Gillian Lynne: A Dance Legend

Gillian Lynne with Peter Land (2008)Beginning as a soloist under Dame Ninette de Valois in the original Sadler’s Wells Ballet, going on to become a star dancer at the London Palladium, acting opposite Errol Flynn in films and dancing on television, it seems Gillian Lynne has done the lot!

Gillian’s career took off when she danced the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake aged 16 and was spotted by de Valois. She entered Sadler’s Wells Ballet aged 17 and rose through the ranks to become a leading dancer, with her roles including the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, one of three ballerinas in Symphonic Variations, Queen of the Willis in Giselle, Black Ballerina in Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial, and Black Queen in de Valois’ Checkmate. Gillian went on to set herself on the dance map as a performer, choreographer, director and innovator.

Gillian was instrumental in the development of jazz dance in Britain and her distinctive style, which is a fusion of classical and jazz, lead to her fantastic work on the world famous musical Cats – for which she is probably most well-known – and also on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s worldwide hits Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love, which she staged and choreographed. Aside from these huge hits which took the West End by storm in their heyday and continue to do so today, Gillian has also worked on shows such as Cabaret, Pickwick, Hans Christian Andersen, My Fair Lady, Songbook and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and for the Royal Shakespeare Company, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, The Boyfriend and The Secret Garden. In addition to the West End stage, her ballets included The Bröntes, On Such A Night (Northern Ballet) and Journey (Bolshoi Ballet), and feature films include A Wonderful Life, Half a Sixpence and Gillian also staged many of the famous Muppet Shows.

Gillian still has the same vigour and passion for life in her late eighties, most recently being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Olivier Awards and giving the keynote speech at the Royal Academy of Dance’s Dance for Lifelong Wellbeing conference, the syllabus under which she originally trained. Gillian was honoured by the Royal Academy of Dance with the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award in 2001, and was awarded the CBE in 1997.

Image courtesy of shakespearetheatreco (Shakespeare Theatre Company) on Flickr.

Choros – A Pas De Trente Deux!


Today we are highlighting an incredibly hypnotic short film called Choros. Filmed in 2011 by Michael Langan & Terah Maher, Choros is a dizzying combination of music, dance and cinema where a single dancer (Maher) is “layered” over herself 32 times… in effect, a “pas de trente-deux”! Set to Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the result is surreal, highly inventive and just plain beautiful to watch.

The filming of Choros references a historical technique called chronophotography, whcih used multiple photographs to enable the scientific study of a subject’s movement. However, Langan and Maher have advanced the technique in Choros through digital innovation, which has lead to multiple international awards since its launch.

Watching the full work requires freeing up some time as it lasts for 13 minutes, but we urge everyone to watch this truly stunning film… it is inspirational!

ZooNation’s New show!

ZooNation Dance CompanyZooNation, the hip hop dance company founded by Kate Prince in 2002, will perform the world premiere of new production Groove on Down the Road at the Southbank Centre in London this summer. The new show is written and directed by Prince, and has been commissioned by the Southbank Centre, described as a “unique twist” on The Wizard of Oz.

Prince’s production will include music from the 1978 film The Wiz, and will be re-mixed with current hits by DJ Walde. The cast will comprise dancers under the age of 19 and two 11 year-old dancers, Arizona Snow and Portia Oti, will share the role of Dorothy, taking to the stage and unleashing their talents. This cast is born from the ZooNation Academy of Dance, which Prince trains each week, an admirer of their capability and talents at such a young age. The dancers have had huge amounts of access to hip hop dance and the culture which surrounds it, and the wealth of information that comes too. As a result of this, the group is made up of a whole new breed of dancers who have a raw, authentic and fearless skill and passion for dance.

The show marks the return of the hip hop dance company to the venue after it last performed there in 2010 with smash-hit Into the Hoods, a take on the musical Into the Woods. Into the Woods was created in 2005 and was commissioned by Sadler’s Wells to be performed for the first time in 2006 at the Peacock Theatre. The show then opened on the West End in 2008 and therefore became the first hip hop dance show on the West End and the longest running dance show in the history of Theatreland.

Groove on Down the Road will run from August 10 to September 1 at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Dawn Williams – Life On Tour In Cats!


As the Cats tour grips the country in a wealth of feline frolics and incredible talent, Dance Direct caught up with Dawn Williams, who is fresh out of musical theatre college and is playing kitten Jemima.

Dawn, have you always wanted to be on stage?

I have wanted to be on stage, for as long as I can remember, and have been dancing, singing and acting from such a young age. Performing was the only thing that I knew I wanted to do as a career.

Dawn WilliamsWhere did you go to train and what was it like there?

I went to Harlequin Stage School in Worcesterhire, as well as WODYS amateur dramatics and Emma Winscom Young Singers. For the last 3 years, I have trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom, Surrey, where I graduated in Professional Musical Theatre and Dance. It was three years that I wouldn’t change for the world and I feel that it was the right school for me as it fulfilled all my needs and concentrated on aspects which I needed to improve and learn more about. Of course, it had highs and lows, and it was never easy, but the hard work was definitely worth it and I graduated ready for the industry. Well, as ready as I could have been! I think you are always going to be learning ‘on-the-job’ and from other people throughout your career.

Did you audition a lot before Cats?

I started auditioning in my final term at Laine, through the college agency. I auditioned for cruises, West End shows and tours, even flew to Germany for an audition. I did okay in these auditions, and wasn’t too disappointed as I was still at college. I then got a QDOS pantomime playing Wendy in Peter Pan. I was over the moon, as I felt that this was a good place to start my career. From graduating from Laine I then got a new agent.  I got signed by Gina Rowland from Bronia Buchannan and was fortunate to obtain fringe work at the Union theatre in a production of Call Me Madam directed by Michael Strassen. It was then that I started to audition for Cats and was successful. I was very lucky as I then went from job to job.

What was the Cats audition like?

The Cats audition process started with a dance round first, where we were taught a section of the Jellicle Ball. Then there was a cut which kept back a handful from a room full of girls. We then had to sing our own material and I got called back several times after this and was asked to learn material from Cats.  We worked on the dance choreography each time we had a call-back: after a 3 week process I got a phone call from my agent to say that I have been offered the role of Jemima and first cover Rumpleteazer. As expected I screamed! And ran round my house!

Were the rehearsals hard?

The rehearsal process was hard as for the majority of the time I was still getting my head around the fact that I was there and was going to be a part of such a great show! We only had one month, which (we were warned) had never been done before for Cats. Learning the choreography was amazing as it was the original as choreographed by Gillian Lynne, and learning all the music was amazing as I had never been in an environment where 26 people were all singing great music in harmony. I had to make sure that I went home and went over everything I my head, so I was singing and doing the dance moves in my sleep. Along with learning the solid material, becoming a cat was so interesting as well as difficult. We had to attend a cat workshop in order to focus on all aspects of becoming a convincing cat. We were taught to be aware of what was around us, our senses, our feelings and everything in our bodies and how that all made us feel or react.  I would say that all of this work was harder than setting and learning the show!

What is understudying like?

I’ve really enjoyed understudying. At first I found it hard as I was learning my own track so in rehearsals I took note of where my cover was positioned,  then when I was confident with the part of Jemima I learnt the choreography for Rumpleteaser.

Have you played the part yet?

Recently I have been on as Rumpleteaser, since the end of Manchester until first week in Bradford, where I did the first rehearsal and press night which was exciting but nerve wracking, just because Rumple is an older character and I had to think about the different counts and traffic, and also working in as a duet. But, I had a great time and it was good to do a run of shows rather than just a one-off performance.

What is it like being on tour?. Is it what you expected, or different?

I didn’t know what to expect really being on tour but I am really enjoying it, as it is my first big job and it keeps me fresh being at different venues, as the sound, stage, theatres are all so different. Some venues work better than others and some venues are nicer places to visit, but overall I am really enjoying it!

What is a day in the life of Dawn, and does this change from place to place on tour?

My normal day would be to get up at around 10am, have breakfast, and then go out to see the place in which I am staying and then meet some of the cast for lunch. I tend to eat larger lunch then I am used to, as I get to the theatre for 5pm, so I need something to fill me up until 10.30pm, but I eat about 3pm so that I don’t feel full by the time the show starts. When I get to the theatre it then takes me 45 minutes to do my makeup. Although I have got a lot faster, I don’t like to rush it and some of it I still find really tricky, like the eyes and muscle, so I like to take my time. I then have to warm up at 6pm, physical and vocal until the half hour call, then it’s wig and costume time. The show comes down at 10.15pm roughly, when I change and maybe have one drink after the show but most of the time I go back home and relax before bed.

Do you enjoy it?

I really am enjoying it but it is still overwhelming at times. Working with a great cast and team makes it even more enjoyable. The show is so energetic, as soon as you get into the zone to start the show Act 1 is done, it goes so fast and Act 2 soon follows. I love being Jemima too, as I am a kitten so I can have lots of fun, be playful, curious about different things and I have a great dance track, but then I get to perform the lovely spiritual moments singing at the beginning of Act 2 and later on in the show the famous Memory with Grizabella. With this show no performance is the same as we are always experimenting with different ways of being feline, the way we walk, the way we crawl, the way we get up and down, the positions on set and our relationships with the other cats.

Do you have any pre show rituals?

The cast of Cats always gets together at the beginners’ call and we all hold hands as we are about to become a tribe as this helps us all to get focused and it brings us all together before the show! I always have to have the same leg warmers on too, so the black one always goes on the left leg and the black and white one on the right!

What is your advice to aspiring performers?

Find the right training for you. Believe in yourself. Never give up. Work hard. Dreams really can come true!

Find out where the Cats tour is heading next:

Ticket Mania

Theatre TicketsTheatre tickets are, quite simply, difficult to come by. Gone are the days when a member of the audience went to the box office in person and bought a ticket, used a ticket agency or even called the theatre to make a reservation, then sent a cheque or postal order by mail.

Today, online booking has become a fast and effective means of buying tickets for productions all over the world, but even this method of securing tickets to a show is not guaranteed, with tickets reaching extortionate prices, or being snapped up by those with theatre memberships before the tickets have chance to reach the general public.

Even ticket touts and supposed half-price ticket booths which flood the West End Theatreland of London often have little to no availability of tickets for big hits and equally popular shows, with many selling out weeks in advance. Book of Mormon, for example, is already booking until January 2014 and must be booked months before the date the audience wishes to see the show.

It has also become evident that unofficial ticket vendors have been able to offer tickets for many times their original cost, such as like offering a pair of tickets outside the Gielgud, where Helen Mirren is starring in The Audience, for £500 a pair. However, it may be that the demand outweighs the ethics, with only those able to afford the tickets able to see the shows too. Many audience members are unable to afford tickets of prices such as these, and therefore will be unable to see the production.

However supply is limited to the number of seats a theatre has to sell and for hot new shows, more tickets cannot be printed, just released for sale further ahead. Ticket buying has become complex, full of choices and requires skill in navigating around the many apparent discounts, booking fees and obstacles even before the journey to the theatre, with many desperate audience members prepared to pay almost any price.

The Olivier Awards 2013

2013 Olivier Awards

The Olivier Awards, organised by the Society of London Theatre, were presented at the Royal Opera House on Sunday in the celebration of talent that graces our theatrical stages.

For dance there was a wealth of wondrous watching in the performances which won nominations in different categories –

Best New Dance Production:

The Royal Ballet’s Aeternum was nominated, featuring Principal Marianela Nunez, who was also nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. Also in this category was Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which picked up the National Dance Award for Best Classical Choreography earlier this year, and NDT2’s Cacti.

Outstanding Achievement in Dance:

ILL-Abilities Company, who will be performing as part of Breakin’ Convention’s 10th anniversary, Lez Brotherston for the set and costumes for New Adventures’ Sleeping Beauty, and Marianela Nunez for varied and fantastic performances in Aeternum, Diana & Actaeon and Viscera of The Royal Ballet were all nominated in this category. Earlier this year Nunez was also awarded the National Dance Award for Best Female Dancer.

Best Theatre Choreographer:

Bill Deamer for Top Hat, first-time Olivier Award nominee Scott Ambler for Chariots of Fire in his reinvention of the Olympic-inspired running scenes, double Olivier Award-winning Stephen Mear for Kiss Me, Kate, and Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, as part of Frantic Assembly, were all nominated for this category.

The nominees for Best Musical Revival were A Chorus Line, Cabaret, Kiss Me, Kate and Sweeney Todd, and the nominees for the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award nominees were Billy Elliot, Matilda, Phantom of the Opera and Wicked.

Following the nominations, the glittering event and red carpet saw the many winners acknowledged in their contribution to great theatre, with a few included below.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren for The Audience

Best Actor: Luke Treadaway for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

BBC Radio 2 Audience Award: Billy Elliot

Best Musical Revival: Sweeney Todd

Best Actress in a Musical: Imelda Staunton for Sweeney Todd

Best Actor in a Musical: Michael Ball for Sweeney Todd

Best New Musical: Top Hat

Autograph Sound Award for Best Theatre Choreographer: Bill Deamer for Top Hat

Best New Dance Production: Aeternum by The Royal Ballet, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon

Outstanding Achievement in Dance: Marianela Nunez for Aeternum, Diana & Actaeon and Viscera by The Royal Ballet

Best Entertainment and Family: Goodnight Mister Tom

Special Awards: Michael Frayn and Gillian Lynne

News from New Adventures

New AdventuresThe 25th anniversary of Matthew Bourne’s company New Adventures was 2012, and was perhaps one of the busiest in the company’s history. With the continued success of Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty in 2013, it seems there is no stopping the contemporary, theatrical company.

New Adventures recently announced that Sleeping Beauty will tour the United States from September this year, playing two week seasons in Cleveland (Playhousesquare), New York (City Center) and Los Angeles (Ahmanson Theatre) in addition to a week-long engagement at the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Opening at the Civic Center in Des Moines on 27 September, the three month tour will also travel to Schenectady (Proctors) and Charlotte(Blumenthal Performing Arts). The US tour will follow the current record-breaking UK tour of the production, which is also due to visit The Ravenna Festival in Italy (29 May – 2 June) and the company’s fifth visit to The Chekhov International Festival in Moscow (11 -16 June).

Holiday plans have also been announced, with the original cast of Sleeping Beauty being filmed at the Bristol Hippodrome in May for later broadcast on UK and International television over the Christmas period. This will be followed by a subsequent DVD release: the film will be directed by Ross MacGibbon, who has collaborated many times with Matthew Bourne on previous award-winning New Adventures films, including the recent Imagine Documentary, “A Beauty Is Born”.

In the unveiling of another production for the company, Scottish Ballet will be presenting Highland Fling having been granted the rights to perform it. Highland Fling was originally produced in 1994, and was revived in 2005 before the exclusive 2013 Scottish Ballet production as an imaginative reworking of the classic romantic ballet La Sylphide with a wickedly wry Scotch twist.

Theatreland Cinema

Digital Theatre & CinemaLiveSimilar to many ballet productions that have recently been screened in cinemas, it will be possible in the future to catch up with your favourite West End shows with a bucket of popcorn. Digital Theatre, which makes filmed theatre productions available for download online, and CinemaLive have paired up to screen some of the best of British theatre in UK cinemas, both new works and those from theatrical archives.

Digital Theatre has partnered with film producers CinemaLive and will present its first series of screenings in September 2013. No titles have been annoucned yet for the screening programme, but the focus will be primarily on West End productions, including David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing and David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. In turn this will presumably make West End productions more accessible to larger audiences, however this may also decrease their unique exclusivity, and the singular experience of taking in a production in the heart of Theatreland. Despite this, opening up West End productions to other audiences may also increase revenue for theatres in inspiring audiences to see other and alternative productions that they may first have seen in the cinema.

Since the launch of National Theatre Live in 2009, theatre has had an increasingly regular presence in cinemas. In June 2013, NT Live will broadcast its first West End production, The Audience which stars Helen Mirren, following the lead of Graham McLaren’s production of Great Expectations, which was live-broadcasted its opening night around the UK. This took around £80,000 at the box office, emphasising the decline (or perhaps increase) of audiences visiting West End theatres, but ultimately expanding the possibilities by offering audiences another chance to catch past productions they might have missed.

Founded by Robert Delamere and Tom Shaw in 2009, Digital Theatre now hosts productions from some of the UK’s largest theatres, including the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company Shakespeare’s Globe and the Almeida theatre.

First Position

First PositionFirst Position, a ballet documentary-come-movie to be screened in cinemas in the UK, paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted ballet stars of tomorrow as they prepare for the chance to enter the world of professional ballet. Bess Kargman’s award-winning box office hit documentary follows six extraordinary dancers, complete with bruises, blood, injuries and near exhaustion, as they follow their dreams and enter the Youth America Grand Prix, held annually in New York for boys and girls aged 8 to 19.

Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter the Youth America Grand Prix as one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions where talented dancers compete for the coveted title. In the final round hundreds of young dancers compete for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts and it is imperative that nothing short of perfection is performed. First Position showcases the awe-inspiring talent and passion that is displayed by the dancers, and had its World Premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and was named the audience choice’s first runner-up for Best Documentary. It also won the Jury Prize at the San Francisco Doc Fest, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Dallas International Film Festival, the audience award for Best Documentary at the Portland International Film Festival, and the audience award for Best Documentary at DOC NYC.

First Position centres around the protagonist characters of Jules Jarvis Fogarty, age 10, Aran Bell, age 11, Gaya Bommer Yemini, age 11, Miko Fogarty, age 12, Michaela DePrince, age 14, Joan Sebastian Zamora, age 16, and Rebecca Houseknecht, age 17. The dancers are from all over the world, and First Position reveals the dancers’ fates, with most of the group emerging from the competition with a statuette, award, scholarship or contract with a ballet company.

NYCB’s Next Season

New York City Ballet LogoNew York City Ballet company, founded in 1948, has announced its 2013-14 season, and it is set to be incredibly exciting for eager ballet and dance fans of all genres. The new season is set to include the world premieres of ballets by Peter Martins, Justin Peck, Angelin Preljocaj and Liam Scarlett, a good result due to the speculation surrounding his absence from the next Royal Ballet season.

NYCB has carved its fantastic reputation as one of the foremost dance companies in the world, with a company of dancers who excel in their field and are unparalleled in their talent and repertory. As a result of the founders George Balanchine and Lincoln Kerstein’s dedication and commitment in its early years, the company quickly became renowned worldwide for its athletic, modern and contemporary style.

The season for NYCB will also include 22 works by company co-founder and the esteemed choreographer Balanchine, with an additional 7 works by choreographer Jerome Robbins. The iconic and traditional production of Balanchine’s Nutcracker will also run for the annual season over Christmas as part of the company’s 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which has been the Company’s home since the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) opened in April 1964. In total, the season features performances of 50 ballets in the celebration.

First up for the season, beginning on 17 September, will be 6 performances of Martins’ Swan Lake and a gala performance with a premiere of work by Preljocaj. This season will also incorporate a family programme which will feature Christopher Wheeldon’s Carnival of the Animals, Martins’ Jeu de Cartes and Robbins’ Four Seasons. In the New Year, there will be a week-long festival of 21st-century choreographers, with 11 ballets by 10 choreographers, showcasing Peck’s world premiere and also including 2 fully Balanchine programmes.

Image courtesy of New York City Ballet.