Matt Mattox: A Dancing Life

Matt Mattox

Matt Mattox, the renowned dancer, choreographer and teacher who helped shape contemporary jazz dance in the United States and Europe, died on February 18, 2013 in France aged 91. Perhaps known under the auspice of ‘Matt Mattox technique’, Mattox’s interpretation and approach to jazz dance has been practiced and delivered by many students and professionals, and will no doubt continue to be. Mattox taught his brand of dance to generations of pupils, first in New York and later in Europe.

Mattox had a prominent career dancing in films and on Broadway in the 1940s, and afterwards, despite being less well known than some of the celebrated Hollywood dancers of his era, such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Despite this, he was every inch their competitor in making his mark on the art of dance throughout the twentieth century, even appearing in the 1954 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, amongst others, choreographed by Michael Kidd. For his role in Seven Brides, Mattox can be seen performing a dazzling series of leaps and splits above a sawhorse.

Mattox went on to build on jazz dance’s aesthetic traditions and kinetic vocabulary by developing the work of his mentor, prominent choreographer and teacher Jack Cole, envisioning the body as a straight line with curving lines of light energy. As a result, Mattox, as a primary protagonist, built on Cole’s traditions and reshaped them as his own. As a dancer, and later choreographer, Mattox was celebrated for his ease of movement and precision, in addition to his fantastic agility. Mattox helped conceive a dance genre that was subtler, more rhythmically complex and far more eclectic, combining his own extensive training in ballet with tap dance, modern dance and folkloric dance traditions from around the world. What resulted was a new, fluidly integrated art form Mattox called ‘freestyle dance’.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Reasons to dance

Reasons to Dance

First of all, and most importantly, dance makes us happy! We get to do something we love every week, wear beautiful and sparkling costumes, improve our dance technique and performance, have fun, make friends and keep fit! Exercising through dance releases hormones called endorphins which make us feel positive, spreading to other areas of our lives too.

As well as increasing endorphin levels, dance keeps us healthy and active, and is far more enjoyable than going to the gym! Dancewear and gym-wear are quite similar, but there are so many designs of leotards, dance sneakers and other dance clothes, we are simply spoilt for choice. Dance also lowers stress levels by stimulating our brains in other ways, and takes your mind of other worries that are nagging away – dancing is fun, free and exciting!

Aside from learning about technique, different dance styles and new skills, dance also educates us about our posture and how we look to the outside eye. This has benefits that run far wider than for just dance alone, making us look younger, feel healthier and increase our longevity as humans who have learnt about the correct way to hold ourselves. Dance also increases strength and flexibility by improving joints, muscles and general stamina, as well as toning the body up.

By dancing, we are creating opportunities to meet new people as well as creating time for ourselves. There are no distractions meaning you can concentrate properly on learning the steps, polishing the routine or simply working on your technique. Meeting new people and making friends also means that dance becomes enjoyable on another level, socialising with others who share your passion.

Above all, dancing and taking part in dance classes mean we learn more about dance and engage in our favourite hobby – what’s not to love?!

Upcoming Dance UK events

Dance UKDance UK, the national voice for dance founded in 1982 to tackle the big issues facing the dance sector, has organised an array of events suitable for budding dancers, students, choreographers and teachers.

‘Fundraising for Artistic Projects’ is a seminar for dance managers and self-managed artists as part of the Business of Dance training programme on 5 April 2013. The session will provide practical knowledge and information for self-managed dance artists, company dancers looking to develop their own work, and independent dance managers who want to develop their skills. Focused on will be the types of funding available, identifying local funds open to artists, an overview of Arts Council England Grants for the Arts funding and top tips on how to write successful funding applications.

The ‘National Choreographers’ Conference’, in previous years known as Choreoforum, will be held on 11 May on behalf of the Choreographers Professional Network. The National Choreographers’ Conference is the only open national event for choreographers, whether it’s film, commercial, contemporary, West End, opera, youth choreography or choreographic teaching. A committee of diverse choreographers steer the conference content by requesting speakers, offering a forum to share artistic debate, concerns and to network with fellow choreographers in a non-competitive environment, to share expertise and information. The conference will also include sessions for individual, agencies and training/higher education institutions that are involved in Choreographic Talent Development.

‘Nutrition and Touring’, on 8 April, is a new seminar aimed at company managers, artistic directors, rehearsal directors, touring dancers and dance science students and practitioners. It will feature the most up-to-date research and advice in healthy touring and nutrition for dancers. Speakers will include Mhairi Keil, Performance Nutritionist and Consultant with the English Institute of Sport, Jess Sayers, Company Manager, Wayne McGregor | Random Dance and Erin Sanchez, Healthier Dancer Programme manager, Dance UK in order to share knowledge and enable the attendees to learn from fellow dance professionals working in dance touring who strive to create healthy working environments in dance companies and theatres.

Easter Courses For Young Dance Students

Easter 2013 Dance Courses

Despite many dance schools taking breaks for the Easter holidays, eager dance students still have the chance to dance their way through the holidays. There are a wide variety of courses to suit every dance taste, such as hip hop, musical theatre and ballet, enabling students to build on existing skills, and even gain an idea as to further training in dance which they may like to undertake in the future.

ZooNation Easter Academy are inviting beginner and intermediate level dancers to learn from ZooNation company members, covering a wide range of hip hop and street dance styles including Locking, Popping, Breaking, House and Waacking. Students will also be able to learn some original choreography from the hit West End show Some Like It Hip Hop.

The Place Youth Dynamics course can see students work with the renowned national touring company Tavaziva Dance, allowing young dancers to develop their contemporary technique and learn some of the company’s repertory.

The Royal Academy of Dance are holding a Boys’ Day of Dance for male students aged 7 – 16, enabling them to experience four different dance styles: Ballet, Street Dance, Contemporary and Capoeira. The classes held will be taught by professional male teachers and performers, helping to inspire young males in introducing them to dance.

Laine Theatre Arts’ International Easter course will incorporate Jazz, Musical Theatre and Drama workshops, building up a range of skills for students perhaps interested in auditioning for the vocational training course offered at Laine Theatre Arts in Musical Theatre and Dance.

All courses offered by a whole host of dance companies, examination boards and training institutions are fantastic opportunities to inspire new talents and develop existing skills of dance students who are eager to further their training and improve their skills.

Dance Direct at MOVE IT! 2013

Dance Direct at Move IT! 2013

MOVE IT, the ultimate dance experience, is the UK’s biggest dance event, and since its inception has welcomed 20,000 dance fans to share their passion for dance in one huge celebration.

2013 saw MOVE IT take place from 8-10 March, and the event presented fantastic performances by dance schools and colleges, great opportunities for dancewear shopping, an array of over 200 classes to take part in, and even some very special guests on the stage and on the Interview Sofa. These included Twist and Pulse, the winner of the first series of So You Think You Can Dance Charlie Bruce, Got to Dance judge and former Pussycat Doll Kimberley Wyatt, Principal of English National Ballet Daria Klimentova, a special performance by Wayne McGregor | Random Dance and even former prima ballerina and newly appointed Royal Academy of Dance President Darcey Bussell. Dance and ballet enthusiasts had the chance to hear her talk about her work with the RAD and what the year ahead has in store.

The Dance Direct stand was busy throughout the weekend, with dance fans, students and teachers eager to snap up the latest dancewear and dance shoe fashions. From leotards, to new tights, to ballet shoes, jazz pants, hoodies and t-shirts, Dance Direct look sure to be clothing most of the dance population for the year ahead! The Dance Direct team also had lots of new Dance Direct catalogues to give out to the dance-hungry crowd, and gave out vouchers of different values to winners who texted in their email addresses and free water bottles to keen tweeters. Teachers had the opportunity to join the team to learn about Dance Direct’s new costume ranges, with lots of sparkling tutus and costumes on display around the area!

MOVE IT will next take place from 7-9 March 2014.

The 2013 Dancing On Ice Champion

Dancing On Ice 2013

Another televised dance-esque competition show is over for the year: Dancing on Ice saw Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle crowned the winner with partner Dan Whiston. Whilst many may argue that neither gymnastics nor ice skating have much to do with dance, it is clear that the skills of dance lend themselves to other disciplines which also contain elements of art and performance.

Being able to sustain a performance and carry your audience through a routine, piece or instalment is one of the key ingredients for success. With your audience hanging on every artistic word of your performance, it is no longer split into technique, performance skills, personality, and costume, and so on. You are able to create an illusion in the performance space, and go on to win Dancing on Ice!

The public vote meant that Beth – who won Olympic Bronze in the Uneven Bars last summer – and her partner Dan beat actor Matt Lapinskas’ two perfect ’10’ routines, complete with show tights and lots of sequins! The pair also impressed the judges with their version of the Bolero, made famous at the 1984 Winter Olympics by Olympians Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean, who also feature on the show. Late 2012 also saw a 2012 Olympian win on television: gymnast Louis Smith beat his competitors on Strictly Come Dancing, mirroring Beth’s win in 2013. It has been revealed that there will be a ninth series of Dancing on Ice in 2014.

Prior to her Dancing on Ice win, Beth has had much success in the world of sparkly leotards and chalk: gymnastics. In addition to being an Olympic Bronze medallist, Beth is a triple World Champion, a six-time European Champion, a Commonwealth Champion and a seven-time consecutive National Champion. Beth has competed at three Olympic Games: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Medical Website

Rudolf Nureyev Foundation

The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation medical website has recently been launched, dedicated to dancers and the medical and health professionals who care for dancers. The website provides access to recent and archived articles from leading professionals in the field, in addition to listing up-to-date research and conference proceedings, resources and information and links to international specialist healthcare provision.

The website is currently administered through a partnership between Dance UK and the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, having been updated as a result of a dance survey conducted to assess the existing digital resources in dance medicine and science. As a result of a successful collaboration with leading dance organisations, as well as a Medical Advisory Board of leading senior health and science professionals dance practitioners, dancers everywhere will be able to benefit from the website’s service. Whether they wear leotards and tights or tutus and pointe shoes, dancers will have access to much information which will aid them throughout their dance studies and beyond.

The website will also be developing the International Dance Healthcare Directory to provide a listing of health professionals with experience in treating dancers, which can be searched by location, name, dance style and in which treatment they specialise. As a result, the website will provide links to existing national listings such as Dance UK’s Medical Practitioners Directory.

Nureyev established the Foundation in 1975 as ‘The Ballet Promotion Foundation’, aiming to invest and manage the Foundation’s endowment fund and to distribute grants to beneficiaries. The Foundation also served to promote ballet through the support of individual dancers, or companies, and performances. The Foundation received its current name in 1994 and remained keen to help young and talented dancers through their studies and in the development of dance as a whole. In addition to this, the Foundation was renowned for supporting medical, scientific and humanitarian projects.

The Royal Ballet School’s End Of Year Performance

The Royal Ballet SchoolThe Royal Ballet School’s end of year performance on 14 July 2013 at the Royal Opera House will see a world premiere performed. The one-act ballet entitled La Destinée has been commissioned especially to be performed alongside works by Maurice Béjart, Jiří Bubeníček and Valentino Zucchetti.

La Destinée will feature a new score by young British conductor and composer, Michael England, and has been choreographed by Mark Annear, The Royal Ballet School’s Head of Outreach and Teacher Training, with sets and costumes designed by former student Gary Harris for the students so used to the regulatory pink tights, ballet shoes and leotards. La Destinée will showcase the exceptional talent of students from all three years of The Royal Ballet Upper School. The piece is not essentially narrative, but will serve to demonstrate the versatility of the company of young dancers.

Excerpts from Maurice Béjart’s Seven Greek Dances will also appear. Having premiered in 1983, this version has been restaged especially for The Royal Ballet School by Jean Yves Esquerre who was a member of Béjart’s company. The young Czech choreographer Jiří Bubeníček will stage his Canon in D Major. The piece was originally part of a longer work entitled Le Souffle de l’Esprit, created in 1992 and inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of the human body. Currently a Principal Dancer at the Semperoper Ballet, Dresden Jiří Bubeníček’s choreography has been performed by New York City Ballet, Zurich Ballet, Vienna State Opera Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, The National Ballet of China, North Carolina Dance Theater as well as for his company in Germany. Former student of The Royal Ballet School, Valentino Zucchetti will stage his Sonata for Six. A Soloist with The Royal Ballet, Valentino Zucchetti first choreographed a piece for the Company’s Draft Works at the Linbury Studio Theatre in 2011: Sonata for Six is a development of the original creation.

The climax of the end-of-year show will be Grand Défilé, featuring all 225 students of the school in a fantastic display of virtuosity.

Scottish Ballet’s Highland Fling

Scottish Ballet Logo

Scottish Ballet is gearing up to present Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling from the end of April until the end of May 2013, a completely different realisation of the plot in comparison to the original classical Romantic ballet La Sylphide on which Highland Fling is based and was inspired by. Directed and choreographed by Bourne and performed live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, the northern parts of the UK will be awash with a very different type of theatre and emotion that is usually associated with classical ballet, tutus, tights and pointe shoes.

Scottish Ballet will present the work of five-time Olivier Award-winning choreographer Bourne and also gain an exclusive license to the work, which is a fantastic and imaginative reworking of the piece, translating it into a contemporary Scotch twist. First premiered in 1994, and re-choreographed and designed in 2005, Bourne’s Highland Fling has a unique twist to it. Bourne is renowned for presenting work in this way, not dissimilar to that of Scottish Ballet. The company is the first to be given an exclusive license from Bourne to present his work and it will be the first time Scottish Ballet dancers have worked with the choreographer. Bourne’s approach and technique are eagerly anticipated by the company.

Highland Fling transforms La Sylphide into a story of rock and roll, and love, the addiction of James, gothic fairies, with twists and turns along the way. As James’ love for a strange and beautiful sylph becomes an obsession, he embarks on a fateful journey that takes him from the mean streets and nightclubs of Glasgow into a magical world beyond reality and reason.

Scottish Ballet will be touring to Theatre Royal Glasgow 27 April-4 May, Eden Court Theatre Inverness 9-11 May, His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen 16-18 May and Festival Theatre Edinburgh 22-25 May.

Compass Commissions: Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban Partnership

Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban Partnership

The Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban Partnership is looking for UK based dance artists and companies to create three new pieces of work for presentation at both Greenwich Dance and the Laban Theatre during July 2013-April 2014, falling under the umbrella “Compass Commissions” for newly conceived work.

The trio of commissions offered are listed as the following:

  • One outdoor/site-sensitive work

A work conceived to be performed at a specific site or (preferably) be adaptable to perform in any number of non-traditional performance spaces.

  • One theatre-based work

A work conceived for performance in a conventional theatre setting which will stand alone as a full performance event, with potential to tour to a range of dance/performance venues, nationally and internationally.

  • One work for a family audience

A work which will stand alone as a full performance event, with potential to tour to a range of dance/performance venues, both nationally and internationally. The work may be conceived for performance in conventional theatre venues but other modes of presentation will be considered.

Each commission will receive support in the form of a minimum of one performance opportunity, rehearsal facilities for maximum of six weeks, production time, technical support, sharing opportunities mid-process and admin support or desk space if required. Artists may or may not have a previous relationship with either organisation involved

This dynamic partnership has been created by Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban to provide ground-breaking dance performance, bespoke support for dance artists and an all-embracing programme of community and education work across South East London. As a result, new choreographic and creative work may have the chance to be conceived.