Swan Lake: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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★★★★½

(Royal Opera House, 22 May 2018)

As most of you will be aware, I approach ballet with caution; but the one score I know better than any other is Swan Lake, partly because I’ve watched the Matthew Bourne version on DVD more times than I care to remember, and partly because Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music has provided the motivational soundtrack for many revision periods and work deadlines over the last fifteen years. So, when I was lucky enough to be invited to the sold-out new production at Covent Garden – the first new staging for thirty years, devised by Liam Scarlett – I leapt at the chance. And, by heaven, it was a joy. Sumptuous staging, fabulous costumes and breathtaking skill all came together to create three hours of utter magic – a ballet with heart as well as visual splendour. Thank you E!

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Elizabeth

Elizabeth

★★★★

(Royal Ballet at the Barbican Theatre, 16 May 2018)

This fascinating chamber-piece is a revival of a production performed in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House in 2016. Choreographed and directed by Will Tuckett, with text by Alasdair Middleton, music by Martin Yates and dazzling costumes by Fay Fullerton, it’s a feast for the eyes and the mind. Combining dance, music, spoken word and song, it’s the closest thing to an Elizabethan court masque that you’ll see on the London stage, and its ambitious structure is uniquely appropriate. For it tells the story of Elizabeth I herself, from romantic young princess, to shrewd strategic queen, to lonely old woman, all brought to life with astonishing conviction by Zenaida Yanowsky.

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Cinderella: Matthew Bourne

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella★★★★

(Sadler’s Wells, London, until 27 January 2018)

My heart broke a little on Friday afternoon. I realised that Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella had returned to Sadler’s Wells this winter and was now completely sold out until the end of its run. I’d missed its last run too and had been similarly upset then, but good fortune came to my rescue. By chance, it had been broadcast on BBC2 over Christmas (I’d missed that too) and was still available on iPlayer. On Saturday afternoon, as the sullen wind rattled the sash windows, I curled up with a cup of tea and a blanket and sank happily into this reimagined fairy tale, set in the depths of the London Blitz. It’s classic Bourne, half ballet and half drama, with a dark substrata to its glittering fantasy.

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Dancer

Sergei Polunin

★★★★½

(directed by Steven Cantor, 2016)

Classical ballet has always been a foreign country to me. Until Thursday, I hadn’t even heard of Sergei Polunin. But then I read a review of his current show at Sadler’s Wells which, in turn, led me to YouTube and his video Take Me to Church. Even on an iPhone screen, it took my breath away. I’m always alert to the beauty of the human form, and I admire dancing in which we see the body pushed to its limits, at the point where grace and power blend into a singular alchemy of expression. This four-minute piece, danced by a lone young man in ripped leggings in shafts of sunlight, was a ravishing spectacle of exactly that. What was the story behind this raw and emotional performance? Fortunately, this newly-released documentary was on hand to tell me more.

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The Car Man: Matthew Bourne

Bourne: The Car Man

★★★★

(Sadler’s Wells, 19 July 2015)

When I went to see Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty two years ago, I wrote about the frustration that I often feel when trying to understand classical ballet, and my corresponding fondness for Bourne’s irreverently gutsy style of storytelling. My favourite production by him will always be Swan Lake (the Adam Cooper version), but my first encounter with him was via a TV broadcast of The Car Man when I was a teenager.

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Rameau: Maître à danser

Rameau: Maître à danser

★★★★

(Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, 18 November 2014)

It’s the Christmas holiday: a chance to escape from London and retreat to the countryside: time for family, log fires, games of charades, and hopefully a chance to work on my overdue posts. This seemed a good place to start. Conceived as a tribute to the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) , this was my first introduction to Baroque ballet, which played such a crucial role in early operas and entertainments. It was a real feast for the eyes – and even more rewarding because I was able to see yet another Baroque legend live on stage: the doyen of French early music, William Christie himself.

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Sleeping Beauty: Matthew Bourne

Sleeping Beauty: Matthew Bourne

★★★★½

(Sadler’s Wells, London, until 26 January 2013)

Generally speaking I find ballet to be a foreign country: I can appreciate its beauty but I simply don’t speak the language needed to feel entirely at home there. I can appreciate the sweeping vistas of tulle and the exaggerated gestures, but when I was younger they only emphasised the strangeness of this art form, which was clearly something for an initiated elite – of which I was not a member.

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Metamorphosis: Titian 2012

Metamorphosis: Titian

(National Gallery, London, until today)

Sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I jump to conclusions about what I will or won’t like and almost do myself out of the chance to see something interesting. This exhibition has been on since July, as an Olympic-related arts collaboration, and yet I hadn’t troubled to take a short bus journey to Trafalgar Square to see it. This is largely because I thought the point of the show was to reinterpret Titian’s paintings and, to be honest, I like Titian just as he is. In fact, having done my MA on Titian, I was rather annoyed at the implication that contemporary artists were somehow making him more relevant by transforming his works. However, I hold up my hands: I misunderstood.

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