Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dance is just as important as Maths

TED stands for technology, entertainment and design. It describes itself as
"a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world."
The Great and the Good have given talks including Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill GatesBono, and many Nobel Prize winners.

One of the most popular speakers is the educationalist Sir Ken Robinson. His speech "How Schools Kill Creativity" which is embedded above has been watched nearly 28 million times. That's right. 28 million. Almost the population of Canada.

That speech is remembered for the catch phrase "Dance is an important as maths." Looking at the transcript I don't think he actually used that phrase but that was certainly the meaning he conveyed:
"There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think math is very important, but so is dance."
A little later in his speech he tells a charming story about the ballerina and choreographer Gillian Lynne. In his talk Sir Ken refers to her as the creator of Cats but my favourite work is "A Simple Man" which she made for my beloved Northern Ballet. Here's how the story goes:
"I'm doing a new book at the moment called "Epiphany," which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I'm fascinated by how people got to be there. It's really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of; she's called Gillian Lynne -- have you heard of her? Some have. She's a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera." She's wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet in England, as you can see. Anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said, "Gillian, how'd you get to be a dancer?" And she said it was interesting; when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the '30s, wrote to her parents and said, "We think Gillian has a learning disorder." She couldn't concentrate; she was fidgeting. I think now they'd say she had ADHD. Wouldn't you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn't been invented at this point. It wasn't an available condition. (Laughter)People weren't aware they could have that.
Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother,and she was led and sat on this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it --because she was disturbing people; her homework was always late; and so on, little kid of eight -- in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, "Gillian, I've listened to all these things that your mother's told me, and I need to speak to her privately." He said, "Wait here. We'll be back; we won't be very long," and they went and left her. But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, "Just stand and watch her." And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, "Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school."
I said, "What happened?" She said, "She did. I can't tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me. People who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to think." Who had to move to think. They did ballet; they did tap; they did jazz; they did modern; they did contemporary. She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School andfounded her own company -- the Gillian Lynne Dance Company -- met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She's been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she's given pleasure to millions; and she's a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down."
Thank goodness that doctor didn't. What a remarkably perceptive, far sighted, enlightened man he was.   And what a wonderful mother.

We in Britain will get a chance to listen to Sir Ken in conversation with Sarah Montague early tomorrow morning immediately after the midnight news. For the next few days we can even listen to them on the iPlayer.

Finally, a word on TED. Anybody can join the mailing list. I've been on it for years.  If you do you will get an email with a selection of some of the best talks every Saturday afternoon. It's one of my weekend treats.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Adult Ballet in LA

MacArthur Park, Los Angeles
Photo Wikipedia

If I did not have the good fortune to have been born in England I would have settled for America. In particular Los Angeles, California where I went to graduate school. Westwood, Santa Monica, the Music Center are like a second home. I made so many friends there and have so many happy memories. I am reminded of those times by Adult Beginner whose blog I greatly admire (see "Around the Blogosphere: Adult Beginner" 26 Feb 2013).

Whenever I visit a new ballet school I review it and I have quite a collection of adult ballet reviews from around the country but I don't have any from elsewhere and that is where Adult Beginner has done us all a service.  Yesterday she and Rhonda Jambe (what a wonderful name I wonder whether she knows Tom Levy) reviewed the Hollywood Dance Centre (see "The Rhonda Jambe *and* Adult Beginner review of Adult Ballet at Hollywood Dance Center" (sic) 15 Aug 2014), It sounds quite a place. Here's a sample:
"The Studio: is beautiful. You enter at street level and go INTO THE PAST!!!! Ok reals though, you go up this crazy orange staircase, arrive at a landing, go into one of the two studios and, oh yeah, the front studio has A CHANDELIER."
I must remember to pack my ballet shoes next time I pass through LA. Which t-shirt should I wear? One of my UCLA Bruins which are now somewhat threadbare after 45 years of use or a new Royal Ballet one?

Another article by Adult beginner which I have also enjoyed is "Dude wants to know if he’s welcome in ballet class. Let’s hear it for the boys" 12 Aug 2014. That post was sparked off by an email from one of Adult Beginner's male readers:
"It was a very warm afternoon and I arrived several minutes early to get in some stretching before class. I enter the studio and greet the teacher, whom I’ve taken classes with for some time. While we talked, a woman seated on the floor putting on her slippers looked up at me in complete and utter shock. Horror, even, with eyebrows arched and mouth askew. Uh oh. What did I do? Quick!…damage control!"
What happened next? And what did Adult Beginner say about it? Well you will just have to read her post to find out. But she reacted with humour and humanity, She sounds a really nice lady,

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Mel's Record Attempt

My friend, Mel Wong, hopes to break the world record for the total number of continuous grands battements which was set by Jeanne-Carlin Cilliers in South Africa on 5 March 2005 (see the Guiness World Record website). As good a definition of a grand battement as any is offered by Wikipedia's glossary of ballet terms:
"a powerful battement action where the dancer passes through dégagé and "throws" the leg as high as possible, keeping it straight, while the supporting leg also remains straight."
"Battement" is itself defined as "beat" and "a beating movement of the working leg". I can tell you from bitter experience that grands battements are not easy - well I don't find them easy - and Ms Cilliers accomplished 1,199 of them before her leg crashed through the roof and entered geostationary orbit.

Mel aims to do 1,200 - rather her than me - at Hype Dance Studio in Sheffield on 22 Aug at 16:30. She is appealing for support on Kickstarter. She is raising funds to for her advanced training at Trinity Laban but she also hopes to contribute to the Cats Protection League and Macmillan Cancer Care.  By coincidence there's a photo of the cat with the longest feline fur on the Guiness website

I wish her all the best.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Serendipity - Tristan Dance Studio

On a Wednesday evening I normally go to the University of Huddersfield for a mixed ability ballet class (see "Team Hud Adult Ballet Class" 22 Jan 2014) but late this afternoon I was told that ballet had been cancelled owing to "mixups at gym", A bombshell that was sugared with three kisses (xxx). Not long ago I would not have minded missing class in the least but now I do. I love my classes and I don't know how I ever managed to get through the first 63 years of my existence without them.

I was desolate but then I had a brainwave. Way back in the recesses of my memory I remembered that I had googled "adult" + "ballet" + "Huddersfield" in February when I was told that the class at Team Hud was fully booked.  I found an adult ballet class at Lockwood and was invited to join it. Fortunately, I was allowed back into Team Hud the next week and I have hardly missed a class since then.  I trawled my email until I found the invitation and saw that there was an adult ballet class on Wednesdays. I googled "Tristan" + "Dance" + "Studios" again this evening and found this website. I checked the Huddersfield timetable and found there was a class tonight.

Tristan Dance Studio is not an easy place to find. Its postal address in Lockwood but I would have placed it in Beaumont Park or even Netherton.  Google maps traced a tortuous route down narrow country lanes and the signage was so indistinct that I drove past it twice. When I did spot the sign I found that the studios were located in a former mill.  Barring my way was a heavy steel gate but nobody in the gatehouse.  I got out of my car and found a control panel on which the words Tristan Dance appeared. I pressed the button. Someone picked up the phone but did not speak, The gates opened and in I drove,

The mill consists of several buildings each with several tenants and it took me some time the studio. It was at the top of a flight of rickety stairs.  I scrambled to the top and found a lady called Elaine who told me that she was also taking the beginners' class.  Although the kindest things I can say about the studios was that they had seen better days and could have benefited from a lick of paint and a new floor they were quite light and airy. Some idea of the premises can be gleaned from the YouTube video above.

From our studio Elaine and I could see the advanced class through a glass partition. It was taken by a gentleman whom I now know to be Tristan Nigel Edgar. He had two students. We saw them practising développés. Later they donned black tutus to dance an adagio.  We were taught by a lady whose name I cannot remember.  Our class began with pliés in first, second and fifth, then tendus and glissés, then ronds de jambe and finally grands battements and cloches. Our instructor led us into the centre and showed us an adagio which involved chassés and pas de bourrée. Once she was satisfied that we had got that right she showed us a more complex adagio which required us to balance first in arabesque and then attitude. Next we attempted some pirouettes and I have to say that Elaine was a lot more successful than me. As Elaine told me that she had only just started ballet it is clear that out instructor must be good. She did not push us as hard as Fiona or Annemarie but she was nevertheless effective. She was very patient and encouraging and I liked her very much. 

 Looking through Tristan's website I see that it has had some significant successes.  At least one of its recent pupils has made it to the Royal Ballet School.   I will certainly come back to this studio now that I know where it is. Although I will stick to Fiona on Wednesdays I will come to Tristan's Friday night classes whenever I can.  Classes at Tristan are £6 per hour which is the same as Hype but more than Team Hud and The Base.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Atkinson

Last Thursday I was the guest of QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter at a reception that they hosted at The Atkinson arts centre in Southport. I had already seen Ballet Theatre UK's Little Mermaid and Ballet Black's triple bill there and had seen at least some of the exhibits near the auditorium during the intervals but this was the first time I had seen the collection.

The Atkinson was established in 1875 by a gift of £6,000 from William Atkinson, a wealthy Yorkshire industrialist, to provide an art gallery and library for the town. The building opened in 1878. It is now Southport's home for music, theatre, art, poetry, literature and history. Over the years it has acquired a vast collection of works of art and curiosities that it has had to archive. Following extensive recent renovation it now has space to display its collection of Egyptian artefacts, fine art and archaeological and historical items. That part of the museum will open in October 2014.

At the reception I met The Atkinson's Director. I told her that I was a dance fan and that I had already visited the centre recently to see Ballet Theatre UK and Ballet Black. She replied that she had been told that the theatre had one of the finest surfaces for dance in the country and that the Atkinson hoped to attract more dance companies. I noted that there was no ballet at the One City One Summer arts festival which had accompanied the International Festival of Business though there had been other types of dance. I had drawn the absence of ballet to the attention of Paul Kelly of MurleyDance and suggested that might be an opportunity for his company to grow a following since Merseyside is a major conurbation with a massive hinterland that extends well into Lancashire, Cheshire, the Marches and North Wales. Mr Kelly did look into it but had found no suitable venues in greater Liverpool. The Director replied that she would welcome any company that wanted to perform in Southport. She gave me her card which I passed on to Paul Chantry and Rae Piper of the Chantry Dance Company when I saw them on Saturday (see "Chantry Dance Summer School" 2 Aug 2014).

Searching The Atkinson's website I see that Ballet Theatre UK will return on the 11 December 2014 with their production of Swan Lake and that the BalletBoyz will perform on 13 March 2015. The Atkinson will also screen performances of the Bolshoi streamed from Moscow and host the Sereno School of Dance's annual show Dance Matters on 6 Dec 2014.

Having sponsored Liverpool Sound City earlier this year QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter have already demonstrated their commitment to the performing arts. I understand from Michael Sandys who heads the firm's commercial department that that commitment extends to dance but I must emphasize that there are far more worthy causes in the performing arts than any law firm could possibly support.

After speeches from Michael and the head of wills and probate of his firm and also from the Director of the Atkinson we were led off to tour of the building. We were shown samples of some of the rare Egyptian artefacts and paintings including a gorgeous portrait by Augustus John which will be on display from October. We were also taken around the current Walk on exhibition which actually had some choreography of a kind. There was a film of a a group of soldiers wandering aimlessly round the City of London one Sunday morning carrying firearms. When they met one of their number they formed a file which grew bigger and bigger until a whole platoon marched 8 abreast towards the Thames where they suddenly broke step and dispersed again. I watched it transfixed because there were some lovely shots of the Temple and the Barbican but I could not see how this exercise could be art or made military sense. I couldn't help wondering what one of the theatre companies that lost out on the recent Arts Council funding spree could do with the money but then what do I know about art or the military?

Anyway we all had a good day at The Atkinson especially my foodie friend who took all the delicious cakes and canopies that had been prepared in the centre's bakery off their hands. "It would only be binned if I didn't eat it" she explained. I am sure she will put the food to very good use.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Chantry Dance Summer School

In "Chantry Dance Associates: Lots of Promise" 28 July 2014 I mentioned that the company was about to start a week long summer school in Grantham. Yesterday was the last day and it ended with a performance and presentations. As Mel and the two other other young women, Yi Ann and Fiona, who had danced with us in May were taking part in the course I drove down from Holmfirth to support them.

Unfortunately, I missed the dancing, Even though I gave myself extra time for what Google maps had estimated would be a 1 hour and 38 minutes journey I found myself in heavy, slow moving traffic almost all the way while Grantham itself was gridlocked. After parking in a car park where the ticket machine gobbled my coins but refused me a ticket I slunk into the back of the Dance Pointe studio just as Paul Chantry and Rae Piper were handing out certificates.

It was good to see Fiona, Mel and Yi Ann again. Paul videoed the show and will no doubt post it to the company's website. To get some idea of what it must have been like I have embedded the YouTube video of Vincent last year's summer school performance.  According to the company's website:
"'Vincent' is a piece created for and by the CDC 2013 Summer School students. In the piece we see Vincent Van Gogh experiencing depression and a creative block. All around him things are falling down, until his muse arrives and brings him visions of three of his most famous paintings - Starry Night, Haystacks and Sunflowers. This gives Vincent the inspiration he needs. We see the paint dance over the canvas as he starts creating a new painting."
The students who performed that work ranged in age from 11-33 and in experience from improver to professional. The summer school gave them a taste of what it is like to work in a professional contemporary ballet company.

The summer school is just one of a number of educational and outreach activities that brings dance to everybody.  The following video summarizes the company's work:

Chantry Dance Company Education and Outreach work from Rae Piper on Vimeo.

I appear on that video and I can tell you that taking part in one of the company's workshops with Fiona, Mel and Yi Ann gave me enormous pleasure, self-confidence and personal satisfaction. It was clear from the faces of the associates last Sunday and the summer school participants yesterday that they felt the same way. The company goes everywhere - even prisons and care homes - and it does wonderful work. It deserves our support and we can help it.  Here are some of the ways:

On 26 Aug 2014 Chantry Dance are hosting a lunch time event called "Making Connections" for leading regional and national business figures, as well as individuals with a vision for a creative future, to make connections with Chantry Dance Company". During the event they will explain what the company does, what they can do to support businesses and individuals, and what business and individuals can do reciprocally. Chantry Dance is aiming to build positive, productive relationships with others, leading to mutually beneficial outcomes. They will consider how art and business can work together, and how each can liberate areas of untapped potential in the other. This is an excellent idea and something that I have been rabbiting on about for ages (see "Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers" 13 March 2013). This is something that big companies already do (see "The Things I do for my Art: Northern Ballet's Breakfast Meeting" 23 Sept 2013). It is encouraging that one of the smaller companies is doing similar things.

Post script
Mel has just written about her experience of Chantry Dance's summer school in her own blog.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Reet Gradely: Romeo and Juliet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House 29 July 2014

Mariinsky Theatre, St Perersburg
Photo Wkipedia

In Tuesday's Evening Standard Lyndsey Winship wrote:
"For Londoners used to Kenneth MacMillan’s masterful version for the Royal Ballet, this Romeo and Juliet seems flabbier and hammier — especially smugly arrogant Tybalt (Yuri Smekalov), seemingly modelled on Prince Charming from Shrek, and Vladimir Ponomarev’s theatrical Lord Capulet (even his eyebrows are up to something dastardly)."
Well that may be how Londoners see it but for this Northern lass Tuesday's performance of Romeo and Juliet by the very company that had created the ballet was reet gradely. Xander Parish who danced Romeo ought to know what that commendation means for he was born in God's own county. For those who weren't. here's a definition and etymology.

I am a bit of a connoisseuse of Romeo and Juliet having seen English National's, Scottish Ballet's and Ballet Cymru's in a little over a year. I also know the Royal Ballet's very well. Indeed, I have actually seen Seymour and Fonteyn dance Juliet. In my humble, provincial opinion the Mariinsky's  version towers above any I had previously seen.

I had expected a lot from this show. I had come to see Xander Parish whom I had last seen at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala in York on my silver wedding anniversary 7 years ago ("We still have some of the best dancers in Yorkshire" 20 July 2014). Even though he and his sister were very young they impressed me with their athleticism and grace  Xander Parish displayed those same qualities yesterday. That alone would have been enough to justify a 440 mile round trip at the height of summer with the motorways in a mess but there were two others who stood out.

First, Viktoria Tereshkina who danced Juliet. Even more than Parish, she was the star of the show. I was bowled over by her from her first few playful steps with her nurse. She is a powerful dancer with considerable elevation which she demonstrated frequently but she is also an accomplished actress projecting sensitivity and vulnerability. The crucial part of any production of Romeo and Juliet takes place in Juliet's bedroom. First, there is the newly weds' pas de deux. This is the most beautiful part of the ballet and it is on that sequence that the whole work hangs.  Parish and Tereshkina were magnificent. After Romeo leaves her parents enter with Paris in tow with news that she is to marry Paris. So many emotions are unleashed in this poor young woman which she has to project in dance.  Again, Tereshkina excelled. For the last 40 years Seymour had been my Juliet. From now on it will be Tereshkina

The other dancer who impressed me greatly was Kimin Kim. He danced Mercutio. He has a beautifully expressive face conveying every type of feeling. He interpreted the role brilliantly with boyish swagger as he provokes Tybalt (also danced well by Kamil Yangurazov). The sword fight with Tybalt was one of the most exciting and realistic I have ever seen on stage.  "It's as if they are fighting with real swords" whispered my daughter manquée. Though we all knew how this fight would end how our hopes soared when Romeo seemed to separate the swordsmen and how they were dashed after Tybalt's sword punctured Mercutio's body. I could barely restrain a tear as Kim staggered around the stage rising to his feel, slumping, getting up again and eventually collapsing. This is one of the great death scenes in ballet. It stings Romeo into action overcoming temporarily even his love for Juliet. How we clapped and cheered as Kim took his curtain call at the end of Act II so relieved by the assurance that he was indeed alive.

There were sterling performances by Elena Bazhenova as Lady Capulet, Valeria Karpina as the nurse, Yuri Smekalov as Paris and Andrei Yakovlev who danced Friar Lawrence and Lord Montague. The whole company danced well but the cast is so long that it would be impossible to do justice to them all.  The Martiinsky's orchestra conducted by Boris Gruzin played magnificently.

I need to say a few words about the sets and costumes. These were credited to Pyotr Williams whose biography in itself. Intrigued by the Welsh surname and Russian forename and found that he was the son of an American scientist who had become a Russian citizen in 1896. The very time that so many Russians were emigrating to the United States. Somehow this son of an American émigré survived Stalin's purges when so many other artists perished.  The sets we saw on Tuesday must be reproductions of Williams's sets for the original 1940 performance. They were impressive particularly the opening scene of Verona with an estuary in the background, the Capulets' balcony and the burial ground. An interesting feature was the use of a second gold curtain which was no doubt intended to simulate the historic stage of the Mariinsky theatre.

"What's so special about the Russians?" my daughter manquée asked me when I invited her to the show. It is a question I had often asked myself. After all there are so many other fine companies around the world - not least our own Royal Ballet. Well after Tuesday's performance both my daughter manquée know the answer to that question. Despite revolution, purges, war and crisis the Mariinsky - the successor to the Imperial Russian Ballet - continues to set the standard to which everybody else aspires.