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Month January 2014

Natalia Osipova, the new Pavlova.


Natalia Osipova is a  legend in the making. Last night at Covent Garden’s Royal Ballet (January 27, 2014) she performed ‘Giselle’. For me, this was a performance of a lifetime. I was moved to tears and had trouble leaving the theatre. I could not believe the beauty of what I had seen.

I felt watching her, that Pavlova had arisen from the ashes like a Phoenix , but technically, Osipova has advanced beyond what was possible for Pavlova. She and Pavlova share many similarities: both, five feet, two inches tall; both, with long, delicate arms and legs; Osipova with small, exquisite feet (Pavlova’s were longer); both with graceful shoulders and neck; both with extremely  flexible and expressive torsos;  both very musical and fast;  both as light as fairie dust; both the soul of the part.

These great ballerinas are not made in one generation.  In reconstructing the choreography of ‘Giselle’ from the original by Coralli and Perrot,  Marius Petipa [1818-1910] in St. Petersburg , who had been a student of Auguste Vestris [1760-1842] in Paris, ’embodied the traditions of the French school in its Romantic florescence’,  and took from Johansson  the quick, precise technique that Bournonville  [1805-1879] had developed in Denmark. Petipa also drew upon Enrico Cecchetti’s [1850-1928] pedagogy,’ which lent Italian bravura  to Russian dance.’ (see excellent programme note, ‘Marius Petipa (1818-1910)’ by Tim Scholl, p.31)

Pavlova took private lessons from Cecchetti, who encouraged her not to force her turnout. Osipova has been able to study the Vaganova  method, used  in both the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi companies.  Vaganova [1879-1951] ,who was a contemporary of Pavlova, had turned to pedagogy. Petipa had cared little for Vaganova’s dancing, and she was not  promoted until 1915 by Nicoli Legat, who was then the Ballet Master in  St. Petersburg. She chose to retire a year later to expand her teaching. After the Revolution of 1917, she fought to preserve the legacy of Petipa and the Imperial Ballet. Her method brings together the heritage of Russian ballet.

Osipova in ‘Giselle’  is a combination of  Petipa’s ‘Romantic florescence’, the very accurate footwork and changes of direction inherent in Bournonville and the ‘bravura’ and technical difficulty of Cecchetti. She has unearthly lightness and great natural height which gives her more time to perform and accent difficult foot work ‘en air’. She seemed a tragic apparition.

Frederick  Ashton speaks about Pavlova:

Some glimpses of Pavlova:

in The Dragonfly:

Osipova in ‘Romeo and Juliet’:

Osipova in ‘Swan Lake’:

in ‘Giselle’:

In ‘Corsaire’:

The good news is that last night’s performance is to be turned into a DVD, eventually available at  the Royal Opera House gift shop, I presume.

Judson Memorial Church in New York City. At the Cutting edge in a dance revolution of the 1960’s.

Just facing Washington Square on the edge of Greenwich Village, this Baptist Church with its Campanile is now an historic landmark which, in turn,  has housed a landmark exploration -perhaps explosion- of dance in the 1960’s. By the mid- 19th century, the Village had a large population of African-Americans, followed by German, French, Irish and Italian immigrants. Earlier, a more affluent community had begun an exodus. This community is described by Henry James in ‘Washington Square’. The church soon began a ministry of health and community outreach for both members and non members. During the 1920’s the church ran a settlement house, and in the Great Depression, the church allowed homeless men to sleep in the pews.

In the 1950s, the church supported a radical arts programme. It made space available to artists for art exhibitions, rehearsals, and performances. The church  assured that this space was to be a place where these artists could have the freedom to experiment in their work without fear of censorship. In 1957, the church offered gallery space to Claes Oldenberg,  Jim Dine and Robert Rauschenberg, then unknown artists. In 1959, Judson Gallery showed work by pop artists, Tom Wesselmann, Daniel Spoerri and Red Grooms. Yoko Ono had her work exhibited at the gallery.

The Judson Dance Theater, which began in 1962, provided a venue for dancers and choreographers, including Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs  and Yvonne Rainer, to create and show their work. Among others, these dancers and choreographers shaped dance history by creating the first avant-garde movement in dance theatre since the modern [contemporary] dance of the 1930s and 1940s. For the past several decades, Movement Research has presented concerts of experimental dance at the church on Monday evenings during the academic year.[wikipedia]

Meredith Monk’s name  belongs with Judson.  So does a founder member of the Judson Dance Theater, Judith Dunn, who died prematurely. This is the only glimpse of her dancing I could find on the internet:


What is ‘postmodern dance’? A glimpse at the Sixties art from Judson may offer a clue. Here is Claes Oldenburg [whose studio was in Judson in the Sixties]:

Robert Rauschenberg:

 Bessie Schonberg discusses the directions of choreography in the 20th century:

 Yvonne Rainer:

 Trisha Brown: 

 Meredith Monk and Lucinda Childs were both studying choreography, as was I, in a Sarah Lawrence class taught by Bessie Schonberg. Merry was somewhat awkward in her physical choices and produced odd sounds or sharp movements; she had an uninhibited ability to release her imagination and a generous personality. Lucinda Childs, somewhat older than Merry and I, was statuesque, imperious, aloof, and I don’t remember her ever speaking. Both Lucinda and Merry received encouragement from Bessie.  We all three had classes from Judith Dunn, as well. The artistic ambience at Sarah Lawrence was a shock to me, having been reared in ballet [and the South]. Martha Graham felt imprisoned by ballet and hated it. Ballet certainly wasn’t Bessie’s cup of tea.

 Lucinda Childs:

 Meredith Monk:

Ballet Rambert in stunning form.

(Apologies for the posting of this review a little late, much more to come in 2014!).

The Ballet Rambert has a long and glorious history and still goes from strength to strength. In an ensemble company, every dancer counts, and every dancer here represents the best. The Ballet Rambert  invites guest choreographers to create pieces for it. Its collaborators read like a who’s who of dance and theatre. Marie Rambert, who danced with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, was its founder: [some of the names are not correctly spelled]

The company still performs some of the early and original dances, this one by Nijinsky, created for Diaghilev in May 1912, one hundred years ago:

A Study of L’Apres-midi d’un Faune.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 19.28.07

This evening’ s performance [October 22, 2013] began with ‘Subterrain’ by Ashley Page. In a somewhat claustrophobic, shadowy world, underground, human relationships are explored. There is no narrative; it is pure dance to a score by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Aphex Twin. The programme notes tell us that this collaborative effort ‘allowed chance method approaches  to ‘interfere’ with the creative process ,allowing a cross-current of influences […] to infiltrate the work almost at random’. As there is not a clip from this piece, I offer a clip from another Ashley Page piece. The Rambert Company was very at home within the technical demands of the choreography and Page’s more traditional ,but quite beautiful composition.

Guide to Strange Places by Ashley Page. 

‘Comedy of Change’ by Mark Baldwin  appeared next and provided a strong contrast with the first piece. The composition was to celebrate in 2009 the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s, ‘On the Origin of Species’. Indeed a primeval scene greeted our eyes as the lifting curtain revealed giant eggs/ chrysalises placed irregularly about the stage. Creatures were to emerge from these. The audience experienced the rhythms of Galapgos giant tortoises, as well as the movement, songs and flights of birds. The composer, Julian Anderson says, ‘What intrigues me about animate nature is the way daily needs ([…] for food, for shelter, for procreation) can provoke changes of both behaviour and physical appearance’.(from Programme) He also notes that the extreme lengths animals will go to attract attention seems beyond purely evolutional needs. And therein does lie one element of comedy. Another element of comedy rests in the unexpected changes which can happen. Evolution can be a riot of accidents and the unexpected.I loved this piece but can show only a snapshot:

‘The Castaways’  by Barak Marshall provided the ‘Wow’ factor. In his programme notes, Barak Marshall conceives of his creation as a sort of ‘Huis Clos [No Exit] (my description) in which particular individuals are trapped by their own personalities to perpetuate their weaknesses. Before I read the programme notes, I thought the piece was about many types of castaways: old music, the old country, dated political movements, repetitive human behaviour . Robert Millett who arranged the music says that it draws upon 1930’s New York and modern world fusion, ‘taking in Balkan folk, Yiddish pop and Soviet pomp. There was a touch of Theatre de Complicite in the use of speech in several languages and in what could be called ‘physical theatre’.The dancer’s ability to slip easily into different ethnic styles was amazing, the tempo was exhausting and the audience cheered. As a clip from ‘The Castaways’ was not available. Here is another work by  Barak Marshall called ‘Monger, performed  by the Batsheva Dance Company.

Finally, in order to show the quality of the Rambert, below are clips from other choreographers:

 ‘ The Art of Touch’ by Siobhan Davies:  

 ‘Labyrinth of Love ‘ by Marguerite Donlan:

 ‘Roses’ by Paul Taylor :  

 ‘Little Red Rooster’ by Christopher Bruce: