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?
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!
Sadler’s Wells is due to stream its annual international hip hop dance festival Breakin’ Convention live on May 7th. This date marks the new on-demand initiative by the Arts Council England – named The Space – in partnership with the BBC that offers audiences a new way to uniquely experience some of the most exciting arts events from across the UK. A great place to scout the latest dance wear trends, Breakin’ Convention has showcased over 400 UK and international companies, and a total of over 3,900 performers to audiences in excess of 75,000 since its inception in 2004, having become one of the most influential hip-hop events of the year.
Breakin’ Convention is The Space’s first dance event, offering audiences the opportunity to observe all aspects of the international hip hop dance festival, from foyer events to smaller performances in the Lilian Baylis Studio and performances on the Main Stage. From urban dance trainers to Breakin’ Convention hoodies, there is much for dance fans to engage with, including workshops, film screenings, DJ demos, impromptu foyer freestyle sessions and live aerosol art.
Breakin’ Convention is in its ninth year, featuring some of the very best UK and international acts in hip hop dance, offering audiences a fashion show of different styles from breaking and popping to locking, b-boying and newer styles such as house dance, devised from the dance floors and born out of club culture.
The line-up for Breakin’ Convention 2012 includes ILL-Abilities, a breakdance company that challenges the misconceptions about people with disabilities; Vagabond Crew who are the current world champions winning both Battler of the Year and the UK B-boy championships in 2011, amongst many other talents.
Audiences will be able to watch Breakin’ Convention live from 4pm on Monday 7 May on www.thespace.org, www.sadlerswells.com and www.breakinconvention.com. It will also be available on demand after the 7 May on www.thespace.org.
Produced by English National Ballet and premiered on April 3rd at the Peacock Theatre, the English National Ballet School presented the magical production of My First Sleeping Beauty, introducing the magic of ballet to children from the age of 3 and showcasing graduating dancers of outstanding potential from English National Ballet School. For many young children, this will be their first taste of satin ballet shoes, glittering tutus and pristine pink tights of the ballet world.
Whilst the arts sector presents a huge variety of dance works and ballets in particular, there will nonetheless be masses of captivated children throughout the UK, privy to a specially crafted version of the usual 3 hour production of Sleeping Beauty. A national tour of My First Sleeping Beauty will travel the country until June 3rd 2012, inspiring children and young people alike in a piece that has been adapted especially for them. Children are encouraged to boo, clap and cheer, expressing themselves through the pantomime elements of My First Sleeping Beauty and becoming part of the story.
Award-winning choreographer Matthew Hart is responsible for creating the wondrous spectacle of My First Sleeping Beauty in all its finery, tiaras and all. Set to Tchaikovsky’s score, the amazing cast of dancers from the English National Ballet School pirouette their way through this shortened version of the original Sleeping Beauty. However, Hart has worked to maintain much of the original choreography in order to educate these new audiences in the link between the School and the Company.
Engaging young children with such a timeless classic as Sleeping Beauty is an innovative creation, with this being the first of a presumable line of “children’s ballets” aiming to inspire families to eventually come and see Sleeping Beauty in its entirety, continuing the story and classical technique.
With the growing trends of dance-related talent shows throughout the media, the trend for wearing socks as a “performance accessory” is also emerging as one that is taking the dance sector by storm. Turn to So You Think You Can Dance, Got To Dance, or Britain’s Got Talent; socks are becoming increasingly popular to aid acts in spins, falls and complex lifts.
Whilst the dancers’ seemingly enhanced talent may be exciting to view and even awe-inspiring, the fact remains that there is a certain level of danger involved in wearing socks to dance, for example, an injury occurring as a result of a slip or fall. The number of YouTube clips presenting many dancers’ falls as “entertainment” are by no means criticising the wearing of socks for dance practice.
Undoubtedly, the use of socks can aid a dancer in class or rehearsals where a floor may not be suitable to dance on; however, the fact remains that during performance, the dancer may not have had sufficient experience of dancing without their socks. A great alternative to socks has been shown through the use of foot thongs, such as by Capezio, with numerous designs emerging as they become more popular.
Additionally, there is without a doubt, the largest range of dance shoes and sneakers on the dancewear market today, with numerous brands spanning a huge range of designs. Whether they are sold for grip, support of the foot, or simply for fashion purposes, brands such as Capezio, Bloch and Sansha have all produced excellent and indeed beneficial shoes for whatever the dancer needs. To observe such fantastic alternatives to the presumable risk of wearing socks to dance provides much hope for the future of dance, in that it will continue to be provided for, regardless of circumstance.
Many may argue that Theatreland is the ultimate place for suspending belief amongst other audience members also preferring the stage to reality. Over the years, stages have been inundated with reality TV stars and celebrities eager to step into the dancing shoes of their predecessors, potentially forcing out home-grown talent whose skill would cause their success rather than vice versa.
Many stars have graced the stages of London’s West End and Broadway. Audiences have seen Whoopi Goldberg’s divine descent, jazz shoes and all, into the comedy musical Sister Act as Mother Superior, which she helped produce. With Sister Act already a blockbusting hit, it is easy to see how the legendary Goldberg aided the production rather than carried it.
Others who have wowed audiences are Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde, and Tamzin Outhwaite and her feisty fishnet tights in Sweet Charity. In particular, Chicago has seen many celebrities take on the character shoes of lead roles, such as Ashlee Simpson, Jennifer Ellison, along with David Hasselhoff and John Barrowman.
Audiences are almost guaranteed when Hollywood actors are billed, with a huge hype being produced – but can these invasions continue to sweep audiences along?
It is commonplace for audiences to book tickets as a result of the cast, to then be disappointed when certain members are absent. Even if the magic atmosphere of theatre is still created, they may never return.
The same could be said for some of the stars of reality TV and where are they now – it is an automatic presumption that this is because they are simply the favourites of the home viewers, rather than the casting director. It is therefore difficult to comprehend the slog that has gone into an actor’s early life before they are finally pipped to the post by a celebrity or TV show shortcut winner, worthy or otherwise.
One of the most notorious unwritten rules of theatre is never to work with children or animals. Difficult divas at the best of times, the combination of the two would arguably be a theatrical nightmare for both the director and the chaperones. Despite this, children, and young children specifically, can often become the selling point of the production, be it a West End musical, touring production or a large-scale ballet, simply due to their irresistible appeal.
Specifically referring to London’s West End theatre scene, musicals such as Mary Poppins, Matilda and Billy Elliot have all focused directly on telling the stories of children. The ballet shoe donning Billy has had a worldwide appeal for its audiences; the story of the aspiring male ballet prodigy warming the hearts and legwarmers of many. The magical world of Matilda has additionally entranced audiences from its inception, with a similar enchantment of Mary Poppins felt for the London and UK stint of the production.
The combination of dance and the charisma of youth is a pure winner. The interweaving of leotard-based animals and little lion cubs of The Lion King has proved a hit, with an extensive run in London and elsewhere in the UK such as Bristol and Manchester. Similarly, the touring and London-based Nutcrackers‘ children are palmed between the twinkling tutus of the Snowflakes and the feisty tights of the Rat King, charming both the children and the adults of the audience alike.
Naturally, the employment of children in theatre does raise many questions, but undoubtedly the largest is… how well can the show sell? The talent of the performers and illusion of the theatre is a main influence in selling tickets, yet the inclusion of children is undoubtedly a sure-fire way to make audiences skip all the way to their seats.
A controversial question throughout the ballet world surrounds the “correct” age for dancers to go en pointe. For the aspiring ballet dancer, pointe work may begin at a much younger age (approximately 11 or 12) than perhaps a dancer who enjoys the “ballet tights ideal” of one or two casual classes per week.
Many strands run through the age argument, such as those regarding the height of the instep, the individual and relative strength of the foot – in its complex structure of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles – and the dancer’s ability to control their body en pointe. Naturally, different circumstances affect each and every decision to train the body for this transition into pointe shoes.
In addition to this debate is the decision of the brand and type of shoes to select. Each foot requires different constructions of shoes, and a ballet dancer often remains committed to one type of pointe shows throughout their whole career. The most popular choice of brands appears to centre on those from the likes of Capezio, Bloch, and more recently, Gaynor Minden. Each shoe has its own appeal and its own unique design, meaning a first fitting for pointe shoes can be a rather long process! Despite the fact that there are few bespoke creators of pointe shoes, brands can often be customised by the dancer to suit their own feet.
For example, the Freed Studios shoe, as a stock shoe, tends to fit many people. However, an increased workload or intense pointe classes may mean that a more customised shoe is needed. Bloch shoes, in comparison, have been seen to incorporate rather innovative techniques of heating the shoe and using this to mould its shape to the individual foot. This therefore emphasises that the art of acquiring pointe shoes is no less than the art of twirling in a tutu: the shoe must be completely right for the foot that may one day posé into a leading role.
Internationally acclaimed choreographer Christopher Hampson is due to return to his ballet shoe roots and further step into his role of speaker at the Royal Academy of Dance on April 10th for the Faculty of Education. Hampson is the first of the Guest Speaker Series and will discuss his journey through the dance sector – a story both intriguing and inspiring.
Hampson’s experience of dance began as an RAD student aged six, grasping his first taste of the ballet bug. Swapping his RAD white leotard and navy leggings for more choreographic attire, Hampson is set to take up the role of the Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet in August 2012.
As a former member of English National Ballet, Hampson created numerous works, including Double Concerto and The Nutcracker, going on to win the Barclays Theatre Award and the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Classical Choreography. In addition to ENB, Hampson has choreographed works for The Royal Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, National Theatre in Prague and Ballet Black, among others, and is also a sought-after guest teacher and coach for companies throughout the world, including Hong Kong Ballet and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. Hampson’s works for the Genée International Ballet Competition have recently been included to form part of the RAD Solo Seal Award, emphasising the profound influence Hampson holds over the dance sector, from the tutus and tiaras of The Royal Ballet, to jazz shoes and black costume gloves of New Adventures.
At the RAD, Hampson will discuss and show clips of his work, going on to take questions from the audience, inviting dance fans from all over the world to engage with this inspirational dance practitioner. The event is free of charge to Faculty of Education, RAD members and RAD staff, and additionally non-members are welcome to reserve in advance in order to take full advantage of this fantastic opportunity.
Reserve your place by Friday 30th March by contacting Zofie Fraser at email@example.com.
London’s West End is currently in a state of flux. Musical productions continue to close, making way for others to take their place, for sometimes only weeks at a time. At first this seems localised; however, it may be that these occurrences spread outside of London, nationally and even internationally.
From the blue spangled leotards and tap shoes of Crazy For You, to Betty Blue Eyes the singing pig, it is hoped that this does not mark the end of the British musical. Successes such as Billy Elliot – the aspiring young dancer who steps boldly into professional ballet shoes – hold hope that West End musicals contain the magic ingredient that will spell a lengthy run.
However, it is inevitable that there are musical productions waiting left, right and centre ready to fill previous shows’ homes, and fill again those tired tights which once ruled the stage. The level of competition to rule the West End stage is seen to have increased dramatically.
The correlation between a show’s origin and success rate appears irrational. Whether a show’s life is home-grown from “baby ballets” to pointes, its content relating to that of its surroundings, or a production of far-off wonder, it bears no relation on how long it will stay running, which is additionally independent of how much an audience appears to love it. Despite this, even the most least likely musicals such as Thriller have been received spectacularly – if the jazz shoe fits, wear it!
Arguably a certain amount of performance relies on popularity in order to be a triumph, yet another key element of the mix is of course originality, to maintain freshness within the industry. This only further emphasises how unpredictable a show’s success can be and how we cannot predict the future of the British musical industry.