Step into Dance’s Musical Theatre Company

Step into Dance, a partnership programme between the Royal Academy of Dance and The Jack Petchey Foundation, are holding auditions on Sunday 7 October to recruit students into their exciting new Musical Theatre Company. Students in the company will be able to meet other like-minded, talented young people and also perform at prestigious venues across London.

Step into Dance is a fully inclusive community dance which currently runs in 187 secondary schools over 32 London Boroughs and Essex. The programme offers weekly extra-curricular dance lessons to students who would not otherwise have access to quality dance, jazz shoes, or flared dance trousers.  From a pilot of 28 schools, it is now a fully inclusive programme delivered in 187 schools, including Special Educational Needs schools and Pupil Referral Units. Step into Dance is the biggest secondary school dance programme in the UK, unique in offering and performance opportunities throughout the academic year. Each of the 187 schools engaged in the programme pay an annual fee, contributing to the running costs of the programme.

Step into Dance, through its extended programme such as Watch this Step, Step into Battle, the Step Borough Events and its showcase end of the year event, Step LIVE! Step into Dance is responsible for creating over 20 unique, inclusive performance opportunities each year. The events develop the participants’ creative experience, showcasing Step into Dance to a wider audience.

The new Musical Theatre Company, complete with top hats and New Yorkers, will be lead by Sonny Ward as teacher and choreographer. Ward trained at Millennium Performing Arts and with the National Youth Theatre, with his choreography credits including West Ham FC Dancers at Upton Park, Dance Expressions at Sadler’s Wells, Christmas Cabaret for MD2000, Flashmobs for Walkers Crisps and Littlewoods Christmas TV Adverts 2011. Ward also teaches at the Sylvia Young Theatre School and is Co-Director of Eaton Ward Agency, having trained young students that have gone on to perform in MatildaBilly Elliot and The Lion King.

Image courtesy of Step into Dance.

Akram Khan

Having returned to full form for the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Akram Khan has recovered from the notorious injury to his Achilles tendon and is set to perform DESH at the UK’s leading dance house in October 2012. The performance was originally postponed due to Khan’s injury but the UK premiere of the production is going full steam ahead to the delight of many dance fans decked out in their leggings and leotards. Sadler’s Wells, renowned for presenting dance in all its forms to the widest possible audiences, will also be including in its October highlights three critically acclaimed works returning to the theatre.

As an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells, Khan’s latest work, linen trousers and all, made its world premiere in 2011 to unanimous critical praise. The Olivier Award-winning DESH is a full length bare-footed contemporary solo, and Khan’s most personal work to date. Meaning “homeland” in Bengali, DESH draws on multiple tales of land, nation and resistance, all converging in the body and voice of one man trying to find his balance in an unstable world. Moving between Britain and Bangladesh, Khan weaves threads of memory, experience and myth into a surreal world of surprising connection.

For DESH, Khan joined forces with visual artist Tim Yip (production designer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), award-winning lighting designer Michael Hulls, writer and poet Karthika Nair, Olivier Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook and slam poet PolarBear to create a powerful work which has since defined his career. A collaboration of extraordinary proportions.

Images courtesy of Andy Miah at Flickr.

Beyoncé Vs. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker Despite much time elapsing between the esteemed choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s next moves in the dance world and the similarities of her work with a high-heeled music video of Beyoncé’s, it still seems fit to draw upon the links between the almost chilling uniformity of De Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danst Rosas and Beyoncé’s Countdown music video, seemingly inspired by the choreographer. This connection between the contemporary dance world and the pop culture to which Beyoncé belongs is becoming shorter, with both choreographers and music artists being inspired by alternative stimuli.

De Keersmaeker, 52, whose company Rosas is full of fierce and dynamic dancers, trained in both Brussels and New York and could consequently be called the godmother of the Belgian contemporary dance movement that spawned such offspring as Jan Fabre, Alain Platel and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Although she’s an acclaimed figure in the dance world – however not for her leotard and leg warmer wearing persona – she is less of a household name outside it, but that changed late in 2011 with her work ‘borrowed’ by Beyoncé for the music video to promote her new single. The two videos are very similar in terms of movement vocabulary, setting and intention, with another sequence in the music video strongly resembling choreography from Achterland, a filmed version of which won the Dance Screen award in 1994.

Regardless of claims of stealing, plagiarism and copyright, it is clear to see that references to other artistic elements are frequent among the producing element of art, including references to modern dance. On a positive note, the choreography of Rosas Danst Rosas was able to reach mass audiences in an altered format, which a dance performance could never achieve, enabling new audiences to inadvertently appreciate De Keersmaeker’s talent and skill emanating throughout the dance world.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s New Season

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet has been busy polishing its tiaras and digging out repertoire tutus in preparation for the 2012/13 season, seeing in both brand new works inspired by Olympic sporting endeavours to classics such as Giselle and Coppélia. The senior management team, such as Director David Bintley CBE, has been very excited about the repertory that will emerge throughout the season, setting every pointe shoe fan alight with anticipation too.

The season began on 19 September with the company staging six performances in four days of the enduring and timeless story of Swan Lake at The Lowry in Manchester. This is ahead of moving the company home to the Birmingham Hippodrome on 2 October ready for the winter. Swan Lake is a sure ballet favourite of dance fans and non-dance fans alike, and a classic that is rarely missed from a classical ballet company’s repertoire. BRB (originally Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet) first performed Swan Lake in 1981 almost 100 years after it premiered in Moscow. A new insight will be brought to the 2012/13 Company with at least two new casts with many new artists dancing the leading roles.

Bintley has maintained that keeping audiences surprised is a constant test for the company, in addition to drawing audiences in to see the show in the first place. With such a variety of work planned for the coming season, there is no doubt the audience’s appetites will be satisfied, with the seasons being planned many years in advance. A modern production of Aladdin will grace the stage through the company as well as Faster, the production inspired by the theme of the Olympics and the physiological aspects of sport and performance. Bintley has collaborated with Australian composer Matthew Hindson to produce a ballet that celebrates speed and power which is a fitting tribute to the Olympians that showcased their incredible athleticism in London in July and August.

Faster is one of three productions for the Autumn Celebration, which is being staged at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth; Sadler’s Wells, London; and Wales Millennium Centre in October. It also features The Dream and The Grand Tour.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

English National Ballet’s 2012/13 Season Under Tamara Rojo

Tamara Rojo

On 24 September, English National Ballet held its first press conference set in the ballroom of the Corinthia Hotel in the heart of London. It highlighted new Artistic Director Tamara Rojo’s next steps, alongside a Bluebird pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty performed by Shiori Kase and Yonah Acosta. ENB are on the brink of their 2012/13 season, and it is Rojo’s first in the role, laying down her pointe shoes momentarily before she joins the cast later in the season.

Rojo coincidently danced with ENB fifteen years ago as a young, aspiring ballerina, eventually making her way to The Royal Ballet and continuing her journey adorned with tights, tutus and tiaras. Rojo spoke of her time with ENB, helping her to create her dance values through its ethos “to bring ballet to the widest possible audience”. It had a lasting influence on Rojo’s own views of the responsibility and impact of art toward society. Consequently throughout the press conference, Rojo not only presented the seasonal preview of ENB but also her own vision and aspirations for the next few years of the company.

Rojo outlined her ambition to transform ENB into the most creative and loved ballet company, embracing and commissioning new work whilst keeping the classics relevant in a balance to move forward artistically whilst paying homage to the past simultaneously. Rojo also aims to build on the company’s tradition of being an institution which nourishes artists and collaborates with others working artistically to maintain excellence, creation and imagination.

The repertoire to be covered by ENB in the upcoming season includes The Nutcracker at Christmas, the Albert Hall Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. This is alongside some London based mixed bills presenting repertoire such as Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort and My First Cinderella, to be choreographed by George Williamson (choreographed Firebird for ENB earlier in 2012) which follows on from and My First Sleeping Beauty earlier in the year. Williamson will also be responsible for the Emerging Dancer Award and will develop collaborations with other organisations.

Image courtesy of Scillystuff at Flickr.

Sleeping Beauties

The Sleeping Beauty - The Royal Ballet 2008

Whilst the legendary classical ballet creation The Nutcracker is usually in abundance during the holiday season all over the world, it seems there may be another contender for 2012 in the form of The Sleeping Beauty.

English National Ballet has just publicised its casting for the 2012 production. Newly appointed Artistic Director Tamara Rojo has not laid her pointe shoes and tutu aside just yet, as she will be filling the shoes of Princess Aurora on selected dates, partnered by the young, talented Principal Vadim Muntagirov. As one of the world’s favourite fairytales, the ENB version of the plot sees the enchanting magic of castles and curses, with fairy interludes. Accompanying this well-loved tale, Tchaikovsky’s score is featured heavily amongst Kenneth MacMillan’s unmistakeable choreography, as well as including the score of Once Upon a Dream as used in the trademark Sleeping Beauty version by Walt Disney.

On the alternative side of the coin, Matthew Bourne will be re-imagining the classic story with the world premiere of his own version of Sleeping Beauty, in the culmination of New Adventures’ 25th birthday. This particular production of Bourne’s will complete his tiara trio of ballet masterworks that began with Nutcracker! and progressed to the international smash hit Swan Lake. As with all Bourne’s works, the timeless fairytale from 1890 is turned on its gothic head and jumps forwards a century to the present day. The now supernatural love story pushes beyond the constraints of time in true Bourne style.

Spreading the influence of The Sleeping Beauty this year includes a host of Sleeping Beauty events from ENB, enabling ballet fans to experience the world of ballet through talks, masterclasses and dance workshops in theatres on tour and in London, allowing even the smallest Lilac Fairies to don their tights and satin shoes. For Bourne’s production, to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary, Sadler’s Wells has hosted talks throughout the year focusing on aspects of Bourne’s work and his long association with the theatre, with Sleeping Beauty being the final instalment. In this particular talk, Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director Alistair Spalding will talk to Bourne about the premiere, as well as his plans and hopes for the next 25 years of New Adventures.

Whichever version you choose, The Sleeping Beauty is not to be missed!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A Chorus Line Revived

"A Chorus Line" Original Broadway Windowcard

With shouts of “…and 5, 6, 7, 8” resonating all over the country, the legendary Broadway production A Chorus Line is returning to the UK. Dust off your leotards as Michael Bennett’s Tony Award-winning production will be revived for the first time in 35 years, in London next year, opening at the West End’s London Palladium on 19 February 2013.

Full of high-cut leotards and tan character shoes, A Chorus Line is to be directed by Bob Avian, who also directed the 2006 Tony-nominated Broadway production, with this production being dedicated to Marvin Hamlisch, the composer who wrote the music, who died in August this year. Avian was Bennett’s long-term collaborator and his co-choreographer on the original production, and again for the long-rumoured revival. A Chorus Line won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama when it opened on Broadway in 1975 and went on to become the then longest-running musical on Broadway, reaching 6,137 performances. It transferred to the West End the following year, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.  In 1985, it was made into a Hollywood film directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Michael Douglas as the demanding director putting his dancers – including one ex-lover – through their paces.

The story focuses on 17 hopefuls auditioning for just eight places in a new Broadway musical with its famous score including number such as “I Hope I Get It”, “Sing!” and, most memorably, “One (Singular Sensation)”. The auditionees describe the events which have shaped their lives and their decisions to be dancers. Based on true stories, A Chorus Line revolutionised Broadway.

The London revival is booking until 13 July 2013, with open auditions being held on 1 October 2012 for male and female performers aged 18 to 35… so grab your legwarmers and take to the stage!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wayne McGregor and John Travolta

Wayne McGregor

Wayne McGregor CBE, the resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, has revealed that he first became interested in dance while growing up in the 1970s. It was seeing John Travolta in Grease and Saturday Night Fever at the cinema that made him realise that was the type of dancing he wanted to do, with those moves and dance forms the ones he began to imitate, which many a jazz shoe clad dancer may still emanate today. Shaking his hips and donning his flares and high-heeled boots, Wayne McGregor set out on a dance journey that he probably would never have guessed would lead him to one of the most prestigious, tutu wearing ballet companies in the world: The Royal Ballet.

McGregor’s parents encouraged him to be academic, but also gave him the confidence to try anything. He went on to take part in amateur dramatics, organise tea dances and form his own dance company (Wayne McGregor | Random Dance) but never set out to hold such a key post at The Royal Ballet. One of McGregor’s most recent works, Carbon Life, saw a very different style of ballet: black ‘block’ pointe shoes dominated the stage, accentuating the lines of the leg in a different capacity through abstract, cube-like costumes, a far cry from McGregor’s Travolta inspiration!

McGregor has revealed that he is obsessed with the technology of the body, reflecting the values of Carbon Life and at an extension, creating super-human bodies for his dancers. In addition to his contemporary and classical credits, McGregor is also known for choreographing Radiohead’s Lotus Flower video and for serving as movement director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire… both of which lacked leotards and ballet shoes! Part of McGregor’s aim is to continually find a way to communicate ideas through the body to audiences in order to help them think differently about the world around them… and dance itself.

Image courtesy of body_pixel on Flickr.

Body Conditioning

Body Conditioning for Dancers

For dancers, being fit to dance is natural, inevitable, and above all stating the obvious. Hours taking class, rehearsing and performing are all perfect ways to hone your dancing body and become the greatest athlete you can. In terms of dance, that is: many dancers are only fit to dance rather than being fit in a number of different disciplines. Forget pointe shoes, leotards and ballet barres, dancers also need to cross-train in order to excel. Being physically fit means that injury is less likely, but if it does occur, it also means you have various other methods to aid the healing process.

A famous study at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York (1975) compared forms of sport in a study, including dance, in terms of the athletes’ fitness capabilities. Ballet was ranked as one of the top disciplines, requiring high levels of strength, endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular ability. However, in order to maintain this wellbeing and fitness as a dancer, other forms of exercise must be carried out in order to complement your dance life.

For example, swimming is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise that will set dancers on their way to becoming fitter in a more general sense, enabling their bodies to withstand more than the (sometimes gruelling) demands of dance. In fact, any other cardiovascular activity has great results affecting dancers’ longevity for strength and power, co-ordination, flexibility and aerobic endurance (as dance is a predominantly anaerobic activity in which the dancer performs short bursts of high-energy activity rather than aerobic where the energy demands are more even)… you will not find ballet tights or Therabands in the pool or on the running track!

Other complementary activities include Pilates, the Franklin Method, Alexander technique and the Feldenkrais Method, enabling the body to adapt, as well as improving the alignment of the skeleton, for example. As soon as dancers stop working or conditioning their bodies, they start to ‘de-condition’’ and reverse, which can happens quickly, so it is important to keep using your physical capabilities outside the studio.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Strictly Come Dancing Contestants Revealed!

Strictly Come Dancing

After months of speculation the Strictly Come Dancing line-up has finally been announced, dispelling all previous rumours surrounding the tenth series. In addition to the contestants, ex-prima ballerina and new Royal Academy of Dance President Darcey Bussell will also be joining the show as a new judge on the panel. Bussell will be trading her trademark pointe shoes and tutu for score cards, and has even been dabbling in some ballroom practice herself.

Denise Van Outen is presumed to be a favourite on SCD. The presenter-turned-actress has not only starred in West End shows but has even released her own dance-fitness DVD. Van Outen is married to Lee Mead, winner of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Any Dream Will Do, and she has also been a panel member on Lloyd Webber’s talent searches. Girls Aloud pop star Kimberley Walsh will also be competing, as well as Tracey Beaker actress Dani Harmer who finished runner-up in Let’s Dance For Sport Relief this spring. Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton will be donning the fishnets and New Yorkers with fantastic fitness levels and a huge competitive streak, alongside 56-year-old former model Jerry Hall and Fern Britton. Ex-Emmerdale star Lisa Riley will also be donning sparkling costumes, making the females alone a strong pull for the show.

In terms of male competition, another member of Team GB will be appearing as a hot favourite, Olympic gymnast Louis Smith who may even add a back flip to his routines in his dapper costumes. Nicky Byrne from Westlife, actors Colin Salmon and Sid Owen and cricketer Michael Vaughan are also to be thrown into the mix of fourteen hopefuls alongside their professional partners, as well as potential comics Daybreak presenter Richard Arnold and Johnny Ball, who’s daughter Zoe was a finalist on SCD series three.

However the dancefloor turns, this season’s Strictly is too good to miss!