Cape Town City Ballet’s crisis

Cape Town City Ballet has recently experienced a crisis in South Africa, having been removed from its University of Cape Town premises after 82 years of partnership with the organisation. The reasons cited were that the company’s ballet was “euro-centric and colonial”. Company members were warned it had become unsafe for them to be on UCT property due to student protest action, particularly students in the contemporary and African dance streams.

During December the company was searching for somewhere to rehearse, with three imminent productions. It was offered the temporary use of a small studio, at the back of arts organisation Artscape, but this did not provide the office staff with any facilities in order to continue working too. However, it was claimed by UCT that when the ballet company’s yearly lease had ended, rehearsal space was needed by the university itself, and that it would continue to support ballet as an art form.

The premises was only rented by the company, and it offered tuition to students as part of the agreement. The UCT School of Ballet became an important source of dancers for the company and, throughout her tenure as head of department there, the company’s executive director insisted on including contemporary and African dance as options for majors. Despite this, the university’s students feel it is not appropriate for a classical ballet company to be on the premises because of the European and colonial connotations surrounding it.

The company has therefore had to suspend its development programme for young male dancers, which has led to several black male dancers being spotted by overseas companies as soon as they became semi-professional. It is clear Cape Town City Ballet has provided a nurturing environment for university and aspiring performance students, and for graduate dancers and choreographers too.

Pantomime pleasures

Attending the local pantomime as part of your theatre ventures can be a completely different theatrical experience. Interacting with the action on stage, pop songs twisted to suit the story and pyrotechnics make for a unique trip to the theatre. Saturday matinées are likely to be made up of mostly children, and performances can run through to the new year, and sometimes into January too. Pantomime can be a guilty pleasure for some, but for others it is a chance to relish in the Christmas spirit through the well-known story playing out on stage.

Telling the story concisely is imperative for audiences, keeping it fresh and energetic with jokes to suit the adults and pranks to suit the children. Some children who attend may not be familiar with the story of the pantomime, and it is important to engage them immediately by the characters and their journeys. However if the story is familiar, it needs to have new zeal in equal measure. New choreographers working with the company also help to keep the production relevant but injecting modern dance accompaniment to the traditions of pantomime.

Mixing old and new in pantomime ensures the show is relevant and does not feel dated, however some pantomime traditions are non-negotiable. Elements such as the pantomime baddie always entering from stage left and the goodie from stage right; the “oh no you didn’t”;the verbal comedy; the visual slapstick and the song sheet are all vital elements that audiences expect from attending. However, keeping the production contemporary engages audiences too, with cultural and social references that the audiences will enjoy.

Today there is a big audience expectation of high-quality productions which would be worthy of the West End, with highly skilled singers and dancers moving the show along. The company tends to be encouraged to play with their roles and develop them, whilst remaining convincing for the audience. Areas of the company such as the chorus are relied upon to be skilled in many areas, with highly polished movement and slick routines, all the time working together as a team.

Astrophysics through dance

During Manchester’s year as European City of Science 2016, Dance Manchester – the dance development organisation for Greater Manchester – collaborated with the Science & Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub of the University of Manchester to explore the communication of contemporary astrophysics through contemporary dance. Teaching astrophysics through dance has therefore been the project of both academics and dancers in Manchester, and through future collaboration it seems the team will instil an understanding of their similarities in the way the two sides work.

The idea behind the collaboration began when the Science & Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub was focusing on bringing dance to the Great Primary Science Share, an event held at Manchester Town Hall back in July. This led to the creation of Stellarium, a youth dance performance which moved on to communicating contemporary astrophysics through contemporary dance. Through the partnership both sides gained access to new expertise, contexts and audiences.

Over 200 primary school children saw Stellarium at the Great Primary Science Share, and it was also seen by secondary school students at the Great Science Share Takeover at the Museum of Science and Industry. It was performed at outdoor community events too, including Manchester Day, organised by Walk the Plank, and as part of Signatures Youth Dance Trail – a project with the Lowry – presented as part of UDance, the national youth dance festival. As a result, a new genre was profiled for dance.

Stellarium was led by an all-female team, bringing together a female choreographer alongside three female astrophysicists, arising from a partnership started by two female leaders. Both the dance and science sectors have issues around a limited profile for women so this is positive. Following the collaboration, Dance Manchester is now piloting Moving Space, a Stellarium spin-off, providing other schools and colleges with the opportunity to supplement the existing curriculum with this different approach to learning, using dance to communicate science.

All I want for Christmas…

New Year, New You is the phrase on many pairs of lips as we move swiftly towards 2017. Planning and meeting your dance resolutions can be a fun task, thinking about successes throughout the year and what you are going to work towards next year. Having new goals to aim for is hugely fulfilling in the aim to progress further along our dance journeys, and what better time to do this than the new year?

Aside from the aim to improve certain parts of your dance repertoire or skills, the new year can also be an ideal time to try a new dance class, or attend a class by a teacher you have not been taught by before. Fresh eyes on you and a fresh outlook to dance and teaching can give your dancing a boost as you discover a new technique, or discover your aptitude for a certain step or sequence. Attending open classes is a great way to achieve this aim – there can be lots to choose from! Be confident in class and embrace new challenges.

However, setting goals can be something very personal and individual to each dancer. Some dancers may prefer to focus on one goal, others may have an overarching aim for the year ahead. While there is no limit to your dancing dreams and goals you wish to master, success may be swifter by focusing on a select number of goals at one time. Measure your success periodically and keep yourself accountable for your goals – keep focusing on what you can do every day to move yourself a little closer to achieving it.

Whether it is becoming a better turner, learning a new dance skill or simply reaching out to new teachers or classes, there are many ways that you can strengthen and lengthen your dancing skills. Creating goals requires motivation, aspiration and moreover enjoyment, to continue propelling yourself forwards to achieve more.

On The Town by Drew McOnie

Fresh-faced yet up and coming choreographer Drew McOnie is set to direct and choreograph a new production of Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town, which will form part of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s new season. The Arts Educational Tring Park graduate has experienced unbounded success in his work as a choreographer, and it is expected that this production will be no different. The setting for this new work is both exciting and fresh, so it seems audiences are in for a treat.

McOnie will return to the theatre after choreographing the recent staging of Jesus Christ Superstar, which will also return to the outside theatre as part of the season,  alongside On The Town. Other productions being staged as part of the season include Dickens Uncovered, a series of performances celebrating the life of the novelist; A Tale of Two Cities, directed by Regent’s Park artistic director Timothy Sheader and adapted by Matthew Dunster; and Oliver Twist Created for Everyone Aged Six and Over, adapted by playwright Anya Reiss from Dickens’ original novel and directed by Caroline Byrne.

The summer of 2017 therefore looks set to delight with these productions hitting the stage. With two from McOnie, his success looks set to continue – other recent work from the young choreographer is Jekyll and Hyde in London, and Strictly Ballroom in Yorkshire. On the Town, which includes iconic song and dance numbers, such as “New York, New York” and “Lonely Town”, will be the biggest dance musical ever staged at the Open Air Theatre, it has been claimed. It will run from 19 May to 1 July with opening night on 25 May.

The already announced Jesus Christ Superstar will return to the theatre between 11 August to 16 September, with other productions slotting in too.

London’s new art centre

A new art centre in west London is being planned as part of a £10 million investment in the area, as a central hub. The proposals by Westway Trust will see film screenings, live music and theatre staged at the 1,000 capacity venue, which will also play a large role in the performance preparations for Notting Hill Carnival. The developments are expected to breathe new life into the area through the charity Westway Trust, which owns and manages the land.

The new facilities are expected to create 150 new jobs as well as apprenticeships, in a significant boost to the economy. Specifically, the arts and culture centre will have an all-day programme of events including film screenings, live music, theatre, arts workshops and exhibitions, year round. This will be sound-proofed and could therefore include backstage space for preparations for Notting Hill Carnival, as well as working to maintain the local arts festival Portobello Live!. Amongst many other social benefits of the development, the arts and culture side looks particularly promising.

Close by, a new stage and grassed performance area and children’s play area will also be created, aiming to encourage visitors to spend longer in the neighbourhood. To date the plans and proposals have been welcomed positively, building on the unique appeal of the area. The plans will provide improved spaces to enhance the area’s cultural life and benefit the community, in additional to making it more sustainable long-term.

Perhaps most important is the variety of opportunities for young people to begin their careers which will be available. Here the future looks particularly exciting, and will work to enhance the heritage of the much loved west London area. Following plans, exhibitions and consultations, the planning application for this development is thought to be submitted in 2017.

The return of La Soirée

Christmas in Leicester Square, brought to audiences this year by Underbelly, is well underway and running until 8 January 2017. As a reimagined Christmas event in the heart of London’s iconic Leicester Square, it will feature a traditional Christmas market and Santa’s Grotto for families, as well as seeing the return of La Soirée, the Olivier Award-winning theatrical phenomenon. This will be its seventh season in the capital in the iconic Spiegeltent.

The cabaret sensation will see six new performers make their debuts alongside favourite acts from previous years. La Soirée promises an unforgettable night of thrills, laughter and disbelief, filled with cabaret entertainers from around the world. Brand new acts revealed for this year include the New Orleans songstress Acantha Lang, juggler Olivia Porter, acrobat David Girard and his ‘CirQle’ apparatus, hula-hooping Satya Bella, trapeze artist Jarred Dewey, and the comedy couple Daredevil Chicken. Much-loved favourites The English Gents and Captain Frodo make triumphant returns to the Spiegeltent, alongside Denis Lock’s show-stopping bubble act.

Not your normal everyday juggler, in a very short time Olivia Porter has already taken the circus and physical theatre world by storm with her innovative juggling style. Satya Bella has spent the last ten years spinning in circles and taking the hula hoop to the next level. Having undergone elite training with the Beijing Acrobatic School, Satya combines a display of grace, flexibility and multi-hooping. Aerialist Jarred Dewey has been swinging between both hemispheres since he burst onto the circus scene.

La Soirée has now seen over 75 artists take their place on the iconic red stage in over 25 cities, across five continents, with over 150 acts between them. Audiences and critics alike have been wowed by La Soirée’s ever-expanding, dysfunctional family since the company first played together in Edinburgh back in 2004. Over 5.5 million people have now seen La Soirée perform across the globe.

Success for over 60s group Yama

Yama, an over 60s dance performance company based in Bath, south west England, was recently announced as this year’s winner of the Cosyfeet Community Award for Somerset. Supported by Bath Dance and the Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts (ICIA), the group achieved a £500 award that will be used to help fund the group’s transport to dance events around the country in the future.

Yama Dance, led by the company’s Artistic Director Anna Heighway, attracts a range of members, in their 60s and 70s. The dancers who make up the group generally danced in their youth, however the group is also made up of those who are learning to dance for the first time. The group is successful alone in creating this dancing opportunity for its Bath members: there are numerous dance groups and opportunities for younger dancers, so Yama goes some way in promoting the visibility of this age group though performance.

The group was originally established to fill an opportunity gap for mature dancers in the area, and one of its key selling points is recognising that dance is not just about keeping fit. As with much research and recent press coverage, for this group particularly dance is about providing social interaction with similar peers, and maintaining a strong sense of wellbeing. Here dance feeds the body, mind and soul.

Yama Dance has 35 members and meets weekly at the Bath University dance studio. Its recent award was the Cosyfeet Community Award, run by Cosyfeet, specialising in footwear, socks and hosiery for people with swollen feet. Many of their customers are over 65, so to this end the award is a natural support for the dance group, enriching the lives of older people and helping them remain healthy, happy and independent.

The Wind in the Willows returns

Following a highly-acclaimed pre-West End run, major new musical The Wind in the Willows will open in the West End at the London Palladium in June. The production played at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton until 20 November, following its premiere at Theatre Royal Plymouth. Continuing its success, the musical is now set to delight London audiences too.

Comedian, actor and presenter Rufus Hound stars as Mr Toad in the new musical based on Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved classic, with full casting still to be announced. The production reunites Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and Olivier Award-winning composer and lyricist George Stiles and Anthony Drewe in making it a success.

Fellowes won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe in 2011 for his popular period drama Downton Abbey, and also won an Oscar in 2002 for his Gosford Park screenplay. Having collaborated with Stiles and Drewe on Mary Poppins and a new version of Half a Sixpence which recently transferred to the West End, other recent stage credits include School of Rock. Stiles and Drewe have been writing together for over thirty years. They are best known for writing new songs for Mary Poppins, their Olivier Award-winning Honk! and Betty Blue Eyes.

Producer Jamie Hendry has created over thirty major productions around the world, including the multi award-winning Legally Blonde the Musical and the hit Beatles show Let It Be. Following the musical’s London transfer announcement, Hendry confirmed he would be continuing his pledge to provide readers of all ages the opportunity to enjoy The Wind in the Willows, by sending free copies of Kenneth Grahame’s novel to every school and library in London.

This musical comedy follows Mr Toad whose insatiable need for speed lands him in trouble. With his home under threat from the Chief Weasel and his gang of Wild Wooders, Toad must attempt a daring escape leading to a series of misadventures and a heroic battle to recapture Toad Hall. The West End announcement comes after the producers opened a public investment scheme for the musical, which saw hundreds of members of the public invest in the new musical through individual investments of up to £5,000.

Boy Blue Entertainment takes over the Barbican

Hip-hop dance company Boy Blue Entertainment is set to take over the Barbican Centre next year, with a new triple bill Blak Whyte Gray – a Barbican co-production and co-commission. As a Barbican Artistic Associate, Boy Blue Entertainment will present the world premiere in January. It will focus on issues of young people on a large scale, in the current socio-political climate.

Elsewhere in the theatre, the company will host a panel discussion on the future of the art form, highlight the next generation of UK hip-hop theatre and dance pioneers, there will be freestyle events and performances by emerging artists, a B.S.I Jam: Boy Blue After Party and a Weekend Lab, with the company’s co-founders Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante.

Blak Whyte Gray will run from 12–21 January, looking at a world in flux. The artists of Boy Blue give expression to experiences of contemporary life, fuelled by an emotional energy. The production focuses on the physicality of hip-hop dance styles with rhythms and moves evoking Africa. This will reveal a different side to the company’s personality, with lighting by Olivier Award-nominated Lee Curran and costumes by Ryan Dawson Laight. Following the Barbican run, Blak Whyte Gray tours to HOME in Manchester in February.

A platform will be created for innovative artists to showcase their talent, and the Hip-Hop Matters panel discussion will bring together Boy Blue and the Blak Whyte Gray creative team to discuss the issues explored in the production. The weekend lab will form a practical workshop exploring the working processes behind Blak Whyte Gray, suitable for students in higher education and training, emerging artists and professionals, aged 16+.

The Barbican therefore pushes the boundaries of all major art forms including dance, film, music, theatre and visual arts. Its creative learning programme forms a large part of this world-class arts and learning organisation, with over 1.5 million people passing through the Barbican’s doors annually.