Charlotte Wakefield – Star of Mamma Mia! The Musical

Charlotte Wakefield in Mamma Mia! The MusicalHaving broken box office records at its previous homes – the Prince Edward and Prince of Wales Theatre – Mamma Mia!, now in its 14th year in London, has continued to break box office records at the Novello Theatre. Mamma Mia! originally opened in London at the Prince Edward Theatre in April 1999, before transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre in June 2004. The musical re-opened at the NovelloTheatre in September 2012.

To date Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 50 million people in 37 productions in 14 different languages. Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs on a Greek island sees an enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on an apparent island paradise. From West End to global phenomenon, the London production Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 1 in 10 of the entire UK population. It is also one of only five musicals to have run for more than 10 years both on Broadway and in the West End.

With Mothering Sunday coming up, what better way to get in the mood than to chat with Charlotte Wakefield who plays free spirited daughter Sophie Sheridan in the hit West End musical about training, life on tour, the London show and why Mamma Mia! is the best show to come and see as mother and daughter.

Charlotte, aged 22, is a mine of information, having started working in the industry aged 10.

“I haven’t actually trained professionally at all! I trained in dance from the age of 3 in classical ballet and tap, and then went on to attend Stagecoach classes at weekends. I got my first job through the agency when I was 10, and left Stagecoach when I was 18 when I was offered my first West End job.”

Charlotte made her West End debut in Spring Awakening and had already worked on television from an early age.

“I stuck at it and worked hard taking lots of classes, with my West End career starting at 18 despite the fact I worked professionally from 10 years old. It’s interesting as you could say I’ve done it the hard way: I just happened to get a break before I got to drama school. If I hadn’t have got the role in Spring Awakening I would definitely have applied to drama school, but I skipped that step!”

As a result, Charlotte’s experiences were a little different than those of typical drama school students, but she still feels as though she has learnt a lot from the way things have turned out.

“I didn’t manage to create a network of friends as you would at drama school, but I did make close friends with the people I worked with in Spring Awakening. We were all aged 16 to 25 and were starting out making our West End debuts, so we shared something special. I learnt a lot on the job, which is priceless, rather than learning at drama school, and experienced the industry first hand straight away. I feel I have become more of a ‘raw actor’ because of it, and have learnt different skills from other actors, and have been able to make my own choices.”

Whilst Charlotte’s journey into the theatrical industry may not be a typical one, she is now settled into life as Sophie as the leading female in Mamma Mia!.

“Half term meant we worked a 9 show week, adding in an extra matinee performance, but my day-to-day life is quite straight forward. At the moment I am auditioning during the day and having singing lessons, but I try not to push myself too hard through the week and make sure I chill out. The adrenaline from the evening shows means that I go to sleep around 1.30am, and try to sleep for a full 8 hours. During the day I usually have a singing lesson, a massage or an appointment with a physiotherapist and then leave for work at the theatre. We have a vocal and physical warm up and then I do my own stretching before getting ready for the performance.”

With a show that is as demanding as Mamma Mia! Charlotte has to work very hard, especially as her character Sophie is such a content-heavy role. Before securing Sophie in the West End, Charlotte also played the main character for a year on the International Tour.

“Touring is completely different to working in the West End! We did a worldwide tour of Mamma Mia! and spent about 2 weeks in each place. We were playing on a much bigger scale – the set was twice the size! – and sometimes played to arenas of around 5,000 people, which was a massive experience! The show atmosphere was very different, and we were able to go and visit places and explore during the day, which meant travelling to these amazing places was so much fun, while we were doing a job we loved.”

The bright lights of the West End have called Charlotte back, and now she has chance to reflect.

“I always wanted to play Sophie, and I got the chance to do it whilst travelling the world, as well as doing it here in London now – I was lucky to be cast again. I wanted to work in this industry for years! The West End seems like a dreamy place, but we have to work hard at our jobs. It’s taxing on our bodies with injuries and exhaustion, and performing is a dream for most people. There are lots of tough parts to doing your hobby professionally – your friends can be your competitors in auditions, and you need a lot of stamina, physically and mentally. But, once you get on stage you absolutely want to do it!”

The role of Sophie is a busy one for Charlotte, but she relishes in being able to give the audience something special, especially in a show that is as popular as Mamma Mia!.

“I haven’t got a favourite part of the show as the whole thing is so much fun. There’s a big finale which is a 7 minute long megamix of ABBA songs and lots of dancing. The audience can finally stand up and dance and sing too after itching to join in, and can let go and enjoy themselves! Sophie is a very hectic role, so if I ever come off stage it’s for a quick costume change and I’m back on – the whole show is one big scene for me!

Sophie’s relationships with the many characters are varied, but it seems none matches that with her free-spirited mother Donna, forming much of the dynamic within the show.

“Donna and Sophie are very close characters as they are both fairly free spirits. There is no husband/father figure as such in their lives and they have built up their existence on a Greek island on their own. Their relationship is quite casual, more friend-like than authoritative mother-daughter. Sophie is free too and is naive for that reason, and that’s what causes their fall-out. It’s an odd feeling as they are very similar, but the audiences love the characters and the relationship between them.”

With Mothering Sunday coming, the eternal relationship between Sophie and Donna is epitomised by mothers and daughters everywhere. Charlotte thinks seeing Mamma Mia! is the perfect mother and daughter outing, with now being an ideal time.

“Sophie putting on her wedding dress and getting married are just two lovely moments which make up the female-strong show. Slipping through my fingers is particularly moving song about mother-daughter relationships, as well as the friendships and girl power which make the show happy and uplifting for mothers and daughters watching. Mamma Mia! definitely gives something to share with mothers and daughters being together.

Coming to a close, Charlotte gives a few pointers and helpful advice for aspiring performers.

“Always remain positive. There is so much rejection in the industry that you have to keep trying, be strong willed and always accept criticism. Be over prepared for auditions and make sure that you really want to enter the industry, because if not there will always be someone who wants it more than you! Above all, it is the most fun job in the world but it is not easy. Work hard!”

The Anniversary of Anna Pavlova

Anna PavlovaFor 2013, 12th February marked the 132nd birthday of celebrated ballerina Anna Pavlova, born 12 February 1881.

After attending the Imperial Ballet School, Pavlova made her company debut with the Imperial Russian Ballet in 1899 and soon became prima ballerina. She joined Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in 1909 and formed her own company in 1911. However, Pavlova was a favourite of legendary choreographer Marius Petipa and was a hugely influential figure in dance and a key figure in the development of British ballet, even going on to inspire Frederick Ashton.

Pavlova’s Imperial Ballet-trained technique gave her a means to convey what mattered to her most: her expressiveness, rather than the steps. By the time most of the films of her dancing were made in the 1920s, she was relying on very simple choreography without fifth position, pirouettes, or arabesques, but runs on pointe, legs parallel, defining her legendary status beneath her Dying Swan tiara with strong, arched feet and beautiful arms and legs. The Dying Swan, the solo choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine in 1907 was retained as her signature piece, with Pavlova dancing it 4,000 times.

In June 2012, the Pavlova Festival took place held at Ivy House in North London, Pavlova’s former home from 1912 until her death in 1931 after contracting double pneumonia. The festival included a number of special events, including a photographic exhibition and a film season at the British Film Institute, playing tribute to Pavlova’s beautiful art form, and an exquisite tutu and pointe shoes. It is over 100 years since Pavlova decided to leave Russia and make London her home, with Ivy House being the base from which she conducted her ballet school, training young girls who aspired to be part of her touring company.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Vaslav Nijinsky tribute

Vaslav NijinskiSunday 10th March 2013 will see the London Coliseum host a tribute performance to Vaslav Nijinsky, one of the greatest male dancers of the early twentieth century. The performance will be made up of a Russian Ballet Icons Gala and Dinner, celebrating the life and work of a legend, with today’s ballet world owing much to this ballet dancer in particular.

Nijinsky’s parents owned their own dance company, performing throughout the Russian Empire. At the age of nine, Nijinsky entered the Imperial School of Dancing in St. Petersburg, graduating in 1907 and joining the Mariinsky Theatre as a soloist. Following his first role in La Source with Russian ballerina Julia Sedova, Nijinsky’s success was phenomenal. He went on to join Diaghilev as principal dancer in 1909, and was commended for his expression, the beauty of his body, his featherweight lightness and steel-like strength, his great elevation, and his extraordinary virtuosity and dramatic acting. 1912 saw Nijinsky’s career as a choreographer begin, creating L’Aprés-midi d’un faune, Jeux and Le Sacre du printemps for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, heralded as daringly original.

As part of the Russian Ballet Icons series, the evening will present a unique opportunity to see several pieces from Nijinsky’s repertoire such as Petrushka, Les Sylphides, Scheherazade, The Spectre of the Rose, The Afternoon of a Faun, as well as modern masterpieces by contemporary choreographers such as Wayne Eagling, Wayne McGregor, Jerome Robbins, Kim Brandstrup, August Bournonville and Russell Maliphant. The programme will be presented by dancers from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres, the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, the Vienna Staatsoper, and the Stanislavski Theatre, Moscow, with the cast including Leanne Benjamin, Alina Cojocaru, J’aime Crandall, Dmitriy Gruzdev, Dmitry Gudanov, Kirill Kurlyaev, Alban Lendorf, Marianela Nunez, Evgenia Obraztsova, Artem Ovcharenko, Ludmila Pagliero, Giuseppe Picone, Ivan Putrov, Marianna Ryzhkina, Thiago Soares, Iñaki Urlezaga, Edward Watson, Maria Yakovleva and Svetlana Zakharova.

 

Martha Graham Dance Company Vs Hurricane Sandy

Martha Graham Dance Company

The Martha Graham Dance Company was just one affected by Hurricane Sandy, yet despite all odds the company is drawing itself back up to full height, long skirts and contractions included. The storm flooded the company’s production office, and sets and costumes were severely damaged.

The repertory, created by one of the pioneers of American modern dance, Martha Graham, is one which examines humanity, the soul and all the emotions in between. In order to fulfil the practicalities of being a full-fledged dance company, the company needed many items which were damaged for upcoming performances. Dancers, staff and a crew of volunteers worked to recover items from the company’s basement in order to restore order. Some costumes, many of which are original garments and some even worn by Martha Graham, returned to their pre-Sandy state, whereas others had to be entirely reconstructed.

So far the company has not missed a deadline or a costume requirement due to the sheer effort and support of others. However, Hurricane Sandy has also presented opportunities for the company, such as dancing without sets. The company has been able to experiment in many ways, for example, staging Graham’s 1947 classic Errand Into the Maze without its usual set of a large piece resembling a U-shaped tree that the dancer climbs all over. This enabled a reimagining of the famous setting whilst remaining true to such distinct choreography: the company meanwhile has time to recover more of its belongings.

Sets like those for Errand Into the Maze would have been replaced over time due to normal wear and tear, but Hurricane Sandy forced this to happen in quick succession. Performances in 2013 so far have meant the company borrowing items and solving problems: American Ballet Theatre even loaned its costumes for Graham’s 1949 Diversion of Angels, which has been the ABT repertory since 1999.

The Fonteyn-Nureyev Partnership

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot FonteynThe partnership of Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn is one which dance audiences and balletomanes alike still speculate about. However, it remains that their partnership is perhaps one of the most celebrated and talked about in the world.

It was one of fantastic chemistry and strength, and is arguably reflected today in Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirow of English National Ballet, who have a similar age gap and performance quality to Fonteyn and Nureyev.

Nureyev was invited to make his London debut in 1961 at the annual gala organised by Margot Fonteyn for the Royal Academy of Dancing (now Royal Academy of Dance) of which she was President.

Following the gala Nureyev went on to be invited to dance in Giselle with Fonteyn, in addition to Swan Lake and the Don Quixote pas de deux, amongst many others. Work such as this laid the foundations for Nureyev’s subsequent career and link with the Royal Ballet.

The relationship between Fonteyn and Nureyev was seemingly one of balance, despite one in pointe shoes and a tutu, and the other in tights and a tunic. At 23 years old, Nureyev gave Fonteyn new life and vigour and in return Fonteyn provided Nureyev with inspiration to focus on his future career. Each dancer learned much from the other, each having similar dancing goals: this developed into one of the most talked about partnerships of the dancing world, even after their deaths and presumably far into the future too.

In their era, audiences were desperate to witness the Fonteyn-Nureyev charismatic performances and engage with some of the magic they created on stage. As a result of the demand for seeing the pair dance together, their agent went on to charge much more for the dancers as a pair than the sum of their individual fees, which was already soaring.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ruthie Henshall

Ruthie Henshall

Ruthie Henshall, with her multi-award winning career, has starred in some of the best-loved and popular musicals of the last twenty five years on both Broadway and London’s West End, donning character shoes, leotards and tights and tap shoes throughout. In addition to her tremendous success in plays, in concert and on television, Henshall has starred on stage in Cats, Miss Saigon, Crazy For You, She Loves Me, Marguerite, Oliver!, A Chorus Line, Les Misérables and Chicago. Quite the leading lady… not too mention her stint as a judge on TV show Dancing on Ice!

Following Henshall’s training at the prestigious vocational college Laine Theatre Arts, she went on to join the UK tour cast of A Chorus Line and consequently made her West End debut in Cats, having the chance to play Jemima, Demeter, Jellylorum, Griddlebone and Grizabella. Henshall’s comprehensive and arguably illustrious career has seen her become one of the most popular West End artists, having created roles, been nominated for and won Olivier Awards, and revisiting roles when asked to recreate them, such as Fantine for the tenth anniversary of Les Misérables.

Henshall is perhaps most well known, however, for shaking and shimmying in Chicago, firstly as one of the original London company members of the revival. Henshall has since gone on to play both leads (Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly) in London and on Broadway, spending three years in New York City. Aside from all-performing musicals Henshall has toured extensively in the UK, US and Australia, and is currently touring the UK in An Intimate Evening with Ruthie Henshall, providing audiences with snippets or career through songs and amusing anecdotes from her training and musical theatre days. Without a feather boa in sight Henshall provided a snapshot of her hectic yet completely rewarding schedule, and has eight dates to go!

Changes Within The Royal Ballet

The Royal BalletFirst Artist Jonathan Watkins is set to leave The Royal Ballet on 23 February to embark on a freelance career as a choreographer/director. Watkins joined the company in 2003, with his interest in choreography sparking as a student at The Royal Ballet School and continued in his transition to larger ballet shoes as part of the company. Watkins has, most recently, choreographed Diana and Actaeon as part of Titian: Metamorphosis 2012 with William Tuckett and Liam Scarlett. His many outside commissions to date include two short films for Channel 4 and serving as movement director for Alan Bennett’s latest play People at the National Theatre. Next for Watkins are numerous projects such as choreographing new works in Russia and America, and a collection of theatre and film projects.

Principal Dancer Mara Galeazzi will also leave, hanging up her pointe shoes and passing down her tutus when she retires in July 2013 at the end of the current season. Galeazzi will focus on new projects, teaching dance and her work for her charity foundation Dancing for The Children which raises funds for sick children in Africa. Galeazzi joined the company in 1992 and was promoted to Principal in 2003. She has danced a wide range of the repertory, both classic and contemporary, including works by Ashton, MacMillan, Cranko, Balanchine, McGregor and Wheeldon. Galeazzi is most well-known for her dramatic interpretation of many leading roles in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets including Juliet, Mary Vetsera and Marie Larische in Mayerling, Manon and Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, and the Woman in The Judas Tree. Galeazzi’s farewell performance at the Royal Opera House will be as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling on 13 June, and her final performance with The Royal Ballet will be in Monaco where she will perform the title role in Manon on 29 June.

The Dance Again Foundation

The Dance Again Foundation2012 saw the launch of the Dance Again Foundation, a charity which was created specifically to provide support and advice for professional dancers to help them return to the stage post-injury. Through its work, the Foundation aims to help each dancer manage each injury they have, and even prevent minor injuries develop into major ones through early intervention and enhanced rehabilitation. The injury does not have to have a dance-related cause: for many dancers who have experienced injury through accident, the Dance Again Foundation works to help dancers access the appropriate treatment and therapy to enable them to return to dance.

Luckily for dancers everywhere, the Dance Again Foundation has been able to establish a firm financial base over the last 12 months in order to help dancers achieve optimum recovery with the goal of enabling them to return to their career. The dance community is able to assist this work by becoming involved with fundraising and publicising the charity’s work, and dance teachers are able to particularly assist, making sure their students are aware of the Foundation’s existence. Seeking assistance for injuries, however small, can be made much easier. Several low-key fundraisers are planned for 2013 in addition to corporate sponsorship and other sources of fundraising being investigated. A large-scale gala concert is also being organised for the spring, and a line of dancewear and accessories for male dancers is also being designed.

The Dance Again Foundation initially came into being through the experience of one particular family, whose son was an apprentice with Bern:Ballett, and the Dance Again Foundation was able to assist with addressing the financial and facilitating situations of the family. Dancers dealing with these problematic injuries may find the finances and facilities are limited, yet the Dance Again Foundation works to ensure the dancer will be able to dance again.

The Post-Olympic West End

London's West End Theatre Scene

Despite much fear that the London 2012 Olympics would quash the West End during last summer, it has actually emerged that the West End not only survived, but broke all previous revenue records, despite business initially reducing by 9%. The West End went on to rectify this, with more shows set to open this year additionally as a result. It was discovered, for example, that The Lion King had its most successful year ever in the West End, grossing over £38.6 million, breaking its own record for the eighth consecutive year and again setting a new record for highest grossing year in West End theatre history.

The approximate 45 theatres open took £529,787,692 across last year, in comparison to the £528,375,874 taken in 2011. In addition there were 305 new productions over the year, whereas 2011 saw only 256. With the inundation of tappers, singers, high-kickers and soliloquy-ers, it is no wonder that theatre-land flourished and grew tremendously. Attendance for 2012 reached 13,992,773 from 13,915,185 the previous year, with the average ticket price reducing enabling more audiences to access some fantastic productions that are on offer in theatres. The unique experiences available, and new initiatives too, are helping to grow audiences and build an appetite for live theatre.

Theatres are now being booked up as far as the eye can see, with new productions ready to jump in, such as at the Wyndham’s Theatre and the Gielgud Theatre. As a result, any current show wishing to extend its run cannot do so unless it relocates to another theatre, which of course has its advantages and disadvantages. With such an array of productions audiences will have a fantastic choice, however show which are popular and successful will not have the luxury of ‘home’ as other long-running shows have in the West End. Currently, 18 of the West End’s 40 or so commercial venues are locked into long runs of a year or more.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Liam Scarlett’s Latest Work

Liam Scarlett

The Royal Ballet’s Liam Scarlett, recently appointed as the Royal’s Artist in Residence, has choreographed again for Miami City Ballet following his last work for the company, having made the transition to choreographing full-time. Hanging up his ballet shoes in the performing sector, Scarlett has seamlessly transferred to the arena of choreography.

Scarlett is seen to be in demand all over the world, most recently premiering his new work Euphotic for Miami City Ballet, which opened on 11 January 2013. Having concluded the company’s Programme II, the performance also featured works by George Balanchine and Marius Petipa, two of the most influential modern and classical ballet choreographers respectively. Euphotic is said to be a ‘closing ballet’, which finishes three classical ballets as a statement for the audience and set to a score of Lowell Liebermann. Scarlett himself designed the scenic and costume designs, with Miami City Ballet blogging the process of working towards Scarlett’s vision and dyeing various pieces of fabrics blue and yellow, representing the sea and the light of the sky.

Last season Scarlett showed off his Viscera for Miami City Ballet, featuring principal dancer Jeanette Delgado, who is also cast as the lead for this season’s Euphotic as a sequel work of twenty-eight dancers. There are three principals and their partners in total leading the movement, fulfilling four movements of dance. The four ballets including Euphotic will also be presented at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Florida as Programme I in addition.

Who knows what is next for Scarlett’s choreographic adventures, but he has certainly hit the ground running, now to build on his creativity and spread his talent further.

Image courtesy of ROH at Flickr.