David Sumbler’s Weblog [2]

April 28, 2009 at 8:57 am (David Sumbler's Weblog, Music) (, , , , , , , , )

John Hull as Solor & Keiko Amemori as Nikiya in La Bayadére (Photo: Bill Cooper)

John Hull as Solor & Keiko Amemori as Nikiya in La Bayadére (Photo: Bill Cooper)

Last time I wrote we had not yet started the spring tour.  Now we have already done five weeks touring, performing the Mixed Programme and Swan Lake.

The Mixed Programme really was mixed for the orchestra.  One of the pieces, A Simple Man, was an old favourite for some of us who have been in the orchestra for a number of years – four of us actually took part in the first performances as well as the recent ones.  Copland‘s wonderful Appalachian Spring (the music for Angels in the Architecture) was new for us as an orchestra, although almost everyone knew it and had

Keiko Amemori in Angels in the Architecture (Photo: Bill Cooper)

Keiko Amemori in Angels in the Architecture (Photo: Bill Cooper)

played it before elsewhere.  La Bayadère, on the other hand, despite being the oldest of the three pieces by far, was known to hardly any of the orchestra members.  The style of the music, though, was immediately familiar to those of us who can recall performing NBT’s production of Don Quixote.  Both pieces were written by the 19th century Russian composer, Minkus.

Mention of A Simple Man reminds me of something that happened when the show was still fairly new, in the late 1980’s.  Princess Margaret was Patron of NBT at the time, and sometimes used to come to performances at the Theatre Royal in Bath.  She would stay with her friend Jeremy Fry, who lived at a nearby village – in a converted brewery!  Usually there would be a party at his place after one of the evening performances.

Workers - A Simple Man (Photo: Bill Cooper)

It was in the early stages of one of these parties, when many of the guests had still to arrive, that I noticed a lady standing on her own at the opposite end of the room from where most of us were gathered in a huddle.  Being a sociable sort of person I decided to go and talk to her.  She had her back to me as I approached so I did not immediately recognize who she was.  It was only after a few moments of conversation that I realized I was talking to Princess Margaret.  I asked her if she had enjoyed A Simple Man.  In true diplomatic fashion she did not give me an answer, but asked what my opinion was.  I told her that I thought that the music was very good, but that I had not yet been able to see what was happening on stage.  She suggested that this must make it difficult to play, since I would not know exactly what mood we were trying to convey when I have a solo.  (I thought this was extremely perceptive of her.)

The funny thing was that nobody else would come near us, probably doubtful whether it was right just to come up and talk to her, even at an informal party.  Equally, I hardly felt I could abandon her to go and talk to somebody else, so our conversation went on for a very long time, before I (or she) was rescued by her friend asking her to come and take her place in the kitchen for the meal.  Even then, she refused to go the first time she was asked, and he had to come back and ask her a second time!

Back to the present.  After five performances in Leeds of the Mixed Programme, we had Swan Lake to prepare.  This was a revival of a show that we last performed just a few years ago.  We had six hours rehearsal for the orchestra, followed by two dress rehearsals with the whole company.

Scene From Swan Lake (Photo: Bill Cooper)

This production of Swan Lake (the fourth that NBT has done in the years that I have been in the orchestra) is somewhat unusual, not just in some of the details of the scenario, but also in the selection of music.  All of the music is by Tchaikovsky, but as well as a lot of the original music for Swan Lake, we also include parts of his 3rd orchestral suite and one movement of the 5th symphony.  The latter starts with a massive horn solo.  When we did the show a few years ago our principal horn player was John Thornton, who always played the solo beautifully.  Soon after we had stopped touring Swan Lake John left to go to the Hallé Orchestra.  He spent a few years there, but recently decided that he would like to rejoin the NBT Orchestra – just in time, as it happens, for the revival of Swan Lake.

Swans - Swan Lake (Photo: Bill Cooper)In a symphony orchestra the principal horn would only have to play that solo for one performance, or possibly two or three concerts in a week.  Few could do it flawlessly seven or eight times a week, week after week, but John can manage it!  We really are very lucky to have him.

Musicians in ballet orchestras have mixed feelings about Swan Lake.  On the one hand, we all recognize that it is one of the finest ballet scores ever written, with probably the most brilliant musical ending of any.  The reason for the mixed feelings is that it is also just about the most exhausting piece to play of any – particularly the last few pages, where everybody is playing high and loud for ages.  This is doubly, or perhaps quadruply true for us, because we are such a small orchestra (only a couple of dozen of us).  Swan Lake ideally needs an orchestra three or four times as big.  But we are used to trying to make ourselves sound several times our true size: most people, even colleagues from other orchestras, who have heard the NBT orchestra without knowing its size are astonished when they find out how few of us there actually are.

Now we are about to revive Wuthering Heights, followed a couple of weeks later by Romeo & Juliet.  Next time I write, I’ll let you know a bit about how it is going from the orchestra’s point of view.

Juliet and Paris from Romeo & Juliet (Photo: Merlin Hendy)

Juliet and Paris from Romeo & Juliet (Photo: Merlin Hendy)

Juliet Wuthering Heights (Photo: HANSON)

Wuthering Heights (Photo: HANSON)

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Hannah’s diary part III

October 13, 2008 at 11:06 am (Artist's News, dancers' diaries) (, , , , , , , )

Hannah Bateman

Hannah Bateman updates us on news from the tour:

I have just seen it’s a month since I last wrote so I have some catching up to do! The week’s run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse went very well and with hindsight I think I should have appreciated the scale of the WYP stage a little more! The next two venues we took A Tale of Two Cities to were Nottingham and Sheffield and although these are wonderful theatres with very warm audiences, they are not known for their stage size and are also raked (on a slope)!

This production was slightly unusual as we only had two casts. We normally work with three to four casts and the corps de ballet are interchangeable within each one. I only performed in the first cast so I had the rare chance to sit out front and watch the show as an audience member. I tried to sit and watch the show as if it were new to me and not just look at the part I also perform. The only time I was caught out was when I was sat flinching in preparation for the gunshots! I have to say, I really enjoyed the show: I thought it was a very attractive piece, the costumes and the lighting. For us on stage the lighting felt very dark and didn’t allow for much sight beyond the orchestra pit but from out front it looked fabulous and there were moments when Georgina looked like she had been borrowed from the set of a Jane Austen adaptation.

The week after the Playhouse saw us back at base at West Park in rehearsals for The Nutcracker and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, for the girls, La Bayadere. We also had a few rehearsals for Rhapsody in Blue from I Got Rhythm, which is one of the pieces we are taking to Milan. David and Yoko weren’t there for the whole of the week as they had both travelled to Slovenia to set David’s Nutcracker. So, while we rehearsed in Leeds for two weeks, David and Yoko were representing NBT in Slovenia and Kenny and Keiko were representing us in Miami. Out of the many couples in Miami, from major companies around the world including the likes of Stuttgart Ballet and Royal Ballet of Flanders, Kenny and Keiko were one of only two couples to be reviewed very warmly in the press. It was a huge accomplishment to be invited there and to be reviews so positively is the icing on the cake. It seems that NBT is becoming internationally recognised, not just for its dancers but also its director and his choreography.

Dan kept us all busy and base with the help of Andria Hall. She is a great coach and soon had all the Snowflakes and Flowers under control, looking clean, crisp and very together. She also worked a lot with the pas de deux couples and I watched a couple of those rehearsals; it still amazes me that we have four couples who can all do the pas to such a high standard – not bad for a company of just 40 dancers, The fouettes at the end of all that work for the girls are so hard and they can all do them so easily and actually make them look fun and exciting! Yi Song has come into his own this season and looks very Prince like – he must have been inspired by the Olympics in his home country. It’s a joy to watch someone’s talent really start to blossom.

Our next venue on tour was Nottingham. I love this theatre as it holds special memories for me. I loved dancing one of the sisters in Beauty and the Beast there in my first year; dancing the Nurse to Chiaki’s Juliet and I also danced my first Juliet there as well. But it is raked so Tuesday tech days are always difficult. You get to the stage after two days off; it’s raked so you know it will take double the time to get back on your legs after the weekend. It’s always amusing spotting the new members faces as they realise they have to negotiate the rake. Some have never been on a rake before and it’s scary at first but you soon get used to it. There will always be those who don’t get affected by it though – oh to be Keiko for a day! Also, because the stage slopes down, you must remember to use the brakes on props. We almost lost Scrooge to the orchestra pit one year as his bed went wheeling down. The audiences in Nottingham, while not huge, were warm and it felt like they were really captured by the piece.

The week after saw us in Sheffield, again a lovely theatre but raked and even smaller than Nottingham. We had to change some entrances and exits of people and props but I think it worked well in the space and provided an intimate experience. Space is so important to dance; it can make the atmosphere cosy or cold and also help or hinder our work. It did feel like we were doing Flintstone runs at times (where you run on the spot imagining you are running a great distance at speed) but Dan assured us we didn’t and he was pleased with the shows.

We are back at West Park now for another week and in full Nutcracker mode as well as keeping A Midsummer Night’s Dream ticking over. Midsummer will see all the new members of the Company on stage and by the time we open The Nutcracker in Hull I am sure they will be feeling a lot more confident and comfortable.

Milan this week for a lucky few of us so I promise to write all about that and I may even test my technology knowledge and try to include some photos! The end of last week saw a photo shoot for Wuthering Heights, Swan Lake and La Bayadere pictures for next season, which will be on us before we know it. In the back of our minds is the thought that this year we will be at home in Leeds for Christmas and not on tour. But that is far off – before that we have over 50 shows of The Nutcracker – that’s a lot of snow!

Till next time. Hannah xoxo

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