lives conference at Wolfson College offered an exceptional opportunity for archivists, academics and dance practitioners to discuss and discover new ways to research and write about dance and dancers’ lives.

The speakers for first panel, on Historical Dancing, demonstrated the vast range of material that dance historians draw upon to investigate the past. Mike Webb and Jennifer Thorp used Jeffrey Boys’s manuscript annotations in his almanac of 1667 to paint a picture of the social dancing scene in seventeenth century London; Michael Burden used caricatures vividly to recreate and interpret the scandalous adventures of Mademoiselle Mercandotti, and Julia Bührle showed how the technological invention of the lithograph helped to make Marie Taglioni a ‘superstar’. While the first four speakers showed how creatively scholars use documents, images and ephemera to advance our knowledge, the plenary session, in which Sue Jones expertly interviewed Jennifer Homans, began to explore what the dance itself can reveal. (more…)

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The Royal Ballet present George Balanchine’s brilliant evocation of the sparkle of emeralds, rubies and diamonds in his full length ballet Jewels at the Royal Opera House, showing in live transmission at Oxford’s Phoenix Picturehouse.

Balanchine’s glittering ballet was inspired by the beauty of the gem stones he saw in the New York store of jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels. He went on to make history with this, the first abstract three-act ballet, first performed in 1967 by New York City Ballet.  Jewels was performed in full by The Royal Ballet for the first time in 2007, using costume designs from the original NYCB production and new set designs by Jean-Marc Puissant.

Each of the three movements draws on a different stone for its inspiration and a different composer for its sound. The French Romantic music of Fauré provides the impetus for the lyricism of Emeralds.  The fire of Rubies comes from Stravinsky and the jazz-age energy of New York. Grandeur and elegance complete the ballet in Diamonds, with the splendour of Imperial Russia and Tchaikovsky’s opulent Third Symphony.  Each section salutes a different era in classical ballet’s history as well as a distinct period in Balanchine’s own life. Through it all, Balanchine displays his genius for combining music with visionary choreography.  Jewels is a masterclass in the many luminous facets of classical ballet and indeed of The Royal Ballet itself, the intensity of the soloists and the precision of the entire Company.

Performances:  Tuesday 11th April 7.15pm, and Encore repeat showing Tuesday 18th April 12.00

Venue:  Phoenix Picturehouse, 57 Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6AE

Tickets:  Tuesday 11th screening Adult £22, Child £10, Student or Retired £17.50, Family x4 £64

Tuesday 18th screening Adult £17.50, Child £10, Student or Retired £15, Family x4 £55

Book online for Tuesday 11th screening here and Tuesday 18th screening here

An interesting mix of performances in the flesh and on the screen last week with two cinema visits for 20th century classics and new works transmitted by the Bolshoi and the Royal Ballet framing live performance of German contemporary dance from Sasha Waltz and Guests at Sadler’s Wells. If I dislike the cinema transmissions’ overhyped introductory promos and some excessively effusive commentary, I do enjoy seeing the interiors of other theatres, and some of the informative interview and documentary material provided. Close-ups highlight intriguing details of the dance, although sometimes at a price of losing their relationship with the wider stage environment; differing camera angles risk obscuring spatial design and choreographic architecture.

The Royal Ballet’s first transmission of a mixed bill marked the final farewell of much loved Carlos Acosta from the Covent Garden main stage starring as Don Jose in his own new version of Carmen. (more…)

Enjoy four short ballets in one evening with this quadruple programme from The Royal Ballet, in a live Screen Arts transmission showing at the Phoenix Picturehouse.  Carlos Acosta focuses on the dramatic essentials of love, jealousy and revenge in his new production of Carmen. As well as choreographing the production, Acosta will dance the lead role.  Liam Scarlett has used Lowell Liebermann’s thrilling Piano Concerto No.1 as the inspiration for his similarly audacious choreography in Viscera.  Debussy’s evocative score is the inspiration for Jerome RobbinsAfternoon of a Faun, which depicts two ballet dancers as absorbed by their own reflections as they are attracted to each other.  George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky pas de deux uses a fragment of music composed for the 1877 production of Swan Lake for a display of ballet bravura and technique.

Date:  Thursday 12th November 2015, 7.15pm

Venue:  Phoenix Picturehouse, 57 Walton St, Oxford OX2 6AE

Book tickets online here or phone 0871 902 5736

As part of the Screen Arts programme, the Phoenix Picturehouse brings another opportunity this weekend to see the Bolshoi Ballet in George Balanchine’s Jewels, in a performance captured live in 2014.  Inspired by the famous jewellers of New York’s Fifth Avenue, this triptych is a tribute to women, and to the cities of Paris, New York and St Petersburg. Choreographed in 1967 for New York City Ballet, this ballet, with its jewel-like costumes, celebrates the three cities and three dance schools that forged the elegance, aesthetic and style of choreographer George Balanchine. Emeralds was conceived as a poetic tribute to the French romantic school and Rubies to the American tradition of Broadway musicals, while Diamonds honours the virtuosity of classical Russian dancers.

Date:  Sunday 8th November 2015, 3.00pm

Venue:  Phoenix Picturehouse, 57 Walton St, Oxford OX2 6AE

Tickets:  Adult £20, Child £8, Student and Retired £15.50

Book online here or phone 0871 902 5736

Read Maggie Watson’s review of Jewels in 2014 here

Lidia Ivanova’s death in a boating ‘accident’ in 1924 remains one of ballet history’s unexplained mysteries, but she did not disappear without trace. Elizabeth Kendall’s meticulously researched book does not solve the puzzle of how or why she died, but she does lift this remarkable dancer out of her shadowy existence as a tragic footnote in her contemporaries’ memoirs and place her centre stage.

A friend and rival of Alexandra Danilova at the Imperial Ballet School, Ivanova had early success of one kind or another both on stage and off. Danilova’s memoir notes that Ivanova was expected to inherit the roles of ballerina Elena Smirnova; Tamara Geva’s that Ivanova was rumoured to be on ‘intimate terms with some shady government official’ and that she was said to be ‘close to all the Communist biggies’. (more…)

It was courageous of the Bolshoi Ballet to take this quintessentially American ballet into their repertoire and then to relay it live around the world.  Created by George Balanchine in 1967 for a cast that included Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride and Suzanne Farrell, each of the three acts of Jewels (Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds) is thought to celebrate a city (Paris, New York and St Petersburg) and its school of dance.

Emeralds weaves a pattern of music and dance, entwining the dancers in exquisite groups as they glide and subside, arranging them like gems in their settings in a jewellers’ window. (more…)