Pairings in the ballroom

With Strictly fever gripping its audience, it is clear to see the some of the professional dancers have been luckier than others when it comes to their pairings. A successful ballroom dance partnership can never be taken for granted – it involves working together solidly and trusting each other, and is so much more than just avoiding arguments whilst training! The partnership requires equal investment from both sides and a commitment to both personal and professional presence.

Communication is key – focus on the steps rather than your partner if something is not going quite to plan. Building resentment in each other will see the end of the partnership, rather than neutralising any comments you need to make. This is in order to keep you both focused on your dancing, and not whether to stay in the partnership. That said, disagreements are natural and are sometimes required to move forwards with the choreography or relationship. They must not, however, become personal and unnecessary.

Your partner is not just your partner, but someone who is able to help you learn more. Each partner has skills, experience and passion that may be similar, but there will always be something that will enhance and benefit the other’s dancing. The partnership will get stronger very quickly when you seek information and ideas of the other to support your own learning. Learning is not only via the steps, but through each other too as your connection increases and reinforces your dance talents. Being able to understand and respond to the feeling and energy of your partner is paramount.

Practising together is of course vital, but practising apart will also help you grow as a couple and develop faster. This means you can work on challenging areas and aid your own skills, such as on specific goals like timing, choreography, technique or a coaches’ feedback. Through this, constructive feedback will help the process, helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Acosta Danza

The UK premiere of Acosta Danza, the new dance company founded by Cuban dancer and ballet star Carlos Acosta, was announced last month by Sadler’s Wells. It is a Sadler’s Wells International Associate Company, joining fellow International Associate Companies Rosas and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, which were appointed last year. The company will consequently perform at Sadler’s Wells in late September 2017 before a UK tour, with Acosta making a guest appearance as part of the programme.

The debut programme of Acosta Danza includes work by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, as well as Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero, and Cuban choreographer Marianela Boan. Following its UK premiere, Acosta Danza will tour to Salford, Birmingham, Southampton, Brighton and Edinburgh, with further cities to be announced. Internationally, the company will perform at Lodz Festival in Poland, Chekhov Festival in Russia, and at Festspielhaus St Pölten.

Acosta set up Acosta Danza in Cuba since retiring from The Royal Ballet last year. Under his artistic directorship, Acosta Danza is based in Havana and features a mixture of the finest ballet and contemporary dancers Cuba has to offer, with the company highlighting the vibrancy and richness of Cuban culture, history and its artists. The company will develop its contemporary work, whilst also using elements of classical ballet. For Acosta, the company is an aspiration that has grown out of his vision as an artist, over the past twenty-five years of his professional career.

The premiere of Acosta Danza is produced by Sadler’s Wells and Valid Productions, a co-production with The Movement and Festspielhaus St Pölten. Valid Productions has been a promoter of the performing arts in the UK and Europe since 2009. It has always worked closely with Carlos Acosta, and was the co-producer of his Classical Farewell Tour in 2016.

Encore radio

A new radio station dedicated entirely to musical theatre was launched on 24 October, a coup for fans of the genre who are missing this type of broadcast from their radio selections. The new station is called Encore Radio, which will feature former Blue singer Duncan James and ex-Classic FM DJ James Crick as presenters, taking audiences on a musical theatre journey as they listen.

The station will play a mix of West End and Broadway songs as well as including news, weather and features in its content. The station playlist will be changed monthly and will feature hits from current West End shows – such as Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera – in order to enthuse and delight the audiences that tune in. To listen to Encore, download the app for tablet and smartphones, listen online and on DAB radios across London and the south east.

The new Encore radio station is not the first of its kind in terms of the genre it covers, with others such as Jem radio also providing this sort of content. BBC Radio 2 also features its weekly Elaine Paige programme in which she pre-records a similar show to Encore’s whole premise, just part of the many features of the mainstream station. However, Encore will run for seven days a week for 24 hours a day and be constantly on air in order to deliver all it promises.

In addition to its presenters and musical theatre playlists, the station will also see lots of showbiz names dropping in to chat, interspersed with many favourite musical theatre tracks and show tunes.

Combining arts in Salisbury

Three of Salisbury’s leading arts organisations are set to join forces in a bid to secure more backing for the future: currently they collectively receive over £1m a year from Arts Council England. The Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival, Salisbury Arts Centre and Salisbury Playhouse look likely to combine their programmes to attract greater audiences in terms of numbers and diversity, becoming more sustainable for the future.

The organisations would develop a new joint artistic offer for the city’s residents, visitors and wider Wiltshire community, with some new ideas coming to fruition. While discussions are still in the early stages, it is expected that a decision will be made by Christmas. The discussions have come about as a result of an independent report, which was commissioned by the three arts organisations and funded by Wiltshire Council and Arts Council England. It looked at how the city venues work, in light of how they could collaborate more closely.

Whilst the arts organisations already collaborate and collectively engage with audiences of over 180,000 across the year, they also raise the city’s profile at a regional, national and international level. Joining together could spell a deeper relationship between them, a closer collaboration and an even stronger arts offering for the area. As a result, the three’s trustees believe working closer together could deliver a stronger case to public funders and secure a better future for audiences, artists and participants.

The organisations therefore hope that a combined programme could attract an increased number of audiences, by expanding their geographic reach and increasing the diversity of audiences by bringing together their artistic strengths. This could also bring more opportunities to work with artists and partners at a local, regional and national level through more joint working, consequently maximising commercial potential.

Tricycle Theatre creates six new theatre companies

Tricycle Theatre – based in Kilburn – recently created six new theatre companies through its work with six venues across the borough of Brent in London. Five of the new companies will be specifically for young people, and one of which will be for all ages. The new initiative is hoped to engage with the communities of Brent, naming the scheme Mapping Brent. The work the young companies produce next year will be a clear indicator of what matters to them and how they view the world today.

As a result, the companies will stage workshops, events and activities in Neasden, South Kilburn, Stonebridge, Wembley Park, Harlesden and Kilburn, providing new opportunities for people across the borough, especially younger audiences on which the initiative is focused. This comes at an apt time, amongst news that arts GCSE numbers are decreasing – this could provide a boost to counter these figures next year.

The playwrights and directors involved in the new project include Sonali Bhattacharyya, Cressida Brown, Toby Clarke, Tinuke Craig, Emma Dennis Edwards, Shereen Jasmin-Phillips, Chino Odimba, Nadia Papachronopoulou, Toby Peach and Somalia Seaton. These individuals will lead the project, which has been funded by the Brent London Borough Council, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, John Lyons and Arts Council England.

The members of the companies who will be involved in the project have been drawn from the local community, and will begin working on their acting skills over 20 sessions. The project will then culminate in six new performance pieces which will be staged in spring 2017, providing young people with a voice through the theatre. This is more vital in the twenty-first century than ever before, then providing a platform on which these voices can be heard.

Dance Consortium’s 40th UK Tour ​

Dance Consortium, the group of 17 large scale theatre venues located across the UK, recently announced its 40th UK Tour, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba’s​ ​UK Tour 2017. Last seen in the UK in 2012, Cuba’s vibrant flagship contemporary dance company will present a programme choreographed by some of today’s most sought-after choreographic names. The 2017 UK tour opens at Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham on 14 February and concludes at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury on 18 March.

For more than five decades, since the company was founded by Ramiro Guerra in 1959, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba’s dance blend of African-Caribbean rhythms, jazzy American modernism and influences from classical European ballet has evoked the Cuban spirit through vigorous and highly physical contemporary dance. Now under the directorship of Miguel Iglesias, the company will present three UK premieres during its UK tour- a mixed bill of recently created work by three top choreographers: Belgian-Colombian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; the UK’s Theo Clinkard; and the Cuban George Céspedes.

The company was founded under the name of Conjunto de Danza Moderna, created from the National Theatre’s dance department. In 1962 it was renamed Conjunto Nacional de Danza Moderna, became Danza Nacional de Cuba in 1974 and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in 1987. As Cuba’s flagship dance company, the most prominent figures of the Cuban dance scene have started their illustrious careers with it. The company’s unique style is rooted in the principles of Cuban modern dance technique, blended with a mix of black and white cultural heritage influenced by Cuba’s African and Spanish ancestors, African-Caribbean rhythms, jazzy American modernism and classical European ballet.

After Nottingham, the company will tour to Salford Quays, Newcastle, Cardiff, Plymouth, Brighton, Inverness, Edinburgh and Canterbury​. ​​

Historical surviving theatres

The Theatre and the Hope were the first and last playhouses built in Elizabethan London; today their archaeological remains have been given listed status, joining the Rose and the Globe as protected monuments of 16th and 17th century theatre. Of the two Elizabethan playhouses, the Theatre is said to have seen the first performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, becoming the site of three bear-baiting pits in that area of London.

The Theatre was built in 1576/77 by James Burbage, on the junction of Curtain Road and New Inn Yard in Hackney, and a number of companies, including the Lord Chamberlain’s Company – which included William Shakespeare – were associated with it. It is believed to have been the first playhouse in which Hamlet was performed, in 1596 with Richard Burbage as the lead. Ahead of this, it is believed that Christopher Marlow’s Faustus was staged at the theatre in 1592.

The remains of the Theatre now lie beneath a modern mixed-use building in Hackney. It seems Burbage’s sons dismantled the theatre in late December 1598 after financial dispute, and moved reusable parts south of the Thames to Bankside for use in construction of their new venture, the Globe. The Hope was the last of the playhouses of the era, opening in approximately 1614 as a new building that would be a joint theatre and bear-baiting arena.

The first play performed at the Hope was Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, but animal baiting and other entertainment gradually took over the plays and the acting company left the Hope in 1617. It was ordered to close down by Parliament in 1643 but continued to operate until it was dismantled in 1656, the remains of which are located beneath a car park on the southern side of Riverside House on Southwark Bridge Road. Despite this, the archaeological remains provide small insights into this period in the history of theatre, of the first and last Elizabethan playhouses to be built in London.

Theatre for Lazarus

In the heart of London, a mid-scale 960-seat theatre has been built in just seven weeks in order to host the new David Bowie musical, Lazarus. The musical has already had a limited run in Manhattan, New York opening in December 2016, just a month before the singer’s death in early 2016. In its transfer to London, the production is eagerly awaited by both musical theatre and Bowie fans.

The new pop-up theatre has been staged on a patch of land near King’s Cross station, London. It seems producer Robert Fox had turned down several West End venues for the new musical before partnering with the King’s Cross Theatre in order to build the new venue, which will eventually become home to Google’s new HQ. The site houses a total of three theatres, and has already been home to The Railway Children for almost two years. It shares a venue with US musical In The Heights, while the Donmar Warehouse’s new Shakespeare season has taken on another theatre there too.

This new site seems hugely apt for the London production of Lazarus, as the venue is in no way a conventional West End theatre. Lazarus too – co-written by Bowie – is not a conventional West End musical, so fits in well in the King’s Cross area. The set for the show, which stars Dexter actor Michael C Hall as an alien trapped on Earth, was installed during October, ready for the influx of audiences.

Fox has expressed his delight at being part of a theatre complex that includes a new building for the Donmar season of Shakespeare, adding Lazarus to this exciting prospect. It seems King’s Cross is the perfect solution for the show, away from the West End and bright lights.

Dancing superstition

Superstition is something everyone is familiar with, regardless of whether they give it value or not. For dancers, holding superstitions is more commonplace, whether it is completing the same pre-show routine or touching a certain spot in the theatre before they go on stage, as for them this guarantees their performance in some way personal to them. This unspoken agreement or deal the dancer does with the theatre is something born from the same deal between the audience and performer, in suspending disbelief in the name of theatre and entertainment.

General superstitions can include things like a black cat crossing your path (meaning something bad will happen), a broken mirror resulting in seven years of bad luck and the same for walking under a ladder. It is said that superstitious beliefs attached to the theatre originated in the cities of Europe, particularly where ballet predominated. Even today these theatres have associated superstitions and ghost stories, which some dancers – but not all – particularly invest in.

Some say there should always be a light left on in an empty theatre, which can be to either ward off ghosts or just provide the ghosts with enough light to see. Failure to provide this may anger the ghosts, leading to pranks and other mishaps, and some in the theatre community think it is better to be on the safe side and leave a light on just in case. A less extreme case is the belief that a good dress rehearsal will bring bad luck for the performance itself. For plays, it is also deemed unlucky to speak the last line of a show before the production opens.

Perhaps the best known superstition surrounds wishing a performer good luck. Doing so before a performance is considered very unlucky, so one should say “break a leg” to an actor, which is symbolic of “taking a bow” at the end of a worthy performance, and wish a dancer “merde”, which – through historic tradition – equates to “watch your step”.

Dance conventions

Dance conventions and exhibitions take place all over the world, both large and small. Usually taking place over a full weekend, they can sometimes be loud and intimidating for a first experience. However, as overwhelming as they may be, they are a lot of fun too. They are a great opportunity to learn new dance styles, take classes from teachers and professionals at the top of their game and network with peers and potential individuals who may one day teach you or hire you for a job.

Many dancers at these events like to stand out in each class they take, despite the quick changeover between different dance genres and classes. Layer up your outfit as it may be cold early on, but will quickly warm up with those other hundreds of dancers. Make sure you have all the dance shoes with you that you may possibly need, as well as some socks if you are doing commercial contemporary, the genre that requires them!

Ensure you are properly warmed up before the day begins – you want to look good, but make sure you’re able to perform at your best, and safely too. Be aware of the dancers and the space around you so you don’t injure yourself or anyone else by being too enthusiastic in too small a space. You may need to move to another spot in the studio where you have more freedom, or even learn at the back, then dance full-out when you’ve broken into groups. It is simply good etiquette to remain in your assigned group, moving to the side so the dancers performing have enough room while you are waiting.

Attending a convention is not always about being noticed, but about learning something new from someone new. Be present in the room and willing to try new things, work hard and become a better dancer.