Posted on December 19, 2019
The start of a new year is always a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future, and in the January issue of Dancing Times we do both. First, by celebrating the 70th anniversary of English National Ballet with a nostalgic look back from Deborah Weiss, a former dancer with the company, and then by taking stock of the most recent series of Strictly Come Dancing with Marianka Swain, and, finally, catching up with Broadway choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose musical theatre production of Pretty Woman comes to the West End this spring.
“Early in 1979, a few months after I joined London Festival Ballet (LFB, now English National Ballet), Beryl Grey, who was artistic director at the time, took the company on tour to China. Nothing could have prepared us for the adventure.
“Still recovering from the Cultural Revolution, the conditions there were a far cry from the comfort of the west. When we arrived in Peking (now Beijing), the Chinese were very wary of visitors and we were chaperoned everywhere. The Friendship Hotel housed families of cockroaches that marched secretively over the walls of our rooms; the food was quite unlike a local UK takeaway (Maltesers were our staple supplement); and entire streets full of people would gather and follow us into shops, to gawp at these strangers. The coach to the theatre would speed past the wall where political comments were posted – they didn’t want us to take photographs.
“The Tianqino Theatre was large and basic, the sanitary facilities best avoided. When we arrived for company class in the morning, there was a table of drinks laid out: fizzy orange, tea and beer. At both ends of each row of seats in the auditorium was a spittoon. Throughout ‘the stands’ in Act II of Mary Skeaping’s Giselle, as the sweat dripped off the end of our noses we would listen to the sounds of throats clearing and the subsequent expulsion.”
“Mitchell has had a remarkable career that started in a remarkable way. ‘I came to New York as a student for spring break and got hired by Agnes de Mille to be in Brigadoon as my Broadway debut. I understudied Harry Beaton who was played by gold medal ice skater John Curry.’
“There simply isn’t space to detail Mitchell’s entire extraordinary career here, but he has worked with all of his heroes. ‘Needless to say I was a superfan of Jerry Robbins as a kid. I did production after production of West Side Story and then finally got to work with him. For two years I was his right-hand man as he was putting together Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and I learned all the original choreography of West Side Story, The King and I, Billion Dollar Baby, all of the shows he did, and went with him to the ballet almost every other night.’”
“Unexpected: that’s the key word of Series 17. It’s been a notably surprising Strictly Come Dancing right from the start, as Jamie Laing withdrew from the line-up due to injury before the competition had even started – swiftly followed by numerous odd eliminations, controversial judging decisions, and favourites felled by a single dance. Topping the leaderboard was no guarantee of survival in this changeable year; conversely, we saw finalists seemingly spring from nowhere. Let’s just say the bookies probably had a good Christmas.
“Or perhaps not, since we did have some guarantees – and one of those was the endearingly modest, soap star/racing driver, normal macho bloke-yet-natural expressive dancer Kelvin Fletcher, a contestant who might have been bred in a lab for optimum Strictly performance. Poor Jamie Laing’s corpse was barely cold before we were howling at Fletcher’s snake hips, his Week One samba setting pulses racing across the nation. More important, he soon formed an incredibly engaging partnership with pro favourite Oti Mabuse, excelling across a variety of styles thanks to their combination of solid technical grounding, hard work, and superb ability to tell a story through music and movement. Mabuse thought her Strictly was all over; instead, she’s had her best run since Danny Mac in Series 14.”
Paul Arrowsmith ponders the perils of everybodyism
Amanda Hodgson celebrates the career of Madame Celeste
Gerald Dowler explores ballet in the Soviet Union following the defection of Rudolf Nureyev
Gerard Charles reflects on RAD training of the past century, and what it might look like 100 years in the future
Barbara Newman sees three stage musicals in London’s West End
Debbie Malina investigates Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport
Paul Arrowsmith meets Nikolai Hübbe, director of the Royal Danish Ballet
Jack Reavely goes “Somewhere in time”
Francis Yeoh on the ballets of Mikhail Fokine and Frederick Ashton
Margaret Willis interviews Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Edivaldo Souza da Silva
Laura Cappelle on the Paris Opéra Ballet’s Raymonda
James Whitehead looks at Natural Spin Turn
Igor Stupnikov attends the Diaghilev PS Festival
Marianka Swain suggests some new dances for the New Year
Graham Spicer goes to La Scala, Milan
Barbara Newman reviews a new book on Merce Cunningham
Jack Anderson considers the future of the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance company
Helena Fitoussi reports on The British National Championships
Buy your print copy here or buy your digital copy from all good app stores
Spring at the Southbank Centre, the BalletBoyz on tour, Resolution 2020 at The Place, Rambert’s Aisha and Abhaya, Ballet Icons Gala, the return of Tango Fire, Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries, Akademi archive, Frederick Ashton in Ecuador, the cast of Kate Prince’s Message In A Bottle announced, MOVE IT 2020, Eunice Bartell and Shirley Rees-Edwards remembered, Auditions for Rambert2, New Zealand School of Dance, Tring Park School, Heidi Hall to leave Central School of Ballet, Scottish Youth Dance, Helsinki International Ballet Competition, ballet for boys, we look back to January 2020
Reviews include Ballet Cymru, Ballet du Rhin, Dorrance Dance, English National Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, Just Us Dance Theatre, MILANoLTRE festival, National Ballet of Canada, Richard Alston Dance Company, The Royal Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Stanislavsky Ballet, Zürich Ballet
The January 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