Sunday, 31 May 2015

May Round-up

Sylvie Guillem in Bye
Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks

Other writing:

A feature about Dance UK's The Future conference in Dancing Times, June issue (p.27)

Friday, 29 May 2015

Sylvie Guillem: Life in Progress

Sylvie Guillem in Bye
Photo: Bill Cooper
Technê/ Duo/ Here and After/ Bye, Sylvie Guillem and friends, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 26 May

Sylvie Guillem’s farewell tour (Life in Progress) is a testament to her effortlessly exquisite technique, beautifully lean and pliable limbs, and captivating stage presence. At 50, she runs rings around most dancers half her age.

In Mats Ek's Bye, Guillem kicks off her shoes and dances like a child, her movements abundantly joyous but also tinged with sadness and longing. Leg extensions and head stands are mixed with creeping walks and hunched shoulders to create a quirky but compelling character which she embodies to perfection. She's thoroughly engaging too in the insect-like choreography of Akram Khan's Techn√™. Guillem’s presence onstage will be much missed.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Taking the Royal Ballet on Tour

Taking the Royal Ballet on tour (insight evening), Clore Studio @ ROH - 18th May

As well as performing at the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet tours internationally every summer. In advance of the company's trip to the USA in June, an insight evening explored what goes into taking the UK's leading ballet company overseas.

Marianela Nunez in Don Quixote
Photo: Johan Persson
For Royal Ballet director Kevin O'Hare, "it's very important to be seen in other countries. The company made its name through international touring. Wherever we go, we're flying the flag for Britain." In choosing locations, he tries to find a balance between visiting places where there are existing ballet audiences and new locations where people are less familiar with the art form, although "who invites us" is a key factor.

O'Hare programmes touring repertoire that shows both the company's heritage and its newer and more innovative choreography. This year, Carlos Acosta's Don Quixote is being taken to Chicago and Washington, whilst two mixed bills - The Dream / Song of the Earth and Infra / various pas de deux and solos / The Age of Anxiety - will compete with American Ballet Theatre's Swan Lake in New York. O'Hare describes the tour as "exciting" for company dancers. "It's a little 'lift' at the end of the season. And it's challenging - dancers have to prove themselves abroad as they're not known so well."

Planning for a tour begins two years in advance. There are 150-170 people in the Royal Ballet's 'touring party' and company manager Andrew Hurst spends a lot of time arranging visas and travel itineraries. He also creates a red book 'bible' which includes daily schedules and useful local information such as restaurant recommendations. (The Japan tour 'bible' even included taxi driver directions in Japanese from the hotel to the theatre!) In first artist Nathalie Harrison's words, "Andrew makes it idiot proof".

The company brings much of its own equipment - from sets and costumes (including three skip loads of pointe shoes) to lighting rigs and tumble dryers. All items have to be packed, listed for customs purposes and shipped well in advance. Technical and costume staff then fly out ahead of the dancers to ensure everything is ready for their arrival. As the Royal Ballet doesn't tour with its in-house orchestra, the company's conductor also travels out in advance to rehearse with local musicians.

For Harrison, touring is one of the highlights of being a Royal Ballet dancer, although it requires a lot of preparation. "There's always a rush with sewing shoes to get them ready in time for shipping! We also have to prepare everything artistically before we leave, especially understudy roles as people are more likely to get poorly on tour."

All this the hard work behind the scenes allows the Royal Ballet to make a huge impact across the world. O'Hare's touring highlight was when the company brought the first full-length ballet to Bombay and reached households across India through a live TV broadcast. For Hurst, visiting Cuba in 2009 was his favourite touring moment. "People just love ballet there, and our tickets were really cheap - under £1 - so literally anyone could come and see us. It was amazing."

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Urban Village Fete

Urban Village Fete, Greenwich Peninsula - reviewed on 10th May

Greenwich Peninsula's Urban Village Fete expectedly included children's activities and stalls selling local products, but what was less expected was the inclusion of a variety of excellent dance performances and workshops. Swing Patrol gave charleston and jive demonstrations, whilst Folk Dance Remixed showcased their unique blend of hip hop and traditional maypole dancing. Both companies also offered fun and informal opportunities for audience members - from toddlers to older adults - to join in.
Beren D’Amico and Louis Gift in Bromance

The fete's highlight was Barely Methodical Troupe's Bromance (a 20 minute excerpt of the full show which I reviewed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year). In spite of the less-than-ideal stone floor covered in tiny pieces of gravel, performers Beren D’Amico, Charlie Wheeller and Louis Gift excelled in a delightful combination of male awkwardness, dance and impressive circus skills.

The fete also included a stall offering 'takeaway poems'. I placed an order for something about ballet and received the following bespoke verse:
Tutus, pointe shoes, ballet is for me
Tutus, pointe shoes, effortless and extraordinary
Tutus, pointe shoes, my favourite - I can't name one
Tutus, pointe shoes, it's amazing - you should come!

Bravo to the Urban Village Fete for programming such vibrant dance activities and making then accessible for all.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Elves and the Shoemaker

Elves and the Shoemaker, Northern Ballet (TV version) - CBeebies, 5pm, 6 April

Filippo Di Vilio and Kiara Flavin
Photo: Brian Slater
Northern Ballet's Elves and the Shoemaker provides another delightful and accessible introduction to ballet for children. Shown on CBeebies during Easter weekend, with the channel's Mr Bloom (Ben Faulks) presenting, it no doubt captivated its young viewers – both dance fans and those unfamiliar with the art form alike.

Ali Allen’s designs – including an array of beautiful shoes – bring the story vibrantly to life with Daniel de Andrade's choreography providing both narrative clarity and plenty of magic. The whole cast is excellent but Filippo Di Vilio and Kiara Flavin stand out particularly as the fairy tale's sprightly elves.