Showing posts sorted by relevance for query ballet. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query ballet. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Firebird / A Month in the Country / Symphony in C, Royal Opera House | Review

The Firebird / A Month in the Country / Symphony in C
Royal Opera House
Reviewed onTuesday 4th June 2019 by Olivia Mitchell 

The Royal Ballet are wrapping their summer season up with a trio of delightful works by three of the greatest choreographers. Together they form a night entertainment that is full of surprise, and more importantly variety. The versatility of ballet is showcased, as are the spectacular dancers who fizzle with precision and energy at once.

The proceedings open with The Firebird which is strange but feisty. Combining Russian folklore with Stravinsky's score and classical ballet, the result is a crackling piece of theatre which is exciting and superbly easy on the eyes. The Firebird herself, Yasmine Naghdi really does flame across the stage as she vanquishes the sorcerer and creates moments of magic. Naghdi is nail bitingly sharp in every step and her technical precision screams out. Alongside her musicality, gentleness and stage presence, her interpretation is powerful and inviting.

Christina Arestis is beautiful and graceful as the Tsarevna; and alongside Edward Watson's persistent Tsarevich the pair make a lasting statement. Gary Avis is suitably gnarled as Kostcheï and brings both humour and menace to the theatrical character. 

The Royal Ballet staple, A Month in the Country is the stand out of the trio, proving what a masterful choreographer Frederick Ashton was. Marianela Nuñez is divinely light as precise as Natalia who truly is The Nutcracker's Clara, all grown up. Her delightful performance and flirtations throughout the piece are marvellous to watch and the grace she moves with is truly mesmerising. 

Matthew Ball is handsome and powerful as Beliaev the tutor who has the ladies of the house fawning after his. The pax de deux's Ball dances with both Francesca Hayward and Romany Pajdak are impeccably strong and emotive.  

Chopin's sumptuous melodies also add to the enthralling nature of this piece and one can't help but find themselves wrapped up in the sweetness and warmth of it all. 

The final treat of the series is Balanchine's Symphony in C which rattles along to close the programme on a high. Anthony Dowell's simplistic backdrop perfectly highlights the magic of ballet, with the dazzling white tutus creating a striking and magnificent contrast to the blue screen behind them. Each dance, both solo and in the corps de ballet gave stellar performances. Special mention must go to Fumi Kaneko who stepped in at the last minute to give an enchanting performance.

Together, these works create a triple bill that is a swoon worthy, explosion of exuberant dance. 

photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Nutcracker (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

The Nutcracker (UK Tour)
New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed on Thursday 29th November 2018 by Olivia Mitchell 

As the festive season steps up a gear, it seems only fitting that The Nutcracker should be required viewing, and the Northern Ballet's current production provides festivity and magic in abundance. David Nixon's choreography and a sublimely talented cast make this an enchanting show, which exudes youth and generates a true feel-good factor. 

The Northern Ballet Sinfonia lead the show musically with control and effectiveness. Showing off Tchaikovsky's stunning score, they are led fearlessly and faultlessly by Brett Morris.

Other than the dancing, this is a visually stunning show thanks to Charles Cusick Smith's inventive and luxurious set which not only frames the choreography but adds another level of intricacy and interest. Act III's Garden of Delights is especially mesmerising thanks to the beautiful tones of burgundy, gold, peach and green which are woven into both the set and costumes (David Nixon). The Russian Cossacks, French Ballet Dancers and Arabian Princesses are all incredibly unique in design but work cohesively to create a strong flow throughout. 

Despite these intricacies, the more simplistic moments are also incredibly moving, such as the Pas De Deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) and Cavalier (Kevin Poeung) which despite being surrounded by opulence, is purely focussed on the faultless ballet. 

Ommaira Kanga Perez's beaming smile and innocent attitude is perfect for the young Clara who is overwhelmed by a world of magic and sparkle, just like the audience watching her.  Literally brought to life by glitter, our Prince, Riku Ito is outstanding. Mention also goes to Harris Beattie and Natalia Kerner who caught the eye from the start, Mlindi Kulashi who is suitably mystical and attractive as Drosselmeyer and the Mouse King (Lorenzo Trossello) who gave a fully humourous performance, including flossing which brought the piece right up to date.

The Northern Ballet's production of The Nutcracker is a real treat of a show that has magic and enchantment that will keep both adults and children entertained and enthralled.

The Nutcracker runs at the New Victoria Theatre until December 1st before continuing it's tour.

photo credit: Emma Kauldhar

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Keep Up Your Craft in Lockdown | Online Theatre Classes

We may be confined to our homes but thankfully the theatre community are coming together to create an abundance of online resources and classes to keep us entertained, fit and ready for our return to the real world... whenever that may be.

I've complied a list of some of these classes and activities which may peak your interest…

Musical Theatre

West End Bootcamp are providing Monday masterclasses at 7pm. These include choreographed routines, vocal classes performing arts masterclasses. Classes are £7.50 for 75 minutes and can be booked by emailing (Insta: @westendbootcamp)

Pros From The Shows, directed by Layton Williams, are giving daily 30 minute workshops with 15 minute Q&As at the end. The workshops are run on a pay-what-you-can basis and have so far featured Marisha Wallace, Lucie Jones, Liam Mower and many more. To book, email (Insta: @prosfromtheshows)

London Singer Studio have free classes at 11am each day, focussing on all aspects of singing and vocal health. (Insta: @londonsingerstudio)

Kreate Academy are providing dance classes, challenges, live q and a’s and so much more. All their classes are free and there’s a whole variety to choose from. (Insta: @kreateacademyofperformingarts)

The Sing Space have a mixture of paid and free regular classes with industry professionals. These include breathing workshops and West End Fit classes. They also have free daily singing warm ups with West End vocal coach, Rachel Lynes, each morning at 10.30. Many of the classes take place on Zoom or Facebook at The Sing Space Singer’s Hub (Insta: @thesingspace)

MT Livestreamers is a group of musical theatre students who are teaching a variety of Instagram live classes, from tap to relaxation, MT and Bollywood. (Insta: @mt_livestreamers)

Live Stream Arts Fitness are providing a vast timetable of fitness and MT classes which are all free. Most take place on Instagram live, with some on YouTube, Facebook and Zoom. (Insta: @livestreamartsfitness)

Lockdown Live London hosts a daily 6pm workout with a West End star; these have include the Queens of Six, Kelly Mathieson, Sarah O Connor and Jonathan Bailey. They take place on instagram live and stay up for 24 hours. (@lockdownlivelondon)

Broadway Weekends at Home is a hub for all things MT and all the classes are free. All classes are taught by Broadway and West End Performers and there are ones for all ages. (Facebook: Broadway Weekends at Home)


Magnetic Movement are offering a whole timetable of weekly classes from industry professionals. From beginners tap to pilates and advanced jazz there's something for everyone. The classes take part live on Facebook and Instagram and there are also tutorials on the Instagram page. (Insta: @mageneticmovement_1)

LaDuca Shoes have a host of classes and Q&As, including musical theatre jazz, contemporary and ballet. (Insta: @laducashoesuk)

Sharpe Academy have daily instagram live routines, fitness classes and audition workshops with industry professionals. These have included a Six routine with Vicki Manser and a ballet barre masterclass with Bradley Shelver. (Insta: @sharpeacademy)

MXM have dance classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night and some children’s morning classes. They are 1 hour technique and routine classes which take place on instagram. (Insta: @mxmasterclass)

CLI Studios have regular live class events with renowned choreographers. Most classes are Intermediate/Advanced and are mainly Hip-Hop and contemporary. For any fans of The Ellen Show, this Sunday (19th) features a class with Twitch! (Insta: @clistudios)

Debbie Allen (Fame, Greys Anatomy) is holding weekly dance classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays (Insta: @therealdebbieallen) as well as offering Zoom classes through her dance academy, more information is available on

Capezio are offering a big timetable of instagram classes, with Body Conditioning, Locking and Tapping and Commercial just some of what’s available. (Insta: @capezio)

Ballet Specific

Tierney Heap is a current member of the Royal Ballet and a Bloch influencer, she is holding Instagram live classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10.30. (Insta: @tierneyheap)

Sander Blommaert is a former Royal Ballet dancer and is holding classes at 11am each morning on Instagram live. (Insta: @sanderblommaert)

Charise Logan (Renouf) is running barre focussed classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 10.30. (Insta: @charise_renouf_)

Sarah Du-Feu is running a whopping 18 Instagram live classes a week suitable for all ages with a mixture of basic and intermediate classes. (Insta: @theballetcoach)

Russian Pointe Brand are running classes for all levels on their instagram, including flexibility and pilates classes. (Insta: @russianpointebrand)


Beyond the Boards is a new theatre podcast which is holding weekly Q&As with performers about their advice for thriving and surviving during lockdown. Previous guests have included Arun Blair-Mangat, Richard Carson and Genesis Lynea. (Insta: @beyondtheboardspod)

SingEasy have launched the SingEasy Diaries where they chats to special guests each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8pm. Guests include Jodie Steele, Amy Hart and Jai McDowall. (Insta: @singeasywestend)

London Theatre Direct are hosting Q&As, takeovers, bake-alongs and more, with stars of the West End in their Stagey Lockdown. (Instagram: @londontheatredirect)

The Showbiz Clinic run by dancer and choreographer Xena Gusthart is currently doing a series called Pivot Through a Pandemic which is £5 a session and takes place Monday's at 10am. There are also free one to one's available as well as live instagram Q&As. (Insta: @theshowbizclinic)

Stage One have begun a series on online webinars with industry professionals. They take place on Zoom and participants have the chance to ask questions as well as hear stories and advice. (Insta: @stageonenewprod)

There are so many more classes than this but these are just some of the ones on my radar. If you know of anymore, please let me know and I’ll keep this list as updated and comprehensive as possible.

Stay safe and stay stagey!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Manon, Royal Opera House | Review

Royal Opera House
Reviewed on Wednesday 2nd October 2019 by Olivia Mitchell

The Royal Ballet's new season opens with Manon, Kenneth MacMillan's tale of doomed love and sexual exploitation. It's a ballet that puts the greed and debauchery of the 18th-century world at it's forefront whilst highlighting the company's skill at storytelling.

Formed in 1974, Manon remains one of the company's most popular works, with the title role a dream to play for many dancers. The emotional story of the heroine who falls for the young hero whilst being drawn to a life of luxury as a rich man's mistress, is moving and exquisite to see onstage.

Compared to other ballets where the leading female is a fully formed character, in Manon our leading lady is an almost ambiguous presence who floats around the stage engaging in all the action but taking on the forms of varying emotions. Almost embodying the feelings of those around her, she seems to be a passive player in a world dominated by men and money. Massenet's beautifully hypnotic music guides her around the stage and the people surrounding her lead her story.

As the somewhat aloof leading lady, Sarah Lamb is delightful. Despite at times lacking the extremes of passion or sadness, Lamb is consistently fluent and earnest. Lamb's performance as Manon is beautifully danced, highly nuanced in terms of her emotional acting, and overall is pure joy to watch.

The most intoxicating moments are seen when Lamb joins with Vadim Muntagirov as Des Grieux who is resplendent throughout. Equal measures of innocence, vulnerability and passion make every second of his stage time a delight. Together the pair bring light and darkness to the stage in a way which is devastating and stunning all at once. Melting together is moments of pure bliss and bouncing away from one another in playful affection, the two dancers really do seem like a match made in ballet heaven.

As Manon's charismatic, pimping brother Lescaut, Ryoichi Hirano excels. His drunken dance is choreographed madness as he swirls round the stage in an alcohol induced wobble, but retains poise and grace throughout. His comedic timing is second to none as is the underlying current of threat which he imbues into each moment. In the role of his mistress, Itziar Mendizabal is bold and sultry as always. Her emotional performance is striking and she really gives some of the stand out moments of the night.

This is an excellent opening to the season, filled with sharp, clean and fresh dancing which invites the audience to bask in the emotion and drama unfurling in front of them. An ideal first-time-ballet this is a must-see as well as a must-hear thanks to Martin Yates' sumptuous re-orchestrations.

photo credit: Alice Pennefather

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Little Mermaid (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

The Little Mermaid 
New Victoria Theatre 
Reviewed on Tuesday 21st November 2017 by Melanie Mitchell 

Being a ballet novice, having only seen 2 before, I was a little unsure what to expect from this production. I have to say, that in my humble opinion, The Little Mermaid is a masterful adaptation, especially as the idea to create a completely new ballet was only borne in September 2016. David Nixon and his team have produced a stunning piece of work in only 13 months. 

Most of us know the story of The Little Mermaid from the now famous Disney film and show, however those of us, perhaps a bit older will remember the much darker and sinister tale by Hans Christian Anderson. This is the tale on which the production is based. 

After seeing the picture of a handsome young prince in a locket, Marilla a young mermaid falls in love. On rescuing the prince from a shipwreck she longs to be with him and sacrifices her beautiful voice in exchange for human life. Although she is able to walk, every step causes her unimaginable pain, yet she is unable to cry. The principle dancer made this feeling so palpable with her agonised movement and silent screams. 

Disorientated the prince awakens and mistakes a passing girl for the owner of the beautiful voice he had previously heard, the mermaid is now unable to tell him that it was her, shattering her dreams and aspirations. This production doesn’t have the happy ever after of the Disney story and is true to the Hans Christian Anderson original with its moral core. 

The staging and costumes are stunning, with the colours and fabrics perfectly reflecting the magical dwellers of the sea and the hard solid land. Absolutely transporting the audience to the ethereal reflective underwater world. 

The dancers especially the principles and soloists are magnificent, moving with absolute grace and ease. The strength of the male dancers is incredible with the females looking absolutely weightless as if under the waves at times. I wondered how it would be possible to give the impression of the graceful movements of the mermaids. This has certainly been achieved and it is truly mesmerising. 

The music, an original score composed by Sally Beamish is hauntingly beautiful throughout, perfectly suiting and setting the tone and mood to every scene. It is played wonderfully by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, with John Pryce-Jones as its musical director. 

This World Premiere production makes for a truly magical evening at the theatre. If you are already a lover of the ballet, a newcomer as I am, or have never seen one, then I urge you to see it if you can and be immersed into the mystical, magical underwater world.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A Stagey Guide To Singing... Josefina Gabrielle | Chicago | Stagey Sunday

Welcome back to Stagey Sunday! I hope you're all well and not too saddened by the football... although if you're reading this, the chances are that you were at the theatre instead of in front of a TV! Anyway, this weeks guide to singing is brought to you by the female lead of Chicago the musical, Josefina Gabrielle who plays Velma. Josefina started her career as a dancer before transitioning into the world of singing so it's really interesting to hear how she built up her voice and stamina to be able to perform such a demanding role...

Can you tell me a bit about your vocal journey? 
Well I went to a theatre school, Arts Educational school, from about the age of 10 so we had an all round performing arts education. It incorporated singing, ballet, jazz, modern, tap, drama, you name it! So I had that in my life for as long as I can remember. 

Then I specialised in Classical ballet, so I danced only for quite a few years and, I worked abroad. When I came home to London after about 8 years, I joined Carousel the musical which was being done at the National Theatre. They needed strong ballet dancers so there was this perfect break from one world into the next so then I was surrounded by singing again and kind of got back on the saddle with that. 

I had been a soprano and hadn’t really experimented with the musical theatre sound, mixing or belting or anything like that so I learnt a lot about that during my time at Carousel. I learnt a lot about different voice types as I joined different companies and slowly developed a belt voice which was quite daunting at first because it’s quite muscular, you know you can push the wrong way and make yourself hoarse. So that was quite an interesting journey and I think having a typical dancer mentality I pushed it quite a lot which made it strong but compromised it’s flexibility. So that’s been my journey into different sounds! 

I went to a singing teacher for a little while who gave me all the knowledge on how to belt but it felt painful, so I shied away from it. But as I came to acquire, note by note slowly, I was able to process what she’d told me to do. But at the time it felt scary. It’s like doing push-ups! Twang and tilt are also an important part of that- I’ve learnt all the terms along the way! 

Was there anyone or anything that got you into music in the first place? 
I’ve always enjoyed music, my primary school before I went to ArtsEd- my mum has since told me cause you don’t think about these things as a child- focussed a lot on the arts so we did have a lot of musical appreciation. I remember playing all the percussion stuff and recorder and clarinet and things. So I’d already started that journey at my primary school so I think it's always been a part of my life. 

And then in the classical ballet world you dance to so much music. I feel like I’ve got quite a nice, wide variety of music that I appreciate and it’s quite wonderful to identify and recognise composers easily because I’ve acquired it as opposed to studied it. Rodgers and Hammerstein are a musical duo that I absolutely adore and Stephen Sondheim as well because there’s so much research and such an education while you're performing and learning the subjects and your journey. It's fascinating. And the structure of the way they write just does it for you really. 

I think maybe because I’ve come through dance, I’ve been a little gung-ho with my singing and sometimes I've not thought “well this is as good as it gets”; I've dared to be a bit rough on my voice and sort of thought, well, I’ll just face the consequences… I don't find that pure singing comes easily to me so I focus very much on telling the story through song and that seems to find my voice; so there’s always the thing of juggling the X and the Y, the technique and the emotion and I think I focus more on the emotion and hope the technique will follow! 

Josefina Gabrielle and Hugh Jackman as Laurey and Curly in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel

You've had a long career with Chicago now so you must know a lot of it like the back of your hand but are there any moments you still find hard or have to put extra focus on? 
I do find every every show that I do, I play my voice in, I’m not a person that can just pick something up and sing it beautifully. I need to almost dig a trench in my voice so once it’s played in I can do it. I’ve found that if I just treat it with respect but don’t get too fixated on it, it will find it’s way. I find a lot of that is once the breathing becomes choreography, you automatically prepare in the right way and you know when to hold, when to let go and when to not step on the gas. That just comes with repetition. I think that the moment my breathing has sorted out it’s choreography then I’m in safe hands. I also feel that I'm very much a voice that works with a mic. So the mic informs how I’m going to hold back or let go. 

You've recently had Mazz Murray join the cast of Chicago as Mama who your character Velma is very close to; what’s your process like when you work with someone new in terms of figuring out how to blend and balance one another? 
Again that comes with time, we’re early on so we’re still blending. But she's a wonderful musician and has one of my favourite voices. You know you're in fantastic hands and you just you feel and you listen and that’s how you come together, just like any orchestra would really. 

What are your tips for maintaining good vocal health? 
Drink a lot of water, the usual. Sleep, always get a decent amount of sleep. I have to be careful with acid reflux so I try not to eat too late at night. If I do eat too late at night or am feeling full or even just in case, I’m never far from Gaviscon Advance. Until you know about acid reflux, you may not even know you have it; it’s basically where the acid comes up your oesophagus and can sit on your cords and swell them. I didn’t realise but I’d often wake up coughing at night and I now know it’s because of the acid so now I'm very aware of that as it got me a lot of trouble in the past. 

I have an excellent warm up tape from by singing teacher Mark Meylan which I do religiously before every show and even when I'm not working, I’ll try and do that warm up regularly because my singing muscle needs to be looked after regularly. I’m not a person that can just sing, I need warming up well for flexibility. 

Who would your dream duet partner be? 
I’ve never really though about that! Well I just had the most amazing time singing with Ruthie Henshall; that felt wonderfully organic and I enjoyed it enormously. I'm now having a wonderful time working with Mazz and we're on a new journey. I even put this in Mazz Murray’s card on opening night that I have a laminated wish list of leading ladies I'd like to work with and two of them have come along at once! 

Could you tell me your top piece of advice for aspiring performers in terms of finding and maintaining their voice? 
Well I’ve kind of already blended those answers into my others but I’d say, don’t get upset because the emotions really affect your voice, they’re both in the same place so it can hinder performance. Breathing is terribly important and don’t push something they doesn’t want to go there- coax it gently and it will come!

A huge thank you to Josefina for taking the time to give her stories and advice on singing. You can catch her in Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre until 5th January 2019.

See you next Sunday for the final instalment of our singing guides!

Friday, 15 February 2019

The Cunning Little Vixen/The Two Pigeons, Royal Opera House | Review

The Cunning Little Vixen/The Two Pigeons
Royal Opera House
Reviewed on Thursday 14th February 2019 by Olivia Mitchell 

In a charming night of theatre, we see artist-in-residence Liam Scalett's forty minute ballet, The Cunning Little Vixen, for The Royal Ballet School; paired with Frederick Ashton's stylish piece, The Two Pigeons. The two works create a programme that evokes warmth and feels ever so magical.

Scarlett's musicality is evident in The Cunning Little Vixen as he allows Leoš Janáček's score (arranged by Peter Breiner) to guide the piece. Scarlett has also made clever use of projection (designed by Finn Ross and Ash J Woodward) in the form of a children's cartoon which embellishes the story and adds a humourous layer, but doesn't detract from the dancers. Instead it works in conjunction with them. As chickens and feathers fly on screen, they also fly on stage and create a frenetic energy amongst the cast. 

The cast of younger and older dancers join together to give a wonderfully gleeful and heartwarming show. The story is nothing groundbreaking but is a vibrant and a perfect introduction to ballet. 

Madison Bailey as Sharp-Ears The Vixen is delightful and mischievous and alongside Liam Boswell as Goldspur The Fox, the pair create some fabulously playful and enjoyable moments. The entire cast of animals are brought to life not just by their animated and spirited performances but by the bright costumes which bring childhood joy to life on stage as well as providing humour and movement on their own. From bumblebees to ladybirds and a frog, each animal is uniquely and clearly characterised and looks wonderful under Les Bone's lighting. Scarlett really has done a wonderful job on this piece.

In The Two Pigeons, the musicality and purity of Ashton's choreography, leads to the focus being solely on the dance and technique. Whilst Jacques Dupont's fantastic costumes bring life and vibrance to the stage, the core of this production is on the ballet itself. The intensely emotional choreographic style is especially moving in the final moments of the piece and the reunion pas de deux we have all been waiting for, is pulled off with delicacy and sincerity and is certainly worth the wait. 

Yuhui Choe as The Young Girl is pretty much perfect in her debut as she performs with desire and a hint of petulance. Alexander Campbell is suitably 'artistic' in his frustrations between the ballerina and the gypsy. Itziar Mendizabal is seductive and calculating and she fights and flirts in equal measure through her strong and impressive dance. 

Featuring moments which feel almost impressionistic as well as purely classical, The Two Pigeons is an entertaining and heartwarming piece. Act one tells most of the story so act two does drag a little as nothing happens to move the plot along but the energy and height with which the dancers perform, helps to keep the audience invested and enthralled. 

This is a perfect programme for a whimsical but beautifully performed evening out and is a wonderful opportunity for current students to experience the professional world. 

photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (UK Tour), New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (UK Tour)
New Wimbledon Theatre
Reviewed on Tuesday 16th April 2019 by Olivia Mitchell 

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake premiered in 1995 and has since received critical and audience acclaim. Bourne's Swan Lake which replaces the female swans with an ensemble of skilled, menacing men, is one of the most groundbreaking ballet retellings and remains fresh and innovative today.

In typically Bourne fashion, the storyline is dark but with many injections of humour and fine attention to detail (the adorable Corgi which crosses the stage is just one example). The set is extravagant and luxurious enough to make you forget you're watching a touring production. Equally, Lez Brotherston has done an outstanding job with the delicately designed costumes which conjure up the atmosphere of each scene and setting wonderfully. Particularly impressive are the glamorous ballroom scenes where everything sparkles and shines; and the sinister hospital scene where masks bring a nightmarish world to life against stark white.

The entirety of this ballet is fantastically nuanced, with every emotion interpreted perfectly. The balance between dance, comedy and drama is exquisite and there are often so many brilliant things happening at once that you don't know where to look. This production is truly a feast for the eyes.

Tchaikovsky's score also provides a feast for the ears. The Swan Lake Orchestra's lush, virtuosic recording shines and soars exactly as one would wish. The recognisable music, accompanied by masculine dance has the audience transfixed from open to close. 

Max Westwell as The Swan is outstandingly multi-faceted. At times he is menacing as he rears up, but equally calm and regal as he defensively bows down. The contrast is amazing to watch as is the way the Price (Dominic North) complements him. The pair are both strong and delicate as they create a thrilling union on stage.

Nicole Kabera is suitably regal as the queen, with Freya Field a complete contrast, constantly stepping on toes and causing laughs as the Girlfriend. Both ladies are highlights of the production.

Swan Lake is a sumptuous production full of glorious moments which you'd be hard pressed not to revel in. A powerful, intricately choreographed and danced show, this is a must see for ballet regulars and newbies alike. 

Swan Lake runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre until April 20th, before continuing its tour.

photo credit: Johan Persson

Friday, 6 March 2020

Swan Lake, Royal Opera House | Review

Swan Lake
Royal Opera House
Reviewed on Thursday 5th March 2020 by Olivia Mitchell 

Liam Scarlett's Swan Lake is impressively grand, impeccably danced and a joy to experience. From a dark, misty lakeside to a glittering palace, this is a ballet that balances storytelling and spectacle perfectly. The entire company dance exquisitely, with Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov completely shining in the lead roles.

With John Macfarlane's lush designs, this is a highly confident production which keeps pace throughout and allows the dancing to shine. Based in the 1890s the sets and costumes are sumptuous and evocative. Even the park outside the palace gates feels magical. The more abstract lake is ragged and bleak but provides a perfect, (almost) blank canvas to showcase the many swans. The palace is astounding, with a sweeping staircase, marble walls, golden decoration and a crimson curtain. It's a gasp worthy set that really does stun. Macfarlane's costumes are structured but wonderfully airy. The white tutu's of the swans are delicate and almost snow-like as they pepper the stage. Alongside them, David Finn's lighting keeps everything gleaming and makes sure not a step is missed by the enraptured audience.

Scarlett has kept Petipa and Ivanov's original choreography as well as seamlessly adding his own sequences. The new Act One Waltz is divine, with Marcelino Sambé's Benno bringing excellent lighthearted and sprightly moments. Act Three features a series of national dances, with Itziar Mendizabal's sultry Spanish princess really shining. The newly updated Neapolitan Dance feels modern and uplifting thanks to the addition of tambourines which are deftly used.

The Act Four pas de deux is one of the most magical ballet moments I have ever witnessed. The gentleness with which Siegfried and Odette interact is mesmirising and crushing to watch; and the almost broken choreography from Odette is immensely effective and makes the lack of reunion at the end even more devastating.

Nuñez's dancing is as floaty and measured as you could dream of. The control with which every step is taken is a testament to the hours of work which have clearly been put into perfecting her craft. Extremely evident in the seemingly endless series of fouettés which really astound. Even in the seductive Black Swan moments, there is a delicacy to her dancing which draws you in and manages to make the vast Opera House feel intimate. Muntagirov is the prince of dreams as he combines romance and aristocratic grace. His elevations and soft as anything landings are magnificent to watch and his entire performance is a treat.

This is a hugely moving production which must be the definitive version of Swan Lake. The stellar cast and orchestra under the baton of Koen Kessels provide treats for all the senses and a truly magical night out. Everything really is beautiful at the ballet.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Stephanie Billers on starring in Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes

Matthew Bourne's New Adventures company continually wows audiences around the world with their intricate, unique and entertaining ballets. Currently touring the UK after a stint at Sadler's Wells is The Red Shoes. Having previously starred in Swan Lake and Cinderella for New Adventures, we sat down with Stephanie Billers a dancer from the company as she told us all about herself and her roles within the ballet. 

The Red Shoes is a tale of obsession, possession and one girl's dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Victoria Page lives to dance but her ambitions become a battleground between the two men who inspire her passion.

Set to the achingly romantic music of golden-age Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, The Red Shoes is orchestrated by Terry Davis and played by the New Adventures Orchestra, with cinematic designs by Lez Brotherson, lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Groothuis and projection from Duncan McLean.

Watch Stephanie discuss her characters in the ballet and get a sneak peek backstage here

Get to know more about Stephanie and her life outside of dance here

The Red Shoes next plays at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking from 4th-8th March and then continues it's tour around the UK

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

The Red Shoes (UK Tour)
New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed on Tuesday 4th February 2020 by Olivia Mitchell 

Originally a dark fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Red Shoes was adapted for the big screen by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948. It follows a dance company as they tour the world; and the story of two men's obsession with Victoria Page, a dancer who longs to be a star and becomes possessed by her red ballet shoes.

With multiple locations, sometimes indistinguishable characters and intricate meta-narratives, The Red Shoes isn't the easiest of ballets to follow, but Matthew Bourne's production somehow provides a perfect introduction to the art form and takes you on a journey that you don't want to end, as the continuous flow and incredible emotion keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

What really elevates this show is the way the story forms a distinction between creating and performing art. We see the process of the dressers and choreographers bringing a vision to life in a structured and unified way; whilst, the performers are intensely frenzied and intense. These opposites come together to create a beautifully enchanting show. Just like the real world of theatre, what we see on stage is the graceful swan above the water, but what we miss is the underwater kicking of intense rehearsals, quick changes and personal drama. If anything, The Red Shoes is a fantastic reminder and celebration of the hard work, creativity and energy that goes into putting on a great piece of theatre.

Before the show even begins, magic is created thanks to Lez Brotherson's exceptional design. A luxe red curtain drapes the stage and reveals the varying worlds of The Red Shoes. From monochrome moments to full colour clubs and beaches, every moment feel luxurious and perfectly designed. The costumes are timely and tailored to perfection, with a divine attention to detail that is understated enough to be effective, but not in your face. When Victoria first dances in her red ballet shoes, she wears a flawless costume that highlights the red and welcomes her as a prima. During act two however, the mental and physical toils she faces are mirrored through the demise of her costume which is shredded and faded. These details are effective beyond belief and make this whole production feel superior.

Bourne's company are outstanding. Ashley Shaw is of course, technically wonderful as Victoria, but it's her steely drive and intensity to succeed that make her so enjoyable to watch; especially when contrasted so excellently against her compassion and vulnerability. As Victoria's lover/musician/muse, Harrison Dowzell is pure joy to watch. The way he flies around the stage, and shows his love for music with a genuine sense of revelry can't help but bring a smile to your face.

Victoria's dances with both men are incredibly striking and Reece Causton as Boris Lermontov is utterly shocking. His obsessive and sharp but quiet demeanour is terrifying to witness but completely absorbing.  This is a production where you often find yourself holding your breath as it rarely lets you escape from it's magical grip. The end of act one is one of the most spectacularly effective moments in theatre and really should be experienced.

The entire New Adventures company prove once again why they're so revered in this glorious looking and exceptionally assured production. The Red Shoes is a must see tale of passion, envy and tragedy.

The Red Shoes plays at the New Victoria Theatre until 8th March before continuing its tour

Friday, 27 July 2018

In Conversation With... Ian Stroughair aka Velma Celli | Interview

Ian Stroughair aka Velma Celli has the voice of an angel, is as hilarious as they come and truly knows how to put on a show. After seeing Velma Celli's West End Christmas I was completely overwhelmed and have since been following Ian's career (and life) on twitter. His latest venture is Iconic- A History of Drag which will be playing at the Edinburgh fringe...

How did Velma Celli come about?
Well, I have always been a singer much to my siblings annoyance. At age 14 I auditioned for a new musical called ‘Kes’ at The York, Theatre Royal. It was a professional show which needed an ensemble of kids. Much to my surprise I was cast. It was my first time on stage. I joined a Ballet school in York just before my sixteenth birthday. 3 months later my Ballet teacher sent me for an audition for a Theatre School. I got in and started that summer. 

After 2.5 years I was out into the world and working as a singer/dancer/actor. I have appeared in West End and musical productions of Cats, Fame, Chicago, Rent and also appeared on Eastenders as myself…. I know, CAMP!!!!

When I was in Chicago I was asked out for an evening of drinks by the “girls" In La Cage and Priscilla. I bought a dress and some makeup and dragged myself up and out of stage door and met them in Madame Jojo’s. Apparently I ended up on stage belting out some queen and dropping into the splits. I can’t remember this, #gin! When I was leaving the manager asked me back the following week and I have never looked back!

You've had a very varied career, what's your favourite part of performing as Velma and creating your own show?
The freedom. When you are in a West End musical it's very strict. You are directed to give the same show every night and there is little room for your own creativity and interpretation. Velma is mine and she can do whatever she wants. Sing whatever songs she like. It’s very freeing!

You're taking your show, Iconic- A Brief History of Drag to Edinburgh. What can people expect from the show? 
Iconic - A Brief History of Drag is a journey through my most favourite moments in drag history, whether it be music, pop culture, film or theatre it's those Iconic unforgettable drag events that inspired me to do drag and cultivate me into the queen I am now. They can expect to laugh (a lot) cry (a bit) and learn a bit about drag, things that people may not know. The past hero’s. A blooming good night if anything else!

Can you sum up A Brief History of Drag in 5 words?
Heartfelt, funny, camp, belt and emotional 

You have a stunning voice. How do you keep it strong and healthy whilst facing the strains of touring?
Thank you. Lost of water and vocal rest. Healthy food!

If you could go back to any era, when would you go to and why?
I would have to say the 1960’s. I believe I am quite the hippy! 

What's your number one piece of advice for aspiring performers who would like to carve their own, unique career?
WORK HARD. Work harder then repeat. This business is not for the faint hearted. It’s tough at times and the competition is high so armour yourselves with as much knowledge and learn as many skills as possible. Bring something to the party too. The odds of getting cast are extremely slim so I encourage all my students to write their own material and / or shows.

Thank you to the incomparable Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli for your amazing advice and story. Iconic- A Brief History of Drag will be at the Edinburgh Fringe from the 1st-26th August, at Assembly Checkpoint.  

Interview by Editor, Olivia Mitchell

Friday, 24 February 2017

Aida (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed: Wednesday 22nd February 2017 by Melanie Mitchell

Being a relatively inexperienced Opera goer, I wondered how an opera this grand and majestic could be brought to life on the relatively small stage of the New Victoria theatre. My concerns were soon banished. Ellen Kent’s touring production of Aida comes to life with the spectacle, majesty and grandeur the opera was intended for.

The Triumphal March with a cascade of golden confetti and fire is particularly spectacular. One of the main highlights is the appearance of Houdini the Black stallion as the war horse of Radames which was a magical moment to see.

The cast were truly magnificent as was the Orchestra of the National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Moldova, conducted by Vasyl Vasylenko, both playing and singing the extremely difficult score with ease and agility.

All the male performers were strong and powerful, however the Spanish tenor, Giorgi Meladze playing the part of Radames is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, and powerful tenors I have heard. His voice soared effortlessly and the intense emotion of the piece could be heard in every note.

The female leads both gave accomplished and spirited performances. The mezzo-soprano Zarui Vardanean has a beautiful voice and gave a real air of jealousy and malice to the role of Amneris Princess of Egypt.

French Soprano, Olga Perrier as Aida was absolutely amazing, she captivated the audience from the first note and kept them there. Her haunting performance was for me the highlight of the show, full of emotion, passion and vulnerability.

Aida is touring the UK and Ireland until May 10th 2017.

Review written by Melanie Mitchell

Thursday, 12 April 2018

In Conversation With... Rachel Lumberg | The Band | Interview

Rachel Lumberg is an award winning actress who has been in a whole host of shows from The Full Monty to Romeo and Juliet. She's currently starring as Rachel in the UK tour of The Band. She sat down with me to discuss everything about the show! It's a fairly long but super interesting interview so grab a cuppa and settle down...

Have you always wanted to be a performer? Did you have any random childhood ambitions?

I did have random dreams- I wanted to be a nurse! You know so many of us had those dress up nurses outfits when we were little.

I also went into fashion at school when we took our options but it just didn't appeal to me. I'd always loved drama but didn't really know what area to be involved in. So I started the fashion course and it wasn't really working for me so I went to our head of year and said I'd like to do drama, and she let me change. So ever since then ( I would've been 14) I've been doing this.

It was actually the film-maker, John Hughes -who made the likes of Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club- who I was a huge fan of growing up- who got me very interested in film. Then when I changed to the drama option at school and we started going to the theatre a lot I discovered that this is my love.

Could you explain a little about The Band and how your character Rachel fits into it?
Rachel is the driving force in bringing the girls back together again. She is the protagonist of the story really. She opens the show with a memory.. She begins by telling the audience how she grew up with a boy band and then ‘Boom’ we’re immediately transported back to my bedroom, my younger self (played utterly superbly by Faye Christall) and the incredible tunes of a certain boy band of 1993. It’s a double denim feast for your eyes!! 

You then meet all of Rachel’s friends. Each as loyal to each other and to the band as the next one.. They get to see the boys ‘live in concert’ and then on the way home from the gig, tradgedy strikes which changes the girls’ lives dramatically.

Fast forward 25yrs and here we see Rachel again pretty much living the life she dreamt off... or is she? She hasn’t seen her school friends for over 25yrs.. yet she enters and wins a competition to go and see the boys live again on their reunion tour.. is this the time to maybe have a reunion of her own?? Well-you’ll have to come and see the show to find that out.. 

Tim Firth has written a beautiful story of friendship and the love and influences that come with that..add to that the stunning music of Take That and how could you not want to come and see it?  

What attracted you to show? Other than your name, are you and Rachel alike in any way?
I've known Tim [Firth] for a very long time, almost 10 years, as well as David [Pugh] and Dafydd [Rogers], this is my second show with all of them and they're absolutely wonderful.

Rachel and I are alike. Our producers David and Dafydd always said that she's called Rachel for a reason which is incredibly flattering. Rachel has comedy and is very caring and fiercely loyal. Simple things, the love of her family and friends and their happiness are of utmost importance to her.. so there are definitely similarities between her and myself. 

More so I think with lovely Faye [Christall] who plays 16 year old me; it's weird seeing someone play you! We spent a lot of time together watching each other and watching out for the little habits we all have to make sure it seems truthful that we're the same person.

My mum came to see the show on press night and she said "that is her, that's Rachel at that age"... It's quite frightening! So I think both Faye and I are quite similar to each other and to Rachel.

The show focusses on how music influences our lives. Which musicians have inspired you?
I'm a bit of an all-rounder really. I'm one of those people that if I like a song, I like it! I was a fan of Take That, I wasn't necessarily hardened but I was a fan of them. I'm a big fan of Duran Duran, and Spandau Ballet- they were more my era 'cause I'm a little bit older than Rachel.

My huge influence growing up was more 60s because of my mum and dad. It was the likes of Gerry and the Pacemakers, Fats Domino all of that kind of music that my parents had on in the background.

On my wall were actors mainly, not musicians. There was James Dean, of course; it was mainly theatre and film actors that influenced my teenage years. Then when I got older, and absolutely when Take That reformed, I really, really enjoyed their music and I went to see them before I was ever involved in this!

Besides yourself, which actor in the production is going to blow people away?
You know I think most people that come, leave thinking "I was not expecting that" so it's the show that blows people away. A lot of people of course, are expecting the story of Take That but it isn't that, and that is absolutely not what they wanted. This show is a thank you to their fans for 25 years of loyalty. They were trying to find a way to do that, they always wanted Tim [Firth] to do it and they managed to.

The boys are phenomenal. There's always been the "oh they got them off a telly show", but they absolutely blow you away. The young girls are phenomenal, the older women, you know, everybody stands out in this. 

It would be unfair to say one person because it's very much an ensemble piece and we all bring something incredibly special to the table. Lets also not forget our crew who are unbelievable in how they put the show together and we have a live band who are so unbelievable. So it's absolutely a team effort! The work and skill and talent of each cast, crew member, band member and creative departments blows me away.. This is an ensemble piece of theatre. It wouldn’t work without each other.

What have people been saying as they leave the theatre?
What we've found is: "wow","wasn't expecting that", "you've relived my youth for me", "I've laughed, I've cried, I've danced, I've clapped", "I want to see it again". I've never really been in a show where we've had people see it more than once. We've got people on their 14th and 15th time, it's incredible how they come back.

As an actor you play to your crowd but it's also important that the audience listen and I've found that they really listen with this show. You can absolutely hear the listening. Some theatres are a little bit rowdier than others, especially on a Friday and Saturday but it's one of those shows that people are coming out of and booking more tickets straight away. So that's a huge compliment to us. 

Also, the majority of the audience are in their forties because they grew up with Take That but they're bringing their children and their partners and their mums and dads so it's lovely. The other day there was a lady in the grand circle in her seventies who came out of her seat and she had her arms in the air like everybody else and that's exactly what it's about! Older women have also contacted us to say that we're telling their story, we didn't expect that and the contact we've had from them has been incredible and very heartwarming.

I would love to watch our show (with me in) to see and realise truly the effect it has.

If you had a magic wand, which show would you do next?
It would be one that I've already done and left actually, one of Tim's other shows and hopefully timing will let me do it again and that's This Is My FamilyI do still have many roles i’d love to play that remain un-ticked on my bucket list. Some I am now too old to play and therefore will have to remain on the list, and some I’m (surprisingly) still too young to play.. so I live in hope!! 

My casting bracket and skill set allows for  character roles and I adore these. Complex characters that come with comedy and pathos that an audience member can relate wholeheartedly to... more characters similar to Rachel in The Band, I suppose. But above all, I just want to continue to work at the what I simply adore doing, and that is being out there, on stage, for you guys, 8 shows a week, for as long as I can and as long as audiences want to see me... I truly love my job!

If you could travel back to any era, when would you go to and why?
ohhhhh interesting! I would go back... to the 40s and 50s. Mainly for the beautiful costumes! And the incredible music! There's a tv series called A Place to Call Home that's set in the 50s, it's so beautifully designed and the costumes and cars are so fabulous. I'm just like "yes please, I would like that!"

Finally, what’s your best piece of advice for aspiring performers?
Always put money away for tax! Always take a percentage of your salary each week and put it into an account you can't touch and then you won't be hit with anything you're not prepared for!

I wholly believe that if your heart says you want to do it then do it. It's not an easy career, I mean, for me to be in this envious position of having a role written with me in mind to play it, has taken 28 years, so I can only say to anyone: stick at it and always follow your dreams. If you don’t follow them, someone else will!!  

Keep at it, you'll get there; there might be different routes you have to take but don't ever take it personally. When you get a no, just move on, it's rarely personal. It's very rarely to do with your own skill and talent, it's just that you're not right.

But if you have a dream, follow it, do your best and put money aside for tax!

A massive thank you to Rachel for taking the time to do this interview. The Band is country touring round the country, tour dates and ticket information can be found here.

Interview by Editor, Olivia Mitchell

photo credit: Matt Crockett