Olivia Cowley’s Ballet Style

Absolutely loving Royal Ballet Soloist Olivia Cowley’s BalletStyle blog. She’s so right, the costumes on stage are absolute works of art and it is a shame that we don’t often get the chance to appreciate the craft and beauty of them up close. But it’s not just stage costumes! We get to see snaps of dancers during their work day and what they wear in class- as well as Olivia’s fab street style.

Here she is as Raven Wife –  a role I really enjoyed seeing her in recently. The costume fascinated me when I saw in on stage. The mask appeared opaque which was so striking and almost quite disturbing. It’s a real pleasure to see the headpiece up close and all the intricate folded ribbons on the tunic.

Source: ballet costumes — Ballet Style

Treating the dancer in your life.

It’s that  time of year again isn’t it, when you have to start thinking of yuletide gifts.

Ok so I’m totally writing this because these are things which *I* would like for Christmas and also my birthday is the week before Christmas which you know is difficult and people don’t have time to think of all these gifts so really I’m doing everyone a big favour…

But seriously, don’t buy your ballerina bestie something lame.

What is this even?

What is this even?

Good lord no.

Good lord no.

Here are things the dancer in your life will deffo appreciate…

(**Heads up – my list is London-centric and assumes mostly female dancers, but does work for other regions and all genders too! Comment if you have even better ideas for your region and the danseurs in your life.**)

Dance Direct Vouchers
We all have our eye on our next leotard. Even though we have more leotards than clean knickers. Don’t risk sizing and style nightmares, get a voucher for dancedirect.com which stocks loads of brands and normally at a bit of a discount. If you’re just looking for a small gift, even a fiver will be appreciated – trust me.

ROH Vouchers
Yes, the Royal Opera House does vouchers! It’s really not very obvious at all from their website or actual box office but is true!
Again, just a fiver or whatevs would be appreciated towards their next tickets, or if you’ve got the spends give them enough for a box. Luxury.
If you’re not near or in London, a special overnight trip to the Royal Opera House would blow their minds and would be the most incredible friend date / romantic actual date eveerrr (you’re welcome).
And if you want to treat them to tickets for a different ballet company, theatre vouchers can be used almost anywhere.

RAD Vouchers
This one’s specific to dancers who are taking exams, but kitting up with the right exam uniform is a bit of an investment. Honestly, we need the right colour leotard, tutu, even hair ribbons.

The DVDs and Syllabus outline textbooks are super useful too, if you know which grade they’re taking.

If your fancy dancer has passed, then you can get them the corresponding silver pendant woooo.

This is the pendant for the exam I'm taking jus sayinnnn

This is the pendant for the exam I’m taking jus sayinnnn


I’m not joking here. Buy me tights. I ladder them all the bloody time and the cost mounts. And even washing on delicate, the gorgeous matchy matchy shade you’ve carefully chosen does fade. The cost and frustration can be especially true if your dancing wellbeloved likes to match their skintone, and their skintone doesn’t fit into the massively circumscribed spectrum of most widely available tights.

One great company is NudeBarre with a fabulous selection of products and colours. You can even order a colour swatch to get the matchy matchy absolutely perfect. (I so want some nude fishnets yesss.)
Revolutions Colour Flow tights are brilliant value for money and offer a better than usual selection of colours, in full foot, stirrup and convertible. I’m crazy about Prima Pink which matches the pink of my satin slippers perfectly.

A personalised sewing kit

You can get such cute little tins and one filled up with the essentials is a super-cute stocking filler. You’ll need: some ribbons and elastics, some ballet-pink Nymo, a card of needles, a stitch-ripper, a thimble. I also love my fold-up scissors, so useful. And a fancy little mini lighter for sealing your ribbon ends would be the cherry on top.

Here's mine. Cute tins! Cute cheap tins!

Here’s mine. Cute tins! Cute cheap tins!

Ballet DVDs

We all love watching dance. We just do. Maybe your prima bestie has a favourite company or is a mega fan of a particular dancer? If you’re not sure, it’s safe to say that the Royal Ballet DVDs are consistently top quality and they have a really good library of performances, from classic Royal Ballet primas like Fonteyn and Bussell, right up to brand new productions.

Ballets are increasingly being live-broadcast to cinemas too, so check out what’s on near you.

Pop this on and get ready to DIE OF WEEPING.

Pop this on and get ready to DIE OF WEEPING.

Ballet wear, clothes and jewellery

Everyone’s tastes here are different I know, but I have to shout out some excellent companies…

Cloud and Victory – are hilarious and oh so stylish. A little pricey, and shipping from Singapore, a special delivery from them would be absolutely delightful.

Yass kwene

Yass kwene

Designed by Alice – I own two of her gorgeous skirts already and the quality is so good. The elasticated waist ribbon makes such a difference, the cut is lovely and she always stocks an ever-changing selection of gorgeously patterned fabric.

Les Nereides – just. these. yes.


The absolute best things all dancers love is to dance! Gifting a class or a set of classes is the most wonderful gift I can think of. Studios like Danceworks offer different gift card options, others like The Place offer carnets of 6 or 12 classes, or even for a terms-worth of classes. If you’re feeling generous you could offer to pay their invoices for their  pre-booked classes? Another special treat would be book a private lesson for them – ask their usual ballet teacher, a lot of teachers will offer privates.

I know some people don’t like to give money as it isn’t gift-wrapped and special like a present, but honestly anything at all towards class fees would delight any dancer – and you could even dress it up in a lovely card.

Odile's costume. Drool.

Odile’s costume. Drool.

I’d love to know what your best-ever fancy-dancy present was. And you have to promise to tell me if you get a special something for your special dancer!

The Winter’s Tale – a review

It was a crisp and still-sunny spring evening in London on Tuesday , and I was an audience member in the opening run of the Royal Ballet’s The Winters Tale, adapted from Shakespeare by Christopher Wheeldon.

Shakespearean plots are hard to write in summary. Even Shakespearean scholars can struggle with it, with all the various characters and to-ing and fro-ing. (The Royal Opera  House provides a pretty good summary here.) But on the page and in performance all this potential  confusion is solved as we see the characters living and developing the plot. I wondered – how this might this work in dance? Could silent storytelling adequately handle the plot? Added to this, Shakespeare is much more than the story- can dance be Shakespearean?

The first act takes place in the courtly setting of King Leontes’ Bohemia. Amidst twirling snow, the scene is set with some lovely work from two young boys as the growing King Leontes and King Polixenes. Handing their crowns to the adult characters, Edward Watson and Federico Bonelli, one little one becomes the young prince Mamillius. The robust and yet moving male friendship  between the two kings is beautifully danced as Watson and Bonelli mutually support and lift each other. The friendship between the two kings then interweaves with the queen Hermione, and in a touching moment Polixenes lifts Hermoine and she flows downwards to kiss Leontes. The onset of Leontes’ jealousy is pushed back slightly later in time compared to the text, an effective choice that lets the audience read the physical vocabulary of intimacy between the royal couple, and follow it as it becomes grotesquely contorted in sexual jealousy.

Edward Watson at Leontes is an absolute joy to watch. Bonelli of course is an accomplished dancer and a delight as Polixenes, but Watson is transfixing in his fluidity of movement and command of performance. His acting is seamless; he utilises the tinest gesture of his fingers, not just in dancerly grace, but to communicate a stunning depth of character. His jealousy is beetle-like as he scurries on demi-pointe; at moments his hands become skittering insects that consume him. At another moment in his tortured suspicion he appears cheshire-cat like on Polixenes’ shoulder, rolling with his rictus grin slowly down his arm to eventually face the queen. This is an illumination, rather than simplification, of the Shakespearean character, and an incredibly engrossing theatrical experience.

Act Two opens as an effective contrast to the intense psychological drama of the first act, with a pastoral pas de deux leading into country dances, the trilling birdsong woodwind of the orchestra accompanied by musicians with traditional instruments on the stage itself. The corps are engaging and the choreography here makes reference to renaissance jigs and capers with feet becoming turned in  – and caprioles, of course. Sarah Lamb as Perdita is dressed in royal purple, perhaps referencing her  birth and innate royalty, however this works visually to set her apart from the pastoral scene; she never seems to inhabit the role of a blithe and innocent shepherdess. Her incredibly lean and languorous physicality lends her an ethereality that makes her breathtaking in the second act of Giselle, for instance, but reads at odds with Perdita as the simple pastoral maid. Her dancing is beautiful, and her Perdita sweet and delicate, but she seems framed and choreographed as a classical porcelain ballerina, not a complex narrative actor.

The Giselle comparisons are perhaps inevitable for a bucolic scene of dancing villagers; and, similarly to the Romantic ballet, the villagers do seem to caper for extraordinarily long time. The unravelling of Florizel’s identity takes place in-and-amongst, and so the young pair’s flight from Polixenes seems somewhat abrupt as the act comes to a close. Act Three ties up the story, and the statue moment as Hermoine is restored to her family is nicely executed, however the third act lacks the power of the intense and tragic first, and the cast here have little opportunity to engage in complex work as the denouement cracks on at a brisk pace.

The costuming throughout is simple and effective, with good use of colour and sparing embellishment. Leontes’ costume is especially effective, as subtle costume changes allow for an exciting variety of movement within the regal silhouette. The country maidens in the second act are gorgeously attired in flowing georgette with bodices that reference Renaissance girdles with under-bust stays, and Perdita’s country wedding outfit is exquisitely simple. There is also some incredible use of fabric in the mise-en-scene.

My musical knowledge is nil, but Ballet Friend really does know her stuff. She wished the music had been more powerful, a sound wall to reflect the power of the story, and called to mind some orchestral shipwrecks that could have been drawn upon for the storm in the abandonment scene. Wheeldon worked with the composer Joby Talbot on the Royal Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland and the score in that production worked well to accompany the storybook fantasy. However, the undercurrent of tragedy in The Winter’s Tale didn’t quite stir in the depths of the music.

The Winter’s Tale can be quite thorny, as the violently jealous Leontes remains unpunished. The statue of his young son, dead in shock at his fathers jealous rage, remains on stage as reminder of the tragedy Leontes has caused. But all is well, and the young royal couple are bedecked in white for a courtly marriage. Maybe ballet is a world where the improbable coincidences of the story and the happy resolution of an unambiguous ending are tropes that are expected and enjoyed, similar to Shakespeare’s audiences’ taste for marvellous romance?

Watson’s portrayal of Leontes could be read literarily, and his ‘diseased’ jealousy, his ‘tremor cordis’ and tortured isolation could all be neatly matched up with his characters’ choreography. Well-read though the production undoubtedly is, Watson’s performance is more than a physical translation of words on a page. He brings the dance production into dialogue with the Shakespearean text, with his eloquent phrasing and nuanced acting – the different medium acting as a new dimension.

Watson is very diffident taking his bows, preferring to indicate Hermione, Paulina and Perdita as recipients of the audience’s affection. I was on my feet for him, though. His dancing is Shakespearean.

Woolf Works

After my post yesterday I’ve calmed down a bit and down some research. McGregor’s new project will be his first full-length ballet for the Royal Ballet, and it will also weave The Waves and Orlando around the main text of Mrs Dalloway, and  incorporate themes from Woolf’s own life. The ROH booking form just names it as “New Wayne McGregor” – suggesting it hasn’t been finally named yet!

An excellent post from On The New dips into Woolf’s diaries here. Although I’ve not read The Waves, Orlando is one of my favourite novels of its era and its theatricality – not to mention its themes of personality, gender and time – make it another incredibly exciting prospect for the stage.