One of the Best Ballet Experiences Ever and My Best Birthday in 50 Years

Alex Hallas with members of Powerhouse Ballet at Dance Studio Leeds, 15 Feb 2020
© 2020 Powerhouse Ballet, all rights reserved

It is not often that I am bowled over by a debut work whether a first novel, composition or ballet but Alex Hallas's Concerto Jenkims enchanted me.  Immediately after seeing it in Made in Wales I sought out the choreographer and invited him to teach us his new ballet in Leeds just as soon as he was free to do so.

That tuned out to be yesterday and it was one of my best ballet experiences ever.   Alex gave us a very thorough class that lasted a full two hours. After lunch, he played us a video of the ballet that I had seen in Cardiff the previous March. It was just as I remembered it and it brought tears to my eyes.  For the rest of the company, it was the first time they had seen the work. It took a second or two for the majesty of the work to sink in, Immediately afterwards there was a peal of applause.

Alex taught us two passages of his ballet. The first steps traced the steps that had been performed by Colleen Grace, Ann Wall and Kibyusa Forcos in The Armed Man.  For the purpose of that exercise, we were divided into groups of three and members of each was nicknamed Colleen, Ann and Kibby respectively.   I danced Ann's steps which had a lovely movement in which our group of three linked hands and then broke three. I did not quite master it but Yoshie Kimura who danced the same steps came much closer to the effect that I had seen on stage.

The other passage was the finale to the Dies Irae. We entered as a line with a combination of arabesques and tendus that reminded me briefly of the entry of the shades in La Bayadȅre but the tempo was quite different.  Another group joined us on the other side of the studio.  Stepping on demi-pointe we formed two diagonal lines which ended with a flourish and turn.  We left the stage and two other groups entered with a somewhat more complex exercise. 

As we had only three hours to learn those movements we had to work together and that was one of the best moments of the day for me. Watching groups of dancers from Birmingham, the Northwest, Wales and Yorkshire working as one was very satisfying.  We are more than just a class of adult ballet students. We have become firm friends.

And that leads me neatly on to explaining why yesterday was my best birthday since 1970.  As heavy rain had been forecast I brought a few provisions for the dancers to avoid the need for them to leave the studio at lunchtime.  We sat down to eat these in the reception area just outside studio 2. Alicia and Holly appeared with a delicious cake and the whole company started singing "Happy Birthday" for me and  Beverley Willsmer who also has a birthday in February.  Beverley blew out the candles but she did not have an opportunity to taste the cake as she had to rush for a coach.   The cake was excellent!  Yoshie also gave me some chocolate which we added to the feast.

Having exceeded the biblical three score years and ten, I have some ambivalence towards birthdays.  I had to defend an opposition in the Trade Marks Registry on the day of my birthday and then drive home from Newport so it was a day like any other.  My only indulgence was to visit Ballet Cymru's studios at Rogerstone for 30 minutes to watch this year's Pre-Professionals in class with Andrea Battagia   They were very impressive and I intend to see their end of term show in Cardiff and write a feature on them for Terpsichore.

Yesterday was different.  As I said above, the dancers who train with me as Powerhouse Ballet are more than just classmates.  They have become dear friends and acquaintances. I can think of no bigger pleasure than dancing with friends. The last time I could do that on my birthday was at the Andrew Melville Ball in St Andrews the day that I turned 21. That was a grand black-tie affair and turning 21 had a special significance as that was the day I came of age under the law as it then stood.  So at the risk of mawkish sentimentality, I should like to thank Alex and everyone who turned up for his workshop yesterday for one of the happiest days of my life.

Those who missed yesterday's workshop have an opportunity to take Alex's class at KNT Danceworks at the Dancehouse Theatre on Oxford Road in Manchester this week.  I shall be there on Thursday.  Northern Ballet Academy will be closed for half-term so I am sure I shall not be the only one to cross the Pennines in search of a good ballet class.

We shall be back in Manchester on 29 Feb for our company class with Jane Tucker.   At the Day of Dance in December, Alex told us that Jane had been his teacher.   What better commendation could there be? Jane's classes are never easy but they are always fun.  This class will fill up quickly so if you want to attend you should register now.


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