Sleeping Beauties

The Sleeping Beauty - The Royal Ballet 2008

Whilst the legendary classical ballet creation The Nutcracker is usually in abundance during the holiday season all over the world, it seems there may be another contender for 2012 in the form of The Sleeping Beauty.

English National Ballet has just publicised its casting for the 2012 production. Newly appointed Artistic Director Tamara Rojo has not laid her pointe shoes and tutu aside just yet, as she will be filling the shoes of Princess Aurora on selected dates, partnered by the young, talented Principal Vadim Muntagirov. As one of the world’s favourite fairytales, the ENB version of the plot sees the enchanting magic of castles and curses, with fairy interludes. Accompanying this well-loved tale, Tchaikovsky’s score is featured heavily amongst Kenneth MacMillan’s unmistakeable choreography, as well as including the score of Once Upon a Dream as used in the trademark Sleeping Beauty version by Walt Disney.

On the alternative side of the coin, Matthew Bourne will be re-imagining the classic story with the world premiere of his own version of Sleeping Beauty, in the culmination of New Adventures’ 25th birthday. This particular production of Bourne’s will complete his tiara trio of ballet masterworks that began with Nutcracker! and progressed to the international smash hit Swan Lake. As with all Bourne’s works, the timeless fairytale from 1890 is turned on its gothic head and jumps forwards a century to the present day. The now supernatural love story pushes beyond the constraints of time in true Bourne style.

Spreading the influence of The Sleeping Beauty this year includes a host of Sleeping Beauty events from ENB, enabling ballet fans to experience the world of ballet through talks, masterclasses and dance workshops in theatres on tour and in London, allowing even the smallest Lilac Fairies to don their tights and satin shoes. For Bourne’s production, to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary, Sadler’s Wells has hosted talks throughout the year focusing on aspects of Bourne’s work and his long association with the theatre, with Sleeping Beauty being the final instalment. In this particular talk, Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director Alistair Spalding will talk to Bourne about the premiere, as well as his plans and hopes for the next 25 years of New Adventures.

Whichever version you choose, The Sleeping Beauty is not to be missed!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A Chorus Line Revived

"A Chorus Line" Original Broadway Windowcard

With shouts of “…and 5, 6, 7, 8” resonating all over the country, the legendary Broadway production A Chorus Line is returning to the UK. Dust off your leotards as Michael Bennett’s Tony Award-winning production will be revived for the first time in 35 years, in London next year, opening at the West End’s London Palladium on 19 February 2013.

Full of high-cut leotards and tan character shoes, A Chorus Line is to be directed by Bob Avian, who also directed the 2006 Tony-nominated Broadway production, with this production being dedicated to Marvin Hamlisch, the composer who wrote the music, who died in August this year. Avian was Bennett’s long-term collaborator and his co-choreographer on the original production, and again for the long-rumoured revival. A Chorus Line won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama when it opened on Broadway in 1975 and went on to become the then longest-running musical on Broadway, reaching 6,137 performances. It transferred to the West End the following year, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.  In 1985, it was made into a Hollywood film directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Michael Douglas as the demanding director putting his dancers – including one ex-lover – through their paces.

The story focuses on 17 hopefuls auditioning for just eight places in a new Broadway musical with its famous score including number such as “I Hope I Get It”, “Sing!” and, most memorably, “One (Singular Sensation)”. The auditionees describe the events which have shaped their lives and their decisions to be dancers. Based on true stories, A Chorus Line revolutionised Broadway.

The London revival is booking until 13 July 2013, with open auditions being held on 1 October 2012 for male and female performers aged 18 to 35… so grab your legwarmers and take to the stage!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wayne McGregor and John Travolta

Wayne McGregor

Wayne McGregor CBE, the resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, has revealed that he first became interested in dance while growing up in the 1970s. It was seeing John Travolta in Grease and Saturday Night Fever at the cinema that made him realise that was the type of dancing he wanted to do, with those moves and dance forms the ones he began to imitate, which many a jazz shoe clad dancer may still emanate today. Shaking his hips and donning his flares and high-heeled boots, Wayne McGregor set out on a dance journey that he probably would never have guessed would lead him to one of the most prestigious, tutu wearing ballet companies in the world: The Royal Ballet.

McGregor’s parents encouraged him to be academic, but also gave him the confidence to try anything. He went on to take part in amateur dramatics, organise tea dances and form his own dance company (Wayne McGregor | Random Dance) but never set out to hold such a key post at The Royal Ballet. One of McGregor’s most recent works, Carbon Life, saw a very different style of ballet: black ‘block’ pointe shoes dominated the stage, accentuating the lines of the leg in a different capacity through abstract, cube-like costumes, a far cry from McGregor’s Travolta inspiration!

McGregor has revealed that he is obsessed with the technology of the body, reflecting the values of Carbon Life and at an extension, creating super-human bodies for his dancers. In addition to his contemporary and classical credits, McGregor is also known for choreographing Radiohead’s Lotus Flower video and for serving as movement director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire… both of which lacked leotards and ballet shoes! Part of McGregor’s aim is to continually find a way to communicate ideas through the body to audiences in order to help them think differently about the world around them… and dance itself.

Image courtesy of body_pixel on Flickr.

Body Conditioning

Body Conditioning for Dancers

For dancers, being fit to dance is natural, inevitable, and above all stating the obvious. Hours taking class, rehearsing and performing are all perfect ways to hone your dancing body and become the greatest athlete you can. In terms of dance, that is: many dancers are only fit to dance rather than being fit in a number of different disciplines. Forget pointe shoes, leotards and ballet barres, dancers also need to cross-train in order to excel. Being physically fit means that injury is less likely, but if it does occur, it also means you have various other methods to aid the healing process.

A famous study at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York (1975) compared forms of sport in a study, including dance, in terms of the athletes’ fitness capabilities. Ballet was ranked as one of the top disciplines, requiring high levels of strength, endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular ability. However, in order to maintain this wellbeing and fitness as a dancer, other forms of exercise must be carried out in order to complement your dance life.

For example, swimming is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise that will set dancers on their way to becoming fitter in a more general sense, enabling their bodies to withstand more than the (sometimes gruelling) demands of dance. In fact, any other cardiovascular activity has great results affecting dancers’ longevity for strength and power, co-ordination, flexibility and aerobic endurance (as dance is a predominantly anaerobic activity in which the dancer performs short bursts of high-energy activity rather than aerobic where the energy demands are more even)… you will not find ballet tights or Therabands in the pool or on the running track!

Other complementary activities include Pilates, the Franklin Method, Alexander technique and the Feldenkrais Method, enabling the body to adapt, as well as improving the alignment of the skeleton, for example. As soon as dancers stop working or conditioning their bodies, they start to ‘de-condition’’ and reverse, which can happens quickly, so it is important to keep using your physical capabilities outside the studio.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

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!

Scottish Ballet’s Plans Under Christopher Hampson

Scottish Ballet

Under its new Artistic Director, Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet has recently unveiled its plans and aspirations for the foreseeable future.

Scottish Ballet is the national dance company of Scotland, albeit the smallest of the national ballet companies in the UK, but this does not mean that Scottish Ballet are treading lightly on the rest of the ballet shoes of the dance community. The Company is looking forward to enriching, enthusing and engaging with communities, participants and audiences, tutus and all. In partnership with the Royal Academy of Dance and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, it was announced Scottish Ballet will present the Genée International Ballet Competition in Glasgow in 2013 from 20- 29 September.

Commissioning new work is just one of the other ways that Scottish Ballet is extending its reach with many female choreographers such as ex-dancer with Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt Helen Pickett, Associate Choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theater Crystal Pite and Royal Ballet Soloist Kristen McNally, in addition to Scottish Ballet being among the first to commission a brand-new work from 22-year-old London Contemporary Dance School graduate James Cousins who has just presented his first work at Sadler’s Wells. Cousins won the New Adventures Choreographer Award, set up by director and choreographer Matthew Bourne OBE and coincidently co-judged by Hampson. The Company will be working with a wide range of choreographers that will allow the Company to broaden the existing repertoire and produce new work in original ways for the usually leotard and tights clad dancers. The Company is also in talks with major international promoters and arts festivals in order to explore innovative ways to present their work.

For the first time, Scottish Ballet will present the work of five-time Olivier Award-winning Bourne which will grant the Company an exclusive license to Bourne’s Highland Fling, inspired by La Sylphide. Scottish Ballet will tour Highland Fling across Scotland in spring 2013, spreading both Bourne’s and the Company’s influence.

Hampson’s creative leadership will not only see him choreograph, but also embrace the imagination of the people of Scotland and beyond. Beginning in autumn 2012, Scottish Ballet will launch Hansel & Gretel, and Me, a new project that connects creation to education and merges artistic expression with real life, giving communities the chance to participate in ballet in the broadest possible sense.

Image courtesy of the www.theedinburghblog.co.uk on Flickr.

The Carlos Acosta Centre for Dance

National Art Schools (Cuba)

Royal Ballet principal guest artist star Carlos Acosta has revealed his brainchild, a scheme to complete the five national arts schools in Havana, Cuba, originally thought up by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in1961. The schools were never finished, but now fifty years later a new project is underway to transform the site into a world class ballet school. Acosta, leaving his own ballet shoes and ballet tights aside, wants to provide a platform and focus for young people to explore hidden talents and develop their skill and help them make positive choices in life, while raising both the awareness and quality of dance to a new level.

The scheme is to be backed by the Cuban government, with the project set to create a new ballet school, with Acosta’s vision aiming for people from all over the world will come to the centre to learn new skills. Students will learn a variety of different styles of dance, from ballet to tango, donning practice shoes and Cuban heels accordingly. There will be workshops and masterclasses and short courses throughout the summer and winter, a sign of how ambitious the project is comes with the cost: a total of $3.5m will be needed just to restore the existing buildings on the site.

Internationally renowned British architect Lord Foster is involved in the project, who will be sticking to the previous plans for the original ballet school at the site. The Carlos Acosta Centre for Dance will complete the legacy of the arts school campus in Havana to inspire future generations of performers, under the talents of Acosta.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Dance Umbrella 2012

Dance UmbrellaIn October this year, Dance Umbrella will present a very different festival than is usually presented, co-curated by Artistic Director Betsy Gregory and choreographer Jonathan Burrows. Dance Umbrella 2012 will run from 5 to 14 October, presented in the Platform Theatre at the new Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in King’s Cross, in addition to two site-specific works in the surrounding area.

Dance Umbrella has been bringing new dance to London since 1978, inspired by the dynamism of the city of London, bringing together artists and events, from ballet shoes, to jazz shoes, to leotards, to foot thongs. Each year, Dance Umbrella succeeds in surprising and thrilling its audiences, once presented in numerous venues all over London, and for 2012 settling in one main venue in the centre of the city. Dance Umbrella champions itself in commissioning, producing and presenting dance events, staging one of the world’s leading international dance festivals.

Dance Umbrella prides itself on the dance experiences it provides for its audiences by presenting a range of affordable and free-to-view events in unusual spaces. The team involved also aims to identify, nurture, support and showcase the most exciting talent in new dance, offering artists the benefits of long-term relationships and identifying the most appropriate platform for the work programmed.

As an accessible, flexible organisation with an incredibly international outlook, Dance Umbrella is committed to collaborating and creating new partnerships in presenting the highest quality new dance, trends and aspirations through performances and participatory opportunities. Just last year Dance Umbrella programmed the world-renowned Merce Cunningham Dance Company as part of their final world tour before the company disbanded on New Year’s Eve 2011.

For 2012, Dance Umbrella will be presenting much new dance, including a Mary Wigman dance evening, Wendy Houstoun’s 50 Acts and Noé Soulier… a programme not to be missed.

Image courtesy of Dance Umbrella.

The Royal Ballet School

Royal Ballet School

Over the next 7 months, The Royal Ballet School will open its doors to teachers, dance students and enthusiasts alike for a series of exciting lectures and masterclasses once a month, with pointe shoes and tiaras optional. This series of “Exploration Days” will examine the pedagogy and training programmes of the French, Italian, Danish and Russian Schools, and how they influenced the development of the English School as established by Ninette De Valois in 1926.

De Valois founded the school with the opening of the Academy of Choreographic Art, which was renamed the Vic-Wells Ballet School in 1931, renamed in 1939 as The Sadler’s Wells Ballet School: when the school was granted its Royal Charter in 1956, the school was given its current name. Each of the Exploration Days will examine the history and style of each of the Schools in turn, including a ballet masterclass to showcase the unique characteristics of the respective School. When developing the School, De Valois extrapolated and collated what she believed were all the strongest elements from the French, Italian, Danish and Russian schools, merging them to forge a new methodology. She hoped by doing so she would create a uniquely ‘English style’ in a fusion of the best of the old European and Russian Schools.

The Royal Ballet School is one of the most prestigious vocational ballet schools in the UK, and one of the foremost classical ballet schools worldwide, offering full-time training programmes to potentially professional dancers. The School acts as a feeder to both The Royal Ballet Company and The Birmingham Royal Ballet, and its graduates have and continue to dance, tutu clad, in internationally acclaimed companies all over the world. The students follow a specifically designed ‘System of Training’ of eight years split into two courses; a five year course at the Lower School (White Lodge, Richmond Park, Surrey) for students aged 11 to 16, followed by a three year course at the Upper School (Covent Garden, London) for students aged 16 to 18.

The Exploration Days will run on 30 September (French School), 21 October (Italian School), 2 December (Danish School), 3 February (Russian School) and 17 March (English School), led by Directors and Artistic Directors of the specific schools.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

The Pavlova 2012 Festival

Anna Pavlova

The Pavlova 2012 Festival was launched earlier this year in June, held at Ivy House in North London, Anna Pavlova’s former home from 1912 until her death in 1931. The festival included a number of special events, including a photographic exhibition and a film season at the British Film Institute, playing tribute to Pavlova’s beautiful art form, exquisite tutu and pointe shoes!

It is over 100 years ago that Pavlova decided to leave Russia and make London her home, with Ivy House being the base from which she conducted her ballet school, training young girls who aspired to be part of her touring company. Once Pavlova had severed links with St Petersburg, she travelled enormous distances – to North and South America, to India, Japan and Australia – continuing to dance almost to the day of her death.

The BFI season of films about Pavlova is part of this year’s centenary celebration of her acquisition of Ivy House, a season stocked with footage of her life and career. Jane Pritchard curated the six programmes, which include documentaries, feature films and recordings of Pavlova on and off stage, and most importantly dancing. The main source of filmed material about her was The Immortal Swan, a tribute put together after her death by Victor Dandré, who may have been her husband as well as being her manager. The film drew on “home movies” made during Pavlova’s travels and on very basic films of some of her repertoire; Pavlova was fascinated by what she realised was film’s potential for recording dance, and extremely open to experiment… more so than most of her ballet contemporaries.

Pavlova’s Imperial Ballet-trained technique was a means in order to convey what truly mattered to her: her expressiveness, rather than the execution of steps. By the time most of the films of her dancing were made in the 1920s, she was relying on very simple choreography without the fifth position, pirouettes or arabesques, but runs on pointe, legs parallel, defining her legendary status beneath her Dying Swan tiara with strong, arched feet and beautiful arms and legs. The Dying Swan, the solo choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine in 1907 was retained as her signature piece, and she danced it 4,000 times.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.