Balletomanes will love this book . It is intimately , warmly written .It is divided into twenty five chapters with a Forward , Introduction , Conclusion, Author’s Note , a glossary of ballet terms , end notes and an index .Photos are spaced in three sections throughout the book. It is co written with Sarah Crompton , one of Britain’s most respected writers and broadcasters.
This compelling book considers Benjamin’s life from 1964 and her first dance classes at the age of three, to 2020 when it was completed . Like Mary McKendry (now Mary Li , married to Li Cunxin of the Queensland Ballet) and Sydney Dance alumni Nina Veretkinova , Leanne Benjamin comes from Rockhampton in Queensland . Her hard working Catholic family has a close, loving relationship with supportive parents . At 16, she followed her sister Madonna and was accepted into The Royal Ballet School in London, then at 18 danced her first leading role on the Royal Opera House stage in the school’s performance of Giselle that catapulted her to an outstanding international career, being appointed a Principal ballerina at the age of 22 after her debut in Swan Lake,.She jet setted across the world ( remember this is before Covid hit) – Europe, the UK, America and Australia .The main companies she belonged to however were what are now known as the Birmingham Royal Ballet , the English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet itself.
BUILT FOR BALLET takes the reader backstage in an attempt to convey a thorough comprehension of the gruelling hard work, fierce passion and commitment, the pain, delights and sometimes disasters that can strew a dancers’ career and from Benjamin’s point of view, how ballet has grown and adjusted. Continue reading BUILT FOR BALLET BY LEANNE BENJAMIN AND SARAH CROMPTON→
As part of ROH Live screenings , we were privileged to see a most intriguing contemporary triple bill superbly danced by the Royal Ballet – Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Within the Golden Hour ‘, Crystal Pite’s ‘Flight Pattern’ and ‘Medusa’ , a new work by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.Two revivals and a world premiere .
The programme opened with a glorious revival of Wheeldon’s ‘Within the Golden Hour’, created on San Francisco Ballet in 2008 and first performed by the Royal Ballet in 2016. It is abstract yet lush, shimmering and exquisiteLY redesigned with semi transparent golden , floaty costumes by Jasper Conran .
Wheeldon acknowledges he was influenced by Klimt’s ‘golden period’ in creating the ballet , and Australian audiences might think of Kristian Fredrikson ‘s costume designs for Graeme Murphy’s ‘Shéhérazade’ . Peter Mumford’s lighting is splendidly enhancing and atmospheric with most effective use of shadows and silhouettes Ezzio Bosso’s ‘Music for Strings’ throbs and glimmers, blending towards the end to the andante from Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto.
There are seven pairs of dancers who come together in assorted combinations. Wheeldon’s athletic ,challenging choreography is fluid and sinuous and includes difficult high lifts, slithery floorwork and male pas de deux as well as possible references to Latin-American ballroom.
It also requires a long , stretched ‘line’ and big showy jumps at times particularly for the male dancers. The first section for the whole ensemble sees them writhing sculpturally. Then there are assorted pas de deux and other combinations : for example a tender, fragile ,dreamily lyrical pas de deux and a darting dragonfly like female quartet which are contrasted with a coolly elegant and regal pas de deux by another pair of dancers.
Towards the end the dancers cascade off the stage, then return for the final short segment and are still dancing when the curtain falls.
The middle work was the hotly anticipated world premiere of ‘Medusa’ by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui with Natalia Osipova in the eponymous role. While Osipova was sensational , it is perhaps slightly disappointing .This is Cherkaoui’s first commission for the Royal Ballet. The music blends Purcell arias at times ironically commenting on the action with the atmospheric ebbs ,flows and bumps of electronic composer Olga Wojciechowska .
Based on the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses , the ballet tells the story of how Medusa was a beautiful priestess who was dedicated to and served in the temple of the goddess Athena .Medusa was raped by the god Poseidon, and a jealous Athena took revenge by turning Medusa (one of her favourites) into a monstrous creature, a hideous Gorgon with writhing serpents for hair. Anyone who looked Medusa in the face was instantly turned to stone, until Perseus succeeds in killing her which sets free her soul transformed back to beauty.
Osipova tries to depict both sides of Medusa – the stunning priestess, who offers a scarf as a good luck token to Perseus , and the furious Gorgon, with fierce kicks and a basilisk stare. While the ‘snaky’ headdress is rather striking it is not scary rather just looks messy, somewhat of a disappointment .
Cherkaoui’s choreography is eclectic, blending deconstructed neoclassical ballet and pointe work , street style moves , writhing floor work and capoeira-style kicks with blade sharp feet and deadly neck twists.
Olivia Cowley was coolly elegant as Athena who punishes her acolyte because she can’t punish the god. Ryoichi Hirano in an asymmetric indigo kilt like outfit ( Samurai inspired.? ) and dramatic blue stripe was commanding as Poseidon who calmly observes Athena’s punishment of her priestess. The transformation is achieved behind a huge scarf, (The scarf is a recurring visual motif – we see Medusa with one at her first dance with Perseus, her transformation, and her death).
The soldiers – Perseus et al – are led by tremendous Matthew Ball but hampered by the rather discordant ,unflattering semi transparent boiler suit costumes. Other soldiers wear mesh fencing masks made to look like stone , with plumes resembling Ancient Greek helmets, their faces hidden. Perseus removes his at one point – does Medusa recognise him? Does he recognise her? It is suggested that Medusa lets Perseus kill her so her soul can be free,
The ending is rather enigmatic and inconclusive with Medusa transformed back to her beautiful self and on the temple steps with her bowl .She is sad and reflective.
Crystal Pite’s ‘Flight Pattern’ is stark and bleak but very moving. The dancers are all in grey costumes and often move in surging , pulsating patterns, at times like flocks of birds . To Górecki’s haunting Symphony of Sorrowful Songs Pite has produced a work inspired by the world wide refugee crisis , motherhood and loss. It is mostly a huge ensemble work (36 dancers in the cast!) who writhe, leap ,fall, but we occasionally see churning individuals break out from within the group, all harbouring their own sense of loss, destroyed hopes and other back stories. Towards the end we see one couple , Kristen McNally and Marcelino Sambé,, who have already lost their baby.
McNally mourns in anguish. to the lament of Mary on the death of her son (sung by soprano Francesca Chiejina). McNally also has to symbolically bear the weight of everyone’s loss, as represented by the huge, heavy load of coats that end up piled in her arms. Her partner Sambé explodes in a solo of feverish anger.. The black walls of the set open to let the crowd of refugees in, but close to exclude the couple. McNally rocks back and forth, lamenting. Snow is continuing to fall behind the wall and now the refugees no longer have their coats. Have they reached their destination? The ending is inconclusive. A melancholIc, poignant work.
A very thought provoking triple bill full of glorious dance.
Running time just over 3 hours including two intervals.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of its premiere, Royal Opera House (ROH) Live opens the current season of opera and ballet with a stunning performance by the Royal Ballet of Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s MAYERLING. Superb performances by the huge cast are led by Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb .The fiendishly difficult, almost impossibly acrobatic death defying choreography is dazzlingly danced.
It is a dark and disturbing work, based on the true story of Crown Prince Rudolf (Steven McRae) and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera (Sarah Lamb) set against the backdrop of the stuffy yet rigid Austrian-Hungarian royal court in 1889 and the world of fin de siecle Vienna. There is also political turmoil bubbling underneath.
There are not many major ballet works that feature drug use, skulls and guns, especially to such a degree. And opera is also included in the party scene in Act 2. The staging is labyrinthine, the set designs looming and opulently lavish, the costumes incredibly detailed. Under the baton of Koen Kessels the ROH Orchestra is in glowing, passionate form. Lizst’s music swirls, ebbs and crashes towards the tumultuous tragic end. Continue reading ROYAL OPERA HOUSE LIVE : THE ROYAL BALLET PRESENTS MAYERLING→
THE ROYAL BALLET IN ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Bold, bright, colourful and exotic this is a wonderful revival by the Royal Ballet of Christopher Wheeldon’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND first seen in 2011. It is part of the Royal Opera House 2017/18 Live Cinema Season. Visually stunning it showcases some fabulous theatrical effects, wonderful dancing, and Wheeldon’s inspired, outstanding choreography. The work feels, at times, perhaps a little dominated by set and visual design values but it is a stunning visual feast and full of delightful whimsy.
As part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season, celebrating 70 years at the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet brings it season to a close with a tribute to its founder choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton.
The tribute comprised a marvellous triple bill featuring The Dream (1964), based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the non-narrative work Symphonic Variations (1946) to music by Franck (Ashton’s first work after World War 2), and then finally the 1963 passionate, tempestuous Marguerite and Armand (1963), based on La Dame Aux Camellias, created for the legendary partnership of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev to a Lizst sonata.
This particular performance also marks the retirement from the stage of principal Zenaida Yanowsky and at the end we see the extended curtain calls and appearances by several of her leading men who have partnered her over the years in various roles.
Opening the program was a delightful revival of The Dream. The forest clearing set was enchanting and beautifully lit, the Mendelssohn music gloriously played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the energetic baton of Emmanuel Plasson with the London Oratory Junior Choir giving a fine performance. The fairies were absolutely enchanting. Continue reading PALACE OPERA AND BALLET : ROYAL BALLET PRESENTS AN ASHTON TRIPLE BILL→
We were privileged to see absolutely dazzling dancing in this revival of Balanchine’s Jewels by the Royal Ballet.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Balanchine’s work and a decade since it became part of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
The three works, all without a clear narrative structure, are a homage by Balanchine to French Romanticism (Emeralds) America and Broadway (Rubies) and the Imperial Russian ballet of Petipa ( Diamonds). The works feature scores by three composers – Faure , Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.
Originally created in 2015 this is a welcome return of resident choreographer Wayne McGregor’s three part work based on the life and works of Virginia Woolf.
McGregor’s three acts delve into three of Woolf’s novels, interwoven with images from her own life. The choreography is athletic and extremely demanding at times with death defying leaps and catches in the partnering and laser sharp legs .The Royal Ballet dancers are AMAZING.
This particular version by Sir Anthony Dowell for the Royal Ballet is now almost thirty years old. I have previously seen it with other casts, both live in London at the Royal Opera House and on screen, and it is still enthralling.
I have just been privileged to see a stunning, lavish and opulent production by the Royal Ballet of Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s masterpiece MANON. McMillan’s work was photographed with plenty of close ups so you feel as if you are almost on stage with the Company.
This is the 40th anniversary year for this ballet and quite a few companies around the world have included it in their 2014 subscription program, including the Australian Ballet earlier in the year.
MANON tells a cautionary tale of love, greed and corruption, a major three act work requiring a huge cast and the Royal Ballet, the Company with which it was originally created, did itself proud. Continue reading The Royal Ballet: Manon→
Three years in the making, this new, specially commissioned work by Christopher Wheeldon is a major landmark production. It is only the second new full length narrative ballet commissioned by the Royal Ballet in the past twenty years. Technically it dazzles and at times it is emotionally shattering.
One of Shakespeare’s difficult ‘problem plays’ with a very complicated plot, it has never been adapted for the ballet stage before. Wheeldon returns to the Royal Ballet’s history of full length narrative works , following in the footsteps of Macmillan and Ashton for example , in this splendid work ( not forgetting his own ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. )There are six main roles and lots for the corps de ballet ensemble to do – especially in Act2 in Bohemia as bucolic shepherd/esses in an enchanting pastoral setting.
In this huge production by the Royal Ballet the dancing is superb, especially by the two leads. It has an extremely ‘traditional’ feel about it and is a 2006 attempt to reconstruct the famous 1946 Oliver Messell production that reopened the Royal Opera House after World War 11, starring Fonteyn and Helpmann.
This current production was always all about remembering the company’s immensely rich heritage. Monica Mason, then artistic director, set out to restore most aspects of the now legendary 1946-67 production by Ninette de Valois (director), Oliver Messel (designer), Ashton (coach and supplementary choreographer) and Fonteyn (prima ballerina).