Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella Dreams

Cinderella Dreams, which premiered on 20 February, was the culmination of a six month quest by Birmingham Royal Ballet to find the perfect fit for Cinderella’s jewelled slipper, in a production that brought to life big ballet aspirations of both young and old. The company searched the midlands area in order to stage this new production, which brought together talent from across the generations. In its aim to inspire and develop dancers from across the region, the production adapted David Bintley’s classic choreography to create a new and vibrant version of Cinderella.

Cinderella Dreams worked to showcase emerging talent from those aged eight to 76, working alongside dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet. Over 150 dancers from the age of eight took part in open auditions in September 2016, and a final cast of 65 was selected, to experience the intensive training, rehearsal and eventually performance of a classical ballet. The production was in front of a full audience at the Birmingham Hippodrome, a hugely rewarding outcome for all involved.

The project was developed with the Department for Learning at Birmingham Royal Ballet, under the eye of Project Manager Rebecca Brookes. As a result, Cinderella Dreams has been an inspirational project for all involved, from the youngest to oldest dancers part of the production. There was a huge demonstration of talent, involving those who may not have ever had the chance to be involved in a professional ballet production. Whilst not without its challenges, Cinderella Dreams was a dream come true for many of the dancers involved.

Cinderella Dreams was the perfect production for all those who aspire to dance on the big stage; the benefits of dance are unbounded and this production was no different. As a charming and magnificent showcase, it demonstrated the breadth of dance talent across the area.

How to… improve your pirouettes

With a multitude of dance events and exhibitions taking place up and down the country this year, there is no end to the fun dancers can have attending and seeing what is on offer, be it shopping, browsing dance courses or taking part in pop-up classes.

This year Dance Direct will be present at the Can You Dance? conventions, taking place in a number of cities throughout 2017. It is the biggest touring dance convention in the UK and will be visiting 10 different venues this year. There will be the opportunity to shop the great range Dance Direct stocks, but most exciting is the chance to win big in a pirouette competition! Show us how many pirouettes you can do at our stand, or post it on social media and tag @dancedirect, to be in with a chance of winning a Dance Direct goodie bag, full of lots of freebies!

It’s never too late to start practising: pirouettes are not always a dancers’ favourite part of class, but with a few tweaks you can drastically improve your technique and ensure you are spinning across the studio.

Often pirouettes can go slightly AWOL if a dancer does not have the strength to maintain their turns. A strong relevé onto demi-pointe and using the core to control your centre of gravity can do wonders for the number of turns you can achieve, and your recovery too. Starting at the barre before moving into the centre, practice snatching your working leg onto demi-pointe, and your other leg to retiré. With strength running through your arms too you’ll create a solid base for your turns.

Perhaps the most vital part of succeeding in your pirouettes is the use of your head, and spotting using a point in space ahead of you. Not only does this help you achieve multiple turns by the body following, but it also helps to prevent dizziness – you can then turn some more! Before you turn, decide how many pirouettes you will achieve. If you need a double pirouette then don’t change your mind halfway through – commit to your turns and use your head to whip round twice.

Keep your head up and your shoulders back, and you’ll sail round. Looking at the floor will only mean you will end up down there, and unless it is choreographed, it’s best to stay standing!

Misty Copeland – Disney Star

American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland is set to star as the lead ballerina in the live-action version of The Nutcracker created by Disney. She is well on her way to becoming a household name with what might be her biggest job yet. Having already identified herself as accomplished in a number of balletic roles, this Nutcracker gig is not the first time Copeland has been on screen but is one of a kind for the ballerina.

The film is entitled The Nutcracker and The Four Realms, directed by Lasse Hallström. Hallström’s filmography also includes titles such as The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Copeland is familiar with the role of Clara, dancing the part in Alexei Ratmansky’s production of The Nutcracker. She will be appearing in the film’s dance sequence however there is no word on who the choreographer may be just yet. Also unconfirmed is the release date for the film.

The Nutcracker and The Four Realms will be based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” in which a young girl named Marie watches her toy nutcracker comes to life, fights the evil Mouse King, and is whisked off to a magical land filled with living dolls. The classic ballet, with its iconic score from Tchaikovsky, is based on that tale. It has been adapted for the big screen many times over the past few decades, most recently in 2009, with The Nutcracker in 3D.

Ahead of any filming or choreography schedules, Copeland is keeping herself very busy. Alongside dancing as a principal with American Ballet Theatre, this summer alone she is launching her own dancewear line, named Egal. She is also appearing in a Cosmopolitan magazine feature and even getting married.

Professional Dancer Line Up for Strictly 2016

The BBC recently announced its professional dancer line up for the hit television show series Strictly Come Dancing 2016. A highlight of the dancing year for many, the series is always highly anticipated and has gone from strength to strength year on year. With other celebrity talent competition, such as Dancing on Ice, falling by the wayside, Strictly has continued to be popular.

With some departures from the Strictly Come Dancing professionals there are also some new faces. There will be three brand new dancers perform alongside the return of viewers’ favourites. New to the line up are world-class Latin and Ballroom dance experts including World Champion Katya Jones, Ukrainian Champion Oksana Platero and Spanish dance professional Gorka Marquez. The most recent series of Strictly saw the team win both an NTA and BAFTA Television Award, so the stakes are high to continue this winning streak.

Returning to the Strictly dance floor are the male dancers, Anton du Beke, Brendan Cole, Kevin Clifton, Pasha Kovalev, Aljaž Škorjanec, Giovanni Pernice; and the female dancers returning are Karen Clifton, Natalie Lowe, Joanne Clifton, Janette Manrara and Oti Mabuse. Professional dancers Tristan MacManus, Ola Jordan, Kristina Rihanoff and Aliona Vilani announced at the end of last series that they would not be returning to the show, as well as Gleb Savchenko who has decided that due to family commitments he will not be appearing in the next series. Additional professional dancers to join the Strictly team will be announced in due course.

The hugely popular Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC One in the Autumn when the celebrity line-up will also be revealed. Some existing rumours have been circulating as to the celebrities who may take part; it is clear that the 2016 Strictly will be just as fabulous.

Nicholas Afoa – Lion King life

New cast have joined the London production of Disney’s The Lion King this summer, including New Zealander Nicholas Afoa who has taken on the role of Simba at the Lyceum Theatre.

Afoa made his stage debut in the Australian production in 2013 and played Simba in the Sydney production of the musical between 2013 and 2016, performing more than 860 times. The opportunity to play the role in the West End brings Afoa to London for the first time, as he embarks on his second professional theatre engagement.

The Auckland-raised performer had a promising rugby career with the All Blacks until he was sidelined by injury. After recovering and dedicating himself to his theatre career, nearly a decade later the 30 year-old beat 400 other hopefuls to the role of Simba in the Australian production.

What caused your transition from rugby pitch to stage?

I suffered an ACL and miniscus tear in a rugby game when I was 23. My introduction to theatre wasn’t until years later as I spent a lot of time trying to rehab the knee and come back to rugby. I also spent time trying to start a band and focus on my solo music. I eventually accepted the fate that was the end of a rugby dream and focused on these artistic qualities; I feel so lucky to be where I am right now.

Did you undertake any formal training as a result?

My formal dance training really started once I had landed the role. Now being part of the show has become such a huge part of my life and I feel like I am training and improving my skills every day. It is great to be around so many talented performers and teachers in an environment where everyone is constantly learning.

Describe a day in your life.

I like to spend time with my wife, go to the gym, keep in touch with family back home and go to vocal classes or ballet classes to keep my body up to speed.

How important is your ranging and diverse world experience in your work today?

I wouldn’t be able to bring the same depth to the role if it wasn’t for my life experience over the last 10 years, the interactions I have had with people, the trials I have overcome and what I have learnt from overcoming them. I worked as a youth counsellor for four years, where I learnt so much about adolescent behaviour and the way young people (like Simba) view the world around them and perceive themselves – these are all things that helped me to bring Simba to life.

What’s the most rewarding thing about the performing arts?

The most rewarding thing is how, through your passion, you can also inspire and move others. That’s what drives me, especially if I’m feeling tired. The fact that somebody in that audience, young or old, is being positively affected by the show is the most rewarding thing.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I always say a little prayer moments before swinging on stage. Whenever I can I will watch young Simba and Mufasa in the first act. Their scene gives me an extra emotional boost that I carry through into the second act.

What is it like being part of The Lion King?

It’s very humbling. Every day I learn something new. I’m in an amazing show surrounded by talented, passionate people. I still consider myself very fortunate and never once take it for granted.

What were you most looking forward to about beginning your Lion King contract in London?

What I was looking forward to most was learning and experiencing new energies and actors, seeing how that would affect me as a performer and being able to see what contribution I could make. It was also a chance to experience life outside Australasia as I have never been this far away from home.

What is your advice to an aspiring dancer?

I see with the dancers I work with how dedicated every dancer is to maintaining their own standards. What dancers’ bodies go through is mind-blowing. It inspires me to keep bettering myself. My advice would be to keep working hard, but also give yourself time and space to heal when you need and to also take in some of the world around you. While it’s good to be driven we can get so set on our dreams that sometimes we lose touch with our surroundings. This is also where we learn the most about ourselves and in turn makes us better and rounded performers.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Dance Class

As children, parents and carers spend lots of time and money committing to dance lessons, even when they take joy from watching rather than doing. Taking children to dancing lessons requires energy and time, not to mention additional funds for competitions, costumes and extra performances. For a child, it is not until later that they see dance lessons in the same way, as an investment. Only then do they see that time, money and energy go to waste when they do not make the most of their dance lessons.

It is understandable that every dancer experiences a rut in their training, where they may not want to attend classes or feel they are not improving at the rate they should be. Despite this, it is not the dancers that stretch the most, sweat more or practice at home at all hours that necessarily get the most out of their dance classes either. The correct mental attitude is hugely important in dance training, to understand the purpose of dance for yourself and how to experience it in the best possible way.

When dancers become older, their adult freedom equates to a similar responsibility for themselves, be it getting themselves to classes, paying for their own training or beginning to assist with the teaching at the local dance studio. With these aspects comes heightened responsibility, for learning, fuelling and directing your dancing. It goes without saying that dancers must therefore arrive early and prepared for class, being focused and dedicated to the class, taking and applying corrections that are given to the class and spending time on the parts that need the most improvement, even if that means going back to basics.

Making mistakes is a large part of dance training; it will mean you will discover something new about the dancing body, through listening, watching, or error, even if this feels uncomfortable. Don’t forget to enjoy the process and thank your teachers for giving you the tools to better yourself and work hard in each class you take.

Dance-inspired Fit

There are many dance-inspired fitness methods on the market today, from fitness trainers who used to be dancers to those who use dance as a means to remaining happy and healthy, whilst not having a dance background. Aerobics and Zumba classes still have their place, but these are now two of many different options for class participants. Workouts of these kind offer a combination of dance, fitness and wellbeing, and there is truly something to suit everyone, be it at sports centres or the local dance studio.

Today dance-inspired fitness – such as ballet-inspired workouts, dance cardio and toning barre classes – use dancers’ graceful and athletic bodies as a start point, aiming to emulate the idea of dance and being a dancer, rather than aspiring to lose weight or tone up. Strength, lengthening and athleticism can be just two focuses in classes of this kind, aiding existing fitness regimes for both non-dancers and dancers alike. Equally, classes such as HIIT (high intensity interval training), yoga and Zumba can be offered at dance studios that may have previously only offered technique classes.

Barre-style workouts can be used for physical as well as mental fitness benefits. They usually use the body’s own weight to gain lean muscle and a balanced mindset, where the focus is purely on the own body. Many may combine barre, Pilates and dance, and may even incorporate hand weights to aid the body’s training. Mixing up the body’s fitness routine – whether it is from a dance or fitness perspective – continues to challenge the body, and help participants find both energy and strength in the change in fitness activity.

Dance and fitness of course go hand in hand, so trying something different can renew your passion for the reason behind the workout, offering a range of benefits for both body and mind.

Twyla Tharp Dance heading to Italy

Twyla Tharp Dance recently took the premiere of its choreographer’s latest creation to Italy, performed at the end of June when the company visited Florence, Ravenna and Rome. This Italian tour saw the preview of a new work as well as two works performed from Tharp’s repertory. She has been creating dance for 50 years, and during that time she has choreographed over 160 works. These include 129 dances, 12 television specials, six Hollywood films, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines.

Within this creative circuit, Tharp has not only created work for her own company, but for most American dance companies, such as American Ballet Theatre and the Martha Graham Dance Company, as well as the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet and Australian Ballet. In her time as a modern dance choreographer she has earned herself two Emmy Awards, and the 2002 Broadway dance musical Movin’ Out won her a Tony Award. In 2008 she was awarded the Jerome Robbins Prize and the Kennedy Centre Honour, and she has received 19 honorary doctorates.

Tharp formed her company at 23 years old, looking for dancers with high levels of technique and strong personalities, but who are also open-minded and willing to forget that they know anything else about dance. The Italian tour for the company saw eight dancers perform, presenting the preview of Beethoven Opus 130, as well as Country Dances and Brahms Paganini.

The new creation, Beethoven Opus 130, received its official premiere at the Saratoga Performing Arts Centre. The piece was originally kept completely secret, apart from some workshop shots taken during the Catskill Mountain Foundation residency in April. Country Dances premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1976, inspired by American music and traditions. Brahms Paganini, from 1980, is set to Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini.

Katie Willy – Artistic Fulfilment At Its Best

Katie WillyKatie trained vocationally at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, gaining a distinction in her Trinity Diploma in Dance. She then worked for 3 years for Costa Cruises, and was offered multiple contracts onboard the Fortuna, Atlantica and Mediterranea. Whilst there she also performed as an assistant to the Italian illusionist, Gianni Mattiolo, and was responsible for directing the “Crew Show”, in addition to her work as a production dancer.

On her return to the UK, Katie worked commercially under Momentum Artists management, including performances at the Royal Albert Hall and a music video for rock band GUN. She simultaneously trained with renowned Artistic Jazz director/choreographer Dollie Henry, and was a member of Rambert’s Youth Dance Company, “Quicksilver”.

Katie is currently training in Madrid with Spanish contemporary dance company, CaraBdanza, marking a new direction in her career as a dance artist.

Photo credit: Shambhala Wolfhaart

Where did you train and what was it like?

I started dancing at the age of 5, at the Catherine Bellinger School of Dance in Kent. At the time I was one of about 8 pupils, and it’s wonderful now to go back to the school (I teach and choreograph occasional workshops for the kids) which has grown to over 350 students!

Vocationally I trained at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, on their 3 year dance course. It was a wonderful, if intense experience, particularly as I was taking four A Levels at the time and working a part time job at the weekends!

What was a typical day like?

For my first two years, my mornings were taken up with academic study; in my case, French, Maths, English, Art and Religious Studies. Afternoon classes ran until 6.30pm and would always include a rigorous ballet class, and then a combination of jazz, contemporary (mainly Cunningham and Graham techniques), pointe/pas de deux for the classically focused students, pilates, tap, modern, drama and singing. We were divided into sets according to our specific strengths, so my timetable was predominantly made up of jazz and contemporary classes.

In my third year I was able to focus exclusively on dance, attending additional morning classes such as pilates and stretching. As we were studying for a Diploma, there was an element of contextual studies to complement our physical training. There would also be occasional workshops from industry professionals, from audition technique to talks on Equity.

What is a typical day like now? What are you currently working on?

After graduating, I spent 3 years working various cruise ship contracts; as a young dancer it was a fantastic way to travel, embrace other cultures and grow as an individual. The rehearsal process taught me a lot, as there is a huge amount of pressure to learn three or four shows in a very short space of time, which then have to be costumed and blocked around an already busy theatre schedule – midnight calls were common! Those first weeks were exhausting, but once we settled into a schedule there was ample free time to explore the ports, work on my fitness in the gym and even use the theatre to train with some of the other dancers who were interested. It also allowed me to save financially, which has seriously expanded my options now that I’ve come back to dry land!

Right now I’m in Madrid, training with a contemporary dance company, CaraBdanza. Post-ships I realised that although the lifestyle was fantastic, I wasn’t feeling artistically fulfilled and needed to try something new. I auditioned at The Place for the company with the intention of starting in September – they asked if I could start two weeks later, so I packed a bag and booked a one way ticket! I’m so glad I took that leap; I’m surrounded by some really inspiring dancers and have the opportunity to refine my technique, adapt to new styles and learn the company’s demanding repertoire. All my classes are in Spanish so that’s another challenge, but I have the confidence to really benefit from the experience in a way I couldn’t have at 16 years old.

What do you like most about the company?

Initially I felt fairly daunted by the proportion of classical training here; I don’t have the flat turnout or beautifully arched feet of a ballerina, but I can already say that the daily ballet class has made all the difference to my technique, and provides a fundamental strength and understanding for other dance forms. But the main joy for me is having the freedom to express myself creatively and challenge my body in new ways – I think there is a significant difference between being part of the “entertainment” industry, where there sometimes seems to be an unfair balance between image and skill, to working with choreographers in a company who have a desire to communicate something artistically, and want to see your response as a dancer. I can’t say that one process is necessarily “better”, but for now I’m enjoying taking a break from the commercial environment and exploring my potential as an artist.

What is your favourite part of performing?

Simple as it sounds, I love the feeling of sharing something with an audience. It’s also liberating – you don’t know how people will react to you, but the sense of honesty and exposure is exhilarating. The times I have felt best on stage are when I’ve performed a piece which affects me personally, which feels real – there are no words to adequately describe that sentiment, it’s something other-worldly.

And the worst?

I would have to say, from personal experience, the risk of injury. I was unfortunate enough to sustain plantar fasciitis whilst on a contract once, and had to be flown home from Dubai. The crushing knowledge that you’ve had to stop work, that your body, your main instrument in your job, is damaged, and that this might affect your chances of re-employment, is completely overwhelming. But you can’t let yourself think like this, as nothing hinders recovery like a negative mindset. Once I’d overcome the injury and been offered a new contract, I realised that I’d learnt some tough lessons about respecting my body and learning when to push pain and when to stop for the greater good of my career.

Have you always wanted to be on stage?

I’ve always loved performing, but frankly, until I was offered a place at Tring, had never considered myself good enough to be able to make it professionally. Before that I’d aspired to be a lawyer, mainly because that seemed like something everyone approved of and sounded smart! Dancing has taught me to follow my passions and not society’s perceived ideas of achievement, and although it’s difficult to sustain a career, it’s the best decision I ever made.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I need plenty of time – I hate feeling rushed! I always go backstage with hair and makeup already done, and for me the most important thing is a really good warm up. I’ll always have my iPod with me, with my “happy playlist” to get me in the mood to perform!

What has been your most enjoyable dance experience to date?

That’s really hard, because the experiences I’ve had have been so diverse! I think I’d have to go with the most inspirational experience, which was training with Dollie Henry’s Artistic Jazz Company, BOP, earlier this year. Dollie is a real pioneer of her art form in a country which doesn’t have many jazz companies, and therefore few platforms for jazz dance of this calibre. I’ve never seen someone share so much energy and passion for what they do, and her years of experience here and all over the world were a privilege to learn from. She helped me to push myself to my physical and emotional limits, and taught me to be true to my personal journey as an artist, regardless of what the mainstream may present.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring performer?

Before you decide to pursue dance as a career, be REALLY honest with yourself about three things. Are you prepared to work hard? Can you cope with rejection and turn it into something constructive? Are you prepared to have a job which, much of the time, may involve several part time jobs just to make up the bills or gaps between contracts? If your desire to perform is so strong that these realities don’t bother you, then I’d say you have to give it a go! Everyone’s careers are so different, and it is nerve-wracking when you graduate from years of wonderful training to the reality of an over saturated industry which often pays very little for your level of skill. This said, for me this pales into insignificance when I can make money doing what I love, surrounded by like-minded people, and often have the opportunity to travel or work with people from other cultures. If you love what you do, even when it’s difficult, you will always feel fulfilled.

Trey McIntyre & The #DancerResource Project

Trey McIntyre #DancerResource ProjectThe #DancerResource project, initiated by up and coming choreographer Trey McIntyre, is a collection of essays, letters, and videos from artistic directors, choreographers, and dancers responding to questions from young dancers about how best to prepare themselves to join a dance company, and how to navigate the transition into becoming a professional dancer. Preparing yourself for life as a pro dancer can be daunting task, especially without useful advice about how to instigate the transition and make it successful.

McIntyre has created more than 100 works for dance companies such as New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Stuttgart Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Pennsylvania Ballet and founded his own company, Trey McIntyre Project, in 2005.

McIntyre has created the #DancerResource project that taps into the lives of professionals in the field in order to share their expertise and knowledge. It provides specific information for aspiring dancers, such as how to approach different companies and how to work as a freelance dancer. As a result of personal experience in providing live resources to uncertain dancers, McIntyre has consequently reached out to directors – such as David Hallberg of American Ballet Theatre – himself in order to ask the questions that students want to know the answers to in order to aid their careers.

The resources are ultimately varied and full of perspective from large and small, contemporary and classical companies alike, a welcome aid to the many dancers training and using the resource. McIntyre has been able to reach out to artists he knows personally, a great coup for the project; all those who have contributed to the #DancerResource project have agreed that there is a definite need for this information, and the project has filled a niche.

There are any number of students looking to forge a professional dance career at any one time, so ultimately the #DancerResource project has provided what schools may not, teaching students how to adapt to the professional world for a successful career, despite providing fantastic technical training. The #DancerResource project can be found on the TMP Facebook page, as well as the series archived on the Trey McIntyre Project website.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.