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…)

These two performances of Sylvia, Ashton’s flawed but lovely ballet, felt like Christmas presents in beautifully presented parcels, each containing completely different interpretations of the leading roles. I saw Lauren Cuthbertson and Reece Clarke as Sylvia and Aminta on 2 December, followed by Natalia Osipova and Vadim Muntagirov on December 16. (more…)

This is ‘not a conventional autobiography’ but it is a fascinating and inspiring account of 75 years of work in dance and theatre. Immensely humorous, Wright seems to have known almost everybody in the ballet world, and he conjures up vivid images of dips in the freezing January sea with Henry Danton at Eastbourne in the 1940s, Princess Margaret backstage at the Birmingham Hippodrome holding her breath to avoid the whiff from the gents’ loo, or of Michael Somes who could be ‘very difficult’, ‘particularly at full moon’.

For those of us outside the professional ballet world, the book sometimes ‘joins the dots’, and fills the gaps that other, more discreet, accounts have left in obscurity. I imagine that Wright’s colleagues and acquaintances will have looked for their names in the index with some trepidation, for he is almost as frank about the living as he is about the dead. (more…)

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…)

Wayne McGregor’s Raven Girl is a brave experiment with narrative form, which springs from an exciting collaboration between author, designers, composer and choreographer.  Wonderful but subtle use of cinematic effect enhances the sepia-shaded set, and the choreography makes full use of the extraordinary technical capacity of the Royal Ballet’s principal dancers.

McGregor asked Audrey Niffenegger for a “new dark fairy tale”, and the result is a gloomy and sometimes macabre story, which includes a strong element of magic.  But magic does not make a fairy tale:  to be true to the genre, the story must, firstly, address what Bruno Bettelheim calls our “existential anxieties and dilemmas”, and, secondly, offer us a solution to them.  This, the ballet fails to do.  (more…)

Royal Ballet Nutcracker, broadcast live to the Phoenix Cinema, Oxford. Thursday 13 December 2012

This was the most enjoyable ROH – to- cinema transmission that I’ve seen. The children among the regular ballet audience gave the auditorium the buzz that’s sometimes lacking, and it was fun to be able to see detailed acting in the party scene close-up (not to mention Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks, which for the slightly myopic work better on screen than from the back of the Amphitheatre). (more…)

Writing about the Female Choreographers’ Collective performance in October whetted my curiosity as to what might be discernible differences between the work of female and male choreographers; I approached other performances viewed recently with my antennae thus attuned…

To the Old Fire Station on 20th October to see Cecilia MacFarlane’s reflection on the tragic accidental death of her son “I’ll leave you to yourself then…”.  A small, pugnacious figure with cropped white hair, Cecilia began encased in a fragile egg of white mesh with blood red ribbons, painfully hatching, her face contorted as she slowly emerged.  (more…)