Northern Ballet has a longstanding repertoire tradition of narrative ballets, often based on iconic works of literature, and David Nixon’s 2013 realisation of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has coincided happily with a wider audience’s hunger for the nostalgic glamour of this perennial classic generated by the film version starring Leonardo di Caprio.   This production returned this week to Sadler’s Wells following its first sell-out run and garlanded with award nominations. Having missed it the first time round I seized a last minute opportunity to catch up with this popular company’s doings. (more…)

First staged in St Petersburg in 1890, The Sleeping Beauty is regarded as the pinnacle of classical ballet: a perfect marriage of Petipa’s choreography and Tchaikovsky’s music, and a glorious challenge for every dancer on stage. It is also the Royal Ballet’s signature work.  To mark the company’s 75th birthday in 2006, Monica Mason and Christopher Newton revitalised its landmark 1946 production, which re-established Petipa’s choreography as recorded by Imperial Ballet régisseur Nicholas Sergeyev, to a scenario and staging developed by Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet.  With Oliver Messel’s gorgeous original designs wonderfully reimagined by Peter Farmer, and additional choreography by Anthony Dowell, Christopher Wheeldon and Frederick Ashton, today’s The Sleeping Beauty not only captures the mood of the original but shows that this is very much a living work for the Royal Ballet, growing and changing with the company while celebrating its past. (more…)

Last November, Josephine Jewkes’ description of the Boys in Action project in the Dancing Times made interesting reading beside Luke Jennings’ comments in the Observer on the “all-male creative stranglehold” on the Royal Ballet, and his statement:  “It’s a dismaying fact, but no female choreographer has been commissioned to create a ballet on the Covent Garden main stage for more than a decade now.”

When boys are so reluctant to take up dance, particularly ballet, and girls outnumber boys in most ballet classes, why are men so much more successful in gaining recognition as ballet choreographers? (more…)

Dance Books is delighted to announce publication of the book ‘Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist’ edited by Richard Cave and Libby Worth, an expanded record of the Conference held at the Royal Ballet School in 2011.  Susie Crow of Oxford Dance Writers is a contributor to this volume, having collaborated with Jennifer Jackson on a paper for last year’s conference entitled “Ninette de Valois: Crafting a collaboration of ‘talents'”… (more…)

Apollo’s angels:  a history of ballet / Jennifer Homans

I began reading this book with high expectations.  The author is described as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Columbia, and quotations on the flyleaf and back cover include statements such as “Here is the only truly definitive history of classical ballet” (International Herald Tribune) and “It will doubtless come to rank as the standard and authoritative work in the field” (Literary Review).  Although it is not published by an academic press, it bears some of the hallmarks of a scholarly work, with its extensive bibliographies, footnotes and evidence of original research.

The early chapters of the book dealt with periods of which I am largely ignorant until on p.39, I came across this footnote:  “Molière was gone:  he died onstage in 1673 while performing Le Malade imaginaire”.  Not so, according to Ivor Guest[1] or the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, according to which he collapsed on stage and was carried back to his house, where he died.  This concerned me, and from Chapter 8, East goes west:  Russian modernism and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, when the book moves territory with which I am more familiar, I became progressively more uneasy. (more…)

Reading the elegiac epilogue of Jennifer Homans’ history of ballet Apollo’s Angels, I am struck by her sense of doom.  As a ballet practitioner I have found much of the book a gripping and exciting account, and have been stirred by its scope and the provocation of its ideas as to ballet’s place in an often inimical world.   Yet aspects of her thesis trouble me; arising from her interpretation, inevitably condensed and therefore incomplete, of the rise and as she sees it decline of British ballet in the 20th century. This is a period part of which I have lived from the inside; as a child growing up schooled through that peculiarly British institution the Royal Academy of Dancing, inspired by images of Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet, later as a student at the Royal Ballet School, and then as a young dancer in the Royal Ballet companies experiencing the most richly varied ballet repertoire in the world in my own body, now transmuting this learning to communicate through teaching and choreography. (more…)