One Year On: Gymnastics And Dance

2012 Olympic Opening CeremonyA year on from the London 2012 Olympic Games, there is much celebration about the phenomenal events which happened precisely one year ago. Over the past year much has come from the Olympic legacy, with sports and cultural institutions benefitting from the heat wave emanating from the dust of the Olympics in the capital.

Dance has rarely been out of the news over the past year, for example focusing on the ordered Bolshoi Ballet acid attack and Tamara Rojo’s incredible steering of the English National Ballet, of which she is Artistic Director and Lead Principal dancer. Despite the fact that not all the dance news for 2013 has been good news, it has been a positive sight to see dance get so much recognition from national press, not just specific dance rags.

Many may be hopeful, following the year’s events for dance and the series of ‘firsts’ that have been seen, such as the Bolshoi performing at the Royal Opera House for over 5 years, that dance may one day be present at the Olympic Games. It is clear that dance is not only a complementary discipline to other activities, but its own success in its own right: will we see dance in Rio at the 2016 Olympics? The 2012 ideals ‘faster, higher, stronger’ are extremely applicable to the art of dance, with Albert Einstein and then Martha Graham maintaining that ‘dancers are the athletes of God’.

It is arguable that dance could qualify as an Olympic event through its artistry, strength and flexibility, very similar to that of Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics, and maybe even Diving and Equine Dressage! For rhythmic gymnastics in particular, the discipline is a combination of gymnastics and dance, and its origins lie in a wide variety of disciplines, including classical ballet.

The Post-Olympic West End

London's West End Theatre Scene

Despite much fear that the London 2012 Olympics would quash the West End during last summer, it has actually emerged that the West End not only survived, but broke all previous revenue records, despite business initially reducing by 9%. The West End went on to rectify this, with more shows set to open this year additionally as a result. It was discovered, for example, that The Lion King had its most successful year ever in the West End, grossing over £38.6 million, breaking its own record for the eighth consecutive year and again setting a new record for highest grossing year in West End theatre history.

The approximate 45 theatres open took £529,787,692 across last year, in comparison to the £528,375,874 taken in 2011. In addition there were 305 new productions over the year, whereas 2011 saw only 256. With the inundation of tappers, singers, high-kickers and soliloquy-ers, it is no wonder that theatre-land flourished and grew tremendously. Attendance for 2012 reached 13,992,773 from 13,915,185 the previous year, with the average ticket price reducing enabling more audiences to access some fantastic productions that are on offer in theatres. The unique experiences available, and new initiatives too, are helping to grow audiences and build an appetite for live theatre.

Theatres are now being booked up as far as the eye can see, with new productions ready to jump in, such as at the Wyndham’s Theatre and the Gielgud Theatre. As a result, any current show wishing to extend its run cannot do so unless it relocates to another theatre, which of course has its advantages and disadvantages. With such an array of productions audiences will have a fantastic choice, however show which are popular and successful will not have the luxury of ‘home’ as other long-running shows have in the West End. Currently, 18 of the West End’s 40 or so commercial venues are locked into long runs of a year or more.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s New Season

Birmingham Royal 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.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Olympic Spirit

Darcey Bussell Olympics 2012 Closing Ceremony

As the one of the most anticipated parts of the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, dance and ballet in particular proved themselves as a continually powerful and strong art form. Darcey Bussell and her corps de ballet of a 200-strong ensemble formed the final section of the Ceremony, drawing huge support and countering many political arguments that tutus and pointe shoes should not be as important as they are perceived, and proved, to be.

The ensemble of flame-haired Mohicans included dancers from The Royal Ballet and their counterparts from other British dance companies, such as English National Ballet and non-professional dancers who took part through auditioning. The red and orange leotard clad piece, Phoenix of the Flame, was choreographed by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon for the climax of the three-hour spectacular, forming the crux of the British and Olympic spirit.

Bussell came out of her retirement in order to feature in the extra special production as a former Royal Ballet Principal. She descended onto the centre of the stage on a flaming phoenix where she joined Royal Ballet principals Gary Avis, Edward Watson, Nehemiah Kish and Jonathan Cope for a performance inspired by the Olympic flame and spirit to encompass the incredible atmosphere and talent of the Games.

Despite retiring in 2007, Bussell has continued to be active in the art of classical ballet, tights and all. Earlier this year she was announced as a judge for the next season of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, and as the fourth President of the 92-year old Royal Academy of Dance.

Image courtesy of the Official site of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Dance and the Olympic Games

Dance and the Olympic Games
Image source:

Now the London 2012 Olympic Games are over ahead of the Paralympic Game in a couple of weeks, many have raised the question both online and in print as to whether dance could qualify as an Olympic event. The artistry, strength and flexibility of dance can be seen in many existing events of the Games, the most obvious examples being Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Dance has had many links with the 2012 Olympics. One of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal dancers, Matthew Lawrence, created a routine for the Welsh and five times British champion gymnast Frankie Jones for the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships ahead of the Games. Jones was the only British individual rhythmic gymnast to compete at the 2012 Olympics, working hard with Lawrence, as well as BRB’s Body Conditioning Instructor Jennifer Mills. Jones received ballet classes as part of her preparation for the competition, complementing her body’s ability to create any imaginable shape or movement: a rhythmic gymnast takes elements of ballet, and then stretches it to the extreme. Rhythmic gymnastics is a combination of gymnastics and dance and its origins lie in a wide variety of disciplines, including classical ballet. Here it is clearly demonstrable that both disciplines are closely related yet have evolved in different ways.

The Team GB backstroke expert Liam Tancock revealed that dance has too featured in his training, having taken ballet classes in order to improve his swimming. Tancock maintained that his success in the water was the result of ‘thinking outside the box’ in order to develop additional qualities of dance to boost body strength and improves strokes. Whilst you would be unlikely to see Tancock donning ballet tights and satin ballet shoes, it is clear to see that dance is not only a complementary discipline to other activities, but its own success in its own right. Why shouldn’t we see tutus and leg warmers on ballet’s competitive athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games? The ideals ‘faster, higher, stronger’ are extremely applicable to the art of dance, with Albert Einstein and then Martha Graham maintaining that ‘dancers are the athletes of God’.

Many may argue that the absence of dance is due to it being such a subjective discipline, unable to be measured either numerically or objectively. However, both Gymnastics and Diving feature which are art forms in themselves and are judged via a complex scoring system in order to achieve potentially unbiased and accurate results. With both events developing and constantly becoming more challenging, the possibility of achieving the perfect 10 score has been eliminated to account for the increasingly demanding nature of the events, viewed relatively. It seems the art of dance and ballet cannot be measured numerically, but perhaps more in how it affects the viewer, which of course would be impossible to score.

Perhaps if dance were to be included in the Olympic Games, the level of artistry, musicality and expression would have to be reduced in the face of accurately ‘marking’ the competitors’ arabesques, multiple pirouettes and extensions, which would then mean that what is being executed is not aesthetically ‘dance’ in its entirety. The dance elements of 1972 Gold illusive gymnastic legend Olga Korbut were once appreciated by scoring systems, but are now considered time-consuming in relation to the huge tumbles and requirements of twenty-first century gymnastics. These are now unable to affect the final scores in a significant way, in what some may argue as a graceless exhibition of athleticism at the expense of beauty and performance. However, today’s gymnasts somehow continue to capture audiences and expend the illusions of the stage.

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games

2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

As the world anticipates the London 2012 Olympic Games, performers from across the country are pulling on their dancewear and warm-up cover-ups ready for the Opening Ceremony on Friday 27 July. The Opening Ceremony is a celebration showcasing the best of the Host Nation, London, featuring a parade of all competing nations and the highly anticipated entrance of the Olympic Flame, which ignites the Cauldron and signals the start of the Games.

The eyes of the world are expected to be on London for the Opening Ceremony, providing an opportunity for the world to view the artistic expression of the Artistic Director Danny Boyle and his team of talented young performers, as well as the culture of London and the UK. Certain elements feature in every Ceremony, and the artistic performance of the Ceremony, and the striking costumes of the dedicated, hard-working performers will welcome the world to the Games.

The name of the Olympic Opening Ceremony show will be ‘Isles of Wonder’, saluting and celebrating the immense creativity of the British. The worldwide broadcast will commence at 9pm (GMT), and will no doubt appeal to every jazz sneaker and ballet shoe wearer as well as those interested in sports. The Ceremony will begin with the sound of the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe, produced by the Whitechapel Foundry, and the Stadium will be transformed into the British countryside for the opening scene ‘Green and Pleasant’, which includes real farmyard animals. The Ceremony will also include a special sequence celebrating the best of British, featuring volunteer performers from the NHS.

A total cast of 15,000 will take part in the London 2012 Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which will be watched by an estimated audience of four billion.

Image courtesy of the Official site of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake - Royal Swedish Opera

Swan Lake as an iconic and perhaps one of the most ‘stereotypical’ traditional ballets of the arts world is showcased by many prestigious ballet companies each year. Complete with white pointe shoes and feathered head pieces, the twirling tutus of the numerous swans which grace stages all over the world are breathtaking.

A company which engages with the staging of their version of Swan Lake each year is English National Ballet, renowned for its glamour and success, and notable for placing 60 swans on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall in June 2010. This was in addition to featuring the production in an episode of their notorious BBC documentary, Agony & Ecstasy: A Year at English National Ballet.

From 3 – 11 August 2012 at the London Coliseum, ENB will perform its enchanting production during the London 2012 Olympic Games, choreographed by Derek Deane. The opening night will see Daria Klimentová present her experience and beauty, don her tights, and dance the lead role of Odette/Odile alongside Russian star Vadim Muntagirov as Siegfried in their internationally recognised star partnership. Arguably the most powerful ballet ever created, Swan Lake is set to Tchaikovsky’s unmistakable score, featuring some of the most beautiful music in classical ballet repertoire.

Additional events from ENB highlight the extent of Swan Lake’s popularity and ultimate success amongst ballet lovers across the globe, regardless of whether they regularly wear leotards and ballet shoes. A masterclass with esteemed guest repetiteur and artistic advisor Maina Gielgud is included in the available itinerary, in which she will work with two dancers on a challenging pas de deux from Swan Lake.  The ‘Swan Lake Aspire Day’ is also available, in which a fun and informal workshop focusing on Swan Lake will be held at the ENB studios. In addition, an on-stage creative workshop will include the opportunity to watch ENB’s dancers in their practice dancewear, taking part in morning class, as well as the unique chance to watch Company Class.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The London 2012 Festival

London 2012 Festival

Over 12,000 performances and events across the UK celebrating the Olympic Games are marked by the London 2012 Festival, which bursts into life on 21 June 2012. The London 2012 Festival will be the most exciting festival the UK has ever experienced, bringing more than 10 million opportunities to observe some completely unique dance, music, theatre, fashion, food, art and film events. The Festival is the finale of the Cultural Olympiad, which has been inspiring creativity through art and culture in young people since 2008. It encompasses a wide range of events, from local projects to large-scale performances, in which 18 million people have taken part in so far… with or without their legwarmers!

Many events that are included can be taken part in by audience members completely free of charge, be it the free outdoor pyrotechnic and percussion extravaganza or the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra premiering of a new work , followed by the arrival of a gigantic ship sailing into the town centre accompanied by leotard-clad dancers and aerialists. With incredible cultural events and top artists from across the world, Londoners and many others from across the country enjoyed four spectacular launch events across the UK on 21 June, and the following events which continue until 9 September 2012, the last day of the Paralympic Games.

The festival includes dance performances such as Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Candoco Dance Company and Big Dance 2012. Big Dance is one of the UK’s biggest dance celebrations, featuring thousands of events inspired by numerous different dance styles taking place across the UK. The events include classes, workshops, courses, performances, flashmobs, film screenings, competitions and world record breaking attempts, open to both dancers and non-dancing fans alike, encouraging them to pull on their dancing shoes and get involved. The Big Dance 2012 national programme is being delivered by the Foundation for Community Dance in partnership with a network of regional dance organisations known as Big Dance Hubs.

Image courtesy of Geograph® Britain and Ireland.

Dance GB

Dance GB 2012

Dance GB, between the 4th and 8th July, has been branded as a ground-breaking national celebration of dance inspired by the London 2012 Games, showcasing the collaboration between Scottish Ballet, English National Ballet and National Dance Company Wales. As the UK’s three national dance companies, leotards and pointe shoes will be fused with dynamic dance quality for the first time in a thrilling programme featuring three specially commissioned works from leading contemporary choreographers: Christopher Bruce, Martin Lawrance and Itzik Galili.

Performed in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, there will not be a tutu in sight, despite the piece being filled with technical brilliance, proving pink performance tights are not needed to create a show-stopping dance event. Dance GB will première in Glasgow before touring to Cardiff and London, including a live webcast from a special Company class featuring all three companies online at from 1.30pm on Friday 22 June. The class will be followed by a Q&A session with dancers from each company, offering dance and non-dance fans alike the chance to ask questions about the dancers’ training, being on tour, and life as a dancer.

Scottish Ballet will dance Martin Lawrance’s Run For It, a high energy work which is said to be inspired by the power of Olympic athletes, tying in directly to the London Olympic Games. Extremely dynamic, the piece is set to the rhythms of John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony and features a sculptural installation created by Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Boyce. Christopher Bruce’s Dream features sly musical references to Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s sensational 1984 Sarajevo Olympic win, a tribute to sporting bravado and a “tongue-in-cheek” celebration of the iconic event.  This witty piece will be danced by National Dance Company Wales, linking the 2012 Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in a unique piece. The finale is provided by Itzik Galili’s And the Earth Shall Bear Again, danced by English National Ballet. Inspired by John Cage’s prepared music for piano, Galili’s piece turns Cage’s rich and versatile music into an accessible piece of extraordinary dance, inspired by the many “beginnings” of 2012.

Screened with the performances is Dancing Parallel, an awe-inspiring film by Nic Sandiland featuring 60 dancers from London, Cardiff and Aberdeen on a journey through classical ballet, contemporary dance and parkour.

West End Kids

West End Kids At The Albert Hall

As one of the UK’s most prestigious and highest profile musical theatre song and dance troupes, West End Kids has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2001, and is now famous nationwide. Formed by Musical Director and specialist vocal coach Martin-Gwyn Williams, WEKs is based primarily on the American model of training young Broadway performers.

WEKs is renowned for providing exceptionally talented young and aspiring performers with the opportunity to advance their talents further, encouraging them to tighten their tap shoes and step confidently in front of the microphone. The WEKs – approximately 20 – are in high demand due to their unfaltering successes, handling an incredibly busy schedule of high profile events, performances and studio recordings. Just recently, WEKs performed at the Charles Dickens bicentenary dinner, providing a professional and slick spectacle, kicking up the heels of their character shoes! They have previously spread their influence at the London 2012 Olympic Games, West End Live, Move IT and Children In Need, amongst hundreds of other events.

Last year, the WEKs were seen and heard by over 1 million people, and through online technology such as Facebook and Twitter, they have a large following throughout the world. Be it leotards, show tights and New Yorkers, or jazz pants and jazz trainers, the WEKs work to tailor each performance to each individual client. Additionally, the WEKs have recorded and released numerous studio recordings, with the most recent being a new arrangement of Aint No Mountain High Enough which is available on iTunes. In 2011 the world-class WEKs performed for British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Commonwealth State Banquet after being selected as the UKs brightest star within youth music theatre; 2012 looks as though it is set to be another year of success and performance for the WEKs!

For further information visit

Image courtesy of West End Kids.