Nick Higham’s interview with Darcey Bussell in the Sheldonian Theatre was the only dance-related event in this year’s Oxford Literary Festival, and it was sold out. I was sitting right at the top, next to a family with two small girls, who were very anxious about whether they would be able to see. Happily, we turned out to be on the best side of the Gallery, and had a good view of Bussell, who seemed to be channelling her inner Audrey Hepburn, in slacks, pumps and a polka-dot blouse.

Higham opened the discussion by talking about her book Darcey Bussell: Evolved, which is a collection of images of Bussell in locations ranging from the top of the Albert Memorial to the London Eye. Higham asked what it is like to be a photographer’s muse, to which Bussell replied that it is part of the job of promoting her art form. (more…)

The Olivier-nominated dance/theatre company LOST DOG tour their smash-hit production Juliet and Romeo to Oxford this autumn. Juliet & Romeo opened to packed houses and critical acclaim at a two week run at Battersea Arts Centre in London earlier this year. Broadly based on Shakespeare’s deeply pessimistic teenage love story, this “highly entertaining, extremely amusing and occasionally quite tender evening of theatre and dance” (Times) is performed by Lost Dog’s Artistic Director Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter. This clever, funny production explores contemporary culture’s celebration of youth and how it creates unrealistic expectations around love, sex and relationships. (more…)

DANSOX presents a lecture on major twentieth-century choreographer John Cranko, by Dr Julia Buhrle (Oxford).

John Cranko (1927-1973) was a South African born ballet dancer and choreographer with the Royal Ballet companies who went on to lead the Stuttgart Ballet.  The creator of entertaining shorter early works such as Pineapple Poll and Lady and the Fool, he is perhaps most internationally famous for his much loved and performed “literary” ballets, which include Romeo and Juliet (1962), with music by Prokofiev; Onegin (1965), an adaptation of the verse novel by Alexander Pushkin, with music by Tchaikovsky; and the sparkling comedy The Taming of the Shrew (1969).

Date:  Thursday 23rd February 5.30pm

Venue: Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St Hilda’s College, Cowley Place, Oxford OX4 1DY

There will be a drinks reception after the event. Free and open to all – booking essential at Eventbrite.

Book your place here

Find information about DANSOX here or by contacting Dr Susan Jones here

Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet had casting problems right from the start, when Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable famously gave way to Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. On Saturday, the cast change was due to injury, and Natalia Osipova was replaced by Sarah Lamb, partnered by Vadim Muntagirov. Lamb and Osipova seem to me to be at opposite poles, the one being a warm, passionate risk-taker, the other cool, restrained and exquisitely accurate. It cannot be easy to perform knowing that the majority of the audience originally booked to see another very different dancer. (more…)

A rare opportunity to see live transmission of the Bolshoi Ballet in Yuri Grigorovich’s version of one of the most popular ballets in the world, Romeo and Juliet. Based on the play by William Shakespeare, and originally commissioned by the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad in 1934, Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet score did not premiere at the Kirov stage until 1940, and at the Bolshoi until 1946. Indeed, the two companies first refused the theme, then the steps, which ballet dancers declared undanceable, and finally, the music.  Today, this ballet is considered to be one of Prokofiev’s greatest works with its melodic inspiration, rhythmic variety and memorable romantic narrative. (more…)

In 1956, people queued in Covent Garden for three days and nights to buy the 55,000 tickets for the Bolshoi Ballet’s first visit to the West.  Of the thousands that queued for tickets for a further three performances at the Davis Theatre Croydon (capacity 3,500), only about one in four was successful.  Ballet, which had been the elite entertainment of imperial Russia’s privileged classes, had suddenly become the Soviet Union’s most distinctive cultural export.

The survival of ballet in post revolutionary Russia is remarkable in itself.  Challenged by practical problems (lack of food or heat), new proletarian audiences, and intellectual disagreements about the rôle of ballet in the Soviet cultural project, its death seemed inevitable to some.  In spite of its title, this is not a book about the dancers;  it is a book about the environment in which they worked, and the ways in which neither the Kirov or the Bolshoi buckled under the drive for “socialist realism”, which, of course, had little to do with realism. (more…)

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