Do You Have To Shock To Survive?

The Book Of Mormon

With the incredible success The Book of Mormon has celebrated since it opened in March of this year, it begs the question as to whether productions of this kind, and dance too, must continually push accepted boundaries in order to draw in audiences, or similarly keep them interested.

The Book of Mormon is incredibly unsubtle but nonetheless extremely entertaining in its shallow depiction of two missionaries journeying to Uganda, frequenting the use of  expletives  and being entirely ruthless in their approach. Whilst this is a musical theatre production, light-hearted and energetic, it suggests that even the broad commerciality of musical theatre may be veering towards the shock factor and the innovatively new in order to draw in younger (and different) audiences who may then also catch the bug of showbiz.

This is mirrored, directly or indirectly, in the postmodern era of contemporary dance for example, instigated by the Judson Church Group in 1960s USA. The group worked to push the boundaries of contemporary and modern dance to break free from the ‘constraints’ of the American modern dance pioneers, namely Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Merce Cunningham, and so on, whose techniques shaped perceptions of dance. This resulted in the likes of Trisha Brown with her site-specific installations, Yvonne Rainer and Paul Taylor, who went from the ‘naughty boy’ of the Martha Graham Dance Company to a post-modern choreographer in his own right, rebelling against the technique and expression of previous years. However, even those such as Graham, Humphrey and Isadora Duncan, as the primary protagonist, were rebelling in one sense or another, with Duncan being the most apparent of the three by dancing barefoot and without the restricting corsets of the era in which she resided.

It is interesting therefore to note that today’s dance and musical theatre scene may not be a rebellion of the previous, but more an evolution of the current, with choreographers and performers attempting new things in order to drive the industry and keep the art-form alive.

Kids Week is back for 2013

Kids Week 2013Kids Week, organised by the company behind Official London Theatre, Society of London Theatre, is now in its 16th year and aims to encourage families to experience the magic of theatre and welcome children through the West End’s doors. For 2013, the Kids Week team has announced a huge 34 top London shows as part of the line-up, offering free tickets to children aged 16 and under with every adult ticket purchased.

As well as receiving a free child’s ticket with every adult ticket purchased for a Kids Week show, Kids Week bookers are also able to book a further two children’s tickets for half price, as well as engage with numerous workshops and activities also offered. Family favourites and exciting new shows are amongst those offered for further events, so this year kids can don their tap shoes, high kick into the theatre and wave their jazz hands in the jam-packed range. Kids will have the opportunity to perhaps try ballet, learn classic pop songs, tap their troubles away and lots more!

2012 was a record-breaking year for Kids Week, so following on from this success, the annual campaign to encourage more people to embrace Theatreland will run for the whole of the month of August, full of performances, free activities and workshops for children and their families, giving adults the chance to shimmy-shake and all that jazz!

With something for everyone, shows on offer this year include seven-time Olivier Award winner The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, The 39 Steps, One Man, Two Guvnors, War Horse, The Woman In Black, the classic whodunit The Mousetrap, Billy Elliot The Musical, The Bodyguard, A Chorus Line, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage, Disney’s The Lion King, Let It Be, Mamma Mia!, Matilda The Musical, Les Misérables, Monty Python’s Spamalot, Jersey Boys, The Phantom Of The Opera, The Sound Of Music, Thriller Live, Top Hat, West Side Story, We Will Rock You and Wicked.

Toronto Technology For Ballet

Canada's National Ballet SchoolBallet has taken a new leap into technology, with students from 18 international schools having performed together virtually at a conference in Toronto. The students from Toronto were linked through dance and livestream with dancers in Amsterdam as part of a curriculum Canada’s National Ballet School has worked into the Assemblée Internationale, a week-long conference in Toronto with student dancers from ballet schools around the world. As a collaborative conference, it will bring students together to form bonds and learn about working together just as they are thinking about where they will be dancing professionally in a few years, with technology central to what they do.

Assemblée Internationale is an ambitious conference that involves 72 Canadian students and 109 from international schools, and among the young dancers in the Canadian class are dancers from London, Paris, Sydney, Havana, Copenhagen and New York. The conference allows the dancers to be involved in a new creation as a huge opportunity in the preparation for their professional careers where they will be working with many new choreographers. In addition to this, the project involves several aspects of technology which will broaden the horizons and expectations of the students who are so ingrained in the system of classical ballet. In addition to the improvisation required by the piece, it also needs the dancers to be in the moment of the movement and completely present, physically reacting to what they see on the screen.

In another leap into the unknown, in order to prepare the ballet students to perform the new work, Stream, NBS instructor Shaun Amyot has tried to teach his class to improvise, which is not a regular occurrence in the disciplined and precise world of classical ballet. For the conference itself, the dancers in Toronto were required to improvise, reacting to a screen showing dancers in Amsterdam performing to music. Amyot collaborated with Amsterdam-based choreographer Michael Schumacher to create Stream, and the Dutch National Ballet Academy danced the work in the studio in Amsterdam to fill the screen, which was proportioned to the height of the human body.

Dirty Dancing Set To Return!

Dirty Dancing - Aldwych TheatreThe hit West End musical that went on to tour the UK, Dirty Dancing, is set to replace Viva Forever! at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End, depicting a story of talent shows and friendships set to the music of the iconic Spice Girls. Despite this pull, the new musical is set to close its doors later this summer and welcome Dirty Dancing, which previously played in London at the Aldwych Theatre from 2006 until 2011 and has since been touring the UK. The much-loved musical will finish touring in June at the Manchester Opera House before returning to London and opening at the Piccadilly Theatre from July.

Beginning as a hit film in 1987, the American romance hooked the world with its lead protagonists Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey who played Johnny Castle and Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman respectively. Dirty Dancing then became the longest running show in the history of the Aldwych Theatre, having sold out for the first six months of its run before it opened! The classic story on stage went on to break records in Germany and the UK for having the highest advance ticket sales in history.

Dirty Dancing on tour was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, Australia in November 2004. Following this, the production went on a national tour of Australia and New Zealand, visiting Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Auckland and the show had a sell-out season of 18 months throughout Australia and New Zealand. The show has gone on to perform across the world in Toronto, Canada; Utrecht, Holland; a North American Tour including Chicago, Boston and LA and the production continues to play to sold-out houses and recently sold its one millionth ticket. Following the reinstatement of the iconic Dirty Dancing to London’s theatreland, a new UK tour of the musical will be launched in March next year.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Life After Training

DancersAfter three institutionalised years at performing arts college, the big bad world on the other side of the studio door can seem a little daunting. Many students will graduate from college alongside their peers, only to be greeted with the graduates from all the other acting, musical theatre and dance colleges all over the world, all battling for the same jobs. This is even without considering graduates from years before the current year, in addition to the professional dancers already established within the industry. When auditions are looming, it could seem that a fresh-faced graduate is ultimately a minuscule fish in a huge high-kicking sea.

This is not to say that new graduates are unable to obtain jobs in theatres and on projects, as this decision lies purely with the casting director. Your pirouettes may have been the best of your third year, but if your hair colour and height are not what fits the production bill, the job may go elsewhere.

Alternatively, many graduates lean towards the teaching disciplines, eager to apply their three years of training and experience to a different venture and help young dancers to prepare for their future dancing years. Many institutes of higher education and examination boards such as the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, the Royal Academy of Dance, the International Dance Teachers’ Association and the British Ballet Organisation are able to provide professional dancers with the qualifications they need to take up teaching jobs and help pass on their knowledge of performing arts. It is arguable that the satisfaction gleaned from teaching and aiding young students is equal to that of performing on stage, the buzz of applying yourself to the job immeasurable.

There are ultimately many different avenues of work for performing arts graduates, and all waiting for a fresh influx of young professionals later this year!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

English National Ballet and the The Coronation Festival

ENB Rebranded LogoIt has been announced that English National Ballet will take part in three Gala performances in the grounds of Buckingham Palace as part of the Coronation Festival in July this year, performing Tempus, a specially commissioned piece paying tribute to Her Majesty The Queen to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her Coronation.

Tempus, choreographed by Associate Artist George Williamson to a new score by composer Christopher Mayo, will be danced by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, alongside other Principals and Artists of the company such as Esteban Berlanga, Daria Klimentová, Vadim Muntagirov, Fernanda Oliveira, Zhanat Atymtayev, Bridgett Zehr, Ken Saruhashi, Ksenia Ovsyanick and Junor Souza. The work will be inspired by incredible era of change during her reign and a sense of transition and memories in order to celebrate the Queen’s years and simultaneously look to the future of the art form.

The Gala will form part of the Coronation Festival , which is to be a unique public event hosted by The Royal Warrant Holders Association and will encapsulate the Festival’s themes of excellence and innovation with a particular focus on youth, in a celebration of the past 60 years of performing arts. The Festival will be open to members of the public from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 July and the Galas will be broadcast on TV and radio, with a Royal Preview on Thursday, 11th July for invited guests.

The Coronation Festival is being hosted by The Royal Warrant Holders Association, and will showcase over 200 of the companies who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to the Households of The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh or The Prince of Wales.

The Big Dance Pledge

Big Dance 2013Artistic Director of English National Ballet Tamara Rojo has begun leading the Big Dance Pledge, an initiative to be performed by thousands of people all over the world on the weekend of 17-19 May. She was joined by her dancers from ENB and young dancers from Chingford Foundation School, London, to raise awareness of this fantastic project which they hope will go global.

Organised by Big Dance, the world’s largest biennial festival of dance and with the support of the British Council, the Big Dance Pledge has been taught, learnt and will be performed by over 32,000 people this weekend in hundreds of places around the world including India, Lebanon and Brazil. The Pledge has been specially choreographed by English National Ballet’s Creative Learning department (specifically by artists Laura Harvey (Creative Associate) and Jenna Lee (Soloist) and is a 3-minute dance routine that anyone can do – regardless of age or experience.

ENB hopes to inspire as many people as possible to take part and embrace the art of dance as a chance to learn something new and engage in a community experience after the fantastic success of Big Dance 2012. Last year the cause reached millions of people all over the country through the Big Dance Festival, which will take place again in 2014. The Pledge therefore aims to continue this success and remind everyone of the power of Big Dance to enfold communities in performing arts.

The Big Dance Pledge ultimately strives to build on the legacy left by last year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in involving all in a worthy and motivating cause, inspiring and encouraging people to make dance a bigger and more enriching part of their lives. With Tamara as one at the helm, who is an International Ambassador for Big Dance, it seems that Big Dance will continue as the ultimate dance experience in bringing dance to as many as possible in unexpected ways.

The Pledge is available to learn now and will be performed during the Pledge Performance Weekend (17-19 May). Watch the video below for more information.

Alina Cojocaru For Hospice of Hope

Aina CojocaruAlina Cojocaru, back in 2008, launched the fundraising for the Bucharest Hospice Appeal through her first gala for Hospice of Hope, a Romanian charity operating to prevent the abandonment of sick children. This donation of so much of her time and effort is in an entirely different vein from her Royal Ballet status.

Now for 2013, Cojocaru will be providing Sadler’s Wells with another unique evening in the completion of the project and another gala performance in aid of the charity. This incredible evening of artists will work to celebrate the past, present and future of dance, and will include highlights from classical repertoire in addition to some rarely seen works , such as those choreographed by Marius Petipa, Tim Rushton, and her fiancé and dance partner Johan Kobborg, amongst others.

The programme will include 101, Don Quixote, Carmen Fantasie for Violin and Orchestra, Excerpts from Sleeping Beauty, Salute (UK premiere), Dying Swan solo and Les Lutins amongst many more. In turn, dancing these pieces on 12 May will be internationally renowned dancers, giving the gala audience the chance to see many talented stars of the classical ballet industry perform under one roof and for one night only. These stars include Isabelle Ciaravola (Paris Opera Ballet), English National Ballet Principals Erina Takahashi and Vadim Muntagirov, Steven McRae, Johan Kobborg, Akane Takada, Frankie Hayward, Marcelino Sambe and James Hay (Royal Ballet), Sergei Polunin (Stanislavsky Ballet), Xander Parish (Mariinsky Ballet), Matthew Golding (Dutch National Ballet), Ana Sendas and Stefanos Bizas (Danish Dance Theatre) and violin virtuoso Charlie Siem will also take to the stage.

Alina recently travelled to Bucharest to see the progress of the Hospice of Hope building site, in addition to The National Ballet School of Romania, in which some of its students will perform a fragment of Johan Kobborg’s Salute.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.