Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain © MGM

23rd August marked the 100th anniversary of legendary dancer Gene Kelly’s birth date, in addition to him also being a legendary actor, singer, director and choreographer! One of Kelly’s most memorable dance films is Singin’ In The Rain in which he dons his tap shoes as actor Don Lockwood, splashing through the puddles and sunshine of Hollywood glamour and love. Throughout the film Kelly is athletic, acrobatic and an incredible performer, just as he was in other productions, performing perhaps one of the most famous film dancers of all time.

It may or may not be a well known fact that in Kelly’s rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain”, he was sporting a fever of 103 degrees when the number was shot. In that year, 1952, the Motion Picture Academy gave him an honorary award — his only Oscar — for “versatility”, providing some recognition of his fantastic work in the performing arts industry, despite not flaunting his athletic dancer’s body in a leotard and men’s tights!

Kelly also starred in other ‘dancing films’ such as An American in Paris, dancing “I Got Rhythm”, with the film winning won six Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1951. In addition to dancing, singing and acting in An American, Kelly also choreographed, mixing elements of ballet, tap, soft shoe and shuffle, all performed with vigour.

Five years after his acclaimed performance in the rain, Kelly’s final MGM musical, 1957’s Les Girls, saw him dance with Mitzi Gaynor and again demonstrate incredible dance talent and fitness: skidding across a table on his bottom, scooting across the floor on one knee, leaping to the top of the bar on one foot, sliding down the bar on his right side and grounding himself for the remainder of their duet. Kelly’s masculinity and on and off-screen power was dominating and talent-filled, despite the fact dancing was very foreign to American popular culture at the time. Kelly proved that male dancers did not have to be effeminate, championing dance for the talent and skill involved rather than a particular gender, making his dancing look completely effortless yet powerful.

Image courtesy of the MGM.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

Nigel Charnock

Nigel Charnock, one of the founders of DV8 together with Lloyd Newson, recently passed away at the age of just 52. Charnock was and is still seen by many of one of the true originals who kept contemporary dance bright and evolving, preventing it from becoming stagnant. His complete dedication to extremes and the pushing of artistic boundaries was what many of his audiences and fans were drawn to, in his rejection of the theatrical, the jazz boot, jazz hands and leg warmers.

To some Charnock may have appeared fearless, and may even have been feared, often creating dance extremely controversially. It has been argued that his on-stage eccentricity may also mirror that of his real-life, blurring the boundaries between entertainment and a personal need for output, be it artistically, emotionally, or both. British contemporary dance twenty and thirty years ago presented many talented performers who engaged with and embraced homosexual identity in theatrical dance, extending the limits of entertainment, and indeed art itself, Charnock singing, dancing and making jokes amongst others such as Newson, Michael Clark and Javier de Frutos.

DV8 was founded in 1986, a combination of physical and dance-theatre. DV8 since presented a number of provocative and emotive pieces, such as establishing its breakthrough with Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, a gruelling and yet graceful all-male work, including a young Russell Maliphant. In addition, the subsequent acclaimed production Strange Fish featured strongly Charnock’s powerful persona on stage and film. Charnock then presented a number of personal pieces which have been likened to stand-up comedy, such as Hell Bent, Original Sin, Resurrection, Human Being, and Frank in small London theatres. In a more commercial enterprise, Charnock was commissioned for the integrated dance company Candoco and became artistic director of the Helsinki Dance Company for three years, indicating that not only will Charnock’s legacy live on, but it will flourish and become even more well-known.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

 

Some Like It Hip Hop

Some Like It Hip Hop
Image srouce: http://nopsa.hiit.fi/pmg/viewer/images/photo_1519340028_499235d878_t.jpg

ZooNation Dance Company’s Some Like It Hip Hop is returning to the Peacock Theatre in London from 20 – 13 October 2012 following its world premiere last year. Sporting urban dance trainers and tracksuit bottoms, in some cases, the company earned widespread critical praise and standing ovations in 2011. Following in the footsteps of the company’s 2006 smash hit Into the HoodsSome Like It Hip Hop will return ahead of an extensive tour to locations including Salford, Truro, Canterbury, Guildford, Edinburgh, Bradford, Leicester, Nottingham and Wolverhampton.

Kate Prince directed and co-choreographed Into the Hoods, which first premiered at the Peacock Theatre in 2006, later opening at the Novello Theatre in 2008. It became both the first ever hip hop dance show to open in the West End and the longest running dance show in the West End’s history. Prince was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer, and the show won the Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Ensemble Performance.

The Olivier award-nominated production Some Like It Hip Hop unites fantastic dancing with an engrossing storyline, telling a tale of love, mistaken identity, cross-dressing and revolution through ZooNation’s trademark style of hip hop, comedy and physical theatre. ZooNation Dance Company is directed by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Prince, founded by her in 2002 to provide a permanent base for street dancers working in the commercial music industry. Amongst the jazz trainers, leotards and glitter hairspray of some of the commercial industry today, ZooNation has since performed at festivals and events around the world, such as Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells’ annual international festival of hip hop dance theatre. In 2010, ZooNation became a Resident Company at Sadler’s Wells.

The show’s original cast is returning for the production’s second London run led by Tommy Franzen from the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance.

Darcey Bussell is Back!

Darcey Bussell

Five years ago, Royal Ballet principal ballerina Darcey Bussell, arguably the greatest British dancer since Margot Fonteyn, retired and moved to Australia, putting away her pointe shoes. She has now returned to the UK and has recently been elected, tutu training and all, as the new president of the Royal Academy of Dance, one of the world’s most influential dance training organisations. Bussell is also due to resume her role as a judge on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in the autumn, digging out her New Yorkers and fishnet tights again.

The RAD, which was founded in 1920 to reinvent dance teaching, has a syllabus that is now taught to 250,000 students in 79 countries. The RAD aims to promote knowledge, understanding and practice of dance internationally, and Bussell follows in the ballet shoe footsteps of another former prima ballerina, Dame Antoinette Sibley, who retired after 21 years as President. Already Bussell talks of the RAD approaching an even wider range of dance styles in order to remain at the forefront of the evolving arts scene. Bussell is already re-entering the world of British ballet in additionally becoming a patron of The New English Ballet Theatre which is dedicated to supporting home-grown performers.

Bussell cites Sir Kenneth MacMillan as her dance inspiration, one of the great choreographers of the twentieth-century, who helped revive full-length ballets in Britain. He was first to recognise Bussell’s potential and as a result she became the Royal Ballet’s youngest principal ballerina at 20 years old. Years on, Bussell’s energy is still impressive, and her post-retirement activities have included a children’s dancewear range, the Magic Ballerina series of children’s books, and pilates. She is the new face of Sanctuary Spa skincare and has been working on an autobiographical picture book.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

 

Dame Monica Mason’s Retirement

Monica Mason's Retirement
Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielabsilva/2367302504/sizes/m/in/photostream/

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
Image source: http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/01/67/56/1675627_2248a96e.jpg

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

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/

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
Image source: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-TY961_0731wi_G_20120731120718.jpg

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.