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Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement

Degas delights at the Royal Academy

The double doors creak open onto a chilly, darkened room which is eerily hushed despite holding many people. The whirring of an old film reel alerts you to the moving silhouette of a dancer in arabesque above. This is the entrance to the Royal Academy’s latest exhibition and sets the scene for the beautiful whirlwind of an journey to come.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Great rooms, the perfect size for a ballet class, house Degas’ famous studio scenes alongside his endless sketches of ballerinas in a variety of positions. The exhibition highlights how Degas captured movement in his art and this is extremely evident in the second gallery where the famous Little Dancer Aged Fourteen poses. Unknown to most admirers of this playful statue, Degas drew the statue from every possible angle and the results displayed on the circular walls of the academy create a dizzying and never ending moving picture.

The exhibition is less about the pictures as I had imagined and more about the artist himself. Visitors gain a real insight into Degas and are left with an appreciation for where Degas gained inspiration from and also about how he lived his life and how it ended. The exhibition rather poignantly ends with a short video of a nearly blind Degas being filmed walking slowly down a Parisien street.

Degas’ work concentrates on the backstage element of ballet – the classes, the rehearsals and the anguish of dancers as they strive for perfection. Rather than immortalising the perfection of dancers on the stage as many artists would, he is fascinated with the process to reach perfection. This process is mirrored in his own work. Every one of his paintings and sculptures is preceded by dozens of sketches of the dancers as Degas tried to perfect his depictions in much the same way a dancer practices each position.

The exhibition is well worth a visit. Housed in the beautiful Royal Academy, it is a surprisingly traquil oasis in the manic surroundings of Piccadilly. Visitors have the oppurtunity to purchase Degas themed merchandise and some beautiful books on his work and ballet more generally.


Exhibition details:

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement

17th September – 11th December

Royal Academy of Arts


Adults: £14, Students: £9, Children under 7: free



Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker hopes to sparkle at the O2 this Christmas

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet is following in the footsteps of the Royal Ballet by announcing that it will be performing the much-loved Christmas classic The Nutcracker at the O2 this Christmas.

Despite mixed reviews of the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet earlier this summer (read my review here), BRB are confident the production will be a success. Communications Director for Birmingham Royal Ballet, Keith Longmore said, “This production of The Nutcracker was the first new work made by the Company after its move from Sadler’s Wells to its new home in Birmingham. Its scale, production values, magic and entertainment sums up everything that is Birmingham Royal Ballet. To have this opportunity to bring this work back to the capital after twelve years is a prospect that is exciting everyone involved in the staging of this epic production.”

BRB are continuing the work started by The Royal Ballet which aims to bring ballet to the masses and make it more accessible. Tickets for the shows will therefore start at just £10 and tickets for children under 16 will be half price. With nearly 50,000 people watching Romeo and Juliet this project seems to have got off to a good start.

There will be six performances of BRB’s interpretation of the Christmas classic from Tuesday 27th to Friday 30th December 2011. For details of the show and how to buy tickets click here or here.

REVIEW: Royal New Zealand Ballet: From Here To There

UK premiere of From Here to There

Plan to A

The Royal New Zealand Ballet commenced their UK premiere at the Wales Millennium Centre on 11th July with Jorma Elo’s Plan to A. The choreography of the contemporary piece was beautiful and consisted of fluid movements and effortless lifts. The seven dancers created optical illusions with their bodies and wowed the audience with their enchanting partner work and quirky leitmotifs. The classically trained company coped well with the contemporary moves although their balletic technique shone through and teased the ballet lovers in the audience. On a negative point, the choreography didn’t sit very comfortably with the music and the scratchy violin was completely at odds with the dancing. While the music fell flat the dancers gamely distracted the audience from the piercing tones and proved themselves to be part of an exquisite company and more than a match for our own Royal Ballet.

A Song in the Dark

Young, up and coming, Australian choreographer Andrew Simmons’ A Song in The Dark was the piece de resistance of the triple bill and had the audience on the edges of their seats willing it to never end. Although it began in a stark fashion with minimal lighting, a harsh backdrop and just a single dancer and her shadow on the stage it soon developed into a warm and lively piece that showcased the brilliance of the whole company. The female lead who opened the piece gave us a masterclass in ballet technique and her pas de deux and trois were perfection. The piece was more neoclassical than contemporary and the music was much gentler on the ears. The evolution of the piece was much clearer for the audience to understand and overall it was a major success with the Cardiff audience.


This piece by award-winning Javier de Frutos took us back to pure contemporary and was danced to percussion. After the stark beauty of A Song in the Dark, Banderillero was much livelier and transported the audience across the globe by drawing on many different dance styles from African and Native American to Spanish and Arabian dance. The ritualistic nature of the banderillero was clear throughout and the intensity reached fever pitch which drummed through the audience and had them gripped.

Unfortunately the dancers’ techniques were lost in their loose fitting beige costumes and it was difficult to appreciate the choreography due to the harsh music which at points sounded like a hyperactive child had been let loose with a cymbal! The choreography was clever however and once again showed a perfectly rehearsed and synchronised ballet company.


Legendary choreographer Roland Petit dies aged 87

French choreographer Roland Petit died in Geneva on Sunday 10th July at the age of 87. In a career that spanned over six decades Petit created over 100 ballets including Carmen and is credited with revolutionising modern ballet with his dramatic choreography.

©Thomas Peter Schulz (flickr)

In 1945 Petit founded Les Ballets de Champs-Elysées and took on the roles of director, principal dancer and choreographer. After the success of this first venture Petit went on to found the Ballets de Paris in 1948 and created works for prima ballerina assoluta Margot Fonteyn.

His enterprising didn’t stop there however and he went on to help found the Ballet de Marseille in 1972 and consequently served as artistic director there for 26 years.

Petit’s personal life was also ballet-centric as he married dancer Zizi Jeanmaire in 1954 and together they had a daughter Valentine Petit who is also a ballet dancer.

The choreographer will also be remembered fondly by the film industry after choreographing films including Hans Christian Andersen, The Glass Slipper, Daddy Long Legs and Anything Goes.

In a tribute to the choreographer Culture Minister for France Frederic Mitterrand said: “Il était un des chorégraphes majeurs du XXe siècle” (He was one of the major choreographers of the 20th Century.)

The minister added: “Il a bâti une oeuvre d’une grande richesse, réunissant notamment les créateurs les plus inventifs de son temps” (He created rich works, notably uniting the most inventive choreographers of his time.)

Petit’s death makes English National Ballet’s upcoming tribute to the choreographer even more poignant. The company are dedicating four days (21-24 July) to three of his most celebrated works – Carmen, La Jeune Homme et La Mort and L’Arlésienne. Click here for more information.

Ballet fashion video starring dancers of the English National Ballet

English National Ballet auction designer creations at their summer party – Fashion Videos – Telegraph.

Preview video of Roland Petit’s Carmen danced by English National Ballet

For four days only (21-24 July 2011) English National Ballet will celebrate legendary French choreographer Roland Petit’s works by performing Carmen, L’Arlésienne and Le Jeune Homme et la Mort at the London Coliseum. This is a rare treat for audiences to see Petit’s incredible choreography and shouldn’t be missed. To buy tickets, priced between £10-£67 click here.

Read a description of the ballets here.

Watch ENB’s video below to get a flavour of what’s to come.



21 July 7.30pm

22 July 2pm, 7.30pm

23 July 2.30pm, 7.30pm

24 July 2.30pm

BBC Four’s Modern Dance Weekend 1st-3rd July

This weekend BBC Four treats us to a wealth of dance documentaries and works as part of it’s modern dance weekend.


Friday 1st July

The weekend kicks of on friday night with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand at 7.30pm.

This will be followed immediately by The Most Incredible Thing at 8pm. This piece premiered this year at London’s Sadler’s Wells. It is based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and is danced to music created by the Pet Shop Boys.

At 9.40 there will be an in-depth documentary about a very important era of dance historyFor Art’s Sake – The Story of… …Ballets Russes. This documentary with a strong focus on Diaghilev features dancers, musicians, writers, critics, stylists and historians talking about one of the most innovative companies in history.

Diaghilev fans won’t be disappointed because following the documentary at 10.40 will be a performance from Sadler’s Wells to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Ballet Russes – In The Spirit of Diaghilev.

Saturday 2nd July

Saturday’s helping begins gently with Tales of Beatrix Potter at 7pm. The Royal Ballet perform this light-hearted family favourite at the Royal Opera House. The costumes alone are worth tuning in for.

Following on from this at 8.10pm is Imagine… Save the Last Dance for Me. This documentary follows The Company of Elders, dancers above the age of 60, in their preparations for a performance at Sadler’s Wells.

Sunday 3rd July

Moving onto more modern subjects BBC Four looks at the life of Merce Cunningham at 7.30pm. the late American choreographer was extremely influential in the avant-garde movement and this documentary presented by ex-dancer Deborah Bull looks at some of his most important works.

At 9pm Margot – a drama based around the events of Margot Fonteyn’s life with a real focus on her relationship with Nureyev.

Finishing off this wonderful series of programmes is Opus Jazz at 10.30pm. Shot in and around New York City and featuring dancers from the New York this film adaptation of Jerome Robbin’s 1958 ballet is about the lives of urban youth.