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Subject: "BRB's triple bill" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #2091
Reading Topic #2091
Jane S

14-09-01, 06:36 PM (GMT)
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"BRB's triple bill"
   LAST EDITED ON 14-09-01 AT 06:51 PM (GMT)

The evening opened with a minute's silence for the American tragedy.

Then there was the world premiere of Bintley's The Seasons. I liked Winter and Spring a lot - there's some really engaging classical invention and some lovely dancing, expecially from Sakuma and Chi Cao in Spring, and newcomer Kosuke Yamamoto looked very promising in winter. Summer didn't come off, I though, but might look better on a different cast, and Autumn seemed much more conventional. The girls tutus were gorgeous - by former dancer Jean-Marc Puissant, they are perfectly plain but beautifully shaped, and made from different shades of panne velvet that changes colour as the light catches it.

(For interest, there was a different cast at today's matinee, which I wish I'd been able to see:

Winter - Paul/Peppin/Nowogrodzki
Spring - Vallo/Poboreznic
Summer - Jimenez/Mackay
Autumn - Smolen/Murphy)

I'd thought Dante Sonata, Ashton's view of the struggle between good and evil, might be desperately harrowing in the circumstances, but in fact I found it rather less moving than when I first saw it in Birmingham. The Children of Darkness were strongly cast - Jimenez excellent, Norman-Wright very good - but the Children of Light needed more character. I'd be interested to hear how it struck people who hadn't seen it before.

Penguin Cafe was fun as usual - I liked Chi Cao as the Zebra in particular, though the women in that scene don't have anything like the style of the disdainful beauties of the original cast. It makes a good closing ballet and the audience liked it a lot.

Tonight is nearly sold out, tomorrow's matinee also, but for some reason tomorrow night is easier.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: BRB's triple bill Saturday evening 15th. September 2001 Suzanne McCarthy 16-09-01 1
     RE: Dante Sonata. Interview with Jean Bedells Brendan 17-09-01 2
  RE: BRB's triple bill Bruce Madmin 19-09-01 3
     RE: BRB's triple bill Ann Welsh 19-09-01 4
         RE: BRB's triple bill Bruce Madmin 19-09-01 5
             RE: BRB's triple bill Robert 19-09-01 6
         RE: BRB's triple bill Robert 19-09-01 7
             RE: BRB's triple bill Ann Welsh 19-09-01 8
                 RE: BRB's triple bill Terry Amos 20-09-01 9
                     RE: BRB's triple bill Kish Shen 20-09-01 10
                         RE: Monica Zamora Terry Amos 08-10-01 12
     RE: BRB's triple bill Paul A 05-10-01 11

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Suzanne McCarthy

16-09-01, 02:45 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: BRB's triple bill Saturday evening 15th. September 2001"
In response to message #0
   This has been a week of biting tragedy. At a time dominated by mourning and remembrance, to attend a dance performance may feel like an act of disrespect to those who died in Tuesday’s attack on the World Trade Centre. And in a world preparing itself for conflict, is dance important anyway?

In such an atmosphere BRB performed Ashton’s 1940 war ballet Dante Sonata . Seen on another occasion its might have been viewed merely as a legacy piece, interesting primarily to Ashton fans because of what it says about his development as a choreographer. Performed in the current environment it was viscerally poignant. Danced against Sophie Fedorovitch’s stark and simple backdrop, which was based on John Flaxman’s illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, the ballet evokes the battle between “good” and “evil” played out under searchlight effects. Written when the outcome of World War II was far from certain, it was as much a prediction of inevitable Nazi defeat, as was Noel Cowards’ film “In Which We Serve.”

The piece is undeniably mannered and dated, with more than a whiff of Isadora Duncan about it. Yet it contains movements that still shock and terrorise. Ironically it is the forces of “evil” which are piled up towards the end in a withering pyramid, an image with parallels to the piles of bodies found heaped carelessly together when the concentration camps were liberated. While the work is in many ways a simplistic statement, there are moments, particularly at the end with both camps lifting up their crucified colleagues, when the ballet acknowledges that neither the victors nor those defeated are spared the pain of conflict.

On 21st June 1941, following a performance of Dante Sonata in which Ashton himself appeared, replacing Leslie Edwards who had already gone to war, it was announced by Ninette de Valois that Ashton, Somes and Carter were leaving to join him. The effect of her words must have been very powerful. Sixty years later, last night’s audience, (like those who rose at the Royal Albert Hall to sing Jerusalem at the end of the Proms), expressed their patriotism in their response to this revival.

The programme did not, however, begin in a sombre mood, but with Bintley’s newly completed work, The Seasons, performed to Verdi’s Les quatres saisons, part of his opera Les vepres siciliennes. Opening with four men standing in fifth position, the ballet is sprightly and filled with life’s joy. The girls who join them looked smashing in tart, velvet tutus topped with Moulin Rouge style cossets. The movements are set against simple colour backdrops, not unlike Balanchine’s Jewels. There are also echoes of his style in Bintley’s use of pointe.

Each season’s “spirit” is reflected in the dancing grammar used for that episode - lighting turns and jumps for Winter, sustained lifts for Spring, sensuous arm movements and lower ground work for Summer and fast Neapolitan footwork for Autumn - but they are unified in the continual use of consecutive turns, lifts and kicks, an indication of time moving forwards. All performed well, and their ensemble dancing redeemed the BRB’s dismal corps display in Swan Lake of the previous week. Particularly noteworthy were Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao as Spring and Leticia Muller and Andrew Murphy as Autumn’s pair.

The night finished with another message piece, Bintley’s enormously likeable “Still Life” At The Penguin Café. As with a photograph, a dancing image can often have greater impact than words, and Bintley’s concerned environmental statement is more powerful and hard hitting ironically because it is coated in such soft humour. Particularly lovely was Angela Paul replacing Dorcas Walters as a Ginger Rogers type hoofer, and you can recruit me for the hoe-down if James Grundy’s Texan Kangaroo Rat is going to be there. Noteworthy also were the “herd” of grazing lady zebras led by a very elegant and sexy Chi Cao whose murder by unseen hunters was all the more jolting for its unexpectedness. But the winner simply for sheer vivacity was Carol-Anne Miller’ little Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk Flea dancing merrily with a group of Morris Men, and showing that even the smallest of creatures can be charismatic.

This review began by questioning the value of dance in these frightening times. Last evening many left the theatre having smiled for the first time in days. As long as there is “still life” in all of us, dance’s ability to act as a pinprick of elation is reason enough.

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17-09-01, 02:40 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Dante Sonata. Interview with Jean Bedells"
In response to message #1
   On Friday, Philippa Budgen of Radio 4's Woman's Hour interviewed Jean Bedells, one of the dancers from the original cast of Dante Sonata. She helped to restore the ballet for BRB.

Absolutely everything closed down in the war: theatres, cinemas, the lot. We were actually on the train and we had stopped in Manchester. That's where we were told the war had broken out. So Madam Ninette de Valois on the train said "Nobody is to go to London. You've just got to find somewhere else to go". So the company disbanded for no more than two weeks, because we really did not know what was going to happen. 17th of September we all foregathered at Paddington Station and went off to Cardiff. That was our first base on tour. It then became a 12 week tour and we finished up in Hull

What was the thought process behind Dante Sonata?

It was choreographed during the last six weeks of that tour that we did in 1939. It has always been said that Frederick Ashton read the Bible from beginning to end. True or not, I do not know. He was also desperately concerned for the plight of the Polish jews at the beginnning of the War. Dante was done during the 'phoney war' and so we hadn't experienced anything that the Blitz that started on London in September 1940. The only time we were really threatened, if you like, we were going to Bath and they'd had what was called a Baedeker raid on Saturday night. We arrived on Sunday night to find no digs, and a lot of the hotels decimated. Two other members of the company and I bedded down in a dressing room at the Theatre Royal in Bath and the back of the theatre was bombed. That was the only time I reall experienced something quite horrible. There was the determination that we were going to carry on and that the war was not going to put us off. We actually did an enormous amount of good, keeping people's spirits up and entertaining them. Sometimes there was no more than the proverbial three men and a dog in the audience but after the first two years of the war, we almost had full houses wherever we went. It was enormous fun and we were a very happy group of dancers.

You say that on the whole it was great fun for you - does that mean there was a great sense of spirit among all of you?

Enormous camaraderie. And we all worked our butts off because we all thoroughly enjoyed what we were doing. And I suppose really because deep down, we knew we were doing war service. Not that it was. But it was war service - because we were keeping up the morale of the people who were coming to see us. The music of Dante Sonata was absolutely wonderful. All the movements were strange or unusual for us. My goodness me, our bodies ached when we were doing it. We had trained as classical ballet dancers. We'd done nothing like it before. The Children of Light, the girls, wear very very simple sort of shifts. The boys, Children of Light, wear white tights, white shoes and soft white shirts. The Children of Darkness, the girls, are wearing black skirts and sort of flesh coloured tops with snakes twined around them while the Children of Darkness, boys, are wearing flesh coloured pants and snakes entwined around them. It really was very very simple. Most of us were in bare feet although we had done a barefoot ballet before.

But normally when you were performing, what kind of shoes did you wear? Did the war bring about restrictions on the type of shoes you could wear?

Limited in the numbers of pairs of pointe shoes we had. Limited in the tights we could wear. Sometimes we had what were called 'opera hose', long pink stockings which were attached to a pair of cotton knickers and hoped that they wouldn't wrinkle too badly. Shoes? We were very lucky if we could get four pairs of shoes over a tour and you made them last, you washed them, you cleaned them, you hardened them up. And your feet had to keep you up, and you did not rely on your pointe shoes.

What did that mean to you - to be performing something that you felt had great relevance to the times?

I think at the time we weren't aware of the relevance. We reall weren't. Not until after the fall of Holland and the fall of France. Then the bombing started. At the time obviously the Germans were very very strong. Were we going to survive? What was going to happen to us? Was the power of evil going to dominate over the power of good? Which was really what the concept of Dante Sonata is all about. Actually, in the end, nobody wins - neither good nor bad. But there's hope. And that is the whole concept of the ballet.

When you actually got to putting this performance together for the present day, how easy was it given that there was no written notation?

My brother always says that I have a very embarrassing memory. I have a photographic memory and it has stood me in very good stead. I've enjoyed using it. We actually finished up with about two pages of score which were blank as far as the dance movements are concerned. But apart from that, I hope it is, as it was in 1940.

(Actuality: "White Ladies, when you come on - it's 1 down and 3 up. Down and up and up and up. And down and up and up and up. And drop the heads right down.)

When you trained these dancers to perform Dante Sonata, how did you get it across to them, bearing in mind that they belong to a different generation who never experienced a war like this?

This was quite a difficult thing. At the very beginning, before we started rehearsing, I explained how Dante had been choreographed, what we were going through during the war. Were we going to survive? They looked at me a little bit blankly. And then I thought I needed to find some sort of a parallel. Forgive me, but I used the parallel of the Balkan War. I said "What do you feel for those poor people, the Croatians, the Serbians, the Albanians, the Kosovans? That is how we felt" (actuality "Ladies - where's your venom? Can we see it again now please? Not just on the day") I got there in the end, and on the first night in Birmingham, I didn't believe the reception that it got. I didn't think it would revive. And it revived extraordinarily well and it has been wonderfully received throughout the country.

Does it bring back that time for you?.

Very much so. I can feel it. And I sit and watch it and I do it all. I feel it in my bones.

In today's Financial Times, Clement Crisp, who remembers seeing the original production, writes:

"It is thanks to the prodigious memories of Jean Bedells, Pauline Clayden and Pamela May, who danced in its early showings, that it was this year restored to the stage for Birmingham Royal Ballet. And brought back to life - there's no whiff of formaldehyde - in devoted performance by BRB's artists. I saw it way back then. I recognise it now, and am profoundly moved by it. Most especially so on Thursday night, when it formed part of BRB's triple bill at Sadler's Wells: the evil that Ashton envisaged stalking the world, fighting against the light, is all too terribly in our minds".

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Bruce Madmin

19-09-01, 07:50 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #0
   Company: Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB)
Pieces: The Seasons, Dante Sonata, 'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe

Where: London, Sadler's Wells
Date: 14 September 2001

Interesting triple bill of great breadth in which the company’s soloists and youngsters seem to burn most brightly. Good stuff.

The Seasons
Not the Four Seasons and Vivaldi etc but a bit of 1850's Verdi. Rather likeable along with some sumptuous tutu designs by Jean-Marc Puissant. We will see more of him apparently since he has other commissions at RB and NDT among others.

I wonder if his recent work on Giselle gave Bintley the yen to do a more classical piece? Whatever, it's welcome and Seasons looked pretty on both the corps and the soloists and principals who did much of the dancing. The Soloists generally seemed to try hardest and Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao were particularly stunning in Spring, giving their technical all (which is quite considerable) and all their emotional enjoyment too. Sakuma is looking very strong now and they got the largest applause. Less known, to me was Kosuke Yamamoto who in Winter surprised us all with his big jumps and speed - we all duly marked our cards.

Dante Sonata
My second viewing of Ashton's Ballet of the fight between the forces of Light and Darkness from 1940. And I'm afraid I still find it a dated curiosity.

Ross Stretton (the new Royal Ballet artistic director) on his appointment was asked much about bringing back or recovering heritage work by Ashton and others. He offered broad reassurance but noted that such pieces would still need to have meaning and be capable of being taught, danced and seen in their original context - without that they would be not a lot. At the time I thought this a bit of a potential excuse for not doing too much but now I think I see what he means. Even with the horrible news from the US and talk of war, Dante Sonata still feels old and confused to me. Dancers beat their breasts, shake their fists, agonise and fight but its all somehow very 30's and I half expect Noel Coward to wander on and do a monologue in a stiff 30's voice.

Ashton does however cram a lot into the 19 minutes and others marveled at the amount of quality movement. All I have to do now is pray that in some dark alley I don't meet Jean Bedells - the formidable former Sadler's Wells Ballet dancer who recovered and staged the piece. Well into her pensionable years, she'd beat more than few of us to a pulp.

'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe
A much-loved ballet that, along with Swansong, changed my view of what issues ballet and dance could address. I've never really felt that ecology, as much else, other than laudable, very right and, rather like slimming, not terribly exciting. Still Life however brings it all to thoughtful but fun life against a catchy minimalist Penguin Cafe Orchestra score. Endangered species each come out and strut their stuff and it’s fun to see a new group of dancers inheriting roles known so well. I'll always miss Sandra Madgwick as the Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk Flea though Ambra Vallo is making a good start. The others will all bed down over time but the greatest star was perhaps Katie Webb as the young child - she performed liked a trouper (and I marked my card again)

Does it Work
A strong mixed bill that should please most audiences. BRB having been relatively stable for years at Principal level are now going though change as dancers retire or take extended leave and this is creating opportunities for younger dancers. Lovely to see such blossoming.

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Ann Welsh

19-09-01, 02:47 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #3
   So, given the choice, what is it to be? Swan Lake or the Triple Bill? BRB are coming to Sunderland in 6-10 November, by which time I hope Robert Parker may be up and running again. I can't do both, since distance is a problem and, in any case, I'm off to the ROH for the matinee performance of Don Q on the 10th. (Wouldn't you know it, everything comes at once). Though BRB's policy of £15 per ticket in any part of Sunderland's Empire Theatre is a real temptation. Advice please?

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Bruce Madmin

19-09-01, 03:22 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #4
   Thats a rotton choice! But I think you should be amongst the first to catch one of the Sakuma Lac's. If the diary dates don't work out for that then toss a coin!

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19-09-01, 08:52 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #5
   It was very interesting to see the BRB Triple Bill last Saturday For some of us Birmingham is difficult to get to and not somewhere one would choose to visit voluntarily.
The new Bintly ballet was interesting danced it to a score from an old opera ballet by Verdi.. Good danceable music is to me essential to any ballet, it is a pity that some modern dance people do not agree. I am not too sure of these abstract or plotless ballets but they are fashionable and have been since Ballanchine did so many in America. Perhaps Bintly who has done so many good story ballets but has now come such a cropper with the dreaded Arthurs is trying to play safe with plotless pretty dance. Whatever, his choreography is always interesting and inventive.
I was very impressed with the Dante Sonata. It made me think of what is missing from so much modern ballet. It reminded me of the exciting expressionist theatrical movement that is now almost lost. Some of the choreography based on careful study of the paintings of Fuselli was quite extraordinary. The music again was excellent. At one time I thought I saw Helpman amongst the evil ones, but whoever it was, was not malevolent enough.
Penguin Café is just wonderful. Super music, fascinating and inventive choreography. Bintly got everything or almost every thing right. The costumes are good and some of the individual dances excellent. Some say that the RB is slipping but to me the dancing standard seemed good. I was not able to see Swan Lake the week before but in the triple bill they certainly danced well.
I only hope that they try to keep their original promise and visit London every year in future, they are after all the Sadler’s Wells Ballet.

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19-09-01, 08:57 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #4
   To Anne
Robert Parker looked OK wandering about the foyer on Saturday, if that is anything to go by.

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Ann Welsh

19-09-01, 10:04 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #7
   Robert, oh goody. It still remains difficult since BRB doesn't like to give out casting. I'm just going to have to guess, I guess! Or go for broke and have to just pig out on ballet that month. Added to which the RSC are here then. So for November in quick succession, it's:

6th, Sunderland, BRB Swan Lake
7th, Newcastle, RSC Hamlet
8th, Sunderland, BRB Triple Bill
10th, London, ROH/RB Don Q
16th, Hexham, Ballet Gwent R&J

And, that's just November. But even before that, October brings Mark Morris....

Help, I'm a pensioner! But I DO get concessions

I expect this is all par for the course for you people who live in or near the metropolis, but I'm feeling a little punch-drunk at the moment.

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Terry Amos

20-09-01, 02:51 PM (GMT)
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9. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #8
   I don’t think the casting for BRB’s tour of Plymouth, Bradford and Sunderland has been set. At least none of the dancers I have spoken to know when they will be performing.

Quite a lot of dancers have been rehearsing the lead roles in Swan Lake so there should be more casts to see on the tour as well as those who appeared at Sadler’s Wells and are due to perform at the NIA this week. For example, last evening the Friends of BRB saw a rehearsal of the black act pas de deux with Isabel McMeekan and Ian Mackay. Those two will be dancing the leads on tour, though not, it seems, with each other.

That rehearsal replaced a talk, which was to have been given by Sir Peter Wright, who, alas, is ill. We must hope it’s nothing serious.

The Robert Parker fans who have posted in this thread, will be glad to know that, as of Tuesday, his ankle was much better and he expected to be back for the tour. In addition to Siegfried, you should be able see him as the Prodigal Son and in the Autumn section of The Seasons, the role that was created on him but which he hasn’t danced in public as yet.

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Kish Shen

20-09-01, 04:26 PM (GMT)
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10. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #9
   On the subject of injuries, is Monica Zamora injured or is she on leave? I don't think she danced at Sadler's Wells...

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Terry Amos

08-10-01, 04:19 PM (GMT)
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12. "RE: Monica Zamora"
In response to message #10
   Last week Friends of BRB saw another rehearsal (they look after us well), this time Monica Zamora and Robert Parker in the Prodigal Son. She looked in good shape, in both senses of the term, and so did he.

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Paul A

05-10-01, 03:26 PM (GMT)
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11. "RE: BRB's triple bill"
In response to message #3
   And I'm afraid
>I still find it a
>dated curiosity.
>Sonata still feels old and
>confused to me. Dancers beat
>their breasts, shake their fists,
>agonise and fight but its
>all somehow very 30's

Bruce, coming late to this thread and did not see this revival. From my experience of seeing this last year in Birmingham I think what perhaps you are sensing is a lack of abandon in he performances. What is lacking I think is that extra ounce of the dancers letting go, trusting the choreography to take them over the edge.

To add to the debate on the relevance of dance in such times I think Jean Bedells has said it all. Add to that the Peter Martins' comments in Parma with NYCB on 11 September about the place of dance and dancers to provide joy and gladden the heart and you have the answer too. (I have his curtain speech only Italian but it is very heartfelt - let me know if anybody is interested and I will dig it out).

Watching NYCB in Dances at a Gathering on 12 September was to see a joyous, musical response to the Chopin - a joy. That's what ballet is about. The ending, where the ten dancers are still, gazing into the auditorium looking at what - it's left for you to imagine - was very effective.

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