English National Ballet’s Choreographics

English National Ballet ChoreographicsEnglish National Ballet’s platform for emerging dance makers, Choreographics, will take place at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio on 19 and 20 June, a programme celebrating young choreographers. The initiative of the event focuses on the development of up and coming choreographers both within and outside the Company, offering them the opportunity to progress their skills as creators and discover their own choreographic language.

Recent debate regarding the absence of female choreographers in the dance industry has been heartfelt and passionate, so it is encouraging to see female dancer Stina Quagebeu as part of the programme, following Artistic Director Tamara Rojo’s additions to the debate. For the first time, Choreographics is open to artists outside of English National Ballet in 2015, and sees work presented by Morgann Runacre-Temple, choreographer in residence at Ballet Ireland since 2009, who has created four full-length ballets for the company; and Renato Paroni de Castro, who has previously choreographed works for Sarasota Ballet and London Studio Centre’s classical ballet performance group, Images of Dance.

The six works programmed are completed by company dancers, inspired by the theme of post war America, from English National Ballet artists Fabian Reimair, who created We Are Free for last year’s programme; James Streeter, who’s work In Living Memory was performed at Latitude Festival in 2014; Quagebeur, who’s Vera was selected by The Breaking Glass Project and performed in New York, and who recently worked on English National Ballet’s second Dance Journeys project at Sadler’s Wells; and Max Westwell, making his debut as a choreographer in a professional setting.

Each choreographer will receive mentoring from award-winning choreographer Russell Maliphant and dancer, choreographer and teacher Kerry Nicholls. Musical guidance will be received from English National Ballet’s Music Director Gavin Sutherland, and each piece created will be performed by English National Ballet company members, ensuring the roots of the competition continue to flourish.

Practice To Pointe To Perfection

Bloch Axis Pointe ShoesThere are many approaches to pointe training, and many reasons behind each of them. As an aspiring young dancer taking their first steps ‘en pointe’, you need training that will build up your strength whilst maintaining your technique, helping you to make a smooth transition onto pointe from ballet flats.

Whilst you are training in pointe, before you get to full scale performances, the chances are you are spending a lot of your class and rehearsal time in pointe shoes, to aid them in moulding to your feet, also so you get used to the sensation of moving in pointe shoes. You may be required to wear pointe shoes throughout all of your regular technique classes even, to help articulate the foot in the shoes rather than sticking to flat shoes until the end of class for separate pointe work.

Often teachers will ask that the whole of technique class is taken en pointe, even at the barre. Wearing pointe shoes from the start of class pushes students to develop the same facility they have in flat shoes, also working to master that infamous penché wobble in pointe shoes! Here students learn how to use their toes and roll through their feet in pointe shoes, however this is not the same as taking a pointe class. Barre exercises will still warm the feet up, rather than performing pointe work immediately. Teachers may feel that an extensive warm up further builds strength and avoids injury.

Alternatively, teachers may feel it is important to save pointe shoes for the end of class, or even a separate class all together. Students would then wear flats for their their technique class, to use and feel the floor throughout barre and centre work. It is argued that during jumps, for example, pointe shoes can shorten the depth of the plié, so by wearing flats the plié is used to its full extent. Jumping in flats will help students learn how to land quietly by rolling through the feet whilst obtaining the maximum height if the jump. Pointe classes are likely to take place straight after technique so the students are fully warmed up; here also it is argued that injury is further preventable.

There are vast differences in pointe training methods: each one strengthens the dancer, just achieves the goal in a different way.

Emerging Dancer 2015

English National Ballet Emerging Dancer 2015The winner of English National Ballet’s 2015 Emerging Dancer Award – the company’s sixth competition – was Jinhao Zhang. Zhang, who joined the Company just last year after graduating from English National Ballet School, performed the Dying Swan which he choreographed himself, and also a pas de deux from Don Quixote with fellow nominee and English National Ballet School graduate Isabelle Brouwers. The evening also saw Laurretta Summerscales named as the recipient of The People’s Choice Award, voted for by members of the public throughout the 2014/2015 season.

The annual competition, held at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, was judged by an esteemed industry panel: Leanne Benjamin AM OBE, Michael Nunn OBE and William Trevitt OBE (BalletBoyz), Wayne Sleep OBE, Didy Veldman and English National Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo. The judges had a hard task on their hands in their requirement to select a winner from such huge talent and strong performances on stage.

The competition allows English National Ballet to recognise and nurture talent and encourage excellence in the Company. The other finalists for 2015 were Anjuli Hudson, Jeanette Kakareka, Katja Khaniukova, Vitor Menezes and Max Westwell, all of whom performed admirably. The finalists are voted for by English National Ballet’s dancers, Artistic team, orchestra and administrative staff, and then perform in front of a panel of eminent judges. The Emerging Dancer Award winner is announced together with the recipient of the People’s Choice Award, which is voted for by members of the public throughout the year.

Before the winners were announced, last year’s joint Emerging Dancer Award winners, Junor Souza and Alison McWhinney, performed a pas de deux from Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land: Junor, who also won the 2014 People’s Choice Award, has since been promoted to First Soloist and performed Principal roles in Swan Lake and Nutcracker. Alison has since been promoted to First Artist.

Stars For Northern Ballet Gala

Northern BalletIn preparation for Northern Ballet’s exclusive 45th anniversary Sapphire Gala, it has been announced that the dancers of Northern will be joined by eminent guest artists from The Australian Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre. This special celebration will be held at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 14 March, with tickets available for the general public to purchase. The Sapphire Gala is a rare opportunity to see exceptional dance talent from across the world brought to the stage for one magical performance next month.

The Sapphire Gala will showcase both new and classic pieces from renowned choreographers, and Northern Ballet’s talented dancers will be joined on stage by some of the world’s most celebrated dance artists for one night only. It is notable that many of these artists are rarely seen on the stages of the UK. This spectacular evening will see The Australian Ballet perform extracts of its magical production of Cinderella, particularly. Northern Ballet will also be joined by its renowned contemporary dance company and Leeds neighbours, artists of Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Northern Ballet’s dancers will perform new pieces specially created for them by Artistic Director David Nixon OBE; former Royal Ballet dancer and acclaimed choreographer Jonathan Watkins (who is creating the Northern Ballet’s 2015 première 1984); Northern Ballet dancer and upcoming choreographer Kenneth Tindall and Ballet Master Daniel de Andrade. The company will also perform Little Monsters by Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer Demis Volpi, and Northern Ballet Soloist Lucia Solari will be joined by a guest from Hamburg Ballet to perform an extract from their adaptation of The Nutcracker.

In what looks set to be a thoroughly entertaining evening, audiences will also be treated to a grander version of the Charleston from Northern Ballet’s blockbuster ballet The Great Gatsby, based on the story of the same title.

Northern Ballet’s American Classic – The Great Gatsby

Northern BalletNorthern Ballet, one of the five major companies in the UK, is returning to London’s Sadler’s Wells with its smash hit, sell-out production of The Great Gatsby from 24–28 March. Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year – as well as referencing the box office hit film of the same name – Northern Ballet brings both the glamour and seduction of the roaring twenties to the stage.

Set on New York’s Long Island, Nick Carraway comes to be aware of his infamous neighbour Jay Gatsby – a mysterious millionaire with a secret past and a penchant for lavish parties. As the sparkling façade of Gatsby’s world begins to slip Carraway comes to see the loneliness, obsession and tragedy that lie beneath. The tale is an American classic from an iconic era in the extravagance and style in pre-depression America. The Great Gatsby consequently incorporates these themes within a love story.

Reimagining popular classic stories and embracing popular culture is Northern Ballet’s specialty: nominated for a UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Dance, The Great Gatsby is choreographed by David Nixon OBE and earned him a nomination for Best Classical Choreography in the 2014 National Dance Awards. Based in Leeds, the company performs its mix of classical dance and theatre productions throughout the UK as well as overseas.

Northern Ballet also tours widely with its ballets for children, the first two of which were adapted for TV by CBeebies, and also performs a mixed programme showcasing the versatility of its dancers. Northern Ballet is the busiest touring ballet company in the UK, typically on the road for around 32 weeks of the year. Northern Ballet will introduce a new strand of touring from 2015, widening the company’s reach through a new mid-scale tour with nine additional venues.

The Year Of Song And Dance 2015 – The Highlights

Dance in the MainstreamThe year-long celebration of song and dance will begin with BalletBoyz: The Talent, documenting the work of dance company BalletBoyz, followed by the BBC Young Dancer 2015 in April with the final in May. In July, David Bintley, Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, will investigate how the foundations of ballet were laid during the reign of King Louis XIV of France, in The King Who Invented Ballet. The autumn will focus on the story of contemporary dance told through a group of young dancers in new documentary, Strictly Modern Dance.

In terms of dance highlights, BalletBoyz: The Talent will focus on the company using footage from its 2014 Roundhouse performances – the culmination of a two-year tour during which it was awarded ‘Best Independent Company’ at the National Dance Awards. The film will also include interviews with the dancers and choreographers along with insights into their creative processes and behind-the-scenes.

BBC Young Dancer follows, showcasing the UK’s best young dancers. The award has invited dancers to compete for six places in a televised Grand Final to be shown live in May. Four programmes featuring highlights from each of the Category Finals with introductions to the respective dance styles and behind-the-scenes content will also be shown, demonstrating the demands and dedication needed for dance. The Grand Final will be judged by a leading panel of dance experts; Matthew Bourne; Akram Khan; Wayne McGregor; Tamara Rojo; Kenrick Sandy; and Alistair Spalding.

David Bintley, Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, will investigate the foundations of dance during King Louis XIV’s reign. Bintley uncovers the critical social and cultural role ballet had in Louis XI’s French court, and across 17th-century Europe. Featuring specially shot dance sequences with insightful historical documentary, The King Who Invented Ballet brings to light the 300 year old history.

Strictly Modern Dance is the story of contemporary dance, told in a completely new way: through talented young dancers, aiming to bring an understanding of what contemporary dance is to a wider audience. Strictly Modern Dance will go on a journey with the students of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, one of Europe’s leading training centres, and will feature famous alumni. Talented young dancers will learn some of the most iconic modern dances from the last 100 years and experience the shifts in the history of contemporary dance as it challenged audiences, made history and revolutionised dance.

The Royal Ballet School Seminars

The Royal Ballet SchoolThe Royal Ballet School has launched Inspire, a series of six seminars for classical ballet teachers starting in May 2015. Held across the UK, the inspiring events will support continued professional development and networking for dance professionals from all teaching backgrounds and societies, devised and delivered by the School. The seminars will explore good teaching practice and the foundations of classical ballet technique (non-syllabus based).

Each seminar can be attended as a one-off event but the School recommends that teachers take part in all six seminars in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the full Inspire series. A certificate of participation will be provided after each seminar, and on finishing the six seminars, a final certificate of completion of the Inspire programme will be awarded.

The series will launch with the first event in London in May 2015, delivered by Mark Annear and Karen Berry of The Royal Ballet School. The series will then run from autumn 2015 in London, and initially Birmingham, Cardiff, York and Edinburgh. Other locations will potentially be offered later as the programme progresses. Teachers will therefore be able to access some of the finest ballet training tutors in the country to share the world-class expertise of The Royal Ballet School to enrich their practice.

The School’s mission is to train and educate outstanding classical ballet dancers for The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and other top international dance companies, and in doing so to set the standards in dance training, nationally and internationally. The School offers an eight-year carefully structured dance course, aligned with an extensive academic programme, giving the students the best possible education to equip them for a career in the world of dance. Keeping in line with this, the Inspire programme will produce teachers with a well-rounded knowledge to take back to their classrooms.

The Dangers Of Ballet

Ballet Students

Whilst the title may appear melodramatic, the reality is that injury and accident are the very things that can prevent dancers from continuing to perform, perhaps forever. The origins of ballet are completely tame by today’s standards, with boundaries constantly being pushed, along with the number of pirouettes performed, the height of leg extensions and the steep curvature of the feet.

These gymnastic achievements come at a cost – torn Achilles’ tendons on stage, falls, injuries during rehearsals. Is ballet becoming too dangerous? To constantly present new things and remain ‘on top’, dancers are required to push themselves to – or even beyond – their limits. That is not to say dancers must become complacent, only to consider and be aware of the potential outcomes of the risks of their first love.

Recently, while dancing Kitri in the Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote, Russian icon Natalia Osipova fell on stage. While she recovered the fall quickly, it was announced during the interval that she would be replaced by first soloist Akane Takada. It is not necessarily the Royal’s tradition to rise to the occasion in a crisis – last year there was no rehearsed second cast to fix problems, so the remaining performance was cancelled – however Takada was a success as a very different Kitri to Osipova.

Ballet is a high-risk activity: a slippery stage or momentary lapse in attention caused problems for Osipova and could even lead to months of rehabilitation following injury. Other dancers have also been injured, at the Royal Ballet in particular, both in rehearsal and on stage. Osipova’s injury, and others’ during performances, is the chance for another dancer to shine and take a moment on stage in their replacement. When the understudy dancers are from lower ranks in companies, stepping in at the last minute proves their worth, something less easily gained during usual company life.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tutu Creations

TutuMaking a ballet tutu can be a very rewarding experience. To see your costumes on stage after a long process of creating them creates feelings of pride and accomplishment, following carefully sewing on hooks and eyes, and creating layers and layers for the finished product.

For large scale companies and individual commissions the process is the same. For individual commissions, with perhaps one seamstress, it is a lot of hard work and long hours so they may only take on a few each season. For larger companies the work load is much heavier because of the all the programme demands and the dancers’ needs. The techniques to create tutus have mostly been in use since the 1800s; for many companies the bodices are made of cotton coutil, the same fabric used for corsets. This is extremely strong, but it is comfortable too and absorbs sweat.

A tutu is a pancake style skirt that sticks out from the dancer’s body, originally designed to show off the dancer’s legs and intricate footwork. Generally there are ten rows of ruffles forming a tutu, some of which use multiple layers of net and tulle, and often the cost of individual commissions can rise to hundreds or thousands of pounds. These one-of-a-kind costumes are completely special to the customer but part of everyday life for designers and creators.

Each tutu begins by making the knicker part, and from there the tutu itself is built and the bodice is constructed. For both aspiring and company dancers, the costume must be a perfect fit: the dancers often want them as tight as possible in order for them to feel more secure when performing. The tutus are designed to last a long time, enduring many performances, possibly many dancers and other wear and tear factors too. Performing on different stages also takes its toll however the costumes prevail.

New To Pointe

Bloch Axis Pointe ShoesDance students new to pointe are always excited to get going, inspired by what they have seen through their dance training so far. Watching older students or favourite ballerinas dancing en pointe is often an enamouring experience, and now it is the turn of the younger students to get their first pair of pointe shoes.

Dancers who are not training at vocational dance schools usually are allowed to begin pointe in their early teens, due to the development of their bones and ultimately, their classical technique. Other factors which must also be considered are the regularity of attendance to ballet classes and a teacher’s approval, and it is paramount that each dancer is professionally fitted for pointe shoes.

Often being en pointe doesn’t feel as dainty as young dancers may have thought. Stepping onto pointe for the first time is uncomfortable, but is not a reason to be discouraged. Even minor discomfort is normal as dancers get used to the sensation of pointe, and they get stronger by practising their technique and not rushing the process. Extreme pain is a good indicator that a shoe has not been properly recommended or fitted for the student’s individual needs, and if manually breaking in the shoes has not happened.

To make the time en pointe more comfortable (and more enjoyable!) there are a few things that dancers can do. Strong abdominals are vital for pointe work, as it is a strong core that will help dancers lift their weight out of their shoes. Also important is correct body placement and flexibility in the ankle and foot, which must be built up before and during pointe training. This is primarily done through learning to roll up onto pointe and down through the shoes.

Ultimately, dancers must take good care of their feet, as well as their shoes by airing them between lessons to prevent fungus and bacteria growth. Don’t give up, and approach a teacher or studio director if something feels wrong.