Ismene Brown

Sex on legs

That joke about the young bull who tells the old bull, ‘Hey, Dad, see all those cows — let’s run and get one of them,’ and the old one replies, ‘Let’s walk and we can have the lot,’ is of course far too politically incorrect to tell these days. But it did creep into my

Notes on a scandal

How could it possibly go wrong? The magnetic, seething Russian star Natalia Osipova playing the tragic woman in John Singer Sargent’s magnetic, enigmatic portrait of Madame X, all alabaster skin, black dress and arrogantly sexy profile. A Mark-Anthony Turnage-commissioned score, a top-prestige Bolshoi co-production, and enough scenery to rebuild Canary Wharf. If only Christopher Wheeldon’s

Unforgettable fire | 4 February 2016

How much of a compromise does a fashionable choreographer loved by all have to make with his paymasters? When he’s unfashionable, it’s only the Arts Council he has to please. When the world wants a piece of him, he has London’s Sadler’s Wells and the Roundhouse, Grenoble, Paris, Luxembourg, Montreal, Hong Kong, Taipei, Wolfsburg, Brighton,

Turkish delight

I’ve seen some people saying that English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire is so out-of-date it’s risible to see it staged in the 21st century. Sex trafficking, men in black with scimitars in Istanbul, pirates trading slaves across the Mediterranean, rich fat men rubbing their jewelled paws over fresh young bodies — pshaw indeed! But I’d

I’m having trouble finding an anti-woman conspiracy in dance

I’m bemused by the outburst of claims that female choreographers are under-represented, held back, or discouraged by ‘institutionalised sexism’ from unveiling their contributions to the richness of British dance. Only a fortnight ago I was thinking about what to write for my first 2016 piece, and this was the very question on my lips. Why

Off the page

Dance has its own archaeological periods, and 2016’s schedules are confirming what 2015 indicated — that the era of dances with scientists is over. If you’ve an aversion to digital fidgets and have felt left out in recent years, you will wallow in stories galore this year. There are big new ballets coming about The

Bird brained

For all the billing and cooing on public forums about the Royal Ballet’s The Two Pigeons revival, there’s a silent majority out there who daren’t speak for fear of the Twitter ordure that would fall on them. The box office and the empty seats attest to them. You’ll have not the smallest difficulty in booking

Ménage à trois

Mark Baldwin, artistic director of Rambert Dance, must take responsibility for most of the good times I’ve had recently, midwife to a litter of excellent things born out of curiosity and an unfussed love of culture, particularly music. A true artistic director (cf my complaint last time). On to the creative table at Rambert HQ

West End wannabe

The love that asks no questions, the love that pays the price… The amount of unconditional love sloshing about at the Royal Ballet for choreographers and dancers is making this autumn in Bow Street a test of loyalty. At his season press conference Royal Ballet artistic director Kevin O’Hare smilingly promised us that the 2020

Wherefore art thou Romeo?

You always remember your first time, don’t you? And in ballet one imagines that Juliet wants to remember her first Romeo as a thunderclap. So the Royal Ballet’s director Kevin O’Hare, for reasons best known to himself, gives the most exciting new young star the Royal Ballet has seen for years the role of Juliet


There was blood on the walls and floor at the birth of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in 1965. The violence of the subject was matched by the goings-on in the wings, the scrap over the first-night casting, in which the original Juliet, the young Lynn Seymour, found herself relegated down the list having had

Fighting talk | 17 September 2015

If there’s one thing scarcer than hen’s teeth in serious choreography nowadays, it’s a light heart. When was the last time we had something jolly created in the artform that brought us La Fille mal gardée, Coppélia and Les biches? Still, the first week of the start of the dance year was all good stuff,

Sylvie Guillem is telling porkie-pies: this is not a vegan body

The evangelical vegan ballerina Sylvie Guillem has been caught in a porkie-pie in her fervour to promote radical action against the meat industry. The anti-animal products brigade Peta has just unveiled a new campaign headlining on a photograph of the dazzling, naked Guillem as a declaration of the strength and health of veganism. It’s been

Martian moves

Every August when London dims, Edinburgh calls, promising nothing less than ‘the greats of the arts’ at the International Festival. As if this beautiful, haunting city wasn’t enough enticement, I always pack high expectations for the EdFest, which in the past has delivered some staggeringly good international dance events that commercially biased London could not

Ballet critics are not writing for dancers

Some fans of Jonathan Ollivier, the fine dancer who was killed on his motorbike recently on the day he was to perform one of his best roles, the brooding sexpot in Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, have been mourning that he wasn’t alive to see his glowing obituaries. Separately, I see that last week Rupert


The blackness that sweeps along the stage behind Sylvie Guillem’s disappearing figure in the Russell Maliphant piece on her farewell tour is an astonishing moment. One flinches. An eclipse has happened and the light has just run away with her. All gone. Michael Hulls’s momentous lighting states Guillem’s intentions as clearly as Elias Benxon’s filmwork

Pulp fiction

Hot, languorous, sizzling… I was thinking what an ideal show Matthew Bourne’s noir comedy is to watch on a summer’s evening in T-shirt and shorts as you sip a cold beer in a plastic cup and feel all toasty while the garage mechanics are bumping and grinding away at Dino’s Diner. Then the rain started

All you need is love | 16 July 2015

What could induce a grown-up, rational, childless person to go to see the ballet of Cinderella? You’ll expect to cringe at the panto comedy; on the other hand, you do not want to see verismo child-abuse and uglies-baiting. So what’s left for modern eyes? Two things: the Prokofiev score — as magical a charmer as