Tours en l'air organizes ballet-themed escorted holidays to see the best companies perform great ballets in beautiful places. You can join a trip from anywhere. A highly knowledgeable balletomane who has enjoyed 100s of performances in over 20 cities around the world,I speak English, French, and German, and am a Travel Industry Council of Ontario certified Travel Counsellor. I also teach ballet appreciation courses. Twitter: @thewordlady Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.barber.37
Tours en l'air Ballet Holidays are offered in partnership with CWT Victor Travel, 101 - 8800 Dufferin Street, Concord, ON L4K 0C5, 416-736-6010, TICO # 1892647

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

British Friends of Ballet Nacional de Cuba

This organization was formed three years ago with the worthy aim of financially supporting the Cuban dancers, who are perennially short of money. They have just launched an appeal to help fund a new program featuring excerpts from the big classics, Magia de la Danza. Please contact the Chairman of BFBNC, Norman Vaughton, at ndv@talktalk.net for more information.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Great quote from George Balanchine

"I'm a little leery of the word 'inspiration'. I like the word 'deadline' better."

I found this in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Members' Newsletter, Entrechat. Become a member of BRB's Friends (I recommend it highly) at www.brb.org.uk

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cuban National Ballet

A group of 21 of us had a fabulous time at "Stars of Cuban National Ballet" in Mississauga last night. The program included the amazing Viengsay Valdes in a Don Quixote pas de deux unlike anything I have ever seen. She has absolutely astounding balances, and fouettes that stay nailed to the same spot on the stage. You can see her on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ub3yUMwbKo8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Crr7H-Wqd70
The Cuban men are renowned for the ability to jump, and this was much in evidence, especially in a fun piece for five men, Accents, choreographed by Eduardo Blanco. Their jumps are remarkably high, but with very soft, quiet landings. One of the men wowed the audience with his ability to do fast pirouettes, slowing down with incredible control while lowering his pointed foot to "cou de pied" on the ankle.
The only downside was that, as I have noticed before, Cuban National Ballet's costumes tend to be quite ugly, with very old-fashioned designs often overloaded with ruffles on the upper body.
The legendary Alicia Alonso was in attendance and received a standing ovation from the audience.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Paloma Herrera

TUNE IN!
American Ballet Theatre's Paloma Herrera
appears on tonight's episode of
Fox-TV SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE,
8-9pm est.

In a special guest appearance, Paloma performs
Kitri's variation from the third act of Don Quixote.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux

Here's a hot tip. Two YouTube postings have just appeared of Robert Tewsley and Miyako Yoshida performing Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux. These are fabulous dancers, and though they are in practice clothes in a sterile dance studio, they convey more emotion than many people do in a full-blown production! Another bonus, the clip is in HD so the picture is much sharper than most on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jgwte9NGy0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAo_0FfawK0

Monday, November 9, 2009

National Ballet of Canada Sleeping Beauty in Ottawa

I just returned from the NBOC's 3-performance run of Nureyev's Sleeping Beauty in Ottawa. The company is looking in fine form, with the corps being very impressive in the second act; their level of ensemble was striking. I saw three casts: Guillaume Cote and Heather Ogden; Zdenek Konvalina and Sonia Rodriguez; and guest Jason Reilly (from Stuttgart Ballet) and Xiao Nan Yu. Rodriguez performed the Rose Adagio without a wobble and with radiant assurance. As her prince, Konvalina had the most musicality and princely quality of the three. Other highlights were Stacey Shiori Minagawa as Diamond, finishing her solo in a releve in fifth that looked as if it were nailed to the stage. Jillian Vanstone was a beautiful Princess Florine. Sleeping Beauty opens in Toronto this coming Friday, November 13th, which I hope is not inauspicious. For more information, visit the National Ballet of Canada.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Kirov and Bolshoi TOGETHER in Washington

We have a great package planned for Valentine's weekend in Washington DC, with premium tickets already reserved for the Sunday matinee performance of The Sleeping Beauty (Kirov/Maryinsky) and Tuesday opening night performance of Spartacus (Bolshoi), and rooms reserved at the Washington Fairmont. For people travelling from Toronto, we also have a great group airfare if we get a group of 10. But the package is open to anyone, so if you're interested, please email me at toursenlair@victortravel.ca. Booking deadline is December 10.

Monday, October 26, 2009

National Ballet School Assemblée Internationale

An exciting 50th anniversary gathering is being held at Canada's National Ballet School in November, with all of the world's best ballet schools represented. There will be some interesting performances:

Performance Schedule

PROGRAM A – Wednesday November 18, 7:30pm

  1. Canada’s National Ballet School
    Swan Lake, Act I Scene II
    Choreographed by Erik Bruhn

    Intermission
  2. Royal Danish Ballet School
    Napoli, Pas de Six
    Choreographed by August Bournonville
  3. San Francisco Ballet School
    Haffner Symphony
    Choreographed by Helgi Tomasson
  4. Palucca Schule Dresden
    Testbild Engerlinge
    Choreographed by Anke Glasgow
  5. Royal Conservatory (The Hague)
    Falling Angels
    Choreographed by Jiri Kylian

    Intermission
  6. National Ballet Academy (Amsterdam)
    For a Close Friend
    Choreographed by Jan Linkens
  7. Hamburg Ballet School
    Vaslaw
    Choreographed by John Neumeier
  8. Rotterdam Dance Academy
    Blue Dance duet
    Choreographed by Ton Simons

    TOTAL RUNNING TIME with intermissions – 2hrs 36min

PROGRAM B – Thursday November 19, 7:30pm

  1. Royal Ballet School (London)
    Untitled
    Choreographed by Liam Scarlett
  2. Canada’s National Ballet School
    Swan Lake, Pas de Deux
    Choreographed by Erik Bruhn
  3. Royal Winnipeg Ballet School
    Pas de Quatre
    Choreographed by David Moroni

    Intermission
  4. Paris Opera Ballet School
    Suite de danses
    Choreographed by Yvan Clustine
  5. National Ballet School of Cuba
    Ballet Majisimo
    Choreographed by Jorge Garcia

    Intermission
  6. San Francisco Ballet School
    Fractals, Parish Maynard Adagio & Male V
    Choreographed by Parish Maynard
  7. John Cranko School (Stuttgart)
    In and Out
    Choreographed by Hans van Manen
  8. Rotterdam Dance Academy
    Once A Tango
    Choreographed by Neel Verdoorn

    TOTAL RUNNING TIME with intermissions – 2hrs 36min

Student CHOREOGRAPHIES – Friday November 20, 7:30pm & Saturday November 21, 2:30pm

  1. Hamburg Ballet School – Words Unsaid, choreographed by Sasha Riva
  2. Paris Opera Ballet School – A Corps, Essence, choreographed by Florent Melac
  3. Royal Danish Ballet School – Elements, choreographed by Viktoria Falck-Schmidt & Ida Praetorius
  4. Canada’s National Ballet School – a currently untitled work, choreographed by Sara Coffield
  5. National Ballet School of Cuba – Danzon Barocco, choreographed by Denia Luisa Suárez Leyva
  6. John Cranko School (Stuttgart) – Hidden Fears, choreographed by Alessandra Spada

    Intermission
  7. Royal Ballet School – Brush Strokes, choreographed by William Bracewell
  8. Partner schools without student choreographers – Improvisation AI09, directed by NBS' Shaun Amyot
  9. San Francisco Ballet School – Time Piece, choreographed by Myles Thatcher
  10. Canada’s National Ballet School – Elegy for a Round World, choreographed by Helen Clare Kinney
  11. Royal Winnipeg Ballet School – The Sea Within Us, choreographed by Alex Lantz
  12. Canada’s National Ballet School – Surge, choreographed by Rob Binet
For more info: http://www.nbs-enb.ca/50th/ai09.aspx#performances

Stars of Cuban National Ballet

I'm trying to put together a group to see Stars of Cuban National Ballet at the Living Arts Centre in MIssissauga on Tuesday, December 8. According to the website, program includes In the Shadows of a Waltz, choreography by Alicia Alonso on a waltz by Strauss, Principal Dancers and the Cuban National Ballet corps de ballet; Dolls, Cuban music on the story of a Cuban doll and a toy soldier; The Nutcracker, pas de deux; Acentos, five male dancers, very technical interpretation; Pas de trois, from Swan Lake, 1st act; Intermittencies of the Heart, romantic and dramatic duo; Don Quixote (suite), Toreadors, Majas, Espada,Mercedes, Kitri and Basilio in the Grand pas de deux. I'm not quite sure what "very technical interpretation" means!
http://www.livingartscentre.ca/event_calendar/listing.php
http://www.balletcuba.cult.cu/paginas/presentaciones.html

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kirov and Bolshoi in Washington

I'm very excited about how the trip to see the Kirov (Maryinsky) and Bolshoi in Washington DC from February 13-17 is coming together. What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see both of these companies within the space of a few days, without having to trek to Russia. And they're both performing their signature ballets, Sleeping Beauty and Spartacus. Should be fun! Finalized details will be available next week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tours en l'Air on Classical 96.3 FM in Toronto

Jean Stilwell will be interviewing me about the planned ballet trips for 2010 on Classical 96.3 FM on October 1 at 810 am.

Mao's Last Dancer

I saw the opening of Bruce Beresford's film Mao's Last Dancer at the Toronto International Film Festival last night. Beresford was in attendance for a Q&A, as were several of the actors including Chi Cao of Birmingham Royal Ballet who starred as Li Cunxin in the title role. The film was received enthusiastically by the sellout crowd, who became instant fans of Chi Cao's when they saw his virtuosity in a dazzling Don Quixote pas de deux. Other choreography in the film was by Australian Graeme Murphy, including an unusual Swan Lake.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Cyrano

A hot tip for anyone visiting the UK this fall: BRB's Cyrano is a must-see ballet. David Bintley masterfully translates the play into dance, creating a ballet that makes you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Lovely music by Carl Davis, sumptuous costumes, beautiful pas de deux and solos, great macho leaping about for the male corps, this is the best new story ballet I have seen in years. If you get a chance to see Robert Parker in the title role, GO FOR IT. Here are the dates; for more info visit www.brb.org.uk.

Birmingham Hippodrome
30 September - 3 October 2009

Belfast Grand Opera House
13 - 17 October 2009

Plymouth Theatre Royal
22 - 24 October 2009

Sunderland Empire Theatre (near Newcastle)
6 - 7 November 2009

Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
12 - 14 November 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Quanz ballet

On Friday September 4 I had the privilege of seeing a run-through of a new ballet by Peter Quanz set to Steve Reich's Double Sextet, created on dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet for a commission by the Works & Process series at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (premiering Friday September 11 with 2 more performances on September 12). For an interesting archive of the creation of this piece, visit peterquanz.com.
The ballet is very high-energy, reflecting the driving rhythms of the music. Principal dancer Vanessa Lawson was a standout, with focus, commitment, and incredible strength and speed making clean work of the limit-pushing choreography.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My review of the Stuttgart Ballet's 60th Birthday gala for Reid Anderson

Former dancers strapped on pointe shoes they hadn't worn for years. Audience favourites, unbeknownst to Reid Anderson, flew in from as far away as Chile and Australia to perform. Choreographers nurtured by the company (Kylián, Neumeier, Forsythe, Bigonzetti) were represented. The Stuttgart Ballet knows how to throw a party, and for this gala, billed as Anderson's "Surprise 60th birthday party", they outdid themselves. For almost a year, Stuttgart's dancers and choreographers had been creating and rehearsing in their lunch hours and evenings, if need be stopping on a dime to disguise what they were doing if Anderson walked by. And, from the moment the irrepressible Márcia Haydée broke into an impersonation of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday, the surprises never stopped coming, for without a printed program, only surtitles announced the work and the performers before each of the 20 pieces started, a circumstance that certainly added to the audience's excitement and anticipation.

Resident Choreographer Christian Spuck's knack for creating entertaining gala pieces alongside his more serious works was once again confirmed by his goofy Ständchen ("Serenade", definitely not to be confused with George Balanchine's work of the same name) in which the bumbling trio of Stefan Stewart, Roland Havlica, and Alexander Zaitsev, outfitted in metal conical birthday hats and bedevilled by coughs, sneezes and many other bodily noises, endeavoured to get their act together so as to sing "Happy Birthday". Another favourite Spuck gala piece, the spoof classical Grand Pas de Deux, brought former principal Julia Krämer out of retirement and reunited her with Jason Reilly, a red handbag, and a stuffed cow.

Reilly, due to join the National Ballet of Canada in the fall of 2009, was much in evidence, replacing an injured Evan McKie at short notice in company principal Douglas Lee's creation Fanfare LX, which exploited Alicia Amatriain's more than 180-degree extensions and plastic fluidity to the full. In Legende, a pas de deux perfectly suited to the beautifully lyrical Sue Jin Kang, Cranko's trademark high lifts, executed one-handedly and apparently effortlessly by Reilly, brought spontaneous gasps and applause from the audience.

Kang was reunited with Robert Tewsley in the exquisite white pas de deux from John Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias, danced with the tenderness, passion, elegance, and musicality that made theirs such a special partnership while Tewsley, now a freelancer, was in Stuttgart.

In contrast, a recurring theme was lust on a couch. In Itzik Galili's The Sofa, former company dancer Eric Gauthier, now director of his own Stuttgart-based company, is at first the would-be seducer of Lisa May and then has the tables (or in this case the sofa) turned on him as he is stalked by the hilariously camp William Moragas. Hans van Manen's equally funny but somewhat more bittersweet take on the theme, Sunday, saw Haydée, as an ageing housewife with curlers, down-at-heel slippers and knitting (but still proving by the mere arch of an eyebrow what a consummate dance actress she is), rejecting the advances of another Stuttgart Ballet legend, Egon Madsen, in pyjama bottoms and an undershirt. The fact that Haydée and Madsen had created the roles danced in the immediately preceding number by Kang and Tewsley only added to the poignancy.

Fun, beauty, emotion, lyricism, explosive energy, creative new choreography, a wealth of talented dancers too numerous to mention, a charming défilé by the students of the John Cranko School culminating in a cleverly choreographed representation of the letters HAPPY BIRTHDAY REID. Proof positive that Reid Anderson has been keeping the spirit as well as the repertoire of John Cranko alive. By the end of the almost 5-hour long evening, the Stuttgart audience, whose extraordinary appreciation and support for their beloved company should not be overlooked as part of the Stuttgart miracle, felt like children who had gorged themselves on a friend's birthday cake.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ballet Films at the Toronto International Film Festival

TIFF is offering two films this September of interest to ballet fans: Mao's Last Dancer, starring Birmingham Royal Ballet principal Chi Cao in the title role, and a documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet.

Metro Movement Dance Studio

Today I took a ballet class taught by Stelio Calagias at Metro Movement Dance Studio in Toronto. It was a fun class, with a very supportive atmosphere created by both Stelio and the other students. I'll be back as a regular. If you're looking for a drop-in intermediate level ballet class for adults in Toronto, I recommend it, and it's very conveniently located about a minute's walk from Broadview subway station. Ballet classes are 1030-1200 on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kobayashi Ballet The Invitation

Last night I saw Noriko Kobayashi Ballet Theatre perform their "English" mixed program.

Noriko Kobayashi Ballet Theatre, a small but ambitious Tokyo-based company founded in 1973, specializes in performing the 20th-century repertoire of the Royal Ballet, keeping alive many masterpieces of the Ashton, MacMillan and de Valois repertoire rarely seen elsewhere. Their mixed program performed August 19 and 20 in Tokyo was no exception. "Mixed" was the word, as the combination of Ashton's frothy display of classical virtuosity from 1933, Les Rendezvous, with MacMillan's dark and tormented The Invitation, followed by his fun-filled Elite Syncopations, made for a very varied night.

Female principal Ayako Ono's lovely lightness and joyousness, with plenty of Ashtonian épaulement and beautiful arms, were the highlight of Les Rendezvous, a typically charming Ashton work in which "Walkers Out" meet in a park and dance. Unfortunately, her partner, Makoto Nakamura, performed somewhat mechanically and without much elegance or musicality. Indeed, the male dancers, many of them borrowed from Tokyo's New National Theatre, were the weakest part of the company; there was a notable lack of pointed feet in jumps. Auber's music, at times a little bombastic, was nonetheless dancy. The costumes, to the original design by William Chappell, white romantic tutus for the women edged with pink, were suitably charming, although the pink-ribbon headdresses looked unfortunately like gift bows taped to their heads.

Elite Syncopations, which usually has western audiences in fits of laughter, fell a little flat. The requisite charisma and pizzazz are perhaps qualities that do not come so easily to Japanese-trained dancers. The Calliope Rag solo performed by Kizuna Takahata, which needs a lot of sexpot glamour to come across the footlights, was simply perky. Undermined from the start by the fact that both dancers were the same height, the pas de deux for the tall girl and short boy (Ikuko Kusumoto and Atsushi Sasaki) failed to elicit even so much as a ripple of laughter from the audience on opening night. The second cast (Yuki Ohmori and Akimitsu Yahata) were much more successful at capturing the comedy of this pas de deux.

Ripples of laughter were the last thing on anyone's mind during The Invitation, a one-act story ballet depicting the loss of an Edwardian-era teenage girl's innocence when she is raped by an older man visiting her family. This ballet is a little like a Mayerling in embryo, and, watching the story inexorably unfold, the audience feels the same sensation of impending horror. The whole cast acquitted themselves well with finely delineated characters. As the girl, a part created by Lynn Seymour, Akiko Shimazoe was excellent. A particularly moving moment was when she tottered on not-fully-pointed pointe after being raped. As The Husband, guest artist Robert Tewsley displayed compelling stage presence and dramatic intensity. Convincingly remorseful after the rape, he nonetheless quickly collected himself to walk off arm in arm with his wife as if nothing had happened.

Ms. Kobayashi is to be commended for presenting such an audience-challenging program, especially a mere week after Japanese balletomanes had sated themselves on several weeks of classical warhorses and international guest stars in the World Ballet Festival.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A boon for ballet fans in Tokyo

I am in Tokyo for two performances of a mixed program by Noriko Kobayashi Ballet: MacMillan's The Invitation and Elite Syncopations, and Ashton's Les Rendezvous. A very British program and I am looking forward to opening night tonight.
Meanwhile my Japanese friend introduced me to a great resource at the Library of the New National Theatre. They have a fantastic video archive of their performances which you can search by title of the ballet, date of the performance, or other key words (in Japanese, I'm not sure if it works in English). We spent a fun afternoon watching Asami Maki's Lady of the Camellias, which has some beautiful pas de deux and solos for Armand, and lovely costumes, but doesn't have the same dramatic impact as Neumeier's take on the same theme. Partly I think this was because the music chosen wasn't as intensely romantic as the Chopin that Neumeier uses to such effect. Also on our program were Raymonda, which unfortunately just seems to be an irremediably silly ballet, and Roland Petit's Die Fledermaus.
If you visit Tokyo, be sure to visit the New National Theatre (at Hatsudai station on the Keio new train line). It is also a beautiful building making remarkable use of wood and stone in an elegant Japanese way.