Birmingham Royal Ballet Summer Season

Birmingham Royal Ballet

The summer season of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome is set to delight its audiences and ignite the inner dancer in every single person who has the opportunity to see the performance. The residency will showcase polished pointe shoes dancing in the Midlands, from 20th to 30th June. The company’s hometown will host two programmes: David Bintley’s captivating production of Far From the Madding Crowd, and a mixed bill Summer Celebration.

Bintley, as Company Director and the award-winning creator of the Company’s huge Christmas hit Cinderella, enjoyed the world premiere of Far From the Madding Crowd in 1996 performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Sixteen years later, the company is returning to the Hippodrome with this same production, performed at the Company’s home theatre. As a tutu-laden balletic adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, passions are set to run out of control in an enticing story of lust, deceit and murder as the ballet tights become tangled. One woman is at the centre of it all, Bathsheba Everdene, entertaining complex relationships with three men as they compete for her love.

Summer Celebration, featuring The Grand Tour, Faster and The Dream, offers audiences a slice of Shakespeare, Noël Coward and Olympic dreams in a visual feast. Choreographer Joe Layton’s The Grand Tour is undoubtedly influenced by the many films and hit Broadway shows he has also been involved with. Evoking visions of the character shoes of the roaring 20s, The Grand Tour is a comical take on the eccentric celebrities that populated England’s stages, screens and newspapers in the era. Faster is a brand new ballet inspired by the Olympic motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, and comes from the award-winning team behind E=mc². After winning the last ever South Bank Show Dance award in 2010 with E=mc², Company Director David Bintley embarks on a second collaboration with renowned Australian composer Matthew Hindson. This ballet of speed, power and athleticism will be a fitting creation for the lead-up to London 2012, again tying tutus with trainers! Rounding off the triple bill is The Dream. Frederick Ashton’s magical creation rekindles the love and revenge of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with the comic values that truly enhance Ashton’s choreographic mastery of dance and theatre.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Place Prize 2012

The Place Price 2012The prestigious The Place Prize, sponsored by Bloomberg, has announced the commissioned artists who are to compete, unveiling another year of innovative contemporary dance, semi-professional dancers kitted out in their dancewear and the upcoming choreographic talent of the UK. As one of the most high-status dance awards, The Place Prize is returning for its 5th edition, premiering the commissions during The Place Prize Semi-finals in September.

16 new dance works have been commissioned from over 200 entries, a phenomenal interest and the highest number to date. By the end of summer 2012, The Place Prize will have enabled the creation of 92 pieces of new choreography, with an investment of over £1.2million in British dance. Since the cuts made to Arts Council funding by the government in April 2011, many dance organisations have had to reduce their activity, even preventing many leotards and ballet shoes seeing their familiar studio floor again.

The 16 entrants competing for The Place Prize have been awarded a total commission fund of £100,000 to realise their dance dreams, and the recipient artists will also benefit from free production time and support from The Place Prize team to create their pieces. The commissions encompass a wide range of contemporary styles, reflecting the sheer diversity of today’s dance scene in Britain.

The commissioned artists include former Place Prize Finalists (2011) Riccardo Buscarini and Eva Recacha, and Place Prize Semi-finalists Ben Ash (2006), Ben Wright (2006; 2008), and Darren Ellis (2010). In addition to previous alumni, Jonathon Goddard, the first contemporary dancer to win the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Best Male Dancer in 2008 and fellow Rambert dancer Gemma Nixon are also involved. Mamoru Iriguchi, a self-taught performance maker who originally trained as a zoologist, and then a theatre designer, has also been commissioned. His work was first seen on The Place stage during Resolution! 2011, another choreographic platform. As only the 5thversion of The Place Prize platform, who knows what choreographic talent it may uncover.

National Tap Dance Day

Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson & Shirley Temple

November 1989 saw the declaration of May 25th as National Tap Dance Day: as Representative John Conyers of Michigan said, “there ought to be a law to make everyone love tap dancing”. National Tap Dance Day for the US has since become more widely known, and is celebrated as far away as Japan, Australia, India and Iceland, with tap shoes tapping far and wide.

Celebrated on the agreed-upon birthday of legendary tap pioneer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, National Tap Dance Day became a symbol for African American tap, as historically many were unaware of its specific contribution to tap recognised today. National Tap Dance Day was a result of Carol Vaughn, Nicola Daval, and Linda Christensen’s passion for all things tap. After much discussion, the three picked Bill Robinson’s birthday because he was a tap dancer known and loved worldwide for his work onstage and in films. To tap insiders, Robinson was renowned for dancing on the ball of the foot, in split wooden soles, and in perfect time. Tap has evolved considerably since then, and tap shoe brands such as Capezio and Bloch have built up their images as a result.

Carol Vaughn was one of tap’s great impresarios from the 1970s tap revival and once tapped up and down the steps of the Washington Monument in “I Ain’t A’Fred A’staires”. In a 1994 article for the International Tap Dance Association’s newsletter, Vaughn and Daval emphasised that although “tap dance was experiencing renewed popularity, there was still little public awareness of tap beyond a few Broadway shows, old Fred Astaire movies, and the occasional concert or TV special featuring several of the great master tappers”. They felt there had to be a way to increase recognition of tap’s contribution to cultural and artistic heritage, to bring its special appeal to everyone.

Today, tap receives great recognition, and one can only imagine where the world’s tap shoes will be travelling next.

Rambert Dance Company in 2012

Rambert Dance Company

In light of Rambert Dance Company’s move to their new building on London’s South Bank, a time capsule is due to be buried in the foundations as they are being laid, and the company has invited its fans to share their favourite memories of Rambert.  Be it the nude leotards of Rambert’s recreation of Merce Cunningham’s RainForest (1968) or the jazz shoe wearing recreation of Carnival Of The Animals (2008), Rambert has created a multitude of experiences to delight every dance and theatre lover. The time capsule is designed to be opened in 100 years time, a clear indicator of the desire of Rambert Dance Company to continue in such successful stead that is demonstrated today in the 21st century.

2012 alone has been a year packed full of exciting notions for Rambert Dance Company, as every year has revealed to date. For example, dancer Gemma Nixon was involved with the Dance UK healthy eating conference, speaking alongside renowned artistic directors and choreographers and extending the reach of the dance world further than the illusion of the perfectly arched pointe shoe and petite tutu wearing ballerina. Additionally, returning Artistic Director Mark Baldwin has been remembering his ten years with Rambert in a monthly article on the Rambert website, the most recent focusing on 2005, and the continuous success and prestigious work of Rambert Dance Company.

The Rambert programme at Sadler’s Wells of 2012 (15th-19th May) contains four diverse dance works. New work What Wild Ecstasy by Mark Baldwin is set to a new score commissioned by New Music 20×12 as part of the Cultural Olympiad… making it London with leotards! A modern-day take by Rambert on Nijinsky’s 100 year old L’Après-midi d’un faune (1912) is also included, the influential work revived by the Company for the first time in almost 30 years, combining the old with the new and maintaining the professional service of Rambert. Critically acclaimed Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili of multi award-nominated A Linha Curva (2009) is also involved with Rambert’s stint at Sadler’s Wells with Sub, a new work for seven male dancers. Siobhan Davies’ irascibly fast The Art of Touch (1995) completes the programme, often described by critics as “Davies at her best”. One can only wonder what 2013 will bring, let alone the next 100 years!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Darcey Bussell Elected as President of RAD

Darcey Bussell

World-renowned Prima Ballerina Darcey Bussell CBE has been elected as President of the Royal Academy of Dance, becoming the fourth President in the organisation’s 92 year history. RAD is an international dance teacher education and training organisation with approximately 13,000 members in 79 countries. The Academy promotes the knowledge, practice and understanding of dance internationally through educating and training of dance teachers and dance students and providing examinations to reward achievement and spread the influence of dance further.

Whilst not returning to her tutu and pointe shoes, Bussell follows in the footsteps of Dame Antoinette Sibley who retired in April after 21 years. As one of the world’s most influential dance training organisations, Bussell is to join RAD at a time of growth and increasing public interest in all forms of dance, encouraging more and more people to engage with the art and dust off their dance shoes. Since her retirement from the stage in 2007, Bussell has continued to be active in the dance world, embodying huge passion and vigour for the sustainment of the art form in light of the many cuts to funding made by the Arts Council England in April 2011. Despite much disappointing news for dance organisations all over the country, tap shoes, character shoes and jazz shoes alike prevailed, continuing to dance and transforming 2012 into a huge “dance year”.

Bussell’s passion for all forms of dance makes her the ideal candidate for the role of President, and an ideal role model to lead RAD towards its centenary in 2020, investing in the future of dance for the whole sector. As an organisation that engaged with national and international projects alike, RAD hopes to remain at the forefront of dance education and training, providing a wealth of resources for all its members and making an outstanding contribution to dance. RAD prides itself on providing some of the very best quality of training for dancers worldwide, combining quality with enjoyment and the love of dance.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Big Dance 2012 – Sadler’s Wells and Wayne McGregor

Sadler's WellsAs part of the Big Dance 2012 Schools Pledge, Sadler’s Wells will join schools and venues across the world in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Dance Routine – Multi Venue’, on 18th May at 1:00pm, to coincide with the arrival of the Olympic torch relay in the UK. Big Dance is one of the world’s biggest and most influential dance festivals, featuring dance in unusual spaces and showcasing the diversity of dance styles in the capital and across the UK.

The Record Breaker event will see thousands of school children dancing a specially created 5 minute work by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist, CBE Wayne McGregor. In light of the upcoming Olympic events, sport and dance have never been combined so closely, seemingly working to encourage children and young people to don their dancewear, pop on their jazz sneakers and get involved. Over 60 local residents and children from local schools are expected to gather in Sadler’s Wells’ main foyer. The current record is held by the Netherlands with 264,188 people in 1,472 locations and it is estimated around 600,000 school children across 20,000 schools in the UK will be taking part in the attempt, with schools in 55 other countries around the world also taking part.

The choreography has been devised to depict different Olympic sports, including fencing, rowing, running and basketball, emphasising the accessibility of dance aside from the stereotypical leotard and ballet shoes. Big Dance is one of the principle projects of the Cultural Olympiad’s London 2012 Festival, and the record attempt will mark the official countdown period to the Big Dance Festival (7th – 15th July). This will be concluded with another mass Wayne McGregor performance on 14th July, when one thousand school children will perform a specially commissioned McGregor work in Trafalgar Square. Such a fantastic and fun opportunity cannot be passed by, especially by those who have never had the opportunity before to engage with dance. A unique moment will be shared by all those involved, conveying the utmost passion and unison with regards to the art form that has prevailed throughout history.

Dance Accessories For Injury Prevention

Injury Prevention For Dancers

To enhance your lines, for a stronger body and an improved performance we have a range of essential dance accessories for the dancer eager to excel. However, it is vitally important to warm up properly to look after your body correctly, as it is the instrument with which to fulfil your dance desires… and if it is not cared for, it can be easily damaged.

Kitting yourself out in the latest dancewear, such as redesigned foot thongs and innovative leotards will not protect your body from the rigours of dance. Dancers wearing the newest jazz trainers and cover-ups must work hard to prolong their dance training and career using the right techniques and methods for their own body.

For example, the Original Deuserband is a classic, physio-therapeutical training band which is incredibly strong, working to flex muscles and increase fitness, strength and flexibility. Specifically for increased leg flexibility, the Deuserband is used worldwide by professional dancers as an aid to their training.

Latex resistance bands, such as those designed by Bunheads, are also used by dancers of all levels to target specific areas of the body that require strengthening. They are particularly useful for young dancers who are preparing for pointe work, and for exercise aiding injury recovery, displaying their ultimate versatility and usefulness.

An additional product which aids strength, and is also extremely useful for dancers preparing to wear pointe shoes is the Wobbleboard. It is also recommended by physiotherapists, working to strengthen the ankles to prevent injury.

Another versatile product is the Theraball, which targets all the major muscle groups for a full body workout, whilst aiding stretching and strengthening. Exercise balls of all sizes are renowned for their revolutionary design and purpose, often used for strengthening the core and upper body. In this essence, the Theraball is vital to maintain and dancing body’s dynamics and prolong dance lives.

Image courtesy of adria.richards at Flickr.

Celebrating Martha Graham

Martha Graham & Bertram Ross in "Visionary recital", June 27 1961

Today is Martha Graham’s birthday!

It is important to note the profound influence Graham had over the development of modern dance, and to how it is referred today. Throughout her life from May 11th 1894 to April 1st 1991, Graham established her dance and choreographic career over the span of 70 years, and is now considered the mother of modern dance, having created a fully codified modern dance technique. Graham choreographed 181 masterpiece dance compositions during her lifetime, each of which utilise specific movements of her technique, such as the contraction, release and spiral.

The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance was established in 1926, through which Graham was, and still is, renowned for her intense, dramatic portrayals of life through movement. This signalled the beginning of a new era in modern dance, with tutus and pointe shoes falling by the wayside as block-coloured unitards, extravagant costumes and bare feet took to centre stage. Costume continues to be an important aspect of the Graham repertoire, reflecting the nature of the works performed by the company, perhaps the most famous being Graham’s Lamentation in which she wore a tube-shaped Lycra costume in her portrayal of grief.

To celebrate what would have been Graham’s 117th birthday in 2011, Google dedicated their logo to the life and legacy of Graham for a day, demonstrating the sheer influence Graham had over the United States, regardless of the rest of the world and the dance industry (see our article about the Martha Graham Google Doodle). Echoed through her use of costume – from, for example, dressing male dancers in traditional ballet tights to showcasing their leanness in minimal underwear today – Graham caused dance to evolve, adding further abstraction and creativity to the twentieth century and beyond. She has inspired numerous artists from all genres within the world of the arts and revolutionised dance by creating an entire movement vocabulary that is still celebrated today.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Youth Dance England’s Young Creatives

Youth Dance England

May 4th marked the showcasing of the spectacular work born of the Youth Dance England Young Creatives at the Royal Opera House, demonstrating the sheer talent of young choreographers. 12 works were premiered in a variety of dance styles created by the participants selected to take part in the programme, delivered by Youth Dance England in partnership with the Royal Opera House and The Royal Ballet School.

Each year, YDE Young Creatives aims to support young choreographers aged 15-19 and their dance passions in order to improve their skills and understanding of choreography, and consequently create a dance piece. The programme included a Skill Boosting Weekend, which took place in January, where participants had the opportunity to improve their understanding of the choreographic process. A 3 month mentoring period followed this, where the young choreographers were each paired with professionals for their new creations, enabling them to gain an insight into the world of choreography and increase their knowledge of the sector. The penultimate experience was seen through a 4 day residential at The Royal Ballet School’s White Lodge, where the participants sported their dance practice-wear and took part in workshops, working closely with their peers and the experienced professionals to refine their pieces.

The Young Creatives’ journey culminated with their performance at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre, performed by their dancers and shown off to the audience, the dance genres hosting fantastic tap shoe, ballet shoe and leotard-clad talent. The performance was introduced by renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor, Artistic Director of Wayne McGregor|Random Dance and the Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, the epitome of “choreography”. McGregor’s fusion of pointe shoes and his fluid, abstract contemporary dance represents an important strand of the Young Creatives ethos, famous nationwide for the refreshing creativity of its participants and the high standards of performances.

One wonders what the 2013 programme will bring!