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 Post subject: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Mon Jul 01, 2002 2:18 pm 
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Joined: Sun Oct 24, 1999 11:01 pm
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Monday July 1st

PNB have already been in town for a couple of days. The production team arrived on Friday and the dancers and other staff members on Saturday morning. The first two days were mainly taken up with sight-seeing and the London Eye has won some more devotees, as well as the more traditional spots like Big Ben and Piccadilly Circus. And of course there is "essential" shopping to be done in Oxford St.

Today the Company moved into gear with class at 2pm and then rehearsals scheduled until 10pm. Tomorrow is the first night of "Silver Lining", with class in the morning and a dress rehearsal in the afternoon. Margot Spellman, the PNB Marketing Manager, told me that she is delighted with Sadler's Wells. When the company was here before, the theatre was not long open and there was still much construction work to be finished off. There was dust everywhere and in general it was an uncomfortable experience for the dancers. I'll never forget the heroism of the Rambert dancers, who were the first in the new theatre, having to rehearse in face masks to try to keep the dust out and with industrial calor gas fan heaters at the side of the stage to take some of the moisture out of the air. Today, one of the PNB dancers said that they were very impressed with the dressing rooms and the conditions backstage generally at Sadler's, which is good to hear.

Margot had a nice story about the innumerable boxes that contain all that the Company needs for the London visit. One of her colleagues came across an unmarked box filled with umbrellas and told Margot that someone had been thoughtful to make provision in case of heavy rain. "Don't you dare touch them," she responded quickly, "They're props for "Silver Lining"!"

Monday was also the day for CriticalDance to interview a few more of the dancers and these will be appearing on the site during the week. Everyone I came into contact with was very affable and two people commented on the family atmosphere within the Company and the supportive ethos which starts at the top with Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, the two Artistic Directors.

Everyone is very sad that Principal, Julie Tobiason, has broken a bone in her foot and is unable to make what would have been her retirement performances. But one dancer told me that Julie, who is very resilient, is getting married soon and was alredy talking about how she is going to decorate the surgical boot that she will still be wearing.

All the PNB dancers are clearly excited to be here and with the chance to show what they can do to London audiences. It promises to be a fine week of dance.

<small>[ 08-11-2002, 07:38: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2002 12:54 pm 
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Tuesday July 2nd

Tonight PNB will open their London season with ‘Silver Lining’ so naturally all of today’s
preparations were geared towards getting ready for ‘curtain up’ time at 7.30pm.
Jet lag or no jet lag class is the one constant in a dancer’s life and so all company members
found themselves squeezed into the Ashton studio at 11am to start their working day.
There did not seem to be a free space on any of the stationary or portable barres and the
combinations in the centre often had to be executed in 2 or 3 groups in order to ensure everybody had the necessary minimum of space. I was told that the dancers were used to more space in their own studios in Seattle.

I was very impressed with the company members total concentration and focus especially since they probably have not all completely recovered from jet lag yet. Each of them seemed to have their own favourite stretches to help them prepare their bodies for the dress rehearsal ahead.
It was a remarkable experience to be able to watch so many gifted dancers with distinct personalities in one room. According to Margo Spellman one of the dancers present was a former company member who had retired last year to become a teacher in Alaska. Charles Newton had started rehearsing a few weeks ago, rejoined PNB for the tour and would appear in tonight’s programme.

At 1pm the dress rehearsal of ‘Silver Lining’ started on stage most interestingly with a briefing about how and in which order bows were going to be taken at the end. The audience attending a performance never realises how much effort goes into all the details we take for granted. In the course of the rehearsal some of the lightning arrangements were fine tuned and some slight changes in the tempi of the music agreed with the conductor Stewart Kershaw. I learned that the acoustics in the Sadler’s Wells Theatre had taken some getting used to because PNB are used to performing at a larger venue at home. It turned out that one of the dancers appearing in a tap number was carrying a microphone to ensure he could be properly heard above the music. Although the members of the press were told that the dancers would have to preserve their energy for tonight’s performance and would not dance full out and mark on occasion Ken Stowell’s choreography to music by Jerome Kern came across as lively and bubbly like champagne and I very much look forward to seeing an actual performance.

Margo Spellman, who very kindly looked after me during my visit to the theatre, and a couple of other people I met briefly remarked that they were very pleased that it was not raining this morning. I am afraid by the end of this week PNB will find that London weather is not much to write home about. For the moment I keep my fingers crossed for them for opening night.
Good luck!

[This message has been edited by OdileGB (edited July 02, 2002).]

<small>[ 12-01-2002, 11:57: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2002 8:42 pm 
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Location: Seattle, WA USA
Actually Odile, we here in Seattle are quite used to all that rainy weather. That's one thing the dancers won't have to get used to,is a change in climate!!


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2002 10:45 pm 
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Location: Seattle, WA USA
She is planning to teach, I believe, as soon as her foot recovers.


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2002 1:52 pm 
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Location: UK
<B>Wednesday 3rd July</B><P>It’s a gloomy Wednesday with much rain promised. The company class is at 11am and I am told to make my way to the Ashton studio, where the company manager, Dwight Hutton, greets me enthusiastically. He tells me that Sadlers Wells was packed the night before (on opening night) and PNB were received enthusiastically with much cheering in spite of the computer crashing halfway through (thankfully with no disruptions). Inside, 40 or so dancers are warming up and preparing for class. With a week of shows, everyone is extremely busy and there is very little time to explore London. The director Kent Stowell is here to take class. He’s a quiet man, of few words, preferring to demonstrate steps rather than articulate them. It’s certainly very different from the classes I’ve seen at the Royal Ballet and fascinating to see the dancers being put through their paces. The studio isn’t ideal, with few mirrors, squeaky bars and complaints about the hard, slippery floor. But by the end there are more than a few Corsaire style flourishes by the men. I’m counting on several casts for the pas de trois this week.<P>At 12:30 I slip into the back of the auditorium to watch the Mixed Bill rehearsal. It isn’t without fits and starts and constant pleas to the conductor of the Royal Philharmonic, Allan Dameron, to slow the tempo. Admittedly, Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15. is not a favourite of mine but I can’t help but admire how extraordinarily the choreography fits with Mozart. A short break and it’s Nacho Duarto’s Jardi Tancat. A desert bronze floor is rolled out and taped down, a cage of wooden sticks surround the floor, lights go down, lights go back up, the dancers go over bits of choreography and try to avoid the chaos. Tancat amazes me with how the dancers seem to be both free from the restrictions of ballet, and at the same time constrained as if they were in a glass bubble in their use of flexed hands and feet. It’s a lovely demonstration of the versatility of the company. Le Corsaire provides an additional treat as I’m treated to not one but 3 different casts in two run-throughs. The costumed dancers glitter, and are encouraged by shouts and applause from the wings. Most of them mark it through but there are still pyrotechnics to enjoy.<P>Move right on to Fearful Symmetries. Everyone’s tiring and again the music is too speedy but most remain good-natured and a long section that involves most of the company finishes with a cheeky grin and thumbs up from one of the principals, Paul Gibson. The magnificent playing last night by the Royal Philharmonic orchestra has not gone unnoticed by the company. Mr. Dameron is kindly acquiescent to the dancers’ suggestions. To the orchestra, “Please everyone, when you see my karate chop then STOP!” I do wonder how often the Philharmonic play for ballet and what they must think of catering to the dancers! In any case I’ve had a lovely day and keenly anticipate the evening’s performance.<P><p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited July 06, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2002 10:55 pm 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Image <BR><small>Chalnessa Eames</small><P><B>Thursday July 4th</B><P><BR>The company performed the Mixed Bill for the first time last night and is settling into the London season with the routine of a ballet dancer’s life such as the daily classes at Sadler’s Wells and hunting out the local restaurants and shops that are open after performance to grab some food.<P>Chalnessa Eames took some time after an afternoon run-through of some of her roles to chat about herself and the week. She studied first at a private ballet school Harid Conservatoire in Florida and then spent 3 years at the Royal Winnipeg School followed by another three in the Company. The Winnipeg provided lots of opportunities for touring and China and London were just two of the destinations. She remembers seeing Manuel Legris partner Evelyn Hart in our Peacock Theatre and being blown away by the quality of his dancing and partnering, as most of us are. <P>This is the end of Chalnessa’s first season with PNB and the pace is a lot quicker than at Winnipeg with some 8 programmes in the season and lots of new parts to learn. I asked if she was a quick learner and she replied with a laugh, ‘I’m learning to be quick!’ The Company dances a wide range of ballets and although the Balanchine tradition is important, it is only one of the threads. She is more used to the Russian style of the Winnipeg classes and the PNB classes are more Balanchine based, but not exclusively. Next year in fact PNB will only perform one of the Master’s works and will be focussing on the full-length classical rep including “Paquita”. <P>She told me that it’s nice to be in London, but there has been little time for sightseeing. Chalnessa’s parents are across too and they have been out and about daily. They all went to do some shopping on Sunday after class, but jet lag eventually defeated her and she had an early night. And since then it’s been non-stop, although there was a first night reception for the cast, friends and sponsors.<P>She loves Sadler’s Wells as although it’s a 1,500 seater theatre the audience seems close and she likes the way that the staff are so friendly. In common with all the dancers she has several roles in “Silver Lining”, which sure gets everyone on stage. In addition she is in ‘Divertimento’ and is standing in at short notice for someone in ‘Fearful Symmetries’ which, with its pace and rapid entrances and exits, is really tricky with everyone counting like mad.<P>This is the end of the year for the Company and after the week here Chalnessa is heading off to Jamaica to get some sun after the wet conditions of Seattle….and London, of course. Then it will be seeing some old friends in Winnipeg and back to Seattle. She was brought up not far away from Seattle and finds the City a good place to live with the Pacific views and the attractions of the downtown area. <P>And then our time was up and Chalnessa had to prepare for the Mixed Bill in the evening. One of the considerate points of PNB is that all the dancers get a mention when they are on stage and their photograph in the programme, so look out for her if you go to Sadler’s over the remaining days of the visit. <P><BR><p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited July 06, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2002 1:08 am 
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Location: London
<B>Friday’s Diary</B><P>At Critical Dance there was a great deal of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of meeting and reviewing Pacific Northwest Ballet on its second trip to London. We have strong links with Seattle and know of PNB's good reputation back home. Our moderators and correspondents in the U.S. spent time with the company before it left for London and reported back on the preparations for the tour. Dancers and company executives were interviewed to give more of a flavour of just what a tour of this magnitude involves. By the time the company finally arrived in London last weekend, we felt as if old friends had come home.<P>That feeling was compounded by the general warmth and friendliness that the company exudes. My first encounter with company members was on Monday morning at the Jury’s Inn Hotel in Islington where PNB is installed for the week. Conveniently located for Sadler’s Wells, it has a wide foyer furnished with armchairs and various long, slim dancers were draped over the chairs like panthers and pumas at slumber. Some were waiting to be interviewed, some were waiting for their pals to appear so that they could use the Monday morning, their only real time for exploration, to get out and about. Margo Spellman, PNB Marketing Director, has spent the week whizzing around as if on wheels to ensure that the dancers are in the right place at the right time. She had a bit of a challenge on this particular morning because one of the dancers had apparently missed the note pushed under his door that told him I would be there to interview him. This was quickly sorted but the extra time gave me the opportunity to observe the dancers in their natural habitat, as it were. I could see they get on well and the rivalry that you so often hear about in connection with high-class, highly-strung ballet companies, was unapparent. Co-Artistic Directors and husband and wife team, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, were happy to be introduced to me. With their approachable and kindly faces I could tell that there was none of the ‘I’m too busy to have this conversation’ attitude that many dignitaries are guilty of. <P>Later in the week when I crept, late, in to company class as an observer, I expected to be ignored or at best shoved towards a seat with a restricted view at the back. Instead there was a row of chairs at the front in prime position and Kent Stowell beamed a smile at me. I think I even heard him mutter "welcome". Now THAT doesn’t happen very often. Permeating the inner sanctum of the ballet dancer's world – company class – is rarely permitted and when it is, you are rarely watching a real “warts and all” class, but more like a sanitised, staged version. It’s good to see dancers getting things wrong and trying again. This demonstrates just how difficult ballet is, and by understanding the workings behind the finished machine, you appreciate more even the simplest, and seemingly insignificant, of steps. At the end of class I stayed behind to wait for my interviewee and was treated to the boys practising amongst themselves Ali’s jumps for Le Corsiare pas de trois which was programmed as part of the mixed bill. bThe boys were helping and tutoring each other and then showing off a little. The camaradery again came as a surprise to me. The extra practising seemed to be necessary because the cast for the mixed bill pieces was to be different on each of the three nights. That seems like an awful lot of work for the dancers, directors and ballet masters. Yet it is a democratic approach and guarantees that all dancers are properly exposed to the London audience. <P>And exposed is what they must have felt when the reviews came through for their opening night. As if stuck up on the top of a mountain at night with nothing but a pair of tights and some old leg-warmers. “Silver Lining” had been chosen, I was told, to appeal to a broad London audience – not just those that like the ballet, but the musicals crowd. A series of high-stepping and high-kicking numbers, choreographed by Stowell and set to Jerome Kern songs, might not show the company off to its full artistic potential and might even be a bit of a bore for the dancers if repeated too often, but it was bound to get those London feet tapping. Up to a point it did. Opening night saw an extremely warm and gracious response from the audience and in one corner there were some standing ovations (and I checked – they were not company plants). However, the newspaper critics were not impressed and said so. They had clearly expected a great deal more from PNB, rated as it is in the top five ballet companies in the United States. The piece is pleasant and didn’t deserve the slamming it received. I cringed when I read some of the acid drops on certain of the printed pages. The first night of the mixed bill received another positive response from the audience and we waited with bated breath for the critics’ responses. My interviewee, Bulgarian principal, Stanko Milov, gave a good account of himself as Ali. At six foot five, he crosses the small Sadler’s Wells stage with merely two strides and Margo’s prophetic words about him probably needing to go round this stage a couple of times to get all the jumps in, rang true. He looked good doing it in any event. I saw him leaving the theatre with his wife as the theatre lights were being switched off for the night. As the long slim silhouettes disappeared into the night , I felt rather sad that these very good dancers have not had quite the break they deserved in London. I hope that doesn’t mean that they won’t be back.<BR><p>[This message has been edited by Emma Pegler (edited July 06, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2002 1:36 pm 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
<B>Saturday 6th July</B><P>The curtain has gone down on the 2002 visit of PNB to London, except for a richly deserved final night party. Remember everyone the flight home leaves at 4.45am! Dwight Hutton, Company Manager told me that he was delighted with the dancers and the reaction of the audiences. In addition the technical staff at Sadler’s have been a dream to work with and coped with some unexpected requirements without a fuss. <P>Jeffrey Stanton, Principal, has found the week gruelling. He has a major role in “Silver Lining” and danced the male lead in “Divertimento” every night, which has a very tough solo. And then he performed “ Jardi Tancat” straight afterwards. He has enjoyed the week, but was disappointed with the meanness of some of the London critics. Saying you don’t like something is one thing, but I had to agree that some of the reviews were outrageous and would in fact breach the CriticalDance courtesy rule. Thank goodness that this is a Company that supports each other and Jeffrey told me how he had been cheering on some of the younger male dancers taking on new roles this week. He is now looking forward to a first time visit to Italy and then back to Seattle and rehearsals for Ronald Hynd’s “The Merry Widow”. <P>Crossing the road near Sadler's Wells I exchnged a few words with David Schneider. He has only been in PNB for a year and has a role in “Silver Lining”. This is his first overseas tour and he has had a great time. An old friend lives in Covent Garden and he has been able to show David around London. He’s off to Paris on Sunday.<P>While I was having a quick dinner in Islington around 6pm, a group of a dozen came in all dressed in black and some sat down next to me. Lo and behold they were from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who are playing for PNB and for several of them it’s the first time they’ve played for dancers. They’ve enjoyed the week and have found the Company’s musical team easy to work with. They mentioned John Adams’ ‘Fearful Symmetries’ and the Jerome Kern songs for “Silver lining” as their favourites. They have been surprised at the vitriolic nature of some of the reviews and one musician told me, “It’s difficult enough to get people to attend the Arts without such unnecessarily harsh comments.”<P>As I think back over the week, The Mixed Bill was a delight and if anything I enjoyed it even more a second time. Highlights were Kaori Nakamura’s technically superb “Corsaire” pas de trois, Jonathan Poretta’s brilliant footwork and beautiful shapes in two roles in “Fearful Symmetries”, the entire cast of “Jardi Tancat” for capturing its emotionally charged soul so fluently and Louise Nadeau for her sinuous and seriously sexy performances in “Silver Lining”.<P>Have a great summer break PNB and recharge those batteries for the new season. Come again soon, y’hear. <P><BR>


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2002 1:51 pm 
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Thanks so much everyone for the reports! I wish the critics had been kinder. <P>Nevertheless, it's great that the company has had a chance to be seen by London audiences!


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Sun Jul 07, 2002 12:13 am 
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I really hope PNB will come back to London for another visit in spite of the unwelcoming critics. Those are very difficult to please at the best of times. I cannot think of anything from the top of my head that went down really well with them this year. Is not the audience reaction more important anyway? A friend of mine who is a professional dancer absolutely loved the mixed programme, especially 'Divertimento' and 'Fearful Symmetries', and spoke very highly of the overall standard of the company. All I have to say is: PNB please come back soon!


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Sun Jul 07, 2002 12:27 am 
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I agree the critics have been very hard to please this year and definitely the audiences reaction is far more important - after all they have paid for a ticket.


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Sun Jul 07, 2002 12:58 pm 
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Well, I for one am planning to fly to Seattle on a regular basis next season to catch this company as much as I can. And I invite all PNB fans to post as many impressions about the Company as you can in the Ballet forum.


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 Post subject: Re: PNB in London - A Daily Diary
PostPosted: Tue Jul 09, 2002 3:35 am 
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Agreed - audience sentiment has to be the most important indicator. However, if PNB has to convince sponsors to give it the money to enable it to tour, what the critics say will undoubtedly be important. That is why I think it is incumbent on critics to at least report audience sentiment (which they did not for PNB) if they cannot bring themselves to be a little more generous. Which takes us back to the topic in UK issues on what is the role of the critic and does he/she have any duties or responsibilities in discharging that role?


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