Nureyev: Legend & Legacy: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 5 September 2022

Talk to the hand, I don’t want to keep this lady hanging on. Maia Makhateli and Oleg Ivenko in Gayane. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Rudolf Nureyev. Now there was a guy who knew how to make an impact. Undoubtedly the most famous ballet dancer of all time, he was renowned for his physical prowess, his extraordinary charisma and, most of all, his incredibly brave decision to defect from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961. He died in 1993 but his influence is still being felt in the ballet world today, through the people he worked with and through the foundation he set up to, amongst other things, help dancers from poor backgrounds find scholarships with the world’s best ballet schools. Sure, by all accounts, he had his prickly side, but overall he seems to have been something of a good egg.

Nureyev: Legend & Legacy is a gala organised by former Royal Ballet Principal dancer Nehemiah Kish to celebrate the great man. And he’s done a marvellous job. Focussing purely on Nureyev’s classical repertoire, it’s a well-structured affair that features seven complete pas de deux, a solo and a rarely seen pas de six. It all means you get to see plenty of the dancers, and what dancers they are. Garnered from the likes of The Royal Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Berlin State Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, English National Ballet, and more, it also features a performances from ballet royalty Alina Cojocaru. And if that wasn’t enough, the on-stage hosts for the evening were Dame Monica Mason, former Director of The Royal Ballet, and Ralph Fiennes, actor extraordinaire and director of The White Crow, the movie that dramatised Nureyev’s defection in Paris. Oh, and the night’s venue is the newly dolled-up Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the very theatre where Nureyev made his UK debut.

First up was Guillaume Côté with a Nureyev-created solo from Sleeping Beauty. Interestingly, Côté seemed very constrained with none of the fiery gymnastics many of today’s dancers employ. I never saw Nureyev dance (I’m far too young, ahem) but I was assured that of all the night’s performances, Côté’s was the closest to how Nureyev himself would have danced – for all his groundbreaking technique, he was still a man of his time. Côté was followed by something I’d never seen before, the pas de deux from Gayané. Khachaturian’s music was lovely and the fey coquettishness of Maia Makhateli and the charming swagger of Oleg Ivenko was a delight.

Xander Parish bounded on stage next to begin the Act 3 pas de deux from La Bayadère. He was full of passion in his solo but when Iana Salenko joined him they produced a flawless, if a little chilly, account of the remainder. Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano is a bugger to dance but ENB’s Francesco Gabriele Frola was all bounce and lightness; excitingly, he was more balloon than ballon. He and late replacement, Royal Danish’s Ida Praetorius, did a grand job. The Royal Ballet closed the first half with the splendid pas de six from Laurencia. Led by an on-fire Natalia Osipova, she was somehow outshone by an extraordinary variation from Cesar Corrales; his speed and attack was staggering.

Vadim Muntagirov opened the second half with ENB’s Natascha Mair in the Grand Pas from Sleeping Beauty. Muntagirov really is the bee’s knees, just sublime, and although Mair is not yet in the same league, they made a cute couple. Francesca Hayward is a beautiful Giselle and she and William Bracewell managed to make gorgeous sense out of the Act 2 pas de deux that often looks weirdly out of place in a gala format. Alina Cojocaru and Hamburg’s Alexandr Trusch tackled an excerpt from Jon Neumeier’s austere Don Juan. It has a lot of beautifully held positions but could have hit the pause button earlier than it did. Still, it was worth it to see Cojocaru who retains her wondrous physique and artistry. Closing the whole shebang was arguably Nureyev’s most famous role – the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. The Royal Ballet’s Cesar Corrales and Yasmine Naghdi stepped into the Nureyev and Fonteyn roles (with costumes to match) and blew the house down, Corrales once again proving what a masterful showman he is.

In all honesty, and rather like a lot of Nureyev’s ballets, this review has gone on a bit too long, but it was a fun night, full of fantastic dancing and some interesting rep. I’d happily watch it again and, whaddya know, I can! First of all, there are four more performances (until 12 September 2022, casts may vary) and it’s also being streamed by Marquee TV from 16-26 September 2022. It’s great to know there will be a permanent record of a tremendous tribute to one of the giants of the ballet, and artistic, world.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Alina Cojocaru, Berlin State Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, English National Ballet, John Neumeier, Laurencia, Le Corsaire, Natalia Osipova, National Ballet of Canada, Royal Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Rudolf Nureyev, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Vadim Muntagirov, Xander Parish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Don Quixote – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 6 July 2022

BRB’s Don Quixote. Barrels of fun! Photo by Johan Persson

In 2013 Carlos Acosta created a new production of Don Quixote for The Royal Ballet. Roll on nine years and he’s made another one, this time for their Brummy sister company, a company he’s now the director of. They make an interesting comparison, the two shows; they’re both remarkably similar in tone and superficial appearance and yet there’s actually a lot of differences between them. The staging has altered (even though it looks like it’s just moved to the street around the corner), large chunks have been re-choreographed and there are even some new parts entirely, the most notable of which is the lovely duet for Basilio and Kitri that opens Act II. The costumes have also been re-designed but are remarkably similar to the 2013 production and the score has been re-orchestrated with some new music from Hans Vercauteren added as well. The end result is a satisfyingly traditional classical ballet knees-up.

As is well-known, the plot is pretty thin and Don Quixote himself plays second-fiddle to young lovers Basilio and Kitri who are desperate to get married despite Kitri’s father’s fiscal opposition. The reason it’s endured for 150 years is because it features some of the most spectacular bravura dancing of any ballet and it’s great fun to watch. With it’s large number of tricky variations across many roles, it’s also an excellent way to determine the strength in depth of a company and it has to be said Birmingham Royal Ballet impressed.

Momoko Hirata took on the coveted role of Kitri on opening night and while she’s no flirt, her dancing was as clean as a whistle. She also produced a quite extraordinary set-piece whereby she slowly turned her whole body round 360 degrees while knocking out a zillion fouettes. Mathias Dingman was a charismatic Basilio, throwing in a lot of fancy tricks that sometimes strained at the edges, but he was great to watch and was an excellent partner. Brandon Lawrence’s Espada was a delight; aggressive but unhurried, his legs hovered in the air like helicopters. His Mercedes, played deliciously by Yu Kurihara, was as sassy as they come and she and Lawrence made a great couple. An unexpected highlight was Tzu-Chao Chou as Amour; the role is normally a female one and although he was way, way too camp, Chou’s repertoire of held positions and lightning fast feet was extraordinary, Elsewhere, Javier Rojas just about managed to keep his Gypsy on the macho side of silly, Miki Mizutani and Yaoqian Shang were bright and breezy as Kitri’s friends, and the corps danced tidily when called upon with plenty of character investment across the stage.

Not everything is successful in this new production. One ‘innovation’ in 2013 was having the dancers shout out at random moments, not something that many audience members seem to love. Strangely, this new production has increased the shouting and on-stage chit-chat, but it’s still at irregular times so still comes across as forced. Also, although the staging is attractive, there were times (particularly in the first act) when things looked squashed and too many things were happening at once. But overall, this was a fabulously entertaining show and should prove something of a keeper for Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Gerard Davis

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Spring Special – Dutch National Ballet: Livestream, 10 April 2021


The Principal Choice

Spring has sprung and, like the rest of the northern hemisphere, hopes are rising in the Netherlands for some kind of respite from the everlasting Covid pandemic. Dutch National Ballet are clearly feeling the same optimism and have put together a lovely collection of works chosen (and performed) by the Company’s Principal dancers. The end result is inevitably somewhat gala-like but there was some interesting choices and also a world and a company premiere to enjoy.

The world premiere was a short duet for Anna Ol and James Stout by Juliano Nunes called Alignment that was a perfectly functional slice of neo-classical which unfortunately lacked the bright colour supplied by Oliver Haller’s sunrise costumes. On the other hand, the Company premiere was probably the most rewarding performance of the night: Pyotr Gusev’s Talisman pas de deux is an extravaganza of physical fireworks and Maia Makhateli and Young Gyu Choi gave you plenty of bang for your buck.

Excerpts from Giselle popped up a couple of times. The Pas de Quatre that opened the night was beautifully performed by Salome Leverashvili, Jan Spunda, Nina Tonoli and Sho Yamada. The later Act II pas de deux was danced with equal elegance by Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko but it’s a pas de deux that always looks slightly out of place when isolated from the full ballet. The other classical offerings were a gorgeous Sleeping Beauty Grand Pas from Jessica Xuan and Jakob Feyferlik, and José Carlos Martínez’s Delibes Suite, charmingly brought to life by Anna Tsygankova and a splendid Constantine Allen.

The remainder of the pieces were similarly vibed and neatly organised duets (and one cheeky solo) that were impeccably danced but not terribly memorable. However, they all helped to contribute to a show that zipped happily by and which was well-filmed and nicely linked together by short interviews with all the Principals explaining their choices.

Gerard Davis

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Hans van Manen Variations – Dutch National Ballet: Live streaming, 5 March 2021

Not so much a live stream as a raging torrent of movement. Dutch National Ballet’s trailer for Hans van Manen Variations

Hans van Manen is one of the great choreographic names of the 20th and 21st centuries, and not just because he somehow makes unitards look good. His deeply musical work is beautifully crafted, inventively detailed in the steps and it’s packaged with minimum fuss. Rarely does he employ a direct narrative but his ballets are full of human emotion and re-interpretable relationships. Most of his output has been created for Nederlands Dans Theater and Dutch National Ballet, so it was great to be able to see six of his pieces performed here by the Amsterdam-based DNB.

Adagio Hammerklavier looks a tricky one for dancers at any time, but after a year of lockdown it must be a bugger. It’s a lyrical, flowing work with an abundance of calf-killing held extensions. The dancing was impressive, particularly the ebb and sway of Luiza Bertho and James Stout as the first couple, and this was reflected throughout the rest of the programme; the dancers were just superb.

Sarcasmen was probably the only let-down of the night, not because of technique, but because Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke didn’t relay the humour very well. Floor Eimers and Edo Wijnen made an ideal partnership in Déjà Vu, while Qian Liu and Jakob Feyferlik were sublime in Trois gnossiennes. Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen kept up the good work in a wonderful reading of Two pieces for HET and the quartet that populated Variations for two couples hit every musical phrasing to a tee. It was an amazing night of dancing.

It was also really well put together as a live stream. Unlike the company’s 2019 Christmas Gala, there was no faffing about with close-ups of the dancers faces while they were performing – this time one camera zoomed subtly in and out (always keeping the feet in view) which meant you got a real flow of the choreography. There were also some interesting Van Manen anecdotes from the Company’s Associate Artistic Director Rachel Beaujean to help fill the awkward silences between pieces and – a nice touch – a smattering of backstage cameras that showed the dancers entering, leaving and generally milling around the stage and backstage areas. Good job all round.

Gerard Davis

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Dancing Nation: Episode 3 – Sadler’s Wells & BBC: BBC iPlayer & Sadler’s Wells website, from 28 January 2021

He: ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ She: ‘I gotta get outta here. Dancing Nation is doing my head in.’ Northern Ballet in Kenneth Tindall’s States of Mind

The ambitious Dancing Nation reached its conclusion without really hitting any great heights. Or little ones. It may be due to the deliberate lack of narrative and emotional connection between dancers but, somehow, contemporary dance just doesn’t seem to transcribe to screen very well. Episode 3 was a case in point.

Kenneth Tindall’s States of Mind looks great in real life but in two-dimensions it was unengaging (despite Northern Ballet’s excellent dancing), the essential depth of spacing between large groups of performers flattened so as to make it irrelevant. Matsena Productions’ Shades of Blue looks like an interesting, if chaotically structured, piece but the camera enlarges facial gestures almost to parody. There was, however, some really nice movement and a powerful closing solo. Shobana Jeyasingh’s curiously prescient Contagion also has some powerful moments, but only when a narrator is relating the horrific real-life experiences of victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic; the choreography itself adds very little (if anything) to their stories. Ironically, Marion Motin’s Rouge was a tedious affair to watch in the theatre, but her glossily superficial visuals didn’t look too bad on-screen. Mind you, she was aided and abetted here by someone wisely choosing to show only the work’s relatively exciting finale.

And that was your lot. The three episodes gave a pretty poor return for over three hours worth of audience concentration. I think the series’ presentation didn’t help much, either. The host, Brenda Emmanus, was forever telling us what to think about a piece; everything was introduced as ‘searing’, ‘poignant’, ‘resonant’ and the like. How about letting us make our own minds up about that? Bit rich, you might argue, coming from a dance critic such as myself. But the point is that I’m independent – she was representing Sadler’s Wells, the BBC and the artists involved.

My frustration is fuelled by disappointment. It must have been huge task organising Dancing Nation but the choice of repertoire was dispiriting, lacking variety and almost unrelentingly downbeat. If this is the best the UK can offer at the moment, the contemporary dance scene (in particular) needs to take a good hard look at itself and find ways of producing work that’s not just preening to its own cracked mirror. If nothing else, the Covid-19 pandemic has given many people time to reflect – I hope it leads to some fresh thinking about who dance is actually for.

Dancing Nation can be accessed until 26 February 2021 on the BBC iPlayer if you live in the UK, and on the Sadler’s Wells website if you’re anywhere else on this fabulous planet.

Gerard Davis

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Dancing Nation: Episode 2 – Sadler’s Wells & BBC: BBC iPlayer & Sadler’s Wells website, from 28 January 2021

Swoon! Akram Khan and Natalia Osipova in Khan’s Mud of Sorrow: Touch

The big draw for episode 2 of Dancing Nation was the debut collaboration between Akram Khan and The Royal Ballet’s Natalia Osipova. Mud of Sorrow: Touch is a lovely piece with elegant, flowing choreography that highlights humanity’s desire to retain intimacy in the most separating of times. Khan and Osipova worked well together – they seem a surprisingly natural pairing – and the accompanying music was entrancing (almost too much, in fact; it had a soporific effect at times).

At the opposite end of the dynamic scale was the jagged power of Botis Seva’s BLKDOG, a bulletproof display of fidgeting switchbacks and tightly pent-up aggression. It was performed with astonishing dexterity and precision by Far From the Norm and transferred well to the small screen. Birmingham Royal Ballet presented excerpts from their recent Covid creation Lazuli Sky. Will Tuckett’s choreography was graceful, the camera angles inventive and the dancers fabulous. Nina Dunn’s video projections are dazzling, although they were outshone on this occasion by Carlos Acosta’s wallpaper.

Having shown us the mysteries of the dark side of the moon in episode 1, Humanhood returned to reveal the joys of the bright side of the moon in Sphera. Turns out, it’s pretty similar to the dark side except people wear white. Oona Doherty ventured outside for Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus (her title, not mine) and employed a car for a prop, out of which popped a dancer who was apparently breaking down stereotypes about joyriders and masculinity. Right you are.

Boy Blue’s Blak Whyte Gray is a decent piece but unfortunately, here they chose a trio from the Whyte section that didn’t look great on film. Still, the dancing was excellent. Okay, the next review will be Dancing Nation’s final episode in the trilogy; let’s hope it’s better than The Matrix Revolutions.

Dancing Nation can be accessed until 26 February 2021 on the BBC iPlayer if you live in the UK, and on the Sadler’s Wells website if you live somewhere else.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Akram Khan, BBC, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Botis Seva, Boy Blue, Far From the Norm, Humanhood, Natalia Osipova, Oona Doherty, Sadler's Wells, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dancing Nation: Episode 1 – Sadler’s Wells & BBC: BBC iPlayer & Sadler’s Wells website, from 28 January 2021

Sod you, Covid. Candoco Dance Company get excited about Dancing Nation in Yasmeed Godder’s Face In

Over the past nine months or so there’s been plenty of ballet made available to watch online. There’s not been quite the same volume of contemporary dance to witness, presumably a question of budgets and company structures. Finally, however, there’s an attempt to put that right; Sadler’s Wells have teamed up with the BBC to produce Dancing Nation, over three hours worth of the UK’s finest contemporary companies showing us what we’re missing (with a bit of ballet thrown in too).

Split into three episodes, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures sashayed on first with a new filming of one of Bourne’s earliest hits, Spitfire, a piss-take of Jules Perrot’s Pas de Quatre. Perrot is famous for his role in choreographing Giselle and it’s probably safe to assume that he never envisaged his second most famous creation being danced by a bunch of chaps in their underwear. Many people love this piece. Personally, I find the first few minutes kind of funny but then lose interest. Well-filmed and well-danced though this Spitfire was, it didn’t change my mind.

Following that, we had Candoco Dance Company going bonkers on stage in excerpts from Yasmeen Godder’s Face In. The dancers were excellent but the piece is incomprehensible. The music was good, though. Following that, Breakin’ Convention took over Sadler’s Wells with a series of short works that utilised all levels of the theatre’s foyer areas. It was a neat conceit but ultimately Window Shopping revealed a mixed bag of dancers, limited choreography and some godawful costumes.

Humanhood popped in to explore our relationship with the dark side of the moon in excerpts from Orbis. I wasn’t particularly aware that I had a relationship with the dark side of the moon and after watching Julia Robert and Rudi Cole spinning round and round for about 10 minutes, I still wasn’t. Last up was English National Ballet’s Emily Suzuki and Victor Prigent in Stina Quagebeur’s Hollow, a filmed recording lifted directly from the Company’s live stream of their Emerging Dancer competition in September 2020. Watching it for the second time revealed more intricacy in the choreography and a more subtle symbiosis between performer and music. It’s clearly a grower.

In all honesty, the first episode of Dancing Nation was a little underwhelming, I was expecting a bit more wam-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Never mind, perhaps that’ll come in episode 2 (already available to watch) which includes Natalia Osipova and Akram Khan dancing together for the first time.

Dancing Nation can be accessed until 26 February 2021 on the BBC iPlayer if you live in the UK, and on the Sadler’s Wells website if you live beyond the borders of this increasingly isolated island.

Gerard Davis

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The Secret Theatre – Scottish Ballet: Online, 21 December 2020

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brotherston

Yay, it’s Christmas! Scottish Ballet raise spirits in The Secret Theatre

There have been a whole host of filmed dance works over the past nine months or so but Scottish Ballet’s The Secret Theatre might be the one that has the longest shelf life. Following a loose Nutcracker-style narrative, a young boy finds himself in a closed theatre and stumbles into a magical back-stage world where he fights to elude the clutches of the evil Snow Queen, a vindictive woman who enjoys nothing more than turning people into Snow Wolves.

Using festive characters choreographed by Peter Darrell and Christopher Hampson, and music from Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Frank Moon, it’s all linked together very nicely and has a simple but effective story that’s made clear without use of words or subtitles. It’s quite old-school in that sense but the cinematography is what brings it into the 21st century; it’s constantly on the move and loves nothing more interacting with the dancers.

On top of everything, someone made the genius decision to ask Lez Brotherston (Matthew Bourne’s go-to man) to design the sets and costumes. He’s perfect for the job and the close-up high-definition cameras reveal every tiny detail in the vast array of costumes. It’s not all sequins and tutus mind – he’s looked towards cabaret as much as classical ballet and The Secret Theatre is all the more effective for that.

At the moment you can watch The Secret Theatre for free on the Scottish Ballet website until midnight on Christmas Eve (although you need to book the tickets in advance). I really hope, though, that it gets picked up by one of the national TV networks – it makes brilliant Christmas family viewing and could be making people happy for years to come.

Gerard Davis

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The Nutcracker – Birmingham Royal Ballet: The REP, Birmingham. On Demand, 18 December 2020

Back in the rep

Nuttin’ to it. Momoko Hirata and Cesar Morales practice their star jumps for BRB’s Nutcracker

I’ve seen Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker for Birmingham Royal Ballet in three different guises. First time was a specially adapted one at London’s O2 Arena; second time was a specially adapted one at London’s Royal Albert Hall; and now this, the third time, was, yes, you’ve guessed it, a specially adapted one which was at least streamed from Birmingham rather than London. I’m getting closer. One day I’ll live the dream and see it in all its live, home-theatre glory.

Exiled temporarily (hopefully) from the Birmingham Hippodrome, BRB filmed this at the smaller The REP theatre. That, coupled with coronavirus restrictions, means this is a much-changed Nutcracker which just about holds on to its magic. Sets are largely replaced by video projections, the larger ensemble set-pieces are minimally populated and some major dances are eliminated completely. While this is completely understandable in the circumstances, there were a couple of baffling decisions, none more so than the chopping off of the coda from the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux. I recognise these are extraordinary times and the dancers probably aren’t quite as fit as usual but surely trusting them to finish a pas de deux isn’t beyond the realm of possibility?

It was a particular shame because Momoko Hirata and César Morales were dancing beautifully together as the Sugar Plum and her beau; their sharp, clean lines and telepathic understanding were the unquestionable highlight of the evening. Elsewhere, the dancing was strong but it was fully apparent how much a live audience brings to the Nutcracker experience; the absence of happy, excited applause at the end of each divertissement drained the show of any momentum.

Nevertheless, this performance was well-filmed, danced with spirit and it was wonderful to see a full-length ballet back on stage again and have a full-size orchestra playing their hearts out. Congratulations to everyone at BRB for making it happen, for performing so well and for cheering me up.

You can watch BRB’s The Nutcracker on demand from Saturday 19 December at 7:30pm through until midnight on Christmas Eve 2020. Tickets start at £15 (you have the opportunity to also donate money to the Company if you wish) and can be bought on the Birmingham Royal Ballet website.

Gerard Davis

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Sadler’s Wells Global Gala: Online, 5 December 2020

Plenty to see here

Time at the barre please. Ho ho ho, I bet that pun’s never been dun before. Tiler Peck lines up in William Forsythe’s Buzzard and Kestrel.

Like so many theatres across the world, Sadler’s Wells’ attempts at putting on performances over the last few months have been hamstrung by their government’s measures to combat Covid-19. The lights at Sadler’s came on briefly in October and November but a second UK lockdown swiftly turned them back off again. Undeterred, the organisation has put together what they call an online global gala and have invited their starriest artists and patrons to put in their tuppence worth. Inevitably, it’s a bit hit and miss but there are some interesting little nuggets in there, including a couple of prestigious world premieres.

William Forsythe’s Buzzard and Kestrel features New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck and a couple of male foils showing off some dazzling footwork at the barre. There’s nothing groundbreaking in the choreography or the performance but it’s a terrific demonstration of the art of the ballet dancer. The other premiere, Jason Kittelberger’s Once With, is more subtle, but is also beautifully danced by the choreographer and his partner, Natalia Osipova. It also comes with a neat twist at the end, cleverly done.

Other performances include the Fields of Gold duet from Kate Prince’s Message in a Bottle, a short behind-the-scenes view of the National Youth Dance Company dancing Russell Maliphant’s A year like no other, and Jonzi D has put together a lovely finale involving companies from the USA, South Africa, Taiwan and London. Perhaps the best moments of the gala, though, are the some of the brief cameos that pop up from time to time: Carlos Acosta joyously dancing salsa in the studio, Sylvie Guillem up a tree and William Forsythe in a field catching snow in a bucket. Never thought I’d write those last 16 words in the same sentence.

The Sadler’s Wells Global Gala is free to watch and is available until 2 January 2021 on the Sadler’s Wells YouTube page.

Gerard Davis

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