West End Kids

West End Kids At The Albert Hall

As one of the UK’s most prestigious and highest profile musical theatre song and dance troupes, West End Kids has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2001, and is now famous nationwide. Formed by Musical Director and specialist vocal coach Martin-Gwyn Williams, WEKs is based primarily on the American model of training young Broadway performers.

WEKs is renowned for providing exceptionally talented young and aspiring performers with the opportunity to advance their talents further, encouraging them to tighten their tap shoes and step confidently in front of the microphone. The WEKs – approximately 20 – are in high demand due to their unfaltering successes, handling an incredibly busy schedule of high profile events, performances and studio recordings. Just recently, WEKs performed at the Charles Dickens bicentenary dinner, providing a professional and slick spectacle, kicking up the heels of their character shoes! They have previously spread their influence at the London 2012 Olympic Games, West End Live, Move IT and Children In Need, amongst hundreds of other events.

Last year, the WEKs were seen and heard by over 1 million people, and through online technology such as Facebook and Twitter, they have a large following throughout the world. Be it leotards, show tights and New Yorkers, or jazz pants and jazz trainers, the WEKs work to tailor each performance to each individual client. Additionally, the WEKs have recorded and released numerous studio recordings, with the most recent being a new arrangement of Aint No Mountain High Enough which is available on iTunes. In 2011 the world-class WEKs performed for British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Commonwealth State Banquet after being selected as the UKs brightest star within youth music theatre; 2012 looks as though it is set to be another year of success and performance for the WEKs!

For further information visit www.westendkids.co.uk.

Image courtesy of West End Kids.

International Dance Festival Birmingham

International Dance Festival Birmingham 2012

The International Dance Festival Birmingham is due to run from April 23rd until May 19th, bringing an outstanding line-up of hit shows to the Midlands, such as Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant’s Push, combining elements of ballet, contemporary, capoeira, t’ai chi and yoga; a solo for Louise LeCavalier named Children & A Few Minutes Of Lock created by Nigel Charnock; and the premiere of new work The Impending Storm, featuring dance virtuoso David Toole.

The month-long dance programme is now in its third edition as a major biennial festival produced by DanceXchange and Birmingham Hippodrome, programmed across theatres, streets and public places, creating a wealth of participatory activity for people of all ages by animating the city of Birmingham and the West Midlands, encouraging them to pull on their dancewear and get involved.

The IDFB is one of the largest dance festivals in the world, and is unique in its diversity and internationalism through its programming of exceptional dance from across the globe, and hosting collaborations with international choreographers and artists. The IDFB is set to include additionally engaging features such as the pointe shoes of The Royal Ballet of Flanders (performing Artifact), a screening of the jazz shoe classic West Side Story and the exotic Danza Contemporanea de Cuba from Dance Consortium. Added to the mix is the transferral of urban hoodie-wearing Breakin’ Convention from London to the Midlands, the international festival of hip-hop dance theatre within the IDFB.

Sylvie Guillem & Russell Maliphant in Push

The IDFB aims to bring an outstanding quality of work and worldwide attention to the numerous arts organisations and venues in the Midlands and the incredible dance scene which resides there through many partnerships and collaborations. Building on the successes of previous years, the IDFB 2012 aims to be even more distinctive than before, attracting more visitors from across the UK and beyond, consequently benefitting the local economy. With a strong international focus, the IDFB will celebrate artistic excellence, promote artistic exchange and express the youthful, diverse and energetic spirit of dance in the Midlands.

IDFB 2012 image courtesy of IFDB. Sylvie Guillem & Russell Maliphant image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Royal Ballet of Flanders at Sadler’s Wells

Sadler's Wells

Sadler’s Wells is due to host the Royal Ballet of Flanders with Artifact, nearly thirty years after its premiere. American choreographer William Forsythe has created this subversive new-dance masterpiece, which is due to run at Sadler’s Wells until April 21st. As a 2009 Olivier award winner, the Royal Ballet of Flanders has been performing and touring worldwide for over four decades, renowned for their flawless technique and unconventional productions. The company specialises in classical ballet, neoclassical ballet and contemporary ballet and has done since its inception in 1969. Recently, the company has raised its international profile by adding more contemporary works to its repertoire.

Set to the music of Bach, Artifact was the first ballet that Forsythe created after becoming director of the Frankfurt Ballet 1984, and Artifact has since been described as “a masterpiece”. Forsythe is widely regarded as the most influential practitioner of the art form since Balanchine, creating works which questions the classical aesthetic of ballet and develops it further. As a ballet in four parts, Artifact features the choreography, scenography, lighting, and costumes of Forsythe, completely conveying his choreographic practices. Sporting warm yellow unitards, the dancers display impeccable classical technique, mixing pointe shoes with the bare foot. Artifact is famous for the way it subverts the traditional physical principles of ballet, and for the ways it plays with audiences’ ideas about the forms ballet can take on.

There is not a tutu to be found within Artifact, despite being performed by the only professional classically trained dance company in Flanders, engaging audiences and critics alike from Shanghai to Houston. Within the upcoming season, the company is due to tour to some of the most international ballet capitals of the world, spreading their influence… and airing their leg warmers!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tamara Rojo – The Next Artistic Director of ENB

Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta

April has been a month of huge proportions for former Royal Ballet prima ballerina Tamara Rojo, having just been appointed as the new Artistic Director of English National Ballet.

The news has flooded the internet and social media since the press release was issued and the official announcement followed. Rojo will be swapping her tutu and pristine tights for this managerial role, although it has been speculated that she may still dust off her pointe shoes and continue to dance professionally in some form.

Rojo has previously advocated her desire to take on this role at some point in her career, and what better company to establish herself with: fifteen years ago, Rojo showcased herself with English National Ballet, shooting to stardom under director Derek Deane. Following the sudden announcement two months ago that current director Wayne Eagling would step down from his post, Rojo’s name was widely rumoured as successor, alongside another star of English National Ballet and Rojo’s regular Opera House partner, Carlos Acosta.

Despite the fact many questions have been raised about Rojo’s youth and relative inexperience in directing a company, it is also arguable that her potentially fresh visions and performance career will complement those of the current dancers at English National Ballet, considering Rojo is at the peak of her dancing career aged 37 with undeniable box office popularity. The first Rojo production for English National Ballet will be the three hour classic The Sleeping Beauty, for which audiences and critics alike will compare it directly with the recent tiara twirling My First Sleeping Beauty and Rojo’s own English National Ballet and Royal Ballet performances of the same work.

Rojo’s hugely successful performing career places her in good popular stead for her new appointment following her final performances with The Royal Ballet. Her multi-faceted skill base as both a dancer and an industry professional indicates she will be successful in maintaining the glamorous image of English National Ballet in both London and on tour.

What do you think about Tamara Rojo and/or her new role?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Power of Drama and Dance Workshops

Whilst straightforward lessons are in no shape of form headed for the archives, dance and drama workshops for children and young people are gaining more and more popularity. At a glance, prestigious companies and organisations such as Rambert Dance Company, Tap Attack and West End Kids are offering their expertise to young, aspiring individuals who are willing to give up their free time in order to receive a worthwhile result. In the mix of leotards and “New Yorkers“, those engaging with the workshop may not ever dust off their pointe shoes and become The Dying Swan, but some may indeed embrace the new leg warmers of their dance life and take on an entirely new path.

Whilst taking part in workshops focus on the fun and enthusiasm the work creates, overall they provide much more. As a workshop leader, being able to noticeably nurture a young person’s desire to perform on stage, or focus their energy into raw talent is immensely worthwhile. Earlier this month in the Guardian online, the Associate Director of Creative Learning at the London Bubble Theatre Company wrote about The Speech Bubbles programme which encourages young children with speaking, listening or communication needs to overcome these barriers with phenomenal results. This may not be the case for all the children who take part on the programme, but to see a small improvement in areas such as emotion, conduct and behaviour is very encouraging to the workshop leaders.

To observe numerous workshops taking place that provide a multitude of resources for young people is extremely heartening; arts organisations, through various sources of funding, are able to support the next generation of artists and continue their line of work through what the leaders offer. Workshops in the art sector are not difficult to come by, with a whole host of successful organisations managing their time in order to provide.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Urban Strides

Urban Strides, the renowned street dance specialists, pride themselves providing the ultimate street dance experience for every dance ability level from the age of 7 to adult. Urban Strides aims to fulfil this through creating the most exciting, inspirational and authentic street dance experience possible, delivered with passion, positivity and fun, and possibly some knee pads!

Founder Andy Instone’s sheer passion and commitment, emotionally, physically and mentally, launched Urban Strides on the road to success. Originally self taught, Instone has since studied mainstream forms of dance – Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and Tap – and has travelled around the globe to learn from the pioneers of original street dance and hip hop styles, taking authentic dance, movement and expression to as many people as possible. Instone fuses funk movement with classical training techniques and choreographic conventions in order to add quality and dynamics to Urban Strides’ ethos and work.

Urban Strides offers classes, workshops, community work and performances, having also branched out into creating “streetwear” dance clothes and DVDs of their work. A variety of street dance styles are practised by Urban Strides, in order to provide a whole and comprehensive experience for those involved in the Urban Strides t-shirt clan. Additionally, Urban Strides has extensive experience and understanding of the education sector, regularly providing workshops for A Level and GCSE students, as well as inspirational workshops for beginners. Performances conducted by Urban Strides are additionally produced to be as accessible as possible for audiences, opening up the dance sector to everyone with their vibrant and exciting choreography.

The philosophy of Urban Strides means it aims to provide the highest quality possible at an affordable price, be it classes, workshops or performances. The accessibility of Urban Strides too means that if it’s your first day stepping into your urban dance sneakers, or you fifth year of pulling on your favourite street dance hoodie, Urban Strides is for you.

Summer School Fun

Summer Schools

With the ever-increasing emergence of “theatre-training” programmes, children and young people of the twenty-first century are receiving multiple opportunities to engage in the arts of singing, dancing and acting.

One avenue which is receiving more and more popularity each year is that of summer schools, which are offered by a variety of organisations and institutions alike. For those aspiring to further their theatre training at a performing arts college or similar, summer schools are an ideal way of giving the young person in question an idea of what it might be like to train at that particular college, as they grab their favourite leotards, dance tights or tap shoes. Summer schools are particularly useful to determine whether the student would like to audition for a place for the following year.

Usually an intensive one week course, summer schools offer a taster in many theatre disciplines such as acting, jazz dance, classical ballet, singing and pas de deux, culminating in a showcase performance. In addition to the benefits that students may gain, summer schools are also a chance for colleges and institutions to get a glimpse of the potential talent they may have auditioning, and gauge an idea as to a student’s possible suitability for their course.

Aside from the specific focus on training, for children and young adults summer schools provide the chance to meet other like-minded and motivated individuals who are looking to further their theatrical training in this way. Summer school can be a welcome break from the confines of some theatre schools or academies that the students might already belong to, allowing them to connect a little more with their individuality away from their stage school regulation uniform. Usually there are mixed abilities of students taking part, which may mean you might not get to put on your pointe shoes this summer, but will still have lots of fun!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Importance of Warming Up

Edgar Degas - Dancer Stretching at the Bar

Dancers are generally aware of the importance and benefits of conducting a thorough warm up before taking part in any physical activity, including dance, yet often other factors prevent this from happening. Being late to class or rehearsals, for example, can restrict your warm up time, or even cut it out completely. Most dancers undertake a strict “pre class” ritual of warming up and stretching their muscles out sufficiently, but in some cases, it only occurs before the first class of the year. There are numerous dancewear specialists who offer a variety of dance warm up clothes; it is equally important to warm up properly as it is to warm up at all.

The body must be physically prepared for the strenuous demands of dance, and this can be done by gradually increasing the temperature of the body and increasing blood circulation, such as performing a 5-10 minute jog. Whilst this is happening, it is beneficial to layer up your dancewear with “baggies” or extra clothing like hoodies and tracksuits. Dancewear specialists such as Plume and Pineapple have a huge range of dancewear specifically designed for warming up, indicating how seriously dancers should be taking this fundamental activity.

During a warm up the body prepares to work as a whole in order to dance as best as it can. The heart rate increases gradually, the muscles warm up to prevent injury and the ligaments and tendons become more flexible which reduces the chance of tears and injury. In areas of the body where there are large amounts of muscles used simultaneously, such as the legs, leg warmers are often useful in order to keep the muscles warm and engaged during warm ups and even at the start of class. A common injury for dancers is torn hamstrings, so utilising them properly through a warm up decreases the risk of injury. Warm ups also help the brain prepare for the task ahead, which increases your chance of enduring the exercise and benefitting from the harder parts of the regime of dance.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Puzzle of British Ballet Companies

Dancers At The Barre

Recently debated by The Arts Desk online was the purpose of ballet school for young students, in the grand scheme of their careers. It was reported that there are fewer than 300 full-time dancing jobs in UK ballet companies, insinuating that there are a lack of “home-grown” dancers taking up these roles and reaching the top of their profession. With the ballet shoe echoing the football boot, it seems stars from afar – rather than the UK – are increasing.

The dancers reaching the top of British ballet companies must survive injury, competition, subsidy cuts and criticism, regardless of the few jobs available in the profession. It must be questioned; are British ballet students reaching the required overall standard required by the ballet companies of the UK? It is naive to think that a brightly coloured leotard and new leg warmers are all that is required to make aspiring students stand out from the crowd, and be selected.

There is seemingly great focus on remaining far from the world of anomalies, where jobs are unlikely to venture. However, being one student of many identical to dozens of others may also be seen as a hindrance, as there may be nothing to make the student shine and be noticed. Is the strict discipline of ballet schools cloning students, providing them with no vigour for professional life? Or is it the “constant” which marks the way for each student’s relative success?

The abundance of the same practice clothing and footwear seemingly merges the crowds of students desperate for a job in a top ballet company, but similarly, if the rules of ballet schools were not present to adhere to throughout training, the required professional “standard” would not be met.

How can the students of today know if either adherence or personality is the winning formula?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tap Attack

Tap Shoes

Formed in 2006, Tap Attack has since established itself as a prestigious workshop provider. The teaching faculty of 15 have taught tap classes to over 3000 tap dancers in the UK, each teacher with notable achievements in their individual dance fields aside from their tap careers. Many have worked in the West End and on tap-specific shows, such as Tap Dogs, Hot Shoe Shuffle, Singin’ in the Rain and 42nd Street.

Tap Attack has achieved remarkable success since its inception. The performance company of Tap Attack – Xtreme Tap – offers a wide variety of exciting performance opportunities. Tap Attack claims its dancers are unrivalled in their ability to entertain; be it a classic tap performance or a more bespoke requirement, Xtreme Tap hosts a team of talented tappers, donning tap shoes and ankle warmers! Apart from traditional tap work, Xtreme Tap have performed at a whole host of corporate and commercial events  with additional success performing at fashion shows, product launches and corporate entertaining events. With such a variety to choose from, suddenly the decision of Bloch tap shoes, Capezio tap shoes or So Danca tap shoes seems easy!

The first of Tap Attack’s 2012 “Total Tap Workshops” is in Birmingham on Sunday 29th April at The Dance Workshop, supported by Capezio. The sheer variety of opportunities offered by Tap Attack is emphasised by its Total Tap Workshops, available for 3 standards of tappers. The event is marketed as a fun and informative day for attendees, adding considerable amounts to their tap repertoire. Additionally, the “Rhythm Routes” of 2012 is due to follow up its sell-out success of 2011, as an exciting collaboration between Tap Attack and the ISTD. Rhythm Routes gives participants a chance to experience the best of UK tap as a journey through tap history, designed to inspire teachers and students alike with a range of classes. Rhythm Routes 2012 is taking place on Sunday 20th May, at Preston College; tap shoes at the ready!