Liza Minnelli: The Non-Stopping Show-Stopper

Liza MinelliShowbiz legend Liza Minnelli, famous not only for her singing starlet mother Judy Garland but also in her own right, proved that she is still a show-stopping success at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank earlier this year. At 66 years old, Minnelli shows no sign of stopping either, continuing to wow her audiences and exude the presence of the ultimate star of the golden age of showbiz. Minnelli is a multi-award winning artist, singer, actress and fabulous dancer, who has proven herself as a starlet who knows her ‘razzle-dazzles’ from her ‘stepping outs’.

Her one off date performance at the Royal Festival Hall earlier in 2013 marked her first performance at the concert venue since 1973. However, in recent years she has graced other iconic London venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and the Coliseum as the headline act. Minnelli’s performance at Festival Hall forms part of the Southbank Centre’s ongoing season The Rest Is Noise – inspired by Alex Ross’s acclaimed musicology book – with the focus for Minnelli’s visit being Berlin In The ’20s & ’30s. As a result, Minnelli’s sparkling set exuded her fantastic talent in its fullest form, including hits from the divine decadence of Weimar-era nightlife such as Maybe This Time and Mein Herr, in addition to her performance of some of the late Bob Fosse’s choreography from her smash hit film production Cabaret.

Forming the full programme, legendary numbers such as Cabaret, But The World Goes ‘Round and New York, New York were originally written for her and included for Minnelli’s privileged audience, with other jazz and Broadway classics added to the mix and producing a show-stopping evening of immeasurable talent and star quality.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The BBC Performing Arts Fund

BBC Performaing Arts Fund

The BBC Performing Arts Fund has recently awarded £450,000 in grants to the theatrical sector for 2013. The first venture in this direction took place on Friday 7 June, which was the first live show of The Voice UK. This BBC One programme raises income for the BBC Performing Arts Fund through phone votes (a minimum of 10p per call), and whilst the genuine talent of the programme which graces the nation’s television screens could be questioned, it is clear that the contributions of funds from programmes of this type are extremely beneficial for the performing arts.

Since 2003, the revenue generated through phone voting programmes has resulted in over £4million of grants being awarded to emerging individuals and community groups working and performing in areas across the dance, music and theatre sectors. The commercial side of the venture considerably raises the profile of the sometimes understated performing arts sector, giving a larger voice to the belters of the industry, singing them loud and proud.

As a result of this, 2013 has seen the funding spotlight placed solidly on theatre. A total of £450,000 in grants is currently available for use in performing arts in each niche that will further invest in creative talent across the UK, from community centres, to after school clubs, to dance and drama schools, to the West End stage. Both of the Fund’s schemes are now currently open for applications, namely the Theatre Fellowship and Community Theatre.

Theatre Fellowships aims to support individuals through the early stages of their theatre careers, helping them to establish themselves in the professional world through bespoke placements within existing theatre organisations. The Community Theatre scheme aims to support the development of not for profit community theatre groups, allowing them to carry out training, attract new audiences, encourage new members and raise their profile in their communities.

English National Ballet’s 2014 season

ENB Logo

English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo has announced the company’s 2014 season, which is set to include performances at the Barbican, which is new territory for the company. Previously solely classical, the company under Rojo’s instruction has begun to embrace more new works and modernised thinking in terms of opening ballet up to wider audiences. The Barbican will also fit with the company’s intrinsic tradition of touring and presenting ballet to new and existing audiences too.

This change in tact from the young Director is the force behind her first new commissions for the company, working with award winning British choreographers Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Liam Scarlett in order to create new works for ENB as part of a programme of dance inspired by the centenary of WWI. This programme will be performed at the Barbican alongside a reworking of Associate Artist George Williamson’s Firebird.

Exciting news for ballet fans also came in the form of the announcement that Rojo will be performing alongside ballet legend Carlos Acosta in Romeo and Juliet. This will reunite the iconic stars in the classic romantic production that was created for Rojo earlier in her career by choreographer Derek Deane when she first danced with ENB in 1997. Rojo went on to dance the role of Juliet with Scottish Ballet, and last danced Juliet opposite Acosta’s Romeo in 2011 with The Royal Ballet, which included the choreography of the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan.

ENB’s Romeo and Juliet will be performed by a company of 120 dancers and actors at the Royal Albert Hall in June 2014, so it is certain that the upcoming season looks sure to both delight audiences with older works, in particular this epic staging of the classic work by Shakespeare, and sparkle with new commissions.

Rambert’s 87th Birthday

Rambert Dance Company Logo

Rambert Dance Company turned 87 years old on 15 June 2013 as Britain’s oldest dance company. There has been much discussion amongst balletomanes recently about the ethnicity of dancers in British ballet and dance companies and the lack of British dancers, so it is ironic that Rambert’s founder, Marie Rambert, was Polish and originally studied Eurythmics under Emile Jacques-Dalcroze.

Established in 1926, Rambert – as it is now to be known following recent rebranding of the Richard Alston named Rambert Dance Company – is the flagship modern dance company of Britain, employing more dancers and artists than any other dance company in the UK. Rambert appeals widely to audiences all over the world, often dancing the works of iconic choreographers both past and present, such as Wayne McGregor, Siobhan Davies and American modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham. This gives a certain stature to Rambert’s work as it continues to provide a vast repertoire of works around the world.

Rambert’s first choreographic work in 1926 is said to mark the birth of British ballet under the title A Tragedy of Fashion by Frederick Ashton, who was then one of Rambert’s students. In 1935 Rambert was renamed Ballet Rambert (from the Ballet Club as it was originally known), and this name remained until 1987. Rambert became a touring ballet company for up to 35 weeks a year during the Second World War and frequently performed at Sadler’s Wells. Ballet Rambert then went on to perform several classic including Giselle, Coppelia and the first major British productions of La Sylphide and Don Quixote, rather than creating new works.

In 1952 Rambert travelled to America to see the new developments in dance and study with some of the major choreographers of the time, such as Martha Graham. Following this the company returned to its original ethos and transformed from a medium-scale classical touring company, to smaller ensemble, to contemporary dance company in later years.

Akram Khan Company To Hit Australia!

Akram Khan

This summer will see a continuation of celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the notorious The Rite of Spring by the Akram Khan Dance Company taking Khan’s iTMOi (in the mind of Igor [Stravinksy, the composer]) to Australia and presenting it at the Sydney Opera House in August and September 2013. This production will visit the city direct form its world premiere at the Maison de la Culture in Grenoble and a season at Sadlers Wells, London. This is incredibly exciting news for contemporary dance fans in the southern hemisphere!

iTMOi was choreographed by Khan to mark the 100th year since the provocative premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in Paris, in which it evoked rioting and disorder. As a result, iTMOi aims to capture the chaotic energy of the original work, taking its vibrant spirit as the starting point for the new work and creating something organic.

Khan is renowned for his artistic collaborations and for this production he has worked with composers Nitin Sawhney, Ben Frost and Jocelyn Pook to develop a brand new score, inspired by Stravinsky’s work. Khan stated that he was ultimately interested in the dynamics of how Stravinsky transformed the classical world of music by evoking emotions through patterns, rather than through musical expression, which audiences could argue is none existent in the groundbreaking work. The patterns of the music are rooted in the concept of a woman, the ‘chosen one’ dancing herself to death as sacrifice, which forms the main part of Khan’s inspiration in reinvestigating the work. Khan also aimed to explore the human condition, not just the patterns, to remind audiences of the essences of the mind and imagination, which are wild and self-generating.

Images courtesy of Andy Miah at Flickr.

The Prix Benois de la Danse

Prix Benois de la DanseOne of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Prix Benois de la Danse is awarded at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia every year in order to give credit to the best of dance talents in the world for their achievements over the past year, such as best choreographer, as well as the best male and female dancer.

Arguably on par with the Oscars, the awards credit the world’s stages’ most prestigious and outstanding talent. The 2013 ceremony at the Bolshoi saw many high achievers collect their awards. Choreographer Hans van Manen was honoured for his Variations for Two Couples with the Dutch National Ballet, and Christopher Wheeldon was also honoured for his production of Cinderella with the Dutch National Ballet. Congratulations were also awarded to John Neumeier, who is the director and choreographer of the Hamburg Ballett, for his Life Achievement award for dance.

In terms of dancers, ballerina Olga Smirnova of the Bolshoi Ballet was acknowledged for her roles performed at the Bolshoi Theatre, such as Nikia in La Bayadere, Aspicia in The Pharaoh’s Daughter, and Anastasia in Ivan the Terrible. Additionally, Alban Lendorf of The Royal Danish Ballet was applauded for his role Armand Duval in The Lady of Camellias and Vadim Muntagirov was also honoured for his role as the Prince in English National Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty when he danced alongside the company’s artistic director Tamara Rojo.

The Prix Benois de la Danse was founded by the International Dance Association in Moscow in 1991, taking place annually and judged by a dance jury consisting of the ‘top’ ballet folk whose members change every year. The competition recognises exceptional events and incredible talent with monetary awards, based on the previous year of the industry, including choreographic accomplishments in addition to recognising dancing roles.

Dancing On Ice Gets The Boot

Dancing On Ice 2014It has been announced that 2014, as the 30th anniversary of Jane Torvil and Christopher Dean’s Olympic Bolero performance, will mark the last series of Dancing on Ice. Torvil and Dean, the series’ mentors, felt it made sense to end the show, as a mark of the anniversary of their groundbreaking dance at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics.

The final series of Dancing on Ice will be followed by the last Dancing on Ice tour around the UK, as per every series of the show, in March 2014. Despite a fierce following from its supporters, the viewing figures dramatically decreased for this year’s series, drawing just half of the show’’s audience at its peak in 2008 at 11.7 million viewers. It is arguable as to whether the show has reached the end of its natural life after its eighth consecutive series, having recruited a number of very watchable contestants over the last few series, those notable such as Olympic athletes, actors, actresses and other recognisable TV faces. The show has also been a prime-time success in eight different countries.

The show pairs up these celebrities with professional figure skaters and the duets are pitted against each other for the duration of the competition. The celebrities and their partners perform a live ice dance routine and the judges are required to judge each performance and give a mark between 0.0 and 10.0 (0.0 to 6.0 between series 1 and 5), depending on the performance, with the two lowest placed couples competing in a final showdown known as the “Skate Off”, where they perform their routine again. Once the couples have performed their routines for the judging panel, the judges decide on who deserves to stay and cast their votes, based on the second performance.

It seems Dancing on Ice has been voted off!

Queensland Ballet’s exciting season

Queensland BalletQueensland Ballet has announced an exclusive season coming up for dance fans in Australia by obtaining two very current stars, each in their own respects, for new work in the coming year for the company. Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet will be staged and will star Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta for the season which will run from 27 June to 5 July 2014. This is fantastic for the company and a huge achievement for Queensland Ballet’s artistic director, Li Cunxin.

Financially speaking, the season will be supported by the Queensland Government’s new Super Star Fund that will invest $3 million over four years to support local performing arts companies in engaging with internationally renowned artists. As a hugely supportive concept, it seems that Australian dance companies can continue in this vein in developing their work and engaging with overseas stars in renowned and iconic works. For Queensland Ballet, the season will take place at the Lyric Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and will be presented with sets and costumes from the Birmingham Royal Ballet production back in the UK.

MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is widely considered the best in the world, despite being rarely seen outside of the UK. The work has never been performed in Australia so it is indeed a huge coup (as Li Cunxin states) for Queensland Ballet to secure the exclusive production and perform alongside two of the world’s great ballet dancers.

It is rather fitting that Queensland Ballet be granted this season by the government, in Li Cunxin’s own journey to Australia. Beginning his training in China and later releasing his autobiographical novel Mao’s Last Dancer detailing his childhood and subsequent ballet life, it seems Li Cunxin has also been smiled upon by ballet gods, being able to journey overseas and relish in his ballet career despite the strict Communist regime back in his homeland.

Toronto Technology For Ballet

Canada's National Ballet SchoolBallet has taken a new leap into technology, with students from 18 international schools having performed together virtually at a conference in Toronto. The students from Toronto were linked through dance and livestream with dancers in Amsterdam as part of a curriculum Canada’s National Ballet School has worked into the Assemblée Internationale, a week-long conference in Toronto with student dancers from ballet schools around the world. As a collaborative conference, it will bring students together to form bonds and learn about working together just as they are thinking about where they will be dancing professionally in a few years, with technology central to what they do.

Assemblée Internationale is an ambitious conference that involves 72 Canadian students and 109 from international schools, and among the young dancers in the Canadian class are dancers from London, Paris, Sydney, Havana, Copenhagen and New York. The conference allows the dancers to be involved in a new creation as a huge opportunity in the preparation for their professional careers where they will be working with many new choreographers. In addition to this, the project involves several aspects of technology which will broaden the horizons and expectations of the students who are so ingrained in the system of classical ballet. In addition to the improvisation required by the piece, it also needs the dancers to be in the moment of the movement and completely present, physically reacting to what they see on the screen.

In another leap into the unknown, in order to prepare the ballet students to perform the new work, Stream, NBS instructor Shaun Amyot has tried to teach his class to improvise, which is not a regular occurrence in the disciplined and precise world of classical ballet. For the conference itself, the dancers in Toronto were required to improvise, reacting to a screen showing dancers in Amsterdam performing to music. Amyot collaborated with Amsterdam-based choreographer Michael Schumacher to create Stream, and the Dutch National Ballet Academy danced the work in the studio in Amsterdam to fill the screen, which was proportioned to the height of the human body.

English National Ballet and the The Coronation Festival

ENB Rebranded LogoIt has been announced that English National Ballet will take part in three Gala performances in the grounds of Buckingham Palace as part of the Coronation Festival in July this year, performing Tempus, a specially commissioned piece paying tribute to Her Majesty The Queen to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her Coronation.

Tempus, choreographed by Associate Artist George Williamson to a new score by composer Christopher Mayo, will be danced by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, alongside other Principals and Artists of the company such as Esteban Berlanga, Daria Klimentová, Vadim Muntagirov, Fernanda Oliveira, Zhanat Atymtayev, Bridgett Zehr, Ken Saruhashi, Ksenia Ovsyanick and Junor Souza. The work will be inspired by incredible era of change during her reign and a sense of transition and memories in order to celebrate the Queen’s years and simultaneously look to the future of the art form.

The Gala will form part of the Coronation Festival , which is to be a unique public event hosted by The Royal Warrant Holders Association and will encapsulate the Festival’s themes of excellence and innovation with a particular focus on youth, in a celebration of the past 60 years of performing arts. The Festival will be open to members of the public from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 July and the Galas will be broadcast on TV and radio, with a Royal Preview on Thursday, 11th July for invited guests.

The Coronation Festival is being hosted by The Royal Warrant Holders Association, and will showcase over 200 of the companies who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to the Households of The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh or The Prince of Wales.