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August '99 Newsletter from London


July Round-up

An astonishing month for dance in London with two of the best-known ballet companies in the world in residence, plus some innovative contemporary dance events. Although audiences seem to have held up for most performances, some discounting was necessary. There is a nice story that one soul, queuing for a concessionary ticket, enquired whether she could only have one and was told, 'Madame, you can have 700 if you want.'

The Bolshoi
This was an important visit for the reputation of the Bolshoi in London after their disappointing previous visit. However, it was clear from pre-tour interviews that the Company had little influence in the choice of programming and was forced to concentrate on well-known classics rather than some of their more recent work.

'Spartacus' had its fans, but some, including Judith Mackrell in The Guardian felt that it had passed its sell-by date. 'Don Quixote' and 'Raymonda' gathered positive reviews, especially for the dancing of Nina Ananiashvili, Jann Parry in The Observer being one of many fans. However, a new production of 'Swan Lake' by the Artistic Director, Vasiliev, found few supporters.

Overall, the visit was better received than the Royal Albert Hall season in the early 90s, and I'm sure that everyone wishes the Bolshoi well in its struggles to cope with the financial storms of the new Russia.

The Royal Ballet
The Sadler's Wells season was a great success, especially as the 1500-seater theatre provided the Royal Ballet with an opportunity for some adventurous programming. Carlos Acosta enhanced his reputation and drew cries of delight from Ismene Brown in The Daily Telegraph .

The new William Tuckett piece, 'The Turn of the Screw' provided an ideal setting for Mukhamedev to show his dramatic skills and the imaginative use of front projection, in place of scenery, received universal praise. Although the critics' views varied, Judith Mackrell in The Guardian enjoyed it among others.

All four casts of 'Giselle' were well received and I relished the opportunity to see Sylvie Guillem and Laurent Hilaire (guesting from the Paris Opera Ballet) perform with great Gallic flair.

A pleasant surprise to many was the revival of 'Ondine' and it does seem strange that this exciting dance drama has not been seen for so long. I saw Viviana Durante on the opening night and was completely enthralled by her otherworldly presence and her beguiling performance of Ashton's aquatic movements. The younger dancers that caught my eye, on a totally unrepresentative and prejudiced basis, were Edward Watson, who gave a scary performance as Miss Jessel in 'The Turn of the Screw' and Mara Galeazzi who impressed as one of the soloists in 'Fearful Symmetries'.

'Shazam' by DCA
The best fun in July was at The Barbican with the wonderful Decouflé Complices Associés in 'Shazam'. This work based around a commission for the 50th Anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, uses illusion as its central theme. Although video, film and mirrors are used imaginatively, it is the quality of the choreography and dancing that provide the core of the work and Keith Watson in The Guardian certainly enjoyed it. Sadly, the two large seasons described above seem to have sucked audiences away from 'Shazam' and I'm sure that all of us who were there will be hoping that DCA forgive and forget and come back soon.

'13 Different Keys'
'13 Different Keys' was a collaboration between Siobhan Davies and dancers from her own Company and The Royal Ballet. This site-specific work in the light and airy Atlantis Gallery in Brick Lane featured an X-shaped stage and Davies choreographed in her own distinctive style. Although it was intriguing to see some of the best dancers in the country at such close quarters, the sight lines were often difficult as one tried to peer over heads. Nevertheless, I found it a rewarding experience and many, including some of the Royal Ballet dancers, commented on Gill Clarke's exceptional abilities. Debra Craine in The Times reflected the rather puzzled view from many critics.

'Take Me to the River'
This was another site-specific work, or rather 3 site-specific works for the price of one. The event started in the gorgeous Painted Hall at Greenwich, moved to Docklands and ended on the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall with a boat taking us between the sites. It was an enjoyable, distinctive afternoon with Rosemary Lee's opening piece, 'The Banquet Dances', featuring a local cast aged between 8 and 80, providing some memorable moments.

August Preview

Blitz 99 at the South Bank Centre is the major London event in August. Britain's biggest free dance festival offers the chance to participate as well as watch. Blitz is structured around a number of general and specifically themed days with a mix of beginners' workshops together with advanced classes, seminars and performances for children and adults. The Tribute to Les Ballets Negres Day will put the spotlight on a groundbreaking company that enlivened the UK dance in the immediate post-war period. Other themes include Jazz Dance and City Ballet of London Day. Overall, a chance to see and try out some dance forms which may be new to you and a great way to publicise the variety and richness of the UK dance scene.

At the Royal Festival Hall, New York Ballet Stars provides a summer change of scenery for some of the best dancers from the US. This year the programme will feature several works by Balanchine and also pieces by Karol Armitage and Lar Lubovitch. I'm keen to see Albert Evans again and the new 23-year old NY City Ballet Principal, Maria Kowroski.

At Jacksons Lane Dancebase, the Mosaic season provides a series of events, each featuring 2 or 3 companies presenting new and experimental work. Ring 0181 341 4421 for details. Have a good August and I hope you get to see or perform some dance, in between the sunbathing.

Stuart Sweeney (courtesy of London Dance Network)

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