This collection of essays, articles and interviews, accompanied by a DVD, is enlightening, entertaining and scholarly. Robert Helpmann joined the Vic Wells Ballet in 1933, and was a major influence in the development of ballet in England, but despite being the subject of three biographies (by Elizabeth Salter, Anna Bemrose, and Kathrine Sorley Walker), by the early years of this century his fame was fading and his choreographic work Miracle in the Gorbals (1944) was almost lost.

The story of this ballet’s miraculous recovery threads through the book, and draws together memories, commentary, film footage and analysis. (more…)

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Birmingham Royal Ballet’s triple bill with ballets by Kenneth MacMillan, Gillian Lynne after Robert Helpmann, and David Bintley, is a subtle commemoration of the centenary of the First World War. The approach to the subject is oblique compared with the English National Ballet’s innovative programme Lest We Forget, premiered at the Barbican earlier this year, but it works.

Kenneth MacMillan’s La Fin du Jour evokes the heady days of the years between the wars, the dancers wearing in pastel coloured costumes, their fashionable sportiness reminiscent of some of the later Diaghilev ballets. They are Bright Young Things but they move like puppets on strings in their cream coloured box, from which we glimpse a garden through a door at the back of the stage. The two principal women dancers (Arancha Baselga and Karla Doorbar) morph from swimmers into aviators as their male attendants sweep them through the air, or turn them on point, slowly spinning them like skaters, feet held high behind their heads, weather vanes revolving in the wind. At the end one of them symbolically closes the door to the garden. An idyll is over and war is coming. (more…)

CATS, the New Theatre’s fabulous feline Christmas show, was off to a flying start last night, playing to a packed and enthusiastic house.  The longevity of this hugely successful musical is a tribute to the original production team, and in particular to choreographer Gillian Lynne.  The dancing never stops, whether it is a full blown dance routine or the exquisitely detailed movement of the cats in apparent repose;  a knee gently rubbing an ear, or one paw being carefully placed on top of another.  There isn’t a moment’s downtime for the cast, as each cat moves or pauses in subtly different ways.  Anyone who owns a cat will recognise the little quirks of kitten-like behaviour that have been so brilliantly incorporated into the choreography.

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For an alternative theatre treat to traditional pantomime, don’t miss CATSAndrew Lloyd-Webber‘s extraordinary record-breaking, smash-hit musical, coming to Oxford’s New Theatre for a Christmas season from 17th December to 5th January.

Adapted from TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, this wonderful blend of fantasy, drama and romance is set on the night that the Jellicle Cats meet for the Jellicle Ball in a sparkling fusion of music, dance and verse.   With an amazing musical score that includes the timeless Memory, spectacular set designs, stunning costumes and breathtaking choreography by Gillian Lynne, CATS is a magical musical like no other.  One of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history, CATS has enchanted audiences in over 300 cities around the world – now you too have the chance to experience this legendary musical phenomenon. (more…)

Yesterday’s press launch of CATS showed what a treat Oxford’s Christmas audiences will enjoy at the New Theatre this year.  We were beguiled by cast members in full feline costume mingling among us, before Sophia Ragavelas (ex-RBS Junior Associate, ex-London Studio Centre Cecchetti scholar, and star of the show) sang “Memory”.  The hugely entertaining question-and-answer session with producer David Ian revealed that Oxford will be given the 1991 production for proscenium arch, which was devised by the original creative team, including choreographer Gillian Lynne.  (more…)