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Archive for July, 2009

As UK audiences flocked to catch free ballet & opera performances via the BP/ROH summer screenings, The Times, invited by Royal Opera House (ROH) Chief Executive Tony Hall for a chat during the broadcast of Ondine at Trafalgar Square, ran an article which accentuated one of the biggest opera world dividers in the following line:

…the ROH does not just cater for the arts snobs who can afford the £380 ticket in the Grand tier

While the article focused largely on the ROH’s accessibility campaign via UK-wide free screenings and cinema distribution across Europe, it was hard to ignore the hint of inaccessibility suggested in the above quote. Most newspaper articles covering this initiative tend to adopt the same tone of “it’s either opera in cinema or top seats in the house”, intentionally or not leaving out the seating layers in between and perpetuating the notion that only the rich can afford an evening at the ballet or opera. By pushing these two extremes at the general public, the media is preserving the snobbish/elitist perception of these art forms. The point about cinema is simply that it can reach a wider, global audience for an extended period (ie. months vs. weeks in the case of live performances), not necessarily that it is so much cheaper than attending a performance at the opera house.

The article made me think back on a brief conversation I had on the tube a while ago. I was slightly dressed up so a man next to me asked if I was going to Covent Garden. I responded I was on my way to a performance at the ROH. Upon probing further he finally asked how could students afford the cost of a ticket. My  reply that the ticket in question had only cost me £12, and that there were times in which I could get into the theatre for even less via the Student Standby scheme, seemed to surprise him greatly.

Royal Opera House. Photo: Peter Mackertich / ROH ©. Source: BAFTA.com

Royal Opera House. Photo: Peter Mackertich / ROH ©. Source: BAFTA.com

Turning this debate into  figures: irrespective of ticket prices, ballet and opera companies are non-profit organisations which are supported by citizens, in North America via donations and in Europe via taxes. For instance, the ROH has an annual grant equivalent to (approx) £27.5M in public money to fund both the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera. In return for the subsidy the company must seek to broaden its audience. The ROH receives a further £15.3M from donations and legacies, and box office takings of around  £35.6M (based on last year’s figures, a healthy number for recession times). When added, the previous numbers indicate that the ROH generates more than £2 for every £1 given by the government grant, thus avoiding deficit and justifying public spending on it. To keep its side of the bargain, recent changes have increased the costs for a top tier ticket whilst creating cheaper seats in certain areas of the house. In 2008, a quarter of the tickets were cheaper than £30 for full-length ballet productions (costing less in the case of shorter works), with the least expensive tickets costing a mere £6.

In 2008, The Guardian published the following “top tickets” price comparison:

  • The Royal Opera £210
  • British Grand Prix (formula 1) £169 / per day
  • Glastonbury (music festival) £155 / per weekend
  • Men’s Final Wimbledon (tennis) £91
  • Hairspray (musical), London’s West End £60
  • The God of Carnage (play), London’s West End £47.50
  • Odeon (cinema) Leicester Square £17.50

A more up to date web search returns the following price estimates:

  • Chicago,(musical) West End: £25 – £59 + £4.50 service charge
  • The Royal OperaCarmen: Grand tier £210 – £880, Stalls £14- £219, Balcony £14-240, Amphitheatre £9-£97.90
  • The Royal BalletThe Sleeping Beauty: Grand tier £110 – £480, Stalls £10-£120, Balcony £10-£170, Amphitheatre £6 – £70
  • Hamlet starring Jude Law, West End: £32.95 – £42.75
  • Coldplay (music) at Wembley Stadium: £44 – £63 + £4.50 service charge
  • U2 (music) at Wembley Stadium: £61 – £93.50 + £4.50 service charge
  • Odeon cinema (non central) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: £9.00 – £11.00
  • Odeon cinema Leicester Square The Proposal £13.50 – £19.00
  • Chelsea FC (football) Premier League Ticket: £39 – £64

The comparisons above tell us that whilst top tickets for ballet and opera are indeed very expensive (notably those eye-poppingly exclusive grand tier seats), there are plenty other alternatives in every tier of the house, ranging from the equivalent of a movie ticket to the price of a football match (it brings to mind the quote – football is “poor man’s ballet” – a 180 degree shift in paradigm if you look at Premier league ticket prices).

If one considers the production costs associated with a full-length ballet, the expensive designs and costumes, the orchestra, etc. £15 for a ticket seems better value for money than all the other options above. Add to the equation the fact that certain ballet and opera companies run schemes with bulk discounts or membership deals (such as the Friends of Covent Garden scheme or The Sadler’s Wells multi buy discount) and costs dip even further.

(NB: For the sake of this comparison exercise I’ve taken into account the costs for full-length productions which are more expensive than a programme of mixed bills: £6 – £260 for the Royal Ballet’s Agon/Sphinx/New McGregor Triple Bill next season).

Of course, there will always be cheaper entertainment options out there and why not, plenty of stay-at-home ways to watch ballet and opera (TV, DVDs, Iplayer). However, live stagings give audiences a proper opportunity to fully connect and engage with the performers, the scale of which cannot be reproduced in cinema screenings or on DVD. And once you have experienced a live ballet or opera, chances are you will want to return as often as possible. Hopefully the above will serve to demonstrate that opera and ballet do not have to be a once in a lifetime experience or a special occasion treat.

Sources and Further Information

  1. From the Ten O’Clock News to a night at the opera, Tony Hall is taking it to the people. Interview at The Times by Dan Sabbagh [link].
  2. Royal Opera raises Top Ticket Prices by Charlotte Higgins at The Guardian [link]
  3. Ticketmaster.co.uk [link]
  4. Arts Council UK Website [link]

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Veronika Part. Source: ABT. Copyright Ballet Theatre Foundation ©.

Veronika Part. Source: ABT. Copyright Ballet Theatre Foundation ©.

On one side her admirers and knight-in-shining-armour defenders. On the other those who see her as an inconsistent performer. It doesn’t matter on which side one stands,  all this debate  has helped American Ballet Theatre‘s newest Principal dancer Veronika Part become the equivalent of a ballet cross-cultural phenomenon. Other than achievements such as her success whilst still a soloist-doing-principal roles,  being hailed by London critics in the most recent ABT Coliseum season and forming together with ABT guest artist Roberto Bolle one of Ballet’s most picture perfect partnerships, Veronika has also  managed to electrify jaded ballet-goers, bring new audiences into the theatre, and bag an invitation to The Late Show with David Letterman, one of the US’s hottest talk shows, giving ballet a much needed mainstream boost, charming audiences with her grace and personality, not to mention her gorgeous face.

Londoners had the pleasure of seeing Veronika last March before her promotion to Principal dancer. She performed here amid rumours that she might be leaving the company in the absence of an overdue promotion. The British critics fell under her spell and she wowed me too: watching Veronika as one of the three odalisques in ABT’s Le Corsaire, it was not only clear that she outshined the other two women (ABT soloists Maria Riccetto and Kristi Boone), but she also commanded the stage like few do. It was no surprise to learn shortly after Part’s London stint that she had finally been promoted.

Product of the Vaganova machine, Veronika exhibits all the traits that  are so distinctive in Russian dancers: wonderful port de bras, a musical and plastic upper body, regal and elegant lines. She might not be so much the technical whiz as some of her ABT colleagues (like Gillian Murphy, Paloma Herrera or Michelle Wiles), nor did she get to the top as fast as her former classmates Svetlana Zakharova and Daria Pavlenko, however, as a tallish (5’8” = 1.72 m) womanly bodied dancer, she  knows how best to use her physical gifts to convey artistry: she makes you feel Odette’s pain, follow Odile’s flirtatious face and make the audience, rather like prince Siegfried, forget about everyone else on stage.

The best description I found of what Part brings as a dancer and why she has gathered so many admirers is by Tony Mendez, a former professional ballet dancer, turned guest finder for Letterman, who is, of course a huge Veronika fan:

Inconsistency kind of gives a dancer an edge. When I go and see Gillian (Murphy) and Paloma (Herrera), I know they’re going to be perfect… So when I see Veronika Part, there’s a little more of a human thing about her—you don’t know how well she’s going to do, and when she does really well, it’s exciting. And her beauty onstage— she’s beautiful to look at. I don’t think that Veronika Part looks like a ballerina. She looks like a beautiful woman who dances.

Veronika Part in a Nutshell

Born in St. Petersburg, 1978 into a family with no ballet connections. A nurse mentioned to her mother that she had pretty and long legs, so she might make a great ballerina, though before taking up ballet, Veronika trained in artistic gymnastics.

She started ballet at age 10 after being accepted at the famous Vaganova Academy to study under the guidance of Inna Zubkovskaya.

Veronika graduated in 1996, joined the Mariinsky as a member of the corps de ballet and was promoted to Soloist in 1998. Her first major role was Myrtha in Giselle, which she danced just months after having entered the company (January 1997).

Veronika Part as Myrtha. Source: Broadwayworld.com. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Veronika Part as Myrtha. Source: Broadwayworld.com. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Coached by Gabriella Komleva she danced her first principal role: Swan Lake’s double act of Odette/Odile, but her favourite classical role is  actually Raymonda, where she drew favourable comparisons with former teacher (and coach for the role) Inna Zubkovskaya.

In 2002, during a Mariinsky tour to New York where she received glowing reviews for her performances as the second soloist in Balanchine’s Emeralds, Veronika accepted Kevin McKenzie‘s invitation to stay in the US and join ABT as a Soloist.

Veronika has mentioned several times that those initial years in NY, with no friends or family, made her a stronger person. Word is that she learned English while watching episodes of the popular TV series Seinfeld.

A string of uneven performances in 2006/2007 (including Nikiya in ABT’s 2007 Paris Tour) prompted much discussion about Veronika’s stamina, technique, and whether or not nerves were getting in the way, reviews shifting between positive and negative from one season to the next (For instance, this review by Alexandra Tomalonis and this one by Gay Morris, both from Danceviewtimes).

Her big break with ABT happened in 2007, when she was cast as Aurora in the opening night of the McKenzie/Kirkland/Chernov new production of The Sleeping Beauty. Although she still got mixed reviews for this notoriously challenging role and some questioned her technical suitability for it, she generally started to get more attention in soloist and principal roles alike.

Despite the overall good reviews and an ever increasing fanbase, ABT still seemed reluctant to give her a promotion or to throw more principal roles at her (besides Odette/Odile, Nikiya and the Sugar Plum Fairy), so rumours were that she would leave in 2008. Luckily for her fans this never materialized and it is thought it was perhaps the appointment of Alexei Ratmansky as ABT’s resident choreographer which contributed to Veronika’s change of heart.

Veronika performed Odette/Odile during ABT’s London tour to outstanding reviews, rekindling the debate amongst critics and audiences about her overdue promotion. Veronika was finally made a Principal dancer in April 2009.

She is often partnered by Marcelo Gomes a tall, handsome dancer and a good match for her physique. Recently she also found another match for her “in looks” as a much commended sold out performance of Swan Lake alongside Roberto Bolle was labeled by avid fans “the best looking partnership in the history of ballet”.

Veronika is a spokesperson for Gaynor Minden Inc. and a wearer of their pointe shoes since 2002.

Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in Le Corsaire. Photo: Gene Schiavone/ABT ©. Source: Danceviewtimes

Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in La Bayadere. Photo: Gene Schiavone/ABT ©. Source: Danceviewtimes

Videos

  • A very young Veronika dances a Fairy Variation [link]
  • 1992’s 4th Year class of the Vaganova Academy. We can see her taking class together with future Mariinsky Star Daria Pavlenko. [link]
  • Veronika’s recent appearance in The Late Show with David Letterman [link]
  • Part dances the lead role in the Mariinsky’s production of Raymonda. Performance videos, parts 1 [link] and 2 [link].
  • Veronika as Odette with Marcelo Gomes as Siegfried in ABT’s Swan Lake. [link]

Extract of Reviews and Praise

Of her Odette/Odile

Ms. Part, whose clean style is tinged with an intriguing blend of languor and voluptuousness (…). She offered a superbly tender and sad Odette. With eyes down, lips parted and head thrown back, she evoked a spellbound princess. Her adagio in Act II was conventionally lyrical in the best sense: she wreathed Mr. Korsuntsev’s head with her arm with the softness that colored all her gestures. Yet sharply bent forward, she was a swan maiden with a broken wing, wounded by love and fate. Anna Kisselgoff at the NYTimes [link]

Ms. Part’s performance is always about the irreducible structural components of classical ballet. She pruned away mannerism as much as is possible or desirable to do an art form that is itself somewhat manneristic. She was technically sound, but her “Swan Lake” was not technical acrobatics; nor was it about realistic drama or animal imitation. She preserves the stylistic imprint of the role without a lot of flapping or pecking. She maintains a rare equilibrium between the linear and sculptural elements of classical ballet. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

Veronika Part, with her broad-shouldered Joan Crawford looks, gave the most assured and intense performance I have seen from her in a major ballerina role. Her Odette, full of yearning backbends, is awash with feeling; her Odile glamorously exultant. Alastair Macaulay at the NYTimes [link]

Part offers dancing and interpretation of a voluptuous grandeur, Odette’s tragedy saturating movement and pose, Odile’s malevolence an intoxication of the spirit that will dazzle Siegfried utterly. The role is luscious in phrasing, ever expressive, true. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]

Of her debut as Nikiya in ABT’s La Bayadère (May 2007)

Ms. Part is a great adagio technician, perhaps the greatest in Kirov lineage since Natalia Makarova and Alla Osipenko 40 years ago. During her lamenting variation in the Pas d’Action… we saw a marvel of scale, ease, and refulgence. No one onstage today better demonstrates the Russian ideal of movement originating from the back, radiating to the extremities and beyond… She is part of an epic ballet spectacle, and her outpouring of emotion is as lush and grand as her physical production. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

and of a more recent performance of the same role (2008)

Ms. Part is a highly individualistic dancer who represents several traditions in addition to her own individuality. She epitomizes the Russian emphasis on legato movements, a bel canto all its own… Very few others have succeeded artistically as well as Ms. Part. She lets her height and flexibility expand, but not traduce, the architecture and poetics of classical ballet; her taste is exemplary. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

Nikiya the temple dancer – or bayadere – was the St. Petersburg-born Veronika Part, dancing with poignant eloquence and impeccable style. Clive Barnes at the NYPost [link]

Of her roles in The Sleeping Beauty:

First, as Aurora

Veronika Part’s lush, emotionally eloquent dancing as Aurora in the Vision Scene was the sole unarguably wonderful element in ABT’s new version of “The Sleeping Beauty”…The Kirov-trained ballerina’s work in the arduous first act had been admirably strong and clear. But here — seemingly impalpable, yet making it clear that she is longing for the Prince as much as he is for her — Part worked the real ballerina magic of transforming steps into atmosphere and feeling. Tobi Tobias at Bloomberg [link]

and as the Lilac Fairy

She (Part) reclaimed her rightful role as the Lilac Fairy, for which she’s perfect and in which she has lengthy experience. Ms. Part danced and declaimed magnificently. As exciting as the sweep and aplomb of her movement were the many shades of character she brought to the role, appropriate for a deity who should ideally encompass all the attributes that are presented to the infant Aurora in the Prologue by Lilac’s attendant fairies. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

Clement Crisp comments on Part’s various appearances in London:

Balanchine’s Symphonie Concertante

…The corps was nattily exact, much given to eager smiles as if trying to jump a queue, and it was the presence of Veronika Part (as the viola’s representative) who brought the piece, and the evening, to glory. We remember her as a young divinity with the Mariinsky Ballet and the dignity and amplitude of her St Petersburg style, the voluptuous, luscious grace of her every action, pouring some noble and heady wine for us, breathed life, meaning, into her role. She was a diamond set amid rhinestones, Pouding Nesselrode as an alternative to water ices. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]

and as one of the three Odalisques in Le Corsaire, last March:

Veronika Part appeared, a divinity in exile, as an odalisque. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link].

Sources and Further Information

  1. Veronika Part’s Official Website [link]
  2. Profile for Kirov Ballerina Veronika Part by Marc Haegeman, from For Ballet Lovers Only [link]
  3. Gaynor Minden Dancer Profile, written by Eliza Minden and Karen Lacy [link]
  4. Veronika Part interviewed by Graham Watts. Ballet.co Magazine, March 2008 [link]
  5. A Reason to Go on Living, blog post by James Wolcott. VanityFair.com [link]
  6. Assoluta by Laura Jacobs. Dance critic for The New Criterion [link]

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Going for thirty six days without any ballet is quite a challenge for a balletomane, therefore I could not pass up the opportunity of seeing Carlos Acosta & Guests Artists, a mixed ballet bag of short pieces featuring from modern Brandstrup to chic & classical Ashton’s Rhapsody, and ranging from the overdone (a “male” Dying Swan) to the rarely seen (Azary Plisetsky’s Canto Vital & John Neumeier’s Othello).

Carlos Acosta as Spartacus. Source: Comono. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Carlos Acosta as Spartacus. Source: Comono. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Given the variety of flavors, it’s a good show for those wishing to sample ballet before committing to full length traditional or modern works. I took my visiting 11 year old niece who had not seen much dance before, she left impressed and willing to return. Acosta makes the right call as he opts for an informal atmosphere. The show opens with the dancers arriving in their leg warmers and changing into performance gear at the deep end of the stage revealing to us what goes on behind the scenes. While “The Ballet Boyz” did the same thing more effectively by streaming a live video from the dressing rooms in their gala a few years ago, this is a budget friendly way to strike the same chord. The evening kicks off just as informally with a barre at centre stage and Stevenson’s Three Preludes segueing into Cuban choreographer Ivan Tenorio’s Ritmicas, a great way to show the contrast in dance classwork, one with soft adagio moves (danced by English National Ballet‘s Principals Begoña Cao and Arionel Vargas) and the other much  jazzier, with plenty of speedy turns and modern extensions.

Acosta steps in to show off his Spartacus best in two solos, replacing the well known pas de deux, given Bolshoi’s Nina Kaptsova‘s withdrawal a few weeks ago. The crowd roars but blink and you will miss those jetés and tours à la seconde, which are gone in 60 seconds. Although I understand Acosta’s motives for including a hint of Spartacus in the programme (a crowd-pleaser & also his favorite role) I doubt those in the audience not familiar with this ballet will care to find out more just from seeing a short extract in a vacuum, but in addition to its “wow factor”, Spartacus is certainly an effective gauge to the evening’s high testosterone levels: after Ashton’s lovely Rhapsody Pas de Deux (sadly minus the variations!) we had an Othello (Hamburg Ballet’s Amilcar Moret) wearing nothing but well defined muscles and a scarf, soon unravelled by his Desdemona so that we catch a glimpse of a dance belt (instructive for those who wonder what male dancers wear underneath tights!), followed by “Canto Vital” which I nicknamed “Spartacus x 4“. This particular piece, choreographed to show off Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s best virtuoso dancers, pretends to be about three forces of nature – beast, fish and bird – struggling to survive but in reality it’s like the Neolithic version of Les Lutins without the comedy & the clothes, with plenty of opportunity for the men (Acosta plus Royal Ballet’s Steven McRae, Amilcar Moret and Arionel Vargas) to wear very little and impress us while trying to outdo each other, McRae in particular showing off some seriously juicy double “rondes de jambe en l’air” and leaping 2 storys higher than all the other men combined (Canto Vital can be found on YouTube: here are parts 1 and 2).

The Dying Swan is never going to feature in my personal ballet gala wishlist, it is a piece I dislike in any shape or form (with possibly one exception: this version danced by Igor Kolb) and I was not converted by this particular Michel Descombey version picked by Acosta, to me it seemed more like yoga’s Swan dive than ballet’s Swan death. “Over There” choreographed by Ramon Gomes Reis over Dido’s lament (taped music) reminded me that we had recently seen it better sung and more originally choreographed a few blocks down the road. A few other breezy and fun pieces such as Derek Deane’s Summertime were served until the grand finale (and Cuba’s answer to Don Quixote) with Georges Garcia’s “Majisimo”, which I presumed from the programme note to be a staple at every Acosta & Guests. Majisimo gives the ensemble an opportunity to shine and to end on a high, especially Acosta and his leading lady for the occasion Royal Ballet principal Roberta Marquez. My niece was very impressed by Roberta’s speedy turns (lovely Italian fouettées followed by piqué turns) and I liked how she added flirty Brazilian spice to Acosta’s Cuban charm, a good match. I left the theatre wishing I could see Roberta and Acosta dancing together more often. And even if not every item on the bill was my cup of tea, seeing Acosta & Marquez & McRae in great shape definitely cured my ballet blues!

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In 1973 the Royal Ballet went on a historical tour to Brazil bringing 110 dancers including its star Margot Fonteyn to 85,000 people across the country. It was that year’s cultural highlight with tales of frenzied, roaring audiences and of scared, timid dancers who would not dare step onstage until Fonteyn’s reassurances that crowd commotions were entirely normal that side of the Atlantic. That one visit the Royal Ballet made to Brazil was a big deal and yet, you will have trouble finding any evidence of it (other than the very basic) online.

Fast forward to 2009. The Royal Ballet’s no less historical tour to Cuba (the first international ballet company to visit this ballet-addict nation in over 30 years) has  just drawn to a close. If you are interested in following its trail you can not only google content posted by conventional media from all around the globe but also pictures posted by local residents, blog, tweets, Facebook groups, web discussion forums. We might not have been there, but thanks to all of this we can share in the occasion. And, unlike what happened to the Brazil tour material, 40 years from now large chunks of this may still be accessible in one way or another.

In the dance world (and more generally in the arts world) we’ve come a long way since Arnold Haskell, eminent critic & balletomania’s “patient zero”, spoke against filming ballet for posterity. If it weren’t for the rich and diverse ballet content on YouTube (questions of copyright aside) we might never have had so much exposure to foreign and/or vintage ballet performances. Ballet companies are realizing the importance of educating and engaging with its audience through every trendy social media means at its disposal to preserve the future of this art, though as Philip Kennicott rightly notes in this excellent article (found via Opera blog Intermezzo) there is still much room for improvement, both in content and approach.

Does their investment in social media pay off? This Forbes article claims the Royal Opera House had no significant box office boost through its Facebook and Twitter crowds. However, the article does not clarify how they correlated Facebook use and ticket buying. One example: whilst we have not increased our  theatre bookings  because of Facebook and Twitter the fact that these channels are there and that through them we can find people who share common interests and passions has improved our cultural experience as audience members. And if we miss out on an interesting performance due to, for instance, geographical barriers it is now possible to feel as if we are “virtually there”.

Look no further than the recent Oregon Ballet rescue campaign, which reached fever pitch thanks to social media, for an example of its potential to be effective. Perhaps it’s too early to tell whether these new marketing avenues will lead to more ticket sales but it certainly will lead to a more cultured audience, breaking of geographical barriers and maybe turning a ballet microcosm into an universe. At least that’s what we would like to see happen in the near future.

Compare & Contrast

Because we are avid consumers of social media and keen “ballet networkers” we thought of comparing & contrasting, from an audience perspective, some international ballet companies and their approach to these new marketing channels. Below we opine on what works for us and what we’d like to see if we could call any shots. We’d also love to hear about what works for those reading this post so feel free to weigh in!

The Headstarters (in alphabetical order)

Picture 4American Ballet Theatre

What’s working: A great Facebook group with a library of pictures and interesting updates (that’s where we first heard of Veronika Part on Letterman). Very good ballet education content on main website including online dictionary and ballet synopses. They also have content rich micro sites for certain ballets.

What we’d love to see: ABT is not yet on Twitter or YouTube. Their website is more substance than form, we’re all for that but a little bit more styling would be welcome. The ballet “micro sites” can be hard to locate too.


Picture 10New York City Ballet

What’s working: Partnering with interactive agency AKQA in their social media project was a wise move. NYCB is “everywhere out there”: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the quality of the content is  good and generally in sync throughout all platforms. Their website strikes a great balance between style and substance, with heavy emphasis on education.

What we’d love to see: The biggest downside is the “no comment policy” on YouTube videos. Likewise, their Facebook page does not show Fan & NYCB’s wall postings on the same spot, which effectively means reader comments are not visible. There may be a wish to prevent flippant comments & rogue users (esp. those heated debates that take place on YouTube, we understand) but surely anything abusive can be easily deleted. Some DVD releases would also be extremely welcome.

Picture 2Royal Opera House

What’s working: Like NYCB, the ROH’s new media project is completely cross-platform with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They have a very stylish website and seriously eye catching marketing campaigns. The open air and cinema screenings are also a huge bonus and have viral potential.

What we’d like to see: They had started a Royal Ballet blog project last year during the China tour but this seems to have stalled. Perhaps blogging is too time consuming but we’d love to see more rehearsal material, pictures and short snippets of the artist’s & staff’s angle, perhaps elsewhere if not on the blog. The videos are fantastic if a little hard to locate, same with other educational content on their website. The FB and Twitter postings could also be juicier.

Other Notable Headstarters:

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and Dutch National Ballet (all with high quality educational videos), Scottish Ballet, ENB & Houston Ballet (for their tweets), The Joffrey and San Francisco Ballet (for their tweets and great blog postings).

The “Catcher uppers”

Picture 13

The Mariinsky

Their recently developed new media initiative launched an English language (impressive!) YouTube channel and a Facebook group. We’d love to see them on Twitter and more educational content on their website. But perhaps our biggest wishlist item would be cinema screenings of selected pieces which they do not typically tour and which we cannot always travel to Russia to catch!

Picture 11The Royal Danish Ballet

They might not be fully social media operative yet but their website certainly looks the part with plenty of content in English and a great selection of press photos which are available to download. Their principal dancers have an official Facebook group. We’d love to see them on all platforms, the world needs to learn more about this treasure of a company.

The “Cozy Comforters”

Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi, La Scala

As far as we know, none of these companies have launched into social media despite their international visibility. POB banks mainly on their DVD releases and La Scala on cinema screenings. Both are honorable efforts but we would also like to see them boosting their multimedia and educational content, same goes for the Bolshoi. Even better if they all start a Facebook/Twitter initiative.

What’s next in new media and social media?

Tumbrl

Iphone Applications

Social Media Aggregators

Same time relays/IPlayers

DVD-on-demand

As all these ballet companies start to explore the opportunities of new media, what will it take to really be “Virtually There”? There is a maze of content in all forms which could be aggregated across the various media forms, in a centralized way to help the audiences find exactly what they are looking for. With many companies becoming increasingly innovative they should push the boundaries from a Tweet here, a Videoclip and a Facebook posting there to lead the way and make ballet increasingly more accessible (in all senses of the word) with dynamic multi -platform strategies.

See also:

Our note on the best dance pages on Facebook [Link]

Disclaimer: Logo & images copyright belongs to their respective owners.

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In this post we continue to look at some of the big jumps that have historically filled the vision of many choreographers and which continue to fill the eyes of an audience. Our focus is on a set of common jumps, which tend to occur in almost every classical variation rather than on the flashy jumps which we already covered in Part 1.

Tours en l’air

Propelled from a deep plié in fifth position, the dancer jumps, making a complete turn in the air, switching feet and landing back in tight (closed) fifth position.

ABT’s Daniil Simkin in a variation from The Sleeping Beauty, where he executes some tours en l’air around the 1.07 mark.

Tour de force

A bravura type combination of tours en l’air, pirouettes and spins. A true feat of technical prowess.

ABT’s Angel Corella does a tour de force in Ali’s variation of Le Corsaire (move to the 0:52 mark)

Poisson

Literally meaning fish, it is a jump where the legs are crossed in fifth and held tightly while the back arches throughout its execution, as in the following image:

NYCBs Gonzalo García in Poisson form. Photo: Paul Kolnik, NYCB ©. Source: Danser en France

NYCB's Gonzalo García in Poisson form. Photo: Paul Kolnik, NYCB ©. Source: Danser en France

And here we see the jump in action:

Legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov does poisson jumps in his diagonal of cabriolés during Albrecht‘s variation in act 2 of Giselle.

Saut de chat

Also called a développé grand jeté. The working leg passes through retiré and is thrown forward into a développé, so both legs end up extended forming a 180 degree angle.

Paris Opera Ballet’s Aurélie Dupont does some saut de chats at the beginning of Gamzatti‘s variation in La Bayadère.

Grand pas de chat (This step is also called Russian pas de chat or Pas de chat jeté)

As in a grand jeté the dancer starts by throwing the first leg into a grand battement but then pulls the second leg into passé and lands on the first leg, with the second joining in fifth or in an arabesque. Alternatively the dancer may throw the first leg as in a saut de chat (see above). As this step was frequently used by Balanchine, it is also informally known as “Balanchine’s jump” (see the entrance of Stars and Stripes or Theme and Variations).

NYCBs Miranda Weese doing a grand pas de chat, supported by Damian Woetzel. Photo: Paul Kolnik / NYCB ©. Source: Voice Of Dance

NYCB's Miranda Weese doing a grand pas de chat, supported by Damian Woetzel. Photo: Paul Kolnik / NYCB ©. Source: Voice Of Dance

And here we see the jump in action:

Legendary Kirov ballerina Alla Sizova doing some grand pas de chats in Medora‘s variation of Le Corsaire

Sissonne

This jump, from both feet onto one foot, looks like the action of crossing blades in a pair of scissors. The jump starts from fifth position and lands on the leg which the dancer jumped from, leaving the other leg extended in dégagé (pointed toe extended off the floor at 45 degrees, a la seconde or en arrière).

Grand Sissonne Ouverte

This literally means “big open sissonne. One jumps high from a deep plié in fifth position, landing on one foot in a pose such as attitude, arabesque a la seconde, etc. It can be performed en avant, de côté or en arrière. A video of this step is available here [link].

Sissonne Développé Assemblé or Sissonne Doublée

This is a compound step which starts with a sissonne ouverte de côté (see above), followed by a coupé and an assemblé. It can be done as part of a series, in which one travels in one or more directions.

Mariinsky’s Vladimir Shklyarov does a whole series of sissonnes. Starting at 3:00, he does a Grand Sissonne de côté, assemblé, sissonne doublée and repeats (There are also some beautiful tours en l’air on 3:23 and a tour de force around 3:25).

Sources and Further Information:

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

Note: Whilst we have used widely known names for these jumps, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

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And now for something completely different. This post is for those in need of a styling hand to help assemble looks to wear at the ballet, opera or even a fancy theatre outing. We like ballet, we like fashion, we used to like dressing up our dolls and most of all we like to have fun, so here we have an opportunity to combine all of these!

Yes, the days of dressing up to the opera house are long gone. With the exception of a positively glitzy premiere of the ballet Jewels in 2007 (floor length gowns galore), today’s audiences do not tend to go couture overboard when getting ready for an evening at the theatre, not even expensive ticket holders. Anything too big and bold might look out of place, especially if you are seated “up in the gods”. Remember that famous Sex and the City episode where Petrovsky (ballet god Misha Baryshnikov) treated Carrie Bradshaw to an Oscar de la Renta dress for an evening at the Met? Nice but fiction. Nowadays, with opera houses afraid of being branded snobbish & with jeans having made it to the mainstream, the reality is way more relaxed. So relaxed in fact, that last Saturday I spotted someone in Bermudas & Birkenstocks. And a guy in a kilt! It was an evening of sartorial diversity.

Many people don’t go to such extremes of course and even if jeans and trainers are completely acceptable it doesn’t mean you should, especially if you are a girl. There is much fun to be had dressing up for an afternoon or evening at the ballet, it’s all part of the experience of being transported into a different universe and with the dancers looking so graceful and glamorous it’s only natural to want to give them some competition this side of the stage!

Here we showcase some of our favourite basic looks (picked & chosen from the UK high street, but any of these can be reproduced with more high end or save-tastic brands):

Girly and classic. The cardi & opaque tights are great add ons for winter, the flouncy skirt is feminine and the flats are ideal for those in the standing areas (besides, Blair Waldorf would approve!):

Bolero from Monsoon, Top and skirt from FCUK, Alice band, tights and bag from Accessorize and shoes from Marais USA

Bolero from Monsoon, Top and skirt from FCUK, Alice band, tights and bag from Accessorize and shoes from Marais USA

A paired down version of Carrie’s Oscar de la Renta effect, matched with discreet accessories. For this look, you can opt for any boldly coloured dress (though purple is huge for the autumn):

Dress from Boden, Bolero and Heels from Monsoon, Clutch, Studs and Necklace from Accessorize.

Dress from Boden, Bolero and Heels from Monsoon, Clutch, Studs and Necklace from Accessorize.

London is cold and sometimes you just want something cozy & warm, here’s a way to wear woolies with an “evening feel”. Also, this skirt will suit most body types:

Cardigan from Boden, Skirt from FCUK, Clutch, Earrings, Necklace and Tights from Accessorize and shoes from Marais USA

Cardigan from Boden, Skirt from FCUK, Clutch, Earrings, Necklace and Tights from Accessorize and shoes from Marais USA

But for a summer evening, what better than a strappy LBD & peepy heels? For the autumn transition, wear it with black opaques:

Dress from FCUK, Shoes from Monsoon, Statement Jacket from Topshop, Earrings and clutch from Accessorize

Dress from FCUK, Shoes from Monsoon, Statement Jacket from Topshop, Earrings and clutch from Accessorize

If you have the legs you can try the mini, a nice modern look for a Wayne McGregor premiere:

Top from Monsoon, Tulip skirt and tights from Topshop, Clutch and studs from Accessorize and shoes from Marais USA

Top from Monsoon, Tulip skirt and tights from Topshop, Clutch and studs from Accessorize and shoes from Marais USA

Or this perfect basic look that can be worn from winter to summer, from gentle Swan Lake to rocking Chroma:

outfit4

Dress, tights and shoes from Topshop. Clutch and earrings from Accessorize

Note: All images taken from the brands’ websites. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

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We now turn to one of ballet history’s most successful training methods: Cecchetti, a complete and structured system for dancers, which sets a strict, rigid hierarchical regime and which is still an ongoing influence for virtually every major ballet school in the world. Its creator, Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928), was an Italian virtuoso dancer who would in time become a teacher at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and train ballet legends such as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Alicia Markova, Léonide Massine and Royal Ballet founder, Ninette de Valois.

Enrico Cecchetti. Source: Wikipedia ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Enrico Cecchetti. Source: Wikipedia ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Cecchetti came from a dancing family, his father having taught him the basics of ballet but later sending him to train with a string of dance luminaries. First, Giovanni Lepri, an accomplished pupil of the great Carlo Blasis of  the “Traité élémentaire, théorique et pratique de l’art de la danse” (1820), one of the foremost treaties of classical ballet techniques of that era,  then with Cesare Coppini at La Scala and Filippo Taglioni. All this practical knowledge served as a background for Cechetti’s own ideas on ballet which he was to develop later as an immigrant in Russia.

Cecchetti was already a virtuoso performer when he arrived in St. Petersburg, astonishing audiences with his great jumps and multiple pirouettes (though he could only turn in one direction) and excelling in mime. Such abilities, best displayed when he created the roles of Bluebird and Carabosse in Petipa‘s The Sleeping Beauty, not only secured him a job as Premieur Danseur with the Mariinsky Ballet but also a 15 year long tenure as Ballet Master of  the Imperial Ballet School, where he taught various notable dancers of the era. After teaching in Poland for 3 years he returned to St. Petersburg, establishing a school in 1905 and working as Anna Pavlova’s exclusive coach until 1909. He went on to contribute to modern classical ballet’s birth upon joining  Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes as ballet master and mime artist. Later years saw Cecchetti teaching at his own dance school in London (1918) and subsequently returning to his native Italy to teach at La Scala (1923), a position he would hold until his death in 1928.

Cecchetti’s method, developed by mixing his own experiences as a dancer and teacher with Carlo Blasis’s heritage, is a strict form of training. Specific exercises are prescribed for every day of the week and there’s an overall objective of making dancers internalise the principles of ballet and have an innate feeling for graceful lines. This very scientific method leaves no room for improvisation: it dictates that steps be introduced in planned sequences, that all parts of the body be worked on evenly. Daily class consists of barre work, which is then repeated at the centre, followed by adagio and allegro sequences. Only at the end of class may the teacher introduce and incorporate certain new steps to develop the student’s ability to assimilate quickly.  Cecchetti strives for pure and clean classical lines, so dancers can respond to the demands of different styles and choreographers.

Enrico Cecchetti teaches students. Source: The Cecchetti Society of SA ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Enrico Cecchetti teaches students. Source: The Cecchetti Society of SA ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

The method has its own vocabulary, including over 40 set adages and 8 ports de bras, all developed by Cecchetti. Quality rather than quantity is also emphasized (e.g. do the exercise correctly once rather than many times in a sloppy way).

In 1922, assisted by Cecchetti protegés (Stanislas Idzikowski, Margaret Craske and Derra de Moroda), Cyril W. Beaumont collected and codified the basics of Cecchetti’s technique in what became the official syllabus (The Cecchetti Method of Classical Ballet). Cecchetti also allowed Beaumont, a close friend, to establish the Cecchetti Society for the continuity of his principles and preservation of standards and theoretical knowledge. Along with leading methods such as Vaganova, Balanchine, RAD, Bournonville & the French school, Cecchetti  continues to train future generations of dancers.

With branches in many parts of the world, the Society promotes the method through a series of graded levels and examinations with specific goals for students to work towards. It originally consisted of three levels (nowadays grades 5, 6 and Intermediate Foundation), but now comprises six grade levels. The major grades are Intermediate Foundation, Intermediate, Advanced 1 and 2. In order to become a ballet teacher, candidates must pass the “Associate examination” after Advanced 1.

In the UK, the Cecchetti Society has been absorbed by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD), even though its syllabus, the Imperial Classical Ballet Syllabus, is still kept separately from ISTD’s own.

Maestro Cecchetti left a great imprint on the English School. The important aspects of his teaching will remain part of the academic tradition of our English Ballet. (Ninette de Valois)

If I had my way, I would always insist that all dancers should daily do the wonderful Cecchetti ports de bras. It inculcates a wonderful feeling for line and correct positioning and the use of head movement and épaulement which – if properly absorbed – will be of incalculable use throughout a dancer’s career. (Frederick Ashton)

Sources and Further Information:

  1. Wikipedia Entry for Enrico Cecchetti
  2. Wikipedia Entry for the Cecchetti Method
  3. The Cecchetti Council of America [link]
  4. The Cecchetti Society of Canada [link]
  5. Cecchetti Ballet Australia [link]
  6. ISTD Cecchetti Ballet Faculty [link]
  7. The Cecchetti Method of Classical Ballet: Theory and Technique by Cyril W. Beaumont, Stanislas Idzikowski. Dover Publications (2003). ISBN-10: 0486431770, ISBN-13: 978-0486431772
  8. Using Class Notes to Document Advances in Late-Nineteenth-Century Ballet Technique by Norma-Sue Fisher-Stitt. International Association of Libraries and Museums of the Performing Arts. [link]
  9. Andros on Ballet. An overview of Cecchetti classical ballet vocabulary.

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