Posted on May 23, 2019
With the return of Mikhail Fokine’s The Firebird, this month we take a look at one of the most popular works to have survived from the era of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, as well as preview a new exhibition at Tate Modern on the artist and stage designer Natalia Goncharova, perhaps best known for her 1926 sets and costumes for the ballet. We also consider Darcey Bussell’s legacy as a Strictly Come Dancing judge, talk to veteran dance critic Clement Crisp, speak to Sergio Trujillo, choreographer of the new musical On Your Feet!, and go behind the scenes at London Children’s Ballet.
Jonathan Gray highlights The Royal Ballet’s revival of a great work
“‘Ann Jenner and I actually asked Norman Morrice [then director of The Royal Ballet] if Margot [Fonteyn] could coach us [in The Firebird],” recalls [Monica] Mason. “She was in London for an occasion with the Royal Academy of Dance, and she agreed to give us an hour of her time. We had already learned and rehearsed Firebird with Michael Somes, but we knew we had to get as much out of Margot as we could. Michael left us alone with her, but, you know, it was so unusual for us to have her sitting in front of us in the studio. We danced and Margot made comments as we did so.
“‘She talked about what [Tamara] Karsavina had told her; how we should focus on the fierceness of the bird – the Firebird isn’t beautiful, she isn’t a swan, she is a fierce, fairytale creature. We were surprised when Margot told us Karsavina had said the Firebird eats men! I always tell that to the dancers I coach now. Then, when Ivan catches the Firebird, he knows she will take a bite out of him if he isn’t careful. So there is this fierceness and tension between the two of them, which is important. Creatures have territories, and Kostcheï’s garden is hers, and we should convey that feeling to the audience from her first entrance.
“‘Karsavina must have been a wonderful actress. I often wonder what she would have been like in, say, Ashton’s Month in the Country or Marguerite and Armand. Margot spoke of her with the same reverence as we speak about Margot today, and I feel privileged to think there is an unbroken line in this role from me back to Margot and Karsavina. Firebird was hugely exciting to dance, but I also remember the thrill of being on stage in the ballet with Margot. You could see the fury in her black eyes, and also the intensity of the music in her dancing.’”
Nicola Rayner hears from Sergio Trujillo, the choreographer for On Your Feet! which opens at the London Coliseum this month
“With a book by Alexander Dinelaris, On Your Feet! of course features the music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. The Estefans are very involved in the show, but, [Sergio] Trujillo says, they were also ‘very respectful of Jerry [Mitchell] and I and our processes’. Telling the story of the Cuban husband-and-wife team gave Trujillo plenty to think about. ‘I made sure the show was as authentic as possible,’ he says. ‘In fact, I made a pilgrimage to Cuba because, being Colombian, we dance differently from Cubans and I wanted to make sure the show was as true to their culture as possible.
“‘I just felt that it was my duty to go,’ he continues. ‘I thought it would be a disservice to the piece, to Gloria and Emilio, to the entire show if I didn’t go and find out what their world was like – how they dance, how they move, what the spirit was of the Cuban people.’
“Was it difficult travelling from the US? ‘Not for me, because I have a Canadian passport and this was about four years ago,’ he notes. ‘It was actually during the Obama era when they were beginning to have talks about lifting some of the sanctions against Cuba. It was a moment of promise.’”
Clement Crisp is the UK’s senior dance critic, known the world over for his encyclopaedic knowledge, his trenchant prose and exacting standards. On the eve of attending a performance by The Royal Ballet of Romeo and Juliet dedicated to him and his contribution to the world of ballet, he spoke with Gerald Dowler
CC: It is absolutely fatal – you don’t add peppermint cordial to champagne because it is disgusting to drink. Purity of intention, style and utterance are absolutely vital.
“GD: So why do it?
CC: Because audiences and some directors are easily fooled by the modish and the transient, and good intentions do not make good ballet. Political correctness is a plague as dreadful as cholera. There is also a shortage of real classical choreographers – who today is there apart from, say, Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky? Who else? I would like to know.
“GD: What about today’s dance criticism?
CC: Bizarrely characterised by ignorance – so few writers seem to know and understand the history of the art about which they write. That is simply essential. I read pieces by mind-blowing fools who have cribbed the lot or who simply follow fashion – that is not the name of the game, I’m afraid.”
Irving David writes on copyright and dance in Talking Point
Paul Arrowsmith investigates the work of artist and stage designer Natalia Goncharova
Fátima Nollén explores the ballet scene in Ecuador, where companies dance for free
James Whitehead explores how to achieve unity in a ballroom partnership
Matthew Paluch thinks dance companies need to rethink how they value older dancers
San Francisco Ballet’s Wona Park is our Dancer of the Month
Margaret Willis goes behind the scenes at London Children’s Ballet
Marianka Swain reflects on Darcey’s Bussell’s legacy as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing
Vikki Jane Vile sees Strictly Come Dancing professionals in Here Come the Girls, Burn the Floor and Remembering the Movies
Simon Selmon pays tribute to Lindy hop dance legend Norma Miller
Debbie Malina looks at healthcare at The Royal Ballet
New season plans from Rambert and The Royal Ballet, Ballets Russes costumes on view at Bonhams, English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Award, dance at Manchester International Festival
Reviews of The Royal Ballet, Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event in London and New York, Israel Galván, Let’s Dance International Frontiers, Rambert, Breakin’ Convention, Viviana Durante Company, Deborah Colker Dance Company, Ballet de Santiago, Chilean National Ballet, Ballet am Rhein, Norwegian National Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, São Paulo Dance Company, St Petersburg’s Dance Open Festival, Martha Graham Dance Company, Dance Theatre of Harlem