The Wind In The Willows In The West End

The Wind In The Willows

Beginning its journey at the Royal Opera House, Will Tuckett’s adaptation of The Wind in the Willows is set to transfer to the West End for Christmas 2013.

Kenneth Grahame’s story of Toad of Toad Hall is the ROH’s first transfer, heading for the Duchess Theatre in December. It is the first time that a ROH production has transferred commercially to London’s West End, and may be the instigator of many more! With so many shows coming and going from the heart of the capital’s Theatreland, it is great news that the piece based on the movement vocabulary of ballet is destined for other stages.

Running for eight weeks, the classic story sees the outrageous and sometimes criminal adventures of the reckless Toad and his friends Ratty, Mole and Badger, told through dance, song, music and puppetry, set to delight audiences young and old. Transforming the much-loved story into an exciting production is a great development, with the piece originally just a small-scale Christmas production, the first to be created for the then newly opened Linbury Studio Theatre a decade ago. Through its popularity the piece has been brought back into the repertory in Covent Garden three times since as a fantastic theatrical show for the whole family.

The West End transfer will open up the production to even more audiences, and will be directed too by the choreographic brains behind the vision, Tuckett. The piece was inspired by the music of George Butterworth with a score created by the talented Martin Ward, with Willows having already played more than 100 performances since it was commissioned. The Wind in the Willows will follow the West End transfer of The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui starring Olivier Award winner Henry Goodman, following a run at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2012.

Roland Petit

Roland PetitRoland Petit, a choreographer in post-WWII ballet, was responsible for defining a new French chic and erotic frankness in dance, creating many roles for his wife, Zizi Jeanmaire. With July 2013 the second anniversary of his death, there has recently been a Moscow Stanislavsky production of Petit’s Coppélia, receiving mixed reviews.

Born in 1924 Paris, Petit began as a classical dancer but rebelled against the traditionalism of the Paris Opera Ballet. By 25, he had created two of his most iconic ballets, Le jeune homme et la mort and Carmen, for which he is perhaps most well-known and popular. The ballets caused a sensation worldwide and Petit became an exciting name in French dance.

Petit was accepted at the Paris Opera Ballet aged 16. He was promoted to soloist by the director Serge Lifar (Diaghilev’s last protégé), and was taken under the wing of two leading Diaghilev associates who influenced Petit by the cosmopolitan artistic post-war Paris. At 21 Petit founded Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées and reinvented the ‘suffering, virginal ballerina’ as a provocative, irresistible femme fatale; other post-war work includes Les Forains Les demoiselles de la nuit (for Margot Fonteyn), Le LoupCyrano de Bergerac and Notre-Dame de Paris, which still remain today.  Aside from the world of ballet, Petit charmed Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth in 1955 Hollywood, and went on to choreograph the 1955 Fred Astaire musical Daddy Long Legs, Hans Christian AndersenThe Glass Slipper, Black Tights, and Folies-Bergère.

Petit returned to the Paris Opera Ballet as director in 1970 for a few months, and 1972 saw him take leadership of the Ballet de Marseille and produce the world’s major ballerinas for the following 25 years, such as Maya Plisetskaya and Natalia Makarova. Petit left Marseille in 1998 and withdrew all his ballets when he learnt of his successor, going on to travel widely, creating ballets and mounting old works for companies in Paris, Tokyo, Moscow and St Petersburg, South Africa, Italy and Beijing, having created over 170 ballets.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Backstage Rituals

Backstage RitualsWhether you are a dancer, actor or performance artist, you will be well aware of the phrase ‘backstage ritual’.

Many performers employ these in the run up to their performances, and any straying from the ritual may be thought to considerably affect the performance, haunting the performer from the moment they step on stage.

To a certain degree, these rituals epitomise the workings of a theatre – if things do not happen exactly as they did in the previous performance, it will not be as successful or may even result in error. This mindset is naturally adopted by those working on the theatre stage, striving to make their performance worthwhile for the audience.

Lucky legwarmers or lucky socks are often used by dancers and actors before they go on stage, usually in order to warm their feet up correctly, or simply to feel reassured that if their performance is affected at all, it won’t be because they varied their ritual routine before going on stage! Other performers take to kissing the walls just behind the stage, adding their lipstick mark to thousands of others who have passed along the wall in a reassuring performance gesture. Listening to the same music before a show is a similar practice, as is getting ready in the same order each show.

Not complying with your backstage rituals can make you mentally doubt your upcoming performance and will usually affect how you perform for worrying about the disruption to the ritual. The best thing to do, rather than compensate for the change to your routine, is concentrate on the task in hand, as the involvement in your performance will distract you from worrying about what did or didn’t happen before you stepped onto the stage.

Break a leg!

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The New Nureyev?

Rudolph NureyevFollowing performances of three young Russian men – Ivan Vasiliev, Sergei Polunin and Vadim Muntagirov – there has been some speculation from dance critics as to whether any of these men may become the next Rudolf Nureyev, one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the twentieth century and an extremely charismatic performer.

There have been recent starring roles danced by each of the dancers for various companies. Ivan Vasiliev, a Principal dancer of the Mikhailovsky Ballet and American Ballet Theatre Guest Artist with impressive thighs and a wonderful sense of characterisation danced Albrecht in Giselle opposite his on and off-stage partner Natalia Osipova. Although small, Vasiliev is a man of gigantic leap and power, executing his directed movement with conviction and a desire to tell the story to the last detail.

Polunin, on the other end, appears to have a notorious want not to tell the story, either his own or the one he should be dancing. Polunin has recently been the subject of much dance press in his desertion of the production of Peter Schaufuss’ Midnight Express, in which he should have danced Billy. This was after Polunin walked from The Royal Ballet of which he was a highly regarded Principal, with a greater desire for money and tattoos as a typical young man. Here, it is the intrigue of Polunin that sets him apart.

Elsewhere, Muntagirov, as one of English National Ballet’s revered Lead Principals under Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, is a sight to behold. Having been a Guest Artist greatly received by many international ballet companies, Muntagirov is usually partnered with Lead Principal Daria Klimentova. This highly successful partnership has often been likened to that of the iconic Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn duet as sparkling stars, just slightly unattainable. In this sense, it looks likely that Muntagirov will excel even further than he has a young dancer, creating a remarkable career.

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Tommy Franzen: The Artist Who Needs No Introduction

Tommy FranzenTommy Franzen needs no introduction. Beginning his dance training in Sweden, he was only ever interested in street dance classes. Tommy then began working professionally at the young age of 14 in the musical Joseph, hopping from musical to musical before embarking on a 3-year performing arts diploma course at the Urdang Academy in London, for which he received a scholarship.

He is probably mostly recognised as the runner-up of BBC 1’s So You Think You Can Dance 2010, but other dance fans may have spotted him in Mamma Mia – The Movie, The Pepsi Max Advert Can Fu and the Handover Ceremonies at Bejing Olympics 2008.

Having worked professionally as a performing artist for 16 years, Tommy has recently delved into choreography, for example working on ZooNation’s Some Like It Hip Hop, performing in the show as Simeon Sun. Currently Tommy is working with the Russell Maliphant Company and is touring internationally with the show The Rodin Project.

This year Tommy was nominated for an award at the National Dance Awards in the “Best Male Performance (Modern)” category for his efforts in Goldberg at The Royal Opera House and Blaze at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre. Tommy has also been nominated for an Olivier Award (2012) for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.

Here Tommy talks about his dance career to date, the joy of rehearsals, and his biggest inspiration, Bruce Lee.

When did you begin dancing and why?

I started dancing at age of 11 back in 1992. My sister, Elena, was taking classes and performing for a man called David Johnson who came from California to Sweden to open up a dance school. That’s the first time I had seen anyone dance hip hop dance styles and it grabbed me straight away. They caught me sometimes doing the Robot, basically imitating them so Elena thought that maybe I should try and go to a class. I did, and after the first class I never wanted to go back again as I thought I was the worst one in there. My dad and Elena were surprised and luckily convinced me that I was actually the best of the lot! So I changed my mind in a second, went to the next class and have never looked back since.

What were your early years of dancing and training like?

I started with classes that incorporated locking, popping, general hip hop and some tricks. That was at David’s dance school ‘Crazy Feet’ in Lund, Sweden.

How does that compare to now?

Through the years I’ve danced many styles but nowadays when I go to class it’s either hip hop, contemporary or ballet.

Have you always been interested in choreography?

No, I haven’t always been interested in choreography. I hadn’t thought of doing it really when my first opportunity came along and I choreographed for a show called Blaze, which we played at the Peacock Theatre in London and is now touring the world. Since then I’ve choreographed for Some Like It Hip Hop and Cher Lloyd. It’s not my main focus but I do really enjoy it.

What would you say was your choreographic triumph?

Definitely Some Like It Hip Hop. Saying that, I think Blaze put me on the map but I did a lot more for SLIHH and I’m more proud of my efforts in that show. We’ve been nominated for the choreography several times so we must’ve done something right!! The other choreographers are Kate Prince and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille with additional choreography by Duwane Taylor and Ryan Chappell.

How long have you been performing and choreographing?

I’ve been performing for 21 years and choreographing for 3 years.

What is your favourite role you have danced and favourite choreographer you have danced for, and why?

I must say my character Simeon Sun in Some Like It Hip Hop has been a right ball to play: so much fun. Lots of acting and very challenging dance wise. I’ve only got myself to blame for that! I would probably say that there are three favourite choreographers I’ve worked with. Kim Brandstrup, Russell Maliphant and Kate Prince, who are all very different and very good in their own field of work.

What do you like most about rehearsals?

The best thing about rehearsals is the creation period. You are being creative and you train hard. Then we you start performing then things are pretty much set in stone but you get the pleasure of sharing with an audience. I love the feeling of dancing in front of an audience.

What is the best part about dance?

It’s so much fun!!

Who would you most like to work with, dead or alive?

Bruce Lee without doubt, he’s always been my biggest inspiration.

What’s next for you?

There are a few projects coming up but I can’t disclose anything yet. I will be working with Boy Blue Entertainment on their new show at The Barbican in October. I also spend a lot of time building two businesses at the moment. As dancers we don’t have a pension for when we retire at a relatively young age so I think it’s important to secure your financial future by other means during your dance career.

The Jazz Master: Jack Cole

Jack ColeJack Cole, one of the greatest yet least known jazz choreographers is thought of by some as the father of theatrical jazz dance, responsible for the jazz we know today. He was the influencer behind huge choreographic names such as Bob Fosse, with his work reaching the likes of modern dance greats Alvin Ailey and Jerome Robbins. Cole worked to create the style of jazz that is still widely received today, on Broadway, in Hollywood movie musicals and in music videos.

Cole was born in 1911 (he lived until 1974) and studied, as many did modern dance pioneers, with the Denishawn Dance Company under Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn in the early twentieth century. Cole went on to make his professional debut in 1930, but abandoned modern dance for a more commercial style of dancing on Broadway and in movies. Jazz, at this point, was hugely popular, but did not employ any use of technique.

As a result, Cole began to create his own style of modern dance. He continued to work with modern dancers Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman to form a signature style. This style was aided by Cole’s study of the Indian dance technique Bharatanatyam, forming the basis of his unique jazz technique and choreography through the precise isolations of the head, arms and fingers, in addition to the swift changes of direction. Cole consequently named his jazz style ‘urban folk dance’, having observed the Lindy Hoppers and their integral rhythms, incorporating this with Indian styles and creating the foundation of the theatrical jazz style.

Cole’s choreography saw him involved in various Broadway shows, such as Alive and Kicking (1950), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) and Man of La Macha (1965), for which he was nominated for a Tony award. However, today Cole is remembered for his work with films of some 25 credited and non-credited works. In addition to working as a choreographer and performer, Cole also established dance training at Columbia Pictures, in which his programme included Humphrey/Weidman technique, Cecchetti ballet, East Indian dance and flamenco, where he worked with dancers such as Carol Haney and Gwen Verdon, who went on to become Fosse’s muse.

Matt Mattox, the iconic jazz dancer and teacher most associated with the Cole style broke the Cole lineage in America when he moved to London in 1970. It has only been recently that there has been a renewed interest in Cole’s work.

Mastering The Ballet Bun

Ballet Bun

Sometimes one of the most problematic problems in the life of the dancer is not keeping up in class, long rehearsals or tricky performances: it might simply be the problem of the ballet bun. It can be notoriously difficult, sometimes, to perfect the height of the ponytail, the ‘largeness’ of the bun, or control how much it protrudes from the head.

Younger dancers, or dancers without so much hair, may prefer to use a ‘doughnut’ at times, a tightly coiled plastic ring device which is placed over the hairband of the ponytail with the hair then spread over the doughnut and secured in place by hair grips. However, those with longer hair are able to employ this technique without the use of the doughnut, achieving aesthetically pleasing results of a more modest bun and classical ballet hairstyle.

In order to achieve this look without the use of the doughnut, tie the hair in a mid-height ponytail. Tip the head down to look at the floor and spread the hair evenly over the hairband securing the ponytail. As with using a doughnut, sweep the hair around into a doughnut shape by twisting all the parts around the hairband and securing them with hair grips and Kirby grips. Here you can work to make the bun as flat or as round and pert as you would like or is required.

The more hair you have, sometimes the harder it is to secure it neatly. However, this method is a successful way of making all that hair look neat, without using methods such as twisting the ponytail first and winding it round the hairband, which can look bulky and uneven, or plaiting the ponytail before the same action, which does not produce the look of a classical hairstyle.

Give it a go!

Image courtesy of WikiHow.

Preparing Your Pointe Shoes For Performance

 Pointe Shoes

Performing on that vast stage can be daunting. The disconcerting lights which throw you off balance, the huge audience who were not there during rehearsal and the gallons of adrenaline suddenly pumping around your body.

Performing well against these odds mean that it is imperative that you have fully secured your technique in class, learnt the piece thoroughly from the choreographer and have been responsible for arranging your costumes and bringing everything you need to the theatre. Only then can you be confident that if there is a mistake or malfunction on stage, you have done everything you could to prevent this prior to the performance by being fully prepared for the wonderful sensation of stepping onto and performing on stage.

If you are dancing in a ballet production, your pointe shoes need just as much care and attention as your own body does when it is transferring the steps into its muscle memory. There are many different methods and techniques of making sure your pointe shoes are stage and performance ready, and these methods may or may not suit the piece that is required of the dancer, and the dancer’s own needs and preferences.

Many professional dancers employ rituals of preparing their shoes, such as cutting parts from the shoe, sewing on additional parts, gluing them, using shellac to harden them and even painting them with calamine lotion in order to lighten the appearance of the shoes and making them appear matte, rather than shiny.  Whatever your methods for making your shoes ready for use, whether it is standing on the box to soften them, shutting them in doors to break them in or simply working at them manually until they are perfect for you, often your shoes are dictated by the piece and the choreographer!

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Rambert’s Animateurs

Rambert Dance Company LogoNo one can deny the sheer talent of the dancers within a dance company, be it contemporary, ballet, or a jazz-hand waving West End show. However, it is often those people behind the scenes that support the work of the dancers, promote it, administrate it, direct it, and neither the dancers nor the ‘backstage’ team can do without the other.

For example, amongst many other teams of people working for the company, Rambert Dance Company (or Rambert, as it is now known) has a team of animateurs who take the work of Rambert and deliver it far and wide. The animateurs work as part of Rambert’s Learning and Participation team, and work with those who may not have access to Rambert’s work originally.

A case in point… earlier this year the animateurs worked with adult patients from HIV oncology wards and teenage out-patients over 5 sessions to create a piece of choreography using poems as a starting point. Often the partnerships with other groups begin with an interactive dance workshop, working to translate Rambert’s works to focus groups. February 2013 saw the creation of the partnership between Rambert Dance Company and Chelsea and Westminster Health Charity, and the programme included  a fortnight-long poetry residency project, 10 week dance workshop programme for patients and out-patients aged 50+ to improve their mobility. As a result the dance sessions offered inspirational experiences through engagement with contemporary dance and the prestigious company.

In the company’s move to London’s Southbank later this year, it will consequently be placed between two of the poorest boroughs in London. As a result it is likely that the company will do more to engage with its community. Rambert, the national company for contemporary dance, already offers a year-round programme of learning and participation activity throughout the UK for people of all ages and abilities, with other projects in hospitals and care environments including work with Queen Mary’s Hospital, St George’s Trust in Roehampton and Arts 4 Dementia.

The Benefits Of Dance: Flexibility, Fitness And Posture

Dance PostureAs dancers, we sometimes hit that mid-training rut, where we have had enough of the pliés, the tendus, the jetés, and definitely had enough of the pirouettes. With July turning into a bit of a scorcher, there can also be more appealing things than dressing head-to-toe in Lycra leotards and tights, let alone legwarmers!

However, it is easy to forget the great benefits of all kinds of dance, especially when sweating along to the Waltz of the Flowers or a similarly clichéd tune. Ballet in particular is a fantastic way for dancers of all ages to increase fitness, flexibility and all-round wellbeing whilst relieving stress and taking part in an activity you enjoy rather than pounding the treadmill. In particular, ballet promotes correct stance, deportment and a more streamlined body shape, with the dancer having pulled up the muscles, turned out the legs from the hip joints and lengthened out of the neck to appear more graceful. Even attempting new movements promotes the body’s resilience and supportive strength through dance classes and rehearsals. Dance offers great variety of methods of keeping fit and flexible, working many different types of muscles; Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS*) is a great way of discovering new muscles you didn’t know you had!

Once you have learnt to use the correct postural muscles it is easy to achieve a look of a flat stomach and toned legs whilst working harder towards these dance goals. In this sense, it is particularly useful to combine ballet classes with dance classes of other techniques in order to complement your body’s work and created a fully-rounded dancer that is not pigeon-holed. There are many types of dance classes readily available, such as various forms of street dance, jazz, tap, and even complementary techniques such as Pilates and yoga. Used alone or as a dancing cocktail mix, the techniques all work to challenge the body in different ways and ensure it does not become complacent! Whilst the benefits of ballet are clear ‘across the board’, other dance techniques also aim for the same goal and the joy of dance yet pursue it differently. For example, ballet, jazz and yoga or Pilates are all fantastic ways to increase leg and back flexibility and strengthen the core, yet employ different exercises in order to keep the body from becoming stagnant.

Ballet targets certain muscles through its training techniques, which also means that these areas of the body must be stretched and cared for in order to progress. The hamstrings and quadriceps, and adductors and abductors (inner and outer thigh muscles) – as opposite sides of the leg – are all worked in different ways, therefore the correct stretches must be carried out post-class for each. For ballet in particular, even holding the arms correctly as an extension of the back works the latissimus dorsi extremely hard, which are muscles often overlooked by the eagerly training dancer. As a result, stretching exercises come hand in hand with all disciplines of dance, not just ballet, and are an efficient way to keep the body mobile and maintaining the discipline and hard work of the class. For ballet in particular, muscle tone and suppleness also comes from stretching muscles such as the hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, soleus and the gluteus maximus and medius, for flexibility, jumps and turn out.

Many dance teachers advocate that ballet is the basis of all dance and maintain that it is needed as a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your dance training. Even if you disagree with this, it is clear that ballet and then other kinds of dance forms are needed to complement and balance out your dance work, in order to provide yourself with an all-round training that provides enjoyment and body benefits. Whilst it is not always a cardio workout, ballet works the body hard, keeps joints active and induces great discipline both for the body and the mind by requiring short bursts of intense, anaerobic exercise. By taking regular ballet classes you are constantly increasing the capacity and ability of the body, in particular, strengthening the legs and encouraging flexibility.

Increased muscle tone, flexibility and ability all contribute towards the wide goal of staying fit and healthy as part of having a healthy, dancing lifestyle. Dance can greatly contribute towards weight-loss, particularly by following a rich and varied programme of a combination of dance styles to balance out the training. With jazz dance a great cardio challenge, ballet can complement and tone up these newly found muscles, and other techniques such as Pilates and yoga used to maintain flexibility and peace of mind amongst the madness that is the world of dance!

* DOMS is muscle pain, soreness and stiffness which occur 24-48 hours after a changed or increased workout (dance) or workout intensity.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.