Asphodel Meadows/The Two Pigeons at the Royal Opera House 18/01/2019


With the last remains of glittery Nutcracker magic now behind us for another year, just two days after the end of the run of the festive classic, the Royal Ballet return with a fun, bright and uplifting mixed bill to ease us through January.

Asphodel Meadows is a brief and well-crafted little gem from Liam Scarlett, having premiered in 2010. At the time, Scarlett was just 24 years old and this was his first commission for the Royal Opera House main stage; now, it sits confidently amongst the Royal’s repertoire.

It features three central pas de deux to Francis Poulenc’s turbulent double piano concerto, that sways from charming vibrancy to a moody storminess as it passes through movements. Laura Morera and Marianela Nunez featured in the casting from nine years ago and reprise those roles here, partnered by Ryoichi Hirano and William Bracewell, while the final movement is led capably by rising stars Meaghan Grace Hinkis and Luca Acri.

The title refers to the mythological Greek underworld where souls reside after death, but Scarlett’s ballet does not have a narrative and works both as a technical masterclass where one can allow the dancing to wash over you or as something a little more meaty to unpick.

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Image credit: Bill Cooper


Manon at the London Coliseum 16/01/2019


Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon poses some of the most emotionally and physically demanding storytelling in the classical repertoire, and requires a high level maturity and understanding from its dancers in order to pull it off convincingly. English National Ballet dancers acquit themselves admirably.

Manon is an innocent country girl, who’s nevertheless far too eager to enjoy the pleasures of corrupt 18th century Paris.  On arrival in the big city, fresh from the convent, she falls for Joseph Caley’s poor, yet charming poet Des Grieux. She is later swayed by the allure of fur coats and expensive jewellery lavished upon her by Monsieur GM.

Upon being reconciled with Des Grieux, the two attempt to escape together, but on Mr GM’s orders Manon is deported to Louisiana.  Des Grieux chooses to follow her, but as they go deeper into the swamps, she meets her death of fever, leaving Des Grieux bereft.

Alina Cojocaru as Manon offers a masterclass in the emotional complexities of the role. In Act I she shines as the fresh country girl – audiences would be wise to prepare for heartbreak.  Later, her greed is exposed at the hands of Monsieur GM (another excellent character role for James Streeter); and the haunting desperation of her final moments makes for climactic and riveting viewing.

katja-khaniukova-and-jeffrey-cirio-in-manon-c-laurent-liotardoAs the naive and penniless poet Des Grieux, Joseph Caley has all the suitable warmth and charm; and in the more powerful later scenes his boundless commitment to Manon is performed forcefully. Cojocaru and Caley’s partnership is one that heats up as the evening progresses. The famous bedroom pas de deux of Act I occurs a little early for the chemistry to feel satisfying. Caley is technically secure but does not, at this stage, commit fully.

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Image credit: Laurent Liotardo

Akram Khan Company – Until the Lions at the Roundhouse 11/01/2019

Akram Khan’s Until the Lions debuted at London’s Roundhouse in 2016, a work made specifically for the venue’s in-the-round stage. It is based on a collection of poems from writer Karthika Naĩr, which reimagines the characters in the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata, a story much loved by Khan in his formative years, in which he is now dancing for the very last time.

It follows Amba (Ching-Ying Chien), who is about to choose her husband during a public ceremony, but is then abducted by Bheeshma (Khan), a warrior who has taken a vow of celibacy. On escaping, she kills herself and is reincarnated as Shikhandi (Joy Alpuerto Ritter) a male/female warrior born to wreak revenge and brutally defeat Bheehshma on the battlefield.

Firstly, a warning: Until the Lions is not a show you can blag without reading the synopsis beforehand. Indeed, even having read the programme summary, once the action starts, the story develops rapidly under Khan’s direction and the key plot points do not always emerge obviously.

Story aside, the more of Khan’s work one sees, the more one trusts him to deliver. Until the Lions starts with a relatively slow scene setting sequence, the eerie quiet of which is, nevertheless, necessary in anticipation of the enormity of drama that follows. It just requires a little patience.

As Amba, Chien possesses a beautifully pure and ethereal air when she embarks on her journey to find a husband; but her softness and innocence are soon lost and replaced with a raging physicality as she battles for power in her relationship with Khan’s imperious Bheeshma. There is no room for sentiment in Khan’s character who is resolute, upright and unforgiving with her.

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Swan Lake at the London Coliseum 03/01/2019


This winter is a busy season for English National Ballet (ENB). No sooner had the company finished a prolific run of Nutcracker than it was time to bring back its Swan Lake. This version is an adaptation for a regular proscenium theatre of Derek Deane’s perhaps better known in-the-round production, and offers a number of casts the opportunity to shine in the central roles of the Swan Princess Odette and her evil double, Odile, as well as Prince Siegfried.

Many would argue, though, that the real stars of Swan Lake are the corps de ballet, on whose precise coordination the success of any production really hinges.

On opening night, the Russian-LIthuanian Principal Jurgita Dronina, who joined the company in 2017, performed the lead role of Odette/Odile. Dronina is an expressive dancer, especially in her use of upper body as both white and black swan. Her Odette is far from the timid and shy character of more common interpretations, and instead Dronina depicts her as quietly flirtatious, fluttering her lashes and flapping her arms, keen to charm her Prince (Isaac Hernández) before the evil magician von Rothbart discovers them.

Technically Dronina is secure, turning out all of Act III’s technical demands with ease, including the 32 fouettés; however, holding her arabesque for longer when en pointe (as both characters) in the numerous balances would have enhanced her appeal.

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Nutcracker at the London Coliseum 13/12/18


Ten days after the Royal Ballet’s much loved Nutcracker had its opening night, English National Ballet has reprised its own version of the Christmas ballet in former Artistic Director Wayne Eagling’s rather more controversial production.

The flaws in Eagling’s Nutcracker are well documented – those hideous mice who far outstay their welcome, the confusion in identity between the Nephew and the Nutcracker and the general busyness of Act One itself. With this in mind, it’s easy to pick faults and compare this to the Opera House’s opulent production; but the ENB dancers bring their own unique brand of warmth and character to this production, dancing throughout with such joy and charisma that it’s easy to forgive the cloudy storytelling.

There is a lot to decipher in the Act One party scene, much of which is danced by children from the Tring Park School of Performing Arts. Sophie Carter is perhaps one of the smallest child Claras I have ever seen, nearly eclipsed by the enormous Nutcracker doll she is given to dance with; however, she copes admirably, performing her solo with endearing neatness and confidence.

As the party subsides and night falls, child Clara transforms into adult Clara – a radiant Rina Kanehara, who danced with …

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Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at Sadler’s Wells 12/12/18


Christmas for dance fans doesn’t just mean Nutcrackerthese days – it means another one of Matthew Bourne‘s characterful and atmospheric productions is rolling into town.

Bourne is not just a choreographer of dance, but an engineer of theatrical experiences that move and excite. His now iconic Swan Lake debuted at Sadler’s Wells back in 1995 and has returned sporadically since, but for many younger fans it is their first live experience of “the legend”, as it’s described in the tagline.

In Bourne’s reimagining, our protagonist is a Prince (Liam Mower) suffocated by modern life at court. He tolerates his emotionally distant mother (Nicole Kabera) and unsuitably trashy girlfriend (the continually entertaining Katrina Lyndon) whilst being chauffeured from meaningless function to function, leaving him broken and withdrawn – until he stumbles across a flock of majestic swans.

Bourne working in collaboration with Lez Brotherston‘s ambient designs …

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The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House 03/12/18


Lucky Londoners have the opportunity to catch three different productions of The Nutcracker over the festive period this year. But having viewed Sir Peter Wright‘s 1984 production for the Royal Ballet multiple times, and once again now, it unmistakably offers the most gloriously opulent and satisfying experience that sets it apart from other interpretations.

In a Nutcracker that has numerous highlights, it’s a challenge to pick out specifics, but the cosy party scene is well staged and full of thoughtful details that refresh the well-known opening section – and Julia Trevelyan’s growing Christmas tree is as resplendent and impressive as ever.

Anna Rose O’Sullivan is a delightful Clara, with wonderfully vibrant dancing and an assured technique. She conveys Clara’s fascination and excitement with her Nutcracker doll with childlike innocence. She’s partnered enthusiastically by the ever-charismatic rising star of the company, Marcelino Sambé, who effortlessly fulfils this leading role with boundless energy and boyish good charm. Together, they are a golden partnership who draw the audience into the story as if for the first time.

The magical journey to the Land of Snow is still enchanting. The glittering snowflakes are well drilled, moving seamlessly en masse as Tchaikovsky’s score builds to the climax of the first act.

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Image credit: Alastair Muir