Robert Cohan and British Contemporary Dance

The PlaceWith 2013 marking The Place’s 43rd anniversary, it was the opening of The Place theatre and the London Contemporary Dance School that saw a distinctly British school of modern dance. Although Robert Cohan may not have been the first person to teach or perform contemporary dance in the UK, he was the first to do it with a vision. As a dance partner of Martha Graham, one of the mothers of American modern dance, Cohan came to the UK from the US in 1967 and set in motion the careers of many of the UK’s most influential choreographers, from Richard Alston and Siobhan Davies to West End veteran Anthony Van Laast. Beginning humbly by teaching Graham technique to students, actors and artists who had little formal dance training, they were soon performing Cohan’s choreography as LCDT.

Cohan became the first Artistic Director of the Contemporary Dance Trust in London and was consequently the founding Artistic Director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and LCDT, which he directed for 20 years. Cohan choreographed 43 works for the company, and puts his success down to being unafraid of aiming for the mass market, with a theatrical eye, making dance theatre which appealed to people who weren’t just balletomanes.

Cohan’s influence on the development of modern dance in Britain has been considerable. Having pioneered the teaching of contemporary dance technique, he was instrumental in developing the repertory of LCDT in the 1970s and 1980s, laying the groundwork for the many other British companies since. As a teacher, Cohan has taught extensively: besides being a senior teacher at the Martha Graham School he worked at The Julliard School, Harvard, Radcliffe, and the University of Rochester in the US, York University in Toronto and at many colleges and universities in the UK.

In 1988, Cohan was awarded an honorary CBE in recognition of his outstanding contribution to dance in the UK, and he has since taken British nationality. Cohan remains active in the running of The Place as a member of its Board of Governors.

The Making of Pointe Shoes

Bloch Axis Pointe Shoes

There is, without a doubt, no better feeling than watching a ballerina glide across stage, carried by her pointe shoes. This illusion is just one that captivates audiences and brings them back for more. However, finding out how pointe shoes are made explains just how they work and how they provide that ‘effortless’ look.

For example, Freed, a supplier of ballet and dance shoes since 1928, produces over 150,000 pairs each year, with much work going into each. Freed uses the “turnshoe” method which means that shoes are made from the inside and then turned out the right way around. There are approximately 250 workers across three locations, with 23 makers in total.

Each maker has their own symbol which is stamped under the shoe, with the shoe’s shape affected by the shoe-maker. Some Freed shoes are custom made according to the client’s specifications, and some experienced shoe-makers take just 10 minutes to create a pair of pointe shoes, with around 400 shoes created overall each day. Aside from pointe shoes, other shoes which are made include ballroom, Latin, stage and screen, tap, jazz, character and soft shoes, the method hardly changing since 1930.

Many dancers opt to customise their shoes themselves, such as by cutting the vamp into a V shape to make the shoe appear longer, and then sewn again to hold the shoe together. Elastics can also be sewn inside the shoe in order to add security, for the peace of mind of the dancer that their shoe is not going to slip from their heel. Dancers also work to remove the noise from their shoes, for example by shutting them in doors, hitting them against the floor, and so on, in order to achieve silence as they move around the stage.

Paris Opera Ballet’s New Director

Opera National de Paris LogoIt has been announced that the Paris Opera Ballet will be taken over by Benjamin Millepied, the choreographer and a former principal at New York City Ballet, in September 2014. The previous director, Brigitte Lefèvre, will retire at the end of the 2013-14 season after nearly ten years at the top.

Millepied trained at the Lyon Conservatory, going on to join the School of American Ballet. His professional career as a dancer was spent with New York City Ballet, where quickly became a principal dancer in 2002. He then retired in 2011 in order to focus on choreography, and founded the L.A. Dance Project last year.

2014 will see Millepied inherit one of the world’s greatest classical companies, complete with 150 talented and tutu clad dancers, and a fantastic history: the company is the result of the very beginnings of ballet at Louis XIV’s court. The dancers of the company almost all come from the Paris Opera Ballet school, and they rarely leave to dance elsewhere once they have achieved a position in the company.

Millepied has had much professional experience. He has created touring groups, and has organised choreographic projects and festivals with musicians and artists. As a choreographer he has created works for major companies which include American Ballet Theatre, NYCB and the Paris Opera Ballet, and has also worked on Black Swan, the blockbuster film. Millepied has created two works for the Paris Opera Ballet and has a third commissioned for next season, ahead of his role as director. When he does step into the role, he will maintain a strong focus on contemporary ballet repertory for the classical company in order to develop a new identity and develop in-house choreographic talent, similar to Tamara Rojo’s aim at English National Ballet.

The future of ballet looks set for a lot of evolutionising!

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 2013 Choreographics Performance

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet recently presented its 2013 Choreographics performance on 10 January 2013 as a unique programme of ballet created by BRB dancers. Rather than donning their usual tutus, tights and pointe shoes, programmes of this kind give the dancers the chance to develop their artistry in a related but separate avenue of dance performance and create to their own tastes.

The pieces, danced by members of the Company, were performed in the studio theatre at Elmhurst School for Dance in Birmingham, with the six dancers choreographing announced as Kit Holder, Matthew Lawrence, Brandon Lawrence, Ruth Brill, Kristen McGarrity and Lachlan Monaghan. The dancer-choreographers choreographed pieces specifically for the event, to music of their own choosing. The projects provide a welcome opportunity to experiment creatively, try new things out with unlimited freedom and take a breath of fresh air from the rigours of the studio, filled each day with leg warmers and buckets of sweat.

Kit Holder, who has previously contributed to the Choreographics evening of 2010, subsequently had one of his pieces Printer Jam included in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 20th Anniversary Royal Gala and the launch of the Drum’n’Bass awards in Birmingham, before being expanded into a longer piece as part of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2012. Kit is a clear example of the heights emerging choreographers can reach, and especially those usually contained in a classical environment, rather than a more experimental one. In addition to this, Matthew Lawrence has previously had the opportunity to choreograph gymnastically, demonstrating the doors which may be available to the dancers, should they extend their career to choreographing. Royal Ballet dancer Liam Scarlett is also a demonstrator of this, having recently choreographed for Miami City Ballet.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

2013 at Sadler’s Wells

Sadler's Wells Logo

2013 will mark the 15th anniversary of the current Sadler’s Wells building, and the venue aims to celebrate with very special events throughout the year, with all 14 of the theatre’s associate artists contributing to the varied and entertaining programme.

Following its success in 2012, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch will return to the London venue with Bausch’s Two Cigarettes in the Dark, which was created in 1985, and the 2006 creation Vollmund. The Sadler’s Wells flamenco festival is also celebrating this year with its 10th anniversary, castanets and fans galore, in addition to the National Ballet of Canada appearing with their pointe shoes, ready to present the European premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet. The centenary of The Rite of Spring will also be celebrated with A String of Rites, a series of new productions and revivals which will include Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s staging, as Keegan-Dolan becomes the 15th Sadler’s Wells associate artist.

In addition to a number of performances, Sadler’s Wells has announced a new wave of associate artists of the theatre, alongside the existing associate programme of established performers and choreographers. The new young artists will receive a bespoke programme which is tailored to their needs, including much studio time to fulfil those legwarmer needs, in addition to advice and financial support. The aim of the programme is to provide an artistic home for the artists involved: for the first year of the scheme Sadler’s Wells will be supporting Rocio Molina, Random Dance|Wayne McGregor dancer and choreographer Alexander Whitley, Brussels based choreographer Daniel Linehan, visual artist and performer Hetain Patel, Chinese contemporary company TAO Dance Theatre and dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Wilkie Branson.

The Anniversary of George Balanchine

George BalanchineJanuary 22 2013 marked the birthday of Giorgi Melitonovitch Balachivadze, otherwise known to ballet and dance fans all over the world as George Balanchine, born in 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Balanchine, as the co-founder of the New York City Ballet and one of the greatest choreographers of modern ballet, created the aesthetic we can recognise in theatres today, with costumes of often just leotards, tights and shoes. Other works, such as Jewels, are more classical in taste, but still echoes the Balanchine style and legacy throughout the dance sector in the twenty-first century.

Balanchine co-founded the School of American Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg in 1934, and consequently created one of his most iconic works, Serenade, as a result of his concern that his young students didn’t understand the difference between class work and perfor­mance. He decided the best way for them to learn was to give them something new and unfamiliar to dance. Balanchine said in an interview years later, “I made Serenade to show dancers how to be on a stage”, adding parts for whoever and whatever his classes consisted of. The first class had 17 girls, which explains the beginning of the piece using 17 dancers, and so on. For the emerging of the New York City Ballet, Kirstein envisioned an American ballet where young dancers could be trained and schooled under the guidance of the world’s greatest ballet masters to perform new, modern repertory, rather than relying on touring, imported artists performing for American audiences.

The School of American Ballet has been the home of New York City Ballet since Balanchine journeyed to the US, which has gone on to become one of the most renowned companies of the world. Today, the company is made up of over 100 dancers.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 2013 Theatre Scene

London's West End Theatre Scene

With a number of new productions hitting the stages of the West End in 2013, casting for roles has reached new appendages. Social media has been utilised more and more recently in order for performers to advertise their skills, recent work and aspirations, making the casting process for directors both easier and harder.

With all this toe-tapping talent on display, it may be easy to imagine that there is a lot of information to compare at the push of a few buttons. However, using social media in order to have an idea of casting for a new production may also mean that less and less talent is promoted, and more so an idealised version of the performer angling for work. Despite this, it is clear that social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube are extremely useful in communicating messages about roles, rehearsal processes, and reviews, for example, but may not be as useful for other aspects of the production process.

The recently released cast list for the leg-warmer and leotard wearing A Chorus Line is just one of those emerging in 2013. The Broadway classic which is returning to the West End for the first time since it was first staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, shouts three leading ladies: Scarlett Strallen as Cassie, Leigh Zimmerman as Sheila, and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Diana. Other entries for 2013 are Book of Mormon, Dear World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and tours such as The Full Monty, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Ghost and Wicked.

If the musical theatre scene was not enough to entice audiences, other names which will be appearing on London stages throughout 2013 are Dame Judi Dench, Helen Mirrren, Daniel Radcliffe, Jude Law, Rupert Everett, Felicity Kendal, Vanessa Redgrave, James McAvoy, Rowan Atkinson, Lee Evans, Zoe Wanamaker, and Sheila Hancock.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Diablo Ballet’s Web-Made Ballet

Diablo Ballet Logo

The world’s first “web ballet”, the brainchild of Diablo Ballet, has begun. Merging dance and technology, Diablo Ballet is calling ballet and dance fans all over the world to assist in creating the world’s first ballet of this kind.

Not dissimilar to the ideals of postmodern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham, the ballet of Diablo Ballet, named The Web Ballet, will be the first dance work developed from suggestions made on the internet, and will premiere this March in the US. Internet users can participate from anywhere and be fully involved in the creation of the piece, without having to dust off their leotards or legwarmers.

The Web Ballet will be based on the choreographic ideas submitted to Diablo Ballet’s Twitter page from 8 January 2013, welcoming budding choreographers and enthusiastic fans to submit their ideas and see them transformed into a fully-fledged work. The Twitter hashtag #DiabloWebBallet has been suggested in order for users to communicate ideas such as the mood of the work, the emotion and expression of the dancers and the movement vocabulary itself, using a separate tweet for each suggestion. Users can also vote for their favourite musical accompaniment as one of three works on Diablo Ballet’s YouTube page.

The Web Ballet will be created by Robert Dekkers, a Diablo Ballet dancer, and one of Dance Magazine’s 2011 25 to Watch artists.  Submissions end on 14 February, when Dekkers and Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, will select seven choreographic suggestions. Dekkers will have two weeks to assemble the winning ideas, and create a new dance work. Those who tweeted the winning artistic suggestions will receive tickets to the performance, and a photograph of the completed work, autographed by Dekkers.

This is truly combining Twitter with the tutus!

N.B. All idea submissions become the property of Diablo Ballet.

2013 National Dance Awards

National Dance Awards Critics' Circle

28 January 2013 saw the 13th National Dance Awards winners announced at The Place, London. Considered by many as one of the most comprehensive list of dance achievements, 2013 certainly did not fail to deliver, providing a roundup of all the great work that was seen in 2012.

The awards are decided by the 60 members of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle after an extensive round of nominations and voting. To be eligible to win an award, performances had to take place in the UK between 1 September 2011 and 31 August 2012.

The 2013 winners are as follows –

DANCING TIMES AWARD FOR BEST MALE DANCER
Akram Khan (Akram Khan Company)

GRISHKO AWARD FOR BEST FEMALE DANCER
Marianela Nuñez (The Royal Ballet)

STEF STEFANOU AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING COMPANY
Royal Ballet Flanders

BEST CLASSICAL CHOREOGRAPHY
Annabelle Ochoa (A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet)

BEST MODERN CHOREOGRAPHY
Arthur Pita (The Metamorphosis)

OUTSTANDING FEMALE PERFORMANCE (CLASSICAL)
Ksenia Ovsyanick  (English National Ballet)

OUTSTANDING MALE PERFORMANCE (CLASSICAL)
Zdenek Konvalina (English National Ballet)

DANCERS PRO AWARDS FOR OUTSTANDING MODERN PERFORMANCE (FEMALE)
Teneisha Bonner (Zoonation)

DANCERS PRO AWARDS FOR OUTSTANDING MODERN PERFORMANCE (MALE)
Tommy Franzén (Zoonation and Russell Maliphant Company)

BEST INDEPENDENT COMPANY
Ballet Black

DE VALOIS AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT
Robert Cohan

DANCE UK INDUSTRY AWARD
Jeanette Siddall

The Chairman of the Awards committee, Graham Watts OBE, spoke at the event, and dedicated the 2012 awards to the memories of the late Charles Hedges, John Percival and Freda Pitt, all of whom have died since the last awards. In the year of the Centenary of the Critics’ Circle, the combined years of membership for the three critics totalled a century.

American Ballet Theatre Announces Dancer Exchange

ABT Logo

The Royal Ballet’s Steven McRae and Royal Danish Ballet’s Alban Lendorf are set to dance with American Ballet Theatre in spring 2013 as part of an artist exchange programme at the Metropolitan Opera House.

In return for these tights-and-tunic dancers, American Ballet Theatre will be sending the principal dancer Cory Stearns to The Royal Ballet and soloist Isabella Boylston to dance in the Royal Danish Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker to appear as Exchange Artists.

McRae and Lendorf will be dancing in the spring season, with McRae dancing the role of Lankendem in Le Corsaire in June, and Lendorf dancing the role of Prince Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty in July. As part of the exchange program with The Royal Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet, American Ballet Theatre’s Stearns will appear with The Royal Ballet, and Boylston will dance the roles of Dew Drop and Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker in December. This exchange of dancers not only presents the skills and talents of the dancers to another audience but also enables the dancers to hone their technique under unfamiliar circumstances and in unfamiliar surroundings.

During his career, McRae has had the opportunity to perform roles such as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, Lensky in Onegin, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, James in La Sylphide, Des Grieux in Manon, Prince Florimund in The Sleeping Beauty, Colas in La Fille mal gardée, the Prince in The Nutcracker and Cinderella, Blue Boy in Les Patineurs and The Chosen One in The Rite of Spring. Lendorf has equally danced roles such as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, Prince Désiré in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Sleeping Beauty, Gennaro in Napoli, James in La Sylphide, Armand in Lady of the Camellias, the title role in Apollo and principal roles in Etudes, Other Dances, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Le Corsaire pas de deux.