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.

Scottish Ballet at EIF

Scottish Ballet Logo

Scottish Ballet is getting set to launch its Dance Odysseys mini-season at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival (EIF). Previous visits to the EIF have seen Scottish Ballet showcasing their technique in triple bills of choreographers such as Balanchine, Forsythe and Ashton whereas this year everything is very different. The presentation of the content is much changed in its approach, full of choreographic contrasts and alternative perspectives. Dance Odysseys seems not to be missed, presenting the company in a whole new light, full of awe and versatility.

Dance Odysseys will consequently include Kenneth MacMillan’s Sea Of Troubles as a dramatic portrayal of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in addition to Artistic Director Christopher Hampson’s larger-scale Silhouette, which was first created for Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2010. The aim of Dance Odysseys is to mainly celebrate dance and classical ballet, not forgetting the iconic image of the tutu for ballet companies. Hampson maintains that there are so many other styles in the four-day festival so Scottish Ballet must embrace its roots and history therefore.

As a result of what Dance Odysseys, also including talks and film screenings, has to offer over the four days, it seems the company will have its work cut out! The Scottish Ballet building is currently full of different visiting choreographers at work with the dancers, with Hampson bringing in five of the most exciting dance-makers of the moment and commissioning them to create work on the dancers. There have been a range of close encounters with unfamiliar styles through producing for the festival, opening up new horizons for Scottish Ballet.

As a result Dance Odysseys will mark a turn of discovery for the company, and also for the audience in what constitutes dance as an artform. The programme contains completely contrasting styles, moods and intents, ready to present much that is new to Scottish Ballet’s audiences.

New Artistic Director For The Royal Ballet School

The Royal Ballet SchoolThe prestigious Royal Ballet School announced the appointment of Christopher Powney as their Artistic Director Designate last month, who is due to step into the role in April 2014. The current Artistic Director, Gailene Stock, is sadly unwell, and will retire from her post on 31 August 2014. As a result, the summer term of 2014 will see Powney taking over the running of the School after a transitional period. Jay Jolley will continue in the role of Acting Director and will lead the School’s artistic programmes into the 2013/14 academic year.

As one of the top classical dance training centres in the world, the Royal Ballet School has flourished under Stock and is hoped to continue this journey under Powney, selected unanimously to take the school further forward as the driving force behind exceptionally talented and motivated young dancers.

Powney, a former teacher at The Royal Ballet Upper School, is currently Artistic Director of the Dutch National Ballet Academy and has danced himself with Northern Ballet, English National Ballet and Ballet Rambert, as it was then known. During his career he has worked with some of the world’s leading artists, such as Rudolf Nureyev, Jiri Kylian, Lynn Seymour, Christopher Bruce, Twyla Tharp, Frederick Franklin, and Glen Tetley.

Powney later went on to focus on teaching, having qualified with The Royal Ballet School’s Professional Dancers Teachers’ Course. He was Assistant Artistic Director of the Central School of Ballet’s graduate touring company, and in 2000, he joined the teaching staff of The Royal Ballet Upper School. 2006 saw him invited to take on the position of graduate teacher with the dance department of the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. Powney has also been a member of the board for the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine and was a jury member of the 2011 Prix de Lausanne competition.

Rambert’s Animateurs

Rambert Dance Company LogoNo one can deny the sheer talent of the dancers within a dance company, be it contemporary, ballet, or a jazz-hand waving West End show. However, it is often those people behind the scenes that support the work of the dancers, promote it, administrate it, direct it, and neither the dancers nor the ‘backstage’ team can do without the other.

For example, amongst many other teams of people working for the company, Rambert Dance Company (or Rambert, as it is now known) has a team of animateurs who take the work of Rambert and deliver it far and wide. The animateurs work as part of Rambert’s Learning and Participation team, and work with those who may not have access to Rambert’s work originally.

A case in point… earlier this year the animateurs worked with adult patients from HIV oncology wards and teenage out-patients over 5 sessions to create a piece of choreography using poems as a starting point. Often the partnerships with other groups begin with an interactive dance workshop, working to translate Rambert’s works to focus groups. February 2013 saw the creation of the partnership between Rambert Dance Company and Chelsea and Westminster Health Charity, and the programme included  a fortnight-long poetry residency project, 10 week dance workshop programme for patients and out-patients aged 50+ to improve their mobility. As a result the dance sessions offered inspirational experiences through engagement with contemporary dance and the prestigious company.

In the company’s move to London’s Southbank later this year, it will consequently be placed between two of the poorest boroughs in London. As a result it is likely that the company will do more to engage with its community. Rambert, the national company for contemporary dance, already offers a year-round programme of learning and participation activity throughout the UK for people of all ages and abilities, with other projects in hospitals and care environments including work with Queen Mary’s Hospital, St George’s Trust in Roehampton and Arts 4 Dementia.

Birthday Honours For Dance

Dance in the MainstreamWith dance continuing to raise its profile within Westminster, it was a delight to see a huge ten dance names recognised for their outstanding work in dance across a wide variety of contexts in Britain in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Announced on 15 June 2013, some of those awarded an honour in the recognition of dance included the below:

Esteemed dance writer Jeanette Siddall was awarded a CBE for services to dance, recognising her outstanding contribution to the industry beyond her job. Also awarded a CBE was Gailene Stock, Director of the Royal Ballet School, for services to dance.

OBEs were awarded to Lloyd Newson, Founder and Director of physical theatre company DV8, for services to contemporary dance, and also to Cindy Sughrue, Chief Executive of Scottish Ballet for services to dance. Richard Glasstone, choreographer, teacher and author was awarded an MBE for services to classical ballet.

Howard Panter, the co-founder of the Ambassador Theatre Group and Chair of Rambert Dance Company was made a knight in the Honours list for his services to theatre. Panter has been a driving force in the fundraising and building of Rambert Dance Company’s new building on the Southbank which is due to open later this year in September as a very exciting new prospect for dance.

In particular, Dance UK has been working to respond to industry concerns about the numbers of dance professionals compared to sport, theatre and music recognised in the Queen’s and New Year’s Honours lists. As a result, Dance UK has established a voluntary Honours Advisory Committee for the industry, including dance professionals from a cross-section of dance genres. The group meets twice a year and is committed to nominating and championing dance professionals who deserve to be honoured for their services to dance.