Monday, 29 September 2014

Nowt to write home about

As you know Yorkshire folk are a very modest bunch. They never blow their own trumpets or shout about their achievements. Much. Now they have something to shout about.

First they won the county championship. The first time since 2001. Cricket as you may or may not know is one of my abiding passions.

The other is ballet. According to "Bluebird", one of the subscribers to BalletcoForum, Xander Parish won the best young male dancer category of the Malakhov Foundation's Taglioni Awards and Northern Ballet the best company category. I might add that Kenneth Tindall was one of the finalists of the young choreographer award. You will find the full results in Bluebird's post to BalletcoForum here.  Congratulations to all the winners and finalists.

A few days ago I tweeted that it was good to meet Dominic North and that I noted that he came from Yorkshire.

I replied:

That tweet was favorited (sic) by Xander Parish.

That got me thinking about who else I could include - David Bintley, Elaine McDonald, Marguerite Porter, Thomas Whitehead, Brandon Lawrence - for starters. Einstein is reputed to have said that dancers are the athletes of God so it is only fitting that a fair number hail from God's own county.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gravity Fields - Chasing the Eclipse

Gravity is the force that binds the universe together. Without it there could be no galaxies, no sun, no planets and no us. It is also the medium of the dance. When a ballerina stands on pointe she manipulates the force of gravity as a sculptor shapes a block of marble. The scientist who understood the law of gravity and explained how it works was Sir Isaac Newton who was born in Woolsthorpe and attended the King's School Grantham, To celebrate his connection with the town Grantham is holding a science and arts festival which ends today called Gravity Fields.

In the market place in Grantham there is a stage upon which was performed a wonderful ballet called Chasing the Eclipse. It was danced by Chantry Dance Company about which I have written a lot (see Chantry Dance - Making Connections 30 Aug 2014). The choreographer was Paul Chantry (whom you can see in this YouTube clip) and the principal artists were Rae Piper and Dominic North.

There is something special about this company and while tweeting yesterday I tried to put my finger on it. One of those reasons is that the company's ballets make you think. They are based on a story - often on a significant but not particularly popular work of literature like Hans Christian Andersen's Sandman and Oscar Wild's The Happy Prince. Clearly, Chantry is a man who reads voraciously and in reading he has learned the art of story telling for the story of Lumen (Latin for "light") and Scura (darkness) is a modern myth.  Lumen and Scura are attracted to each other but they cannot meet except in an eclipse where the moon crosses the path of the sun or the earth the path of the moon and then a in nature something beautiful happens.

Lumen danced by North is dressed in orange while Scura danced by Piper is in blue. They dance before a gauze backdrop upon which shapes representing spheres of light and darkness are projected. To create those effects special software had to be developed which Rosemary Richards (the festival organizer) explains in this clip.  The work opens with telescopes as the dancers explore the heavens. Piper, an accomplished actor as well as dancer, has the most expressive face and the look of wonder and delight on her face is enchanting. Beyond the gauze - in the heavens - dances Lumen. Then he appears before the gauze bounding and graceful. He in turn spots Scura. They try to touch but the gauze is between them. Then the spheres converge and they are temporarily united. All of this is danced to a score specially composed by Tim Mountain.

This ballet was staged twice on Thursday the 25 Sept 2014 and three times on Saturday the 27.  I saw the second performance on Thursday which started at 21:00. It was not a particularly warm evening and the audience had to watch it on their feet but everyone around me was entranced.  It was over far too quickly and we wanted more.

Happily there will be more for the company is about to go on tour with a mixed bill consisting of The Happy Prince, Rhapsody in Blue and All I Can Do Is Be Me - the Bob Dylan Ballet. One of the places they are visiting is The Square Chapel in Halifax on the 20 Nov 2014 to which I have been kindly invited by one of the venue's volunteers.

Other Reviews
Graham Newton   VIDEO: Great reception for Chantry Dance Company’s riveting show at Gravity Fields in Grantham 28 Sep 2014 Grantham Journal

Saturday, 27 September 2014


President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in the presence of Dr Martin
Luther King
Photo Wikipedia

On 2 July 1964 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which outlawed discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin, ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, employment, hotels, restaurants, public transport and other facilities that served the general public in the United States. That statute prompted similar legislation in other countries including our own. To mark the 50th anniversary of that enactment Phoenix Dance Theatre presented Tenacity, an evening of dance, film and song, at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds.

The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre is a specially constructed dance venue which forms part of the Quarry Hill studios that Phoenix shares with Northern Ballet. I have been coming to that theatre regularly for several years. I have seen many shows there and have even danced in one (see The Time of my Life 28 July 2013), but Wednesday evening was the first time that I had ever seen Phoenix perform there. It will certainly not be my last. Having experienced contemporary dance very late in life - I had my first lesson only on the 8 of this month (see "It's not every Class that you can use Lord Canning's Eyes for Spotting" 9 Sept 2014) - I have the zeal of the convert and really want to see and do more.

The performance opened with a short sequence of film to a sound track of breaking waves. According to the programme, the title of the film was Honour and it was made by Quays Culture but when I googled  "honour", "film" and "Quays Culture" the result was somewhat different although it was clearly connected with Phoenix and its artistic director, Sharon Watson. The film was followed by Tila and Tavelah Robinson who entered the stage from each side of the auditorium singing John Newton's hymn Amazing Grace  without any accompaniment.  Then Sharon mounted the stage to make a short speech. She spoke about the importance of the Civil Rights Act and how far the world had come in the last 50 years with the ending of apartheid and other victories; but also how much still needed to be done when she reeled off the wars and repression that still exist.

The first dance piece was 1976  by Alesandra Seutin. It was by far the most moving. Tanya Richam-Odoi and Seline Derrick danced two young school girls from Soweto. In 1976 schoolchildren from that township protested against curriculum changes that forced them to study in Afrikaans. Their protest was met with extreme violence including the use of live ammunition to disperse the protesters and many lost their lives. The dancers represent two of those kids - chirpy and ragging each other - and then one of them is hit by a bullet and she falls to the floor. Her friend tried to revive her but it's too late. She carried her in her arms to the strains of the Twenty Third Psalm. That image has haunted me all week and I can't get it out of my system.

The next piece was actually a video of Jane Dudley teaching Sheron Wray Harmonica Breakdown or the misery dance which Dudley had choreographed for herself to the music of Sonny Terry in 1938. Dudley had danced with Martha Graham and later moved to London where she met Wray. The session was filmed by Darshan Singh Bhuller and is available on YouTube. Rather than have me rabbiting on you can view it for yourselves. Part 1 is here and Part II here. Terry's music is still buzzing about my mind as is the image of Wray.

Gary Lambert's Longevity followed. No music just the words of Martin Luther King addressing the civil rights march in Washington in 1983 which this dance commemorated. Two powerful male dancers Gee Goodison and Andile Sotiya dressed in white shirts, ties and  trousers symbolized the epic march from all parts of the United States to the Lincoln memorial. I remember listening to the speech on the BBC home service when I was 14 years old and wanting to share Dr King's dream in my lifetime.

The world did move on to the extent that there is now an African-American President of the USA. He wrote The Audacity of Hope which inspired Warren Adams's The Audacious One. Choreographed to Mozart's music this work involved the whole company. The set was very simple.  Just chairs which could represent seats in a legislature or indeed a lecture room. But there was competition for those chairs reflected in the faces of the dancers.

The show runs until today when there will be a symposium on Dance and Civil Rights at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre. I can't encourage you to go there because it is already a sell out but I can urge you to see the company as it tours the country for it is very good.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

An Explosion of Joy

Stuck in the Mud, Llandudno 20 Sept 2014
(c) 2014 Jane Elizabeth Lambert

If a dancer contracts an illness or suffers an injury that confines him to a wheelchair then it is the end of his career is it not. Not necessarily. Yesterday I saw a dancer in pointe shoes - I think it was Suzie Birchwood but if I am mistaken I apologize - as beautiful and graceful as any, approach a stage in a wheelchair. She was lifted onto the stage and danced. She thrilled us - not as one who had overcome a disability - but as a dancer. She delighted us with her port de bras, her battements, her pointe work but most of all with her expression of joy.

The ballet that I saw was Stuck in the Mud, a collaboration between Ballet Cymru, Gloucestershire Dance and other organizations.  It was performed in Llandudno as part of the Llawn Festival not in a theatre but in the railway station, the town square and beside the sea. Choreographed by Marc Brew this was one of the most joyful works that I have seen all year. I previewed the work in "Stuck in the Mud" doesn't mean you're stuck" 25 June 2014 embedding into my post extracts of a performance at Blackfriars Priory.

The show opened on a temporary stage in the station concourse. First Ballet Cymru's dancers mounted the stage: Lydia Arnaux. Annette Antal. Andrea Battagia, Nicholas Cappelle, Krystal Lowe, Daniel Morrison, Robbie Moorcroft and Mandev Sokhi whom I had last seen at Lincoln in June in Beauty and The Beast. They danced to the music that you can hear in the YouTube trailer which was composed by Jack White. This is the first time that I had noted White's work and I have spent much of the morning working through the clips on the Quick Player panel to his website. White has posted some photos of the performance of Stuck in the Mud in Swansea to his website ("Stuck in the Swansea Mud" 13 July 2014). You can see a picture of the opening scene in the bottom panel. This was a classical sequence with the women in pointe shoes. The dancer whom I believe to be Birchwood entered during that scene.  You can see her sitting by a pillar in White's photo. I have already remarked that she danced with with skill, with grace and with feeling.

There was a change of mood and music. In the space between stage and audience there entered a group of dancers some of whom were quite young. The programme does not identify them but the website mentions collaboration with TAN Dance, Hijinx Theatre and Dawns i Bawb so I guess they must be members of one or more of those organizations. Each of the dancers had a label such as "idiot", "freak" and "bossy". They shuffled about the space rather like Lowry's matchstick men peering at their own and their neighbours' labels disconsolately. Then they peeled off the labels, screwed them up and threw them in the air in an explosion of joy and danced exuberantly.

We were shepherded out of the station by stewards bearing enormous coloured flags and conducted to a square with a statute of a march hair a few hundred yards away. This square had two features - a statue of the March Hair from Alice in  Wonderland and a tree which reminded me of the one in the second act of the Royal Ballet's The Winters Tale except that this was a real tree. First there was a vigorous duet by Lowe and Sokhi which you can see in the photo above. Sokhi had impressed me as the Beast in Lincoln and I have been a fan of Lowe ever since I saw her dance as one of the Montagues in Romeo a Juliet in Kendal last year. Then the community dancers performed under the tree bedecked with what appeared to be Wellington boots and other curious fruit again and that again reminded me of Wheeldon's choreography.

I don't know what happened next as I lost the lady with the pink flag for a few minutes as I was distracted by Lowe and Sokhi. I think we were supposed to be in two groups. I went in the direction where I had last seen my group but couldn't find them. Then I heard a French horn and followed its sound to a beach where I saw Lowe slowly roll up over the pebbles gently unravelling an enormous length of material.

The last scene was a Victorian band stand before which a temporary surface had been laid and it was there that a wonderful integration of the cast occurred. There were dancers in wheel chairs and dancers on foot. There were the professionals and the rest.  They came together in a wonderful swirl of movement.  What delighted me was that every jete and turn of the able bodied dancers was answered by an equivalent movement from those in wheel chairs. All the dancers impressed me but I have to say a special word for Alice Sheppard who was magnificent. She amazed me with her virtuosity. If I had to pick a star of the show she would have been it.

After the show I managed to catch Marc Brew for a a few minutes  He told me about his company and its dancers, how he works with disabled and able bodied and gets them both to do wonderful things. He listed his other work including his recent commissions. Brew told me that he was based in the Tramway in Glasgow near Scottish Ballet. He spoke about his collaboration with companies in Scotland, particularly Scottish Dance Theatre in Dundee and also with the great percussionist Evelyn Glennie. I asked about his future work and he said that his next big production would be in May. I must say that I like Marc Brew. I like his work. I like his approachability - his willingness to talk to a complete stranger on a beach - but most of all I like his willingness to make dance accessible for all. I may not be disabled but I am old, I am fat, I am bereft of talent yet I love to dance as much as any ballerina.

Stuck in the Mud was not the only dance I saw yesterday in Llandudno. While writing up my notes of my interview with Marc Brew I noticed a lady and gentleman with a walking stick in Victorian dress with glitter balls for heads proceed along the prom. A few minutes later three women in 1940s bathing dresses and bare feet marched towards the band stand the leader with a whistle sounding out the time "bleep - bleep - bleep, bleep, bleep" reminding me of my CCF days in the 1960s.  I followed them and saw them dance a couple of routines to wartime music. All the time they were in bare feet and I really felt for them. It wasn't warm yesterday and the metalled surface of the prom was not exactly a dance floor.

Llandudno was in festive mood yesterday. I saw a lion in union jack colours accompanied by another in the colours of the Scottish saltire. I mentioned the March Hair. A statue of Alice was outside the railway station and the Mad Hatter was by the prom. The Llawn Festival continues today and there will be two more performances of Stuck in the Mud this morning and afternoon. After Llandudno the show will be staged in Cardiff. Do go and see it, It is well worth seeing.

PS Here is a short video of the performance

Stuck in the mud from John Whittle on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My T-Shirt says it all

Yesterday I bought tickets for the 14:00 performance of Dogs don't do Ballet  in Harlow on the 11 Oct 2014 and Ballet Black's Mixed Bill in Leeds on the 6 Nov 2014. I have already seen the Mixed Bill in London, Southport and Nottingham and I love it - particularly Christopher Marney's Two of a Kind in which I see new layers every time - and this may be my last opportunity to see it for some time. Dogs don't do Ballet, also by Marney, is new. I've read Anna Kemp's book to my grandson manqué and neither he nor I can wait to see it on stage.

To celebrate the new production Ballet Black are running a photo competition. Members of the public are invited to send a photo of their dog (or cat, or hamster, or any pet!) doing ballet to Ballet Black! Woof! The winner will receive two tickets to the "Dogs Don't Do Ballet" performance of their choice, a signed "Dogs Don't Do Ballet" poster and a backstage visit to meet the cast.

I don't have a dog or other pet so I can't enter but I am going to the show anyway and have already met several members of the company briefly, They were as gracious off the stage (even though they must have been tired) as they are graceful on it.

Ballet Black has already posted pictures of some dogs and at least one cat to their Facebook page. The closing date for entries is 9 Oct 014.

Monday, 15 September 2014


A few weeks ago I had a chance to sample one of Jamie Thomson's modern ballet workouts and enjoyed it tremendously. It was fast and furious and enormous fun.  The movements were based on ballet but the the session was quite different from a typical ballet class. There was no barre, no instruction, no marking. We just watched and followed Jamie while moving to the music.

Jamie, who trained at the Royal Ballet School and Rambert, explains his technique on his company's website:
"Unlike a formal ballet class there's no stopping and starting in Ballestics. You learn the steps as you dance them, allowing you the chance to work up a sweat and get your heart pumping. And we don’t start at the barre, there’s no propping yourself up in Ballestics, allowing you the chance to move more freely. The basic ballet moves like plie (bend), tendu (stretch), jete (jump), port de bras (movement of the arms), give your muscles a full-body workout that'll help you lengthen your body and tone everything up."
Jamie is not offering merely a strenuous workout, He is also offering art. Like other forms of ballet,ballestics is rooted in the theatre with its own company, Ampersandance.

Jamie teaches ballestics in Nottingham but he has trained instructors who teach it in other cities.  My taster class lasted only a few minutes. I am looking forward to a full session.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


Dracula as depicted in the cinema: Béla Lugosi in the 1931 film
Photo Wikipedia

Northern Ballet's Dracula, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds 13 Sep 2014

Although I am a Friend of Northern Ballet I had intended to give Dracula a miss, I have never been able to get into Bram Stoker's novel and I have never watched a horror film in the cinema or on TV. To my mind there are enough frightening things in reality without paying to be frightened synthetically.  Also, I had intended to be in Holland yesterday for the opening night of Dutch National Ballet's season and Van Dantzig's Swan Lake tonight but for various reasons that was not to be. So I went to West Yorkshire Playhouse instead and am very glad I did for I was rewarded with a magnificent performance.

As the theatre had run out of programmes I had to remember the plot from the website scenario which is schematic to say the least. The story is convoluted which is one of the reasons why I have never been able to finish the novel. All I could remember last night is that an assistant solicitor called Jonathan Harker found himself in Transylvania  where he encounters the evil count Dracula in his castle and gets into all sorts of trouble which follows him back to England. I also remembered that the novel had a connection with Whitby for which reason it attracts the attention of the modern Goths. However, I could not remember how the other characters fitted into the story so I concentrated on the choreography and the dancing which were stunning.

Created originally for Ballet Met  in Columbus, Ohio in 1999 this ballet was choreographed, directed and in part designed by David Nixon (see the Information Pack) who brought it to Northern Ballet in 2005 (see "Dracula 2005 - From the Archive"). You can get a flavour of the work from this YouTube video of a rehearsal:

The ballet hangs around Dracula, Mina, Harker and Lucy danced impressively by Javier Torres, Dreda Blow, Antoinette Brookes-Daw and Joseph Taylor with strong supporting performances by Lucia Solari, Jessica Morgan and Mariana Rodrigues as the brides of Dracula oozing sex and menace in equal measure, Seward (Nicola Gervasi), Holmwood (Isaac Lee-Baker) and Van Helsing (Matthew Broadbent). A special word of praise for Kevin Poeung who danced Renfield, a psychiatric patient confined to a cage tormented by his warder (Jeremy Cunier) who exploded into frenzy when released from his confinement.

The set, costume and lighting designs were imaginative. I was particularly impressed with Lucy's rose lid coffin and the horses of the night. The score by Alfred Schnitke and arranged by Mikhail Popov varied from the lyrical such as Mina's entry to the unearthly such as her pas de deux with Dracula. Nobody left the theatre humming the score but it worked very well.

West Yorkshire Playhouse is a few hundred yards from the company's headquarters at Quarry Hill so it is a special place for them and also for their audiences. Something magical often happens on the last night of their season in this theatre. It did last year (see "Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sept 2013) and it also did last night. The crowd roared and at least half of us (including me) rose to our feet. On the way out I said goodnight to Janet McNulty whom I know from Balletcoforum. "Aren't you glad you came here tonight?" she asked. "Indeed, I am" I replied, "It might have been as good in Amsterdam but couldn't have been better."

Other Reviews
Luke Jennings  Northern Ballet: Dracula review – lashings of gothic coupling 14 Sept 2014 The Guardian
Janet McNulty BalletcoForum 14 Sept 2014

Further Reading

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

It's not every Class that you can use Lord Canning's Eyes for Spotting

One of the chandeliers in the magnificent ballroom of
Liverpool town hall
Photo Jane Lambert 

A few weeks ago I had the honour of meeting Councillor Ian Selby the Mayor of South Kesteven at a dance event (see "Chantry Dance - Making Connections" 30 Aug 2014). This evening at another dance event I met Rachel Plant the Lady Mayoress of Liverpool. The occasion was an evening of dance classes in support of the Lord Mayor's charities in the magnificent ballroom of Liverpool Town Hall.

The classes were given by Karen of KNT Danceworks whose complete beginners' class in Manchester I reviewed on 29 Aug 2014 (see "So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class"). Karen offered us three beginners' classes in ballet, jazz and contemporary. Like most of us who turned up at the town hall I took all three classes and enjoyed them all.

As you can see from the photos on its website Liverpool town hall is a magnificent building and the ballroom is probably the most impressive part of it. Some idea of its grandeur can be obtained from the photo of one of its chandeliers. There were well over 30 dancers in the room.  All of us were women and most were in their twenties or thirties though they were several who were not far short of my age.

As there was no barre in the ballroom we had to execute pliés, tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe and grands battements unaided which I found quite difficult but a very good discipline. Next we did a port de bras starting with a chassé to the right, arabesque and soutenu which was repeated on the left. We practised it together and were then divided into groups in which we performed it again. The next exercise was chaînés. Karen told us to spot something. Immediately to my right was a massive portrait of Lord Canning so I locked on to his eyes. Usually one has to make do with a door handle or a vase on the piano. Such was the glory of the setting. Next we had jumps and finally temps levés from right to left and left to right. And then, alas, the reverence. Like every good dance class it was over all too soon.

In the room next door the Lady Mayoress welcomed us to refreshments and a display of materials in aid of her mothers' charities. There were poems, sweets, badges and other goodies. Rachel Plant gave us a short presentation on dementia aided by a game of dementia friends' bingo in which she taught us some of the facts of the condition. Clearly that is a topic on which Ms Plant has considerable expertise.

After the break Karen gave us a jazz class, This was a first for me. After a warm up we learned a routine. I found jazz much faster than ballet and I struggled to keep up. However, it is also very exuberant and I am certainly coming back for more.  We practised the routine as a group and then performed it in groups.

Karen allowed us a few minutes to grab a drink and then on with contemporary which was another first for me. This was he hardest part of the evening largely because it involved a lot of floor work which us not easy for a 65 year old. However, I gave it my best shot and after two or three goes I think I was getting the hang if it by the time we had to do final stretches.

A few weeks ago someone posted on Facbook: "You can't buy happiness but you can buy a dance class and that's kinda the same thing" Judging by the chattering and laughter, tonight's classes showed just how true that is.


I have embedded a tweet from Liverpool town hall with a lovely picture of our teacher and the Lord and Lady Mayoress at the entrance to the town hall,

Saturday, 6 September 2014


I was looking for information about Venturefest Manchester when I came across the headline "Entrepreneur launches UK's first dance directory" in the Business Growth Hub blog. It is an on-line database of dance schools called Dancelinks with some 4,000 dance schools around the country.

According to the article its founder is a young woman called Jessica Slater who got the idea while looking for a dance class when she moved to Manchester last year:
"Jessica has been an amateur dancer since she was four and wanted to continue when she moved to Manchester from North Yorkshire in 2013. After finding it difficult to find a class herself, she came up with the idea of developing a national dance club directory."
Slater was helped to launch this service by Business Growth Hub which helped her to express and develop her business model.

The website has a search page with four columns of check boxes ranging from "Any Style" to "Zumba". Below those columns there are "age ranges" check boxes - "Any age", "18 or over" and "Under 18" - and below that a space to enter a studio name or location. I checked the boxes for "Ballet" and "18 or over" and typed in "Leeds" and the site came up with Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Professional Dance Experience Ltd" and "Yorkshire Dance". Nor comprehensive because it omitted Northern Ballet Academy where I learn but not bad and, of course, it is very early days.

There is also a calendar of dance events which includes events in different styles from all parts of the country.

I for one wish Slater well and will watch the development of the site with interest,

Thursday, 4 September 2014

More on Ballet in India

National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai
Photo Wikipedia

In "Ballet and Bollywood - why they don't meet more often" 15 July 2014 I noted that ballet had not take off in India in the way that it had in other Asian countries and wondered why that was the case. However, I noted signs that that might be changing:
"I googled 'ballet' and 'India' and discovered the National Ballet & Academy Trust of India in Delhi, a School of Classical Ballet and Western Dance in Mumbai and the Imperial Fernando Ballet Company in both cities which show that there is some interest in ballet in India. I also looked up theatres and found the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai which is a complex of auditoriums, rehearsal studios and outdoor performing spaces including the Godrej Dance Theatre. The Centre hosts The Symphony Orchestra of India, the country's first and so far only professional symphony orchestra whose repertoire includes Stravinsky's Firebird. The performance of that suite was applauded warmly so there seems to be an audience for ballet and the National Centre certainly provides an infrastructure."
Shortly after I published that post BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme on the National Centre for Performing Arts and the Symphony Orchestra of India which reported some of the reasons why Western classical music was not more popular in India some of which are mentioned in the clip.

However, progress is being made.  At least one full length ballet has been danced in India for the New Jersey Ballet Company performed The Nutcracker at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. This months. Another straw in the wind is that this month's Job of the Month in the Royal Academy of Dance's newsletter is for teachers in Mumbai. The school that advertises this post is for Bella Academy for Ballet.  According to the courses page on the website there are a variety of classes including an adult programme.  That is available on Wednesday mornings
"to anyone and is designed for the adult student who has no formal ballet training or who has studied ballet in the past and wishes to resume training."
The dress code is the same as for adult ballet classes anywhere but unlike most adult classes here ballet shoes are compulsory for ballet classes. Students don't seem to have the option of dancing in bare feet. If ever I find myself in Mumbai I will try to get to that class.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Meet Gavin McCaig of Northern Ballet

Gavin McCaig joined Northern Ballet as an apprentice a few weeks ago. I was introduced to him by Janet McNulty at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre on 21 June 2014 when I saw the company dance the Mixed Bill.  I asked Gavin whether I could do a feature on him when he could spare me the time. He kindly agreed. The opportunity to interview him arose this weekend.  The questions in italics came from me. The answers in heavy type are Gavin's.

I see you were born and brought up in Motherwell and started to learn to dance at the age of 7. Was it your idea to start dancing lessons at that age or was it your parents? If it was your idea what made you ask them to send you to the Marie Frame School?

It wasn’t my idea to start dancing at all. I had an older sister who went to our local dance school and my best friend (also a girl) who was a neighbour went too. Her mum was also an ex-professional dancer who recommended me going down to the dancing ‘because i’d love it!’. With my dad being a football-fanatic it wasn’t his idea of a pastime for a young boy growing up in our area. It was unheard of for boys to dance in our local area.

Are you the first in your family to become a professional dancer? Do you have relations who are good at dancing?

I am the first in my family to dance, as far as I know!

What attracted you to ballet as opposed to other styles of dance? 

Initially it wasn’t ballet which attracted me. When I started ballet wasn’t really mentioned at first. It was hip-hop, jazz, tap and street dance. Ballet came later, when I joined the Dance School of Scotland.

Can you remember the first time you saw a ballet performance? If so, in what theatre, which company and show? Was it live or on TV or in the cinema? Who were the dancers you remember? What age would you have been?

For me, it was a theatre performance which encouraged me to pursue a career on stage. CATS the musical was on tour in Edinburgh my mum organised for us to go and see it. I was mesmerised! A few years down the line, following my joining on the DSS, I think the first ballet I was ever taken to was Scottish Ballet. I have a feeling it was Ashley Page’s Sleeping Beauty which, at the time and as a young boy new to the ballet world, I wasn’t overly impressed by it.

Were there any dancers or choreographers who particularly impressed you in your early years? If so, who were they?

In the early years, I can’t say there was. It was only when I moved to London that I began to understand the arts world and more importantly the ballet world and the way it worked. In all honestly, I didn’t really even fully understand that after my 3 years there I would be endeavouring to join a ballet company. I just knew I wanted to be on stage, and was addicted to this all-new “ballet bubble” I found myself in. It was all so new to me!

Tell me a little about the instructors at Marie Frame who encouraged you to audition for The Dance School at Scotland.

Marie who ran the school was the one who suggested it. She obviously spotted the passion I had and the love I had developed for it in such a short space of time. It really does become and addiction and a part of you from a young age.

At what age did you audition for the Dance School of Scotland?

A youthful 11 years of age!

Did you enjoy your time in Glasgow? If so tell me about it?

My time in Glasgow was incredible. I moved away from home in to the school’s residence and shared with other boys in my year. The school was a normal secondary school but had the Dance School (Scotland’s only vocational centre of excellence for dance) ‘late night’ classes in ballet, tap and jazz.

Were there are teachers (or indeed student dancers) at Glasgow who particularly impressed you? 

Over my time at the school I worked with many great teachers (a lot of whom had close ties to Scottish Ballet or other parts of the dance world). Elaine Holland was our director there at the time - she was a wonderful woman and an excellent upbeat teacher. Kenny Burke, now the director of the school (ex-RB, and ex-director of SB) worked with us a lot too who was hugely encouraging and inspirational. Kerry Livingstone and Eleanor Moore Tyres had huge influences on me in my first and second years, as well as the late and great Frank Freeman who I had the pleasure of being taught by on numerous occasions. Frank encouraged me a great deal whenever he came to visit and even invited me down to the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars scholarship audition (for which I was given a week's free tuition at the course).

At what age did you audition for English National Ballet School?


Did you enjoy studying in London?

Yes I did. London is an incredible city. There’s no place like it. It’s bursting at the seams with arts and culture. People are open and intriguing, the city centre is buzzing with performances and things to do; and you were never far away from the next big thing going on.

Tell me a little about your studies in London. 

My three years in London were incredible at times but mostly very difficult and I have many unhappy memories from my time at ENBS. London can be a lonely place, especially when you are training in such an intense environ. It does all seem like a dream when you explain it to someone - but its far from it. Recently, David Nixon mentioned in a rehearsal how people can have the wrong idea about ballet - about the grit and determination and incessant hard work which remains the invisible backbone of the productions audiences come to enjoy, but can sometimes go unknown to the public.

The training I went through to get to where I am now was by no means easy. Day-in; day out, hammering your body which, for me, just wasn’t built for ballet! I’m not naturally flexible, turned out, strong or facilitated: and this does lead to problems. I suffered two major injuries over my time at school; a tear of my labrum in my hip which resulted in a hip operation and a few months later, a stress fracture in my foot which lasted the best part of a year. It’s intense down there and psychologically you have to be a fortress. I eventually succumbed to the negativity which you are surrounded by constantly and went through a pretty rough time following my foot problem. I see now though that it was all worth it but it’s a place which teaches you how to grow up quickly.

I just wish at the time I’d known I would actually make it and had a bit more confidence in myself. Persistence is the key to success, luckily. And the occasional glass of wine!

When you attended the Prague Masterclass did you have much contact with Daria Klimentová? If so, tell me about her and what you learned from her which you are using in your career as a dancer? Was there anyone else who impressed you?

Daria is an incredible ballerina and teacher. She runs the masterclasses which are an intensive week of training with the best teachers and most famous dancers and choreographers in the world. I truly never thought I’d have so much fun dancing and the atmosphere at the Masterclasses was exceptional - as well as Prague being such a breathtaking city for them to be held in.

Morning class was taught by a range of teachers including Christopher Hampson, Keith Mackintosh (Ballet Master for Cape Town CB), Marie Lindqvist (Principal Dancer at Royal Swedish), Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov, to name but a few. Following class the boys would group together upstairs to work on Variations. During the first week we worked on the two solos from ‘Theme and Variation’ by Balanchine, and also Bronze Idol from La Bayadere which was so much fun. Jan-Erik Wikström took these classes and I particularly liked working with him and his upbeat enthusiasm. Pas De Deux classes were also so much fun, again taken by Jan-Erik and his partner at Royal Swedish, Marie, whilst again, working on Theme and Variation. The classes had a buzz about them and it was clear everyone was having as much fun as I was learning the repertoire. I had the most incredible two weeks there, and winning the boys prize was the silver lining!

I see that you danced in Hansel and Gretel. I saw the show on 21 Dec (the last Saturday before Christmas).  Did you dance in that performance?

I’m not 100% if I did dance in that performance...I wasn’t in a set cast and was put on now and then to ease the workload of the other dancers.

How did you find Christopher Hampson?

I really like Chris. He’s a lovely guy who knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s taking the company. I was privileged to work with him and the company - it was the ballet company I grew up watching and a big part of my journey as a young dancer. The company recently toured to Russia with Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling, which is incredible. He’s opening new avenues for Scottish Ballet and that’s excellent. He’s also an incredible choreographer: his works have appeared everywhere from New Zealand to the USA.

I am delighted you have come to Leeds but What attracted you to Northern Ballet?

In all honesty, love! Kevin, my partner began dancing with the company as an apprentice during his third year at ENB School and when we became partners I came to watch him and the company regularly.

Tell me about the audition? What did you dance? 

The audition for Northern Ballet was intense and not like any other auditions I did. Usually you just do a ballet class and that’s your chance. It’s make or break. The audition for NB was a day long event which included partnering, dancing different parts of repertoire (Chaos scene from Cleopatra and Ball scene from Cinderella) plus an interview with the director.

What have you done since you joined the company?

This season we are performing more than ever. With Arts Council funding increases we are expected to perform even more and are headed for a massive 250 shows this season! We have been learning Cinderella, The Great Gatsby, Dracula and our new children’s ballet, Elves and the Shoemaker. I’ve also done a few interviews and a photo shoot, as well as getting used to the way things work here. It’s busy.

How do you like living in Yorkshire and working in Leeds? Do you ever miss the bright lights of London or Glasgow?

I love Leeds, I really do! I don’t often miss Glasgow although it’s always nice to return home. I do however miss my family and friends there an awful lot.

How do you like dancing with the company?

I’m living my dream. I knew I’d wanted to be a part of the company since I saw Beauty and The Beast, David’s narrative and inventive choreography coupled with the use of Danse Macabre, Op. 40 (in a particular scene,) I was hooked. I love story ballets and narrative works so the repertoire is exciting and enjoyable for me to be dancing. The foundations upon which the company has been built are that of a theatrical nature - Christopher Gable and David Nixon have made the narrative absolutely intrinsic to the works the company presents.

I’m loving being with the company and working with such incredible dancers, I’m inspired when I watch the older dancers of the company - they understand how to portray emotion and make the audience feel something.

How do you find touring?

I haven’t done a whole lot of touring yet so that we will have to wait and see. I’m looking forward to it at the moment, however.

You have said that you would like to dance Gatsby and in I got Rhythm. How about the classics such as Swan Lake, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet etc. or the great Balanchine and Ashton ballets? Would you like to dance in any of them and if so in what role?

Of course I would love to dance in these classic ballets. I adore the classics and the beauty and grace of Swan Lake takes my breath away. I seen National Ballet of Canada dance Romeo and Juliet when they toured to London in April 2013 and it blew me away. 

Much to my excitement, Northern Ballet will present Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet in February. I can’t wait to be on stage dancing to that renowned and spectacular Prokofiev score. It’s going to be magical. A what role? Romeo, of course. To dance the balcony scene in Maillot or MacMillan’s would be a lifelong dream come true.

Who are your favourite choreographers of all time (other than David Nixon of course)?

I love Wayne McGregor. His work on Infra for the Royal Ballet blew me away. The piece is so emotive from the beginning and the choreography and staging is so fresh and modern: the man is a genius. I also love David Dawson’s work. Recently I seen his latest work for the Royal Ballet in November and I fell in love with it. The pas de deux work is so intricate and delicate, it’s a wonder how he creates such beautiful shapes and lifts.

Who are your favourite dancers of all time (from any company in the world)?

Guillaume Cöté , Steven McRae, Vadim Muntagirov, Daria Klimentova, Martha Leebolt, Vicki Sibson and Dreda Blow.

How do you see your career developing over the next few years?

I would hope to find my feet at Northern Ballet for the foreseeable future. I love it here and hope I can continue to develop as a young artist in such a nurturing environment.

Do you have any ambitions in choreography, teaching or management in later life?

Definitely. I feel this may be where I find myself sooner rather than later. I seem to be good at organising and planning; as well as thoroughly enjoying choreographing and teaching, both of which I had experience of during my time at school.

How did you get interested in software? Can you code? Have you designed any apps? List some of your favourite apps?

I have once tried to start to learn to code and gave up. It’s complicated business. Maybe more so than performing a tendu!

List some of your favourite films or TV shows?

Downton Abbey, Four in a bed, Come dine with me, X factor, Britain’s got talent,
Grand Designs.

Do you have any favourite actors, musicians, painters, composers or other artists?

I love music! I have so many favourite artists in my music library we may be here for some time discussing them all! Actor wise, I’m a huge Angelina Jolie fan!

Finally, what advice would you give to:
(a) a young boy or girl in Motherwell or anywhere else who is starting his or her dancing lessons and wants to become a professional dancer?

Don’t let anyone make you feel like what your doing is wrong for you. Be your own boss.

(b) a student at the Dance School of Scotland or similar school?
Prepare get’s real from here on out!

(c) the English National Ballet School or similar school?
It can all be worth it, never give up!

Gavin is not just a remarkably gifted dancer, he is also a very pleasant and personable young man.  I wish him all the best in his career.

Further Reading
Northern Ballet  60 seconds with...Gavin McCaig