Understudy clamp down

Producer Cameron Mackintosh has recently clamped down on understudy performers – in particular – publicising information about their performance schedules on social media: many post dates they will be performing lead roles on their accounts. As a result new guidance has come into play with regards to performers’ social media use, which works to reinforce an existing clause in contracts. This states that show-related information cannot be distributed without management’s consent, including when understudies will be performing roles.

The increased control covers all Cameron Mackintosh Ltd shows running both in the West End and on tour. Understandably, social media is an important tool for promoting shows, so the clamp down is logical in order to control the release of potentially commercially sensitive information. For management, the argument is that it should not be an understudy broadcasting when a principal is going to be off (on social media), ahead of any formal announcement from the company. They went on to reason that there was nothing to stop performers informing friends or family, as long as the information was not in the public domain.

For other industries, social media policies and guidelines are familiar and already in place; the rapid expansion of social media has meant theatrical organisations have also had to take action. Despite this, an agreement between Equity and the Society of London Theatre has been in place for some time stating that any policy is down to individual productions, meaning there are a range of clauses around social media in use.

Equity went on to confirm that the issue of inconsistent social media policies had been raised with its West End deputies committee. As a result the union is in talks with the Society of London Theatre to create standard guidelines for social media use.

Breakin’ Convention 2017

Sadler’s Wells’ critically acclaimed international festival of hip hop dance theatre, Breakin’ Convention, is back from April to June 2017. At both London’s Sadler’s Wells and on a national tour, the festival will include performances from UK and international companies and crews. Now in its 14th year, this hugely popular event is once again hosted and curated by Associate Artist Jonzi D.

Breakin’ Convention has firmly established itself as one of the major highlights of the British dance calendar, and one of the world’s greatest celebrations of hip hop culture. The London festival from 29 April – 1 May will see Sadler’s Wells’ foyer transformed with live DJs, freestyle dance jams, graffiti exhibitions, workshops from top international artists and live aerosol art. The participatory activities take place pre-show and during the interval, and for the fourth year running Breakin’ Convention will host an outdoor party for all the family in Spa Fields Park on bank holiday Monday.

Breakin’ Convention ’17 embarks on its eighth National tour in 2017, taking in nine venues across the UK. Venues include newcomers Norwich Theatre Royal, Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, Leicester Curve and Birmingham Rep, in addition to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre; Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham; The Lowry, Salford; Grand Theatre Blackpool; and Brighton Dome. The UK tour has been made possible following a grant from Arts Council England, and offers local dance companies the opportunity to perform alongside International acts.

Whilst the full Breakin’ Convention line-up will be announced in Spring 2017, the tour line-up includes Soweto Skeleton Movers, a highlight of last year’s festival. Joining them is Canadian group Tentacle Tribe. Founded in 2012, the Montreal-based dance company will also perform at Breakin’ Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina in autumn 2016. Spearheaded by Jonzi D, Breakin’ Convention works with the most respected, innovative and inspirational hip hop artists in the industry, and is committed to celebrating, elevating and supporting hip hop dance theatre.

Ianthe Mellors – creation aspiration

Ianthe is a professional dancer from Bedford, England. She began to dance from the age of three, and at five she was performing all over the UK. She later trained in Latin American dance, where she received the creative dance award for her choreography. When Ianthe was 12 she joined Bedfordshire Youth Dance Company, and was introduced to contemporary dance, working with Henri Oguike.  

Ianthe studied dance at Middlesex University where she received a First Class Bachelor of Arts in Dance Studies. Ianthe was selected to study abroad at Goucher College in Baltimore where she was introduced to African dance and stepping. Ianthe later furthered her training by travelling to New York to train at Broadway Dance Center. 

Ianthe has had the priviledge of working on stage, in film and television, such as for a national NBA Playoff campaign. She worked on the opening ceremony for the USA Special Olympics, Good Morning America, the Columbus Day Parade choreography live on ABC, and with Shirlene Quigley, one of Beyonce’s Dancers, on Czech TV. She also performed along the East Coast and Off-Broadway as a member of IndoRican Multicultral Dance Project, Kalamandir Dance Company, Sho Off Dance Company and AATMA.

Ianthe is an accomplished choreographer and teacher, instructing classes in a variety of dance styles to both adults and children, in the UK and USA. New York consequently fuelled Ianthe’s passion to immerse herself in as many dance styles as possible, and inspired her as a performer. She is excited to return to continue to grow as a performer and choreographer.

Have always wanted to be on stage?

Pretty much; I was always the first one up dancing in competitions or at parties, and always practicing any and every dance move I learnt in class that day.

Where did you train, and what was it like?

I trained at Middlesex University, Goucher College and Broadway Dance Center. All very different experiences. At Middlesex I mainly focused on contemporary and choreography, but there were two modules that I loved; Dance Culture with Jeanette Bain, and Jazz with Vicki Igbokwe.

At Goucher College, in Baltimore, I was dancing from 9am until 10pm then I would often have midnight step team rehearsal. I focused on Modern, African dance and drumming and Ballet.

Broadway Dance Center, in New York, allowed me to train even more diversely. As a participant in the International Student Visa Programme I had a focus, and was encouraged to take a diverse range of styles as part of my 12 classes per week.

Describe a day in your life now. 

Wake up at 6am to teach a dance-based fitness class in the morning, do my own workout whether it be ballet-inspired, high intensity interval training or reformer pilates. Then I will take a dance class or two, or practice choreography from rehearsals that week. Teach street dance or ballet at an after school club then have a rehearsal. Often an Epsom salt bath to end the day!

How important is your diverse training in your work today?

Very important. I have just moved back from New York where I was part of three very different dance companies. I love all aspects of dance so I try to immerse myself in as many styles as possible. I think diversity is important in my strength and conditioning work also. I make sure I mix up my training so that I am not limited in my movement or stamina, and can do whatever the choreography requires of me.

What has been the defining moment of your career?

Touring South Africa with Mystic India the World Tour. I have always wanted to tour internationally with a dance company, so in January I made it one of my goals. In February I auditioned – having never danced Bollywood before – booked it, and had the most intense rehearsal period. I learnt 10 pieces, formations and costume changes in a very short amount of time. It was big challenge but a great experience.

What has been the most challenging?

Just before graduation from Middlesex University I was in a car accident. I couldn’t dance for a year. When getting back into dance I had to retrain myself to do things that used to be second nature, and found that I physically wouldn’t be able to do what I used to, so I had to adapt my focus and training. I found a great physiotherapist that understood the demands on a dancer’s body, so I stayed focused and am now stronger than before.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

In New York performing, creating work and teaching.

What’s the most rewarding thing about the performing arts?

The escapism we give the audience.

What’s the worst thing?

I want to say occasionally, but in actual fact it’s often, people expect you to work for free.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I always foam roll and plank.

Who or what inspires you?

Vicki Igbokwe. How she teaches, the energy and confidence she gives her students, the work she creates and produces and her movement vocabulary.

What is your advice to an aspiring dance artist?

Be kind and support each other. There is plenty of work for us all and if there isn’t, create opportunities. Be hungry. Absorb all the information that your teachers, peers and mentors give you and be open to it. In an audition you want to book the job, but find a way to enjoy it and learn from each one. Don’t be afraid to take risks, fight that negative inner voice and always show up.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently training with Boy Blue Entertainment Adult Company so performing and teaching in London.

English National Ballet’s Nutcracker tour

This Christmas, English National Ballet will present its acclaimed production of (newly named) Nutcracker as a national tour culminating in London, from 23 November 2016 – 7 January 2017. This follows 2015 which saw English National Ballet’s most successful Nutcracker run on record. It is estimated over 73,000 audiences members saw the festive production at the London Coliseum, so this year Wayne Eagling’s version of the iconic work will be seen on tour also.

Part of English National Ballet’s ethos is to provide as many people as possible with great ballet, highlighted by the decision to tour the production in 2016. This continues the Company’s tradition of presenting a Nutcracker production every year since 1950, its founding year, this year taking it further afield. The production will visit the Milton Keynes Theatre (23 November – 26 November) and the Liverpool Empire (29 November – 3 December). Following these regional visits the company will return to the London Coliseum (14 December 2016 – 7 January 2017).

English National Ballet’s version of the classic ballet sets the scene on Christmas Eve in Edwardian London. Clara and her enchanted Nutcracker doll discover a magical world where she battles with the Mouse King and meets a handsome stranger. Clara and her Nutcracker then take a hot air balloon ride across London to the glistening Land of Snow where her adventure begins. The production is brought to life by the well-known Tchaikovsky score featuring the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Waltz of the Flowers.

To coincide with Nutcracker, English National Ballet will host a range of workshops and events, aimed to provide a pathway into the world of ballet. Activities held in Milton Keynes, Liverpool, and London include on-stage workshops for all ages, Live Drawing, Family Events, and Behind-the-scenes Talks.

A virtual reality ballet?

Night Fall, created by virtual reality company &samhoud Media – in collaboration with Dutch National Ballet and Samsung – is a very different ballet that intends to immerse audiences in a dance story via virtual reality. As ballet is ultimately theatrical, it seems a perfect fit in guiding audiences through movement virtually.

The ballet was choreographed by Peter Leung, a former dancer with Dutch National Ballet and the music was composed by Robin Rimbaud. It will be the first virtual reality ballet, and will premiere at The VR Cinema in Amsterdam. In terms of virtual reality content creation, creating a ballet or dance work for this is a huge step; it will be interesting to see if and how others in the industry may follow this.

Night Fall is the first virtual reality ballet, having never been created before. During its creation, the team were aware of limitations such as not being able to see how a take had gone, as they were not able to be in the camera’s sightline at all. The limitations for the technology account for many challenges, especially when attempting to capture something such as dance, which is so fleeting. The separate elements were challenging to coordinate as part of 360° content, and furthermore judge if it had been successful, however it seems the creation is a huge coup.

The piece tells the story of a living creature – represented by fog, travelling around the stage speckled with dancers – which weaves itself in and out of the scene, bringing dancers to the forefront and taking them away again. The main musician, a violinist dressed in black, interacts and engages with the dancers, luring them into the music he creates. The wispy lighting and lack of scenic design adds to the mystery to immerse the audience in the action, rather than behind a fourth wall in a proscenium arch theatre.

Dancing psychology

A recent study has suggested that dancers are more emotionally sensitive humans, indicating that the arts can play a significant role in potential empathy training. The study was published earlier in the summer by the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, and the evidence gleaned demonstrates huge potential for dance. It seems general empathy training programmes have not shown similar results, and whilst activities such as yoga and meditation have some effects, it is hard to see reliable results.

During the study, brief video clips of ballet were shown to two groups of people: professional ballet dancers, and a control group of those with no dance experience. The clips were silent, black-and-white, and a few seconds long, and the dancers’ faces were blurred so no facial expressions were visible. The participants therefore had no context other than the shapes of the bodies.

The participants were asked to rate their emotional response to the dancing, whether they liked or disliked the moves, or found them to be happy or sad, for example. The participants wore electrodes on their fingers to detect sweat responses triggered by emotional reactions, and the groups consequently “read” the emotions of the ballet clips correctly. As might be expected, the dancers had much stronger reactions to the emotional content, responding more sensitively and recognising the emotions easily.

The evidence therefore suggests that training in physical expressions made the dancers more sensitive to them, indicating that neurocognitive mechanisms that make people more sensitive can be trained, heightening awareness of emotions. Dance could even make people more empathetic, however further testing is required for this. It may be that dance training is not required to produce the same result, one could simply watch dance to develop greater emotional sensitivity.

The 14th season of Strictly

The new series of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing ballroom show is well underway, launching us straight into the 14th season of the popular show. Vying for the Glitterball Trophy, like Jay McGuiness and Aliona Vilani last season, this year’s contestants will be putting their best foot forward and try their hand at a number of different ballroom and Latin routines.

The new series kicked off with a special launch show on 3 September. The pre-recorded episode saw the celebrity contestants paired up with their professional partners, before they began training together for the first live show at the end of September. The series continues until christmas, with judges Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli rating the performances and offering their critiques of the contestants. Earlier this year it was announced that this series of Strictly will be Len’s last, stepping down from his role as Head Judge.

This year the professional dancers have seen some new faces join their ranks. Ukrainian champion Oksana Platero, Spanish dance professional Gorka Marquez, World Champion Katya Jones, and undefeated four-time British National Champion Neil Jones, who is married to Katya, have hit our screens. They will be joined by British and European Youth Latin and Ballroom Champions AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt, who previously appeared on Britain’s Got Talent in 2013, reaching the semi-finals. They are the youngest ever pro-dancers, at 21 and 20 respectively. Old favourites Anton du Beke, Brendan Cole, Joanne Clifton, Karen Clifton, Kevin Clifton, Pasha Kovalev, Natalie Lowe, Oti Mabuse, Janette Manrara, Giovanni Pernice and Aljaž Škorjanec have all returned.

In terms of contestants, this year will see former MP Ed Balls, Pop Idol winner Will Young, TV personality Laura Whitmore, former Xtra Factor host Melvin Odoom, Olympics presenter Ore Oduba, singer Louise Redknapp, Hollyoaks actor Danny Mac, model Daisy Lowe, BBC Breakfast host Naga Manchetty, singer Anastacia, gymnast Claudia Fragapane, daytime TV star Judge Rinder, Birds Of A Feather star Lesley Joseph, Olympic athlete Greg Rutherford and EastEnders actress Tameka Empson take to the stage.

An American in Paris – casting

Full West End casting has recently been announced for An American in Paris, set to descend on the Dominion Theatre from 4 March 2017. Christopher Wheeldon’s reinvention of the Oscar-winning film – that starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron – will see Broadway stars Robert Fairchild (as Jerry Mulligan) and Leanne Cope (as Lise Dassin) star in the Tony-Award-winning new musical. Joining the cast will be Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, Zoë Rainey as Milo Davenport, David Seadon-Young as Adam Hochberg and Jane Asher as Madame Baurel. Ashley Day will be the alternate Jerry Mulligan (and will assume the role from Monday 19 June 2017).

An American in Paris features the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, and a new book by Craig Lucas. Directly following celebrated engagements in Paris and New York, this critically acclaimed and multi award-winning new musical bursts into life in the West End next year, with the official opening night on Tuesday 21 March 2017: a major North American tour also begins in October 2016. Jerry Mulligan is an American GI striving to make it as a painter in a city suddenly bursting with hope and possibility. Following a chance encounter with a beautiful young dancer named Lise, the streets of Paris become the backdrop to a sensuous, modern romance of art, friendship and love in the aftermath of war…

In a career spanning more than six decades, Asher has appeared in many films and television series including Alfie with Michael Caine and A Voyage Round My Father with Laurence Olivier (BAFTA nomination, ‘Best Actress’). She made her West End stage debut in 1960 and has subsequently played leading roles at the Royal Court, National Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, Edinburgh Festival and on Broadway.

Oakley recently played in Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum. His other credits include the original casts of The Book of Mormon and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in the West End.

Rainey has most recently been part of the acclaimed Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company season at the Garrick Theatre, appearing as ‘Nessarose’ in Wicked (Apollo Victoria Theatre).

Seadon-Young recently played in Ghost The Musical (UK Tour and Australian Tour). His other recent credits include A Damsel in Distress (Chichester Festival Theatre), Assassins (Menier Chocolate Factory) and ‘Sky’ in Mamma Mia! (International Tour).

Day was recently in the original London cast of The Book of Mormon. His other credits include ‘Curly’ in Oklahoma! (UK Tour), ‘Dream Gabey’ in Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town (ENO), ‘Troy Bolton’ in High School Musical (UK Tour) and the original London casts of Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz and the Michael Grandage production of Evita.

Arts and culture on BBC2

This autumn, BBC2 is set to screen a season of programmes on Saturday nights dedicated to arts and culture, including a full-length feature film by the BalletBoyz and a behind-the-scenes film about Christie’s auction house. Utilising one of the most popular television-viewing nights, the channel will be competing for the Saturday night audience with this new season of culture, taking on a new stance.

With the focus of the channel on arts – including poetry and dance – the channel will be up against programmes such as The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Casualty. Until now, the channel has aired programme repeats, now looking towards broadcasting about poetry, dance and the arts generally, with a large helping of culture alongside. The channel aims to be the most creative on television, with the arts central to the channel’s mission. It aims to be an alternative to the light entertainment battle between BBC1 and ITV.

BBC2’s Saturday night season began on 1 October with an evening of poetry and spoken word-themed programmes, and included the performance artist Kate Tempest. Tempest merges hip-hop, poetry and theatre, and gave a live rendition of her album, Let Them Eat Chaos, from the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, London. The channel will therefore be a place where audiences can come to find out about the world, be it complex, detailed or a specialism.

Additionally aired will be documentaries and performances, but without arts magazine and review programmes. Other commissions include a first full-length feature film by dance company BalletBoyz, telling the stories of young soldiers working to demonstrate the futility of war through movement. The season will continue until Christmas, when Alan Bennett’s Diaries, a programme following the 82-year-old writer around over the course of a year, will be shown.

De Montfort University’s research centre for dance

De Montfort University in Leicester recently launched a groundbreaking new research centre, in order to explore the many facets of dance by bringing together academic practitioners from different disciplines. Named The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Dance, it builds on the university’s internationally recognised profile in dance and will expand the university’s dance research further.

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Dance will offer a range of research perspectives and approaches, embracing diversity and connecting artistic academics in dance, adaptations, creative technologies, drama, English literature, fine art, music, performance and theatre. The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Dance aims to bring together the university’s distinct characteristics of creativity, diversity, practice-based research and the building of partnerships in order to open up new perspectives on dance and its place in culture.

Users of The centre will be able to share with and experience researchers in other fields, encouraging growth and learning within all art forms, specifically dance. This is a large investment in dance research in order to understand how research sits in a wider context of practices which is important, especially from a student’s perspective. The centre provides an excellent opportunity for dance practice as research to be placed in conversation with so many other disciplines, and it is hoped the interdisciplinary approach will open up new areas of research in dance in the UK and globally.

Speakers at the launch included Professor Susan Jones from the University of Oxford and author of Literature, Modernism, and Dance, and Paul Russ, Artistic Director of Dance4 and IC4C, the International Centre for Choreography. This was in addition to De Montfort University alumnus and world-renowned choreographer Akram Khan, and Funmi Adewole, a Dance PhD student at the university exploring black choreography in Britain over a 20-year period between 1985 and 2005.