Tuesday, 9 December 2014

An American in Paris, December 6th, 2014, Theatre de Chatelet

I'm not a fan of musicals, but if Christopher Wheeldon decides to direct one, I WILL get on the Eurostar to Paris to see it.
 
An American in Paris is Wheeldon's first foray into the realm of musicals. The plot is based on the 1951 musical film, but the choreography is new. Wheeldon cast two ballet dancers (Leanne Cope, first artist of the Royal Ballet, and Robert Fairchild, principle dancer at New York City Ballet) in the lead roles.
 
The strength of this musical was always going to be in the ballet. In fact, the other elements are on the weak side. The plot is a standard love triangle set in post WW2 Paris. There's light humour and a gentle attempt at a deeper message about personal courage.  The singing is so-so. The fake French accents are atrocious. (However, the fact that two ballet dancers, on top of being immensely talented dancers, can sing and act at all is pretty impressive.)

But the ballet element is beautiful. My favourite scene is when Lise auditions to be part of a ballet. She stands at the back of the room, performing the same steps as the other dancers, but gradually makes small changes until the steps are completely her own, and the audience is left without a doubt that she is a very special dancer. Her style is reminiscent of the Diaghilev era. In fact, the whole musical has a very stylish art deco feel to it.
 
Another great scene is the ballet within the ballet. In a feat of clever stage design, the backdrop - a red velvet curtain identical to the house curtain - opens to reveal conductor and audience within the ballet. We watch the audience watch the ballet.
 
The ballet within the ballet is Wheeldon doing what he does best. Personally, I would prefer if Wheeldon would stick to pure ballet - not because this musical wasn't good, but because Wheeldon is too good at making ballets to not make them! However, I'm guessing the people of Paris, who received An American in Paris with standing ovations, will not agree with me.

 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

World Ballet Day

If you missed the World Ballet Day live stream you can watch some of the highlights on Youtube. Here is a selection of videos. (If anyone finds the video of the San Francisco Ballet rehearsing William Forsyth please let me know - it was so good!)


Highlights from the Australian Ballet


The Bolshoi Ballet in full


The Royal Ballet



Highlights from the Canadian National Ballet


Insights: Ballet Evolved

A few months ago, I posted a video of the Royal Ballet's Insight series called "Ballet Evolved". Today, I got to attend the actual event in the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio. The event comprised a lecture with demonstrations by members of the Royal Ballet, which helped to illustrate the points being made. The lecture was given by Ursula Hageli, a former ballerina and now ballet mistress with the Royal Ballet. She has been running the Ballet Evolved series for a few years now. She was also joined by Dr Giannandrea Poesic, a ballet historian and lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire. 

The theme of the lecture was the ballet class and how it evolved over the last four centuries. According to Hageli, the ballet class is the most important part of a dancers day: it is where dancers warm up, strengthen and generally prepare their bodies for all to come. Dancers attend class every day. As ballet itself evolved (more turnout, higher arabesques, more complicated spins, point shoes), class, too, evolved to ensure dancers were equipped with the necessary skills. For example, Marie Taglioni was the first ballerina to go en pointe, but this was before the invention of point shoes. Thus, this required an immense amount of ankle strength! (Interestingly, point work, though first introduced in France, really took off in Italy because it was where, thanks to the shoes makers Italy is generally so famous for, the point shoe was developed!)

The evolution of ballet was demonstrated by dancers of the Royal Ballet, among them Gemma Pitchley-Gale, who was wearing bloomers under her knee length tutu - part of the 18th century ballet uniform, designed to maintain the ballerina's modesty by not revealing too much leg! Also, the lovely Fumi Kaneko, for whom today was the first time performing in front of an audience after returning from injury. And Marcelino Sambe, who, in addition to being a great dancer, is hilarious! It was really nice to get to see the dancers personalities come through!

Ballet Evolved was interesting, informative and entertaining ,and I shall definitely attend the next event! The event was filmed, and videos should be going up on Youtube soon. I will post them here when they become available. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

Friday, 3 October 2014

Insights: The Royal Ballet in Class

Today I got to watch members of the Royal Ballet in class! This open class was part of the Royal Opera House's Insights series, and there will be similar events occurring throughout the year. I think it's really wonderful how actively the Royal Opera House pursues audience outreach. 

I went to the class expecting mostly members of the corps the ballet to be there and was completely blown away to see Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae, Thiago Soares, Federico Bonelli, Akane, Takada, Eric Underwood, Yuhui Choe, Ryoichi Hirano and Claire Calvert all there, sitting under the barres warming up! They were dressed in layers of tights, leggings, leg warmers and jumpers, surrounded by yoga mats, leg rollers and thera-bands, stretching and chatting amongst each other. It was so great to see how the dancers socialise with each other. The atmosphere felt pleasant.

It was really interesting seeing how ballet dancers start their day. The class was structured like a typical ballet class, starting at the barre and progressing to the centre. The dancers shed layers of clothing as the class progressed (it got pretty warm in the studio even for the audience), and the girls started in flat and changed into point shoes for the centre. All the key exercises were covered from plies and tendus, to pirouettes and jumps. The class was given by Olga Everinoff, who demonstrated the exercises and walked around the room giving corrections in a clear but kind manner. It was obvious from the way the dancers acknowledged her when they left the class that she is well liked.

We were told that after class, which lasts 75 minutes, the dancers go on to rehearsals. Class starts at 10.30 and rehearsals go on to 17.30 on performance nights or 18.30 when there is no performance. They do this six days a week. It's absolutely incredible.