The star turns of Alastair Marriott’s new work The Unknown Soldier are Es Devlin’s set and Bruno Poet’s lighting design, and if this had been an installation at Tate Modern, I would have been thrilled by the iridescent colours and the use of shadow. As a multi-media ballet at the Royal Opera House, it is less effective: at times the partially lowered curtain bathed in shimmering streams of rainbow light, or the large screen that descended from above, obscured the back of the stage; even from row C of the Amphitheatre sightlines seemed perilous. Marriott aspires to tell his story from a primarily female perspective, drawing on the recorded words of Florence Billington, who is shown in archive footage projected on the front curtain, and danced by Yasmine Naghdi. The other two named roles are for men; Matthew Ball as Ted Feltham (the soldier), and Leo Dixon as the Telegraph Boy, dressed in a kinky shiny uniform with see-through effect. (more…)

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Swan Lake remains at the heart of the classical ballet repertoire. Its choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Tchaikovsky have ensured its place in any dance company worth its claim to pre-eminence. And the music’s 19th century blend of the classical with the romantic has ensured audiences with a love of great music if only a passing interest in dance. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the growth of contemporary choreography and the increased number of smaller dance companies have rather reduced the appetites of both dancers and audiences for this extremely demanding, long, old, and often tired ballet. I include myself among those who have felt they had seen enough Swan Lakes to happily miss the next one. It is with this in mind that I say how suddenly I have been swept off my feet and made to believe again in the evergreen nature of the work, its music, its potential for surprise. (more…)

A chance to see live transmission of  The Royal Ballet performing at the top of its game in a great production of a major work.  Giselle is the quintessential Romantic ballet.  It transformed the dance world when it was first performed in Paris in 1841 and remains at the centre of the classical repertory.  Although choreography and designs have undergone many changes over the years, the essence of Giselle remains the same, a love affair that begins in the real world and continues beyond the grave.  Sir Peter Wright’s production for The Royal Ballet is based on Marius Petipa’s classic version (after original choreography by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli), which was first staged in St Petersburg in 1884.  The ballet’s title role offers one of the great challenges of the ballet repertory, as Giselle transforms from an innocent peasant girl, duped into love, to a forgiving spirit who saves her lover from death. For the ballerina this is a role of two contrasting halves: in Act I she must appear naïve and artless, her dancing alive with an earthy enthusiasm; in Act II she transforms into light and air, her dancing so ethereal as to seem weightless. In Wright’s production, the dual aspect of the ballet is perfectly achieved: the first act dramatized in rich, naturalistic detail and the second with a spectral, moonlit beauty.  Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov star as Giselle and Count Albrecht; designs are by John Macfarlane and the tuneful score is by Adolphe Adam.

Performance:  Wednesday 6th April 7.15pm

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

Tickets from £8-£20

Book online here or call 0871 902 5736

Rick Guest’s What Lies Beneath strips away the glamour from the dancer’s life and yet this exhibition in the gleaming white gallery at the Hospital Club is magnificently glamorous. Guest captures his subjects against luminous blue backgrounds in larger than life portraits that show the physical and psychological strain that lies behind every performance. He has allowed the dancers to reveal themselves as they wish, whether that is confident and in control, hesitant and uncertain or contemplative. They wear battered old practice clothes, their skin is scratched and bruised, and they have bunions, moles and body hair. There is a tension between the perfection and yet imperfection of their extraordinarily beautiful bodies. (more…)

The Language of the Soul by photographer Rick Guest features images from his 2014 Exhibition at The Hospital Club Gallery, as well as many more in the series.  Working in collaboration with stylist Olivia Pomp, and featuring such luminary dancers as Edward Watson, Tamara Rojo, Marianela Nuñez, Steven McRae, Sarah Lamb, Sergei Polunin, Zenaida Yanowsky, Nehemiah Kish and Melissa Hamilton, it also includes portraits of Wayne McGregor, Kevin O’Hare, Liam Scarlett and Christopher Wheeldon.  With a foreword by Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet, this book is in a limited first run of 1000 copies, exquisitely printed by PUSH Print, and is in a large format, 300mm x 370mm.

Rick Guest writes:

“Ballet as an art form has always been a collaborative medium, whereby composers, orchestras, choreographers, dancers, artists and impresarios have come together to create something new, something greater than the individual elements. With this in mind, I have deliberately turned away from using photography to document dance as it’s staged for the audience, as important as that is. Instead, I have concentrated on the bringing together of three separate disciplines, that of photography, fashion and dance, in an attempt to create something new and singular.
Away from the constraints of stage, role and costume, the dancers are able to demonstrate their breathtaking capabilities in an uninhibited atmosphere, one that ultimately leads to a purer portrait of the dancers themselves. These images aim to illustrate the key tenets of balletic technique; balance, strength and poise. They are lit and photographed to enhance each dancers’ power and beauty, both physical and emotional, and the images are infused with a fashion edge that is at the same time evocative and playful.”

The Language of the Soul is available from the 15th December 2015 from rg-books.com

Further work can be viewed at rg-dance.com

It was a great treat to see four Frederick Ashton ballets (Scènes de ballet / Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan / Symphonic Variations / A Month in the Country) in one programme earlier this week at Covent Garden, and despite some imperfections of performance the sheer quality of choreography carried the evening.

The opening piece, Scènes de ballet, was a disappointment not so much because there were mistakes and some of the cast were clearly not on form, but because evidence of the company’s understanding of Ashton’s style appeared only intermittently. The choreography of this ballet is so subtle, so original and so exquisitely balanced that it cannot fail to delight, but it should have been better danced. (more…)

A welcome opportunity to see The Royal Ballet in a ballet which has established itself as one of the great 20th century narrative works.  The Phoenix Picturehouse will be showing a live transmission of  Kenneth MacMillan‘s Manon from the Royal Opera House on Thursday 16th October.

Manon Lescaut is a beautiful young woman who falls prey to the moral corruption of 18th century Paris.  Set to music by Jules Massenet, MacMillan’s ballet brings Manon’s story vividly to life, evoking the brutality and decadence described in the Abbé Prévost’s infamous novel, as well as the feckless character of Manon herself – torn between love for the poet Des Grieux and her desire for money and attention. The cast of complex characters includes the callous Monsieur GM, the swaggering Jailer, Manon’s roguish brother Lescaut and his coquettish Mistress; but at the ballet’s heart are the duets MacMillan created for Manon and Des Grieux, which are among the most emotionally intense and erotically charged ever choreographed. (more…)