Busby Berkeley

Busby BerkeleyBusby Berkeley, born November 29 1895 (died March 14 1976) was a highly influential Hollywood director and musical choreographer, famous for his elaborate musical production numbers that involved complex choreography through geometric patterns. Berkeley’s works used large numbers of showgirls and props as fantasy elements in on-screen performances which were both captivating and impressive.

Berkeley made his stage debut aged five, acting in the company of his performing family. Following his serving in World War I, during the 1920s Berkeley became a dance director for nearly 30 Broadway musicals. As a choreographer, Berkeley was more interested in his chorus girls’ ability to form attractive geometric patterns, creating an awe-inspiringly regimented display perhaps inspired by his army experiences. However, his audiences experiencing the Great Depression of America made Berkeley very popular, and he went on to choreograph four musicals back-to-back for Warner Bros.: 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Fashions of 1934.

For his choreographic work, Berkeley began to develop his theatrical techniques for the musical numbers of films, such as Samuel Goldwyn’s Eddie Cantor musicals. Here he trialled and extended techniques such as the “parade of faces” in which each chorus girl’s face was shot with an individual, loving close-up. He also began to move his dancers around the stage, and later beyond the stage in shooting highly cinematic shots containing as many kaleidoscopic patterns as possible. The ‘top shot’ filming technique, shot from above, became synonymous with Berkeley’s work, another kaleidoscope shot which also appeared in the Cantor films.

As a choreographer Berkeley was allowed much independence in his direction of musical numbers, yet they were often in great contrast to the narrative sections of the films, focusing on decoration and the aesthetics of dance and glamour. Many of his innovative creations have been heavily analysed, some critiqued for their display, or perhaps exploitation, of the female form as seen through the “male gaze”. However Berkeley always denied any significance of his work, arguing that his main professional goals were to constantly improve his work and never repeat his past accomplishments.

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Theatreland Cinema

Digital Theatre & CinemaLiveSimilar to many ballet productions that have recently been screened in cinemas, it will be possible in the future to catch up with your favourite West End shows with a bucket of popcorn. Digital Theatre, which makes filmed theatre productions available for download online, and CinemaLive have paired up to screen some of the best of British theatre in UK cinemas, both new works and those from theatrical archives.

Digital Theatre has partnered with film producers CinemaLive and will present its first series of screenings in September 2013. No titles have been annoucned yet for the screening programme, but the focus will be primarily on West End productions, including David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing and David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. In turn this will presumably make West End productions more accessible to larger audiences, however this may also decrease their unique exclusivity, and the singular experience of taking in a production in the heart of Theatreland. Despite this, opening up West End productions to other audiences may also increase revenue for theatres in inspiring audiences to see other and alternative productions that they may first have seen in the cinema.

Since the launch of National Theatre Live in 2009, theatre has had an increasingly regular presence in cinemas. In June 2013, NT Live will broadcast its first West End production, The Audience which stars Helen Mirren, following the lead of Graham McLaren’s production of Great Expectations, which was live-broadcasted its opening night around the UK. This took around £80,000 at the box office, emphasising the decline (or perhaps increase) of audiences visiting West End theatres, but ultimately expanding the possibilities by offering audiences another chance to catch past productions they might have missed.

Founded by Robert Delamere and Tom Shaw in 2009, Digital Theatre now hosts productions from some of the UK’s largest theatres, including the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company Shakespeare’s Globe and the Almeida theatre.

First Position

First PositionFirst Position, a ballet documentary-come-movie to be screened in cinemas in the UK, paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted ballet stars of tomorrow as they prepare for the chance to enter the world of professional ballet. Bess Kargman’s award-winning box office hit documentary follows six extraordinary dancers, complete with bruises, blood, injuries and near exhaustion, as they follow their dreams and enter the Youth America Grand Prix, held annually in New York for boys and girls aged 8 to 19.

Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter the Youth America Grand Prix as one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions where talented dancers compete for the coveted title. In the final round hundreds of young dancers compete for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts and it is imperative that nothing short of perfection is performed. First Position showcases the awe-inspiring talent and passion that is displayed by the dancers, and had its World Premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and was named the audience choice’s first runner-up for Best Documentary. It also won the Jury Prize at the San Francisco Doc Fest, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Dallas International Film Festival, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Portland International Film Festival, and the audience award for Best Documentary at DOC NYC.

First Position centres around the protagonist characters of Jules Jarvis Fogarty, age 10, Aran Bell, age 11, Gaya Bommer Yemini, age 11, Miko Fogarty, age 12, Michaela DePrince, age 14, Joan Sebastian Zamora, age 16, and Rebecca Houseknecht, age 17. The dancers are from all over the world, and First Position reveals the dancers’ fates, with most of the group emerging from the competition with a statuette, award, scholarship or contract with a ballet company.

Andrew Lloyd Webber: 40 Years

Andrew Lloyd WebberITV are set to celebrate Andrew Lloyd Webber’s impressive and vast 40-year career with a 90-minute television special to mark his musical achievements. Stars such as Samantha Barks, Kimberley Walsh, Tim Minchin and Nicole Scherzinger are among the performers who will take part in the show which aims to celebrate the on-stage work of Lloyd Webber, rather than be a tribute to said work, which is sure to continue far into the future.

Aptly named ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber: 40 Years’, the 90-minute programme will be hosted by musical theatre icon Michael Ball, donning his top hat and tails to make sure the show goes down a storm for viewers. The show will include performances of songs from the Lloyd Webber’s shows, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats and Evita. Both Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats have seen recent revivals for the stage, giving younger audiences the chance to see musicals that they may have been unable to see in the shows’ heyday. However, these examples alone demonstrate the power of Lloyd Webber’s music to communicate with audiences and continue to attract them to fantastic shows up and down the country, and even all over the world.

The evening will also feature the first performance of a song from Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming show, Stephen Ward, and will include Lloyd Webber sharing anecdotes and discussing his musical influences in creating for a blockbuster show. Contributions from those people within the performing arts industry who have worked with him will not be thin on the ground, with the programme detailing Lloyd Webber’s unrivalled contribution to theatre.

Lloyd Webber will be using the ITV programme to celebrate his four decades in the West End with an evening that promises some spectacular performances and a deeper insight into the man himself.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The 2013 Dancing On Ice Champion

Dancing On Ice 2013

Another televised dance-esque competition show is over for the year: Dancing on Ice saw Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle crowned the winner with partner Dan Whiston. Whilst many may argue that neither gymnastics nor ice skating have much to do with dance, it is clear that the skills of dance lend themselves to other disciplines which also contain elements of art and performance.

Being able to sustain a performance and carry your audience through a routine, piece or instalment is one of the key ingredients for success. With your audience hanging on every artistic word of your performance, it is no longer split into technique, performance skills, personality, and costume, and so on. You are able to create an illusion in the performance space, and go on to win Dancing on Ice!

The public vote meant that Beth – who won Olympic Bronze in the Uneven Bars last summer – and her partner Dan beat actor Matt Lapinskas’ two perfect ’10’ routines, complete with show tights and lots of sequins! The pair also impressed the judges with their version of the Bolero, made famous at the 1984 Winter Olympics by Olympians Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean, who also feature on the show. Late 2012 also saw a 2012 Olympian win on television: gymnast Louis Smith beat his competitors on Strictly Come Dancing, mirroring Beth’s win in 2013. It has been revealed that there will be a ninth series of Dancing on Ice in 2014.

Prior to her Dancing on Ice win, Beth has had much success in the world of sparkly leotards and chalk: gymnastics. In addition to being an Olympic Bronze medallist, Beth is a triple World Champion, a six-time European Champion, a Commonwealth Champion and a seven-time consecutive National Champion. Beth has competed at three Olympic Games: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Dancing on Ice 2013

Dancing On Ice 2013

As the cold weather is starting to hit dancers all over the country, twelve dancers have already been braving the ice as they began their performance journeys on Dancing on Ice, refilling our dancing lives with sequins, skates, gorgeous costumes and a generous helping of Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean.

Donning their show tights for the 2013 series will be Joe Pasquale – comedian, Lauren Goodger – reality TV star, Anthea Turner – TV presenter, Keith Chegwin – presenter, Samia Ghadie – actress, Oona King – Baroness King of Bow, Luke Campbell – Olympic boxer, Beth Tweddle – Olympic gymnast, Shayne Ward – singer, Gareth Thomas – professional rugby player, Matt Lapinskas – actor, and Pamela Anderson – actress, with Pamela being the first to leave the show.

The two Olympic medallists, gymnast Beth and boxer Luke, have already had much experience in such tough training. Many may argue that these incredible athletes have an added advantage, being used to the rigours of training their bodies and pushing themselves to perform in a similar type of arena. However, it seems the cast is full of variety and there are sure to be many surprises along the way. Rugby player Gareth has already take to the ballet barre in order to add grace and control to his ice skating. Much of the technique of ballet taught can be applied to ice skating, let alone the rest of the dance sector. In this sense, Gareth will be able to add to his performance through the practice of technical pliés and arabesques, even donning his ballet tights in order to marry his technique with his performance skills away from the rugby pitch.

Judging the contestants for 2013 will be head judge Robin Cousins, Olympic ice dancer Karen Barber, the notorious Jason Gardiner and former Pussycat Doll Ashley Roberts.

Strictly Come Dancing Contestants Revealed!

Strictly Come Dancing

After months of speculation the Strictly Come Dancing line-up has finally been announced, dispelling all previous rumours surrounding the tenth series. In addition to the contestants, ex-prima ballerina and new Royal Academy of Dance President Darcey Bussell will also be joining the show as a new judge on the panel. Bussell will be trading her trademark pointe shoes and tutu for score cards, and has even been dabbling in some ballroom practice herself.

Denise Van Outen is presumed to be a favourite on SCD. The presenter-turned-actress has not only starred in West End shows but has even released her own dance-fitness DVD. Van Outen is married to Lee Mead, winner of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Any Dream Will Do, and she has also been a panel member on Lloyd Webber’s talent searches. Girls Aloud pop star Kimberley Walsh will also be competing, as well as Tracey Beaker actress Dani Harmer who finished runner-up in Let’s Dance For Sport Relief this spring. Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton will be donning the fishnets and New Yorkers with fantastic fitness levels and a huge competitive streak, alongside 56-year-old former model Jerry Hall and Fern Britton. Ex-Emmerdale star Lisa Riley will also be donning sparkling costumes, making the females alone a strong pull for the show.

In terms of male competition, another member of Team GB will be appearing as a hot favourite, Olympic gymnast Louis Smith who may even add a back flip to his routines in his dapper costumes. Nicky Byrne from Westlife, actors Colin Salmon and Sid Owen and cricketer Michael Vaughan are also to be thrown into the mix of fourteen hopefuls alongside their professional partners, as well as potential comics Daybreak presenter Richard Arnold and Johnny Ball, who’s daughter Zoe was a finalist on SCD series three.

However the dancefloor turns, this season’s Strictly is too good to miss!

Matthew Bourne’s 3D Swan Lake

Matthew BourneCurzon Cinemas are due to bring Matthew Bourne’s triumphant re-interpretation of Swan Lake (certificate PG) on May 14th, at the Soho showing theatre. The production is a pre-recorded version from a 2011 performance at Sadler’s Wells, and will continue to showcase the bare-footed swans to audiences nationwide and beyond.

When Swan Lake premiered in 1995, it turned the traditional production on its head and took the dance world by storm, with Bourne captivating audiences with his theatrical and contemporary-classical choreography. Bourne’s version of the well-known classic is arguably an equally well-known production, replacing the female cast and pointe shoes of dancers with an iconic yet menacing male ensemble, donning white feathers and bare torsos. Swan Lake was first filmed in 2D in 1996, becoming a world phenomenon and winning more than 30 top accolades in the major theatrical awards of Broadway, Los Angeles and the UK. The 3D film is expected to create an illusion of space around the dancers, drawing the audience in and bringing the dramatic realism of the story to life.

The cast includes Richard Windsor as the lead Swan/Stranger, Dominic North as The Prince, Nina Goldman as The Queen and Madelaine Brennan as The Girlfriend, emulating the drama and intensity of Bourne’s dark idealisations. Following the screening, both director and choreographer Bourne and executive producer Fiona Morris will deliver a post-screening discussion, bringing the dazzling displays of characters and their show tights even further to life.

The modern reinvention of Swan Lake does away with the pristine tutus of Odette/Odile and the Cygnets, replacing them with leather and character shoe clad characters who bask in the theatricality of Bourne’s work. The 3D version of the piece brings audiences the immediate experience of dance, many of whom may never see it on stage. Whilst some may argue that this notion may do away with the intrinsic aesthetic of dance, yet it is encouraging to note that the magic of dance is available for countless numbers, spreading its message and aiming to secure further recognition of the industry’s future.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.