World Ballet Day

So Wednesday 1st October was World Ballet Day – a chance for five leading ballet companies from around the world to showcase their stuff in class and rehearsals, and for eager ballet fans like me to catch a glimpse behind the scenes. Having watched Royal Ballet Live back in 2012, this was an even more ambitious and exciting prospect – so naturally I vowed to watch as much as I could.

My day started at 9am, halfway through the Bolshoi Ballet’s slot. Watching two principals rehearse La Sylphide onstage while I drank coffee and ate toast, still in my pajamas, was incredible – so was being able to see inside the beautiful Bolshoi Theatre. I’ve never seen La Sylphide and I found myself feeling a bit sorry for the male lead, who has so many tiring-looking Scottish jumps and was being worked hard by perfectionist coaches. Next came a rehearsal for Taming of the Shrew, a jazzy and expressive piece choreographed to Shostakovich’s equally expressive Ballet Suites. Ekaterina Krysanova danced Kate at blistering speed, while Vladislav Lantratov’s leaps were out of this world, and their confrontation duet was intensely physical and exhausting to watch. Krysanova’s subsequent solo was more classical in style and beautifully conveyed how Kate is torn between loving and hating Petruchio. I was extremely impressed by just a small glimpse of this ballet, particularly how it communicates the drama and emotional extremes of its source material, and I really hope that I’ll get a chance to see it in full one day.

Showered and dressed (trust me, it’s a miracle I got that far), I settled down to watch the 4 hour slot led by the Royal Ballet. It started with class, as every ballet day should. Said class included many close-ups of Steven McRae, so I was more than happy. I love watching ballet classes because they expose the inner workings of the art form – seeing dancers in all their relaxed warm up gear instead of pristine costumes, trying to follow all the names of the steps as they’re shouted so quickly, observing how hard they work and yet seeing how every little movement is made so beautiful… And the final ‘coda’ section of the class was truly amazing, as each dancer got the chance to strut their stuff with leaps, fouettés and chaîné turns. This freestyling was a revelation after the regimented discipline of set exercises, and I loved hearing the dancers cheer each other on.

Next came rehearsals, firstly for Liam Scarlett’s new work The Age of Anxiety. This saw Laura Morera, Steven McRae and two other male dancers jumping on furniture, wielding martini glasses and generally strutting about to  fabulously jazzy music by Leonard Bernstein. The choreography is fast-paced and nuanced, with Scarlett focussing on moulding his steps to the complex rhythms and timing. This one is definitely going on my must-see list! Next up came Manon, which acted as a sneak preview of the RB’s first live cinema screening of the season (October 16th). The rehearsal focussed on the final pas de deux between Des Grieux and Manon, danced – as it will be on 16th – by Federico Bonelli and Marianela Nunez. The duet is intensely tragic, as a dying and delirious Manon stumbles through the misty swamps and Des Grieux continuously loses and then finds her. Marianela Nunez, as fantastic an actress as ever, manages to balance the demands of the steps and the timing while simultaneously conveying Manon’s weakness. I’ve no doubt she’ll be making everyone cry on 16th – but in the meantime, it was nice to see her and Bonelli laughing their way through the rehearsal.

At this point, I had to get lunch and do other boring things (I am only human), and made it back to my computer in time to see Christopher Carr coaching the corps in Scènes de Ballet. As pointed out in the introduction to the rehearsal, Scènes is a seminal work by RB Founder Choreographer Frederick Ashton – so the pressure really on to be perfect (as if it ever isn’t, but you get the point). Christoper Carr is clearly a formidable presence in the rehearsal studio, and although his focus on timing might have seemed obsessive, it’s this precision that is needed for Ashton’s patterns to be clear and effective.

Unfortunately, cooking dinner and – ahem – watching the Great British Bake Off meant that I missed all of the National Ballet of Canada. By the time I was able to stretch out in bed with my laptop, it was the San Francisco Ballet’s turn to shine. I was highly impressed by their rehearsal of Raku, which had a very modern, epic feel. Principal Yuan Yuan Tan, supported by four male dancers, is captivatingly expressive – a series of incredible lifts is capped by her literally being thrown across the men towards the ground. My last glimpse of World Ballet Day was of the impressive grand allegro in Concerto Grosso, which unusually is an all-male ballet. Another one to add to my list I think.

I hope wherever you were watching you enjoyed World Ballet Day as much as I did – and if you missed it, the stream is still available to watch. Get thee to Youtube!

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