Changes Within The Royal Ballet

The Royal BalletFirst Artist Jonathan Watkins is set to leave The Royal Ballet on 23 February to embark on a freelance career as a choreographer/director. Watkins joined the company in 2003, with his interest in choreography sparking as a student at The Royal Ballet School and continued in his transition to larger ballet shoes as part of the company. Watkins has, most recently, choreographed Diana and Actaeon as part of Titian: Metamorphosis 2012 with William Tuckett and Liam Scarlett. His many outside commissions to date include two short films for Channel 4 and serving as movement director for Alan Bennett’s latest play People at the National Theatre. Next for Watkins are numerous projects such as choreographing new works in Russia and America, and a collection of theatre and film projects.

Principal Dancer Mara Galeazzi will also leave, hanging up her pointe shoes and passing down her tutus when she retires in July 2013 at the end of the current season. Galeazzi will focus on new projects, teaching dance and her work for her charity foundation Dancing for The Children which raises funds for sick children in Africa. Galeazzi joined the company in 1992 and was promoted to Principal in 2003. She has danced a wide range of the repertory, both classic and contemporary, including works by Ashton, MacMillan, Cranko, Balanchine, McGregor and Wheeldon. Galeazzi is most well-known for her dramatic interpretation of many leading roles in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets including Juliet, Mary Vetsera and Marie Larische in Mayerling, Manon and Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, and the Woman in The Judas Tree. Galeazzi’s farewell performance at the Royal Opera House will be as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling on 13 June, and her final performance with The Royal Ballet will be in Monaco where she will perform the title role in Manon on 29 June.

The Dance Again Foundation

The Dance Again Foundation2012 saw the launch of the Dance Again Foundation, a charity which was created specifically to provide support and advice for professional dancers to help them return to the stage post-injury. Through its work, the Foundation aims to help each dancer manage each injury they have, and even prevent minor injuries develop into major ones through early intervention and enhanced rehabilitation. The injury does not have to have a dance-related cause: for many dancers who have experienced injury through accident, the Dance Again Foundation works to help dancers access the appropriate treatment and therapy to enable them to return to dance.

Luckily for dancers everywhere, the Dance Again Foundation has been able to establish a firm financial base over the last 12 months in order to help dancers achieve optimum recovery with the goal of enabling them to return to their career. The dance community is able to assist this work by becoming involved with fundraising and publicising the charity’s work, and dance teachers are able to particularly assist, making sure their students are aware of the Foundation’s existence. Seeking assistance for injuries, however small, can be made much easier. Several low-key fundraisers are planned for 2013 in addition to corporate sponsorship and other sources of fundraising being investigated. A large-scale gala concert is also being organised for the spring, and a line of dancewear and accessories for male dancers is also being designed.

The Dance Again Foundation initially came into being through the experience of one particular family, whose son was an apprentice with Bern:Ballett, and the Dance Again Foundation was able to assist with addressing the financial and facilitating situations of the family. Dancers dealing with these problematic injuries may find the finances and facilities are limited, yet the Dance Again Foundation works to ensure the dancer will be able to dance again.

The Post-Olympic West End

London's West End Theatre Scene

Despite much fear that the London 2012 Olympics would quash the West End during last summer, it has actually emerged that the West End not only survived, but broke all previous revenue records, despite business initially reducing by 9%. The West End went on to rectify this, with more shows set to open this year additionally as a result. It was discovered, for example, that The Lion King had its most successful year ever in the West End, grossing over £38.6 million, breaking its own record for the eighth consecutive year and again setting a new record for highest grossing year in West End theatre history.

The approximate 45 theatres open took £529,787,692 across last year, in comparison to the £528,375,874 taken in 2011. In addition there were 305 new productions over the year, whereas 2011 saw only 256. With the inundation of tappers, singers, high-kickers and soliloquy-ers, it is no wonder that theatre-land flourished and grew tremendously. Attendance for 2012 reached 13,992,773 from 13,915,185 the previous year, with the average ticket price reducing enabling more audiences to access some fantastic productions that are on offer in theatres. The unique experiences available, and new initiatives too, are helping to grow audiences and build an appetite for live theatre.

Theatres are now being booked up as far as the eye can see, with new productions ready to jump in, such as at the Wyndham’s Theatre and the Gielgud Theatre. As a result, any current show wishing to extend its run cannot do so unless it relocates to another theatre, which of course has its advantages and disadvantages. With such an array of productions audiences will have a fantastic choice, however show which are popular and successful will not have the luxury of ‘home’ as other long-running shows have in the West End. Currently, 18 of the West End’s 40 or so commercial venues are locked into long runs of a year or more.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Liam Scarlett’s Latest Work

Liam Scarlett

The Royal Ballet’s Liam Scarlett, recently appointed as the Royal’s Artist in Residence, has choreographed again for Miami City Ballet following his last work for the company, having made the transition to choreographing full-time. Hanging up his ballet shoes in the performing sector, Scarlett has seamlessly transferred to the arena of choreography.

Scarlett is seen to be in demand all over the world, most recently premiering his new work Euphotic for Miami City Ballet, which opened on 11 January 2013. Having concluded the company’s Programme II, the performance also featured works by George Balanchine and Marius Petipa, two of the most influential modern and classical ballet choreographers respectively. Euphotic is said to be a ‘closing ballet’, which finishes three classical ballets as a statement for the audience and set to a score of Lowell Liebermann. Scarlett himself designed the scenic and costume designs, with Miami City Ballet blogging the process of working towards Scarlett’s vision and dyeing various pieces of fabrics blue and yellow, representing the sea and the light of the sky.

Last season Scarlett showed off his Viscera for Miami City Ballet, featuring principal dancer Jeanette Delgado, who is also cast as the lead for this season’s Euphotic as a sequel work of twenty-eight dancers. There are three principals and their partners in total leading the movement, fulfilling four movements of dance. The four ballets including Euphotic will also be presented at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Florida as Programme I in addition.

Who knows what is next for Scarlett’s choreographic adventures, but he has certainly hit the ground running, now to build on his creativity and spread his talent further.

Image courtesy of ROH at Flickr.

Robert Cohan and British Contemporary Dance

The PlaceWith 2013 marking The Place’s 43rd anniversary, it was the opening of The Place theatre and the London Contemporary Dance School that saw a distinctly British school of modern dance. Although Robert Cohan may not have been the first person to teach or perform contemporary dance in the UK, he was the first to do it with a vision. As a dance partner of Martha Graham, one of the mothers of American modern dance, Cohan came to the UK from the US in 1967 and set in motion the careers of many of the UK’s most influential choreographers, from Richard Alston and Siobhan Davies to West End veteran Anthony Van Laast. Beginning humbly by teaching Graham technique to students, actors and artists who had little formal dance training, they were soon performing Cohan’s choreography as LCDT.

Cohan became the first Artistic Director of the Contemporary Dance Trust in London and was consequently the founding Artistic Director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and LCDT, which he directed for 20 years. Cohan choreographed 43 works for the company, and puts his success down to being unafraid of aiming for the mass market, with a theatrical eye, making dance theatre which appealed to people who weren’t just balletomanes.

Cohan’s influence on the development of modern dance in Britain has been considerable. Having pioneered the teaching of contemporary dance technique, he was instrumental in developing the repertory of LCDT in the 1970s and 1980s, laying the groundwork for the many other British companies since. As a teacher, Cohan has taught extensively: besides being a senior teacher at the Martha Graham School he worked at The Julliard School, Harvard, Radcliffe, and the University of Rochester in the US, York University in Toronto and at many colleges and universities in the UK.

In 1988, Cohan was awarded an honorary CBE in recognition of his outstanding contribution to dance in the UK, and he has since taken British nationality. Cohan remains active in the running of The Place as a member of its Board of Governors.

The Making of Pointe Shoes

Bloch Axis Pointe Shoes

There is, without a doubt, no better feeling than watching a ballerina glide across stage, carried by her pointe shoes. This illusion is just one that captivates audiences and brings them back for more. However, finding out how pointe shoes are made explains just how they work and how they provide that ‘effortless’ look.

For example, Freed, a supplier of ballet and dance shoes since 1928, produces over 150,000 pairs each year, with much work going into each. Freed uses the “turnshoe” method which means that shoes are made from the inside and then turned out the right way around. There are approximately 250 workers across three locations, with 23 makers in total.

Each maker has their own symbol which is stamped under the shoe, with the shoe’s shape affected by the shoe-maker. Some Freed shoes are custom made according to the client’s specifications, and some experienced shoe-makers take just 10 minutes to create a pair of pointe shoes, with around 400 shoes created overall each day. Aside from pointe shoes, other shoes which are made include ballroom, Latin, stage and screen, tap, jazz, character and soft shoes, the method hardly changing since 1930.

Many dancers opt to customise their shoes themselves, such as by cutting the vamp into a V shape to make the shoe appear longer, and then sewn again to hold the shoe together. Elastics can also be sewn inside the shoe in order to add security, for the peace of mind of the dancer that their shoe is not going to slip from their heel. Dancers also work to remove the noise from their shoes, for example by shutting them in doors, hitting them against the floor, and so on, in order to achieve silence as they move around the stage.

Paris Opera Ballet’s New Director

Opera National de Paris LogoIt has been announced that the Paris Opera Ballet will be taken over by Benjamin Millepied, the choreographer and a former principal at New York City Ballet, in September 2014. The previous director, Brigitte Lefèvre, will retire at the end of the 2013-14 season after nearly ten years at the top.

Millepied trained at the Lyon Conservatory, going on to join the School of American Ballet. His professional career as a dancer was spent with New York City Ballet, where quickly became a principal dancer in 2002. He then retired in 2011 in order to focus on choreography, and founded the L.A. Dance Project last year.

2014 will see Millepied inherit one of the world’s greatest classical companies, complete with 150 talented and tutu clad dancers, and a fantastic history: the company is the result of the very beginnings of ballet at Louis XIV’s court. The dancers of the company almost all come from the Paris Opera Ballet school, and they rarely leave to dance elsewhere once they have achieved a position in the company.

Millepied has had much professional experience. He has created touring groups, and has organised choreographic projects and festivals with musicians and artists. As a choreographer he has created works for major companies which include American Ballet Theatre, NYCB and the Paris Opera Ballet, and has also worked on Black Swan, the blockbuster film. Millepied has created two works for the Paris Opera Ballet and has a third commissioned for next season, ahead of his role as director. When he does step into the role, he will maintain a strong focus on contemporary ballet repertory for the classical company in order to develop a new identity and develop in-house choreographic talent, similar to Tamara Rojo’s aim at English National Ballet.

The future of ballet looks set for a lot of evolutionising!

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 2013 Choreographics Performance

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet recently presented its 2013 Choreographics performance on 10 January 2013 as a unique programme of ballet created by BRB dancers. Rather than donning their usual tutus, tights and pointe shoes, programmes of this kind give the dancers the chance to develop their artistry in a related but separate avenue of dance performance and create to their own tastes.

The pieces, danced by members of the Company, were performed in the studio theatre at Elmhurst School for Dance in Birmingham, with the six dancers choreographing announced as Kit Holder, Matthew Lawrence, Brandon Lawrence, Ruth Brill, Kristen McGarrity and Lachlan Monaghan. The dancer-choreographers choreographed pieces specifically for the event, to music of their own choosing. The projects provide a welcome opportunity to experiment creatively, try new things out with unlimited freedom and take a breath of fresh air from the rigours of the studio, filled each day with leg warmers and buckets of sweat.

Kit Holder, who has previously contributed to the Choreographics evening of 2010, subsequently had one of his pieces Printer Jam included in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 20th Anniversary Royal Gala and the launch of the Drum’n’Bass awards in Birmingham, before being expanded into a longer piece as part of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2012. Kit is a clear example of the heights emerging choreographers can reach, and especially those usually contained in a classical environment, rather than a more experimental one. In addition to this, Matthew Lawrence has previously had the opportunity to choreograph gymnastically, demonstrating the doors which may be available to the dancers, should they extend their career to choreographing. Royal Ballet dancer Liam Scarlett is also a demonstrator of this, having recently choreographed for Miami City Ballet.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

2013 at Sadler’s Wells

Sadler's Wells Logo

2013 will mark the 15th anniversary of the current Sadler’s Wells building, and the venue aims to celebrate with very special events throughout the year, with all 14 of the theatre’s associate artists contributing to the varied and entertaining programme.

Following its success in 2012, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch will return to the London venue with Bausch’s Two Cigarettes in the Dark, which was created in 1985, and the 2006 creation Vollmund. The Sadler’s Wells flamenco festival is also celebrating this year with its 10th anniversary, castanets and fans galore, in addition to the National Ballet of Canada appearing with their pointe shoes, ready to present the European premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet. The centenary of The Rite of Spring will also be celebrated with A String of Rites, a series of new productions and revivals which will include Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s staging, as Keegan-Dolan becomes the 15th Sadler’s Wells associate artist.

In addition to a number of performances, Sadler’s Wells has announced a new wave of associate artists of the theatre, alongside the existing associate programme of established performers and choreographers. The new young artists will receive a bespoke programme which is tailored to their needs, including much studio time to fulfil those legwarmer needs, in addition to advice and financial support. The aim of the programme is to provide an artistic home for the artists involved: for the first year of the scheme Sadler’s Wells will be supporting Rocio Molina, Random Dance|Wayne McGregor dancer and choreographer Alexander Whitley, Brussels based choreographer Daniel Linehan, visual artist and performer Hetain Patel, Chinese contemporary company TAO Dance Theatre and dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Wilkie Branson.

The Anniversary of George Balanchine

George BalanchineJanuary 22 2013 marked the birthday of Giorgi Melitonovitch Balachivadze, otherwise known to ballet and dance fans all over the world as George Balanchine, born in 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Balanchine, as the co-founder of the New York City Ballet and one of the greatest choreographers of modern ballet, created the aesthetic we can recognise in theatres today, with costumes of often just leotards, tights and shoes. Other works, such as Jewels, are more classical in taste, but still echoes the Balanchine style and legacy throughout the dance sector in the twenty-first century.

Balanchine co-founded the School of American Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg in 1934, and consequently created one of his most iconic works, Serenade, as a result of his concern that his young students didn’t understand the difference between class work and perfor­mance. He decided the best way for them to learn was to give them something new and unfamiliar to dance. Balanchine said in an interview years later, “I made Serenade to show dancers how to be on a stage”, adding parts for whoever and whatever his classes consisted of. The first class had 17 girls, which explains the beginning of the piece using 17 dancers, and so on. For the emerging of the New York City Ballet, Kirstein envisioned an American ballet where young dancers could be trained and schooled under the guidance of the world’s greatest ballet masters to perform new, modern repertory, rather than relying on touring, imported artists performing for American audiences.

The School of American Ballet has been the home of New York City Ballet since Balanchine journeyed to the US, which has gone on to become one of the most renowned companies of the world. Today, the company is made up of over 100 dancers.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.