The Royal Ballet School (mixed programme) at Royal Opera House 12/02/19

521DADBC-C2DA-4479-A434730EC595C361In a rare piece of programming from the Royal Opera House, audiences have the opportunity, for a limited run, to watch the Royal Ballet School’s talent of tomorrow and the main company’s talent of today together in a mixed programme of animal-based stories.

It features new work from Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett and Frederick Ashton’s popular Two Pigeons, seen previously this year alongside Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows. The former First Artist certainly seems to be making his mark on the company repertoire.

The Cunning Little Vixen is an inoffensive 40-minute ballet to Leoš Janácek’s score told efficiently, with just enough dashes of humour and surprise. It’s well paced, giving the large cast all a substantial role, and the costuming is colourful and attractive, but I found that overall this harmless woodland tale was just a bit too twee for my taste.

The talented dancers, some of whom will be 18 and soon to join a working company, could cope with more sophisticated content, but still, they attack Scarlett’s material with relish and enthusiasm.

Madison Bailey offers an assured and expressive performance as the titular Vixen, spirited in her escape from the Gamekeeper’s dog, and sensitive in her sweetly choreographed meeting with her handsome Fox suitor, Liam Boswell.

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Sadler’s Sampled at Sadler’s Wells 08/02/19

3starsSadler’s Wells’ annual pick ‘n’ mix buffet of dance offerings returns again for a selection of live performances and interactive front-of-house experiences.

The evening, running for two nights only, offers a mix of easy-to-digest crowd-pleasers with some more thought-provoking or abstract work that leave more to unpick.

The audience react enthusiastically to all, but in the festival-like format, where the stalls seats are stripped out and the relaxed viewers ponder the performances over a drink, the less impactful “samples” – such as Mavin’s Khoo’s classical Indian dance, Odissi Solo –feel poorly matched to the format, despite their flair.

Sadlers Sampled 2019Overall, it’s an exciting programme, and the introductory video that accompanies prior to each performance adds a valuable layer of accessibility to proceedings.

This year’s Sampled is topped and tailed by powerful and charismatic contemporary performances. The first is a feisty and flirtatious routine from the ladies of Uchenna Dance in The Head Wrap Diaries. Vicki Igbokwe’s choreography showcases these flirtatious ladies with their undulating hips in a work of empowering femininity whilst blending diverse styles of waacking and vogueing with African dance. The result is joyful and feel-good, and certainly puts the audience in fine voice for the rest of the night.

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Tango Fire at the Peacock Theatre 29/01/19

Tango Fire German Cornejo _ Gisela Galeassi 5© Oliver NeubertIt would not be winter at Sadler’s Wells without another passionate showcase from German Cornejo’s Tango Fire company. Each year they return to thrill with their smouldering routines and whip-fast feet, in dazzling displays that keep audiences coming back for more.

Cornejo’s shows make for very easy viewing. The formula is tried and tested: there is no narrative, allowing for focus on the racy interplay and heightened chemistry of the couples, and the scintillating climax of the evening always features a range of astounding acrobatics that leave little room for error.

Those familiar with Tango Fire‘s dancers will be pleased to see many familiar couples, most notably 2015 World Tango Champions, Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre; but with seven pairs in total, the cast is larger than ever before. The quality does not wane, however: the larger cast allows Cornejo and his alluring partner, Gisela Galeassi, to step in and out of the ensemble numbers, though some more stage time from them would have been enjoyable.

Act I is a relatively placid trot through some milonga routines, all dance hall informality, with swaggering men who laugh and back-slap each other between dances, while the women are their pretty accessories in inoffensive floral designs.

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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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