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Subject: "BRB Ashton Thoughts..." Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #634
Reading Topic #634
Bruce Madmin

07-04-00, 08:26 AM (GMT)
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"BRB Ashton Thoughts..."
I've not got yet - any feedback from those who have?

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts... Terry Amos 07-04-00 1
     RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts... Terry Amos 10-04-00 2
         BRB Ashton 2 Pigs Bill 10/4/00 Bruce Madmin 11-04-00 3
             RE: BRB Ashton 2 Pigs Bill 10/4/00 Martin 11-04-00 4
         What about Dante Sonata? Stephanie Wragg 12-04-00 5
  RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts... lizzie 12-04-00 6
     RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts... Jane S 13-04-00 7
         RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts... Terry Amos 13-04-00 8
             RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts... Michael Llewellyn 15-04-00 9
  BRB Dante Sonata Bill 14/04/00 Bruce Madmin 16-04-00 10
     RE: BRB Dante Sonata Bill 14/04/00 Martin Cooper 20-04-00 11
         RE: BRB Dante Sonata Bill 14/04/00 Terry Amos 21-04-00 12

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Terry Amos

07-04-00, 10:40 AM (GMT)
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1. "RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts..."
In response to message #0
   The first and by far the most important comment is to say what a great delight it is to see these works again. We have been starved of Ashton for too long.

The performances of the four short pieces were fine. Two Pigeons looked underrehearsed as, due to circumstances, it almost certainly was. This caused the Gypsy ensemble to be rather ragged but the principals were excellent. Of course, you would expect the roles to suit Dorcas Walters and Robert Parker and they did.

The reviews in the local papers were extremely positive and I guess most of the first night audience felt the same.

I'll send a longer posting when I've seen the other casts.

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Terry Amos

10-04-00, 03:20 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts..."
In response to message #1
   This evening BRB gives the final performance of the first half of their Ashton programme. It consists of four short pieces (Voices of Spring, Five Brahms Waltzes in the manner of Isadora Duncan, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Walk to the Paradise Garden) followed by The Two Pigeons. Audiences have been large and very enthusiastic; it seems that Ashton still has the magic touch as far as most English ballet-goers are concerned.

The divertissements are exquisite miniatures and it was a delight to see them, for the first time for many in the audience. Voices of Spring calls for a more bravura style than comes natural to BRB dancers but, towards the end of last week, driven on by the orchestra which was driven on by Barry Wordsworth, the dancers seemed to be getting the measure of it. Leticia Muller should have danced the Brahms Waltzes (I hear she looked superb in rehearsal) but she was injured and Molly Smolen did all the performances. I thought she was splendid. Tweedledum and Tweedledee was danced very well for the most part as was Walk to Paradise Garden. In the latter both Sabrina Lenzi and Ambra Vallo were very moving.

At the start of the run the gypsy dances in The Two Pigeons looked very ragged and under-rehearsed but they were better by the weekend. The scenes with the gypsies went best with Catherine Batcheller as the gypsy girl. She showed how a full-blooded attack on that role could really raise a performance. Of course, The Two Pigeons is really about the reconciliation pas de deux at the end and that, as always, worked its magic on me each time I saw it.

If you missed this at Birmingham, you can see it at Sunderland, Bradford and Plymouth in the Autumn. I expect we will see the best performances of this bill on that tour.

The second half of the Ashton tribute, the triple bill of Scenes de Ballet, Dante Sonata and Enigma Variations, opens on Friday. It will be interesting to see how popular it is. Scene de Ballet is a wonderful piece but it is rather cold and astringent and takes more than one viewing to get used to. From the bits Iíve seen of Dante Sonata, it doesnít look much like an Ashton work.

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Bruce Madmin

11-04-00, 09:38 PM (GMT)
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3. "BRB Ashton 2 Pigs Bill 10/4/00"
In response to message #2
A new century and suddenly everybody seems to be remembering Ashton. Following the Royal Ballet's recent triple bill, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) is featuring 2 programmes of more rarely seen pieces and ballet lovers from across the country have been making pilgrimages to Brum to see the short season. Like the Royal Ballet experience, BRB are currently homeless, their theatre being modernised, and so they are camping out in the Repertory Theatre - a modern and stylish place, rather smaller than the Hippodrome, but good for dance.

The first Ashton Bill is centred on the Two Pigeons but starts with 4 pieces only one of which I'd seen before: Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Always a crowd pleaser it's silliness seduced again though it can be even greater when older hoofers have a go - like Wayne Sleep and Graham Fletcher in Dash a couple of summers back.

The other 'odd' piece was Five Brahms Waltzes in the manner of Isadora Duncan - in its non-dancerly abandon it reminded me of rhythmic gymnastics to a degree and one wonders just how accurate a depiction it is of Duncan. Certainly Molly Smolen seemed to inhabit a different era and the skipping and trailing of a long scarf looked very quaint even if it did cause such a stir among audiences when she originally danced.

I tend to think of Ashton as not so into pas de deux (pdd) where the ballerina is swung and manipulated at high level by and around her partner - goodness what a mouthful. Try again... somehow to me Ashton always seems to be about openness in pdd and not perhaps so much of the close dramatic athletics of MacMillan and later choreographers. I'm sure there must be countless examples of where this does not hold true in the more usually seen repertoire, but somehow I was amazed by some of the lifts and movements in Voices of Spring and A walk to the Paradise Garden. In the former Robert Parker swings Ambra Vallo several times around his neck and there are other high level antics as well. Parker and Vallo are a game and spunky pair but even though this was the last night of the run, it still looked a little under rehearsed and it's a tricky piece anyway.

A walk to the Paradise Garden was more intense - good grief shades of MacMillan even - and featured a straight upside down lift not unlike the one Bintley used in Tombeaux to such great effect. Both these pieces come from the 70's - late in Ashton's career and he would seem to be picking up on the more intense choreography of the younger generation at that time. Although a little ragged at times it was good to see these works brought back.

We got back to 'normal' Ashton with the two acts of The Two Pigeons. Created in 1961, a year after La Fille mal gardee, it has a similar sentimental approach in which, after a few worries, all ends happily and true love wins through. It's much less often seen than Fille but both the Royal Companies are bringing it back - for which a hearty hooray.

I saw the second cast of Monica Zamora and David Justin. Zamora is an accomplished actress and a dab hand at comedy timing - that and the simple perfection of her dancing wafted you along and told you everything you needed to know about the plot. Justin is a good dramatic partner, if not so strong technically.

The sentimentality reaches its peak in the choreographic miming of pigeons and in two real pigeons being used live on stage. And of course one always wonders if the pigeons will behave - which they certainly did on Monday.

The only part that drags a little is some of the gypsy dances: perhaps they are a bit too long or possibly they were not performed with sufficient attention grabbing umph. That aside, my heart strings were tugged and if only for a while one escaped to a land where love overcomes all obstacles. It's perhaps not life as we know it, but give me the Ashton view every time.

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11-04-00, 10:18 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: BRB Ashton 2 Pigs Bill 10/4/00"
In response to message #3
   A real pleasure to see these works return to the repetory. Bintley is to be congratulated on his work in preserving the RB heritage. 'The Prospect Before Us' last season and now 'Dante Sonata'as well as the other Ashton revivals.

I was at the performance of the Ashton double bill on Monday. The programs of short works before the interval, as always, left a 'bity' feeling. The cast in Voices of Spring did not look on top of the choreography. However Walk to the Paradise Garden, which was new to me, was arresting in its simple drama and fluidity of movement. A particular mention for Joseph Cipolla, showing great control and strength in his partnering of Sabrina Lenzi.

I have seen more rehearsed performances of the Two Pigeons and perhaps stronger performances in some of the roles. But the ballet worked its old spell, and the magic was certainly there during that last exquisite pas de deux. Monica Zamora played the humour in the first scene broader than I remember it, but in a strange way it worked, making the contrast with the final scene more extreme and so moving.

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Stephanie Wragg

12-04-00, 03:56 PM (GMT)
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5. "What about Dante Sonata?"
In response to message #2
   I'm glad to read about these Ashton works being danced.

What was Dante Sonata like? this is a wartime piece by Ashton and from reading an article from the Guardian(?) of a few summers ago, it seemed to me this ballet was 'lost' since it had not be bequeathed to anyone (unlike his greatest hits, Fille, etc..) Was any mention in the program notes made of who revived or staged this piece?

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12-04-00, 08:24 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts..."
In response to message #0
   The Ashton work was superbe I went to three of the performances and was particularly impressed with both Andrew Murphy and Sabrina Lenzi they made it work very well. Dorcas and Robert Parker were also brillant. The pieces at the start of the programme worked well on Thursday but were not so good on Monday.I am greatly looking forward to seeing the triple bill later this week. I enjoyed reading the casting - does anyone know who will be performing in Engmia?

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Jane S

13-04-00, 04:30 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts..."
In response to message #6
   Lady Elgar is shared between Jimenez, McKeekan and Tredennick; Cipolla is doing Elgar (on the first night I think) and there are 2 others but I don't who.

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Terry Amos

13-04-00, 07:55 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts..."
In response to message #7
   Re Dante Sonata:
There was a rehearsal open to BRB Friends last Friday in which they did a run-through in practice clothes of Dante Sonata. It was unlike any Ashton I had seen before. There was a lot of use of groups of dancers and very little solo work. Of course, they may not have done the whole of the ballet and I had seen earlier a rehearsal of what looked to be solo dances. It should have been revived by Jean Bedells but in the programme it states "staged by Jean Bedells and Pauline Clayden with assistance from Pamela May". The name missing is the one who filled in bits (or lots) of choreography when the three ladies couldn't remember or agree on what came next but we can all guess who he is.

Re Casting for Enigma Variations.
BRB Friends have been able to watch rehearsals of this during the recent tour. Most of these have used all the casts, often simultaniously. A lot of the senior male principals are either Elgar or Jaeger. Kevin O'Hare, Sergiu Pobereznic and, possibly, Andrew Murphy are Troyte. Dorcas Walters and Rachel Peppin are Dorabella. Monica Zamora/Robert Parker and, I think, Lee Fisher/Victoria Marr are to do the pas de deux and Michael O'Hare, David Morse, David Justin, Toby Norman Wright are various elderly gentlemen. I hope that list is reasonably correct but I couldn't even begin to divide them up into the two or three separate casts.

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Michael Llewellyn

15-04-00, 04:23 AM (GMT)
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9. "RE: BRB Ashton Thoughts..."
In response to message #8
   I felt privileged to be at tonights triumphant revival of Dante Sonata, for the first time in decades. It was intensely moving because of a seamless fusion of music, mood and dance and is quite unlike anything else by Ashton. The company danced it with tremendous conviction and even if the elderly critics say it isn't quite the same I am full of gratitude to David Bintley, Jean Bedelles and colleagues for bringing such a masterpiece back to life. Enigma Variations was beautifully done. The opening Scenes de Ballet looked a bit crmped on the small stage but was very well danced and graced with a ballerina performance of great authority and grandeur from Nao Sakuma. a real star.

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Bruce Madmin

16-04-00, 09:44 AM (GMT)
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10. "BRB Dante Sonata Bill 14/04/00"
In response to message #0
Another week, another 'new' Ashton work to see - not many times you can say that these days. Birmingham Royal Ballet's second Ashton programme opened on Friday (14th April) with many ballet fans come to see Dante Sonata, staged for the fist time in 50 years or so. Of course a few in the audience remember seeing it the first time: I have to say I envy anybody who can recall a performance so far back and often with such crystal clarity.

Although created in 1940, Dante Sonata had the look of something much more of the 1920's, very melodramatic and with many silent movie gestures. The designs are by Sophie Fedorovitch and seem a million miles away from the cool sophistication of Symphonic Variations created only 6 years later.

For an Ashton work there is an awful lot of emotion on display as the Children of Light and Children of Darkness fight it out on stage while the world was at war outside. But there are also scenes of erotic love, and crucifixion - it's a piece you could see many times and yet find more in each time. The most arresting image was particularly hellish as a pile of men were just seen as writhing legs; quite breathtaking and I'm still not quite sure how it was done so simply.

The Liszt piano music, also inspired by Dante's poem, alternately threatens, soothes and disturbs but after 17 minutes the piece has indeed run its course and you blink as you come back to the present day. It's a real curiosity of a piece and while I'm glad I have seen it, and look forward to seeing it again, I can see why other priorities left it on the bench for a few decades. See it while you can.

Scenes de Ballet opened the evening and it too looks earlier than its years - premiered in 1948, Jann Parry's excellent programme notes talk of a 1930's feel: spot on. But these are warm designs by Andre Beaurepaire and I just love the little matador hats for the girls. The Stravinsky score was specially created for Broadway and the feel is light and buoyant as Ashton confidently moves small blocks of dancers around the stage. And what he does with the legs and feet - flirty, straight, loose, strong and fast.... blissful to watch. Nao Sakuma (leading because of first cast illness) looked in charge of it all and it's good to see her being pushed. But at 22 minutes Ashton sold us short I think - it should be at least twice as long!

The evening ended with Enigma Variations. To Elgar's music and beautifully detailed designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman it's a series of cameo dances about his friends and acquaintances. Joseph Cipolla was the convincing Elgar - I've not seen him for some time now and the shorter hair cut reminded me that we all get older! Monica Zamora hammocked well too (as Isabel Fitton). But there are many roles for the dancers and they all seemed to push themselves for great performances and to be well rehearsed.

It's been a gruelling period for BRB in touring and preparing for the Ashton season and it was good to see them and Enigma in such great form. And the good news is that both Ashton programmes are touring in the Autumn. I just hope they get to London next year.

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Martin Cooper

20-04-00, 10:49 AM (GMT)
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11. "RE: BRB Dante Sonata Bill 14/04/00"
In response to message #10
   I have now had a chance to see the Dante Sonata twice (on the 15th and 18th), with a two different casts.
My initial thoughts after seeing the first performance were that it was a fasinating work and well worth reviving, but of its time. However I find it difficult to appreciate the craftsmanship of Ashton's serious work until I understand its context within the ballet.
On second viewing I find the ballet rich with unforgettable images and movement, a masterpiece. It may be because the dancers themselves are understanding the work, they certainly seemed to make the moments between movement 'live' in a way that wasn't so much the case on the first viewing. They were inhabiting the ballet's world better. And although the ballet is so different from any other work (Job is the only thing it reminds me of)there are still typical Ashtonian moments. Take the final tableau, with the double cruxifiction, when the 'Child of Light' reaches up to the stars but also, as it appears in Monica Zamora's performance, towards the 'Child of Darkness'in compassion.
All in all a remarkable and human work.

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Terry Amos

21-04-00, 09:08 PM (GMT)
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12. "RE: BRB Dante Sonata Bill 14/04/00"
In response to message #11
   The second part of BRBís Ashton season was the triple bill of Scenes de ballet, Dante Sonata and Enigma Variations and, to me, it seemed quite superb. It will not be as popular as, say, the Jazz Triple Bill, because it requires more effort from the audience but those prepared to make the effort are well rewarded with three great and varied works. It seems extraordinary that the same choreographer did produce three such totally different pieces, so different in style as well as content.

Scenes de ballet was not a great success when first produced but over the years it has come to be regarded as one of Ashtonís very best pure dance works, although, even now, it can need a few viewings to fully appreciate it. What it needs in performance is a very well-drilled and precise ensemble and a true prima ballerina as the female lead. It did not always get these from BRB due to a variety of circumstances, mostly unavoidable. Because of injury to Andrew Murphy and the illness of Robert Parker, neither the first nor second cast leads ever appeared and it was left to Nao Sakuma to dance the ballerina role in every performance. I have the greatest admiration for this most promising dancer but she does lack the experience of dancing such a totally exposed role. However, towards the end of the run she was getting the measure of it without ever quite showing the brilliance I feel it requires. The corps was pretty ragged to begin with but, after a few performances, there was a big improvement.

Dante Sonata is difficult to describe because it is so different to any other Ashton work. It is almost totally an ensemble piece and requires all the dancers to pull out every stop. Frankly, it is way over the top at times, make that most of the time, but magnificently so. Actually, so is the Liszt music. Some people didnít like it at all, some were lukewarm and some thought it dated but most seemed to find it terrific. Whatever the view, anyone with any interest in English ballet ought to see it.

Enigma Variations was first performed by BRB six years ago and they did it proud with Desmond Kelly and Sherilyn Kennedy paticularly memorable as Elgar and Lady Elgar. There was nothing as good this time but what we saw was true to the spirit of the work and audiences seemed to enjoy it.

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