Dance and the Olympic Games

Dance and the Olympic Games
Image source: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-TY961_0731wi_G_20120731120718.jpg

Now the London 2012 Olympic Games are over ahead of the Paralympic Game in a couple of weeks, many have raised the question both online and in print as to whether dance could qualify as an Olympic event. The artistry, strength and flexibility of dance can be seen in many existing events of the Games, the most obvious examples being Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Dance has had many links with the 2012 Olympics. One of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal dancers, Matthew Lawrence, created a routine for the Welsh and five times British champion gymnast Frankie Jones for the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships ahead of the Games. Jones was the only British individual rhythmic gymnast to compete at the 2012 Olympics, working hard with Lawrence, as well as BRB’s Body Conditioning Instructor Jennifer Mills. Jones received ballet classes as part of her preparation for the competition, complementing her body’s ability to create any imaginable shape or movement: a rhythmic gymnast takes elements of ballet, and then stretches it to the extreme. Rhythmic gymnastics is a combination of gymnastics and dance and its origins lie in a wide variety of disciplines, including classical ballet. Here it is clearly demonstrable that both disciplines are closely related yet have evolved in different ways.

The Team GB backstroke expert Liam Tancock revealed that dance has too featured in his training, having taken ballet classes in order to improve his swimming. Tancock maintained that his success in the water was the result of ‘thinking outside the box’ in order to develop additional qualities of dance to boost body strength and improves strokes. Whilst you would be unlikely to see Tancock donning ballet tights and satin ballet shoes, it is clear to see that dance is not only a complementary discipline to other activities, but its own success in its own right. Why shouldn’t we see tutus and leg warmers on ballet’s competitive athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games? The ideals ‘faster, higher, stronger’ are extremely applicable to the art of dance, with Albert Einstein and then Martha Graham maintaining that ‘dancers are the athletes of God’.

Many may argue that the absence of dance is due to it being such a subjective discipline, unable to be measured either numerically or objectively. However, both Gymnastics and Diving feature which are art forms in themselves and are judged via a complex scoring system in order to achieve potentially unbiased and accurate results. With both events developing and constantly becoming more challenging, the possibility of achieving the perfect 10 score has been eliminated to account for the increasingly demanding nature of the events, viewed relatively. It seems the art of dance and ballet cannot be measured numerically, but perhaps more in how it affects the viewer, which of course would be impossible to score.

Perhaps if dance were to be included in the Olympic Games, the level of artistry, musicality and expression would have to be reduced in the face of accurately ‘marking’ the competitors’ arabesques, multiple pirouettes and extensions, which would then mean that what is being executed is not aesthetically ‘dance’ in its entirety. The dance elements of 1972 Gold illusive gymnastic legend Olga Korbut were once appreciated by scoring systems, but are now considered time-consuming in relation to the huge tumbles and requirements of twenty-first century gymnastics. These are now unable to affect the final scores in a significant way, in what some may argue as a graceless exhibition of athleticism at the expense of beauty and performance. However, today’s gymnasts somehow continue to capture audiences and expend the illusions of the stage.

Summer Schools

Summer Schools

Summer Schools for 2012 are nearing their end, with students young and old packing up their holdalls, packing up their tap shoes and jazz trainers ready to begin their examination classes once more in September. From musical theatre, to ballet, to singing workshops, summer schools host a variety of dance genres for children and young people of all ages, offering everyone who takes part a great chance to have fun, make new friends, and improve their dance or theatrical technique.

Some summer schools are rather more specific in their genre, such as high-end ballet classes complete with satin pink ballet shoes and plain yet stylish leotards. Summer schools of this category usually take the format of daily classes in techniques such as classical ballet and repertoire work, devised to enhance students’ classical technique and fulfill their desire to improve and advance in their chosen subject.

However other summer school varieties cover a range of dance genres and activities, touching on subjects such as tap, ballet, modern jazz and singing work, providing a wealth of opportunity to have fun and enjoy the passion for dance. Many encourage students from countries all over the world to join in the fray, each giving heaps of energy and enthusiasm, and often only requiring a pair of dance sneakers.

Many students may view their yearly trips to summer schools a welcome relief from the rigour of weekly exam and technique classes, allowing them to ‘let their hair down’ and get a real feel for how the institution they are attending operates on a day-to-day basis. Often culminating in an end-of-week show, complete with the Lycra and sequins of borrowed costumes, weeks of summer schools from July to September are hard work, but truly enjoyable.

Sadler’s Wells’ National Youth Dance Company

Sadler's Wells National Youth Dance CompanyNew cultural education projects have been announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, meaning young people from all backgrounds will get increased opportunities to access dance, music and museums.

Donning the dancewear so integral to the youth of the UK, be it ballet shoes, jazz pants or urban sneakers, the esteemed dance house Sadler’s Wells has been selected to form the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) as part of plans to boost cultural education. Arts Council England announced that the organisation will run the company, providing 90 talented 16 to 19-year-olds with the chance to develop the skills for a career in dance. With dance gaining more interest and popularity across the country than ever before, economically, politically and socially, the National Youth Dance Company is a fantastic initiative for those whose passions embody dance life, and also wear Lycra.

Four new projects have also been chosen for the ‘In Harmony’ programme, which aims to inspire and transform the lives of children in deprived communities through community-based orchestral music-making. Projects will be delivered between 2012 and 2015, joining existing projects in Lambeth and Liverpool. The programme is jointly funded by the Arts Council and the Department for Education, taking forward some key recommendations in the National Plan for Music Education.

Aiming to stretch ambitions, the programmes will enable young people to engage with schemes that are truly excellent, with commissions offering national opportunities in order to grasp dreams and help make them a reality. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey added that “introducing the UK’s young people to dance, music and museums through fantastic initiatives like these will help inspire, nurture and foster the next generation of performers”, demonstrating the great continuations of the cultural and artistic achievements of the UK.

Showtime

Mayor of London Presents Showtime

On the weekend of the 21 and 22 July, seven weeks of free, family fun kicked off as part of the Mayor of London Presents Showtime.

Showtime signified an electrifying mix of incredible artists and shows handpicked from across the world. Over the coming weeks these specific art forms will join on London, be it leotards and pretty pink ballet shoes or jazz quartets. The performances over the next seven weeks will reach every corner of London, fulfilling everyone’s artistic preference.

Forming part of the London 2012 Festival and supported by Arts Council England as a principal funder of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Showtime will combine the best of British street arts, international acts, and a host of alternative music from beat box to electro swing across all 33 London Boroughs.

On the 21 and 22 July, the action began with major events at The Piazza on Wimbledon Broadway as part of Merton’s Outdoor Arts Festival; at General Gordon Square in Woolwich to coincide with the Torch Relay; at the Whitecross Street Party in Islington; in Kingston; and Richmond Riverside.

Over the rest of the summer, the highlights of Showtime feature a hair-raising experience with Arcadia’s Lord of Lightning wrestling four million volts of electricity, and an enchanting performance from the Invisible People telling poems, stories and jokes one to one.

The Lyrix Organix: Relay will feature the finest poets, beatboxers, hip hop and freestylers in an original live experience, and you can get dancing to everything from swing to break-dance in urban dancewear and sneakers at Continental Drifts’ Bandstand Remixed.

To find out what’s happening near you and to plan a summer like no other visit the Mayor of London Presents website.

The ISTD’s 108th Birthday

ISTD Logo

The Imperial Society of Dance Teachers (as it was first known) was formed on 25th July 1904 at the Hotel Cecil in Covent Garden, London, and therefore turned 108 years old this year, advocating a huge variety of dance genres and the ballet shoes, tap shoes and jazz shoes that come too.

In 1906, the first Congress of the ISTD was held after a council of management was formed, attended by forty-two members, a far cry from the ISTD’s membership today. In September 1907 the first issue of “Dance Journal” (now known as DANCE magazine) was published, and by 1913 the ISTD consisted of 132 members.

It wasn’t until after the war years of WWI, in 1924, that the foundations of the present structure of the ISTD were established by the formation of separate Branches (now Faculties). 1925 saw a change of name to “The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing”, and 1930 saw the ISTD increase to 2,000 members, all wielding their leotards and tights, eager to dance.

As well as the Operatic and General, new branches were formed for the following techniques: Modern Ballroom Dancing; Classical; Classical Ballet Cecchetti Method; Greek Dance – Ruby Ginner Method; and Natural Movement – Madge Atkinson Method. In 1931 the Stage Branch was formed to provide a basic training for all dance and embraced specialist stage techniques, encompassing performance in the techniques of dance. As a result, the 1935 membership had risen to 3,000 and by 1938 it reached 4,000.

Post WWII, the teachers’ need for an authoritative and comprehensive syllabus in each technique was supplied by the formation of Faculties in each dance form, and the remaining branches of the ISTD were created: Victorian and Sequence Dance Branch, 1948; Latin American Dance Branch, 1951; Historical Dance Branch, 1952; National Dance Branch, 1952 and Scottish Country Dance Branch, 1953.

The Disco/Freestyle/Rock ‘n’ Roll Faculty were formed in 1990 to cater for the forms of social dance suggested by the creative freedom of popular music. The South Asian Dance Faculty was formed in 1999 and the most recent addition to the ISTD is the Club Dance Faculty (formed in 1999). In 2002 due to the success of the Modern Theatre Faculty it was necessary to split the Faculty into two, creating the Modern Theatre Faculty and the Tap Dance Faculty.

Today the ISTD has more than 7,500 members in over 50 countries throughout the world and holds 250,000 examinations per year.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Alistair Spalding’s Honorary Doctorate

Middlesex University

Alistair Spalding, the artistic director of Sadler’s Wells, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Middlesex University in recognition of his contribution to the UK’s creative industries, despite having little contact with leotards and legwarmers throughout his life. Spalding received his honorary doctorate in a ceremony at the university’s Hendon campus in north London on July 20 before an audience of graduating performing arts students who had all completed degrees in subjects such as Dance Performance, Theatre Arts and Music and Arts Management.

In addition to his award from Middlesex University, Spalding was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in this year’s Birthday Honours, in recognition of his services to dance and huge contribution to the arts sector as a whole, be it tutus and tights, or jazz shoes and jazz pants. Embarking on his early career as a teacher, Spalding became Sadler’s Wells’ artistic director in 2004 as the UK’s leading dance house, as it came to be known under his direction. Sadler’s Wells has also recently ventured down the production route in its hosting of dance, with many shows now commissioned and produced at the venue.

In terms of Middlesex University specifically, Spalding was noted to have said how much of a privilege it was to receive the doctorate from the institution as one that has done so much to ensure that practising artists are thoroughly involved in the day to day life of the university, which provides so much for them artistically, from a fantastic faculty to all-encompassing courses. The University delivers much in terms of Professional Practice also, preparing its students for the challenging world surrounding the arts, and providing them with the means to survive and consequently excel in the field.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games

2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

As the world anticipates the London 2012 Olympic Games, performers from across the country are pulling on their dancewear and warm-up cover-ups ready for the Opening Ceremony on Friday 27 July. The Opening Ceremony is a celebration showcasing the best of the Host Nation, London, featuring a parade of all competing nations and the highly anticipated entrance of the Olympic Flame, which ignites the Cauldron and signals the start of the Games.

The eyes of the world are expected to be on London for the Opening Ceremony, providing an opportunity for the world to view the artistic expression of the Artistic Director Danny Boyle and his team of talented young performers, as well as the culture of London and the UK. Certain elements feature in every Ceremony, and the artistic performance of the Ceremony, and the striking costumes of the dedicated, hard-working performers will welcome the world to the Games.

The name of the Olympic Opening Ceremony show will be ‘Isles of Wonder’, saluting and celebrating the immense creativity of the British. The worldwide broadcast will commence at 9pm (GMT), and will no doubt appeal to every jazz sneaker and ballet shoe wearer as well as those interested in sports. The Ceremony will begin with the sound of the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe, produced by the Whitechapel Foundry, and the Stadium will be transformed into the British countryside for the opening scene ‘Green and Pleasant’, which includes real farmyard animals. The Ceremony will also include a special sequence celebrating the best of British, featuring volunteer performers from the NHS.

A total cast of 15,000 will take part in the London 2012 Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which will be watched by an estimated audience of four billion.

Image courtesy of the Official site of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Royal Opera House 2012/13 Season

The Royal Opera House

The Royal Ballet company has announced the Guest Artists who are due to don their show tights and ballet shoes and join the company for the 2012/13 season.

Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin are both set to return, despite Polunin’s controversial exit from the company earlier this year: it could be argued that Polunin was too hasty to throw his legwarmers out of his well-made and preparatory pram. However, he is set to re-join the Royal Ballet Company as a Guest Artist which, presumably, can be the favoured option for some dancers. Rojo and Polunin will return to the Royal Opera House for three farewell performances of Marguerite and Armand on 12, 15 and 21 February 2013. The pair originally danced the ballet to audience acclaim in October 2011, and is now expected to do the same 2 years on. Marguerite and Armand will be Rojo’s final farewell performance in Covent Garden as a reprise, before she takes up her new role as Artistic Director at English National Ballet in August 2012.

Additionally, Natalia Osipova is to debut alongside Carlos Acosta, a well-loved favourite of audiences globally. Osipova, Principal of the Mikhailovsky Ballet will make her Royal Ballet debut in Swan Lake, where she will dance alongside regular Principal Guest Artist Acosta on 10, 13 and 25 October. Next season will be Osipova’s first appearance (with her tutu) with the company, and it seems the arts scene is greatly anticipating her work with Acosta who is renowned worldwide for his strength, artistry and phenomenal technique.

Tickets for Swan Lake are currently on sale with public booking for Marguerite and Armand opening on 17 October.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Summer Programmes at The Place

The Place

In July and August 2012, as in many years previously, The Place will present its annual two-week programme of dance courses for both young participants aged 6 to 16, and adults aged 16 and over of all abilities this summer. Whether your interest is the graceful beauty of ballet and you live to fulfil your dream of stepping into class in perfect pink ballet shoes, the toe-tapping energetic buzz of wearing jazz shoes, or whether it is actually heaven on earth to put on your leotard and leggings and engage in some thought-provoking and challenging Contact Improvisation, The Place will have something to suit you.

Summer Shakers, over four days, is an annual programme of dance classes for young dancers, with this year’s theme surrounding “Victories and Losses”. Each group participating will work to create a sport-inspired dance, fusing energy, competition and power which are prevalent in both activities of sport and dance. Summer Intensives is the programme that will be led by a team of international dance teachers and companies, allowing participants to ‘create their own course’ from the extensive range of five-day options available including creative workshops, body conditioning techniques and repertory workshops with resident companies in addition to the above. The companies involved this year are the BalletBoyz and the Jasmin Vardimon Company, two prestigious companies who individually have contributed much to today’s contemporary dance scene, and beyond into the dance sector as a whole.

2012 will see the addition of the traditional Japanese dance form, Butoh, taught by Marie-Gabrielle Rotie. This particular strand of the programme encourages structured improvisation, working with poetic images and scores in order for participants to create simple movement.

For additional information, visit The Place.

Image courtesy of The Place.

U.Dance 2012

U.Dance 2012

U.Dance 2012 as part of Youth Dance England was marketed as this summer’s biggest youth dance festival. It took place between the 13 and 15 July at the Southbank Centre, celebrating talent from all over London and the entire country. The performance of the opening night was filled with acts full of fun and energy from some of the most exceptional youth dance groups, selected after performing in regional platforms earlier in the year.

The new UK youth dance company, the U.Dance Ensemble, premièred their new piece TANK, choreographed by world-acclaimed choreographer Hofesh Shechter. As an incredible privilege to perform at U.Dance itself, the U.Dance Ensemble truly was the leotard adorned icing on the cake. The show also featured an array of high standard contemporary performances from, amongst others, The Place’s Shift group and Northern Ireland’s Dance Society. 

Saturday saw a range of free activities offered to the enthusiastic U.Dance audiences suitable for the whole family. These included open workshops in Lindy Hop and Kathak dance, dance film screenings presented by young dancers, and some colourful performances at the Fringe platform in The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall complete with tap shoes and black character shoes, programmed by the National Youth Dance Ambassadors of Youth Dance England. The ‘Take Two’ show, which followed in the evening, showcased even more groups selected including Wales and Scotland’s national youth dance companies, and a performance especially devised for the festival by Candoco’s company of disabled and non-disabled dancers.

Similar free activities were offered on Sunday too as the final day of the festival with the added opportunity of a masterclass led by Hofesh Shechter for young dancers, the whole festival indicating the sheer love of dance by those who attended. Closing the event was a finale again featuring the U.Dance Ensemble, in addition to performances from London’s highly skilled Centre for Advanced Training dancers from Trinity Laban and The Place. The talent demonstrated throughout the event was truly inspiring, with focused young individuals eager to lead the way for dance within the arts sector.

Image courtesy of U.Dance.