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January 2012 newsletter

SINCE OUR LAST NEWSLETTER we have had two excellent meetings. At our December meeting we welcomed the Creative Director of the Royal Opera House and former Principal dancer, Deborah Bull. Deborah had last spoken to us just before she participated in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing. She spoke of this experience and the plans for cultural events surrounding the London Olympics, before talking about her role as Creative Director. She then spoke about the writing of her most recent book, The Everyday Dancer, and took us through aspects of a dancer’s life, with references to her own career. Deborah provided us with a very entertaining evening and concluded the event by signing copies of her book. We sold 23 copies on the evening and many others brought copies they had already bought. Just prior to this meeting it was announced that Deborah will be leaving the Opera House in March after more than thirty years to become Director of King’s Cultural Partners at King’s College, London. She spoke briefly about the challenges and opportunities that the role would involve.

At our first meeting of 2012, we were delighted to welcome back former Royal Ballet Principal pianist Philip Gammon. Philip gave us a fascinating evening playing excerpts by Chopin and Lizst, including much of A Month in the Country, and providing amusing anecdotes of his long career. He brought the medal which the Governors of The Royal Opera House had presented him for us to see.  

Future meetings
On Friday 20 January we have our annual meeting with our Royal Ballet School Award winners. They are Nina Tonoli from Belgium who is now in her third year and Yaoqian Shang from China and Marcelino Sambé from Portugal who are both in their second year at the Upper School. They will be escorted by Royal Ballet School teacher and former Royal Ballet Soloist David Peden. David will speak of his career, which has also included dancing with the National Ballet of Canada, Pacific Northwest Ballet and ENB and teaching in Singapore and Turkey as well as the Royal Ballet School. The students will speak of their experiences training both at home and now in London. Always a popular event, we can expect a lively evening. We hope to arrange a visit to the Upper School to watch them in class later in the season.

On Friday 3 February our guest will be First Artist Fernando Montano. Born in Buenaventura in Colombia, Fernando only started ballet aged 12, having studied other dance forms first. He studied at Incolballet in Colombia, before moving to the National Ballet School in Cuba, as a result of success in a competition. After the upper school in Havana, he danced with Ballet Nacional de Cuba for 18 months before winning a scholarship for further training in Italy. He joined The Royal Ballet in January 2006 and has danced a variety of roles including the Jester in Cinderella. In 2009 he created a dance sequence with Romany Pajdak for the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, for whom he has since modelled clothes. We can expect a fascinating evening given Fernando’s very varied experiences. NB Please note there will now be no meeting on 7 February.

On Wednesday 29 February our guest will be First Artist Claire Calvert. Born in Eckington, Gloucestershire, Claire studied at the Royal Ballet School before joining The Royal Ballet. Now in her fifth year in the Company, Claire was plucked out of the corps to dance the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, a role she has performed again this season. Her other roles have included Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon and Winter Fairy in Cinderella. At the start of this year, she was highlighted in the Observer newspaper as the dancer to watch out for in 2012. As with Fernando, we can expect another fascinating evening from a young dancer who has regularly received good notices in reviews. NB This meeting is preceded by a concert in the church. Please do not arrive before 7pm unless you wish to attend the free concert which starts at 6pm.
Provisional dates for the rest of next season are:  Friday 9 March, Tuesday 17 April, Friday 27 April, Thursday 3 May, Thursday 17 May, Wednesday 30 May, Thursday 14 June, Thursday 28 June, Thursday 5 July, Thursday 12 July.  All dates are subject to change. Meetings, unless otherwise stated, begin at 7.30 p.m. and are at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church which is at the eastern end of Shaftesbury Avenue, opposite the Shaftesbury Theatre.  From Covent Garden you walk up Endell Street and cross over Shaftesbury Avenue. The church is then on your left, if you face East. (nearest tube Tottenham Court Road). Doors open at 6.45pm unless otherwise stated. Entrance is £4 for members, £3 for concessions, £8 for guests.

At the first meeting of the new committee after our AGM, David Bain was re-elected as Chairman and Sylvia Tyler as Deputy Chairman.

Our Patron, Director of The Royal Ballet Dame Monica Mason, has received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award from the Royal Academy of Dance in appreciation of her lifetime contribution to dance. We send our congratulations to her on receiving this prestigious award. Members may have heard Monica on Desert Island Discs on 8 January. If you missed it, you can catch up on the BBC iPlayer.

Members will be saddened to hear that Francesca Filpi left The Royal Ballet just before Christmas. We will let you know what Francesca has chosen as a leaving gift from the Association when we hear from her. She has embarked on a very exciting project, with her mother, setting up Dar Danse, a centre for ballet courses and holidays on the coast in Morocco. The centre is near the tiny fishing village of Bhaybek. Details of the centre can be found on We wish her success with this ambitious project.

After 16 years with Birmingham Royal Ballet, First Soloist Lei Zhao retired at Christmas to pursue a career in teaching. First Artist Robert Gravenor also retired in October to further the film work he has been undertaking in his spare time. New Artists Reina Fuchigami, from the Royal Ballet School, and Ruth Brill have joined BRB. We send our congratulations to Barry Wordsworth, who has accepted the position of Music Director Laureate with BRB.

Former Royal Ballet Principal Ivan Putrov presents an evening of works exploring the beauty of the male form in motion entitled Men in Motion at Sadler’s Wells from 27-29 January. He is joined by Sergei Polunin, National Dance Award-winner Daniel Proietto, Bolshoi Principal Dmitry Gudanov and Maryiinsky Principal Igor Kolb. The programme will include Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits which was choreographed on Anthony Dowell and hasn’t been seen in the UK for over 30 years.

Our January guest Philip Gammon will be playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations at Wesley’s Chapel, 49 City Road, on 6 March at 1.05pm. The chapel is between Old Street and Moorgate stations.

National Dance Awards
In our last newsletter we announced those from the Royal Ballet Companies who had received nominations for The 12th National Dance Awards, given by the Critics’ Circle. We are delighted to announce that the Ballet Association will sponsor the Award for Best Classical Choreography which will be presented at the Awards Ceremony at The Place on Monday 23 January. The nominations for the award (which is for the 2010-11 season) are David Bintley for Cinderella for the Birmingham Royal Ballet; Kim Brandstrup for Invitus Invitam for the Royal Ballet; Andrew Simmons for A Song in the Dark for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

As members will be aware, the Association is committed to encouraging new choreography and regularly sponsors the new works programmes in the Clore and Linbury. This season we are sponsoring Draft Works in the Linbury from 24-27 January. 

Letter from Nastazia Phillipou
Ballet Association Award winner at Elmhurst School for Dance

Dear Members of the Ballet Association,

I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone by! It’s only less than a week till Christmas! I would like to let you know about what has happened so far since Genée, concerning the competition and my time at Elmhurst. This is in fact the first day I am taking a break after a good month and a half of rehearsals and shows, which I will tell you about later on in this email.

I was meaning to share my Genée experience with you a long time ago, and I apologise for not doing this earlier, but the good news is that now I have more things I can update you on. South Africa is wonderful with friendly people and I truly enjoyed being there. We had an amazing five days of intense training on our 19th century pieces with the incredible Mr Christopher Hampson and our 20th century pieces with Ms Lynn Wallis and I absolutely adored them and feel so lucky to have been trained by these two amazing teachers. It was such an honour for me. Our contemporary piece was choreographed and taught by a lovely young choreographer, Kirsten Isenberg and was a very lyrical and adage piece accompanied by Franz Liszt’s Consolation. It was so elegant yet demanding as it required a lot of muscular control and emotion. I enjoyed every minute of practising it and dancing it!

The first day of the competition was the partly taught class and partly new material instructed by Mr Hampson. It was probably the most difficult part of the competition as you have the element of surprise and the unknown that you have to deal with on stage, but I feel that I did fine. There were no mishaps and Mr Hampson delivered the class with humour to make it easier for us to cope with the demanding pirouettes and fouettés. It was brilliant! I don’t think I ever loved being on stage so much. The second day we performed our 19th century variation and the newly taught contemporary piece by Kirsten Isenberg and again I felt confident with my performance especially with my 19th century piece. I always wanted to dance the 2nd Shades variation from La Bayadère and the Genée competition was the perfect opportunity!

I must confide to you that I was very disappointed that I didn't hear my name at the announcement of the finalists. Without sounding bitter I truly feel that I stood a chance and I am so sorry that I am not in a position now to share with you, who have been so generous to me, happy news. But as many say, the journey to the competition is as important, or may I even say more important, as the actual competition and I must say that I would not miss this wonderful experience for anything especially when I feel content with myself that I danced to the best of my abilities.

So, coming back to school from this unforgettable trip, I was gladly informed that I would get the chance to perform in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker this year taking place at both the Hippodrome and the O2 theatre in London. Even though this means I will not be spending Christmas with my family this year, it is the best Christmas gift I could ever ask for! Rehearsals are going really well so far, every day learning something new and being in such an environment with some of the world’s best dancers is quite overwhelming and encouraging to us young dancers. I can’t wait till our first performance at the O2 which will be on the 27th of December! I’ve been counting the days since the day we had started which was pretty much about a month ago. This made me realize that a competition is not what I’m working towards. What I am working for is gaining the most out of all these experiences on stage, which is what dance is truly about. It’s the performance that matters at the end of the day.

So once again I would like to thank you from my heart for the trust and support you have shown me. With my kindest regards and respect,

Nastazia Philippou

Annual Dinner 2012
Our Annual Dinner will be on Thursday 17th May.  Once again, it will take place at the Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road.  Dinner is at 8pm.  A private bar is available from 7pm. The cost this year will be £39. This year’s dinner will be a very special occasion as we near the end of our Patron, Dame Monica Mason’s time as Director of The Royal Ballet and her 54 years in the Company. Consequently, we expect a very heavy demand for tickets, so early application is advised.  As in recent years, the dinner will be open to members only in the first instance.  If there are still vacancies at the end of March, we will open it up to members’ guests.  There will be about 145 places for members and 35 for an exciting array of dancers of all ranks, Company management, etc.  We will not be announcing the guest list until the end of April.  You will then have an opportunity to let us know which dancers you would like to sit near.

2012 Visit to Elmhurst School for Dance and Birmingham Royal Ballet
Following very positive feedback from members after last year’s visit, we are planning a similar visit for this summer. It will include the first night of David Bintley’s Far from the Madding Crowd, which is selling fast. We have reserved a number of seats in the Dress Circle and Rear Stalls and will allocate these on a first-come, first-served basis. We have reserved accommodation at the IBIS hotel for those who require it. We have chosen the IBIS as it is substantially cheaper than alternative hotels - £40 for a twin-bedded room for single occupancy, £45 for double occupancy (£22.50 each). However, you can make alternative arrangements if you wish, although you will have to meet the group at the IBIS on the Thursday morning if you require transport to Elmhurst.

Provisional programme
Wednesday 20 June
11.1 am Attend BRB class followed by lunch in the Green Room opposite the theatre. Afternoon at leisure after booking into the IBIS hotel.
6.15pm Interview of a BRB dancer in a Company studio.
7.30pm Performance Far from the Madding Crowd.

Thursday 21 June
Following a leisurely breakfast, we will arrange transportation from the hotel to Elmhurst School for Dance where Association members will receive a warm welcome. Our President Desmond Kelly, is rightly very proud of the school and will be our host for the day. This will be a special occasion for us as Desmond retires as Artistic Director of the school shortly after our visit. Following registration and reception, members will enjoy a day in the school watching classes and rehearsals together with the presentation of the Association’s Annual Award to a student during lunch. The day will conclude at approximately 3.30pm.

The overall cost will be £33.50 or £27.50 for performance ticket, £40 for single occupancy of a twin room or £45 (£22.50 each) if two of you are sharing and £15 to cover donations to BRB, etc. You will need to arrange your own transport to Birmingham. Very cheap train or coach fares can be obtained if booked well in advance, particularly for the return journey.

CHAIRMAN: David Bain