In the post Xmas/pre NYE week, we didn’t just eat leftovers and chill at home (or at the beach, in Linda’s case). We spent some time reflecting on what we saw this year, and trying to think about what to catch in 2019, and where to travel to. Between our homes in London and San Francisco, we are fortunate to be able to see A LOT of dance and before we start diving in on what is cool and noteworthy in 2019 (stay tuned!), here are highlights of the past few months:
1) Opening season gala at San Francisco Ballet
Here in San Francisco, I’m getting ready for SFB’s 2019 Opening Night gala, which is less than a month away. Last year’s event was definitely a high point in my ballet calendar. True, we also had a whole exciting season of new works with the Unbound Festival, but the gala was a wonderful evening to attend for the sheer glamour from both sides of the curtain. From the audience’s side, a parade of long gowns and the latest fashions, with an impressive “prosecco promenade” in the foyer of the War Memorial Opera House. The sense of occasion was also present on stage, with a program that included not only gala favorites like extracts from Le Corsaire and Don Q, but also Jerome Robbins’ chic In the Night and important premieres for the company, as was the case with Justin Peck’s Rodeo. I can’t wait to see what the next gala brings us.
2) The Bolshoi cinema season… or rather, Semyon Chudin’s cinema season
Having the Bolshoi in a cinema nearby (and The Royal Ballet, to a certain extent) is a life saver when you’re no longer living in an arts capital. The screenings are super well organised and include presenter Katia Novikova’s illuminating backstage interviews (for example, during their screening of Don Q, I was fascinated to hear that the classical heart of the ballet, the Dryads scene, was not part of the original Moscow staging, and had been added later to cater for Saint Petersburg’s audiences). At the start of this season, an added bonus has been the “hat trick” casting of Semyon Chudin, currently one of my top male dancers. Blessed with a noble line, chiseled features and a bouncy jump, Semyon has so far given us the most elegant, yet fiery of Basilios, a doomed James and a heroic Nutcracker prince (alas, in the Grigorovich production). Ever since appearing alongside Olga Smirnova and Artem Ovcharenko in that magical performance of Études back in 2017, Chudin has been lighting up the screen of my local cinema with his effortless style, stage presence and charisma. Pure class.
3) National Ballet of Canada in Nijinsky at War Memorial Opera House
Just before the arrival of Unbound Festival, San Francisco welcomed The National Ballet of Canada in Neumeier’s Nijinsky. Although I wish they had brought a different piece (something by Alexander Ekman or Justin Peck – both new additions to NBC’s repertory – would have been just the ticket!), the company brought its top talent and fully committed to this complex work. My main issue with Nijinsky is the lack of standout moments in the choreography, especially in the second act – as Nijinsky descends into madness – when the ballet seems to lag, However, leads as Guillaume Côté (Nijinsky)/ Heather Ogden (Romola) and Evan McKie (Diaghilev) elevate the material. They were utterly convincing, taking us along in their character’s respective journeys. Do not miss the opportunity to see them.
4) ABT Teuscher/Shevchenko showdown in LA
These two wonderful new ABT principals have been profiled in so many dance magazines this year and rightly so. A quick trip to LA (where there’s so much fab dance going on!) gave me the opportunity to catch them in their elements: lyrical Devon as Nikiya and sharp Christine as Gamzatti. Bonus points to the company as a whole: they seemed in better form in this performance of La Bayadère than during the 2018 winter season at the nearby Segerstrom Center. This is one of the reasons why I am excited for the upcoming West Coast performances of Harlequinade.
5) Balanchine’s City Center Years
In November, I managed to drop by New York for a few days to catch “Balanchine: The City Center Years” featuring performances by American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet, The Mariinsky Ballet, Miami City Ballet, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet. I would have caught them all if I could, and was especially interested in The Joffrey Ballet, a company that impressed me greatly during a previous tour to Berkeley, but I could only do the two first nights. In this gorgeous and intimate setting, a clear favourite was Xander Parish (who has been newly appointed OBE. How happy we are for him!) and his three young muses (pictured below) in Apollo, one of my favourite Mr B. ballets, featuring a sublime Stravinsky score that I can listen to on repeat. Loud cheers also to NYCB in Symphony in C, which was danced at top speed, on a tiny stage, and with a cast that included Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns and Ashley Bouder.
1) English National Ballet’s Voices of America
Looking back at 2018, the most enjoyable evening I had at the ballet was ENB’s triple bill Voices of America, in particular Wiliam Forsythe’s Playlist (Track 1, 2). Not only is this a work of pure, unadulterated joy, it is also shamelessly virtuosic. A team of 12 men jump, spin and respond to Peven Everett’s “Surely Shorty” and Jax Jones’ remix of the track “Impossible” by R&B duo Lion Babe. In lesser hands, this could have amounted to a cheesy and predictable dance piece. In Forsythe’s, we get structure, skill and beauty, a 10-minute showstopper generating cheers and roars from the audience.
2) William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance
Sticking with Forsythe but at the other end of the spectrum, we also had A Quiet Evening of Dance at Sadler’s Wells. Unassuming and minimalist at first sight, the programme left me awestruck. The first half was danced to little or no sound, so the duets and solos became studies of the body and the movement it can create. The second half was a more “conventional” series of dances set to music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, the idea being that the first half gave us the ingredients, and we were now seeing the results. In particular, it was exhilarating to see dancer Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit (literally rubber legs) interacting with the rest of the company.
3) Núñez/Osipova switcheroo in La Bayadère
I’ll go on record and say that Gamzatti is one of Marianela Núñez’s best roles (and possibly MY favourite of hers), while every single time La Bayadère had been revived at the Royal Ballet, I would moan about amazing Gamzattis like hers moving on to become Nikiyas (yawn!). As every sane balletomane knows, Gamzatti IS THE BEST ROLE in the ballet, which means that I was over the moon when the casting gods gave us Núñez/Osipova alternating the roles of Nikiya and Gamzatti during this run. Their Solor was Vadim Muntagirov, who couldn’t have danced any better (BEST for: tours en manège). More switcheroos like this please!
4) Mark Bruce Company in Macbeth
I still have fond memories of Mark Bruce’s Dracula so when Macbeth was announced, with perennial TBB fave Jonathan Goddard at its centre, it immediately became one of my dance calendar highlights. It didn’t disappoint: plenty of theatrical flair, good use of characters and memorable performances by both Goddard and Eleanor Duval as Lady Macbeth. One to revisit for sure.
5) Alina Cojocaru’s return to Manon
I’ve seen my share of very good Manons, but seeing Alina Cojocaru’s during ENB’s autumn tour reminded me of how a mature and true artist can illuminate and build a character in such a way that you actually forget you are watching dance. Alina made me see many new details that were always there, but that I had never fully registered, particularly during the “brothel scene” which is a part of the ballet that usually lags. Examples? Alina reveals many in these wonderful clips for English National Ballet ahead of upcoming London performances: