First Position

First PositionFirst Position, a ballet documentary-come-movie to be screened in cinemas in the UK, paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted ballet stars of tomorrow as they prepare for the chance to enter the world of professional ballet. Bess Kargman’s award-winning box office hit documentary follows six extraordinary dancers, complete with bruises, blood, injuries and near exhaustion, as they follow their dreams and enter the Youth America Grand Prix, held annually in New York for boys and girls aged 8 to 19.

Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter the Youth America Grand Prix as one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions where talented dancers compete for the coveted title. In the final round hundreds of young dancers compete for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts and it is imperative that nothing short of perfection is performed. First Position showcases the awe-inspiring talent and passion that is displayed by the dancers, and had its World Premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and was named the audience choice’s first runner-up for Best Documentary. It also won the Jury Prize at the San Francisco Doc Fest, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Dallas International Film Festival, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Portland International Film Festival, and the audience award for Best Documentary at DOC NYC.

First Position centres around the protagonist characters of Jules Jarvis Fogarty, age 10, Aran Bell, age 11, Gaya Bommer Yemini, age 11, Miko Fogarty, age 12, Michaela DePrince, age 14, Joan Sebastian Zamora, age 16, and Rebecca Houseknecht, age 17. The dancers are from all over the world, and First Position reveals the dancers’ fates, with most of the group emerging from the competition with a statuette, award, scholarship or contract with a ballet company.

NYCB’s Next Season

New York City Ballet LogoNew York City Ballet company, founded in 1948, has announced its 2013-14 season, and it is set to be incredibly exciting for eager ballet and dance fans of all genres. The new season is set to include the world premieres of ballets by Peter Martins, Justin Peck, Angelin Preljocaj and Liam Scarlett, a good result due to the speculation surrounding his absence from the next Royal Ballet season.

NYCB has carved its fantastic reputation as one of the foremost dance companies in the world, with a company of dancers who excel in their field and are unparalleled in their talent and repertory. As a result of the founders George Balanchine and Lincoln Kerstein’s dedication and commitment in its early years, the company quickly became renowned worldwide for its athletic, modern and contemporary style.

The season for NYCB will also include 22 works by company co-founder and the esteemed choreographer Balanchine, with an additional 7 works by choreographer Jerome Robbins. The iconic and traditional production of Balanchine’s Nutcracker will also run for the annual season over Christmas as part of the company’s 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which has been the Company’s home since the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) opened in April 1964. In total, the season features performances of 50 ballets in the celebration.

First up for the season, beginning on 17 September, will be 6 performances of Martins’ Swan Lake and a gala performance with a premiere of work by Preljocaj. This season will also incorporate a family programme which will feature Christopher Wheeldon’s Carnival of the Animals, Martins’ Jeu de Cartes and Robbins’ Four Seasons. In the New Year, there will be a week-long festival of 21st-century choreographers, with 11 ballets by 10 choreographers, showcasing Peck’s world premiere and also including 2 fully Balanchine programmes.

Image courtesy of New York City Ballet.

Thriller Live’s Extension

Thriller LiveAlmost four years after his sudden death in 2009, the popular musical spectacular based on the hits of King of Pop Michael Jackson Thriller Live is set to carry on singing and dancing into 2014. Full of moon-walking, white gloves and grabbing of crotches, the musical has received a new extension to its run at the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End.

The show opened in January 2009, and is currently taking bookings until 16 March 2014. As a musical each performance showcases the iconic songs and fantastic, and equally iconic, dancing of the Michael Jackson legend and legacy, re-writing the rules of dance and consequently increasing its popularity.

In huge contrast to some of the story-telling book-based musicals that are also currently playing in the capital, Thriller Live conveys lots of high energy dance, eye-popping graphics, videos and songs in order to take audiences on a journey through the career and music of Jackson. The production is also regularly updated to keep the performances and the performers fresh, and has recently added an exciting new opening which some of its first audience members may not have seen. The show is now in its fifth year of existence and is an incredibly heart-warming experience for all those involved, making the musical very popular.

As a result of the announcement of the show’s extension, Thriller Live will be closing in on the record of the longest running show in the Lyric theatre’s 125-year history. The record is currently held by Five Guys Named Moe, which ran at the venue in the West End from December 1990 to March 1995.

Natalia Osipova To Join The Royal Ballet

Natalia OsipovaThe Russian superstar, and incredibly versatile, ballerina Natalia Osipova, most recently seen in the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s stint in London, is to join the Royal Ballet Company. Previously dancing with the Bolshoi Ballet, Osipova went on to leave the company two years later for the Mikhailovsky, in which she became a balletic household name. Her 2006 performance with the Bolshoi made her an overnight star when then-director Alexei Ratmansky picked her out of the corps de ballet.

Osipova danced as a guest with the Royal Ballet last year in Swan Lake alongside Carlos Acosta, displaying her dramatic acting range and sheer talent which was a clear hook for the British company. The next season for the Royal Ballet, beginning on 30 September, will be Osipova’s first, and she will be taking on the full range of the company’s heritage and modern repertory.

Osipova is hoped to be dancing the lead in Acosta’s new production of Don Quixote, with critics believing that Osipova will rise easily to the fantastic virtuosity and brilliance that is demanded by the role with the Royal Ballet, having honed the leading role herself worldwide previously, perhaps even her signature with the iconic head kick-jeté that is so recognisable.

Currently a principal at American Ballet Theatre until the end of June as well as the Mikhailovsky, Osipova intends to continue performing with both companies in addition to the Royal Ballet. She will also remain involved in the three-year agreement for freelance engagements with her on- and off-stage partner, Ivan Vasiliev, which expires in 2016 but will be arranged around her Royal Ballet schedule. The pair will next perform in California with the American premiere of Roland Petit’s Le jeune homme et la mort, alongside a new creation, which will also be performed in Moscow. Osipova and Vasiliev are also returning to London this summer for a performance with the Bolshoi, and the pair will be moving to the UK.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Maria Tallchief

Maria Tallchief (Dance Magazine cover photo February 1954)Maria Tallchief, the muse of celebrated choreographer George Balanchine and fantastic ballerina died on April 11th 2013, aged 88. She became one the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century, and was even one of Balanchine’s wives, securely marking her place in modern ballet history.

Tallchief was renowned for her work with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, dazzling audiences with her speed, energy and fire. Her stepping stone into fame took place in 1949, in which Tallchief danced the title role in the company’s version of Stravinsky’s Firebird, which was one of many roles that Balanchine created for her during their time together. Many dance fans from world-over may compare Tallchief to British ballerina Margot Fonteyn, each the epitome of their country’s work in the arts.

Tallchief began ballet lessons in Colorado Springs and later took classes in Los Angeles, and from then on a star began its journey into American dance, becoming known worldwide. At 12 years old she began studying with Bronislava Nijinska, a former choreographer for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, formidable but encouraging. From then on Tallchief began dancing roles cast to her by Nijinska, and Agnes de Mille, who later encouraged Tallchief to adopt her name by which she is known.

By 1944 Tallchief had danced mostly with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but this marked the year that she danced in a Broadway musical choreographed by Balanchine. Balanchine went on to remain resident choreographer for the company, casting Tallchief in works such as Danses Concertantes, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Ballet Imperial and Le Baiser de la Fee. Balanchine paid close attention to Tallchief, and in return she admired him as a choreographic genius, marrying him in 1946 but then divorcing him in 1950.

Balanchine went on to create his own ballet company, which Tallchief went on to be one of its acclaimed stars in roles in ballets such as Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Orpheus, the first performance taking place in 1948, and her last in 1965.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Uses Of Swiss Balls

Pineapple Fitness BallSwiss balls, known by a number of different names, are large, heavy-duty inflatable balls used for aiding core strength in dance technique. The balls offer a fun, safe and highly effective way to exercise, and are relatively inexpensive compared to other exercise equipment. Stocked by Dance Direct, for example, the Pineapple ball is burst resistant, and works to keep the entire body in shape, targeting all the major muscle groups and supporting dance work.

The Swiss ball was used as early as the 1960s, originally used by physical therapists and chiropractors in Switzerland to assist with rehabilitation and became known as the Swiss Ball. Through seminars and classes the Swiss Ball was introduced to the USA in the early 1980s and became known as extremely versatile and valuable in terms of dance. In the late 1980s coaches, athletic trainers and personal trainers also realised the effectiveness of the Swiss Ball in developing balance and core strength, and since then the fitness balls have been reported as the most effective method for core conditioning.

Using a Swiss ball will improve the strength of the abs and the lower back, as well as improving balance, proprioception and flexibility. Alignment is improved by the use of additional muscles to maintain stability and balance, abs are worked simultaneously with the back muscles through abdominal crunches on the fitness ball (which have been scientifically proven to work the abs more than the regular crunch), muscle strength, tone and endurance are improved in all of the major muscle groups, core stability is built up through the use of the major and deep muscles which helps stabilise and support the body’s movements, and stretching exercises using the ball as a tool are all fantastic uses of the Swiss ball to aid dance training and beyond to maintain the dancers’ body.

Sleek Technique

Sleek Technique

Sleek Technique, an online, ballet based, fitness programme, has been designed by two professional dancers as accessible dance-fitness programme for everyone. The live classes can be downloaded “on the go” and include authentic barre techniques and ballet bootcamps, as well as downloadable sculpting workouts delivered direct to computers, tablets and mobiles.

The technique prides itself on fitting in with busy lifestyles in order to create and maintain beautifully shaped bodies whenever and wherever you are. Sleek is an entirely portable fitness methodology, perfected for non-dancers by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s professional ballerina and fitness coach Victoria Marr and West End dancer Flik Swan. It combines elements of classical ballet technique and conditioning exercises used by the professionals to sculpt their lean, dancer bodies. The Body Beautiful workouts are delivered live online or are available to download to start transforming shapes, and with a maximum of 5 people in each live class, the founders are able to monitor technique to make sure participants get the most out of every session.

Sleek Technique combines the dancers’ knowledge on which exercises really give a toned and slender body, and the girls are always ready to help transform and aid progress. Sleek uses multi functional dance based exercises which condition and tone muscles whilst improving co-ordination, posture and stamina. These are combined with isolated isometric exercises which work to sculpt individual muscle groups. Sleek Technique is low impact and easy on joints, but high intensity to strengthen muscular structure. Stretching out each muscle group as it is worked then ensures longer, leaner, dancer like muscles are created with no bulk, to show off beautiful lines with curves in the right places.

The Royal Ballet 2013/14 Season

The Royal Ballet

Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare’s second season at The Royal Ballet has seen the announcement of the programming of The Royal Ballet’s 2013/14 season. In view of the artistic decisions, the company is leveraging its current strong box office position to focus on new, full-length works which will make up six world premieres, and this will also protect the company’s heritage.

Guest Principal Carlos Acosta is currently working on his new production of Don Quixote: Acosta has danced the lead role in many countries and has vast experience and knowledge of the role and narrative. Acosta’s production of Don Quixote will be the company’s own production for the very first time, and O’Hare’s decision to open the new season with this is hoped to be a successful one.

Artistic Associate Christopher Wheeldon will premiere his second full length work for the company based on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, with Wheeldon collaborating with the team responsible for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. O’Hare has also extended another invitation to former Royal Ballet School student and Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer David Dawson, who will create a new work as part of the first triple bill of the season, alongside Wayne McGregor’s Chroma and Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of Spring to complete the bill. Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett’s Sweet Violets will return in a triple bill alongside Wheeldon’s DGV : Dance a Grande Vitesse and George Balanchine’s Serenade but Scarlett has no new work programmed for the season.

The final triple bill of the season will see a new work by Alastair Marriott, following his success in the Titian collaboration. Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and Jerome Robbins’ The Concert, which has not been seen at the Royal Opera House for 10 years, will then complete the programme. Full works will intersperse the triple bills, with Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Peter Wright’s Giselle and Monica Mason and Christopher Newton’s The Sleeping Beauty each making an appearance.

Once the London season has closed after The Nutcracker and Balanchine’s Jewels at Christmas, the company will tour to Moscow making a temporary home in The Bolshoi Theatre.

Cats The Musical

Cats The MusicalSince Cats the musical opened on the West End stage in 1981 it has become one of the world’s best known and best loved musicals. Originally directed by Trevor Nunn, the show has since been presented in over 20 countries and in around 250 cities, including diverse destinations such as Buenos Aires, Seoul, Helsinki and Singapore, and has been translated into 10 languages for audiences all over the world. The show has translated into Japanese, German, (three versions for Germany, Austria and Switzerland), Hungarian, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish (two versions for Mexico and Argentina) and Italian, with the Swiss production requiring a bilingual cast who performed in German and English on alternate nights

The original production opened at the New London Theatre in the West End on 11 May 1981: eight years later it celebrated its first important milestone and became the longest running musical in the history of the British theatre after 3,358 performances. Within two and half years of the London opening there were productions in New York, Tokyo, Budapest and Vienna, and the first of tour US touring productions had begun. Cats opened on Broadway in 1982 and ran until 2000, with 1997 seeing the show become the longest running musical on Broadway and 1991 marking Cats as the longest, continuously touring show in American theatre history.

In addition to the incredible dance and staging of the iconic production, the musical numbers of the show have also been hugely popular. “Memory” has been recorded by over 150 artists ranging from Barbra Streisand to Johnny Mathis, with Barry Manilow’s rendition was a top-40 hit in the U.S. The Original London Cast Recording of Cats also won the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Cast Album, in addition to a number of other awards over the years, and the following year the Original Broadway Cast Recording won the same award.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

New Adventures to hit NYC

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping BeautyMatthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, which completed his Tchaikovsky trilogy of the composer’s ballet masterworks, is preparing for a run in New York City in autumn following a hugely successful London season and UK tour. The trio began in 1992 with Nutcracker!, continuing in 1995 with his international hit Swan Lake.

Bourne’s acclaimed reimagining of the iconic classical ballet production will run during October and November at the New York City Center, and will be the company’s New York premiere of Sleeping Beauty. This is following Bourne’s Swan Lake also hitting the City in 2010 after its first visit in 1998 when the production played on Broadway and won three Tony Awards.

The original production of tutus and tights, The Sleeping Beauty, was choreographed in 1890 by Marius Petipa, inspired by Charles Perrault’s fairytale about a young girl cursed to sleep for 100 years. As a result, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker were all re-imagined by Bourne in terms of choreography, set, and interpretation, expanding audiences and combining classic stories with contemporary and theatrical dance.

For Sleeping Beauty, Bourne sets his production in the original year of 1890, setting the christening of the central protagonist Princess Aurora at the height of the fin de siècle period, full of fairies, decadence and vampires which fed into the gothic imagination of the era. The narrative then moves forward into the Edwardian era of with Aurora’s coming of age, and into the modern day with her waking after a century-long sleep.

Bourne’s production of Sleeping Beauty was the fulfilment of a great ambition in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bourne’s company New Adventures in 2012, and also to complete his choreographing of three great Tchaikovsky ballets.