The Ann Maguire Gala in London: Ballet Adventures

The First Big Giveaway package is off in the post and I realize that I haven’t yet told you about my recent ballet travels!

Last month I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Ann Maguire Gala in London. Many of you probably remember news from England last year about the tragic murder of a British teacher by one of her students while she was teaching class. That teacher’s name was Ann Maguire. Her daughter is Emma Maguire and she is a dancer at the Royal Ballet. To honor her mother and to raise funds for arts education as a memorial in her name, Emma put together a one night performance hosted by Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope and star studded with the who’s who of the Royal Ballet. So I bought a ticket and packed a bag.

One can’t really lose sight of the fact that this gala was born of a great tragedy but I have to say it was an amazing night of music and dance. This was my first trip to Sadler’s Wells and I really love this venue. It was simple to purchase tickets online and I picked them up at the ticket desk the evening of the performance – note* they do ask to see the credit card that you used to book so make sure that you have it with you! Certainly not opulent like The Royal Opera House, instead it is small and intimate. The lobby gets packed up full to the gills because it isn’t very big and that gives the whole place a little buzz of energy. The bar is nice and you can purchase little ice creams which is lovely.  The rake is sufficient so the view even from the rear of the stalls was very good. I can’t address the balconies or all those odd notes about blocked views and what have you on the website because I didn’t venture up there but the entire place being of small size, I can’t image the view from the tiers being that bad at all.

As for the performance itself…what a joy!! What an absolute joy! It makes me wonder if the artists themselves weren’t allowed to pick what they wanted to contribute or in what manner they chose the work but it was a beautiful arrangement of offerings – wonderfully balanced and every dancer seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.

The lineup for the evening:

Act I

Monotones II by Sir Frederick Ashton danced by Christina Arestis, Nehemiah Kish (sigh*) and Ryoichi Hirano. I’m not the biggest fan of the costumes if I’m telling the truth – the little hats are… um, yeah.

Royal Ballet - Maguire, Trzensimiech, Takada

Royal Ballet – Maguire, Trzensimiech, Takada. © Dave Morgan

Memoria choreographed and danced by Miguel Altunaga, Miguel is from Rambert Dance not Royal as most of the other dancers. I enjoyed this piece but it did stand apart from the rest of the program, I thought.

Les Lutins by Johan Kobborg and danced by Emma Maguire, James Hay, and Marcelino Sambe. Kids, I have been waiting to see this in person!! And it is so good, so cute, so fun. We all need more of this!!

Lieder by Alastair Marriott and danced by Melissa Hamilton and Gary Avis.

Qualia, pas de deux choreographed by (unmistakably) Wayne McGregor and danced by Olivia Cowley and Edward Watson.

Rhapsody, pas de deux choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton and danced by Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli.

Flames of Paris choreographed by Vasily Vainonen and danced by Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell.

Act II

Musance choreographed by Jonathan Watkins and danced by Claire Calvert, Yuhui Choe, Kristen McNally, Luca Acri, and Marcelino Sambe.

2nd Movement, pas de deux – Asphodel Meadows choreographed by Liam Scarlett and danced by Emma Maguire and Bennett Gartside (that’s Benn with two N’s, thank you very much).

Czardas, choreographed and danced by Steven McRae. That guy has some of the fastest feet on the planet! He’s a bit of a show off but when one can dance like that, with flaming red hair, and all kinds of cuteness, well, he can get away with it.

The Two Pigeons, pas de deux choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton and danced by Helen Crawford and Ryoichi Hirano.

Borrowed Light choreographed by Alastair Marriott and danced by Marcelino Sambe.

No Man’s Land, pas de deux choreographed by Liam Scarlett and danced by Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. I just can’t even tell you. JoLina. Oh my gosh! Oh. My. Goodness.

Requiem – Pie Jesu choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMilan and danced by Yuhui Choe. YUHUI for Principal!!!

It was an amazing night that ended with a little film made by Crystal Ballet in which various dancers spoke about the importance of dance and arts education in their lives. Preaching to the choir but it was a lovely film and a fitting capstone to an immense evening. Everything was danced so beautifully  and each piece like a perfect little jewel in the velvet box of Sadler’s Wells. Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy the Royal Ballet since I so rarely get to see them. This company really does have impeccable dancers, just breathtaking. It was a truly wonderful evening and made better by the fact that I had lovely company of my dear friend, Nina Norris. What a perfect start to a trip to London!!

At the end of every single trip I realize that I have learned something new about making travel easier, better, things that make more sense so that I can enjoy more and worry less. I’m a note taker by nature so I always have a notebook with me and I usually spend some time on the flight back making note of what to remember for the next time. This trip I was thinking about how to pack even lighter (it’s a constant challenge! more fun than Tetris!!) and specifically how to pack to be able to take ballet class well and comfortably when traveling. So please stay tuned because I’m getting that post ready for you with some ideas that have worked for me and ideas that I’m planning to field test in the near future – and I promise not to leave you ballet boys out of the discussion.

Ballet…the San Francisco Treat

Oh, its always hard to return to normal life after a lovely bit of vacation, especially a ballet vacation. Those are always the very best. This past weekend, I flew up to San Francisco. It’s just a little over an hour by plane but it’s a very different experience from Los Angeles. Balmy and crisp to L.A.’s heavy heat, even in the middle of winter. Mornings and evenings are often shrouded in a moist, grey fog which is quite an improvement to the hazy smog of Los Angeles’ evenings. It’s wonderful to be released from the confines of a vehicle caught in traffic freed to wander around a walking city, full of charm and wit. And then hop on a cable car and ride down to the wharf to eat steamed crab and watch sea lions lounge in the afternoon warmth. It’s a lovely city and I highly recommend it as a destination and not just for a vacation… San Francisco is home to the amazing San Francisco Ballet. Most people think of New York when they think of American ballet but actually San Francisco Ballet is America’s oldest professional ballet company. They are an amazing company with both mature and well-seasoned dancers and energetic youth raring for opportunity and teeming with talent. San Francisco is indeed a destiny for ballet lovers.

SF Ballet does this wonderful thing where they overlap programs. It must be harsh on the dancers but for the audience, it’s fab! I can head up to SF and get to watch two different ballets by the same company in a single weekend! I love it!! The company performs at the War Memorial Opera House which is a beaux-arts building that first opened it’s doors in 1932. It’s worn around the edges but beautiful in that patinaed kind of way with a stunning sky blue ceiling.

photo (1)

Offerings for the weekend included a Program 1 which was a mixed bill and Giselle. Friday night was Serenade, RakU, and Lambarena. Balanchine’s Serenade is pure, bold, and somehow both spiritual and sensual. It’s genius is that to experience Serenade is to journey through the emotions – sometimes exquisite, sometimes simple, the movement is often in patterns but never just geometry, it’s stark and then luscious. If, in the words of Balanchine, ballet is woman, then perhaps Serenade is ballet. Next up was RakU. I’m not sure exactly how to explain RakU, perhaps the best descriptor is to say that it is performance art. RakU and Yuan Yuan Tan are inseparable. She helped create this role and it is entirely hers. The choreography is very contemporary and at times completely avant-garde. To be honest, some of it has to be painful to complete, the difficulty and the drama of the movement is not hidden. It’s very theatrical and although I usually eschew theater in my ballet, I cannot help but love RakU and YY in this amazing work of art. The evening ended with Lambarena. I wasn’t really familiar with this work and so I was quite taken by surprise – to bad it wasn’t a good surprise. Lambarena is a ballet version of The Lion King but without the exuberance and joy. Of course I’m hoping that The Lion King is exuberant and joyous because I’ve never seen it. Nor the Disney movie. I enjoy ethnic work – that’s part of why I like RakU, for the butoh. But here…Lorena Feijoo worked it with all the Cuban soul in her awesome body but the fusion of African dance and classical ballet along with the mixing of African music and classical music seemed disjointed and incongruent, at least to me. There were moments that were clever and lovely, too bad not the whole.

On Friday I went to the matinée performance to see Frances Chung‘s debut and only performance this season of Giselle.  Frances has been a principal dancer since 2009 but for some reason isn’t featured that much. It’s a mystery because she is a wonderful, wonderful dancer. She has bright, light movement and a personality and charm that shine through her every move. She danced her Giselle opposite Luke Ingham, a relatively new principal.  Act I was pretty standard fare. Everything was clean and lovely even if not spectacular. Frances and Luke offered up a technically beautiful performance that was a bit on the safe side emotionally. But if they played it safe for the first hour, they stepped it up and owned Act II. I’m partial to Act II anyway and it was absolutely stunning – rich and delicious – a completely satisfying performance.

As a complete and most terrific bonus, I got to see Jeff Tabaco (The Music and the Mirror) again and finally got to meet Ethan Teng (DancingFoodie) and Ballerina Jen!  The power of social media! A ballet vacation made even better with ballet friends.