Louise Levene

The joy of kabuki

It’s a long climb up the 1,368 steps to the Shinto shrine at Kotohira. Many of the pilgrims are making comfort stops at the countless teahouses that line the route, but other worshippers break their journey at Kanamaru-za, the oldest surviving kabuki theatre in Japan. A middle-aged man in Barbara Cartland war paint, heavy black

The magic of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Drag isn’t what it was. Pantomime dames, character actors and any number of sketch-show comedians had fun dressing up as harridans or movie stars (check out Benny Hill’s unforgettable Elizabeth Taylor) but those old-school travesti turns have been out-camped by a more unsettling performance style that women are finding increasingly hard to take. Directors and

Some like it hot | 14 March 2019

Blame Kenneth MacMillan. The great Royal Ballet choreographer of the 1960s, 70s and 80s was convinced that narrative dance could and should extend its reach beyond boy meets sylph and began wrestling with heavyweight essay subjects such as the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Mayerling) or the last of the Romanovs (Anastasia). And now look:

Big in Japan

An early morning in late November in the peaceful glades that surround an ancient temple complex. A Shinto priest in sombre silks slips through a sliding door; a maple leaf catches the breeze. Suddenly, the silence is broken by the crunching thwack as two 400lb slabs of prime meat collide. It is the 15th and

Stranger danger

Like it or not, provincial ballet audiences love a story they can hum and any director planning to tour a swan-light, sugar plum-free menu has always done so at their peril. Tchaikovsky isn’t compulsory: a really well-known story, however undanceable, can usually do decent business (Northern Ballet’s extremely silly Three Musketeers is a reliable granny-magnet).

Divine comedy | 27 September 2018

‘Ballet is woman’ insisted George Balanchine, but ballet can also be a big man in a dress as any fan of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo will testify. The Trocks began life in 1974, dancing for a select few in pop-up performance spaces in Manhattan, but the troupe’s irresistible blend of low comedy and

Wings of desire | 24 May 2018

The Royal Ballet’s 2016 Frankenstein was a masterclass in how not to make narrative dance and the news that Liam Scarlett had been chosen to spring-clean and ‘reimagine’ Swan Lake had many balletomanes reaching for the smelling salts (it doesn’t take much, to be honest). It was sighs of relief and trebles all round when

Feet first

Fire up YouTube on the iPad, tap in ‘tap’, then wave goodbye to the rest of your day: clip after clippety-clip of the best and brightest stars rattling out impossible rhythms: Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling; Fayard and Harold Nicholas taking the stairs one split jump at a time; Gene Kelly singing (and dancing)

A Manon to remember

The Shaolin monks are no strangers to the stage. Their home in Dengfeng is a major stop on the Chinese tourist trail and their lives of quiet contemplation (and shouty martial arts practice) are regularly punctuated by spells on the international circuit with Kung Fu extravaganzas like Wheel of Life and Shaolin Warriors. Quite how

Queen of flamenco

A frail old woman sits alone on a chair on a darkened stage. There are flowers in her hair. She closes her eyes and the small, wrinkled hands begin to clap. The rhythm seems simple at first but her feet take up the beat, deconstructing it, multiplying it, embroidering it into fresh miracles of speed

Wronged women

A bumper fortnight for Covent Garden florists thanks to a 20th-anniversary flower shower for the Royal Ballet’s Marianela Nunez and bales of bouquets to mark major debuts by new(ish) principals Francesca Hayward and Yasmine Naghdi. Giselle, the timid village beauty whose ghost returns to forgive her duplicitous lover, was never an obvious vehicle for Nunez’s

Her big, fat Highland wedding

Gurn loves Effy, Effy is engaged to James but James is away with the fairies: a recipe for love tragedy. Tamara Rojo’s English National Ballet hasn’t danced August Bournonville’s La Sylphide since 1989 (before most of today’s dancers were born or thought of). The easy elevation and unshowy brilliance of the Danish style do not

Second life

You can pay homage to a ballet classic or you can tear it up and reinvent it. Both approaches were on offer in London a fortnight ago: a revival of Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia, set to Léo Delibes’s 1876 score, and a Swan Lake from Michael Keegan-Dolan that ditches Tchaikovsky, tutus and toe shoes and relocates

Ill wind

A kindly cowboy, an East Coast bride, adultery, murder and madness. The Wind, Dorothy Scarborough’s 1925 Texas gothic novel (and Sjöström/Gish movie), offers rich pickings for dance narrative and was selected by Arthur Pita for his Covent Garden main stage debut. What could possibly go wrong? Pita has made some terrific dance dramas — notably