As part of Dancin’ Oxford 2020 The North Wall displays a collection of remarkable photos, Backstage At The Ballet.  Colin Jones (b.1936) is one of Britain’s most significant photojournalists but he began his creative career dancing with The Royal Ballet.  This dancer-turned-photographer focused his lens on fellow dancers as his subject matter, capturing hardworking bodies and backstage drama.

Jones’ backstage ballet photographs show not just the emotional intensity and beauty of ballet but also reveal the sustained physical exertion and discipline of a dancer’s life.  Photographs from the 1960s include Britain’s iconic ballerina, Margot Fonteyn and the Soviet-born Rudolf Nureyev as well as later images from the 1990s, featuring English National Ballet star Tamara Rojo.

This is the first exhibition in a public gallery of Jones’ ballet photographs, featuring rarely-seen backstage images of British ballet from the late 1950s to the millennium.

With grateful thanks to Colin Jones, Topfoto and principal sponsor St Edward’s School.

Dates:  Tuesday 11th February – Saturday 7th March

Venue:  The North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JN

Tickets:  Admission free.

Opening hours:  The North Wall Gallery is open from Monday – Friday 10am – 4pm, and from 12pm – 4pm on Saturdays. Sundays & Bank Holidays: normally closed, except for theatre events.

Related talks:

Photographing Dance and Dancers, Tuesday 11th February, 5.30pm: further details here

The Collaborative Research of Science and Dance, Wednesday 4th March, 6.00pm: further details here

Find out more about Colin Jones here

The DANSOX event Making “The Cellist” was an exciting opportunity to watch choreographer Cathy Marston’s creative process as she rehearsed her ballet based on the life of Jacqueline du Pré.  Du Pré, who died of multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of forty-two in 1987, was an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s, and the evening began, fittingly, with a performance of Fauré’s Elegy in C Minor by St Hilda’s musicians Holly Jackson and David Palmer.  An open rehearsal, with Royal Ballet dancers Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Calvin Richardson, and discussion of Marston’s work followed.

Interviewed by her scenarist Edward Kemp, Marston eloquently described how her sister, a drama teacher, had used an old cello to stimulate improvisation, and realised that the idea held great potential for a ballet.  Marston is acutely aware of the sensitivity of her subject matter (her mother has MS), and rather than trying to reproduce the symptoms, she seeks to express what it feels like to have the disease.  She approached du Pré’s widower Daniel Barenboim at an early stage to gain his blessing, but the ballet is not an exploration of family relationships; it is about the gift and burden of talent. (more…)

John Cranko’s Onegin draws on a Russian verse-novel, but in 1965 Cranko’s first cast was led by the Brazilian Marcia Haydée and the Spanish-American dancer Ray Barra. Yesterday, the Royal Ballet also cast two dancers of South American and Hispanic origin as Onegin and Tatiana: Thiago Soares and Itziar Mendizabal.

From the start, Mendizabal’s sincere and vulnerable Tatiana offers a touching foil to Soares’ dark, proud, and brooding Onegin; it is a clash between her naïveté, and his world-weary sophistication and sense of honour. Preferring to read her novel rather than look at new dresses, Mendizabal’s Tatiana is simply not very interested in the bourgeois society that Onegin scorns. Her mood as she writes to him is romantic and wistful, and when Soares appears in her dream, she seems a little cautious in the high lifts, as if not quite ready fully to abandon herself to passion. On the other hand, when Soares ripped up her letter, her stillness, embodying the mute pain of rejection, made me cry. (more…)

Dance Scholarship Oxford, DANSOX begins its 2020 programme with an exciting evening of music and dance: Making The Cellist.

In the lead up to the highly anticipated premiere of The Cellist in February, the Royal Ballet and choreographer Cathy Marston come to Oxford to discuss Cathy’s choreographic process for her new work for the Royal Ballet inspired by the momentous life and career of the renowned cellist, Jacqueline du Pré, in the building named after her; including live demonstration by dancers from the company.

Date:  Monday, 20th January, 8:00pm

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

Tickets: The event is free and open to all, but booking is essential. Book online here

Refreshments will be available.

 

This luxurious large scale coffee table book celebrates an icon of British ballet, but within a wider context than life as member of a major company. The young Darcey Bussell shot to stardom at the Royal Ballet when, still a teenager, she was selected by Kenneth MacMillan to create the central role of Princess Rose in his ballet of 1989 The Prince of the Pagodas; after its premiere becoming the company’s youngest principal dancer. Her elegantly long physique and sunny charm coupled with technical clarity, strength and assurance enabled her to shine not only in ballet’s classic 19th century repertoire but also in major works by MacMillan and Ashton, Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon. She retired from the Royal Ballet at the age of 38 but has managed to make a seamless transition to a wider career as a much loved celebrity, exploring other dance genres in performance and on television, but also as a presenter of dance transmissions and documentaries, and perhaps most famously of late as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. (more…)

Carlos Acosta’s recent production of Don Quixote for the Royal Ballet is full of energy, sparkle and exhilarating dancing. Even though it is from the classic Marius Petipa tradition, I didn’t know this ballet and wasn’t sure what to expect. How do you ‘balletise’ Cervantes’ 17th Century blockbuster? In some ways it is a bit like Le Corsaire with flamenco and gypsies instead of pirates: the thinnest of plots, but huge fun and an excuse for some great dancing. (more…)

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…)

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…)

Dame Beryl Grey’s autobiography is both a personal memoir and the story of twentieth century English ballet told from the point of view of one of its leaders. It is fascinating to compare Peter Wright’s Wrights & Wrongs, which covers a similar ground, yet is utterly different; both writers have outlived most of their contemporaries, but Grey seems much the more discreet of the two.

Grey’s approach is chronological, starting with her birth into a happy and loving family, which instilled religious faith, a strong work ethic and respect for authority and British institutions (she is an unabashed royalist). Part One describes in detail her dancing life, as she quickly worked her way up through the ranks of the Sadler’s Wells company, becoming a principal of the Royal Ballet, before launching herself on an independent career, which included becoming the first Western ballerina to guest with the Bolshoi Ballet. Part Two covers her time as Director of Festival Ballet. (more…)

Another live transmission of masterworks from the Royal Ballet‘s historic repertoire coming up shortly at Oxford’s Phoenix Picturehouse, essential viewing for ballet lovers.  This gorgeous mixed programme, part of celebrations of the company’s 70 years of residency at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, demonstrates the great creative vision of Frederick Ashton, Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet.  The Dream is Ashton’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s riotous comedy in which a forest sprite plays havoc, armed with a love potion.  Symphonic Variations was Ashton’s first work after World War II, and one of the Company’s first to be performed on the huge main stage of the Royal Opera House, in 1946. With six dancers performing a series of quartets, duets, sextets and solos to Cesar Franck’s brooding Variations symphoniques, this seminal masterpiece celebrates the pure beauty of movement.  Marguerite and Armand is Ashton’s beautiful and emotional retelling of a well-known story, familiar to us through Verdi’s opera La traviata.  Ashton famously created this poignant ballet on Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in 1963.

Date:  Wednesday 7th June 2017, 7.15pm

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

Tickets:  Adults £22, student or retired £17.50, child £10, family ticket for four £64

Book online here or call 0871 902 5736

This transmission will also be screened at The Vue Cinema, Kassam Stadium, details available here and at the Odeon Magdalen Street, details here