Posted on February 25, 2021
“On New Year’s Day 2020, while watching Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words on the BBC, a glimmer of an idea infiltrated my cosy fireside repose. A day earlier, after writing a round-up of the 170 performances I had reviewed in 2019, a reader from Greece threw out the challenge that I should watch and write about dance every day in the coming year. Since I planned to be in Norfolk for the first few days of January – well removed from any theatres – it seemed an impossible task until the BBC gave me the inspiration. If I couldn’t review live dance every day, then dance films could fill the gaps. My #2020DanceChallenge began!
“However, the coronavirus pandemic soon meant that dance on film would become the mainstay of my challenge, although I still managed to clock up 75 live performances out of a total of 583 reviews during the year. These covered a diverse range and although contemporary dance and ballet dominated there was also plenty of flamenco, South Asian dance, musical theatre, tango, jingju (Beijing Opera), dance documentaries and much else besides.”
“By 1949, therefore, the ballet had achieved ‘classic’ status in the UK, so it comes as something of a surprise to discover that when the Sadler’s Wells Ballet took Symphonic Variations to the US in 1949 for its triumphant season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, it was little appreciated by American audiences. Lillian Moore, in a review in Dancing Times in December 1949 that was headlined ‘Sadler’s Wells Conquers New York’, wrote, ‘Symphonic Variations, a decided contrast to the rest of the Sadler’s Wells repertoire, does not seem extraordinary to a public which over a period of many years has become thoroughly accustomed to this type of abstract ballet as arranged by George Balanchine and his disciples.’ Tastes change, however, and Symphonic Variations eventually became better understood and better appreciated by audiences across the Atlantic.
“Much of the ballet’s pre-eminence was attributed to the excellence of its first cast, [Margot] Fonteyn in particular, but as time passed, the original dancers were replaced by others. In November 1961, Arnold L Haskell decided, ‘Symphonic Variations is one of the peaks of Frederick Ashton’s great mountain range. It is not musical illustration but musical interpretation of extraordinary sensitivity and the wonder of it is that it manages to be enthralling theatre, not merely to the initiated few but to a popular audience. The reason is, I think, the rare emotion of being able to see music. This is something unique to ballet at its greatest. Even if we are not conscious of what makes this work so exciting we have the feeling that every moment is inevitable, that it was a discovery rather than an invention. For that reason it is a most difficult work to reproduce, its six interpreters must discipline their personalities, must completely assimilate the content of Franck’s music, and yet to be carbon copies of one another would be to fail completely; emotions and mechanics are involved…’”
“The International Day of Tango last year – December 11 – saw the launch of the UK Argentine Tango Association and the beginning of a campaign to support, promote and develop Argentine tango in the UK. The new group represents the interests of Argentine tango teachers, organisers, DJs, musicians, and dancers throughout the country and was formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been catastrophic for the Argentine tango community.
“Physical contact and connection are integral to the Argentine tango – not just for individual partnerships but for the all-important milongas, or social dances – and since March 2020, most in-person activities have been curtailed in the UK. However, it is this space in the timetables of tango’s leading practitioners that has allowed them to come together and create the association and a platform for the growth of tango post-pandemic.”
Matthew Paluch asks when can we put things right with ballet companies?
Francis Yeoh looks at Jerome Robbins’ work in musical theatre
Alison Gallagher-Hughes concludes her interview with Len Goodman
David Jays on the “new normal”
Pete Meager speaks to costume designers about dressing equality dancers for competitions
Graham Spicer sees the Ballet of La Scala, Milan, in Giselle
Jack Anderson watches works by Paul Taylor online
Simon Selmon discusses the state of the swing scene
Debbie Malina concludes her article on dance classes for older people
Phil Meacham on the foxtrot
Igor Stupnikov reviews new works by the Maryinsky Ballet
Jack Reavely remembers his friend, Doreen Freeman
Margaret Willis interviews Scottish Ballet’s Jerome Anthony Barnes
James Whitehead advises on the best improvement strategy in lockdown
Laura Cappelle on the Paris Opéra Ballet’s new diversity report
Scottish Ballet’s new Coppélia, Freddie Opoku-Addaie appointed artistic director of Dance Umbrella, Northern Ballet’s spring digital season, Dancers of the Met, Rambert online, Boston Ballet cancels upcoming live performances, new appointees at Dance Consortium, New York City Ballet’s online Spring season, Lions for Dance 2021; Patricia Barnes, Juan Carlos Copes and Sara Leland remembered in Obituaries; new books, CDs, DVDs and dance products; Prix de Lausanne 2021 results, Dance School of the Year Awards 2021, National Youth Dance companies, Auditions online, Health at Hand; calendar dates for performances in the UK and abroad; we look back to March 1981
Cover photograph: Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov in Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, photographed byTRISTRAM KENTON, courtesy of the ROYAL OPERA HOUSE.