We’re told that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I’m hoping that the wonderful Kathryn Piekarski (my fellow arts blogger over at All the World’s a Stage) is flattered by this post – my top five moments from ballet – which has been inspired by her own selection. You can check out her Best Ballet Bits here. In the meantime, here’s my (long overdue) first post of November.
1. Black Swan variation/coda – Every time I watch Swan Lake, the Black Swan pas de deux seems far too short. I love seeing each different interpretation of the dark, seductive Odile – to me, she is infinitely more interesting than her white, pitiable counterpart. Odile’s variation in Act II, with its gorgeous attitude turns and sharp relevés, bewitches the audience just as she bewitches Prince Siegfried. The fast and furious coda that follows includes Odile’s infamous 32 fouettés – always a thrill to watch, though sometimes the excitement makes me lose count! This ‘moment’ (I realise I’m stretching the definition by including two dances!) builds towards Act II’s dramatic climax, develops Odile’s character and showcases Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music. Perfection – especially here, in the hands of Marianela Nunez.
2. Giselle’s mad scene – If I could be a ballerina for a day, I’d dance Giselle. Why? The mad scene. Granted, it’s more acting than dance, but when it’s done well it can be one of the most compelling, disturbing and powerful scenes in ballet. In her delirium, Giselle retells the story of her doomed love, repeating steps she has danced with Albrecht, taking up the sword that has exposed his true identity and plucking the petals from an invisible daisy. Viviana Durante’s version of this scene is very different to others I’ve seen, with her blank expression and staring eyes, but it makes her madness all the more frightening.
3. The Mad Hatter’s tea party – This could not be more different! Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adevntures in Wonderland is a bright, quirky, modern ballet full of moments I love. But my favourite is the tea party, when Alice encounters the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse. The set is fantastic, with its little stage (complete with teacup lights), giant teapot and bouncy cakes. The interplay between the characters created by Wheeldon’s energetic, physical choreography makes the whole scene funny and chaotic. Stealing the scene (and the show, if you ask me) is the flamboyant Mad Hatter, whose rapid tap shoe rhythms beautifully punctuate the music and combine with the ballet.
4. Romeo and Juliet balcony scene – The combination of Prokofiev’s soaring, romantic music and Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography really makes this moment for me. It’s a pas de deux of beautiful contrast, with rapid movement across the stage, huge lifts and moments of stillness. At one point, Romeo and Juliet join hands and walk slowly towards the audience – this simple choreography perfectly communicates how their emotions are overwhelming all thought. My favourite of the many lifts sees a kneeling Romeo lift Juliet by the waist from arabesque into an almost horizontal position, as she reaches out into the distance. (It’s at 5:48 in this video. You’ll know what I mean when you see it). Federico Bonelli and Lauren Cuthbertson have fantastic chemistry in these roles and have succeeded in bringing a tear to my eye before!
5. Fairy of the Golden Vine variation – I’m finishing my list as I started, with a great Russian classic. This variation from Sleeping Beauty – the fifth in the sequence danced by fairies bestowing gifts on Princess Aurora – may look sprightly and fun, but demands both speed and precision. I learned recently that the traditional name for this fairy was Violente, and that her gift of strength, energy and purpose is reflected in her pointing fingers. I knew there was a reason I liked her variation the best – that’s a much more useful gift than beauty or a nice singing voice! nb. In this post’s original edit my choice of clip was from the Bolshoi, however since fixing the video links it’s been taken off Youtube – so I’ve had to ‘settle’ for Emma Maguire from the Royal Ballet.
There ends my list. Needless to say it was really hard to choose – I’ve missed out some of my favourites because I just couldn’t pin down one moment. Maybe next time I’ll do a top ten…