Birmingham Royal Ballet’s autumn season at Sadler’s Wells has recently been announced, including three one-act ballets touched in some way by war under the umbrella title of Shadows of War, and a revival of David Bintley’s fairytale, Beauty and the Beast
BRB will be returning to its old London home with two fantastic productions for a run from 14 to 18 October. The Company will perform David Bintley’s full length gothic fairy tale ballet, the ever-popular Beauty and the Beast, followed by Shadows of War, the triple bill of ballets inspired by the effects of war.
Beauty and the Beast tells the story of a cruel Prince, cursed to spend his life as a Beast. A beautiful girl, a hideous beast, a golden ballroom full of animals, two haughty sisters and a grumpy grandmother dance through Philip Prowse’s stunning storybook set, while Bintley’s rich choreography brings magical transformations to life, wild waltzes, and a relationship between Belle and the Beast that is at first terrifying, but ultimately beautiful.
Shadows of War will include Kenneth MacMillan’s La Fin du jour, Robert Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals and Bintley’s Flowers of the Forest. La Fin captures the glamorous lifestyle of the Depression era with a group of trendy, bright young people ignoring the looming threat of war which will call time on their careless enjoyment and high spirits. The 1944 Miracle is set in a run-down and dangerous Glasgow suburb: after the shock of a girl’s suicide, the arrival of a mysterious stranger is able to bring her back to life. This ground-breaking dance drama is being re-created by Dame Gillian Lynne (a member of the original cast). Flowers of the Forest is a ballet in two parts presenting a light hearted and nostalgic ‘picture postcard’ view of Scotland, and including a more serious note.
Birmingham Royal Ballet has recently celebrated the success of its Dance Track programme, which seeks out and nurtures dance talent from primary schools across the City of Birmingham. It enables primary school pupils to access ballet, opening Birmingham Royal Ballet’s doors to those who would not ordinarily be introduced to the art-form.
Over the 2013/14 academic year Dance Track has reached out to 31 schools across North and South Birmingham and delivered workshops to over 1,700 Year 1 pupils: three Dance Track students are to train full-time at Birmingham Royal Ballet’s associated school Elmhurst School for Dance from September, and one is to train at Young Dancers Academy in London. By participating in schools’ workshops, students’ confidence, communication skills and creativity is greatly enhanced. Dance Track continues to work with students who display a particular talent by preparing them for auditions for ballet schools.
In 2013/14 and over the course of the Dance Track audition process, Birmingham Royal Ballet visited 17 affiliated schools in the south of Birmingham and a further 14 affiliated schools in the north of the city and delivered workshops. From these students, 171 were invited to ‘final’ audition days held at Birmingham Royal Ballet studios. Following the finals, 41 students from the south were selected to start classes at Queensbridge School in Moseley and 30 students from the north started classes at The Lighthouse in Aston.
Some former students now train full time at ballet schools or study dance regularly with associate programmes as a result of previously recognised talent and passion shining through. Not only does Dance Track open participants’ eyes to ballet but also their families, teachers and friends, and the wider community involved. Arts Council England believes that great art should be accessible to everyone and Birmingham Royal Ballet is achieving that with the Dance Track programme.
Birmingham Royal Ballet, the sister of the capital’s Royal Ballet, is renowned for its outreach and engagement activities. Just recently audiences were able to get a taste of what it is like to be truly ballet wicked, in a workshop with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Assistant Director Marion Tait.
As part of Birmingham’s 4 Squares weekender (6-8 September) participants from the Midlands and surrounding areas were able to engage in an open rehearsal, in which Tait taught the role of Carabosse, the wicked fairy from The Sleeping Beauty. While Carabosse is usually played by a male dancer each member of the rehearsal audience were able to experience the mood and emotion behind the character.
Tait focused on the mime of Carabosse rather than the choreographed steps, making the rehearsal accessible to ballet lovers of all ages and abilities, rather than confusing the process by including the technical jargon of classical ballet. Tait shared many tips and secrets of the role for her varied audience, having been a ballerina in her prime and also a renowned dance actress. The audience were also able to watch a dancer of the Birmingham Royal Ballet within the rehearsal who was being taught by Tait: First Artist Callie Roberts, who will be taking on the role of Carabosse for the first time as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s autumn performances of the classic tale.
The weekend-long festival also included a performance by Freefall, Birmingham’s acclaimed company for highly gifted young people with learning difficulties. The performance was also interspersed with Birmingham Royal Ballet dances, led by dancers no longer with the company, and staff from Fox Hollies Performing Arts College. The audience were, again, a special part of the dance here, provided with a rare chance to see this unique company on stage.
Birmingham Royal Ballet recently presented its 2013 Choreographics performance on 10 January 2013 as a unique programme of ballet created by BRB dancers. Rather than donning their usual tutus, tights and pointe shoes, programmes of this kind give the dancers the chance to develop their artistry in a related but separate avenue of dance performance and create to their own tastes.
The pieces, danced by members of the Company, were performed in the studio theatre at Elmhurst School for Dance in Birmingham, with the six dancers choreographing announced as Kit Holder, Matthew Lawrence, Brandon Lawrence, Ruth Brill, Kristen McGarrity and Lachlan Monaghan. The dancer-choreographers choreographed pieces specifically for the event, to music of their own choosing. The projects provide a welcome opportunity to experiment creatively, try new things out with unlimited freedom and take a breath of fresh air from the rigours of the studio, filled each day with leg warmers and buckets of sweat.
Kit Holder, who has previously contributed to the Choreographics evening of 2010, subsequently had one of his pieces Printer Jam included in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 20th Anniversary Royal Gala and the launch of the Drum’n’Bass awards in Birmingham, before being expanded into a longer piece as part of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2012. Kit is a clear example of the heights emerging choreographers can reach, and especially those usually contained in a classical environment, rather than a more experimental one. In addition to this, Matthew Lawrence has previously had the opportunity to choreograph gymnastically, demonstrating the doors which may be available to the dancers, should they extend their career to choreographing. Royal Ballet dancer Liam Scarlett is also a demonstrator of this, having recently choreographed for Miami City Ballet.
Birmingham Royal Ballet has been busy polishing its tiaras and digging out repertoire tutus in preparation for the 2012/13 season, seeing in both brand new works inspired by Olympic sporting endeavours to classics such as Giselle and Coppélia. The senior management team, such as Director David Bintley CBE, has been very excited about the repertory that will emerge throughout the season, setting every pointe shoe fan alight with anticipation too.
The season began on 19 September with the company staging six performances in four days of the enduring and timeless story of Swan Lake at The Lowry in Manchester. This is ahead of moving the company home to the Birmingham Hippodrome on 2 October ready for the winter. Swan Lake is a sure ballet favourite of dance fans and non-dance fans alike, and a classic that is rarely missed from a classical ballet company’s repertoire. BRB (originally Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet) first performed Swan Lake in 1981 almost 100 years after it premiered in Moscow. A new insight will be brought to the 2012/13 Company with at least two new casts with many new artists dancing the leading roles.
Bintley has maintained that keeping audiences surprised is a constant test for the company, in addition to drawing audiences in to see the show in the first place. With such a variety of work planned for the coming season, there is no doubt the audience’s appetites will be satisfied, with the seasons being planned many years in advance. A modern production of Aladdin will grace the stage through the company as well as Faster, the production inspired by the theme of the Olympics and the physiological aspects of sport and performance. Bintley has collaborated with Australian composer Matthew Hindson to produce a ballet that celebrates speed and power which is a fitting tribute to the Olympians that showcased their incredible athleticism in London in July and August.
Faster is one of three productions for the Autumn Celebration, which is being staged at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth; Sadler’s Wells, London; and Wales Millennium Centre in October. It also features The Dream and The Grand Tour.
Over the next 7 months, The Royal Ballet School will open its doors to teachers, dance students and enthusiasts alike for a series of exciting lectures and masterclasses once a month, with pointe shoes and tiaras optional. This series of “Exploration Days” will examine the pedagogy and training programmes of the French, Italian, Danish and Russian Schools, and how they influenced the development of the English School as established by Ninette De Valois in 1926.
De Valois founded the school with the opening of the Academy of Choreographic Art, which was renamed the Vic-Wells Ballet School in 1931, renamed in 1939 as The Sadler’s Wells Ballet School: when the school was granted its Royal Charter in 1956, the school was given its current name. Each of the Exploration Days will examine the history and style of each of the Schools in turn, including a ballet masterclass to showcase the unique characteristics of the respective School. When developing the School, De Valois extrapolated and collated what she believed were all the strongest elements from the French, Italian, Danish and Russian schools, merging them to forge a new methodology. She hoped by doing so she would create a uniquely ‘English style’ in a fusion of the best of the old European and Russian Schools.
The Royal Ballet School is one of the most prestigious vocational ballet schools in the UK, and one of the foremost classical ballet schools worldwide, offering full-time training programmes to potentially professional dancers. The School acts as a feeder to both The Royal Ballet Company and The Birmingham Royal Ballet, and its graduates have and continue to dance, tutu clad, in internationally acclaimed companies all over the world. The students follow a specifically designed ‘System of Training’ of eight years split into two courses; a five year course at the Lower School (White Lodge, Richmond Park, Surrey) for students aged 11 to 16, followed by a three year course at the Upper School (Covent Garden, London) for students aged 16 to 18.
The Exploration Days will run on 30 September (French School), 21 October (Italian School), 2 December (Danish School), 3 February (Russian School) and 17 March (English School), led by Directors and Artistic Directors of the specific schools.
New English Ballet Theatre is a new company formed by director, choreographer and dancer Karen Pilkington-Miksa for recent graduates of dance training programmes in 2010, hiring dancers for a period of 3 months and commissioning new works for an annual programme. The company offers 20 young dancers an opportunity to tour their ballet shoes professionally and to work with established choreographers including English National Ballet’s former Artistic Director Wayne Eagling, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Michael Corder and English National Ballet’s emerging choreographer Jenna Lee.
Of the 200 young dancers graduating from ballet schools every year, only four are selected by main companies; New English Ballet Theatre provides dancers at the start of their career the chance to dance principal roles, be they tutu-clad or tunic-and-tights. In their recent programme Synergies at the Peacock Theatre, 4 of the 9 contributing choreographers to the repertoire were female, which is a rare occurrence. Having the opportunity to choreograph, for both males and females, is a promising signal that the arts are continuing to flourish and succeed, especially considering the loss of Arts Council funding by so many dance organisations.
New English Ballet Theatre itself has no funding, but boasts a patron list that includes Carlos Acosta, Marianela Nuñez, Mara Galeazzi, Darcey Bussell and Wayne Eagling, in addition to support from Sadler’s Wells as a platform which is celebrated internationally. The company champions young dancers, choreographers and designers in a huge showcasing of talent and innovative work in its first year of project-based work. With dancers who have trained at esteemed dance training schools and conservatoires such as the Rambert School, London Studio Centre, English National Ballet School and the Conservatorio Professional de Danzxa in Seville, New English Ballet Theatre aims to give emerging young artists a full professional experience rather than touring within a school environment, such as Ballet Central or Ballet West. Through the company’s environment, the dancers are keen to bring classical styles to a much wider and less conservative audience as those involved try new things and experiment for the dance world.
The summer season of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome is set to delight its audiences and ignite the inner dancer in every single person who has the opportunity to see the performance. The residency will showcase polished pointe shoes dancing in the Midlands, from 20th to 30th June. The company’s hometown will host two programmes: David Bintley’s captivating production of Far From the Madding Crowd, and a mixed bill Summer Celebration.
Bintley, as Company Director and the award-winning creator of the Company’s huge Christmas hit Cinderella, enjoyed the world premiere of Far From the Madding Crowd in 1996 performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Sixteen years later, the company is returning to the Hippodrome with this same production, performed at the Company’s home theatre. As a tutu-laden balletic adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, passions are set to run out of control in an enticing story of lust, deceit and murder as the ballet tights become tangled. One woman is at the centre of it all, Bathsheba Everdene, entertaining complex relationships with three men as they compete for her love.
Summer Celebration, featuring The Grand Tour, Faster and The Dream, offers audiences a slice of Shakespeare, Noël Coward and Olympic dreams in a visual feast. Choreographer Joe Layton’s The Grand Tour is undoubtedly influenced by the many films and hit Broadway shows he has also been involved with. Evoking visions of the character shoes of the roaring 20s, The Grand Tour is a comical take on the eccentric celebrities that populated England’s stages, screens and newspapers in the era. Faster is a brand new ballet inspired by the Olympic motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, and comes from the award-winning team behind E=mc². After winning the last ever South Bank Show Dance award in 2010 with E=mc², Company Director David Bintley embarks on a second collaboration with renowned Australian composer Matthew Hindson. This ballet of speed, power and athleticism will be a fitting creation for the lead-up to London 2012, again tying tutus with trainers! Rounding off the triple bill is The Dream. Frederick Ashton’s magical creation rekindles the love and revenge of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with the comic values that truly enhance Ashton’s choreographic mastery of dance and theatre.