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December 2020 issue

Posted on November 26, 2020

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This month, we find out what it was like for dancers and a choreographer to return back to work in the theatre, hear from Strictly Come Dancing’s Shirley Ballas, discover who may have been the hidden hand behind Vaslav Nijinsky’s dismissal from the Imperial Russian Ballet in 1911, and talk to Manuel Legris, the new director of the Ballet of La Scala, Milan.

Ready to deliver

Jonathan Gray asks dancers and a choreographer from Northern Ballet and The Royal Ballet what it feels like to be back at work

Ready to deliver“All this activity in the dance studio eventually leads to just one thing – performance. Was it strange appearing before a live audience after such a long time? Were they nervous? For [Francesca] Hayward it was ‘Fantastic! To feel the space and hear the orchestra is incredible. There is an atmosphere you can’t replace when you have a live audience in the theatre. You can feel them there, sense their mood, judge their reaction; we spark off each other. It made the months of uncertainty and frustration worth it.’

“‘I would be lying if I said there weren’t at least a few nerves,’ says [William] Bracewell. ‘It was strange to be back on that all-encompassing stage; in many ways it’s like a second home but there was a certain level of “Can I still do this?” that night. I was amazed at how well everyone had managed when we returned, but there were days when doing anything more than the bare bones was a struggle. I have a new appreciation for the energy I get from my talented colleagues. Rehearsing for the first show, I realised that nothing can quite prepare you for ballet other than doing ballet. My circuit- and cross-training had given me base-level fitness, but running the scherzo from Frederick Ashton’s The Dream for the first time resulted in a dry cough and feeling like I might vomit at any point. Having said that, the satisfaction of getting a real sweat on and moving in a large space was incomparable!’”

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Behind the sequins

Shirley Ballas talks to Nicola Rayner

21 23 Shirley Ballas December 2020“After the break-up of her second marriage, Ballas had to start her own business. ‘When I was with Sammy, I never had to worry about the industry, because he was on top of it. Sammy is a bit of a Rottweiler,’ smiles Ballas. ‘He doesn’t take any shit from anybody. When I left and started over with Corky, everything became more difficult and then, when he left, I had to start from scratch on my own. The more successful I became as a single woman, the more I noticed that a lot of men at the top don’t really like successful women. They’ll say they do, and they’ll say they’ll help, but, trust me, they don’t. I felt like I was being blocked here and blocked there.’ 

“‘I remember one time when I was booked to do a competition – I think it was in Bulgaria – I was all ready to go and the gentleman called me and said, “We’ve been told you’re unfit material to judge this championship, and if you judge it, I’d lose my licence.” I actually got cancelled, and it was because of this that I went to the job on Strictly, so to the people behind that – and they know who they are – thank you,’ she says crisply.”

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Kschessinska versus Nijinsky

In the first instalment of a two-part article, Andrew Foster asks if Mathilde Kschessinska, the prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Russian Ballet, was the hidden hand in Vaslav Nijinsky’s dismissal?

Nijinskys dismissal Part 1 December“‘Every time I leave Petersburg, I have to sort out turmoil when I return,’ complained Teliakovsky [director of the Imperial Theatres] in his diary the evening of the dismissal. ‘They say that the Nijinsky incident… was arranged by the Diaghilev and Benois faction. Nijinsky had already signed a contract for abroad, and he had to abandon his service with the Imperial theatres… so that his dismissal could not be more timely.’” 

“Diaghilev had already presented two hugely successful Russian Seasons in Paris in 1909 and 1910 using dancers from the Imperial Ballet, and by the beginning of 1911 he was drawing up far more ambitious plans, proposing tours across Europe and the US. Essential to the plans were the two stars of his Paris seasons – Karsavina and Nijinsky. Karsavina, now an established Imperial ballerina, had already signed a two-year contract with him, but Nijinsky’s position was much more difficult. Like all dancers with the Russian Imperial Ballet, he was tied to an obligatory five-year contract following his graduation – a period of service seen as repayment to the Imperial Court for having kept, educated and trained him over his seven years at the school.”

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Also in the December issue…

Graham Spicer talks to Manuel Legris, the new director of the Ballet of La Scala, Milan

Iris Fanger finds out what has been happening at Boston Ballet since lockdown

Matthew Paluch thinks dancers have been silenced for too long

Alison Gallagher-Hughes interviews ballroom legend Robert Grover

Barbara Newman sees Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer at the Barbican Art Gallery

Eleanor Fitzpatrick highlights the 100th anniversary of the Royal Academy of Dance

Simon Selmon introduces US swing dancer Robert Royston

Margaret Willis interviews our Dancer of the Month, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Beatrice Parma

Debbie Malina tells us to expect the unexpected

James Whitehead offers some tips on Latin hand connections

Laura Cappelle watches new works by the Paris Opéra Ballet online

Igor Stupnikov reviews a new production of Coppélia

George Dorris sees some live dance in New York

Marianka Swain talks to Ray Batchelor about his new book on queer tango

Graham Spicer attends the Rome Opera Ballet’s Quattro Stagioni

Phil Meacham discusses step in spin turn

Deborah Weiss reads Mary’s Last Dance by Mary Li

Jack Reavely remembers the first professional ballroom team match in 1947

David Meads tunes into Let’s Dance International Frontiers online

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12 DT December 2020Alina Cojocaru leaves English National Ballet, winners of the Olivier Awards announced, Zizi Jeanmaire’s Yves Saint Laurent wardrobe goes on sale at Christie’s, win Royal Ballet DVDs, London Ballet Circle goes online, Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow destroyed by fire, Royal Opera House sells David Hockney’s portrait of Sir David Webster for £12.8 million, InterMission dances for Save the Children, A Christmas Carol made into a new dance film, dance highlights at the Black British Theatre Awards; Birmingham Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet, The Royal Ballet and Hong Kong Ballet reviewed in Dance Scene International; Marge Champion and David Toole remembered; Gielgud Academy prizegiving, winners of the Dance School of the Year 2020 announced; Calendar dates for performances in the UK and abroad; we look back to December 1980

The December issue is now in shops – including branches of WHSmith – or you can buy your print copy here or buy your digital copy from all good app stores


Simon Oliver has been production editor of Dancing Times since 2010 and is highly experienced in design across print and online magazine production. Throughout his career, Simon has worked on a diverse range of subjects including music, family history, book collecting and poker.

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