Romeo and Juliet at Royal Opera House 10/04/19


Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet has been performed no less than 400 times by the Royal Ballet, and with a lengthy run this season from the end of March to mid June, the popularity of perhaps the most famous love story of all time shows no signs of subsiding.

This run offers a vast selection of principal casting, with many exciting debuts and showings from young and upcoming members of the company – including Anna Rose O’Sullivan with Marcelino Sambé, and Francesca Hayward with Cesar Corrales.

Casting for opening night (and on this viewing on 10 April) saw Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Ball take on the lead roles. It’s a role Cuthbertson is well versed in delivering. She conveys Juliet’s transition from girlish innocence to womanhood with an eloquent tenderness.

Cuthbertson’s Juliet markedly matures over the acts. From skittish and excitable, jumping into her nurse’s lap, to the heavy responsibility and emotional torture she experiences for defying her family’s wishes is shown with experienced clarity. There is a repeated motif in which she bourrees at warp speed away from her hard-faced, would-be suitor Paris, an especially cold Ryoichi Hirano. It’s initially done out of shyness and later out of an assured defiance.

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Images: Helen Maybanks

English National Ballet’s She Persisted at Sadler’s Wells 04/04/19

D559F0B1-CD4E-4FAD-A380BE57CD79B5B9Three years ago, English National Ballet presented an evening of work all by female choreographers, She Said. It was an uneven programme but a brave artistic choice, and those courageous female voices are finally fully realised in the sequel, She Persisted.

Anabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, based on the life of Frida Kahlo, premiered in 2016 with Artistic Director Tamara Rojo in the principal role. Seen now, the storytelling is now sharpened, in a visually memorable kaleidoscope of colour and design.

Katja Khaniukova debuts as Kahlo, and provides an intensely focused and emotive interpretation in a demanding theatrical role that sees her rarely offstage in the one-hour running time.

As a vibrant and energetic young girl in school uniform, she is carefree as she hops from place to place with youthful abandon. However, she is gradually weighed down the unhappy events which unfold: a toxic relationship with her bumbling husband, Diego (Irek Mukhamedov), who later flaunts his mistress (Alison McWhinney) in front of her, in addition to a cocktail of poor health and a miscarriage.

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Russian Ballet Icons Gala at the London Coliseum 31/03/19


The annual Russian Ballet Icons Gala always delivers with a host of superstar names from the dance world, presenting a somewhat haphazard selection of classical and modern snippets of choreography. The evening offers up a varied mix of virtuoso pas de deux – the beating heart of the classical repertoire – to moody and abstract contemporary pieces that leave more to the imagination.

The presentation is a little jarring to those unused to these events, with each act coming and going at efficient speed. A different projected backdrop sets the scene for each piece, but the overall feeling suggests a lack of budget and finesse to showcase these dancers in their true glory.

The other problem with these dance highlights is that the audience is thrown straight into the climax of a story, and the result is sometimes a bit meaningless. Only the real stalwarts of the classical repertoire translate well, and excerpts from Swan Lake and Don Quixote proved hard to beat for sheer thrill factor alone.

Boston Ballet’s Misa Karanaga made an impact in a storming Black Swan pas de deux with English National Ballet’s Jeffrey Cirio. Her sharp musicality and sassy characterisation translated well, with Cirio proving dependable in both partnering and the fiendishly difficult leaps in the Prince’s solo.

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Northern Ballet’s Victoria at Sadler’s Wells 26/03/19

Abigail Prudames as Victoria with Riku Ito as Lord Melbourne in Victoria. Photo Emma Kauldhar (2)Back for their regular Spring run at Sadler’s Wells, Northern Ballet present another ambitious work, this time chronicling the life of Queen Victoria. Following on from the success of her Jane Eyre, choreographer Cathy Marston undertakes the sizeable task of condensing the Royal’s intriguing story into a two-hour capsule of tragedy, heartache, love and lust.

The programme notes for Victoria run over two A4 pages – there’s no denying there’s a lot to get through – but together Marston and this company of fine dance storytellers engross us in these fascinating segments of the protagonist’s life. Her extensive volumes of hand-written diaries provide the structure which darts between past and present.

Just to keep us on our toes, Marston begins with an examination of Victoria’s later years, told from the viewpoint of Beatrice (Pippa Moore), the monarch’s initially resentful youngest child. Hardened by her long-standing widow status, Abigail Prudames’ weary but regal Victoria is still bound by her courtly duties, though she has grown tired of them. Living in seclusion, her eye is caught by the brooding masculinity of the servant, John Brown (Mindi Kulashe), and the pair embark on a secret relationship that fizzes passionately.

Beatrice also acts as a spectator to her own life, with her younger self played in spritely fashion by Miku Akuta, who hops and jumps excitedly, in awe of her majestic mother. Later she falls for Liko (joyfully interpreted by Sean Bates) and the pair become engaged, much to possessive Victoria’s rage.

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Giovanni Pernice – Dance is Life at The Shaw Theatre 13/03/19

Giovanni Pernice and new Strictly professional Dianne Buswell in Dance is Life

Giovanni Pernice is now somewhat of a stalwart amongst the professional dancer gang on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

With four seasons under his belt and a fifth to follow, he is one of the show’s most recognisable faces, and now returns to local theatres for the third year running with Dance is Life – first seen in 2017, but with a largely new army of supporting dancers.

Last year, I attended Born to Win and was mightily impressed. The production, choreographed by Jason Gilkison, was slick, feel-good and unexpectedly witty, and I was not surprised to see venues for this year’s reprisal of Dance Is Life sell out quickly in many locations.

However, for all the polished routines and comic timing from Pernice, this production did not sweep me away to the same extent. The Shaw Theatre was too compact a venue, the ensemble dancing felt limited by the stage size, and aspects of the costume and set felt low-budget for the talent they showcased. A shame, as Pernice and his crew could thrill West End audiences night after night.

Born to Win was an exceptionally structured show that weaved dance routines into Pernice’s life story – his childhood in Italy, and then moving to London and landing the job on Strictly. The set-up here is more vague.

The first act’s Italian theme is charming enough and features vibrant and pacy routines to “Volare”, “Mambo Italiano” and “Tu Vuo Fa’ L’Americano”. It includes a bouncy jive to Lou Bega’s “I Gotta Girl”, the finale sees the ensemble wave flags to represent their nationalities, and Pernice finishes up holding the American stars and stripes and gesturing to his Strictly girlfriend, Ashley Roberts, who was present for this Gala performance. As much as this show is not perfect, you can’t help but be won over by Pernice’s charm.

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James Cousins Company – Epilogues at The Place 06/03/19

James Cousins Company, Epilogues - In Between Us Is Me, photo Camilla GreenwellEpilogues marks the fourth UK tour of James Cousins Company since it was founded in 2014. This trio of duets, two of which make their debut this year, are inspired by stories of division and separation in real-life relationships.

The renamed Within Her Eyes (pictured up top) is an entrancing and hypnotic watch accompanied by Seymour Milton’s delicate score. Chihiro Kawasaki possesses a beautiful ethereal quality, her blank, far away expression suggesting a dreamlike state.

Lee Curran’s dramatic lighting is pivotal to the piece, in which Kawasaki’s feet do not once touch the floor over its 17 minute duration. At first the audience see her lit only by a single spotlight, what or whom is holding her aloft hidden until the full stage is revealed, showing Kawasaki to be sitting on the shoulder of her partner Rhys Dennis. He, too, gazes blankly and in a different direction.

Kawasaki wears a beige buttoned-up blouse and skirt of the same colour, a picture of femininity. Her feet work hard, pointing and flexing to wedge herself into the correct positions as she floats, dives and wraps herself around Dennis, who provides the stability. At other times, Dennis kneels while Kawasaki sits in his lap, eyes closed, signifying their intimate bond.

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Don Quixote at the Royal Opera House 15/02/19

5starsCarlos Acosta’s vibrant production of Don Quixote offers an all-thriller, no-filler evening complete with exuberant staging, grand and detailed sets fit for a West End musical, luxurious costuming, and a stellar cast in which there is not a single weak link.

NelaVadimYes, I could easily give four stars and pick faults in some occasional scrappy corps de ballet moments, or the downright nonsense of the story, but sometimes something moves you to such an extent you can’t be unemotional about the feeling of the overall experience.

It tracks the story of the titular character (played by an ever-dazed Christopher Saunders), a deluded noble who believes he is the successor of a medieval knights-errant and sets out with his companion Sancho Panza (David Yudes). On their way, they meet Kitri (Nunez), who is in love with Basilio (Muntagirov), but her father wishes for her to marry the doddery Gamache. Kitri and Basilio run away together and further adventures ensue.

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Image credit: The Royal Ballet on Twitter