Hofesh Shechter, the next Brighton Festival Director

Hofesh ShechterIconic choreographer Hofesh Shechter has been named as the individual to guest direct Brighton Festival 2014. Running from 3 May to 25 May, the Brighton Festival is an annual mixed arts event that takes place across the city. Whilst full programme details will be announced on 25 February 2014, it is already knowledge that the festival will open with Shechter’s contemporary dance company’s new production, Sun.

Sun has been co-commissioned by Brighton Festival and runs from May 3 at the festival, marking the end of the production’s world tour. Shechter, who is also a composer and musician, is one of the most important choreographers of the twenty-first century, creating many innovative works for his dance company. This is in addition to that for the U.Dance youth company as part of Youth Dance England’s U.Dance 2012 festival at the Southbank Centre last year. Meanwhile, Sun features 14 dancers and a soundtrack composed by Shechter himself, embodying the piece entirely.

The Hofesh Shechter Company was named the first resident company of Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival in 2008, so it is now fitting that 2014 will see Shechter direct the festival. Since 2008 his dance company has been commissioned by Brighton Festival to create works including Shechter’s cornerstone piece Political Mother. Shechter has expressed his fondness of the seaside town as a place where one can develop and grow artistically as an important thing.

The Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival is renowned for having an inspiring, energising and encouraging arts quality, something with Shechter has valued over the last five years. After such a successful time as part of the festival in the past, it seems a natural progression for Shechter to work closer with the festival as a director.

American Ballet Theatre’s Project Plié

ABT LogoAmerican Ballet Theater has announced a diversity programme in beginning a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and regional ballet companies across the country in order to increase the number of minority dancers. Project Plié will offer scholarships to talented young dancers and train dance teachers who work in underrepresented groups and communities, boosting diversity within ballet to reflect the US population.

ABT Soloist Misty Copeland has become the face of the new national initiative following appearances in a Diet Dr. Pepper advert – her stretches and pirouettes viewed almost half a million times on YouTube – and in magazines such as New York, Forbes, and Essence. These have hooked fans from outside the ballet world: ultimately, the company hopes to attract not only more dancers, but also more audience members from minority groups. Copeland values her commercial opportunities which enable her to present ballet as a mainstream not just in a grand theatre where young aspiring children may not have the chance to gain inspiration from ballet dancers’ work.

Project Plié will not just be taking steps to encourage broader participation in classical ballet but also addressing the issue of training access, which can be limited for children by cultural, economic and geographic factors. Project Plié aims to find the next Misty Copeland how she was discovered: by participating in Boys and Girls Club activities when a local dance teacher came to offer free classes, Copeland’s physique was noted and encouraged to begin studying ballet, aged 13. This is considered late by balletic standards yet Copeland had entered American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet by 19.

One-hour presentations will be launched at select Boys and Girls Clubs around the country with an introduction to ballet and hands-on play with pointe shoes and tutus, followed by a movement class. Children of high potential will be identified and eligible for one of 10 scholarships that could cover costs such as classes, shoes and transportation, for a year of study with an ABT-certified teacher in their area. Upon completion, those students will be eligible for scholarships to ABT’s Young Dancer Summer Workshop.

Matthew Golding – New For The Royal Ballet

The Royal BalletMatthew Golding, Principal dancer with Dutch National Ballet, is set to join The Royal Ballet as a Principal in February 2014. The Canadian dancer has recently appeared on London soil during English National Ballet’s run of Swan Lake earlier this year in which Golding’s ‘dance’ acting, or lack of, was scrutinised by critics. An expansive dancer with exceedingly long legs, Golding is seemingly the mute prince, unable to express himself through the choreography.

Despite this, Golding’s first performance with The Royal Ballet will be in The Sleeping Beauty later this season, partnering new addition Natalia Osipova on 27 March. Osipova is arguably the coup of the pair of dancers for The Royal Ballet, with her fiery passion and outstanding technical ability. Not to say Golding is without these traits, simply the ability to narrate through his facial expressions.

Golding trained at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Universal Ballet Academy in Washington D.C. In 2002, he was awarded the Grand Prix from the Youth American Ballet Competition and received a prize scholarship at The Prix de Lausanne to attend The Royal Ballet School. Following his studies there he graduated in 2003 and went on to join American Ballet Theatre. He then made the move to Dutch National Ballet in 2009.

Golding made his UK debut with The Royal Ballet last Season in which he danced as a Guest Artist, partnering Zenaida Yanowsky in La Bayadére. The roster of Principal dancers at The Royal Ballet is without a doubt impressive, yet is rivalled considerably by that of English National Ballet. Artistic Director Tamara Rojo – taking on the role following her Principal contract with The Royal Ballet – has done much to build the company up to an even higher status than it held under previous director Wayne Eagling, and looks set to achieve even more before the year is out.

Alan Burkitt: A Fred Astaire For Our Time

Alan BurkittAlan Burkitt, a Fred Astaire for today, covers the lead Jerry Travers in the hit West End show Top Hat. From his beginnings as a young tap extraordinaire, to three years vocational training at Performers College, Alan has become a versatile performer who takes ultimate pride in his work in the capital’s West End. Here he talks about his early dancing years, his incredible life in Top Hat and the exciting venture which is up next for his career…

When did you begin dancing, and why?

I began dancing at the age of five in my hometown of Whitstable, in Kent. It was really something that I wanted to do and after much prancing around the kitchen my parents gave in and shipped me off to a local dance school. Still to this day I’m not quite sure what attracted me to dance as it does not run in our family and my parents are not particularly ‘stagey’… so I guess I got their share too!

What were your early years of dancing and training like?

At the age of 10 I started at the Deborah Capon School of Dance. Unfortunately Deborah passed away last month, taken from us in her prime. She was an exceptional teacher who instilled a depth of knowledge and understanding in me that has stayed with me all through my professional years. I also studied Jazz, Ballet and National and was a Junior Associate at the Royal Ballet School. After Top Hat, I think lots of people see me as Alan: the tapper. It was Deborah that taught me about light and shade, fluidity of rhythm and presentation. Now in my performing years, a dear friend… I will miss her greatly.

How long have you been performing? Did you start young?

I performed in many shows and dance festivals growing up. I loved competing and going up to London for the day was always such a valuable and rewarding experience. As I was the only boy at our dance school I had the pick of the girls!

Where did you train? What was it like?

After staying on at school to do my A-Levels I went to Performers College in Essex. I can honestly say I loved my three years there and could easily go back and do it all again! The all-round training I received was excellent and the general atmosphere was something special to be a part of. I had an amazing Classical teacher there called Lorraine Swain. She pushed me technically in a direction I never thought possible and is part of the reason why I have been able to be so diverse in my professional career.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day?! I rise at about 9am… 9.30… ok, 10am! I have a healthy breakfast of a bacon butty and a cup of coffee then get the train into work on a Matinee [afternoon performance] day. (We have three!) We then have one show at 2.30pm, a quick dinner and 15 minutes shut-eye then we do it all over again at 7.30pm. It’s then back home at about 12am ready to do it all again the next day! It is tiring but we do it because we love it, and I think that’s the way performers are programmed and therefore function. We go into work everyday to do a job we love and are proud of… brilliant eh?!

Do you still take classes? How do you keep on top of your technique?

I’ll be honest and say not really! I do a lot of teaching however. I am hugely passionate about educating and inspiring others and I treat those lessons as my workout too! I also try to go to the gym to keep up a level of strength… I always find I have more energy and dynamics on stage when I’ve been more active in the day.

What do you like best about performing in the West End?

I love working in the West End because I feel a sense of pride and achievement. It’s so many young people’s dream to ‘make it’ there and I can actually say… “I’ve done that!” It’s lovely to be at home too so you can enjoy home and work life, and try to obtain some sort of balance?!

Which part of Top Hat do you enjoy most?

I love my track in the show but when I go on for the Lead ‘Jerry Travers’… you just can’t beat the feeling!! It is a dream role for me because it is a style of dance that I have adored from such a young age. I remember when I was little I won a tap competition and the adjudicator commented that I was like a mini Fred Astaire… since then I have been a huge fan of his films and to recreate one on stage is both exciting and an honour.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be part of the musical theatre world?

Easy… you have to wake up in the morning and want to do this more than anything else. That means growing a thick skin as there will be rejection along the way, but more than anything you have to live and breath music or dance. It’s hard at times… but trust me, it pays off!!

What would you say is the best part about dance and performing for you?

The best part about performing for me is when you completely let go and immerse yourself in a character on stage. It is an escape from day-to-day life that is so rewarding and diverse. There’s a moment in every show, when after rehearsals you suddenly just relax and ‘become’ that character and no longer have to think about the steps because they just happen… that’s when an audience forget they’re sitting in a theatre and are transported somewhere magical!

Tell us something about yourself we may not expect…

I’ll soon be thirty two!!! Hard to believe one could still look so fresh and young?!

What’s next for you?

I’m currently choreographing ‘Fascinating Aida’ for a new UK tour called Charm Offensive!… plug plug! It’s going to be great and the girls are an absolute hoot to work with. Go and support this wonderful show as they travel to a town near you!

Other than that it’s back to auditioning and planning the next step in my career… I’ll let you know!

Learning To Be Carabosse By Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal BalletBirmingham Royal Ballet, the sister of the capital’s Royal Ballet, is renowned for its outreach and engagement activities. Just recently audiences were able to get a taste of what it is like to be truly ballet wicked, in a workshop with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Assistant Director Marion Tait.

As part of Birmingham’s 4 Squares weekender (6-8 September) participants from the Midlands and surrounding areas were able to engage in an open rehearsal, in which Tait taught the role of Carabosse, the wicked fairy from The Sleeping Beauty. While Carabosse is usually played by a male dancer each member of the rehearsal audience were able to experience the mood and emotion behind the character.

Tait focused on the mime of Carabosse rather than the choreographed steps, making the rehearsal accessible to ballet lovers of all ages and abilities, rather than confusing the process by including the technical jargon of classical ballet. Tait shared many tips and secrets of the role for her varied audience, having been a ballerina in her prime and also a renowned dance actress. The audience were also able to watch a dancer of the Birmingham Royal Ballet within the rehearsal who was being taught by Tait: First Artist Callie Roberts, who will be taking on the role of Carabosse for the first time as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s autumn performances of the classic tale.

The weekend-long festival also included a performance by Freefall, Birmingham’s acclaimed company for highly gifted young people with learning difficulties. The performance was also interspersed with Birmingham Royal Ballet dances, led by dancers no longer with the company, and staff from Fox Hollies Performing Arts College. The audience were, again, a special part of the dance here, provided with a rare chance to see this unique company on stage.

The GOlive Festival

GOLive FestivalDonald Hutera, notable arts journalist and dance critic, has been invited to curate the GOlive Dance & Performance Festival currently taking place at the Lion and Unicorn theatre until the end of September. Hutera’s work has appeared in The Times, Time Out and Dance Europe amongst other publications and websites world-wide, making him the ideal candidate to programme this new festival of dance.

The Giant Olive Theatre is a small black box venue of about 50 seats, so the qualities desired when selecting artists to take part were venue and curator specific. Hutera aims to ensure an immediate connection between the performers and the audience, with the performances close-up; risk, intimacy and play underpin the basis of the festival. As critic-turned-curator, Hutera has found the transition smooth as he enjoys championing dance work he believes in on a day-to-day basis.

The GOlive festival looks to be highly rewarding as a result of its conception. George Sallis, the artistic director of Giant Olive Theatre at the Lion and Unicorn pub, questioned Hutera about curating a dance festival earlier this year, meaning Hutera’s desire to do so was met by Sallis’ need. In fact, the pub has a past record of presenting dance as a result of the efforts of George and Antonia Franceschi, formerly a Balanchine ballerina and later a teacher, coach and choreographer. Franceschi is also an actress, playing the ballerina who becomes pregnant in Fame.

Spread across 21 consecutive days and featuring works of over four dozen individuals or companies, the GOlive Festival will include Darren Ellis, Ella Mesma, Renaud Wiser, Anusha Subramanyam, Daniel Hay-Gordon/Eleanor Perry, Shane Shambhu, Nuno Silva, Moreno Solinas, The Dangerologists, Stopgap’s Sg2, Angela Woodhouse, Dog Kennel Hill Project, Mickael Marso Rivière, Jennifer Jackson/Susie Crow and Fred Gehrig amongst many others. Between them they have worked with the likes of Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies, Shobana Jeyasingh, Russell Maliphant, The Royal Ballet, Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, Rambert Dance Company, Henri Oguike and Arthur Pita.

The Growth of Lyrical, Contemporary And Jazz

Contemporary DanceWith the now mainstream TV entertainment programmes such as So You Think You Can Dance and Got To Dance, dance culture has shifted in the UK.

Before the emergence of programmes of this type and of this popularity, contemporary dance and lyrical jazz techniques were less ‘discovered’: ruling the day was ballet, tap and modern jazz, with the increasing growth of hip hop and street dance.

Large performing arts institutions offering dance classes on a huge scale, such as Pineapple, Danceworks and Studio 68, offered and continue to offer an abundance of daily classes to all ages and abilities. Whilst lyrical and contemporary classes were on offer to the attendees of the classes, it seems the growth of the dance television programmes has increased their popularity. Moreover, the style of lyrical, lyrical jazz, contemporary and contemporary jazz has shifted completely, with classes now offering both the technical side of these styles as well as the steering the performance qualities seen on the programmes.

Despite the technical side of dance, the television programmes convey a prominent sense of intention behind the movement in addition to a ‘jazzy’ narrative. Telling a story through dance is not a pre-requisite yet it seems for television this is desirable in order to appeal to the entertainment of the mass audiences. This is in addition to relating the movement through screen and making it desirable for its environment, namely a competition. As a result, the dazzling leaps, high kicks and multiple turns have made their way into mainstream, everyday classes; not necessarily a good or bad thing, simply an observation that these movements and choreographies are becoming increasingly popular.

Purely technical classes, however, have not disappeared, just added to by this increase in popularity of the dramatic and heartfelt movement portrayals on television. Dancers who look for both sides of the lyrical dance coin now have the added benefit of a certain sense of performance behind the class.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Yorkshire Ballet Summer School’s Gala

Yorkshire Ballet Summer SchoolThe Yorkshire Ballet Summer School’s 40th anniversary will be celebrated this year in a gala organised by Anthony Dowell and the actor Derek Jacobi. The gala will be held at national dance house Sadler’s Wells, London, on 29 September, marking the journey from strength to strength of the summer school and its staff.

The Yorkshire Ballet Summer School began as the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars in a church hall, taught by ex-Royal Ballet dancer and teacher David Gayle. The seminars were devised in order to provide young local dancers with an introduction to the professional ballet world, enabling them to learn about opportunities and meet other artists.

The success of the seminars meant they evolved to form a residential ballet course, with the first masterclass taught by Alicia Markova. 2005 saw Marguerite Porter take over the directorship reins of the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, who began teaching at the course in 1990.

Kevin O’Hare has spoken of his support for the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School: ‘It was such a huge inspiration for me attending the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars and added so much to my training and knowledge of what it would be like to become a professional ballet dancer. When I look back at all the amazing teachers who taught me I feel so lucky to have had that experience while growing up in Yorkshire and I am so glad the seminars continue to thrive and inspire a new generation of dancers.’

This year the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School of more than 180 students will be held at York St John university, boasting course faculty including Anthony Dowell and David Pickering. In terms of the gala, directed by Richard Clifford, the event will include guest stars such as dancers from The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Wayne Sleep and the BalletBoyz. Actors Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter and Samantha Bond will also be in attendance.

Tickets cost £12-£85 and are available from Sadler’s Wells.

The King’s Head Theatre Vs. Russian law

The Kings Head TheatreWhat with funding news, openings of shows, closing shows, pay and tragic passings of life, theatre is never far from reported news. In a more political stance, the King’s Head Theatre in Islington has responded to Russia’s anti-gay laws in a reaction to the escalating violence and oppression towards gay Russians after Putin’s anti-gay legislation and the current high-profile debate over the Sochi 2014 Olympics.

Many aspects of theatreland have spread into the political and social spectrum, making their views known either directly or indirectly. For the King’s Head Theatre this will be the first verbatim account in response to Putin. In order to do this the King’s Head Theatre has commissioned a rapid-response protest piece to help raise the public’s perspective of the situation as a humanitarian issue that needs to be urgently addressed. Gay activist Russians have been viciously attacked and prosecuted for “spreading homosexual propaganda”, homophobic murders are on the increase and gay parents are fleeing their homeland for fear of having their children taken away from them, the new laws affecting individuals across the board.

Sochi 2014 provides an invaluable opportunity to focus on Russia’s attitude towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. These voices will be heard on stage for the first time to make a stand for those who endure oppression on a daily basis, and raise important questions, such as what will other countries do about this dated and incomprehensible attitude, and what will happen if we do nothing.

Behind Sochi 2014 is playwright Tess Berry-Hart who is an experienced verbatim theatre writer, using Russians’ stories to increase public awareness in the UK. The piece will be interspersed with media coverage, debate over solutions and extracts from the Olympic charter which show the flagrant violations of the Olympic spirit by Putin’s regime, harnessing the power of theatre as a political vehicle to demand change.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Laine Theatre Arts: Funding Trouble

Laine Theatre ArtsStudents at the prestigious musical theatre college Laine Theatre Arts have had a blow ahead of the new academic year. Epsom and Ewell Council, the area in which the college is situated, has withdrawn housing benefits which many of the student receive.

As an institution of further education, Laine Theatre Arts students were entitled to the benefits in order to subsidise their tuition fees and rent, however September may see many students unable to pay their rent to stay in Epsom and attend college.

Laine Theatre Arts is now deemed a provider of higher education, alongside universities and similar institutions, awarding its graduates with a diploma. This would presumably make the college eligible to receive student loans for the hefty tuition fees which are charged by most performing arts colleges, yet this is not the case. With no access to housing benefits or loans for fees which may see many parents remortgage their houses to pay up, for example, Laine Theatre Arts students are in a rather unfortunate position.

In the wake of cuts to arts funding and speculation as to the survival rate of many West End shows, theatre and dance organisations and providers of performing arts training, it is becoming increasingly clear that the arts are being brushed to one side, devalued by the lack of investment and support from funders. Just last week there was musings in The Stage online as to what would happen if the Royal Opera House was to lose its funding. Whilst the venue is not every audience’s choice for the arts, it would be a great pillar lost in the upholding of the arts and what value they stand for.

Unfortunately there does not appear to be a clear step forward in terms of funding for the arts, but in the short term it is hoped that the students of Laine Theatre Arts will be eligible to apply for student loans to aid their studies.