Sergei Polunin on screen

Sergei Polunin, the Ukrainian ballet dancer who has returned to the stage, is on his way to Hollywood. Frequently described as “the bad boy of ballet”, Polunin left the Royal Ballet company in a media storm to focus on a career in tattoo art. He was the company’s youngest ever principal, consequently a major force in the ballet world. Since then he is back on stage, collaborating with his partner Natalia Osipova and rekindling his love for dance.

In terms of his screen work, Polunin is currently the subject of the documentary ‘Dancer’, Steven Cantor’s PGA award-nominated work. Prior to that Polunin could be seen in a film collaboration with David LaChapelle in the video to Hozier’s hit song ‘Take Me to Church’, receiving upwards of 17 million views of this viral piece of film. Considered by many to be one of the greatest ballet dancers of his generation, Polinin has now been cast in two upcoming film titles: Kenneth Branagh’s all-star adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express and Red Sparrow.

Polunin’s shift to the screen will mean his audience base will increase rapidly. Polunin confirmed his involvement in the two films to The Hollywood Reporter from the sidelines of the British Independent Film Awards ceremony last year. Dancer was up for best documentary but lost out to Notes on Blindness. Despite this, it looks as though Polunin is set to succeed. Murder on the Orient Express and Red Sparrow will be Polunin’s first major studio features.

Murder on the Orient Express, starring Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench, will see Branagh directing, also starring as the famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It is thought it will start shooting in Pinewood in January. For the spy thriller Red Sparrow from Fox, Polunin will be appearing alongside Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton.

Dance film inspiration

With the dark nights still upon us in the UK, what better excuse to load up your favourite dance film and snuggle down for the evening. There are many iconic dance films, both classic and current, and throughout the genres – there’s definitely something for everyone.

Perhaps the most classic dance movie of them all is The Red Shoes (1948); choreographer Matthew Bourne’s version launched at Sadler’s Wells last month. It tells the story of aspiring ballerina Vicky, who is taken under the wing of an impresario. He turns her into a star, and she dances the lead in his ballet of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, The Red Shoes – where a young woman may not stop dancing whilst she wears the shoes. When Vicky falls in love with a composer, the impresario dismisses her from the company. She dances The Red Shoes one last time before tragedy strikes.

Flash Dance (1983) is yet another iconic film about dance, with a fantastic soundtrack to boot. Welder and exotic dancer Alex wants to be a trained dancer, but unfortunately is too afraid to audition for a professional school. With the help of her boyfriend, she eventually picks up the courage and is successful at gaining entry. With Irene Cara providing the title track it is a definite must for any dance movie night. Alongside this are the music video style dance sequences, which was being explored for the first time on MTV when this film was made.

Still in the eighties is Dirty Dancing (1987); Frances is taken to a sleepy resort for summer. There she meets Johnny, the resort dance instructor, and they fall in love. They plan to dance together at the end of summer season celebration but they face opposition from Frances’ father who thinks Johnny is too old for his daughter. Thankfully she disobeys! 2000 sees another rebellion in Billy Elliot, about young boy from a miner’s family. He must overcome family difficulties and social stigma to pursue his passion for dance, eventually taking up at place at the Royal Ballet School.

Scottish Ballet’s first digital performance

Scottish Ballet, under the artistic direction of Christopher Hampson, is set to unveil the world’s first digital dance programme as part of its plans for 2017. What will form a digital season is said to be the first time a ballet company has curated a month-long programme of projects made for the format. Through this new programme the company will explore a new way to present dance through its different projects planned.

In a world first, Scottish Ballet’s entirely digital season of dance will take place in spring 2017. This is particularly ground-breaking in delving into how dance fits into the digital world, through a series of innovative creative projects. Through this, the company’s award-winning productions will be presented internationally alongside works created by some of the world’s greatest dance makers.

The company will be bound for New York, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and California, and will debut a world premiere alongside a diverse repertoire. The upcoming 2017-18 season will sit alongside a new work which will be unveiled in Glasgow in April. Created by Dutch-Israeli choreographic partnership Ivgi & Greben, it is expected to push Scottish Ballet into new realms of movement and theatre, a big shift for the company.

The season will also see the 25th anniversary of the death of Scottish choreographer Kenneth MacMillan marked with a recreation of his early work Le Baiser de la Fee, at locations around the country. With only one revival since its creation in 1960, the piece will be performed alongside the company’s version of The Rite of Spring in October and November. The Scottish Ballet dancers will also perform Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling in the spring, then A Streetcar Named Desire and three US-linked pieces during the company’s travels. A double bill shown at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015 will also be performed in London.

Funding from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation

The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, known for its generous funding, recently awarded more than half a million pounds to the Southwark Playhouse, the Old Vic and Hull Truck Theatre amongst other arts organisations. A total of six theatres are included in the latest round of funding from the foundation, of almost £567,000. The money will be used towards supporting projects that work with diverse communities, as well as young and emerging artists associate with the organisations.

The Old Vic Theatre Trust has been awarded £105,000 over the next three years to support its Old Vic 12 mentoring project, while the Lyric Hammersmith has received £30,000 to provide training and career guidance for young people from culturally diverse backgrounds. The programme will work with people aged 16 to 25, who have had no previous professional experience. This will include training in performance and technical skills. Salisbury Playhouse has also received £30,000 to encourage greater engagement from children from military families.

In smaller donations, Southwark Playhouse will use its £21,155 to support a scheme to develop young writers from south London schools, through which each writer’s work will be performed at the venue by professional actors. Hull Truck’s £20,840 will go towards its residency and bursary schemes, while Tangled Feet Theatre Company will use its £21,000 to support a mentoring programme for eight emerging theatre companies. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation has also has awarded money to the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, to support the Heritage Angel Awards, and Hay Castle.

The foundation’s recent activity is not just funding others. Earlier in December the foundation published the results of research it commissioned into diversity in the theatre sector, following Andrew Lloyd Webber’s claim that UK theatre was far too white. The Centre Stage report was published as a result.

Cape Town City Ballet’s crisis

Cape Town City Ballet has recently experienced a crisis in South Africa, having been removed from its University of Cape Town premises after 82 years of partnership with the organisation. The reasons cited were that the company’s ballet was “euro-centric and colonial”. Company members were warned it had become unsafe for them to be on UCT property due to student protest action, particularly students in the contemporary and African dance streams.

During December the company was searching for somewhere to rehearse, with three imminent productions. It was offered the temporary use of a small studio, at the back of arts organisation Artscape, but this did not provide the office staff with any facilities in order to continue working too. However, it was claimed by UCT that when the ballet company’s yearly lease had ended, rehearsal space was needed by the university itself, and that it would continue to support ballet as an art form.

The premises was only rented by the company, and it offered tuition to students as part of the agreement. The UCT School of Ballet became an important source of dancers for the company and, throughout her tenure as head of department there, the company’s executive director insisted on including contemporary and African dance as options for majors. Despite this, the university’s students feel it is not appropriate for a classical ballet company to be on the premises because of the European and colonial connotations surrounding it.

The company has therefore had to suspend its development programme for young male dancers, which has led to several black male dancers being spotted by overseas companies as soon as they became semi-professional. It is clear Cape Town City Ballet has provided a nurturing environment for university and aspiring performance students, and for graduate dancers and choreographers too.

Pantomime pleasures

Attending the local pantomime as part of your theatre ventures can be a completely different theatrical experience. Interacting with the action on stage, pop songs twisted to suit the story and pyrotechnics make for a unique trip to the theatre. Saturday matinées are likely to be made up of mostly children, and performances can run through to the new year, and sometimes into January too. Pantomime can be a guilty pleasure for some, but for others it is a chance to relish in the Christmas spirit through the well-known story playing out on stage.

Telling the story concisely is imperative for audiences, keeping it fresh and energetic with jokes to suit the adults and pranks to suit the children. Some children who attend may not be familiar with the story of the pantomime, and it is important to engage them immediately by the characters and their journeys. However if the story is familiar, it needs to have new zeal in equal measure. New choreographers working with the company also help to keep the production relevant but injecting modern dance accompaniment to the traditions of pantomime.

Mixing old and new in pantomime ensures the show is relevant and does not feel dated, however some pantomime traditions are non-negotiable. Elements such as the pantomime baddie always entering from stage left and the goodie from stage right; the “oh no you didn’t”;the verbal comedy; the visual slapstick and the song sheet are all vital elements that audiences expect from attending. However, keeping the production contemporary engages audiences too, with cultural and social references that the audiences will enjoy.

Today there is a big audience expectation of high-quality productions which would be worthy of the West End, with highly skilled singers and dancers moving the show along. The company tends to be encouraged to play with their roles and develop them, whilst remaining convincing for the audience. Areas of the company such as the chorus are relied upon to be skilled in many areas, with highly polished movement and slick routines, all the time working together as a team.

Astrophysics through dance

During Manchester’s year as European City of Science 2016, Dance Manchester – the dance development organisation for Greater Manchester – collaborated with the Science & Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub of the University of Manchester to explore the communication of contemporary astrophysics through contemporary dance. Teaching astrophysics through dance has therefore been the project of both academics and dancers in Manchester, and through future collaboration it seems the team will instil an understanding of their similarities in the way the two sides work.

The idea behind the collaboration began when the Science & Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub was focusing on bringing dance to the Great Primary Science Share, an event held at Manchester Town Hall back in July. This led to the creation of Stellarium, a youth dance performance which moved on to communicating contemporary astrophysics through contemporary dance. Through the partnership both sides gained access to new expertise, contexts and audiences.

Over 200 primary school children saw Stellarium at the Great Primary Science Share, and it was also seen by secondary school students at the Great Science Share Takeover at the Museum of Science and Industry. It was performed at outdoor community events too, including Manchester Day, organised by Walk the Plank, and as part of Signatures Youth Dance Trail – a project with the Lowry – presented as part of UDance, the national youth dance festival. As a result, a new genre was profiled for dance.

Stellarium was led by an all-female team, bringing together a female choreographer alongside three female astrophysicists, arising from a partnership started by two female leaders. Both the dance and science sectors have issues around a limited profile for women so this is positive. Following the collaboration, Dance Manchester is now piloting Moving Space, a Stellarium spin-off, providing other schools and colleges with the opportunity to supplement the existing curriculum with this different approach to learning, using dance to communicate science.

All I want for Christmas…

New Year, New You is the phrase on many pairs of lips as we move swiftly towards 2017. Planning and meeting your dance resolutions can be a fun task, thinking about successes throughout the year and what you are going to work towards next year. Having new goals to aim for is hugely fulfilling in the aim to progress further along our dance journeys, and what better time to do this than the new year?

Aside from the aim to improve certain parts of your dance repertoire or skills, the new year can also be an ideal time to try a new dance class, or attend a class by a teacher you have not been taught by before. Fresh eyes on you and a fresh outlook to dance and teaching can give your dancing a boost as you discover a new technique, or discover your aptitude for a certain step or sequence. Attending open classes is a great way to achieve this aim – there can be lots to choose from! Be confident in class and embrace new challenges.

However, setting goals can be something very personal and individual to each dancer. Some dancers may prefer to focus on one goal, others may have an overarching aim for the year ahead. While there is no limit to your dancing dreams and goals you wish to master, success may be swifter by focusing on a select number of goals at one time. Measure your success periodically and keep yourself accountable for your goals – keep focusing on what you can do every day to move yourself a little closer to achieving it.

Whether it is becoming a better turner, learning a new dance skill or simply reaching out to new teachers or classes, there are many ways that you can strengthen and lengthen your dancing skills. Creating goals requires motivation, aspiration and moreover enjoyment, to continue propelling yourself forwards to achieve more.

On The Town by Drew McOnie

Fresh-faced yet up and coming choreographer Drew McOnie is set to direct and choreograph a new production of Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town, which will form part of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s new season. The Arts Educational Tring Park graduate has experienced unbounded success in his work as a choreographer, and it is expected that this production will be no different. The setting for this new work is both exciting and fresh, so it seems audiences are in for a treat.

McOnie will return to the theatre after choreographing the recent staging of Jesus Christ Superstar, which will also return to the outside theatre as part of the season,  alongside On The Town. Other productions being staged as part of the season include Dickens Uncovered, a series of performances celebrating the life of the novelist; A Tale of Two Cities, directed by Regent’s Park artistic director Timothy Sheader and adapted by Matthew Dunster; and Oliver Twist Created for Everyone Aged Six and Over, adapted by playwright Anya Reiss from Dickens’ original novel and directed by Caroline Byrne.

The summer of 2017 therefore looks set to delight with these productions hitting the stage. With two from McOnie, his success looks set to continue – other recent work from the young choreographer is Jekyll and Hyde in London, and Strictly Ballroom in Yorkshire. On the Town, which includes iconic song and dance numbers, such as “New York, New York” and “Lonely Town”, will be the biggest dance musical ever staged at the Open Air Theatre, it has been claimed. It will run from 19 May to 1 July with opening night on 25 May.

The already announced Jesus Christ Superstar will return to the theatre between 11 August to 16 September, with other productions slotting in too.

London’s new art centre

A new art centre in west London is being planned as part of a £10 million investment in the area, as a central hub. The proposals by Westway Trust will see film screenings, live music and theatre staged at the 1,000 capacity venue, which will also play a large role in the performance preparations for Notting Hill Carnival. The developments are expected to breathe new life into the area through the charity Westway Trust, which owns and manages the land.

The new facilities are expected to create 150 new jobs as well as apprenticeships, in a significant boost to the economy. Specifically, the arts and culture centre will have an all-day programme of events including film screenings, live music, theatre, arts workshops and exhibitions, year round. This will be sound-proofed and could therefore include backstage space for preparations for Notting Hill Carnival, as well as working to maintain the local arts festival Portobello Live!. Amongst many other social benefits of the development, the arts and culture side looks particularly promising.

Close by, a new stage and grassed performance area and children’s play area will also be created, aiming to encourage visitors to spend longer in the neighbourhood. To date the plans and proposals have been welcomed positively, building on the unique appeal of the area. The plans will provide improved spaces to enhance the area’s cultural life and benefit the community, in additional to making it more sustainable long-term.

Perhaps most important is the variety of opportunities for young people to begin their careers which will be available. Here the future looks particularly exciting, and will work to enhance the heritage of the much loved west London area. Following plans, exhibitions and consultations, the planning application for this development is thought to be submitted in 2017.