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Archive for April, 2009

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The joys of seeing different casts

The other day I got an email from a friend inviting me to see the Royal Ballet’s current production of Giselle. He had been sent a promotional offer to one of the performances and knew that I am a major ballet buff. “Interested?”, he asked. Thanks, I replied, but I am already booked for 6 other performances of this ballet so will probably give this one a miss. He was shocked: “You are going 6 times?! Wow, you must really, REALLY like this ballet!”

Certainly the fact that I do helps (believe me, I wouldn’t sit through Spartacus more than once, yawn!) but the thing that drives me back to the same production more than once is the opportunity to see different dancers and different interpretations of the same role. Great dancers bring their unique gifts to the stage and can make us feel as if we were watching any classic, no matter how overstaged, for the first time.

It is a fact that “the more [ballet]  is seen, the more will be wanted” (How to Enjoy Ballet, by Clement Crisp and Mary Clarke). Once I caught the dance-watching bug I quicky realised that just one taste of each performance wasn’t going to be enough: you book months in advance and then spend weeks looking forward to something that vanishes so quickly before your eyes. Or, as New York City Ballet says (rather more eloquently) somewhere in their website:

“Ballet is as fragile and as magical as a snowflake. It exists only when dancers are dancing and no two performances are ever alike. Blink and the moment melts away. Critics and dance writers extend the window of opportunity to catch these on-stage “miracles of nature”…”

But there are more reasons why you should be spreading your bets: That one cast you picked so carefully gets changed. Some dance  critic whose opinion you trust swears by that other pairing you have never seen and steers you towards a whole new world of possibilities. You hear there’s a new whizkid on the block tackling that fierce role for the first time. The solution? Downgrade your seats (we certainly wouldn’t advise breaking the bank to support your ballet habit) and upgrade the amount of bookings. And always keep an eye out for the castings lottery!

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A Note to our readers

Here in the Ballet Bag, we will post our reviews, thoughts and more regarding ballet, the Royal Ballet, its dancers and their world. Our aim is not only to share our passion but also to learn more about ballet. Hence we will do our best to explain every technical term we use by linking to an appropriate resource. We also plan to do posts on ballet history, its dancers and choreographers, and we value feedback, so feel free to post your comments / requests.

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Given the full run of Giselles, it is always very enlightening and enjoyable to experience different casts and portrayals. This is not only a challenge for the dancers, as they could be prone to imitate “famous” versions, but is an opportunity to experiment and dare to find subtle ways of connecting with the audience and communicating the story.

Giselle is the ultimate romantic ballet and a classic. The first act is full of pretty colours and sunny characters (almost Disney-like); plenty of mime and charming details. However, there is the dramatic twist at the end which leads to the famous “mad scene” which serves as catalyst for the forthcoming events. Gloom and darkness are the ingredients on the second act, in which a completely different world materialises. All the colour is gone, replaced by a ghostly white sheen. Human emotions are set against a supernatural background: Giselle’s love and Albrecht’s repentance against the terrible but beautiful Wilis gliding on unison.

Leanne Benjamin, made use of her experience to show us a mature Giselle, which has overgrown any naiveté, so that when Albrecht’s deceit is revealed, Giselle develops madness fuelled by rage, rather than pure heartbreak. Johan Kobborg’s Albrecht is clearly charmed by Giselle and is, without knowing, falling for her. This is more evident when Giselle dies, as he realises what he has lost.

In the second act, Leanne brings us a Giselle which is a shadow of her former self, very dark and eery. This was the first time I’ve seen such a portrayal, as it is clearly different to the sad and forgiving Giselle one expects. I found her acting to be without fault, but some of the balances were not held long enough (in particular, the famous penché) and her phrasing with the music was a bit off. However, her bourées were lovely and the overall feeling of weightlessness was definitely there.

Johan’s dancing on the second act was spot on (some lovely cabriolés and amazing footwork). The chemistry with Leanne is something of an on/off thing, as their complicity varies depending on the piece (their Manon, earlier this season was amazing). Giselle is certainly not one for them, and somehow the portrayals of their characters do not add up (somehow I can see Leanne doing Giselle with Ed Watson).

The pas-de-six had standout performances from Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae (they should be paired every time!). Another highlight for me was Samantha Raine as one of Myrtha’s attendants and Thomas Whitehead as Hilarion. I find her dancing to be quite ethereal, with beautiful arms, while Whitehead commands the stage as soon as he steps into the spotlight. Myrtha was danced by Laura Morera, in a role that does not play to her strengths (I prefer her allegro work).

All in all, Peter Wright’s production for the Royal Ballet is as beautiful as ever. Definitely worth a trip to Covent Garden.

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As we begin our regular musings on “everything ballet” what more fitting than to start with our darlingest of all Covent Garden darlings, Alina Cojocaru, and her return to the stage after a one year long absence earlier this week. We knew it was going to be a special evening, after all, Alina wisely chose to return in the classic that she is most often associated with, Giselle, the ballet that is also a perfect match to her 19th century lithograph physique. And perhaps most importantly, one that is not too taxing as we also expected she would be careful not to over exert herself in tackling the steps.

 

Emilia says:

While, for the above reasons, there were slight changes & toning down to the choreography, Alina portrayed through her pure dancing the most unfussy-but-eloquent of Giselles. Free from any artifice or pyrotechnics, her actions and expressive dancing spoke volumes and touched the heart. All innocence in Act 1, all purity and spirituality in Act 2. And with the very best of Albrechts to match in Johan Kobborg. He showed us, earlier than usual for this ballet, a sincere regret, a realisation of his wrongdoing to Giselle coupled with a sense that the deceitful Albrecht was really falling for this girl, that to see her go mad and suicidal (a heart wrenching mad scene it was!) is deeply distressing to him. Johan’s Albrecht clutches the lifeless Giselle in his arms for much longer than any other Albrechts I have seen in this Royal Ballet run (more on them and their respective Giselles later), he is clearly desperate. Because he understands that letting go is losing all that is goodness and innocence, thankfully for him then (and for us the audience) that he has a chance of redemption in Act 2.

One very minor quibble of mine is that Laura Morera’s Myrtha, the revengeful Queen of the Wilis, was somewhat lacking in “revengefullness”. Laura did not seem as comfortable here as she did playing the Bayadere’s rival Gamzatti a few months ago, and I thought the earlier Myrthas in the production danced with more authority. But overall the performance as a whole and, in particular, Alina and Johan’s partnership felt like a journey back to a different time line in ballet history, one that simply honored romanticism and substance vs. form. A vintage Giselle.

 

Linda says:

It is something rare to find a ballerina that can actually perform and realise Giselle in both acts. The first act presents a sunny Giselle, a naive girl that dreams of love, while the second act brings us an ethereal creature that becomes broken and is not whole, but whose love manages to redeem Albrecht. Many dancers today usually excel in any of both acts and bring a variety of interpretations through the phrasing and musicality, but Alina Cojocaru truly becomes Giselle.

When she is betrayed by Albrecht, not only does she lose herself and all she holds dearly to her heart, but the audience gasps and stops breathing while the atmosphere becomes filled with her sadness and despair. Her second act is just a thing of wonder: every step, flick of her arms and expression on her face are used to bring the audience into this supernatural world.

We, as Albrecht, are almost in denial of what is happening, entranced by the spell of the Wilis. The only opportunities for us to regain our senses were on Albrecht’s variations. Johan Kobborg was on fire and his jumps and lines were clean, sharp and reaching wonderful heights, but what really struck a chord was that never did he leave Albrecht behind to become Johan, he was always in character, showing pain and accepting his penance after he realised that he became a victim of his own game: he fell for Giselle and now she was lost to him forever.

In this way, when dawn approaches and reality befalls, Albrecht’s pain becomes our pain, since Giselle is gone and at least in this performance, it was clear something magical had happened, something for the ages. A shower of flowers during the curtain calls, and stomping and cheering that celebrated not only the return of Covent Garden’s favourite ballerina, but the appreciation and gratefulness towards Alina and Johan for their dancing and the miracle they had just materialised.

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Welcome

Royal Ballet founder Ninette de Valois once said, “Classical Ballet will NEVER die”. To that we might add: Ballet ROCKS!! We think it is the ultimate art form: it is music, movement & meaning rolled into one. It gives its audience the chance to draw personal interpretations and reflect on subconscious themes which lie beyond the surface of fairytales and tutus. 

Here you will find a variety of ballet reviews and articles, in particular Royal Ballet related (after all, they are our favorite!). Our aim is to have a voice as members of a young audience and to try to prove that ballet is not “stuffy”, “old fashioned” or “inaccessible” as some may say.

Stick here for a while and fill your bags with all-things-ballet. One thing is for sure: ours are always filled with ballet tickets!

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