Ismene Brown

Capturing a moment | 11 April 2019

On Tuesday, thousands of miles apart, in three great cities, London, New York and Los Angeles, 75 dancers will dance 100 solos in each venue in honour of the late iconoclastic choreographer Merce Cunningham, who would have turned 100 that day. It is a spectacularly ambitious wake for the choreographer who for 70 years denied

Seeing the light | 19 October 2017

Dance is an ephemeral art. It keeps few proper records of its products. Reputations are written in rumours and reviews. And by reputation, Kenneth MacMillan was the dark genius of British ballet — its destroyer, if you listen to some. They think this country’s classical ballet reached its pinnacle under the Apollonian hand of Frederick

The bitchy world of ballet

Memoirs of old men, baldly, tend to be tricky. Sir Peter Wright, one of the founding pillars of the British ballet establishment, is now 90, and a charmingly chatty man; but I’ve personally never found him reluctant to get to the point when asked. As inaugural director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, director of Sadler’s Wells

Young at heart

The second half of the Bolshoi tour brought much fresher fare than the first: following the ubiquitous warhorses Don Quixote and Swan Lake, we got three jolly nights of Moscow speciality: an iffy Shakespeare comedy nailed by superb performing, a giddy rewrite of Stalin’s favourite ballet and a breathtakingly fruity restoration of a 19th-century ballet

Poetry in motion | 4 August 2016

For almost 60 years, whatever the political weather, Russia and Britain have maintained mutually assured respect as far as ballet is concerned. In October 1956, the Soviet Union finally allowed its Bolshoi troupe to appear in the west, in London, a state cultural exchange that should have entailed the debut of the comparatively green Sadler’s

All in the mind | 21 July 2016

Mark Morris, the most musically communicative and naturally lyrical of choreographers of the past 30 years (and an absentee from London theatres for too long), made L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, a dance masterpiece of a Handel oratorio using John Milton’s words. It was a miracle of pastoral sweetness, in rustic, human, amorous dancing,

Double trouble | 7 July 2016

The Bolshoi Ballet’s wunderkind ballerina Natalia Osipova defied received wisdom when, in 2012, she cast off from the great Moscow company with her equally prodigious then boyfriend and partner Ivan Vasiliev to go freelance. Without the Bolshoi’s unmatched support system, its coaching and opportunities, its reputation behind her, protested the Russian media, how could she

Moor four

Paradoxically, some ballet masterworks absolutely depend on tiptop performing to demonstrate how great they are. If they don’t get it, they can look like the dodgiest of curiosities — did people in those days really rate this stuff? A whole genre of fiercely zipped tragedies of feeling emerged in Britain and the US in the

Swan upping

Was Tamara Rojo, when she danced Swan Lake last Saturday at the Albert Hall, thinking as she shaped each phrase, ‘This will be the last time I dance this …and this …and this’? I wonder. She told me a few years back that she had a five-year diary to cover the rest of her dancing

Emotional intelligence

The difference between a poor ballet of the book (see the Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein) and a good one — indeed two — was cheeringly pointed up by Northern Ballet last week, when it unveiled an intensely imagined new Jane Eyre in Doncaster and gave the London première of the efficiently menacing 1984 that I reviewed

Losing the plot | 19 May 2016

If a football manager produces a string of losses, the writing is on the wall and out he goes. He’s accountable — to shareholders, to the fans. The director of the Royal Ballet is not a football manager. Nor is it easy to see to whom he would account for his plans and outcomes. The

Fade to grey

Every ballet company wants a box-office earner. But why Scottish Ballet’s leader Christopher Hampson kept on at David Dawson until he agreed to do a new Swan Lake is difficult to understand given the meh results. Dawson is a polite, undemonstrative choreographer, and his lack of enthusiasm has rather predictably produced an asthenic result. Obviously,

The female gaze

Tamara Rojo programmed three female choreographers for her English National Ballet spring bill because, she said, she had never danced a ballet by a woman, and wanted to see what women would produce. Just the two begged questions here. First, that female choreographers are being stifled by institutionalised sexism in the ballet establishment. Second, that

An American in Paris

Paris Opera Ballet plays hard to get. It doesn’t deign to travel all the way over here, thanks to a combination of exorbitant expense and a languid disdain for the little Britons with their Johnny-come-lately ballet tradition (not even one century old, let alone three and a half). So if the mountain won’t come to

Giselle v Superman

I’ve turned up at my local cinemas for quite a few of the live ballet relays that now represent a major arm of outreach to the masses by the Royal Ballet and other world companies. Wending my way through the blockbuster queues at Odeons and Empires, I’ve alarmingly often found myself among only 15 or

Black magic

Ballet’s romantic mantra could be summed up by John Keats’s ballad ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’, in which a young man remembers his terrible encounter with a supernatural ‘fairy’s child’. Beguiled to sleep with this ravishing fantasy creature, he dreams of a ghostly corps of other chaps similarly beguiled, who warn him that she was

Second thoughts | 17 March 2016

You revisit an old love with wariness. Time’s passed for both of you — sharp edges have been smoothed, and reputations built. But seeing Kaash again last week, Akram Khan’s tremendous debut ensemble work, made when he was 26, revived at Sadler’s Wells now that he is 41 and a world name, I felt the