Dame Monica Mason’s Retirement

Monica Mason's Retirement
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As Monica Mason retires as Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet company, she has fully completed 54 years with the company. Beginning as a dancer in the corps de ballet, Mason rose through the ranks to a five-star ballerina, who has also accomplished many more notches on her ballet shoes as becoming a celebrated teacher and choreographer’s assistant.

There has been a spectacular exhibition at the Royal Opera House which detailed her fantastic career through photographs and tutus, demonstrating both dynamism and tradition through her vast career with the company. Some have argued that Mason has swerved from British ballet tradition by employing Random Dance choreographer Wayne McGregor as Resident Choreographer in 2006 to work with her dancers, swapping their tights for black block pointe shoes. However, others have noted Mason as respectful in keeping with classical tradition, and merging it with innovation in the twenty-first century as the seventh Artistic Director of the company.

Mason has maintained the high standard of The Royal Ballet, and has now handed over the ballet-shoe-ribbon-reins to Kevin O’Hare, having stood in her role since 2002. As a great classical company, the Royal has developed its stars much as many other companies have done, promoting new choreography and staying true to originals, such as Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan’s. Boasting previous Artistic Directors such as Ninette de Valois, between 1931 and 1963, The Royal Ballet has a history steeped in talent and vigour, as well as variety, and now combining influences of modern dance in its repertoire through McGregor.

Mason’s sense of humour, intelligence and sense of history looks set to carry the company through this upcoming transition period, in which she is stepping down from a highly-valued post in which there are very few females. Despite this, O’Hare has booked Mason to coach four MacMillan ballets next season, so Mason’s influence is far from gone.

Chicago the Musical

Chicago the Musical
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Chicago the Musical, having run in London’s West End for almost 15 years, has recently posted closing notices at the Garrick Theatre for 1 September 2012, just weeks shy of its 15th birthday on 18 November. A sexy and thrilling musical, Chicago has had three homes throughout the West End and one of only six musicals to have played more than 15 years in the West End, alongside Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera.

Celebrities from far and wide have starred in the musical throughout its lifetime, such as Kelly Osbourne, Brooke Shields and Denise Van Outen playing razzle-dazzle murderess Roxie Hart, with other musical theatre stars including Bonnie Langford and Ruthie Henshall each donning their black character shoes and fishnet tights in turn. The final actor to play slick and suave lawyer Billy Flynn will be British Olympic ice-skating champion Robin Cousins, swapping his ice skates for tap shoes and feather boas. He is the first Olympian to star on stage in the home city of the Games, and during the event itself.

As a musical revival, Chicago has had a record run, originally opening in 1997 following its move from New York City’s Broadway to London’s West End more than two decades later, having premiered in 1975. Chicago was originally choreographed by American dance pioneer Bob Fosse, famous for his iconic pelvis-based, loose-limbed movement and glove-covered fascinating hand movements, with Ann Reinking echoing Fosse’s high-kicking hit in the UK. Fosse is also known for his choreography of extremely successful musicals such as Sweet Charity, Pippin and Cabaret, with Chicago being seen by 17 million people worldwide. As an Olivier-award winner of Outstanding Musical, Chicago is a dazzling production that is not to be missed in its final few weeks.

New English Ballet Theatre

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New English Ballet Theatre is a new company formed by director, choreographer and dancer Karen Pilkington-Miksa for recent graduates of dance training programmes in 2010, hiring dancers for a period of 3 months and commissioning new works for an annual programme. The company offers 20 young dancers an opportunity to tour their ballet shoes professionally and to work with established choreographers including English National Ballet’s former Artistic Director Wayne Eagling, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Michael Corder and English National Ballet’s emerging choreographer Jenna Lee.

Of the 200 young dancers graduating from ballet schools every year, only four are selected by main companies; New English Ballet Theatre provides dancers at the start of their career the chance to dance principal roles, be they tutu-clad or tunic-and-tights. In their recent programme Synergies at the Peacock Theatre, 4 of the 9 contributing choreographers to the repertoire were female, which is a rare occurrence. Having the opportunity to choreograph, for both males and females, is a promising signal that the arts are continuing to flourish and succeed, especially considering the loss of Arts Council funding by so many dance organisations.

New English Ballet Theatre itself has no funding, but boasts a patron list that includes Carlos Acosta, Marianela Nuñez, Mara Galeazzi, Darcey Bussell and Wayne Eagling, in addition to support from Sadler’s Wells as a platform which is celebrated internationally. The company champions young dancers, choreographers and designers in a huge showcasing of talent and innovative work in its first year of project-based work. With dancers who have trained at esteemed dance training schools and conservatoires such as the Rambert School, London Studio Centre, English National Ballet School and the Conservatorio Professional de Danzxa in Seville, New English Ballet Theatre aims to give emerging young artists a full professional experience rather than touring within a school environment, such as Ballet Central or Ballet West. Through the company’s environment, the dancers are keen to bring classical styles to a much wider and less conservative audience as those involved try new things and experiment for the dance world.

 

American Ballet Theater’s Apprenticeship Programme

ABT Apprenticeship Programme

American Ballet Theater has just announced an apprenticeship programme in order to develop young dancers, which is to be new focus for the esteemed company, extending its current range of pointe shoes, leotards and tutus. The creation of the programme will benefit six dancers, enabling them to work as apprentice members of the company’s corps de ballet, gaining the relevant skills required to work as a fully-fledged member of American Ballet Theater, creating and promoting new talent.

The selected dancers will train under American Ballet theatre Studio Company’s artistic associate Kate Lydon, as well as Clinton Luckett, American Ballet Theater’s ballet master. The apprentice course will run for ten weeks beginning in September, and the dancers will then go on to advance to the apprentice level with the company during its performance of The Nutcracker at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The training will provide full immersion into the ballets in the repertoire of the company, including tutorials in ballet story lines, history, style and mime. In addition, dancers will attend seminars in hair, makeup and company etiquette in preparation for entering the main company, upholding the high, professional standards of American Ballet Theater in the arts world. The students’ apprenticeship will continue throughout American Ballet Theater’s performance season ending July 2013.

The dancers will be selected first from among the students at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, second from among Summer Intensive students and by audition, requiring them to pull on their best performance tights and shine for all they’re worth.

Dance Classes Discusses

Dance Classes Discusses

Dance classes around the country are not few and far between. Dance is becoming increasingly popular, as a result of commercial television shows, and more recently, the Olympic Games.

Open dance classes are on the up with over 200 classes a week taking place at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden for example, also featured in a television series on Sky 1 complete with jazz pants, cropped tops and urban dance sneakers. Other open classes taking place across the capital include The Place, Danceworks and Studio 68.

In addition to this, many dance students attend weekly technique classes with the view to take examinations with their dance school and progress through the ‘dance ranks’, trading in leather practice ballet shoes for pink pointe shoes. Many dance students dream of one dancing upon a vast stage in a feathered tutu, and others of becoming teachers themselves, correcting the leotard-clad young dancers before them and embarking on a variety of techniques. These techniques are similarly seen in the open classes of less formal institutions, without the commitment.

Despite one class option being slightly stricter of uniform than the other, both offer dancers the chance to engage with their passion, be it classical ballet, tap dance, jazz dance, musical theatre, and everything else in between. Both offer the chance to progress through the increasing levels of the technique in order to both challenge them and achieve goals as dancers. Whilst these goals may not differ in themselves, classes all over the country and even the world offer dancers the great opportunity to engage with likeminded individuals and teachers, reach their potential, and most importantly to have fun. Whether dancers are kitted out in the world’s most prestigious pointe shoes or ten-year-old jazz shoes, the power of dance unites all these dance students in one love.

Dance and the Olympic Games

Dance and the Olympic Games
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Now the London 2012 Olympic Games are over ahead of the Paralympic Game in a couple of weeks, many have raised the question both online and in print as to whether dance could qualify as an Olympic event. The artistry, strength and flexibility of dance can be seen in many existing events of the Games, the most obvious examples being Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Dance has had many links with the 2012 Olympics. One of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal dancers, Matthew Lawrence, created a routine for the Welsh and five times British champion gymnast Frankie Jones for the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships ahead of the Games. Jones was the only British individual rhythmic gymnast to compete at the 2012 Olympics, working hard with Lawrence, as well as BRB’s Body Conditioning Instructor Jennifer Mills. Jones received ballet classes as part of her preparation for the competition, complementing her body’s ability to create any imaginable shape or movement: a rhythmic gymnast takes elements of ballet, and then stretches it to the extreme. Rhythmic gymnastics is a combination of gymnastics and dance and its origins lie in a wide variety of disciplines, including classical ballet. Here it is clearly demonstrable that both disciplines are closely related yet have evolved in different ways.

The Team GB backstroke expert Liam Tancock revealed that dance has too featured in his training, having taken ballet classes in order to improve his swimming. Tancock maintained that his success in the water was the result of ‘thinking outside the box’ in order to develop additional qualities of dance to boost body strength and improves strokes. Whilst you would be unlikely to see Tancock donning ballet tights and satin ballet shoes, it is clear to see that dance is not only a complementary discipline to other activities, but its own success in its own right. Why shouldn’t we see tutus and leg warmers on ballet’s competitive athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games? The ideals ‘faster, higher, stronger’ are extremely applicable to the art of dance, with Albert Einstein and then Martha Graham maintaining that ‘dancers are the athletes of God’.

Many may argue that the absence of dance is due to it being such a subjective discipline, unable to be measured either numerically or objectively. However, both Gymnastics and Diving feature which are art forms in themselves and are judged via a complex scoring system in order to achieve potentially unbiased and accurate results. With both events developing and constantly becoming more challenging, the possibility of achieving the perfect 10 score has been eliminated to account for the increasingly demanding nature of the events, viewed relatively. It seems the art of dance and ballet cannot be measured numerically, but perhaps more in how it affects the viewer, which of course would be impossible to score.

Perhaps if dance were to be included in the Olympic Games, the level of artistry, musicality and expression would have to be reduced in the face of accurately ‘marking’ the competitors’ arabesques, multiple pirouettes and extensions, which would then mean that what is being executed is not aesthetically ‘dance’ in its entirety. The dance elements of 1972 Gold illusive gymnastic legend Olga Korbut were once appreciated by scoring systems, but are now considered time-consuming in relation to the huge tumbles and requirements of twenty-first century gymnastics. These are now unable to affect the final scores in a significant way, in what some may argue as a graceless exhibition of athleticism at the expense of beauty and performance. However, today’s gymnasts somehow continue to capture audiences and expend the illusions of the stage.

Summer Schools

Summer Schools

Summer Schools for 2012 are nearing their end, with students young and old packing up their holdalls, packing up their tap shoes and jazz trainers ready to begin their examination classes once more in September. From musical theatre, to ballet, to singing workshops, summer schools host a variety of dance genres for children and young people of all ages, offering everyone who takes part a great chance to have fun, make new friends, and improve their dance or theatrical technique.

Some summer schools are rather more specific in their genre, such as high-end ballet classes complete with satin pink ballet shoes and plain yet stylish leotards. Summer schools of this category usually take the format of daily classes in techniques such as classical ballet and repertoire work, devised to enhance students’ classical technique and fulfill their desire to improve and advance in their chosen subject.

However other summer school varieties cover a range of dance genres and activities, touching on subjects such as tap, ballet, modern jazz and singing work, providing a wealth of opportunity to have fun and enjoy the passion for dance. Many encourage students from countries all over the world to join in the fray, each giving heaps of energy and enthusiasm, and often only requiring a pair of dance sneakers.

Many students may view their yearly trips to summer schools a welcome relief from the rigour of weekly exam and technique classes, allowing them to ‘let their hair down’ and get a real feel for how the institution they are attending operates on a day-to-day basis. Often culminating in an end-of-week show, complete with the Lycra and sequins of borrowed costumes, weeks of summer schools from July to September are hard work, but truly enjoyable.

Sadler’s Wells’ National Youth Dance Company

Sadler's Wells National Youth Dance CompanyNew cultural education projects have been announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, meaning young people from all backgrounds will get increased opportunities to access dance, music and museums.

Donning the dancewear so integral to the youth of the UK, be it ballet shoes, jazz pants or urban sneakers, the esteemed dance house Sadler’s Wells has been selected to form the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) as part of plans to boost cultural education. Arts Council England announced that the organisation will run the company, providing 90 talented 16 to 19-year-olds with the chance to develop the skills for a career in dance. With dance gaining more interest and popularity across the country than ever before, economically, politically and socially, the National Youth Dance Company is a fantastic initiative for those whose passions embody dance life, and also wear Lycra.

Four new projects have also been chosen for the ‘In Harmony’ programme, which aims to inspire and transform the lives of children in deprived communities through community-based orchestral music-making. Projects will be delivered between 2012 and 2015, joining existing projects in Lambeth and Liverpool. The programme is jointly funded by the Arts Council and the Department for Education, taking forward some key recommendations in the National Plan for Music Education.

Aiming to stretch ambitions, the programmes will enable young people to engage with schemes that are truly excellent, with commissions offering national opportunities in order to grasp dreams and help make them a reality. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey added that “introducing the UK’s young people to dance, music and museums through fantastic initiatives like these will help inspire, nurture and foster the next generation of performers”, demonstrating the great continuations of the cultural and artistic achievements of the UK.

Showtime

Mayor of London Presents Showtime

On the weekend of the 21 and 22 July, seven weeks of free, family fun kicked off as part of the Mayor of London Presents Showtime.

Showtime signified an electrifying mix of incredible artists and shows handpicked from across the world. Over the coming weeks these specific art forms will join on London, be it leotards and pretty pink ballet shoes or jazz quartets. The performances over the next seven weeks will reach every corner of London, fulfilling everyone’s artistic preference.

Forming part of the London 2012 Festival and supported by Arts Council England as a principal funder of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Showtime will combine the best of British street arts, international acts, and a host of alternative music from beat box to electro swing across all 33 London Boroughs.

On the 21 and 22 July, the action began with major events at The Piazza on Wimbledon Broadway as part of Merton’s Outdoor Arts Festival; at General Gordon Square in Woolwich to coincide with the Torch Relay; at the Whitecross Street Party in Islington; in Kingston; and Richmond Riverside.

Over the rest of the summer, the highlights of Showtime feature a hair-raising experience with Arcadia’s Lord of Lightning wrestling four million volts of electricity, and an enchanting performance from the Invisible People telling poems, stories and jokes one to one.

The Lyrix Organix: Relay will feature the finest poets, beatboxers, hip hop and freestylers in an original live experience, and you can get dancing to everything from swing to break-dance in urban dancewear and sneakers at Continental Drifts’ Bandstand Remixed.

To find out what’s happening near you and to plan a summer like no other visit the Mayor of London Presents website.

The ISTD’s 108th Birthday

ISTD Logo

The Imperial Society of Dance Teachers (as it was first known) was formed on 25th July 1904 at the Hotel Cecil in Covent Garden, London, and therefore turned 108 years old this year, advocating a huge variety of dance genres and the ballet shoes, tap shoes and jazz shoes that come too.

In 1906, the first Congress of the ISTD was held after a council of management was formed, attended by forty-two members, a far cry from the ISTD’s membership today. In September 1907 the first issue of “Dance Journal” (now known as DANCE magazine) was published, and by 1913 the ISTD consisted of 132 members.

It wasn’t until after the war years of WWI, in 1924, that the foundations of the present structure of the ISTD were established by the formation of separate Branches (now Faculties). 1925 saw a change of name to “The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing”, and 1930 saw the ISTD increase to 2,000 members, all wielding their leotards and tights, eager to dance.

As well as the Operatic and General, new branches were formed for the following techniques: Modern Ballroom Dancing; Classical; Classical Ballet Cecchetti Method; Greek Dance – Ruby Ginner Method; and Natural Movement – Madge Atkinson Method. In 1931 the Stage Branch was formed to provide a basic training for all dance and embraced specialist stage techniques, encompassing performance in the techniques of dance. As a result, the 1935 membership had risen to 3,000 and by 1938 it reached 4,000.

Post WWII, the teachers’ need for an authoritative and comprehensive syllabus in each technique was supplied by the formation of Faculties in each dance form, and the remaining branches of the ISTD were created: Victorian and Sequence Dance Branch, 1948; Latin American Dance Branch, 1951; Historical Dance Branch, 1952; National Dance Branch, 1952 and Scottish Country Dance Branch, 1953.

The Disco/Freestyle/Rock ‘n’ Roll Faculty were formed in 1990 to cater for the forms of social dance suggested by the creative freedom of popular music. The South Asian Dance Faculty was formed in 1999 and the most recent addition to the ISTD is the Club Dance Faculty (formed in 1999). In 2002 due to the success of the Modern Theatre Faculty it was necessary to split the Faculty into two, creating the Modern Theatre Faculty and the Tap Dance Faculty.

Today the ISTD has more than 7,500 members in over 50 countries throughout the world and holds 250,000 examinations per year.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.