Dame Monica Mason’s Retirement

Monica Mason's Retirement
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As Monica Mason retires as Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet company, she has fully completed 54 years with the company. Beginning as a dancer in the corps de ballet, Mason rose through the ranks to a five-star ballerina, who has also accomplished many more notches on her ballet shoes as becoming a celebrated teacher and choreographer’s assistant.

There has been a spectacular exhibition at the Royal Opera House which detailed her fantastic career through photographs and tutus, demonstrating both dynamism and tradition through her vast career with the company. Some have argued that Mason has swerved from British ballet tradition by employing Random Dance choreographer Wayne McGregor as Resident Choreographer in 2006 to work with her dancers, swapping their tights for black block pointe shoes. However, others have noted Mason as respectful in keeping with classical tradition, and merging it with innovation in the twenty-first century as the seventh Artistic Director of the company.

Mason has maintained the high standard of The Royal Ballet, and has now handed over the ballet-shoe-ribbon-reins to Kevin O’Hare, having stood in her role since 2002. As a great classical company, the Royal has developed its stars much as many other companies have done, promoting new choreography and staying true to originals, such as Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan’s. Boasting previous Artistic Directors such as Ninette de Valois, between 1931 and 1963, The Royal Ballet has a history steeped in talent and vigour, as well as variety, and now combining influences of modern dance in its repertoire through McGregor.

Mason’s sense of humour, intelligence and sense of history looks set to carry the company through this upcoming transition period, in which she is stepping down from a highly-valued post in which there are very few females. Despite this, O’Hare has booked Mason to coach four MacMillan ballets next season, so Mason’s influence is far from gone.

Chicago the Musical

Chicago the Musical
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Chicago the Musical, having run in London’s West End for almost 15 years, has recently posted closing notices at the Garrick Theatre for 1 September 2012, just weeks shy of its 15th birthday on 18 November. A sexy and thrilling musical, Chicago has had three homes throughout the West End and one of only six musicals to have played more than 15 years in the West End, alongside Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera.

Celebrities from far and wide have starred in the musical throughout its lifetime, such as Kelly Osbourne, Brooke Shields and Denise Van Outen playing razzle-dazzle murderess Roxie Hart, with other musical theatre stars including Bonnie Langford and Ruthie Henshall each donning their black character shoes and fishnet tights in turn. The final actor to play slick and suave lawyer Billy Flynn will be British Olympic ice-skating champion Robin Cousins, swapping his ice skates for tap shoes and feather boas. He is the first Olympian to star on stage in the home city of the Games, and during the event itself.

As a musical revival, Chicago has had a record run, originally opening in 1997 following its move from New York City’s Broadway to London’s West End more than two decades later, having premiered in 1975. Chicago was originally choreographed by American dance pioneer Bob Fosse, famous for his iconic pelvis-based, loose-limbed movement and glove-covered fascinating hand movements, with Ann Reinking echoing Fosse’s high-kicking hit in the UK. Fosse is also known for his choreography of extremely successful musicals such as Sweet Charity, Pippin and Cabaret, with Chicago being seen by 17 million people worldwide. As an Olivier-award winner of Outstanding Musical, Chicago is a dazzling production that is not to be missed in its final few weeks.

New English Ballet Theatre

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New English Ballet Theatre is a new company formed by director, choreographer and dancer Karen Pilkington-Miksa for recent graduates of dance training programmes in 2010, hiring dancers for a period of 3 months and commissioning new works for an annual programme. The company offers 20 young dancers an opportunity to tour their ballet shoes professionally and to work with established choreographers including English National Ballet’s former Artistic Director Wayne Eagling, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Michael Corder and English National Ballet’s emerging choreographer Jenna Lee.

Of the 200 young dancers graduating from ballet schools every year, only four are selected by main companies; New English Ballet Theatre provides dancers at the start of their career the chance to dance principal roles, be they tutu-clad or tunic-and-tights. In their recent programme Synergies at the Peacock Theatre, 4 of the 9 contributing choreographers to the repertoire were female, which is a rare occurrence. Having the opportunity to choreograph, for both males and females, is a promising signal that the arts are continuing to flourish and succeed, especially considering the loss of Arts Council funding by so many dance organisations.

New English Ballet Theatre itself has no funding, but boasts a patron list that includes Carlos Acosta, Marianela Nuñez, Mara Galeazzi, Darcey Bussell and Wayne Eagling, in addition to support from Sadler’s Wells as a platform which is celebrated internationally. The company champions young dancers, choreographers and designers in a huge showcasing of talent and innovative work in its first year of project-based work. With dancers who have trained at esteemed dance training schools and conservatoires such as the Rambert School, London Studio Centre, English National Ballet School and the Conservatorio Professional de Danzxa in Seville, New English Ballet Theatre aims to give emerging young artists a full professional experience rather than touring within a school environment, such as Ballet Central or Ballet West. Through the company’s environment, the dancers are keen to bring classical styles to a much wider and less conservative audience as those involved try new things and experiment for the dance world.

 

American Ballet Theater’s Apprenticeship Programme

ABT Apprenticeship Programme

American Ballet Theater has just announced an apprenticeship programme in order to develop young dancers, which is to be new focus for the esteemed company, extending its current range of pointe shoes, leotards and tutus. The creation of the programme will benefit six dancers, enabling them to work as apprentice members of the company’s corps de ballet, gaining the relevant skills required to work as a fully-fledged member of American Ballet Theater, creating and promoting new talent.

The selected dancers will train under American Ballet theatre Studio Company’s artistic associate Kate Lydon, as well as Clinton Luckett, American Ballet Theater’s ballet master. The apprentice course will run for ten weeks beginning in September, and the dancers will then go on to advance to the apprentice level with the company during its performance of The Nutcracker at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The training will provide full immersion into the ballets in the repertoire of the company, including tutorials in ballet story lines, history, style and mime. In addition, dancers will attend seminars in hair, makeup and company etiquette in preparation for entering the main company, upholding the high, professional standards of American Ballet Theater in the arts world. The students’ apprenticeship will continue throughout American Ballet Theater’s performance season ending July 2013.

The dancers will be selected first from among the students at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, second from among Summer Intensive students and by audition, requiring them to pull on their best performance tights and shine for all they’re worth.

Dance Classes Discusses

Dance Classes Discusses

Dance classes around the country are not few and far between. Dance is becoming increasingly popular, as a result of commercial television shows, and more recently, the Olympic Games.

Open dance classes are on the up with over 200 classes a week taking place at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden for example, also featured in a television series on Sky 1 complete with jazz pants, cropped tops and urban dance sneakers. Other open classes taking place across the capital include The Place, Danceworks and Studio 68.

In addition to this, many dance students attend weekly technique classes with the view to take examinations with their dance school and progress through the ‘dance ranks’, trading in leather practice ballet shoes for pink pointe shoes. Many dance students dream of one dancing upon a vast stage in a feathered tutu, and others of becoming teachers themselves, correcting the leotard-clad young dancers before them and embarking on a variety of techniques. These techniques are similarly seen in the open classes of less formal institutions, without the commitment.

Despite one class option being slightly stricter of uniform than the other, both offer dancers the chance to engage with their passion, be it classical ballet, tap dance, jazz dance, musical theatre, and everything else in between. Both offer the chance to progress through the increasing levels of the technique in order to both challenge them and achieve goals as dancers. Whilst these goals may not differ in themselves, classes all over the country and even the world offer dancers the great opportunity to engage with likeminded individuals and teachers, reach their potential, and most importantly to have fun. Whether dancers are kitted out in the world’s most prestigious pointe shoes or ten-year-old jazz shoes, the power of dance unites all these dance students in one love.

Dance and the Olympic Games

Dance and the Olympic Games
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Now the London 2012 Olympic Games are over ahead of the Paralympic Game in a couple of weeks, many have raised the question both online and in print as to whether dance could qualify as an Olympic event. The artistry, strength and flexibility of dance can be seen in many existing events of the Games, the most obvious examples being Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Dance has had many links with the 2012 Olympics. One of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal dancers, Matthew Lawrence, created a routine for the Welsh and five times British champion gymnast Frankie Jones for the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships ahead of the Games. Jones was the only British individual rhythmic gymnast to compete at the 2012 Olympics, working hard with Lawrence, as well as BRB’s Body Conditioning Instructor Jennifer Mills. Jones received ballet classes as part of her preparation for the competition, complementing her body’s ability to create any imaginable shape or movement: a rhythmic gymnast takes elements of ballet, and then stretches it to the extreme. Rhythmic gymnastics is a combination of gymnastics and dance and its origins lie in a wide variety of disciplines, including classical ballet. Here it is clearly demonstrable that both disciplines are closely related yet have evolved in different ways.

The Team GB backstroke expert Liam Tancock revealed that dance has too featured in his training, having taken ballet classes in order to improve his swimming. Tancock maintained that his success in the water was the result of ‘thinking outside the box’ in order to develop additional qualities of dance to boost body strength and improves strokes. Whilst you would be unlikely to see Tancock donning ballet tights and satin ballet shoes, it is clear to see that dance is not only a complementary discipline to other activities, but its own success in its own right. Why shouldn’t we see tutus and leg warmers on ballet’s competitive athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games? The ideals ‘faster, higher, stronger’ are extremely applicable to the art of dance, with Albert Einstein and then Martha Graham maintaining that ‘dancers are the athletes of God’.

Many may argue that the absence of dance is due to it being such a subjective discipline, unable to be measured either numerically or objectively. However, both Gymnastics and Diving feature which are art forms in themselves and are judged via a complex scoring system in order to achieve potentially unbiased and accurate results. With both events developing and constantly becoming more challenging, the possibility of achieving the perfect 10 score has been eliminated to account for the increasingly demanding nature of the events, viewed relatively. It seems the art of dance and ballet cannot be measured numerically, but perhaps more in how it affects the viewer, which of course would be impossible to score.

Perhaps if dance were to be included in the Olympic Games, the level of artistry, musicality and expression would have to be reduced in the face of accurately ‘marking’ the competitors’ arabesques, multiple pirouettes and extensions, which would then mean that what is being executed is not aesthetically ‘dance’ in its entirety. The dance elements of 1972 Gold illusive gymnastic legend Olga Korbut were once appreciated by scoring systems, but are now considered time-consuming in relation to the huge tumbles and requirements of twenty-first century gymnastics. These are now unable to affect the final scores in a significant way, in what some may argue as a graceless exhibition of athleticism at the expense of beauty and performance. However, today’s gymnasts somehow continue to capture audiences and expend the illusions of the stage.

Summer Schools

Summer Schools

Summer Schools for 2012 are nearing their end, with students young and old packing up their holdalls, packing up their tap shoes and jazz trainers ready to begin their examination classes once more in September. From musical theatre, to ballet, to singing workshops, summer schools host a variety of dance genres for children and young people of all ages, offering everyone who takes part a great chance to have fun, make new friends, and improve their dance or theatrical technique.

Some summer schools are rather more specific in their genre, such as high-end ballet classes complete with satin pink ballet shoes and plain yet stylish leotards. Summer schools of this category usually take the format of daily classes in techniques such as classical ballet and repertoire work, devised to enhance students’ classical technique and fulfill their desire to improve and advance in their chosen subject.

However other summer school varieties cover a range of dance genres and activities, touching on subjects such as tap, ballet, modern jazz and singing work, providing a wealth of opportunity to have fun and enjoy the passion for dance. Many encourage students from countries all over the world to join in the fray, each giving heaps of energy and enthusiasm, and often only requiring a pair of dance sneakers.

Many students may view their yearly trips to summer schools a welcome relief from the rigour of weekly exam and technique classes, allowing them to ‘let their hair down’ and get a real feel for how the institution they are attending operates on a day-to-day basis. Often culminating in an end-of-week show, complete with the Lycra and sequins of borrowed costumes, weeks of summer schools from July to September are hard work, but truly enjoyable.

The London 2012 Festival

London 2012 Festival

Over 12,000 performances and events across the UK celebrating the Olympic Games are marked by the London 2012 Festival, which bursts into life on 21 June 2012. The London 2012 Festival will be the most exciting festival the UK has ever experienced, bringing more than 10 million opportunities to observe some completely unique dance, music, theatre, fashion, food, art and film events. The Festival is the finale of the Cultural Olympiad, which has been inspiring creativity through art and culture in young people since 2008. It encompasses a wide range of events, from local projects to large-scale performances, in which 18 million people have taken part in so far… with or without their legwarmers!

Many events that are included can be taken part in by audience members completely free of charge, be it the free outdoor pyrotechnic and percussion extravaganza or the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra premiering of a new work , followed by the arrival of a gigantic ship sailing into the town centre accompanied by leotard-clad dancers and aerialists. With incredible cultural events and top artists from across the world, Londoners and many others from across the country enjoyed four spectacular launch events across the UK on 21 June, and the following events which continue until 9 September 2012, the last day of the Paralympic Games.

The festival includes dance performances such as Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Candoco Dance Company and Big Dance 2012. Big Dance is one of the UK’s biggest dance celebrations, featuring thousands of events inspired by numerous different dance styles taking place across the UK. The events include classes, workshops, courses, performances, flashmobs, film screenings, competitions and world record breaking attempts, open to both dancers and non-dancing fans alike, encouraging them to pull on their dancing shoes and get involved. The Big Dance 2012 national programme is being delivered by the Foundation for Community Dance in partnership with a network of regional dance organisations known as Big Dance Hubs.

Image courtesy of Geograph® Britain and Ireland.

Carlos Acosta’s Film Debut

Carlos Acosta

Former Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta is set to make his feature film debut in The Day of the Flowers, due to receive its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 25, with the UK release due later in 2012. The plot follows two Scottish sisters leading very separate lives, who have a mutual clue to follow. This sees them rush to the airport in a vintage white Mini Cooper and set off for Cuba, where their parents spent many happy years in the 1970s, with the film sharing a very vintage feel with its audience.

Acosta plays a ballet teacher who is working a double life as a tourist guide in order to survive. One ballet scene, enabling Acosta to revert to his ballet shoe roots, sees him take on an extremely authoritative manner. Another dance scene emerges when one sister asks Acosta to dance in a club, forgetting the whole of Cuba can dance, as can Acosta. Whilst previously partnered with pointe shoes and sparkling tutu skirt wearing ballerinas, Acosta again demonstrates his sheer versatility. Despite this, the film is not programmed to showcase his dancing to new audiences, but to wow existing fans vying for another glimpse of the star in another capacity: acting. A far cry from his previous ballet tights and tunics, Acosta meets the sisters as a tour guide, inevitably rescuing their inexperienced Cuban presumptions.

Aside from taking on this role within The Day of the Flowers, Acosta also has strong links of this kind with his nephew Yonah Acosta, who currently dances with English National Ballet and won the People’s Award earlier this year. Combining the rosin-laden stage with the film set, the Acosta family continues to demonstrate there are no limits to their talents.

Image courtesy of scillystuff on Flickr.

Balletboyz

Balletboyz

Dancing on the whole without ballet shoes, or diamond encrusted tutus, male ballet dancers are mostly utilised on stage to display the female ballerina in the best possible light to the audience and critics alike. While this has been a tradition of classical ballet for many centuries, the twenty-first century has marked a series of changes in the male-female relationship on stage, with increasing numbers of female dancers required to lift and support their male partners in dance genres.

Balletboyz, an all-male company has also turned the male classical ballet dancer tradition on its head, and sometimes quite literally. Made up of 8 young men, the Boyz are more likely to sport jazz shoes than the white tights and unitards of their male dancer predecessors. Whilst this history is an integral part of dance today, it seems important that the dance sector should not become stagnant – it should continue to evolve and adjust to the shifts in the industry, and the social and cultural contexts of everyday life.

As the creation of Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, Balletboyz was founded in 2001 as contemporary and classically driven company. Both founders were members of The Royal Ballet, both dancing principal roles including Romeo, Prince Siegfried and King of the Sweets. They have additionally created roles for choreographers such as Kenneth MacMillan, Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe and Christopher Wheeldon. Through the formation of Balletboyz, Nunn and Trevitt have fused the classical and contemporary, moving away from the soft shoes they were once used to, and creating a passion-fuelled company full of inspiring young men.

In 2005 Balletboyz became Associate Artists at Sadler’s Wells, London’s leading dance house, and 2010 saw the first edition of Balletboyz’ groundbreaking project, the TALENT. Nunn and Trevitt selected nine male dancers from a variety of backgrounds, working with them closely to create a company of performers. The show toured nationally and internationally receiving fantastic reviews, confirming that Balletboyz do indeed wear the dance crown, and will continue to push themselves physically and creatively.